One of my great songwriting heroes has always been Sugar Miami Steve Van Zandt aka Little Steven aka E Street Band guitarist and producer aka Silvio Dante of The Sopranos.
The aspect I’ve always loved is the spellbinding mix of garage rock energy and soulful music and lyrics as manifested in the 1970s Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes records (plus a triumphant return in the 1990s with Better Days) as well as his solo records as Little Steven and The Disciples Of Soul. The latter became more political and rock-influenced in the 1980s until a hiatus of more than 20 years culminated in a 2016 return to a 15-piece touring and recording band replete with 5 horns and 3 female backing singers. Powerful stuff and a great source of inspiration for my own material.
I met him at the Hard Rock Cafe in London the night before he played the latest Summer Of Sorcery songs at The Forum in Kentish Town, London.
Apart from that highlight, this year has been incredibly busy with devising and delivering some 3-part evening courses on Lyric and Melody writing for London Songwriters, one of the best Derbyshire retreats yet in April, our 10th Anniversary in May and then participating in the MIDEM music industry event in Cannes for the second year.
Following on from another successful series of concerts for the homeless charity Crisis At Christmas, January brought the usual sniffles and Life Admin chores such as Tax Returns and Car Insurance renewal.
However, the 7-day Spring Peak District Retreat I am teaching on April for London Songwriters is effectively sold out and so I have had time to do some rewriting and prepare for recording a batch of tracks for release and sync-pitching later in the year.
I am also looking forward to finishing edits on some atmospheric tracks I filmed last year in the South Of France (pics above) and releasing the resultant videos.
Great to be progressing some new music and getting the studio ready for recording.
The 7-day Spring Peak District Retreat I taught and facilitated for London Songwriters in April was a huge success – 12 writers plus myself bonded over Songwriting and Suppers in the middle of the beautiful Derbyshire Countryside. We had a great time discussing songcraft, writing over 40 songs, walking through the local villages and pastures or simply chillaxing.
Next up, and alongside the popular half-day Collaboration and Songshare workshops in London, I will be teaching and facilitating once again on the July Songwriting and Recording Summer Camp 2017 in Box Hill, Surrey, and this will be my eighth retreat in two years. Last year’s sold-out event garnered enthusiastically positive testimonials as have all my retreats and the 2017 Camp only has ONE PLACE LEFT with two months to go!
It’s gratifying to watch Workshop and Retreat attendees producing better and better songs, scheduling showcases and their own EP/album releases as well as continuing to collaborate and record outside the sessions.
Over the Summer I will once again be mentoring groups of young people in Music Skills for three days at a time at NCS for the Team Challenge part of their four-week course.
I am also mentoring individual songwriters, so if you feel the need for some experienced 1-2-1 feedback do get in touch! See the Workshops link for testimonials.
Amidst the work organising the workshops I am also finding time to record and video a backlog of songs built up recently including some location shots in the South Of France where I am currently on holiday – I hope to release some more tracks of my own soon!
And so we come to the end of a busy 2016 – here are my highlights in a nutshell!
I ran another three highly successful London Songwriters Retreats in the beautiful English countryside attended by 45 writers in total, all of whom rated the overall experience 5 out of 5. You can register for the Spring 2017 Peak District Retreat if you want a magical songwriting break in beautiful surroundings!
There were also 22 of our monthly Collaboration, Songshare and Industry Guest workshops in London and in the summer I also had two three-day stints mentoring young people in music skills for NCS – The Challenge.
For the fourth year running I organised two concerts for the homeless charity Crisis At Christmas and this attracted media attention from London Live TV News:
Organising these events took up the bulk of my time but I also had three of my own songs included on Nub Music’s award-winning 100×30 compilation album series – they are in The Guinness Book Of Records! I also tried my hand at doing some accompanying video production as well, with quite pleasing results I think – see my Summer’s Day post below and my Christmas video for Crisis here:
On the non-musical front I attended England’s Euro 2016 football match with Russia in Marseilles whilst on holiday in France – a most dispiriting and tear-gas perfumed affair!
There were sad and difficult family matters too but hopefully we can carry forward the good memories, so here’s looking forward to a positive attitude to the challenges ahead and wishing everybody a happy 2017!
I am delighted to have a song released on the latest 100×30 Guinness Book Of Records-included album from Nub Country Records. Have a quick listen. – it’s only 39 seconds:
Last year Mark Christopher Lee‘s label released an album of 100 30-secondsongs as a commentary on streaming services such as Spotify, which stand accused of not paying artists, and most particularly songwriters, a fair royalty rate.
The 30 second song concept comes from the fact that Spotify pays out micro-pennies for distribution to artists by record companies after 30 seconds of streaming, so why write any longer songs? It also perhaps reflects the supposed decreasing attention-span of today’s listening audience. It deservedly garnered attention from TV and national press and is now entered in the Guinness Book Of Records.
As soon as I heard of the concept I was immediately curious as to how one could fit an entire Pop song structure into 30 seconds along with all the hooks and commercial radio-play conventions that go with it.
In the end I missed the deadline for contributions to the original album, being in the throes of organising and facilitating a London Songwriters retreat. However, when I heard about the follow-up, which commemorates 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, I knew I had to find time and a songwriting get-together with friends in Gloucestershire gave me the opportunity.
I chose Sonnet 18 (Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day) as my inspiration, paraphrasing it into modern-speak and using the ubiquitous Axis Of Awesome 4-chord loop as the harmonic basis throughout.
Except that, in order to fit a classic pop structure of Intro Verse PreChorus Chorus Intro Verse PreChorus Chorus Bridge Chorus (Breakdown) Chorus Outro, I condensed it into a 2-bar loop with 2 bars for each line/section at 170bpm in a Power Pop Punk genre.
In true pop fashion I incorporated a non-lyric vocal intro and link (Oh Oh Oh Oh) and hopefully the requisite amount of repetition and contrast between the sections.
I recorded it the week afterwards and hit the deadline for the album along with all the other great artists. I’m pleased to say the song has had a good reception on record and live.
I filmed the video to help promote the song and album in my English Country Garden. Serendipitously, I think the clay sculptures in the video manage to echo the theme of longevity through art covered in the Sonnet as well as in the work of the ‘Immortal Bard’.
Summer’s Day (Shall I compare Thee) is out now on Shakespeare Verses Streaming by The Pocket Gods and Friends – Owen Paul, Mo Foster, Rich Ridings, The Boy From Space, Lee Ryda, Jane Tomsett and others. It is available onAmazon, iTunesand on Physical CD at all good record stores.
At London Songwriters we held our usual two monthly events with two different formats, collaboration and songshare
“It was amazing!”, “Thanks for a great workshop again! These are so valuable”, “Great experience”, “Really inspiring and effective group” – so said some of the participants at our New Year 2016 collaboration and songshare workshop on January 17th.
“Really well organized and superb system for gathering feedback – genuinely illuminating. Thoroughly enjoyed it.” said one participant about our second event, a Songshare and Feedback Session on January 30th.
Also we announced a new May Songwriting Retreat in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside. Register your interest below if you want a highly enjoyable songwriting experience at the highly affordable all-inclusive price of £215:
I look forward to welcoming more songwriters to our future events!
Also…over the years I have attended some training workshops hosted by the Federation of Entertainment Unions via my Musicians Union membership. These are fantastic events for freelance creatives on practical subjects such as motivation, presentation, interview technique and finance. They included me in a case study, which you can read on the FEU Training Website.
If you are a member of one of the relevant unions these courses are totally worthwhile!
It was certainly one of innovation. Three highly successful London Songwriters retreats in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside were attended by 35 writers, all of whom rated the overall experience 5 out of 5.
Alongside the monthly collaboration workshops I also inaugurated a songshare format for London Songwriters, which proved both popular and useful and we had some great industry speakers, including Norman Dolph, David Stark and Don Gallacher.
The two concerts we organised for the homeless charity Crisis At Christmas at the end of the year were a huge success and we raised £1062 at the same time via our Donation Page.
Organising these events took up the bulk of my time but I also made sure I did some of my own writing, which was gratifying. I even entered a song for the Eurovision Song Contest with the aid of a singer who contacted me. Boom-Bang-A-Bang!
Inevitably there were disappointments too but they say you should only carry forward the good memories, so here’s looking forward to a positive attitude to the challenges ahead and a happy 2016!
At the end of April I facilitated my first retreat for London Songwriters and 11 of us spent a wonderful week writing in the picturesque Derbyshire countryside. I have been attending retreats with a dozen or so friends every 6 months for the last 10 years and thought it would be a nice idea to share the experience with the London group.
Amongst the many positive testimonials was this one ‘‘I thoroughly enjoyed the retreat spending time inlovely surroundingswithlovely people. Was impressed with the facilities provided for writing and performing our songs and the overall support of Murray for the whole time. Can’t wait ’til the next one!’
I will be hosting another retreat at the beginning of August – at the time of writing there are still a couple of places remaining if anyone wishes to contact me.
Alongside the regular monthly Collaboration and Songshare/Feedback events in May we also held a very successful Song Pitching special with NYC Lyricist/Publisher/Author Norman Dolph, who offered some highly constructive and gracious comments on the commercial pitchability of our members songs.
In between I have also found some time for writing and co-writing and I hope to be progressing the recording of more of my own catchy pop/rock and introspective folk songs 🙂
The year got off to a flying start with good attendances at London Songwriters and some highly productive collaboration sessions. I also started a new songshare-only format where we can discuss our songs in more detail with a smaller group.
In April London Songwriters will host its first retreat for 11 of us in the Derbyshire countryside. Exciting!
I have also been rewriting and tweaking some of my own songs so that they are ready for recording and pitching. One was shortlisted by Disney last year…hoping to improve on that achievement.
2014 ended with a repeat of last year’s collective London Songwriter’s performance initiative at a Crisis At Christmas homeless day centre. This year we did two performances instead of one, involving twice as many people and some of the guests also joined us on stage. Thank you to everyone who donated their time, talent and performances as well as those who sponsored us! The donation page is still open!
My completion of a Community Music PTLLS Music Leader teaching qualification meant that there hasn’t been a lot of time for my own music but I will resume this year.
Wishing everybody a Happy New Year and continued success throughout 2015!