Here’s our finished song – Cornerstone!
It’s been a really positive learning curve for me to collaborate with singer songwriter James Grant this past month. I’ve written in a way I’ve never done before! It began with James sending me some gorgeous guitar music, which he recorded remotely. I always tend to have the “big idea” in place, and often, the majority of my lyrics, too, before any music comes along…so this was a totally new and exciting approach for our collaboration.
After clarifying that James didn’t have a particular theme in mind for the song, I began to seek out a melody – just a melody, with no connection to any thoughts or ideas…I’ve never done that before.
I think a lot of my songwriting process comes back to a music theory exercise that I used to enjoy at my classical piano lessons, with my lovely, inspirational teacher, Mary Newlands. She frequently gave me short texts to set to a melody – and I relished this task, and this way of working. What rhythm and melody did the words imply? What could rhythm and melody do to enhance these words? I was excited by the possibilities…and later, I think I consciously chose this “words first” approach in my own songwriting, in an attempt to ensure that the words were fully supported and matched by the music (see my enthusiasm for “prosody” in previous blog posts!), and that the rhythm and melody of my songs sounded as natural as possible. Over time, I had noticed my own aversion to songs where the melodies of words were extended beyond their syllables, or presented in what seemed to me to be an un-natural rhythm, or not how you would say the words in conversation…But I had never really considered that the same work could be done in reverse, thinking, “what words would really match this melody and rhythm pattern, this vibe?”
So, after recording a provisional melody remotely, which James liked, I began searching for an idea to match the vibe of the music, and the brief for this project – something related to human behaviour and its consequences. The music to me sounded really positive, and full of warmth and support (despite a darker section in the middle) – and so finally, I settled on the idea of storytelling, and perhaps, in particular, the great gift, if we’re lucky enough to receive it, of being told stories by our parents and loved ones as children. Being told stories can help us to find our place in the world, face life’s challenges, and feel secure in who we are and what we value. As well as being one of many people who regularly consume stories (in various formats) for self comfort, much of my work revolves around telling stories through songs, and I feel it’s good to acknowledge that I’m also (re)writing my own story as I do this, changing my ending, re-defining myself with each tale told. I am grateful for all the stories people have told me, and the stories that I am able to tell and re-tell.
I’m also hugely grateful for James’s generosity in lending not only his guitar playing, but also his glorious voice to our recording, and his meticulous approach to perfecting the song lyrics. With a keen eye and ear, James suggested subtle but powerful changes in the phrasing of the lyrics in the song’s chorus, achieving exactly what I valued when setting words to music during my piano lessons – placing the emphasis where it would/should fall naturally, rather than wedging it into the melody line which I had created before the words. He also help us to de-clutter the bridge, getting all of the same sense across, but with much cleaner, simpler lines. I greatly value that clarity of vision, the economic/efficient use of language (which was one of many qualities that I had particularly admired in James’s songs already) and James’s commitment to helping the song reach its potential.
A huge thank you to the talented creative team who have helped me to bring the song to life in a recording – to James himself, for contributing his beautiful vocals and guitar playing, and to Mattie Foulds (drums, production) and Kevin McGuire (bass). I hope you enjoy the song!
#storytelling #storieswetellourselves #writeyourownending #belonging #redefine
My eighth songwriting collaborator in the Creative Scotland supported CONSEQUENCES project is James Grant. During lockdown, I enjoyed the entire programme of Celtic Connections 2021, and was particularly impressed with James’s succinct, powerful songwriting, so I got in touch with him, and was absolutely delighted that he was up for collaborating with me for this project 🙂
By next week, all being well, we’ll be sharing a recording of our song! I’ll also write a wee blog about the experience.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to support the project by pre-ordering the CD of the album for delivery in October 2022, you can do so here:
Thanks for all your support!