Collaboration 1 – Ron Sexsmith
Here’s our finished song – Any Wishing Star!
I was honoured to collaborate with award-winning Canadian songwriter Ron Sexsmith for this song, which is focused on being kind, and taking positive action, rather than seeking to blame others. It’s timely that it’s being shared right now in advance of hosting COP26 here in Scotland, where we need to acknowledge, globally, where we’re at with the climate crisis and take positive steps forward.
I really hope you like the song! A huge thanks to the creative team who heled me bring it to life: Mattie Foulds (production, drums), Kevin McGuire (bass) & Mikey Owers (brass, guitars, synths, vocals)
#ronsexsmith #kimedgar #songwritingcollaboration #consequences #promiseswecantforget #iwishfortheworld #writeadifferentending #kindnessisourmission #musicforCOP26 #COP26
“Why do you write songs?”
This is a question I frequently ask others to consider during songwriting workshops, and since the pandemic, I’ve had more time than usual to ponder what I’m trying to do with my songwriting, and why.
As a teenager, the songs of Tori Amos, and subsequently Joni Mitchell, had a huge impact on me. Their songs spoke, it felt, directly to me at that time, and brought me solace and a sense that I was not alone in my experiences. I was writing songs back then, too. I can remember, as if it was yesterday, first listening to Tori Amos single “Silent All These Years” on my friend Louise McFadden’s headphones in the dining room at high school, and a few years later, in 1994, hearing Tori herself perform a cover of A Case Of You by Joni Mitchell in Edinburgh’s Queens Hall, with Louise by my side. Later still, in 2005, hearing Karine Polwart perform songs that touched and moved me prompted my next steps on my own songwriting journey. Karine’s concert was part of a weeklong festival that I had been invited to attend as one of 17 winners of a songwriting competition; inspired by the power of Karine’s performance, and the quality of her songs, I left my employment as a primary school teacher to focus on songwriting full time.
Songs have, literally, helped me – and that’s why I write songs myself. Songs can help people – to reflect, to not feel alone, to be brave, to be soothed, to empathise with others, to challenge their own thinking. I’m not a naturally confident person, but I am confident about gathering my thoughts into songs and sharing them on stage – and I hope that in this way, the things I make can be of some help to others.
Bolstered by new connections and support in terms of my online communication through a project called Global Music Match during the pandemic, I shared a post on social media with me performing a cover of A Case Of You (here’s Joni’s outstanding original version) from my front room, along with some reflections on my own motivations as a songwriter. I was surprised, and pleased, with the way people responded to this – and it motivated me to continue to share aspects of my work on social media. I resolved to post a performance of one favourite song a month in 2021, along with my reasons for loving the song. This is where Ron comes in…
In February, I performed Gold In Them Hills by Ron Sexsmith (you can here his glorious original here). I adore everything about this song. The music itself is gorgeous, but on top, the song’s powerful message is so eloquently put into words. “Though our troubles seem like mountains…there’s gold in them hills.” I have taught this song to many others since I first discovered it, in the hope that those who hear and sing it will experience the same comfort and solace that the song has given to me.
I was taken aback when Ron himself retweeted and complimented my performance:
“Thanks Kim! That was beautiful RS”
– and suddenly a songwriter I had greatly admired from a distance didn’t seem so far away. Through the magic of Twitter algorithms, I received more and more content from Ron – and the more of his pun tweets I read, the more affinity I felt with him. Those of you who have known me for a while are probably already familiar with my love of puns! I have done “a pun a day” for the run up to Christmas some years, and then there’s The Balloon Joke (containing my favourite pun) which I’ve told at almost every solo performance for around 13 years, since I first heard it…My Grandpa Jones loved puns, and his joy in them was infectious, and I caught it directly! So reading all these puns on Ron’s Twitter feed, felt familiar and comforting. Alongside these, Ron also regularly shares what I now know he calls “Twitter thought poems” – concise, strong lyrical ideas. I really enjoyed reading these, and several of them particularly caught my imagination, and also seemed to link together thematically.
An idea had been brewing in the back of my mind: a project that would help me to do one thing I struggle to do myself – to reach out to others and ask for their help. I love (and I mean, truly love) to collaborate with other songwriters – it’s a fascinating chance to delve into how someone else’s creative mind works, and to learn from it – but approaching others and asking them to collaborate involves a level of self confidence that I don’t really have. It reminds me of freshers week at university, where having summoned up enough courage to enter the student union, I struggled to start conversations with strangers, stood in a toilet cubicle for quite a long time, and then returned home. Still, I began to work on plans for an ambitious project that would support me to do that hard thing, and reach out to collaborate with others – and once again, I was taken aback, and deeply grateful when Ron offered a letter of support for the project, and said he’d do his best to collaborate, despite being already committed to writing and recording his own album at this time.
The whole focus of the Consequences project is to look at the personal, social or environmental impact that human actions have – to consider how we live, and how we could live. It seems that right now we’re facing many challenges in the world and it’s a good time to see if songs can be any help with considering how we meet them. Ron’s thought poems connected strongly for me with discussions that Ron and I had via email about the need for kindness and understanding towards people living with mental ill health, rather than shaming, shunning or ostracising them. Ron’s thought poems seemed to focus on asking ourselves to be kind, and to make an effort to make things better, rather than seeking to blame others, which I loved. So I asked Ron if he’d already used these in songs or if he’d be up for me weaving them together to form the lyrics for our song collaboration, and was delighted to discover that the lyrics were indeed not yet in use elsewhere, and that Ron was happy for me to do this. With just a couple of edits, we were able to create a full lyric from a selection of his thought poems.
“You may not have gone the farthest
But far enough to see the light
You may not have caused the darkness
But it’s up to you to make it bright”
That’s one thing that I really love when collaborating with others – sometimes, it takes someone else to see that you’ve got a real gem of an idea, when you haven’t yet seen that for yourself…Ron’s lyrics are really beautiful, and it was a great pleasure and challenge for me to try and do them justice with the music. I worked in my home studio to create the melody and harmony for the song, then emailed Ron a rough home recording of it to get his feedback before starting to work on the final recording with the full creative team’s input. I was honoured to receive this response:
“That’s really lovely…there’s nothing I would change or do differently, it’s perfect. It reminds me of something Judee Sill might’ve written.”
Knowing now that we were both happy with the completed song, I was able to record my final vocals and piano parts and then pass this on for further contributions from Mattie Foulds (drums), Kevin McGuire (bass) and Mikey Owers (brass, guitars, synths, backing vocals). I’m excited as the project progresses to hear the final song emerging, and can’t wait to share it with you by the end of the month!
Several years ago, touring with the Edinburgh based Scottish Americana artist, Dean Owens, I was fortunate enough to be introduced, as we drove the roads of the UK, to the captivating songwriting and voice of Canadian singer songwriter, Ron Sexsmith. I was particularly entranced by his open, honest lyrics, and the beauty, and vulnerability, of Ron’s unique voice. You can experience both by listening to the stunning song, Gold In Them Hills, which really captures, for me, how joy and sorrow sit alongside each other in most of our lives. I also really love that Ron’s message in this song is that how we choose to look at things can make all the difference. I’m certain that this song must have helped countless people who’ve been lucky enough to hear it.
By the end of this month, I’ll expand on my notes here, and share with you some reflections on my collaboration with Ron for the Consequences project, as well as the song we write in collaboration. I look forward to seeing you then!