‘Attention Seeker’ by Felix Hagan & The Family (Album)

January 19, 2018 in Music Reviews

Felix Hagan & The Family

Felix Hagan & The Family: a mix of glam, punk, camp pop-rock and high-energy

These theatrical glam rockers have already won the hearts and minds of fans, even picking up some famous admirers, too

Felix Hagan & The Family 'Attention Seeker' album coverFelix Hagan & The Family have produced a debut album that is eccentric, charming and sassy. It’s a mix of glam, punk, camp pop-rock and high-energy performances, blasted through a wind tunnel of glitter that will leave you speechless. 2016 saw the seven-piece support Frank Turner on his epic UK tour, winning the singer over instantly. And it’s not hard to hear why.

The album opens with the title track and it becomes clear the band have developed a signature sound. The synth and guitar form a pedestal for the vocals as they take centre stage, while the drums swirl and pop like strobe lights. The song wouldn’t be out of place on a musical soundtrack.

The World’s Yours continues with the West End dramatics. The production is immaculate, instruments don’t bleed into each other – a characteristic found throughout the album. Something else the band excel at is vocal harmonies, and with seven members there are plenty of opportunities to implement this skill. The band execute this perfectly on Babe I Ain’t Comin’, amongst others.

If this is what Felix Hagan & The Family can achieve in one album, then their live shows should be as magical and contagious as people are reporting. Every song on the album is as epic as the last, each one recorded as if it were Felix’s last.

Verdict: Songs without inhibitions

Dave Chrzanowski

Sodajerker presents… Jake Bugg

January 18, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg: “It can be a test to find something that is different but hooky at the same time.”

In this podcast episode, the ‘East Midlands Dylan’ discusses his latest record, collaborating and writing songs from throughout his career

Born in Nottingham, England, Jake Bugg is an English singer-songwriter once dubbed “the East Midlands Bob Dylan.” He began playing guitar aged 12 and, though inspired by the likes of Don McLean, Donovan, The Beatles, Johnny Cash and The Everly Brothers, quickly developed his own unique playing style. Word spread about his precocious talent and Bugg soon found himself performing on the BBC Introducing stage at the 2011 Glastonbury Festival.

Bugg’s eponymous debut album was released in late 2012 and was well-received by critics and fans alike. The record’s success made him the youngest male debut in the UK album chart at No 1 and yielded the hit songs Lightning Bolt and Two Fingers. His second album, Shangri La, was recorded in Malibu, California and produced by Rick Rubin in November 2013. It was similarly well-received and reached No 3 in the UK charts. Up next came On My One in 2016, co-produced by Jacknife Lee the album was entirely self-written and performed. His new offering Heart That Strain is his most assured and cohesive album yet.

In September 2017 he released his fourth studio album, the excellent Hearts That Strain. Recorded in Nashville with some of Music City’s veteran session musicians, the album is an altogether gentler and more ruminative set than his previous work.

Simon and Brian recently had a chat with Bugg about the new record and his career thus far…

There’s a Southern flavour to Hearts That Strain with the presence of The Memphis Boys…

“You’ve got Gene Chrisman and Bobby Woods who played with Aretha Franklin, Elvis and Dusty Springfield. It’s not bad is it? It’s a pretty amazing to be in the studio with that calibre of musician and I feel like it was an amazing experience because you’re learning at the same time as doing something that you love. It’s pretty cool.”

Those guys don’t mess around do they?

“Yeah, they clock in and clock out and it is nine till five. I like that though. It’s not like that for me but it’s a good balance I think.”

There are some great titles on there, like In The Event Of My Demise

“That one was written with Dan [Auerbach] and Matt [Sweeney]. That was a song where it was quite a dark topic about some guy who’s on his deathbed and all these people around him just want what’s coming to them after he’s gone. But when we were writing it, it was one of those where the darker the line the louder the laugh really.”

The Man On Stage could almost be a Johnny Cash title…

“When I wrote that song I thought it was a bit ridiculous, to be honest. It just seemed too simple and too easy of a song. I was thinking that somebody surely must have done it before, but I haven’t heard of anything, so I sent it off to my management. When I recorded it I was even happier with the song, especially with the string arrangements on it. Ii just darkened the whole thing up and that’s one of my favourites on the album.”

It’s very piano led, was it written on the piano?

“I wrote it on the piano, yeah. It was only four chords but luckily they’re in the same key… That one, Waiting and the last track, Every Colour In The World were all written on the piano. I didn’t play the piano on the record because I had Bobby Woods. He’d be like, ‘Is it something like this?’ and I’d be like, ‘Yeah, that’s it!’

Going back to the titles, is that one of the ways you’ll start the writing process – with a cool phrase or lyric?

“Sometimes. Like the song Waiting, that was the lyric that popped out when I started singing the song, hunting around for the melody. Sometimes you will find a word and base it around that, sometimes you might have the melody but the words you’re singing inside the melody is a cliché, so it can be a test to find something that is different but hooky at the same time.”

Is there a particular instrument that you tend to turn to for your writing?

“I have two guitars at home. One’s a really old Martin from the 40s, which is lovely, and then I’ve got a Gibson Robert Johnson signature, which isn’t the best guitar in the world but it’s really small and has that bluesy sound, and so I played those two at home. But on the recording I bought a 1930s Martin in Nashville and used that for all the recording on this record.”

And most of the writing is just done at home?

“Yeah most of it, except the songs that I did with Dan and Matt. All done at home, except The Man On Stage and the songs I wrote on the piano. I wrote them in LA because I was spending a bit of time out there and so I’d just book a studio out.”

So you’ll write in the studio when you get the chance?

“Sometimes, yeah. But I was over there because my girlfriend was working out there. So she’d go off and do her thing and I’d just book out a studio. Studios can be expensive just to write in so I’d be like ‘I’ve got to write a song today!’ I’d write two in a day, one was always not very good and the other was okay.”

Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg: “I’d never rewrite a song. I’ll always write something new.” Pic: Solly_Darling/Wikimedia Commons

We’ve heard you say that you’ll write whatever comes out at the time. Do you record these ideas on your phone or write them down? What methods do you use to make a note of your ideas?

“I just use the Voice Memos app now. It’s a pretty easy way to record. Some of the most difficult parts is finishing, when you’re very determined to finish. I think the song Southern Rain had five or six different parts and I was like ‘well I can’t make a song like that,’ so it was very difficult to decide which parts I was going to use for the verse and lifts and chorus and stuff like that.”

Do you find that you throw away a fair amount of stuff?

“Yeah I throw away quite a bit, but not that much because usually from the moment I come up with an idea I kind of get a sense on if it’s a keeper or not and if not then I’ll give it five or ten minutes then throw it in the bin if it’s not happening.”

Will you keep those bits and pieces around and maybe use them in a different song?

“Sometimes. There has been cases when I have blended two ideas together and it’s worked. A song on my last album, Love, Hope And Misery, the chorus was from a completely different idea I had, because the middle eight in that song was the chorus and then that got changed…

“You shouldn’t throw things away but there’s probably also a bit of routine involved where you keep going to the same changes and the same chords, so those bits will probably pop up anyway.”

Are there people you’ll play stuff to for an honest opinion and would you rewrite a song if someone told you it wasn’t cutting the mustard?

“I’d never rewrite a song. I’ll always write something new. But I do play songs to people like my friends and sometimes it’s my friends who I know their music knowledge isn’t the best. Then you get a good sense of what the average listener to the radio thinks and that’s a good way of doing it. Sometimes I’ll play it to people who know a lot about music and it’s nice to get an opinion from both sides.”

I suppose you’ve worked with lots of interesting people, like Rick Rubin. He’s a bit of a guru when it comes to being a song doctor…

“Yeah he is, but if you come up with an idea he’ll just be like, ‘Yeah, you need to finish that tonight,’ and then that was it, that’s all you get! So then you have to make sure it’s finished or he’s not going to want to record any more. Rick Rubin is really cool, I had an amazing time working with him. I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the people I have done and I felt like I’ve learnt a lot from it as well…

“Rick Rubin locked me in his house once. I went round to play him some songs on the guitar, I think I had a burger to eat but he didn’t have a table anywhere. He just turned round and was like, ‘I’m off out for dinner,’ and shut the door behind him. He’d turned his Spotify off as well; I think he’d somehow forced me to write a song in his house because I had no other choice. I wouldn’t get picked up for a few hours, he’d gone out for dinner and it was like, ‘This ain’t weird at all is it?’ I was with my guitar and I think he knew what he was doing. I wasn’t even doing that record with him!”

We’ve noticed how economical your writing is; you don’t hang around with six or seven-minute songs.

“Not really, no. I’ve probably got two of three four-and-a-half/five-minute songs. I like to be quite to the point. I’ll only have an extended song if I believe the arrangements and the sounds that we’re getting on the track is something that will take you away on a bit of a journey for a while. Otherwise there’s no need for a double-double chorus.”

Bigger Lover brought to mind some of the older songs like Lightning Bolt, because of the rapid delivery in terms of the words in the verses. Is that something that you enjoy doing?

“I like a lot of hip hop as well and they’re always playing with a lot of words and cutting them up and I think it just gives it a bit of a different take. I think on Gimme The Love there’s a lot of lyrics that don’t make sense but they’ve replaced words that should be there. So when I’m writing lyrics I don’t like to stick to one formula, the same way I don’t like to when I’m writing melody as well.”

The co-writing that you did on the new album, is that the same process you did when co-writing with people in the past?

“Yeah it’s the same thing… There were time when I was writing co-writes that it was their way because they were pop writers and I was like, ‘I’m just not into this, it’s just going to happen,’ and usually the product would never be any good. But working with Iain [Archer] and people like Dan, they’re mates and you’re just jamming around with your friends and that’s what makes it fun. I remember one guy was like, ‘This guy is a really good lyricist,’ and brought him in and I was like, ‘His lyrics are awful!’ It just sounded exactly like a Dire Straits song as well, which isn’t a bad thing, but you can’t just rip off a tune. So I was like, ‘I don’t think this is going to work.’ There are different ways of writing and there are loads of different writers out there. Some it’s ‘their way or the highway’ but I’m just more about getting together with my mates and having a jam and see what happens. That’s what’s fun for me.”


Internationally renowned songwriters are queuing up to be interviewed by Sodajerker, who now have more than 100 episodes under their belt. Established in 2012 by Liverpudlian songwriting duo, Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor, the Sodajerker On Songwriting podcast has welcomed guests including Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Justin Currie, Willy Russell, Lamont Dozier, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Marr, Ben Folds Five, Billy Bragg, Richard M Sherman, Neil Finn, Suzanne Vega, Jimmy Webb, Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall, Dan Gillespie Sells and many more.

To find out more about Sodajerker and their work, or to download their podcasts – including the 35-minute interview with Jake Bugg – go to www.sodajerker.com. You can also connect with them on Facebook or Twitter, or download the podcasts from iTunes.

‘A Hymn For Ancient Land’ by Jim Ghedi (Album)

January 17, 2018 in Music Reviews

Jim Ghedi. Pic: Scott Hukins

Jim Ghedi: sweeping across landmarks of his life. Pic: Scott Hukins

As much of a sociogeographical journey as an album, these skilful compositions reveal the landscapes that inspired their birth

Jim Ghedi 'A Hymn For Ancient Land' album coverArtists of all mediums are intrinsically linked to their surroundings. From the Dedham Vale of Constable to the moors of the Bronte sisters, geography itself can be as much of an inspiration as love or loss. The new album from Sheffield-born Jim Ghedi captures a similar feeling of place, sweeping across landmarks of his life in places such as Derbyshire, Scotland and Yorkshire.

The seven tracks (all bar two of which are instrumental) reflect their titles. Home For Moss Valley is dramatic and rolling, Bramley Moor is airy, and Fortingall Yew as weathered as the tree that gives the song its name. The brightening piano on Cwn Elan and the unpretentious brass of Sloade Lane are two examples of how the extended cast of instruments help to embolden each composition. Just as Bert Jansch’s Avocet was able to reflect an array of sea birds throughout, Ghedi has created a distinct landscape with each of these pieces.

The lyrics of Phoenix Works were taken from a poem found in an old scythe works local to where Ghedi lives, further strengthening the bond between his music and his life. Banks Of Mulroy Bay is a reworking of a traditional song in which his earthy voice manages to imbue memories of “hills and lakes and mountains” with additional longing.

Both reflective and evocative, A Hymn For Ancient Land is ideal January listening and a fitting homage to the places that have helped shape this precious talent.

Verdict: An evocative musical journey

Duncan Haskell

EXCLUSIVE! ‘Presentation’ by French Horn Rebellion

January 16, 2018 in News

French Horn Rebellion Exclusive

Today’s exclusive song comes from the excellent, French Horn Rebellion

Today’s exclusive comes courtesy of a delightful electro-funk brother duo who will have your toes tapping with their sublime song

Their highest ranked track on Spotify has over 2.6 million plays and they’ve performed on five continents in their ten year career. Suffice to say, brother electro-funk duo Robert and David Perlick-Molinari, AKA French Horn Rebellion, are doing pretty well for themselves.

They’ve been kind enough to contribute today’s exclusive track, Presentation, and of the song Robert says: “We’ve all been there. It’s rare, but it happens. You go on a first date, and you immediately fall in love. What a predicament. You’re lovesick, but in that moment, you don’t even know if the object of your affection is interested! What do you do?”

Continuing: “Nobody likes a ‘nice guy,’ but then again… nobody likes a creep. Conventional wisdom says you gotta walk the line between who you are, and who you want to be— your presentation is all you got. But will this truly save you from heartache, or just send you farther down the path of insecurity?”

They’ve been likened to Monogem, RÜFÜS, and Flight Facilities. Listen below and see for yourself if you agree with those comparisons…

Like that? Then you can find French Horn Rebellion on Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, YouTube, and Facebook, or at their own website.

Interview: Iain Archer

January 15, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Iain Archer

Iain Archer: “I’m very happy going into a room with four or five individuals that I don’t know and start playing.”

Meet the Northern Irish songwriter-producer, Snow Patrol guitarist and award-winning collaborator with the likes of James Bay and Jake Bugg

Iain Archer is a singer–songwriter, producer and musician from Bangor in Northern Ireland, whose music career turned from solo artist in the 90s, to pivotal member of post-Britpop band Snow Patrol and supergroup Tired Pony, before developing into an award-winning behind-the-scenes songwriter. As well as winning an Ivor Novello award in 2005 for co-writing Snow Patrol’s breakthrough album Final Straw, Iain won an Ivor with James Bay for Hold Back The River in 2016 – which was also nominated for a Grammy – and an Ivor nomination for Two Fingers, which he wrote with Jake Bugg.

Iain continues as a member of Tired Pony – a group comprising Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey of R.E.M., Belle and Sebastian’s Richard Colburn, Jacknife Lee and Troy Stewart – and one of his most recent collaborations included co-writing When I’m In Need with Liam Gallagher for his 2017 solo album.

When Songwriting heard that Iain would be joining the Pro7ect 2018 songwriting retreat in Brighton, we jumped at the chance to have an in-depth chat with him…

You’ve got quite a fluid role in the music-making process. What’s your main responsibility at the moment?

“Yeah, I do a lot of things, but songwriting comprises a fair chunk of it. Production is a chunk of it as well, and teaching.”

How about when you were in Snow Patrol?

“The band formed in Dundee and I’d been making a lot of music in Belfast with a guy called Jonny Quinn who was a drummer, and I was a guitarist. We played in a number of different bands together in Belfast, but then Jonny left to move to Dundee and play with Snow Patrol, who were before that called Shrug and then Polarbear. So it was a kind of band in the making. I’d moved to Scotland as well and I’d signed a deal, made two records and toured extensively with my own stuff.”

What made you move to Scotland?

“I think I just needed a break. I’d finished university, I had a clutch of songs and kind of wanted to take a break from Belfast and do something different. There was no real industry draw. I knew people in Glasgow and it seemed like a cool next port of call. And it actually turned out to be a really effective move because I signed a deal and made records in Scotland, but those two things were completely unrelated in a weird kind of way.

“With the Snow Patrol thing, Jonny had gone over, I’d made those two records and at one point – when they’d made the second record – they had made a slightly more ambitious record that was a bigger sounding thing than a three-piece that they were. So I think I got a call before playing a live show on MTV2. It was literally like, ‘Can you show up tomorrow and play the set?’ But Jonny and I had spent enough time together that he knew I could show up and handle that. So the first couple of things I did were TV appearances with the band, playing live with no rehearsal and, at that point, the band were like, ‘You’re in, aren’t you, you’re playing with us now!’

“So we were touring, but when we finished up there was a definite sense in the band that, writing-wise and sonically, there was somewhere they wanted to take things. Things were moving in a much more songwriterly direction and less conceptual – still Snow Patrol, but Final Straw being the end result, with a more direct and poppier frame. I’d been working in more traditional, singer-songwriterly approaches, so it was good melding and timely team-up, in that sense.”

You were working as a solo singer-songwriter up until that point?

“Predominantly, yeah, I’d been in Glasgow and moved to London, I was touring and opening up for John Martyn and Nils Lofgren, and a lot of different, established ‘rock gods’, basically. That was a brilliant time for inspiration, to spend time around artists like that. I made two records, did a load of openers, played a few shows, and had a certain amount of Radio One success with songs off those records. I’m a guitarist as well, so that’s another thing that ends up happening now and again. It’s not the mainstay of what I’ve done, but I ended up touring with a bunch of people as well.”

Looking at the credits on Final Straw you co-wrote Run, Ways & Means and Somewhere A Clock Is Ticking. How were you brought into to the fold as a songwriter?

“It’s kind of hard to recall, to be honest! We started creating those songs on the road while we opening up for Ash. The songs came out of… one person would play one thing, one person would play another, one thing might become a vocal melody… Basically we got to the point where we were on that tour and sound-checked a million times, so we’d start playing new material that wasn’t even fully formed, and started refining it. It was an unbelievable way to actually create and write those songs, because you’re in massive rooms and playing through huge sound systems. You’d have 25-minute to half an hour windows where we might take 15 minutes of that to blast out new stuff, and you’d learn a lot from that. So by the end of that tour we’d been road-testing Run and Somewhere a Clock Is Ticking. Gary and I, both being singers, were very much singing together at that point, so that was informing the anthemic nature of things, with the environments we were writing in. It was classic ‘band songwriting’ but when you’re a songwriter who sings and plays as well, you’re bringing that to the fore. Generally, that was happening with five people, either on a stage or in a room, and you’d be throwing ideas on top, into the mix. It’s a nice way to work and I really enjoy that now because I work, periodically, with full bands like The Strypes, Sunset Sons and The Magic Gang, and I’m very happy going into a room with four or five individuals that I don’t know and start playing. It’s a great testing ground.”

Iain Archer

Iain Archer: “I think my role is to provoke things to happen … I want to create focus on what people are trying to do.”

In that dynamic, where you might have a lot of strong personalities in the room, do you assert yourself as a leader to push things along, or do you aim to provide more subtle guidance?

“In those environments, I think my role is to provoke things to happen. It’s not a confrontational thing. I know people who work that way, very well: they create massive amounts of tension and that can generate a reaction. But that’s not really what it’s about, it’s more that I want to create focus on what people are trying to do. A lot of the time, it’s about conversations where I’ll be saying, ‘I’m not sure the target you have in your head – for this band and this record – is the target you’re actually aiming at, at the moment.’ I’m trying to harness where people want to go, what they want to do and what they want to say, and then go, ’If you want to do that, I’m going to push you down that track.’ It might not always be that comfortable, but a lot of the time it really demands people to be a lot more personally than they might initially imagine, especially rock band songwriting. Songwriting in general demands an open-heartedness and exposure, so that does require you to cajole and encourage, all at the same time, to get that stuff out. So that’s been the path the whole way through: to try to push things in a more personal, more open-hearted, more direct way and not be afraid to let those things out. A lot of songwriters, especially in bands, have an awful lot to hide behind – it’s not necessarily the sort of thing that you let slide.”

How did your relationship with Snow Patrol finish?

“I mean, it didn’t finish; I carried on, occasionally, playing with the band. But I think I’ve always had a sense of my own autonomy, to a certain extent, coming through as singer-songwriter and being in charge of my own destiny from the outset. In a band, you’ve got to lay an awful lot of that autonomy down, so there was a certain sense of that. Actually events worked out really gently and smoothly between all of us: I moved on, signed a deal with PIAS and went onto make solo records; the band went on with Nathan [Connolly], who’s a really great mate… So the whole thing was very fluid, but there was definitely a sense of: I’m not sure I can be a touring member of this outfit. I probably need more space to move.”

Were you conscious that the band was about to be huge and got off the rollercoaster, before everything got too crazy?

“I don’t really know how to answer that directly. I guess the interesting thing – if you look throughout my songwriting past – is that I end up getting involved with people at very critical, breakthrough stages, and I tend to be that person who’ll provoke that response and galvanise a directness. I’m a character that tends to be in and out of situations, as opposed to being a permanent member. I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m part of any permanent creative partnership. Not that I’m necessarily against that, but they’re all fluid partnerships, which is great, but that seems to be the thing – without consciously setting out to be that – that happens effectively.”

Thinking back to your various creative partnerships over the years, and acts you’ve worked with recently – such as James Bay, Jake Bugg and Liam Gallagher – does your approach change at all? Or is there a ‘template’ to your songwriting process?

“What I would say is there are multiple templates but everything’s fluid in between. There are frameworks or various moulds you can write within, and it’s different with a band: I’d put that to one side because that’s a whole different can of worms! But in terms of writing with other artists or writing for my own projects, the sitting down with an instrument and writing something that’s completely intact with one voice; I love the surety and solidity of a piece of work that’s created that way. So I’d definitely encourage anyone who’s in the room with me to explore that route first, partly because I’ve worked in all those other ways. I’ve used technology, I’ve created tracks first, I’ve written on top of them… I’ve had enough experience of all of those routes and I’ve been able to get a sense of the results to know what seems to really create really lasting, classic songs that are going to be around in 15 years time, as opposed to something that has a fleeting moment of feel-good. I don’t mean to take anything away from that, but a lot of the time I find myself being in the room because we’re after something that can stick around and that’s high up the hierarchy of objectives.”

Can you say what the ingredients are for a lasting pop song? What are you listening out for?

“I think there is a certain balance in songs that I find pull me in. There’s always some kind of balance of tension at work, not just musically but lyrically. I like to call it ‘danger’, although I don’t necessarily refer to that literally. I think it’s a sense of knowing where you are, but it’s an unsettled familiarity. In any of the structural, melodic, chordal and lyrical strands, that might arise and that’s something I like to build on. If I look at lots of songs of mine, somewhere in the mix there’s that sense of volatility and to me that’s pretty key.”

I know it can be difficult to describe.

“Well, you almost kind of define it by what it’s not. I’ve got to trust the aesthetics that really appeal to me, and when you get something that’s inherently safe, it doesn’t trigger things and the stuff that really sticks around is beyond safety; there’s more going on with it that I’m really drawn to. So it’s pushing out of those comfort zones and trying to say things that are risk-taking.”

Iain Archer

Iain: “That’s the irony of working with somebody else like me: the idea is to push you into more and more personal territory.”

So do you find yourself having to push artists out of their comfort zone, and apply pressure to accelerate their songwriting to the next level?

“That is definitely part of the process as well. When you’re working with other artists, especially when they’re relatively new, they’re not necessarily always seeing themselves. What a new songwriter tends to do is write about the things you think you ought to write about! So people may come in where they are absolutely brilliant and have amazing writing chops, but it’s about stripping things away, putting a mirror up and going, ‘Who is it? What are they? Where do they reside, emotionally, as a human being?’ On a commercial level, a lot of that appears to be peripheral, and people think all that doesn’t matter, but really you get that stuff from the heartland. To me, it doesn’t work the other way around. You don’t build a gloriously melodic thing and create filler. It comes from trying to absolutely connect and communicate from an emotional territory from the outset. That’s a big part of it, so that’s why I’m not necessarily talking about set structures or any kind of direct approaches, because I think it’s so much more driven by the personality and the fuel that the artist has in themselves.

“It’s like with Two Fingers, it’s probably unlikely that Jake would’ve touched on those themes had I not been in the room. If you think about the Johnny Cash and Donovan stuff that he was coming in with, which was brilliant and totally informing what he was doing, but there are some very personal themes in that song that are unique to Jake. That’s the irony of working with somebody else like me: the idea is to push you into more and more personal territory.”

That’s interesting, because a lot of people discredit songs that have been co-written because they think it can’t have come from the heart of the artist. Whereas what you’re describing is a situation where Jake, arguably, wouldn’t have been able to come up with that personal song, without you being the catalyst.

“It’s very true. That’s something I hear of time and time again: there’s a notion that it’s not as real or there’s some kind of dilution at work when you have another songwriter in the room, and I think much is made of that. I go back to Grace by Jeff Buckley and if you look at that – aside from the brilliant cover version – pretty much everything else was a collaborative work with another songwriter. But nobody seems to treat that record any different, partly because it’s a beautiful piece of work, but it’s proof that some of the most artistic statements are collaborative. It definitely doesn’t detract in any way, and it can bring you a lot closer to what you want to achieve.”

Exactly. For a song or album to be loved by millions of different people, it can’t be too personal, it still needs to touch on a shared experience. Plus, other aspects of making music, such as musicianship and production is typically a collaborative process between a group of people.

“It’s funny because a lot people come into the room and want to create something that you feel has absolute integrity, but also jumps all of the hurdles that are put in front of the song and you as an artist. I really believe we can do both, and the reason is that if you look through the history of rock ‘n’ roll it’s been done thousands of times! There are insanely brilliant pieces of work that are massive hit records and yet are beautiful, artistic statements. So, to me that’s our benchmark, that’s what we’re aiming for. There’s nothing stopping us doing it and there’s no shame in trying.”

Tell us about the Pro7ect songwriting retreat and your involvement.

“I’m showing up to run one of the rooms, to be the producer-writer there, and be the usual collaborative presence that I am for new and emerging songwriters and artists who are going to come along. We’ll create new work, completely from scratch, every day, on the day. I really love getting involved with any project that is developing new talent, and I have massively valued the input I’ve had from people who have greater levels of experience, over the years.

“I’ve been doing a lot of collaborative work with the Leeds College of Music – I was visiting professor there a couple of years ago – so it’s not unusual for me to show up and do this kind of thing. With Pro7ect it’s really exciting to get involved in that kind of intensive few days together and see what we can blast out. You know, amazing things can happen, whether that’s a song or just a planting of a creative seed, or a way of working, or a different approach.”

You squeeze all that in between your writing and production work!?

“Yeah, well I don’t get as much of a chance to do these kinds of things, but I live in Brighton and when I heard Pro7ect was happening, I was genuinely really interested to get involved in something that’s local. There’s a lot of great music that’s happening down here.”

How do you select projects? Are you on a publisher’s roster being sent artists to work with, or are you in a position to simply pick and choose who you want to write for?

“I’m always really appreciative that there are people who want to work with me; that matters. There are artists who are interested in what I might bring to something and I enjoy that personal connection. Of course there’s an industry at work and there are projects coming through all the time, but on any level it’s got to be something that touches me. There’s not an awful lot more. Occasionally I’ll work with more established artists like Liam Gallagher, Frank Turner and Michael Kiwanuka, but a lot of the time I’m working with completely new, fresh projects that nobody is aware of, and that is an area that I really enjoy. It’s literally about trying to channel some energy into something that’s emerging, so I’m just looking for things I think I might be able to bring something to, but also I genuinely might learn something from! It’s a constant process.”

Interview: Aaron Slater

Iain Archer is a headline producer at the Pro7ect Songwriting & Music Production Retreat which takes place at Hotel Pelirocco in Brighton on 19-23 February 2018. Find out more about Iain at iainarcher.com

Singer-songwriter Dolores O’Riordan dies

January 15, 2018 in News

Dolores O'Riordan

Dolores O’Riordan: Irish and international singer of The Cranberries

Statement released by her publicist confirms The Cranberries frontwoman died suddenly, aged 46, while in London for a recording session

Irish singer, songwriter and musician Dolores O’Riordan has died suddenly in London today, at the age of 46. A statement released by her publicist confirmed The Cranberries frontwoman was in London for a short recording session, but that, “No further details are available at this time.” The statement went on to say that: “Family members are devastated to hear the breaking news and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

Irish alternative rock band The Cranberries found worldwide commercial success in the 90s with their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, which featured the single Linger. The follow-up No Need To Argue became their best-selling LP, propelled by its lead single Zombie, which topped the charts in five countries.

Songwriting offer our condolences to Dolores’ family and friends. We had the pleasure of interviewing the singer last year, when she told us about her extraordinary career and approach to writing songs.

Classic Of The Week: Tullycraft

January 14, 2018 in News


“Oh, I’ve got a question for your Superworld”

Our Sunday classic is back! And our first song of 2018 is one that indie-pop fans are sure to adore

Seattle might be the grunge capital of the world, but that’s not the only music the Pacific Northwest city is known for: there has long been a thriving indie-pop scene and one of the finest examples is the wonderful Tullycraft.

Formed in 1995, the group were inspired by the lo-fi pop artists signed to legendary K Records. With its three minutes of twee pop splendor, Superboy & Supergirl makes that influence plain and confirms Tullycraft to be one of Seattle’s finest non-grunge acts.

Classic Of The Week Playlist

Stars join fight against venue closures

January 13, 2018 in News

Stars join fight against venue closures

Turner and Macca backing grassroots venues. Credit: darkmoon1968

Sir Paul McCartney and Frank Turner are supporting a new bill that aims to save live music venues from closing

This week the music veterans declared their support for the agent-for-change principle. The fight has stepped up a gear with the announcement that senior Labour MP John Spellar will introduce a bill in the Commons to change planning laws.

The bill was raised during the day’s Ten Minute Rule Bill on 10 January, and it has progressed to the second reading which will take place on 19 January.

In a defiant mood, Sir Paul said: “Without the grassroots clubs, pubs and music venues my career could have been very different.”

Speaking on 5 News, Frank Turner said: “My 20th anniversary of touring is this year. I’ve played most of the small and underground venues in my time… They are the reason I was able to develop myself as an artist.”

When asked about the details of the principle Turner explained: “It’s a very simple principle which simply says that, whoever changes the usage of the buildings in a certain area bears the cost of that change.”

Continuing: “If you build a block of flats next to a music venue that’s been there 40 years… The developer who builds the flats is the person responsible for making sure that noise complaints are handled. They bare the legal and financial costs of doing that.”

In November Songwriting Magazine wrote about the possible closure of Bristol venue, Thekla. This is an issue that most music fans can relate to, as many gig spots around the UK are staring into the abyss.

In fact, the pandemic isn’t confined to the UK, with venues across the world facing the same fate. One music lover wrote on Twitter: “Austin, TX has been dealing with this issue. ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ and ‘Fastest Growing City’ doesn’t always coexist peacefully.”

The reason for small venues closing has been attributed to developers buying up buildings to turn into flats. But are there other causes contributing to the problem? Reality TV, for example, is an attractive concept for many musicians looking for instant fame. An opinion The Pretenders’ frontwomen Chrissie Hynde shares, saying: “It isn’t talent shows on television or theatre schools that propagate great music, it’s small venues.”

You can find out more on the matter, or share your experiences, by using the hashtags #SaveLiveMusic and #AgentofChange.

‘When Worlds Collide’ by Circumnavigate (Album)

January 12, 2018 in Music Reviews


Circumnavigate: often described as a folk band

Blow away winter’s cobwebs with this promising versatile four-piece, who’s debut album will without a doubt surprise you beyond belief

Circumnavigate 'When Worlds Collide' album coverIf you like your music stripped back and intimate, then this is the band for you. Circumnavigate have gifted the world a debut album that celebrates the lives and relationships of people from all backgrounds and cultures.

It’s easy to hear why Circumnavigate have been compared to Sigur Rós. Every song on the album is full of cinematic flare, using trumpets, keys, unique drum patterns and sound effects to create standout music. While the flawless four-part harmonies bring warmth and a sense of comfort.

Circumnavigate are often described as a folk band. However, When Worlds Collide isn’t reminiscing back to the days of drum circles and shoeless protesters; the album has a modern sound. The band have played for Gabrielle Aplin, rock singer Adam Lambert, rapper Maverick Sabre, and Crystal Fighters, proving that they can adapt and fit into the wider music world.

On opening track Dreamer there is an element of Kate Bush in the voice of singer Sigrid Zeiner-Gundersen. Her range and ability are second to none and it’s a talent that will help elevate the band above their peers as their career progresses.

Secret has a chorus that invites you in to sing-along; the lyrics are clear and contain a sense of despair and regret, and those stunning four-part harmonies are put on display again. Space In Between has a contemporary jazz feel to it, but the vocals have a soul/R&B vibe.

When Worlds Collide is much more than just another folk album. There are more influences at play, and the band often moves across the genre lines. But forget about labels and just enjoy this album for what it is: a collection of well-written and superbly performed songs.

Verdict: Musicianship at its finest

Dave Chrzanowski

Introducing… Chelsea Williams

January 11, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Chelsea Williams

Chelsea Williams: “I hae met so many characters while busking.”

This singer-songwriter cut her teeth as a busker and is using that experience to write evocative and character-fuelled pop folk

Name: Chelsea Williams

Age: 31

Location: Los Angeles, USA

Style: Folk/Americana with a focus on characters

Look out for: Her debut album Boomerang

HChelsea Williams musical career began to take shape while busking on the streets of Los Angeles. A hugely successful street performer, she wasn’t just earning the occasional nickel but was able to sell over 100,000 copies of her recordings whilst playing on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.

Such experience must seep into her songwriting? “I have met so many characters while busking,” says Williams. “It is inevitable that some of them end up in my lyrics. Whether it’s a lady that reads tea leaves on the corner, or an old man with a cane and sailors cap that sings Frank Sinatra to me as he passes by, there are an endless amount of stories to be told there.”


It’s these pure and character-driven songs which make her debut album Boomerang such a riveting listen. The record combines elements of pop, folk and Americana and each song highlights Williams’ ability to paint a picture with her lyrics. “One of the songs on Boomerang was written by a fellow busker called Eric Kufs that I met in Santa Monica,” she says. “It’s called Don’t Want To Die Alone and it’s an ode to a lonesome misfit.”

Her ambitions don’t end with her own albums. “Over the years, I’ve done a couple of projects where I’ve written for someone else,” says Williams. “I quite enjoy that process. It’s freeing not to be limited by my own character traits. I would like to do that more and maybe even write music for films.”

Whether with her own music or her writing for other artists, we’re confident that Williams is someone we’re going to be hearing a lot more from. Those Santa Monica streets have certainly served her well.

Interview: Duncan Haskell

To find out more, head to chelseawilliams.com

UK & US Songwriting Charts (29 Dec 2017 – 6 Jan 2018)

January 10, 2018 in News

Cardi B

Belcalis Almanzar (AKA Cardi B): no stranger to songwriting fame. Pic: Dgainer94/Wikimedia Commons

Our latest hot songwriters rundown sees Marshall return on the back of Huncho Jack and Cardi B making ‘money moves’

Quavious Marshall has staged a coup on this week’s Billboard charts, with 10 Hot 100 songs and a No 3 Billboard 200 album. All this is made possible by his new collaborative project with Jacques Webster (AKA Travis Scott), Huncho Jack.

In addition to the seven Huncho Jack songs, Marshall, a Georgia native, also boasts writing credits on Gucci Mane’s I Get The Bag and Migos’ Stir Fry. The hip-hop group, comprised of Marshall, his nephew (Takeoff), and his cousin (Offset), is also credited on MotorSport with Nicki Minaj and Cardi B.

Belcalis Almanzar (AKA Cardi B) is no stranger to songwriting fame either. Following the release of Bartier Cardi and her collaboration with Ozuna, La Modelo, she ascends to the No 4 spot.

US Songwriting Chart (6 January 2018)

1 ED SHEERAN Perfect – Ed Sheeran
Shape Of You – Ed Sheeran
End Game – Taylor Swift (ft. Ed Sheeran & Future)
River – Eminem (ft. Ed Sheeran)
2 JOHNNY MARKS Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
A Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives
3 SHAYAA ABRAHAM-JOSEPH Bank Account – 21 Savage
Rockstar – Post Malone (ft. 21 Savage)
Bartier Cardi – Cardi B (ft. 21 Savage)
4 BELCALIS ALMANZAR Bodak Yellow (Money Moves) – Cardi B
No Limit – G-Eazy (ft. A$AP Rocky & Cardi B)
MotorSport – Migos, Nicki Minaj, & Cardi B
Bartier Cardi – Cardi B (ft. 21 Savage)
La Modelo – Ozuna x Cardi B
6 QUAVIOUS MARSHALL I Get That Bag – Gucci Mane (ft. Migos)
Black & Chinese – Huncho Jack
Huncho Jack – Huncho Jack
Modern Slavery – Huncho Jack
Motorcycle Patches – Huncho Jack
Saint – Huncho Jack
Dubai Shit – Huncho Jack (ft. Offset)
Eye 2 Eye – Huncho Jack (ft. Takeoff)
Stir Fry – Migos
MotorSport – Migos, Nicki Minaj, & Cardi B
7 DANIEL HERNANDEZ Gummo – 6ix9ine
Kooda – 6ix9ine
8 AUSTIN POST Candy Paint – Post Malone
I Fall Apart – Post Malone
Rockstar – Post Malone (ft. 21 Savage)
9 PHARRELL WILLIAMS Havana – Camila Cabello (ft. Young Thug)
Lemon – N.E.R.D & Rihanna
10 LOUIS BELL Rockstar – Post Malone (ft. 21 Savage)
Candy Paint – Post Malone
Wolves – Selena Gomez X Marshmello

Every track charting on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week is given a point value, which is then split equally among the songwriters listed for each, and then ranked in order of those totals.

UK Songwriting Chart (29 December 2017)

1 JOHNNY MARKS Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
A Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives
2 ED SHEERAN Galway Girl – Ed Sheeran
Perfect – Ed Sheeran
Shape Of You – Ed Sheeran
River – Eminem (ft. Ed Sheeran)
When Christmas Comes Around – Matt Terry
3 GEORGE MICHAEL Last Christmas – Wham
4 MICHAEL DAPAAH Man’s Not Hot – Big Shaq
5 BOB HEATLIE Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens
6 MEREDITH WILSON It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas – Michael Buble
7 CHRIS REA Driving Home For Christmas – Chris Rea
8 ROY WOOD I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard
9 IRVING BERLIN White Christmas – Bing Crosby
10 GREG KURSTIN Underneath The Tree – Kelly Clarkson
Santa’s Coming For Us – Sia
Dusk Till Dawn – Zayn (ft. Sia)

Every track charting on the UK’s Official Singles Chart for the week is given a point value, which is then split equally among the songwriters listed for each, and then ranked in order of those totals.

Royalty Exchange logo The Hot Hitmakers chart is repurposed with kind permission of Royalty Exchange, the online music royalties marketplace.

EXCLUSIVE! ‘Broken Boy’ by The Clydes

January 9, 2018 in News

The Clydes

Today’s exclusive is from New Brunswick’s, The Clydes

Today’s exclusive track comes courtesy of a sublime, sibling led New Brunswick, NJ group whose roots are in classic alt-rock

US quartet The Clydes are comprised of brothers Brent (lead vox, rhythm guitars, keys) and Brian Johnson (lead guitars, keyboards, effects), Andrew Lord Chandler (bass, keys, backing vox) and MadMardigan (drums, backing vox). Today we’re grateful to them for providing a superb exclusive track.

Titled Broken Boy, the band had this to say about the song: “This song started with Christmas lights. Brian, our guitarist, went driving one night to look at them and came back inspired to write this music. So he played it for Brent, our singer, and Brent immediately had a vision of someone lying brokenhearted on the floor like a crumbled puppet — but yearning for a new lease on life. It became the opening track on our latest album. And we’re especially proud of how the layers of guitars and vocals weave together.”

Continuing: “As for the video? It was directed by Neil Sabatino, the head of our label, Mint 400 Records, and our album’s producer. The idea: What if you felt broken but there was something you could buy on QVC to magically fix you?”

They’ve been likened to R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and Pavement, and we think that if you’re a fan of those bands then you’re going to love Broken Boy

Like that? Then find The Clydes on Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, YouTube, and Facebook, or at their own website.

‘We Are The Wildlife’ by Brona McVittie (Album)

January 8, 2018 in Music Reviews

Brona McVittie

Brona McVittie: finding new ways to explore the world of folk music. Pic: Beki Corrigan

With her own compositions and reworked traditional arrangements, this Irish harpist has conjured up a debut album of serious quality

Brona McVittie 'We Are The Wildlife' album cover artOn her debut solo album, Irish folk chanteuse and harpist Brona McVittie blends her own creations with a host of traditional arrangements. In many ways it’s a continuation of the work she has done with bands The London Lasses, Rún and Littlebow, finding new ways to explore the world of folk music.

When The Angels Wake You introduces both McVittie’s expert harp playing and the otherworldly feeling that swaddles the album. “Sometimes it feels like I fell out of the sky” she sings, accurately describing what is to follow. Balancing familiar sounds with the unexpected Under The Pines twinkles with both electronic fairies and sounds of nature and the harp on Broken Like The Morning cascades like droplets of dew running down a branch.

Though a solo record, McVittie is in great company. Her harp might be the star of the show but the supporting cast play a crucial role in framing her work. Richard Curran’s string arrangements are an undercurrent sweeping everything along. The trumpet of Hutch Demouilpied adds a cinematic feel to We Are The Wildlife and a similar effect is created by Myles Cochran’s atmospheric slide guitar on And The Glamour Fell On Her.

Yet even without the help of such stellar musicians you suspect that McVittie would still be able to create captivating music. Her talents may be revered already but We Are The Wildfire reveals even more of her strengths as both a harpist and songwriter. In doing so, the album presents a yardstick that the folk world will do well to match in 2018.

Verdict: Inventive modern folk

Duncan Haskell

2018 Music Festivals

January 7, 2018 in News


It may be winter, but there are still plenty of music festivals for you to get excited about. Credit: ville de Barcarès

We’re just a week into January, recovering from the holidays, and festivals are far from our minds. Or are they?

For many music lovers living in the UK summer means one thing: music festivals. But what about the rest of the year? Here’s a selection of some of the best and most exciting festivals coming up in the first part of 2018, and there’s not a tent in sight.

“3 arenas, 2 days and nights of solid metal,” is the promise from the organisers of HRH Metal, which takes place between 17 – 18 February, in the home of British metal, Birmingham. This year’s festival sees pirate metal band Alestorm headlining a bill that includes Grave Digger, Evil Scarecrow, Fury, and Ballsdeep. HRH is centred around the city’s O2 Academy, which is in a central location surrounded by hotels and other necessary amenities.

22 February – 6 March sees the return of Cambridge’s City Roots Festival, a folk music extravaganza spread out around the city’s greatest and most loved venues. City Roots 2018 replicates the spirit of the world-famous Cambridge Folk Festival. This year there will be performances from Ward Thomas, Wilko Johnson, John McCusker, and comedian Rich Hall, plus many more.

Wee Dub Festival brings together the finest acts in reggae and dub. Nestled in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the festival unleashes a celebration of sound system culture throughout the streets of Scotland’s capital city.

Running over the weekend of 2 March, festival-goers will be able to see performances from Mungo’s Hi-Fi (featuring Solo Banton), The Bug (featuring Miss Red), OBF (featuring Charlie P), and Young Warrior, plus many other artists, events and activities.

If any of those don’t take your fancy, then click here for a more comprehensive list.

Interview: The Secret Sisters

January 6, 2018 in Features, Interviews

The Secret Sisters

The Secret Sisters: “There was no one else that could really grasp how terrible it was other than the two of us.” Pic: Abraham Rowe

From bankruptcy to a stunning third album, the story of this sibling duo’s resurrection is one that’s well worth hearing

You’d think two critically acclaimed albums produced by T Bone Burnett and a single released by Jack White’s Third Man Records (helmed by the man himself) would be an indication that everything was going well for country act The Secret Sisters. Sadly though, 2014 saw Laura and Lydia Rogers dropped from their label and filing for bankruptcy – with Laura taking a job as a cleaner in order to make ends meet. To all concerned it looked as though the duo’s days as a group were over.

Thankfully, things suddenly took a turn for the better. With an offer from Brandi Carlile to produce their third album and a successful PledgeMusic campaign, the sisters were able to climb out from underneath the legal paperwork and get back to what they do best, making music. The resulting album You Don’t Own Me Anymore is packed with raw emotion and stunning vocals and is the ultimate proof of their triumph.

We recently caught up with Laura and Lydia to learn a little more…

How are things for you at the moment?

Laura: “Things are a lot better than we thought they’d ever be. When we went through the rough part a few years ago we really thought it was the end of the line for us and the end for The Secret Sisters. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we didn’t know how to put it back together again. Then things started happening organically, which was kind of incredible and now we’re in a place where we’ve got our third record out and we’re venturing all over the US and now we finally got to come back over to the UK which is what we wanted for years and years. So we’re happy now and we’re in a good place and things feel good again.”

During those dark times were you able to think about songwriting at all or was it just about getting through the day?

Laura: “It was kind of that. The songwriting halted for a good nine or ten months, we just absolutely could not bring ourselves to sit down and write. It was hard enough to get through the daily tasks of finding money, paying our bills and trying to get out from lawsuits and bankruptcy and all of that glamorous stuff. Songwriting stopped for a little while but then we found our way back to it once all the dust had settled.”

Do you remember how you started writing again?

Lydia: “We didn’t really have the desire to do it but we knew it wouldn’t get done if we didn’t force ourselves, so we set days periodically to get together and force it out. The first song we wrote for the new record was over the summer of 2015 and a few months later we would write another one and a few months later we would writer another one. They didn’t really happen all at once, they came one at a time and gradually. It was a slow process but we got them out eventually.”

Was that a cathartic experience and part of the healing process?

Lydia: “Yeah that was totally part of it and we really couldn’t think of anything else to write about except what we went through, because it was the first thing on our mind at that point. It helped us heal and at the same time we were so angry at everything, even each other. So even getting together to write these songs was tough, but it was healing at the same time because we didn’t want to do it but we knew that in order to get past it we had to.”

You must have had to be very accepting of each other to get past that anger and be able to work together again?

Laura: “That’s very true. The first time we had an actual planned songwriting session we sat down together and I remember us just being so mad and frustrated and we hated each other’s ideas and we were just so emotionally tired. We had to kind of go to separate spaces and write for a little while and then get back together again and discuss our ideas. It became like a counselling session between the two of us and we had to have a lot of grace with each other because we were the only people who could understand all of the emotion and frustration that we had gone through. There was no one else that could really grasp how terrible it was other than the two of us. So we had to have a lot of patience with each other, and I am not a very patient person. So that was miraculous.”

The Secret Sisters

The Secret Sisters: “We both have our say on both sides of the excursion into songwriting.” Pic: Abraham Rowe

Was that a completely different dynamic to the way you worked on the first two records?

Laura: “A little bit, we’re still sisters at the end of the day so when we write together it’s easy for us to get frustrated and it’s really easy for us to criticise each other’s ideas in a way that is maybe a little harsh for a dynamic between two people, but that season of songwriting was a little more stressful than the previous ones just because things had been rough, but we always disagree no matter what’s happening. Even when we’re happy we tend to disagree with each other.”

In some ways that must make the music even stronger, because you can be completely honest with each other…

Laura: “That’s a good point, we can be really mean to each other but at the end it produces a good product. We just go about songwriting in really different ways and I think that makes us butt heads even more but we eventually get them out one way or another.”

Can you talk us through the creation of a typical Secret Sisters song?

Laura: “Well each one is a little bit different. Lydia has written a few songs on her own and then she’ll come to me with the framework of it and we’ll work on it, but typically what happens is that we get together and we always try to have some sort of idea, or a melody, or a lyrical thought, some sort of jumping-off point, and then we sit down together and we just write from that perspective.

“Lydia tends to be the melodically driven sister, she’s really good at chord progressions and making things interesting in that department and then I’m more driven towards lyric writing, so I care more about framing the words and the story with the music. It’s collaborative and we both have our say on both sides of the excursion into songwriting. That’s typically how it works but it isn’t ever completely smooth. Some songs will be born in an hour and some take several days to work out but Brandi [Carlile], who was our producer on the third record, was really good about helping us put the finishing touches on the songs. We would have most of the songs written and then she would come in and say, ‘You really need to take this chorus up a notch,’ or ‘you need to add a bridge here that’s going to finish off the story,’ and so Brandi was really good at helping us make the songs extra powerful.”

Do you enjoy working in the studio environment?

Lydia: “We don’t typically love that, we like to be really prepared. That’s just kind of our personality but we had several songs where we thought they were finished and they weren’t once we got into the studio. Brandi was really good at telling us if it needed to be taken somewhere else or to a different level and she’s a master bridge writer. She wrote maybe three bridges for us. We like to be a little more prepared than we were this time and hopefully we will be for the next record.”

How did that differ from working with T Bone Burnett?

Laura: “T Bone is different from Brandi, because she is a female for one thing but also because she’s a powerhouse vocalist whose primary focus is being a vocalist. I think what was really great was being able to work with another female singer who understands how our voices work and how our songwriting perspective works. Her real talent was just being able to hone in on the femininity of what we do.

“Working with T Bone was really incredible but when we worked with him we had the songs ready and we went in and we did it. We played the record and the band jumped in when they felt like they should jump in and there wasn’t really a lot of work on vocal delivery and polishing up the songs. Brandi really understood all the places where we had room to grow and she wasn’t afraid to step in and help us grow in those areas. We’ve had three really great studio experiences with our albums and we wouldn’t change any of it but this one was definitely our favourite, just in terms of where we are in our lives and careers and because we’ve really revered Brandi for so long.”

We also wanted to talk about the fact that financial backing for the album came from a PledgeMusic campaign… Did that alter the creative process in any way?

Lydia: “Yeah it definitely does change things, though I don’t know if it really changed our creative process so much because we launched that campaign when all of the songs were written and most of them were recorded. It did challenge us creatively in how we would cater to our fans. We had to think of the different rewards for what people wanted to give, so Laura painted a few pieces of art and we would do handwritten lyrics and played some house shows. We had to think a little bit differently for that part of the process.”

Laura: “We talked about the songwriting being therapeutic and although we didn’t do the Pledge campaign for that reason it ended up also being therapeutic. We had gone through such a traumatic experience and we really had trouble with our self-confidence and belief in our music, we were really struggling with the thought that no one would care who we are or about our music any more. When it became obvious that it was going to be a successful campaign, it was reaffirming in a lot of ways and made us realise that people were looking for us. It really helped re-establish our belief in ourselves and the relationship that we have with our audience. It was a really good choice.”

The Secret Sisters

The Secret Sisters: “We do revisit those emotions every time we sing … but the pain has definitely dulled.” Pic: Abraham Rowe

Was there also a label involved at that point?

Laura: “We were still unsigned when we made the record, which is a lot of the reason why we chose to do the crowd-funding campaign. There was no one with a cheque book waiting to pay for the record to be made and that was really great because it allowed us to not have the pressure of having to please a record label. It allowed us to be completely ourselves and trust the music to go where it needed to go. Then after the record was completed we were able to get a deal with New West Records and that was great because it meant that they loved the music for what it was and not for what they envisioned it to be. It’s been a beautiful relationship so far.”

How is it to perform those songs that come from such a personal place?

Lydia: “It’s different every night and it all depends on how we’re feeling at that particular time. If we had first performed these songs right after we wrote them we might have had a harder time getting through them but it’s been three years now. We do revisit those emotions every time we sing those songs, but the pain has definitely dulled.”

Do you find new meanings in your songs the longer they’re in existence?

Laura: “I think that’s the beauty of music and songwriting; that the meanings evolve even after they’ve been written. One of the most amazing things is that we’ve written pretty specific songs about a very individualistic struggle, I mean not many people could have had similar experiences of being dropped from a label and filing for bankruptcy, but as we’ve written these songs and put them out into the world we have people come up to us and say, ‘I went through a terrible divorce last year and your music really helped me get through it as I felt like you were writing about me.’ People would tell their story and what they’ve been struggling with and it’s just nice to know that although the music is very personal to us it can also be applied to many difficult situations and can be helpful. I think that’s the best part of figuring out the new meanings of the music. It really broadens the reach of the music.”

Have you both had that experience with other artist’s songs?

Laura: “There are so many Brandi Carlile songs of course. We really love this band from Los Angeles called Dawes and they have some really incredible songwriting that we feel has been written just for us.”

Lydia: “Paul Simon, we’re big Paul Simon fans. I’m trying to think of a specific song but they all have a different meaning for us so it’s a hard question.”

Lastly, what’s next for The Secret Sisters?

Laura: “We haven’t started writing just yet, though I think we’re starting to feel the itch again. Right now we will have a little bit of time off and then will go back on the road in America in December and January and then we come back over to Europe and the UK.”

Lydia: “Most of next year we’ll be doing the same thing as we’ve done this year. A lot of touring and then we’ll be getting ready for another record, hopefully.”

Interview: Duncan Haskell

You Don’t Own Me Anymore is out now and The Secret Sisters will be taking part in the Transatlantic Sessions in February before beginning their own UK tour. Details can be found at secretsistersband.com

‘The Greatest Fire’ by Jeremy Bass (Album)

January 3, 2018 in Music Reviews

Jeremy Bass

Jeremy Bass: the sound of a polished Thom Yorke. Pic: Skylar Smith

Though occasionally slipping into the prosaic, this songwriter and classically trained guitarist finds his own voice by the album’s end

Jeremy Bass 'The Greatest Fire' album coverBrooklyn-based artist Jeremy Bass cut his teeth as a classical guitarist and is also the musical director for The Secret City, an arts organization which has received the auspicious Off-Broadway honour of an Obie Award. There are hints of these origins on his new album, The Greatest Fire, but there’s also a strong sense that he is attempting something more personal and inventive here.

His voice has the sound of a polished Thom Yorke, with some of the Radiohead frontman’s questing housed within a more mainstream framework. Considering his early influences, it’s a fitting space for him to occupy, but for some it will come over a little too glossy. While songs like the country pop-tinged title track title and (So Glad) Everyone’s Happy are pleasant enough, they lack a little dynamism.

But there is more to Bass, as displayed throughout the album. The nimbly picked guitar of Trees For The Forest shows that he has lost none of his ability with the instrument and final song, We Will Be You, is perhaps the finest example of what he is capable of. Both stark and epic, there are pockets of space which fill with the sound of mourning guitars and piano, an ideal accompaniment for the yearning vocal performance. This is his sweet spot, one which suggests he really can bring together all of his influences to create something that is his alone.

Verdict: A musical insight into where Bass has come from and where he wants to go

Duncan Haskell

Interview: Mike Stock

January 2, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Mike Stock

Mike Stock: “I’d already started thinking about the business side: you put on a show, you act and you play a part”

Reflecting on life in Stock Aitken Waterman, ‘one of the most successful songwriters of all time’ shares some hit-crafting tactics

Margate-born songwriter, record producer and musician, Mike Stock, became a household name under the banner Stock Aitken Waterman in the 80s. The trio achieved their first UK No 1 in 1985 with You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) for Dead Or Alive, and went on to become one of the most successful songwriting and producing partnerships of all time, scoring more than 100 UK Top 40 hits and selling 40 million records. To date, Mike has written a total of 54 UK Top 10 singles with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Cliff Richard, Rick Astley, Bananarama, Donna Summer, Steps, Mel & Kim, Sinitta and Jason Donovan.

Recognised by the Guinness Book Of Records as one of the most successful songwriters of all time, Mike holds the record for the most No 1s with different acts, after creating chart-topping hits for 11 separate artists. He also became the first person to receive the Ivor Novello Award for Songwriter Of The Year three times in a row between 1988 and 1990.

After hearing he’d recently teamed up with Bucks Fizz (now known as The Fizz) to co-write and produce their first album in 31 years, we decided to catch up with Mike and see how his approach might have changed over the years.

Give us a bit of background in terms of when you discovered the art of songwriting.

“I do recall starting songwriting when I was very young – I was about seven years old. I kept a little folder of my ditties, which my mum stored away – I’m not sure where she put it and she died a few years ago – but I illustrated my songs. I remember seeing a particular black and white film, about Tin Pan Alley and about songwriters writing a song a day. I remember the man who wrote Any Umbrellas sold it for half a dollar, or something, and I remember thinking: what a fascinating idea.

“There was music in my house anyway: my older brother is a classical musician – played German national opera all of his working life – my father played the piano and my mum sung a bit, but not professionally. I was always in the school choir and on stage in the school productions, so I suppose I must’ve had some kind of hankering for that thing, when I was very young.

Who or what inspired you, musically, at that point?

“I always thought songs had writers and songs had singers. The Beatles hit the ground running and suddenly that all changed a bit. And I think you can make an argument for and against that. In a way, The Beatles moved on to the credibility factor of writing your own songs and singing them yourself. As opposed to the Frank Sinatra idea where you have a manager who says, ‘It doesn’t matter who’s written them, but I’m going to find you the best material,’ rather than saying to Frank, ‘I know you don’t really write, but perhaps you could come up with a few ideas yourself.’ Elvis didn’t do that. The biggest singers in the world don’t do that, apart from when The Beatles happened. Suddenly you get Paul McCartney who’s a great singer and a great writer, and like I say, I think the jury’s out whether that’s for the better or worse.

Did you play in a band?

“I formed bands in my teenage years. I went to university and backed out of that after two years because I couldn’t take it anymore, and I went out on my own into pubs and clubs with a guitar, but I was singing classic songs. I have a sort of encyclopedia in my head of all the brilliant writers of the American songbook as well as the British stuff. I’d go out and play dinners and do Irving Berlin or some Cole Porter, or whatever. When I formed a band it gradually evolved and I started to include some songs that I’d written. I had two bands with the same personnel, but with different names: one to play disco hits at hotels, weddings, bar mitzvahs and all that, and the other would play the rock venues, pubs and clubs, where you did your original material. We’d wear suits and ties in one and jeans and t-shirts in the other. Because they’re two different ideas, in the hotels my band got £500 a night and in the pub we got enough for a beef burger! I had to change the name because I didn’t want somebody in Park Lane walking around the corner and seeing me in The Golden Lion playing for no money, then we try charging them £500 the next night for a wedding. So I’d already started thinking about the business side: you put on a show, you act and you play a part.

Stock Aitken Waterman

Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman (left to right) clutching their haul of Ivor Novello Awards

“Finally, at the end of 1983, I decided we were quite good at the band thing and thought I could carry on earning a living until I retired. But I thought, no I’m going to stop this and go in the studio I’d built under my house and develop production ideas and my own songs, and see how far we can get. The rest of the band all left, apart from Matt Aitken who was the guitarist, and he came with me to see what we could do.”

Where were you at this point?

“I lived in Blackheath, so I was gigging all over London. I then moved to Abbey Wood where I had a bungalow that was built six feet in the air because of the Thames flooding, and under that I could put my studio. That’s where I was when I made the decision not to do that band. I made good money from the gigs, but it was really just a safety net to my real passion, which was to write and produce my own music.”

Had a forged a strong partnership with Matt by then?

“Well, he was living with me, with my wife and kids – in the basement – because he didn’t have anywhere to stay. At night we were doing the gigs, but during the day we were in the studio, honing down any ideas and I thought we had a possibility of making it – he was a great guitarist and a good foil when you’re sitting there writing songs. But we took a risk. Suddenly we were walking out over that cliff edge and you don’t know what you’re going to step into.”

What was the next turning point that led to the formation of SAW?

“That was New Year’s Eve, so on the 1 January 1984 we get down the studio, Matt and me, and we came up with this idea to do a female version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. On 16 January, Matt and I took the idea to Peter Waterman – he was third on the list, actually, as we’d gone to Red Bus and RAK, but the A&R men weren’t there! I knew Pete because I’d touted some of my songs around before and he’d picked up one of them and producer it with someone called Pete Collins. So he was one of the appointments I made that day, and he wasn’t there either! But his girl there said he’d be back at two o’clock so Matt and I had a coffee or a cup of tea and went back to see him. Of course, Pete understood there wasn’t actually a band – we’d got a couple of girls in to front it and invented the name Agents Aren’t Aeroplanes – so we could tell him the vision and he got it immediately. We went in the Marquee studio a few weeks later and recorded it. That’s where I suddenly fell in love with high-tech studio equipment. I discovered drum computers and sampling machines that were in their infancy, but a great asset in the studio.

When you went to Pete with the idea, did you have any songs written already?

“Yeah, we only went with one song, which was called The Upstroke – it was sort of an invention of ours to do a new dance. There was a thing going around at the time by The Sloane Rangers to do with ‘Sloaning’ and they had a little dance to go with it. It was a commercial idea and a bit naff, to be honest, but Pete understood it and so that’s the song that we went with in the studio and refined it. We hadn’t really thought of it being so high energy, but that was what was going around at the time, and that was what got released. It was the first recording we did, so it wasn’t going to stop the world! But it got us started.

“The very next thing we did was Divine, You Think You’re A Man by Geoff Deane, and the next song was one we’d written – Hazell Dean, Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go) – which became a Top 5 hit and a hit all over the world. That was originally written by Matt and me, back in the studio in Abbey Wood, and we gave it to Hazell.”

Mike Stock

Mike Stock: “I would prefer to find an artist and write based on what I knew about them, so I feed off who they are”

How did the dynamic of the three of you develop over those first few years?

“From my point of view, Pete’s position was kind of like a ‘fixer’; he had an address book and knew where things were; he had contacts with people. After we’d done Hazell, Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive heard it on the radio, came to us and said, ‘Could you make his record?’ So we start work on that in the Marquee and we didn’t know it but in September we were recording You Spin Me Round, which was Pete Burns’ song. So we didn’t write that but it became our first No 1 because it picked up on the Hi-NRG vibe we were doing with Hazell.

“But, running parallel to that, I had sensibilities as a writer that meant I didn’t have to stick with one genre. So while the recording of their album was going on, I was doing work with a girl called Desiree [Heslop] who had the stage name of Princess. We’d written Say I’m Your Number One, which had an R&B style based on Jam & Lewis. Then because of Dead Or Alive, Bananarama approached us. So things fed on one from the other. The first thing we did with Bananas was Venus, which wasn’t our song, but as soon as we’d done that we went in to write a whole load of songs with them, which became their first series of hits. At the same time, we were getting people turning up from Warner Bros, like Brilliant who were signed to WEA. Suddenly we were starting to have hits and businesses were approaching us, so Pete Waterman’s role was becoming less integral.

How did you start working with Mel & Kim?

“Mel & Kim came to us via Nick East at Proto Records who’d put out the Divine and Hazell records for us. Mel and Kim were just two ordinary kids who’d never been in a studio and, in common with a lot of times, we were asked to do a cover and I thought, ‘No, I want to write songs for them,’ and that’s how we came up with Showing Out and Respectable. We would’ve had a great collaboration with them over a number of years if it hadn’t been for Mel’s ill health and the tragedy of her death.

What about Rick Astley?

“He was the tea boy for us and got the sandwiches! Pete had seen him and thought he had a good voice, so we were going to do a cover of a Motown song, which we did do with him. But I was always saying to Pete, ‘No, we’re writers and this guy’s too good; we’ve got write him something.’ So we sat down and came up with Never Gonna Give You Up and the other stuff, based on the knowledge of his voice. He told us about his long-term girlfriend he’d met when he was five years old, at primary school, and it was a story of fidelity from childhood through to adolescence. So the lyric on Never Gonna Give You Up is about how we love each other, we haven’t actually been physical because we’re just kids, but are we going to take this to the next level or are we going to be lifetime buddies?”

Do you prefer to write with the singer’s own experience in mind, rather than your own?

“That’s the one thing I’ve always done: I would much rather know the artist. Nearly every song I’ve ever written is biographical. Some people sit in their room writing songs, demo them up and send them out to someone who might place them. I would prefer to find an artist and write based on what I knew about them, so I feed off who they are, what they are and, potentially, their capabilities. I factor all that into my thinking, so when I’m sitting down with a blank sheet of paper, it’s not completely ‘blank’ – there are ideas.”

Are you thinking about the melody and topline first, or do you start what the lyrics, or do they come together?

“Well, you sit there tinkering on the guitar or the piano, coming up with ideas and melody riffs, and certain chord structures tug at the heart-strings. It’s alright coming up with a bunch of words and a tune that works, but does it stir your emotions and get you on another level? For me, certain sequences do that. You feel it at deep down level. There is a complicated other scenario where you’ve got structures, words and chords, and you try to fit a tune that works with them, seamlessly, and there’s a skill in that, but is there any heart? That’s the difference, probably, between a good song and a hit song.”

Bucks Fizz

Bucks Fizz with Mike Stock: “If you want to make it in the wider world, you’ve got to make something people want to buy!”

Do you try not to think about those structures or are you a student of these ‘rules’ and know how they work?

“As a kid, I learned that there are rules and as you get to understand them, you can break them. It’s like a woven tapestry: if you pull the rules apart too far, suddenly the material has disintegrated. You can bend the rules, but can’t rip them apart otherwise it won’t work. So knowing how the weaving works is important. For example, on a pop song you can’t waste time on the intro, you’ve got to get to your point. What is your point? It’s normally your title, which is your bullseye, and the verse or the bridge is how you take the listener there, so it’s important. Normally, the chorus is the bit you all want to sing along too, it normally contains the title and, normally, it’s higher in pitch than the verses. So you start low, build up to the high point in tone, and it’s climactic – you give it that lift.”

“Once I’ve got the structure, I sit back and go, ‘Does a casual listener follow this? Is it too complicated? Does it go from A to B in a comfortable way that takes the listener with it? And whilst I’m sure they’re comfortable, occasionally I might want to make them uncomfortable – that’s some of the rule-breaking that I’ll slip to make the song unique.”

Can you give us an example of where you’ve used that technique?

“Well, I sometimes deliberately stuck an awkward key change in, to shock. Another thing I’ve done is extended the line or the cadence, so it ends a bit different. I mean, every song’s got its story in that regard – nearly every hit – but if I said them to you now, you probably wouldn’t think it was unusual, because you got used to it.”

It’s interesting to hear that there’s so much skill and craft that has gone into what some would regard as ‘throwaway pop’.

“That’s one of the biggest problems there are nowadays, because when I say, ‘There are these rules,’ I can hear all the arty ones screaming, ‘There are no rules to music!’ But they’re wrong, it’s how you break the rules in an unusual and unique way that signifies your song out of all the rest. The very first thing you have to learn is how to make your piece of music understandable to the listener. Does it have progression that pulls you along?”

What did you do when SAW split up? Did you ever take a break from making music?

“No, I’ve never stopped. Immediately after that I formed my own record label and collaborated with Simon Cowell on Robson & Jerome, so I did all the production with them. Nicki French we signed and had a hit all over the world with Total Eclipse Of The Heart. At the time, I wasn’t keen to push too many of my original songs because I didn’t have the structure around me – I don’t like throwing my babies to the wolves! And, in the 90s, the industry was going through some massive changes, but I did a band called Scooch for EMI and we had a few hits with them. For my sins, I did the Fast Food Rockers and we had a very, very big hit with them. That’s what I mean, the Fast Food Song is beneath the dignity of most writers, but I knew it was commercial and you have to have that head on occasionally when you’re writing. If you just want to stay in your bedroom, fine, but if you want to make it in the wider world, you’ve got to make something people want to buy!”

What have you been involved with more recently?

“About three years ago, I decided I’d try and do a pop act and took on Shayne Ward who’d won The X Factor. I wrote a bunch of songs for him, got the album in the charts and did pretty well, but then he got offered the gig on Coronation Street and buggered off! Then, a year later, I was on Twitter and somebody says, ‘Why don’t you work with Bucks Fizz?’ I thought that sounded like a good idea, so somebody put us together and we’ve written their album and it’s doing pretty well.”

It’s great to hear you’re still so driven to keep songwriting.

“Well, there’s always another song to write and I’m hoping that one day I’ll write the perfect one! I have to sit down at a piano every day just to keep my fingers going, but also because I’ve got to get some ideas. Whether I’ll need them tomorrow or next week, I don’t know, but that’s what I’m doing every single day.”

Interview: Aaron Slater

The Mike Stock-produced and co-written The Fizz album The F-Z Of Pop is out now. For more on the man himself, go to mikestockmusic.com

UK & US Songwriting Charts (15-30 Dec 2017)

December 30, 2017 in News

Meredith Willson

Promotional photo of It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas songwriter, Meredith Willson

This week’s rundown of the Top 10 songwriters on both sides of the Atlantic includes creators of several festive favourites

US Songwriting Chart (30 December 2017)

1 JOHNNY MARKS Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
A Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives
2 ED SHEERAN Perfect – Ed Sheeran
Shape Of You – Ed Sheeran
End Game – Taylor Swift (ft. Ed Sheeran & Future)
3 SHAYAA ABRAHAM-JOSEPH Bank Account – 21 Savage
Rockstar – Post Malone (ft. 21 Savage)
4 6IX9INE Gummo – 6ix9ine
Kooda – 6ix9ine
6 AUSTIN POST Candy Paint – Post Malone
I Fall Apart – Post Malone
Rockstar – Post Malone (ft. 21 Savage)
7 LOUIS BELL Rockstar – Post Malone (ft. 21 Savage)
Candy Paint – Post Malone
Wolves – Selena Gomez X Marshmello
8 GEORGE MICHAEL Last Christmas – Wham
9 PHARRELL WILLIAMS Havana – Camila Cabello (ft. Young Thug)
Lemon – N.E.R.D & Rihanna
10 KHALID ROBINSON 1-800-273-8255 – Logic (ft. Alessia Cara & Khalid)
Silence – Marshmello (ft. Khalid)

Every track charting on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week is given a point value, which is then split equally among the songwriters listed for each, and then ranked in order of those totals.

UK Songwriting Chart (15 December 2017)

1 JOHNNY MARKS Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
A Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives
2 ED SHEERAN Castle On The Hill – Ed Sheeran
Perfect – Ed Sheeran
Shape Of You – Ed Sheeran
When Christmas Comes Around – Matt Terry
3 GEORGE MICHAEL Last Christmas – Wham
4 MICHAEL DAPAAH Man’s Not Hot – Big Shaq
7 BOB HEATLIE Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens
8 MEREDITH WILSON It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas – Michael Buble
9 ROY WOOD I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard
10 CHRIS REA Driving Home For Christmas – Chris Rea

Every track charting on the UK’s Official Singles Chart for the week is given a point value, which is then split equally among the songwriters listed for each, and then ranked in order of those totals.

Royalty Exchange logo The Hot Hitmakers chart is repurposed with kind permission of Royalty Exchange, the online music royalties marketplace.

New Music For 2018

December 29, 2017 in News


Will Ed Sheeran take a break and give another artist the chance to dominate the charts in 2018? Credit: vLADISLAV1989 / 1

Goodbye 2017: It has been another great year for music, but will 2018 be better? Let’s look at the evidence

It’s that time of year where we prepare to give way to the old and welcome in the new. 2017 has been an excellent year for music with some solid releases, but also sadness as we’ve said goodbye to some big names. But let’s concentrate on the positives the year has brought us.

2017 will probably be remembered as the ‘year of the Sheeran.’ While everyone’s summer was brightened up, or haunted, by one particular Spanish-language song, and Ariana Grande fought back against terrorism with the successful One Love Manchester gig.

Many artists will be hoping that Ed Sheeran takes a break in 2018 and gives them the chance to dominate the charts. While the new year promises to be a big one for female artists.

So, what do we have to look forward to in 2018? Although not officially confirmed, fans of Destiny’s Child are convinced that Beyoncé is “getting the band back together.” The evidence? 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut album.

Chvrches will release their “most pop album to date.” Australian legend Kyle Minogue is ready to share her tell-all album about her relationship break-up, and Scandinavian sensation Sigrid will unleash her debut album. Also, Little Simz and Ray BLK will be artists to keep an eye on in the new year. Lily Allen and The Streets return with new music and a greatest hits tour respectively.

The 1975 will bring out their third album, Music For Cars. Singer Matt Healy has said of the album: “If you look at third albums, OK Computer, or The Queen Is Dead, that’s what we need to do.”

Jack White is in the studio doing what he does best, which means lots of fuzz and blues riffs, and there’s the also little matter of the return of Arctic Monkeys. As far as legends go, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Public Enemy, and Bjork all have milestone celebrations in 2018. Songwriting Magazine will see you on the other side.

Sodajerker presents… Yusuf/Cat Stevens

December 26, 2017 in Features, Interviews


Yusuf: “I’ve got artistic license to do what I want. I can crib as much as I want.”

In a recent episode Simon and Brian chat with a true musical icon… the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens

Yusuf was born Steven Demetre Georgiou in London in 1948. Growing up in the city’s West End, he was in the heart of the city’s theatre district and a stone’s throw from Denmark Street, London’s equivalent of Tin Pan Alley. He received his first guitar aged 15 and began writing his own songs. Having changed his name to Cat Stevens, he signed his first publishing deal in 1965 and put out two albums in 1967 alone, Matthew & Son and New Masters. it was following the release of the latter that he was struck down by tuberculosis. During his lengthy convalescence he experienced something of a spiritual and professional awakening and elected to adopt a more stripped-down folk rock approach. This proved to be a masterstroke and the series of albums that followed, including Mona Bone Jakon, Tea For The Tillerman and 1971’s Teaser And The Firecat, propelled him to stardom.

In 1977 Stevens surprised his fans and the wider music world by converting to Islam and changing his name to Yusuf. He returned to music in the late nineties with a series of educational albums aimed at Muslim children, but it wasn’t until 2006 and his An Other Cup album that he would fully embrace his singer-songwriter guise. That record and it’s follow up, 2009’s Roadsinger proved that his years out of action had done nothing to diminish his musical gifts.

This year, the 50th anniversary of his debut album, Yusuf released The Laughing Apple. It’s a collection of new songs and reworked versions of old favourites that provided Simon and Brian with the ultimate excuse to have a chat with the great man…

Your fans will recognise some of the titles on The Laughing Apple

“Definitely those that have been with me from the 60s. Some of them have been put out on my website as singles and the message we’ve been getting back from the fans is really great. They love it because it goes back to the simplicity of my compositions and my songs and the way I wanted to hear them originally and the way I wrote them, which was usually with a guitar. Not with a big band or brass, saxophone, timpani or things like that. That’s how they were interpreted by the arranger in the sixties, so this has now become much more puristic.”

We noticed that Grandsons is an update on I’ve Got A Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old, does that mean that songs aren’t necessarily fixed in your mind and can change as things change in your life?

“Yeah for sure. I’ve got artistic license to do what I want. I can crib as much as I want. I’ve done it in the past also, there was a piece of music which I wrote for Foreigner Suite and a lot of people loved the ending, a little piano piece. I developed it and I turned it into a new song for An Other Cup, one of the first albums I came back with. The song was called Heaven/Where True Love Goes. I can do these things, it’s my music.”

You’ve revisited some songs from the past that weren’t quite finished, Mary And The Little Lamb and Mighty Peace were two that you’d had for a long time…

“That’s right, Mighty Peace was actually the first time I felt I’d written a song, the first complete song that I felt I’d written, even though I only had one verse… And it’s somewhere in the misty past, it was there and I always remembered it with affection. Then I was speaking with a friend of mine called Peter. We used to play guitar together, he taught me a few picking tricks and we used to go to Les Cousins together. When I was speaking to my friend Peter he said, ‘Oh that song, don’t you remember it?’ and I said, ‘What one?’ He said, ‘Mighty Peace’ and I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’d forgotten that,’ and then he sang me the verse! So that’s how I began to reclaim that song and finish it. Peter gave me the little key to that song again and it was great to finish it. Mary And The Little Lamb, that’s another one of those demos that I was writing and giving to my publisher and nobody wanted to sing it, nobody was interested at that time. So I thought: ‘Ooh, it’s still got a great little chorus.’ I wanted to finish it and I just put this little happy ending towards it and it came out great.”

Does that mean you’ve got notebooks of lyrics and all that stuff?

“Most of them are old demos. I’ve got these black acetate demos which we’ve had transferred onto digital. I’ve got some tapes that I have not even bothered with, it’s going to be a treasure house of riffs and ideas when I was meandering endlessly into a microphone and taping it all. I’ve got that from the 60s, I just haven’t got time to go back into it and do it.”

Are we right in thinking that when you first started out there was a piano in the house? Was that where you first started to pick out chords?

“True, exactly. It was like one-finger-style piano. Mum used to play a little bit like that and she knew some lullabies from Sweden. I think the Swedish genre of lullabies kind of influenced me to a great extent. I remember when I ended up singing Morning Has Broken, I found that the entry for that song was to think about my mother’s voice and the way in which she sang. We had this piano and I wrote my first song on there, but it wasn’t really a song. It was terrible. I don’t want to think about it.”

Yusuf Islam

Yusuf: “When you’re young you see things very clearly … you say it as it is.” Pic: Bryan Ledgard/Wikimedia Commons

Beyond the household, you were in the heart of a very musical district…

“Oh yeah. We were just on the edge of Tin Pan Alley. Opposite us was The Shaftesbury Theatre. One of my all-time favourite musicals resided in that theatre for a long time, called King Kong. Not many people know about King Kong but it was about a boxer in South Africa, it was an all black, all South African cast and the music was so powerful. We were in the middle of this thing. Oxford Street, The 100 Club, Tiles, The Marquee and Les Cousins. Then in our little part of the road, because my dad had a caff on New Oxford Street, in moves Dick James’ Northern Songs just down the road and Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records. Across the road from us was this fantastic specialised folk, blues, jazz record shop, you could find anything there. I first discovered Scott Joplin because they played it…”

It’s hard to conceive of having all that on your doorstep…

“So true, we were really lucky. I got myself a guitar that I’d brought from Selmer’s on Charing Cross Road and it wasn’t very good, but it was enough for me to break my fingers on.”

Can you trace a connection between the music you make and the music you heard in that environment?

“The idea of telling stories or communicating a narrative was definitely part of the influence of living amongst all those musicals and the theatres. West Side Story was probably the biggest thing in my life and so I saw life from many different perspectives. The fact that I was part-Greek Cypriot, part-Swedish, living in London and going to a Roman Catholic school, things joined together to make me appreciate a lot of different cultures, somehow in the middle of London. That did definitely inform my approach to music.”

We’ve heard you talk about being in hospital in the late sixties and how that led to your spiritual awakening. How did that impact on your songwriting?

“I’d already grown very disgruntled with the approach of Decca and the whole establishment of the music business, plus the production of my songs was never the way I wanted to hear it. The last song I did record with Mike Hurst, who was my original producer, I said, ‘I want to play my own guitar on this one.’ It was called Where Are You? And it’s actually one of my favourite songs. It’s got strings on it but they’re very gentle and subtle. I was at the edge of really wanting to jump and do something original which sounded like me.

“Then the illness happened and I realised: ‘I’ve got nothing to lose anymore. I want to be me and I want my songs to reflect what’s within me and I want it to sound like that.’ I started writing a lot of songs and I went back to my red room, the environment where I wrote most of my classic songs, just above the café on New Oxford Street and I was just inspired to write so many different songs for the next period. Then I met Chris Blackwell. Chris heard Father And Son he fell over and he introduced me to Paul Samwell-Smith and that all worked out as being my next career with Island Records.”

Is there anything you can tell us about writing The First Cut Is The Deepest?

“That was actually one of my early attempts at Percy Sledge’s When A Man Loves A Woman, it was something like that which I wanted to write. I think he also influenced A Whiter Shade Of Pale, if you listen to that you’ll get the resemblance. I wanted to write something like that, a blues song … The theme of the song is kind of obvious, it’s when you’re young and you have your first love and that doesn’t work out. So it’s a perennial love theme. The words just came and it was quite profound really. Somebody said to me, ‘Do you really believe that the first cut is the deepest?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do.’

It’s a very succinct way of expressing that idea, isn’t it?

“When you’re young you see things very clearly. There are no veils over your eyes and you say it as it is.”

Did you start with that lovely opening thing on the guitar?

“It’s quite simple isn’t it? I thought that was kind of obvious and probably my early attempts at trying to do some picking. But it was very suitable and it just worked out.”

Was the title something that you had in mind before you started?

“That’s a good question but I could not answer it. I don’t remember, because when you’re in the process of writing you might start with a word or you might have a word on your mind and it might come to the surface. It’s usually a mood. I would think that the song would have begun with the picking, the chords at the beginning, and then I would have hummed something and then I would have come to work out what are the words. I’d mumble something probably into the microphone and then play it back and go, ‘Oh that sounds like First Cut Is the Deepest.’ Something would catch my attention or I would use some of the mumbling and I’d find out what it meant and then I’d write it. Somehow you’re in this state of mystic communication, there’s something that’s going on and you’re listening to it yourself, so that’s part of the process.”


Internationally renowned songwriters are queuing up to be interviewed by Sodajerker, who now have more than 100 episodes under their belt. Established in 2012 by Liverpudlian songwriting duo, Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor, the Sodajerker On Songwriting podcast has welcomed guests including Paul Simon, Ben Watt, Justin Currie, Willy Russell, Lamont Dozier, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Marr, Ben Folds Five, Billy Bragg, Richard M Sherman, Neil Finn, Suzanne Vega, Jimmy Webb, Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall, Dan Gillespie Sells and many more.

To find out more about Sodajerker and their work, or to download their podcasts – including the 40-minute interview with Yusuf – go to www.sodajerker.com. You can also connect with them on Facebook or Twitter, or download the podcasts from iTunes.