Diary Of A Songwriter: George Montague
A budding local musician tells us how he challenged himself to write 10 completely new songs in just 10 days
Hello, my name is George. I play piano, guitar and sing songs that I’ve written for a living. I also own a little red grand piano called Tink. Yes, I am that musician that names all my instruments. Anyway, now we have been properly introduced I wanted to let you know about a little project I did.
The plan was to write 10 songs about 10 characters in 10 days – one song per day with a 9am-9pm time limit. Well, that plan had to be rethought after I finished writing the third song on the first day, which incidentally was not even meant to be the first day I was starting the project, but I got carried away.
So I modified my rules, but kept to similar perimeters: I would write 10 songs in 10 days and have video demos of all 10 uploaded online before the 10 days were up.
I wanted to give you an insight into how I wrote each song…
1. Loki (The Boy Without A Heart)
I’m actually not really sure where Loki came from, I just remember taking a shower and starting to hum, “Are you gonna treat me like Loki?” It was only after a speedy drying off and scrambling for pen and paper that the chorus began to form and found its way to, “Trick me out of my heart so I can play the part of the boy without a heart”.
The rather graphic story was actually a little unexpected as I do not usually get that violent with my visual images in my songs, perhaps that is why I went there though as I wanted to try something new.
2. The Painter
My immediate response to finishing writing Loki was to pick up Gloria (my acoustic guitar), the capo happened to be on the 4th fret, and I just started playing the riff. After looking at my list of potential characters I saw I had noted down ‘the painter’ as an option. I seem to recall jotting it down after hearing someone use the simile of being in need of a fresh coat of paint, which gave me, “When you need another coat he’s always there to lend a hand, he’ll help you where he can because the painter is a gentle man”.
3. The Builder’s Daughter
After writing both Loki and The Painter, I took a break and was going to stop writing for the day, realising I had obviously begun this 10-day songwriting project and needed to start demoing at least the first song to follow my rules. But whilst drinking a hot cup of tea I looked at my list of half a dozen potential characters to write about, and as soon as my eyes fell upon ‘The Builder’s Daughter’ I began to hum the melody and the second line flowed immediately: “built with bricks and mortar”.
So I sat at the piano and found I was in B major, which seems to flow from my fingers, and the song poured out of me. Interestingly enough the final coda line on the demo was a spontaneous improvisation, both lyrically and musically.
4. The Actress
By this time, I’d written three songs in one day, which excited me greatly. I had already picked The Actress as the next character and began writing early on day 2. I also decided to film an introduction video to the project and explain that I had already begun, and the video includes me going round in circles trying to find the right phrasing and work out the chorus: “Welcome to my private hell…”
I wanted to write an ode to the masks we wear, for the parts we sometimes feel we need to play, to get through situations. It has a bit more dynamic flavour to the structure and I recorded the demo freely (without a click track) to really feel the freedom in the different sections. I have high hopes that perhaps one day I can record this with a jazz orchestra.
5. The Postman
“…he delivers as fast as he can.” It was a no brainer lyrically to me. The song was written on both piano and ukulele, in fact, the final chord progression was decided by my limited knowledge of ukulele chords, it just felt comfortable and brought forth the ethereal falsetto hook so I decided it would be nice to have another ukulele song. This was day 3 by now and I began recording the demos after I finished writing.
6. The Girl Next Door
This was the first song I wrote where I literally sat at the piano, scrolled through the comments on my intro video, chose the character and began to write. I went in the other direction to where I would usually go for a title, so rather than a cute love song I wanted to make this a little more dark. It was only when I was halfway through writing the first verse, that I began to jokingly describe the horrific scenes of ‘the boy without a heart’ and realised it would be great to link the two songs.
7. The Man With No Home
The suggestion for this one was a little story about a busker who was given a winning lottery ticket. I loved the idea of describing a rags to riches story, where he already felt like a king who wanted to do right by his people, and so “the man with no home is never alone”.
This was another guitar riff which just flowed from my fingers and then the picture began to paint in front of me. I adore playing for an audience live and I guess this is a thank you to all the kind people who stop and listen when I busk, or play festivals, cafes or restaurants.
8. The Traveller
Out of the whole 10 songs I am most proud of this one. I literally wrote it in less than an hour, from three lines – “table for one please”, “my FaceTime romance” and “how long does it take to swim across the sea” – given to me by a dear friend. He’s an actor who’s constantly out on tour, as is his lovely newly wedded wife. There is something very special when a song just forms instantly. I landed on my old favourite C major and the melody was instant: “How long does it take…” Spine-tingling.
9. The Gardener
Not originally intended to be quite such a comment on the current state of our environment, but another song that just flowed out. “The gardener work much harder than you and I to keep this world alive…”
10. Grown Up Kid
After all this melancholy that seemed to be pouring through my songs I knew I needed to do something different for the final song. Literally saw the title and started playing the riff and sang almost the exact melody for “Look what I did, I built a rocket ship and flew it all the way to Mars just to bring you back a star…”
You can hear the grinning glee in my voice in the demo, with the elation and happiness at achieving 10 songs in 9 days. The only reason I stopped writing was because I wanted to make sure I demoed all the songs so I could share them with my wonderful not-so-big-fans to say thank you for the encouragement and enthusiasm for the project.