In which I co-write a song, rather to my surprise, and perform it in public

Pic credit: Nuchylee,

With work being on the slow side, my endeavours lately have been focused almost entirely around creative pursuits, namely music. Having been songwriting for about a year now, alone and with no real idea what I’m doing or whether I’m doing it right, I decided it was time to get some knowledgeable input so I joined the London Songwriters Club and went along to their December meeting at the weekend.

The format was great – for starters it’s in a pub, which is always a bonus. Anyway, you get put into a group with two or three other people, quite likely all strangers to each other, and are given a theme and told you have an hour and half to write a song on the subject. Each team then had to perform their song, then there was a guest speaker then an open mic session where people can perform songs they’ve previously written, and get anonymous feedback from the audience.

My team began as me and a prolific songwriter and former music teacher called John Clarke, who’s been playing the guitar since he was five. Our subject was “Winter” and John said it made him think of a madrigal featuring the line “April in my mistress’s face”. I suggested that we amended that, since the theme was winter, to “December in your face”, and we were off, with a song about a woman who fancies her bloke much more than he fancies her. His expression is always frosty, his eyes cold, his heart frozen, that kind of thing.

Then we were joined by a late arriver, Jennifer Lee Ridley, a music graduate who plays flute and sings and who has the added attribute of being able to arrange and compose. That’s a skill I’ve noticed not many performers have got – some can’t even read music, let alone write it. Jennifer’s specialities include setting poems inspired by the great Romantic poets to music. She came up with a great line about December mist coming down like a shroud, which neatly took us into the second verse, then our final member arrived, one Melissa Dawson-Bowling, who plays keyboards and sings, her genre being (my words not hers) power ballads. Melissa spotted straight away that we had no chorus yet, and suggested “With you it’s always winter, but never the festive season”. It’s hard to remember who contributed specific bits – I suppose that’s the way with collaborations – if everyone remembered every last syllable you’d never stop arguing over whose song it really was – but I think I did the bit about the narrator wanting her relationship to be warm like July, but it never is, much to her distress.

We also got a nice bit of assonance, with a line about “icicles in your eyes”.

John was already creating a very workable melody on the guitar, Jenny devised a nice intro on her flute and at the end of the session we were ready to perform – or at least they were. I left that bit to them, not being the strongest of singers myself. Jenny and Melissa did some lovely harmonies that were all the more impressive knowing they’d not performed together before. Click here to hear never the festive season

The guest speaker said our song was “delightful” and had a pleasing melody. Some readers might remember him if they are as old as I. Back in the 1970s there was a group called Marshall Hain, who had a hit with Dancing in the City. Well, the speaker was Julian Marshall, who was the Marshall out of Marshall Hain. He came from a musical family and got into songwriting while still at school, where he met Kit Hain. They went on to have one more hit before the group broke up, though Julian said they are still friends. They are still earning a nice sum every year from that one hit, which gives hope to everyone who’s striving to write a song, though it seems most of the money earned by performers these days is from live performances rather than from royalties on songs. Julian still writes and is now a music lecturer and runs courses in songwriting

Anyway, on Monday I had to start a little job I’ve been asked to do – some web copy for a pro musician I met at a freelance training event the other week. She wanted 300 words about herself – to be trimmed down from masses of information about her musical experience and performances that could be found in various sources.

As I was working on this, an email popped up from John Clarke, who attached the audio of Never the Festive Season. The timing was perfect, since one of my chums from the pub folk club was due to pop round to drop off some sheet music I’d left at our mutual guitar teacher’s. When Bob arrived I dragged him in and made him get his guitar and accompany me as I devised my own simplified version of the song. Bob does a good line in Spanish style guitar, which lent a new aspect to the song, and we twiddled around for an hour or so.

Then in the evening it was off to the pub, where I was determined to perform Never the Festive Season. Tony the Modern Folk Poet, who has been giving me informal guitar lessons and telling me I have no sense of rhythm, in between showing me round his garden and asking me to explain the internet to him, offered to accompany on mandolin. This turned out OK after a reasonably tedious procedure of trying to get my guitar and his mando in tune with each other. The song went down very well – though I realised the tape recorder hadn’t been turned on, so I had to inflict it on the audience a second time. Luckily, they’re a tolerant crowd. My version was far simpler than the original, being dictated by my limited chord vocabulary (I mess about with minor chords and 7ths and stuff in the privacy of my own home but am pretty much a three-chord trick sort of girl under the pressure of public scrutiny) and rather slower (my singing pace being limited rather by the rate of knots at which I can change chords). Still, it came out quite nicely, I think, and the exercise has given me an appetite for more collaborative creativity.

6 thoughts on “In which I co-write a song, rather to my surprise, and perform it in public

  1. Sue Fenton says:

    yes, and my rhythm could do with a bit of work, but it’s doing it and enjoying it that’s the main thing – you can enjoy the creative process even if you’re never going to be the main act at Wembley Arena or wherever. Like I’m probably not going to be!

    1. Sue Fenton says:

      thank you! Your website looks interesting btw. Like the tip about spending time learning scales – I mean to do this, as I need to get a better feel for where the notes are. At the moment, just doing chords and random notes around them.

    2. Gary Lacey says:

      Sue, I’ve uploaded some software/ebooks on my site with the major scales and major and minor blues and pentatonic scales that might help you. Can I post them here or contact you direct.

    3. Sue Fenton says:

      You went into spam, Gary, hence the delay in posting. I’m not sure it will do you much good as I don’t have a massive following of musician but if you like you can post a link here. A friend has been trying to teach me blues guitar and it must be like training an inattentive toddler to use a potty.

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