A song for Robert

My Silver Son is a song I wrote for my second son Declan, just before he turned two. I finally managed, a couple of months ago, to write one for my first son Robert.

First In My Eyes is a song about being a father, making the most of the time we have with our kids, and the hopes we have for them.

Audio only:

I finished writing it in time for Robert’s 5th birthday in October, but between a busy period at work and a troublesome appendix I didn’t manage to record it in time. (They finally took the aforementioned appendix out just last week.)

I spent an evening at Mathieu Siegrist’s K-yak Studio in Gland in late November. He did a really nice job on recording, arranging and mixing the song, with great ideas for the instrumental parts and harmonies. I’m hoping we’ll have a chance to work together more in future.

While I wrote this for Robert, its sentiments apply – of course – equally to Declan… they’ll both be first in my eyes, whatever paths they eventually choose to take. I think/hope the sentiments in this song will resonate with any parent. (And I’m not just saying that in case Declan is reading this text many years from now! Don’t forget, Declan, you got your song first!!)

You can download the song from Soundcloud here.

First In My Eyes

You fell off the swing that day; it seems just like yesterday,
I pushed you too hard, I rushed you too soon.
Now you like flying high, a big boy, a bigger smile,
Maybe someday you’ll fly to the moon.

I’ll keep holding your hand for as long as you want to hold mine,
I’ll be reading you stories as long as you think that’s alright.

I know in time you will live your own life,
And I hope you’ll be strong and be happy, be honest, be kind,
You’ll go your own way, and you’ll run your own race,
But wherever you finish you’ll always be first in my eyes.

I love singing songs with you, or playing a board game too,
We can hop on the bikes, go for a ride.
I think now I understand how the child makes the man,
From father to son and on down the line.

I’m teaching you things but I’m learning from you all the while,
So I’ll tie your laces and maybe one day you’ll tie mine.

I know in time you will live your own life,
And I hope you’ll be strong and be happy, be honest, be kind,
You’ll go your own way, and you’ll run your own race,
But wherever you finish you’ll always be first in my eyes.

I won’t forget the day we met, they put you in my arms, I tried not to break you;
I buttoned up your tiny vest, cradled you against my chest, we made you, we made you.

I know in time you will live your own life,
And I hope you’ll be strong and be happy, be honest, be kind,
You’ll go your own way, and you’ll run your own race,
But wherever you finish you’ll always be first in my eyes,
I don’t care where you finish you’ll always be first in my eyes.

Selling myself

I’m excited about a gig I have coming up on Friday this week, when I’ll play at Le Box, in Carouge. I’m one of two support acts, with a duo called Zepless at the head of the bill. It’s a dedicated music venue with a proper audio and lighting set-up, dedicated sound engineer and – hopefully – a nice warm atmosphere.

As most of the people who’ve seen me play regularly in Geneva know me primarily as a covers act, I put together the montage below to give an idea of what can be expected from a set of my own songs. It has served its purpose well I think as the Facebook upload has been (relatively speaking) widely shared. (Top tip: if you want a video to be popular on Facebook, upload it directly yourself rather than just sharing a YouTube link. Facebook will serve up videos on its platform to more people than those on other platforms, as it wants to keep people on its own site for as long as possible.)

In case you’re wondering, I used WeVideo.com, a really cool online video editor, to put this together. It’s free to use, but I paid USD $5 to remove the WeVideo watermark. Highly recommended.

Making this video made me realise how little decent quality live footage I have, but I guess the homemade feel gives a fairly accurate impression of the way I tend to approach my performances, so it’s quite honest.

Wiser heads on older shoulders

Noel Gallagher was the guest on the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs recently. Aside from some excellent music choices, the conversation was really interesting. He came across as intelligent, eloquent and witty, with some insightful things to say about music.

The introduction to the show quoted him as saying that “music is a thing that changes people’s lives; it has the capacity to make young people’s lives better; you’ve got a duty to make music – if you can, you should”. I’m not sure that the music I make changes people’s lives, but I definitely feel that music should be performed for an audience and that entertaining that audience should be a top priority (although not the only one).

I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to say, particularly about music. A case in point: “There has to be a certain kind of truth in everything that you write, even if it’s just one line in a song that’s truthful to you and your situation; and if it’s true to you, then it’s going to be true to somebody else.”

I think my friend Iain Twigg, who died from a brain tumour last December, would have agreed strongly with that. Noel Gallagher’s music held a lot of truth for him. Music was a big part of his life and Oasis loomed large. The Masterplan was playing the morning that he died and his wife Caroline felt that it put a smile on his face. (They also danced to that song on their wedding day.)

andyhammerI was involved in an auction at the start of summer to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity, part of a year of activities under the Twiggathon banner. (My friends Andy and Penny Andrea did an amazing job of organising it – that’s Andy with his hammer in the photo.) One of the items in the catalogue was an offer from me to compose a song to order for the winning bidder. It was really encouraging – and a bit scary – to witness the little bidding war that ensued. I wondered whether this had been such a good idea after all, as I now had to deliver a song as promised.

In that radio show Noel Gallagher also talked about the songwriting process. His approach is that the songs are out there waiting to be caught. He said “I’m there every day fishing in the river for the songs”. Well I can certainly say I’ve had less time for fishing since becoming a dad. I’ve found that I’m more productive when there’s a bit of pressure on. A 2013 wedding delivered the necessary pressure for my song If I Take You, and the first birthday of my son Declan was the deadline that drove me to complete My Silver Son earlier this year.

Most recently the pressure has come from the winning bidder at the Twiggathon auction. It came from a footballing friend, David Powell. (We both shared the football pitch with Iain on countless occasions.) Fortunately Dave didn’t put too much time pressure on me to deliver the song he “purchased”. The song would be for his fiancée, but with his wedding a mere five weeks away I told him straight away that it was highly unlikely that I’d deliver in time for that. I did, however, commit to having the song ready within three months.

I met him for lunch shortly after the auction and we had a good long chat about his fiancée Gina, their relationship, life, love and romance in general, and, of course, music. (He said it was a bit like being on the psychiatrist’s couch!) The conversation, along with what I knew of him generally, gave me what I needed to start thinking about the song.

Their marriage in July was a second one for both Dave and Gina, and they both have kids in their teens. He wanted me to write a “realistic” love song that would recognise that people in their situation might approach relationships and marriage a bit differently. He also gave me guidance in terms of the music he himself likes, citing songs like the Arctic Monkeys’ Mardy Bum and the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York, as well as a few Edwyn Collins songs and one or two others.

I’m pleased with the song that came out of all of this. More importantly, so is David. And most importantly, so is Gina! (She said she cried when she heard it first – I’m assuming they were tears of joy!) The recording I’ve done is a reasonably quick’n’dirty acoustic demo, with just the guitar and a couple of vocal tracks, but I think it does the song justice. I could imagine it working well with a north of England accent – think Jarvis Cocker or Alex Turner – and I’d love to record it sometime with a solo electric guitar, in a kind of Billy Bragg style.

It’s a song for Dave and Gina, but it’s also a song I’ll be happy to include whenever I’m performing my own songs. While the lyrics have references that are very specific to the couple that inspired it, it also serves as a more generic love song, especially for people finding Mr or Mrs right a bit later in life and perhaps on the second or third time around. And it’s got a catchy chorus!

Singing in the sunshine

Lots of al fresco musical adventures in the past six weeks or so, from jamming with Ecolint teachers at the end of an in-service training day, to doing short sets at a couple of the school fairs where I was working (in my capacity as Ecolint’s alumni guy), to our local village festival and, most recently, the Fête de la Musique in Nyon. It’s been really nice to be singing in public again and in such a variety of different venues and contexts.

On the Ecolint stages I stuck to cover songs, with the exception of the set I did in the Greek Theatre at the LGB Kermesse on 30 May, when I opened and closed with a couple of my own songs. I had John Marc Davies, music teacher at LGB and talented violinist, join me for that set. As you can see in the video below, he did a really nice job, particularly given that he didn’t know the songs.

At the Nyon Fête de la Musique I was given an hour-long slot on a lovely little stage at the Place de Savoie, close to the lakeside. I was first on stage at that location, at 13h30 in the afternoon, so it was quiet enough as I began. But by the end a nice crowd had gathered and I was pleased with how it went. I decided in this context to play only my own songs. The video below is just a short snippet of My Silver Son, the song I wrote for my son Declan.

It feels good to have reached a stage where I can fill an hour with my own songs – even leaving out a few that I would have been happy to sing – and get a good response. When I have an opportunity to perform somewhere now I have to decide whether to play covers, originals, or a mix of both. It really depends on the context, timing, audience, my own mood, etc… At Vich en Fête, our newly revived village festival, earlier this month I was more than happy to stick to well known covers. It’s still a lot of fun to sing The Beatles, Paul Simon, The Kinks, etc., in the sunshine for an appreciative audience of friends and neighbours.