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.)
I 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!