Unsung: Roger Cook

September 18, 2018 in Summer 2018

Unsung: Roger Cook

Unsung: Roger Cook in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018 edition out now

In the first of a new feature, we shine a light on a Bristolian who made Nashville his stomping ground

As the first and only British representative in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Roger Cook’s place in music history is assured. However, the Bristol-born Cook had already embarked on a hugely successful career in the country of his birth before taking Music City by storm. Born in 1940 during the Blitz, Cook was raised in a musical family. Early influences included both the church choir and the sounds of skiffle and it wasn’t long before he joined his first vocal group, The Sapphires. Having performed in several bands, and pursued a solo career, it was a working union with Roger Greenaway (a fellow Bristolian) which had the biggest impact on his songwriting.

Starting in 1965, the pair, with their own bands such as The Kestrels and David And Jonathan and as a writing team for other artists, had a Lennon and McCartney style connection which brought out the best in them both. Early successes included The Fortunes’ You’ve Got Your Troubles and their own Lovers Of The World Unite. This hot streak continued for almost a decade and led to the pair penning songs for everyone from Olivia Newton-John to Andy Williams, and pick up two Ivor Novello Awards for Songwriters Of The Year along the way (not to mention their Coca Cola jingle-turned-anthem I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.

The ever-active Cook had also joined pop group Blue Mink in 1969, along with Madeline Bell, but when they folded in 1975 he packed up his bags and headed to the US, eventually settling in Nashville. It wasn’t long before his compositions started getting noticed and in 1977 he had his first country No 1 with the Crystal Gayle hit Talking In Your Sleep, co-penned with Bobby Wood. Success continued with numbers for the likes of Don Williams, George Strait and John Prine.

A songwriter with that ineffable knack of getting to the heart of the matter, Cook has been able to effortlessly cross genre divides and countries. Here are 10 of his essential tracks…


PHILIPS (1969)
Having joined Blue Mink after Roger Greenaway recommended him, Cook was asked by the band’s manager to write a hit song for their upcoming debut album. Sitting down with vocalist Madeline Bell, they came up with this call for racial harmony. The song’s lyrics may not have dated as well as some other compositions, and in fact are often misconstrued as racist themselves, but the track achieved its objective and earned the band a No 3 in the UK.


OH BOY (2018)
Though Cook’s mainstream success has tailed off since the 1980s, his contributions to country music have continued. This track, taken from Prine’s latest album The Tree Of Forgiveness, shows that he can still cut the mustard. A co-write with Prine, I Have Met My Love Today is a tender ballad from two maturing artists. It’s also proof that any musician looking for a writing partner could do a lot worse than turn to this outlying Brit.


Another co-write with John Prine, this slow burner was picked up by George Strait 14 years after the pair had written it. The first single from Strait’s One Step At A Time album gave the country star his 34th No 1 Hot Country smash. It was very much a case of ‘third time’s a charm’ for the song, which had already been recorded by Prine himself and Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell before Strait’s breezy version became the definitive offering of them all.


This classic mid-60s ditty was the inaugural creation by Cook and Greenaway – written on ukuleles by the pair during a break in sets The Kestrels were playing as part of a pop package tour in Lincoln. Despite having never written together before the chemistry between them was instant, it only took an hour to come up with this track. It started their run of hits for The Fortunes, as well as their own writing relationship.


Originally recorded by David And Jonathan, and taken to the top of the charts by Marc Almond (alongside Pitney) in 1989, Gene Pitney’s 1967 version of this iconic Greenaway/Cook composition remains the purest. Sung over the top of the original demo, which Pitney’s band couldn’t successfully replicate, it had to be pitched in a higher key in order to match Cook’s original range. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds have also covered it.

Read the rest of this feature on Roger Cook as well as other artist features, news, techniques, reviews, gear and more in Songwriting Magazine’s Summer 2018 issue > >

The role of mischief in the Beatles’ songwriting

September 17, 2018 in Features, Tips & Techniques

The Beatles

The Beatles having fun with Birmingham’s police officers in 1963. Pic: Wikimedia Commons/West Midlands Police

Author of ‘Help! 100 Songwriting, Recording And Career Tips Used By The Beatles’, David Rowley, highlights the Fab Four’s mischievousness

There is not much direction on the role of play or mischief in the songwriting books, which strikes me as an oversight as around one in every four Beatles songs can be traced, in inspiration, to the desire to amuse or a desire to break songwriting rules. The benefits of play on productivity and creativity are well recorded by numerous modern studies of the workforce, but back in the 1960s The Beatles just seemed to intrinsically understand this.

The ruse is true throughout their career. Look at any of their albums, say Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Of its 13 tracks, the title song and reprise are a pastiche of Jimi Hendrix, with heavy metal guitars and Paul mimicking the guitar hero’s raspy vocals; Fixing A Hole is an unlikely drugs and DIY double entendre; When I’m Sixty-Four is a light-hearted spoof on ageing written by Paul when he was 16; Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite is John lifting his lyrics near wholesale from a Victorian publicity poster.

What’s more, where one’s initial assumption might be that their songs written out of a sense of fun are less special and less serious – the above Sgt. Pepper songs are not among my favourites – some are actually among their most admired works. Indeed, many Beatles innovations which are interpreted as profound or cool are actually, in my estimation, inspired by mischief.

There’s always one

Their best example arises from their attempts to write a song with one chord. At the peak of Beatlemania, when they were under the microscope of media and public attention, probably at the time they released the multi-chord Yesterday, the Beatles started joking to each other about this idea. In their imagination this would be a song so tuneless it would baffle the public’s and the critic’s expectations of what a Beatles’ song should sound like. The joke would have been a counter reaction to the pressure of trying to go one better than Yesterday.

Coincidentally, around this time, they sat down together to listen to a long piece of sitar music that only used a single chord. This precedent gave them the green light to move ahead with this idea. Only John Lennon fully took on the challenge by writing Tomorrow Never Knows, but there are long single chord stretches on Norwegian Wood, Eleanor Rigby and Paperback Writer. Paul, in his biography, recalled how he ‘vamped’ a melody around a single E minor chord to create Eleanor Rigby.

The Beatles in Hötorgscity, Stockholm 1963

The Beatles in Hötorgscity, Stockholm 1963. Pic: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

What is notable about each of these songs is that lyrically they are among their boldest. Both Tomorrow Never Knows and Eleanor Rigby tackle the issue of death in their lyrics – it was as if monotone tunes needed a different, more dark set of emotions – while their arrangements on these songs are among their most innovative. With less harmonic interest, each is rooted in a complex time signature or rhythm. I think the Beatles felt that if a song was only going to have one or two chords in it, then they had better up their game elsewhere.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

Another key role of mischief in the Beatles’ songwriting was the way it allowed them to focus to work to a high standard. Part of the drive for all four of them in getting Please Please Me, Day Tripper, Yellow Submarine, Penny Lane and Get Back written and recorded to a high standard was the thrilling knowledge that each either contained hidden sexual innuendo or drug references that the censors might or might not spot. These were after all, songs largely written by young men for a young audience. I should add here that while the notion that Yellow Submarine is a double entendre about the barbiturate drug Nembutal, which came in a yellow capsule, is a matter of dispute, the simple use of mischief in so much of the Beatles songwriting leads me to believe it is true.

The imitation game

There are many other games the Beatles played with their songwriting, but the one that most needs mentioning is the role of parody. This was a favourite ruse of Paul McCartney – the act of imagining you are another singer and having fun with the way they sing and write. His best-known parody was an attempt to sound like a sophisticated singer of French songs to impress girls at the art school parties that John Lennon would invite him to pre-fame in Liverpool in the late 1950s. In its earliest guise Michelle was a bunch of mumbled words that sounded vaguely French, but it turned into something much more heartfelt when he re-wrote it in 1965. Helter Skelter was the Beatles having fun by creating the heaviest sound they could imagine for a rock band. Back In The USSR was a combined parody of the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry, Lady Madonna was a Fats Domino parody and as stated above the title track to Sgt. Pepper’s is Paul imagining himself as Hendrix.

Is there a song or a style of music that strikes you as over the top, amusing, a little ridiculous? Would it be fun to make a parody of it?

David Rowley is the author of Help! 100 Songwriting, Recording And Career Tips Used By The Beatles, which is available to buy from amazon.co.uk

How I wrote ‘JCB’ by Nizlopi’s Luke Concannon

September 16, 2018 in Interviews, Summer 2018

How I wrote 'JCB' by Nizlopi

Luke on writing JCB: “‘What should I write about Dad? I’m stuck.’ And he said, ‘I dunno, diggers?’”

We learn all about the effortless birth of the quirky, million-selling No 1 single about Luke’s digger-driving dad ‘Bruce Lee’

Nizlopi were an English folk and alternative duo formed in Royal Leamington Spa by Luke Concannon on vocals and acoustic guitar and John Parker playing double bass while beatboxing or singing backing vocals. In early 2004, they released their debut album Half These Songs Are About You and the lead single Fine Story, but it was the unusual JCB (also known as JCB Song), released at the tail end of that year, that would propel them into mainstream consciousness and top the singles charts in both the UK and Ireland. It would’ve been a Christmas No 1 had it not been for The X Factor singer Shayne Ward.

JCB would go onto sell more than one million records. Here’s the story of its creation, told by Luke himself…

Nizlopi 'JCB' single cover

Released: 2005
Artist: Nizlopi
Label: FDM Records
Songwriter(s): Luke Concannon, John Parker
Producer(s): Gavin Monaghan
UK chart position: 1
US chart position:

“John Parker and I first started writing songs when we were 13. We decided quite early on that we’d split everything [songwriting credits] down the middle, fifty-fifty, and I’m glad we did it. I think he said certain bands did that and it creates a nice feeling of democracy. Although maybe I did sit down and write the chords, the words and the melody for JCB on my own, there are other songs where John might’ve practiced for four hours in the morning then written a riff, and then I might spend an hour writing lyrics over it, but then I’ve written the song. So it’s just better to say, ‘We’re in this equally so let’s split it equally.’

“It was around 2001 when we started writing the songs for Half These Songs Are About You, and JCB probably would’ve been in the spring of 2002. I’d moved back in with my parents, so that I could afford to write and spend all that time on an album! I was 21 years old, I was writing in my room, and I had that riff going with an unusual chord shape – I’m almost 40 years old now and I’m only just learning music theory, but I think it’s a Dmaj9. Back then I had a Martin 000M, I was writing in the way that I tend to write – it would’ve been something romantic about the sort of relationship I was in – and I was like, ‘I don’t want to write about that again.’

“My dad’s a folk musician, an Irish bagpiper, martial artist and he’s an interesting guy, so I went downstairs and said, ‘What should I write about Dad? I’m stuck.’ And he said, ‘You’re the songwriter and you’re asking me? I dunno… diggers?’ He used to drive them and his dad’s business was digging roads and building foundations, so diggers were an archetypal thing in our life – it’s an Irish family thing. So it was like a little ‘ping’ went off in my head, I went upstairs and the song literally just came out – no editing, really. I reckon it was probably within an hour or something…”

Read the rest of this interview with Luke Concannon as well as other artist features, news, techniques, reviews, gear and more in Songwriting Magazine’s Summer 2018 issue > >

Interview: Aaron Slater

Semisonic celebrates 20th anniversary

September 15, 2018 in Music, News

Semisonic 'Feeling Strangely Fine' album cover

Feeling Strangely Fine: “the folk music simplicity of Simon & Garfunkel but also the loudness of U2 and Nirvana”

The Dan Wilson-fronted Minnesota band are set to release a deluxe reissue of their breakthrough 1998 album ‘Feeling Strangely Fine’

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their seminal album Feeling Strangely Fine, the Minneapolis alt-rock band Semisonic will release a deluxe edition reissue of the record. The album will be released on deluxe edition CD and digital, as well as a limited edition gold vinyl pressing, which marks the first time ever a Semisonic album has been pressed to vinyl LP. The band was fronted by Grammy-winning songwriter Dan Wilson, with John Munson on bass and Jacob Slichter on drums.

In addition to hits like Closing Time, Secret Smile and Singing In My Sleep, the deluxe edition features four B-sides taken from international CD singles that were released at the time of the album. The band has shared a previously unreleased demo of Closing Time, giving fans a glimpse into the evolution of the song [listen below].

“When I started writing songs for the album that would become Feeling Strangely Fine, John Munson and Jake Slichter and I were living in South Minneapolis. I had decided a while back that my best songs were about me and the people I loved or admired and our adventures and troubles, and the new songs really reflected that ideal. I was writing about our lives,” reflects Wilson. “I remember telling Jake I wanted to make a record that had the folk music simplicity of Simon & Garfunkel but also the loudness of U2 and Nirvana. I wasn’t thinking that these songs would become the soundtrack for so many people’s lives. We definitely weren’t thinking that these songs would still be played on the radio 20 years later.”

The 20th anniversary edition of Feeling Strangely Fine will be released on 19 October through Universal Music Enterprises, but it is possible to pre-order via pledgemusic.com

Tips From The Topliner: Ali Tamposi

September 14, 2018 in Summer 2018, Tips & Techniques

Ali Tamposi in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

Ali Tamposi in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

The impressive, behind-the-scenes songwriter for the likes of One Direction, Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé shares her advice for successful co-writing

For the past two years I’ve been consistently working with the same people, the same co-writer Andrew Watt. We met three years ago and in our first session together we wrote Let Me Love You for DJ Snake and Justin Bieber and in that session there was Brian Lee. So for the most part it’s been Brian Lee, Andrew Watt and I and we’ve really stuck together in the years since that first session. I think having the consistency with people that I have creative chemistry is most important and has a lot to do with the success that I’ve had recently.

I’ve been in the industry for a really long time. Stronger for Kelly Clarkson was my first major placement and between that and Let Me Love You I’d had a few other placements, like Where Do Broken Hearts Go for One Direction, but I hadn’t really had a big single. That was because I didn’t have that safe space to really create with people that I felt comfortable with. I was really testing the waters with a bunch of new writers and it was tough, it was like speed dating with new collaborators and I felt that was really challenging.

Start healthy

It takes a lot for me to open up and feel comfortable with new people. Over the past three years the pressure has been taken off tremendously and so I have been able to focus more on finding new inspiration outside of the studio. I have a rhythm every day before a session – I’ll wake up, I’ll work out, I’ll meditate for 10 minutes. I’ve been sober for almost three years now so my life is completely transformed from three years ago – it was go out, party and just wing it the next day. Now I have a different strategy.

Know who it’s for

We know who we’re writing for the most part every session. That makes it easier and it makes it more enjoyable, because we’re not just shooting darts in the dark, we have a specific agenda and it’s much more enjoyable and I’m able to explore different spaces creatively because I have the right balance with my collaborators and it’s a very therapeutic process.

Be honest

There’s a lot that go into the songwriting session between Andrew, Brian and I. I think individually we’re artists in our own ways and so conceptually we bring our own emotion and things that we’re going through to the sessions. So every lyric and every concept comes from an honest place. I think a lot of creatives bring a lot of pain to the process. I can’t speak for every writer but it’s about stimulating pain that is released through the song, so we’re able to get out all of our emotions and it’s a really compelling experience and it’s very freeing.

Hope for the best

It doesn’t always line up. Unfortunately there’s no way to harness creativity – I’ve tried in every way possible. I’ve tried outsourcing, I’ve tried drinking to maintain the flow, even with the regime that I’m on now, you never really know how the day is going to turn out and that’s the challenge we always face. You can always just hope for the best and hope that everyone’s energy is in the right place to maintain the rhythm but there’s always this underlying anxiety that I can’t shake before going into the studio, and that is ‘Will the creative gods be lined up with me today, will I be able to execute to the best of my ability?’ Sometimes it doesn’t work. Shaking off a bad session is one of the biggest challenges I face in my everyday life. If I feel challenged I have these internal battles with myself. I have imposter syndrome and I feel like a fraud and all of the above, but for the most part the past couple of years have been really good and I have different techniques for handling writers block now.

Be sincere

If you try to make it specific to an artist it never really works out. I think authenticity is key and an artist can really feel when it sounds sincere, or when a song sounds forced. If we’re trying to write a song for someone like Selena Gomez we know sonically which lane she’s hoping for, which direction they want to go – an alternative style or R&B. So production-wise and melodic sensibilities, I think we designate the style towards the particular artist that we’re aiming for, but lyrically and conceptually that comes from the spaces that we’re in.

Read the rest of this tips feature with Ali Tamposi along with other artist features, news, techniques, reviews, gear and more in Songwriting Magazine’s Summer 2018 issue > >

Five minutes with… Lawson’s Andy Brown

September 13, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Andy Brown

Andy Brown: “I’m always evolving, changing production styles, trying new things.”

The disbanded pop group’s frontman talks about going solo and the creation of his infectious blend of homegrown rock-infused country

Andy Brown rose to fame back in 2012 as part of the pop-rock band Lawson. During his time in the band he enjoyed huge chart success scoring five Top 10 singles and one Top 10 album. They were one of the biggest boy bands around at the time and thanks to their guitar-driven music they offered fans something different to the likes of One Direction. But after several years together as a group the guys decided it was time to pursue solo projects and so far they have all had great success in their chosen ventures. Andy Brown in particular is blazing a trail in the UK Country scene.

His blend of rock infused country is not something the British scene is used to and he is at the forefront of the male artists in the UK. He has more of an American feel to his solo music and was due to drop his eagerly anticipated debut solo album Cedarmont back in July but this has now been shelved until a future date. Brown is instead focusing on single releases for the time being and his latest release is About Last Night which is a massive rock-driven country anthem.

We wanted to find out more about this track, and of course the reasoning behind Cedarmont being pushed back, so we caught up with Andy for a five-minute chat…

Your new single About Last Night is out now, can you talk us through the inspiration behind the track?

“I wrote it in Nashville with Jimmy Robbins. I kept seeing the hashtag about ‘last night’ on Instagram and thought it was a great concept.

Do you feel your style has evolved since your debut Landslide?

“I’m always evolving, changing production styles, trying new things. But I believe a lot of my solo stuff is in the same ball park as Landslide, I love that country sound.”

Andy Brown

Andy Brown: “It’s nice to make all the decisions and be in control of my own destiny”

You created pop-rock with Lawson and now make rock-country; how do you feel the fans have reacted to the sonic change?

“My fans seem to love the music I put out, but it’s also been great reaching out to new fans too. And also introducing people to the country sound, as it’s not massively popular in the UK yet.”

Do you feel you have more creative licence now you are a soloist?

“It’s nice to make all the decisions and be in control of my own destiny. I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been a nice change.”

Where do you feel your music fits into the current UK country scene?

“I try not to over think about where my music fits in, I just make music I really like and would listen to. It was great touring with The Shires who are at the forefront of the UK country scene, but I think my music is different to theirs. I think some of my tracks have a slight American sound to them.”

You were due to release your debut album Cedarmont in July. Can you give us any insight into why the project was shelved by Decca?

“I have no idea, I think they thought the release was too early, which is fair enough. I love the team over there they’re fantastic and I loved working with them. I will now continue to release the music I’ve been making on another label. My next track will come out in seven weeks.”

With About Last Night, what do you hope fans take from the track?

“I hope it makes them feel good. It’s an upbeat feel good track, good for driving too. I love a good driving song!

When writing new material do you have a set way of working?

“With this album I delved into the lyrics a lot more. The Nashville way seems way more focused on the lyrical concepts rather than the melodies. That’s a new way of thinking for me but I’m really enjoying it.”

Can we still expect to hear the Cedarmont album in the future?

“Of course, I have the album in my hands now, I’m just releasing a couple of singles first to get the buzz back and then I’ll drop it in a few months.”

In terms of new music and tours, what can we expect from you over the last four months of 2018?

“A couple more singles and then the release of the album Cedarmont. Really exciting!”

Interview: Laura Klonowski

Andy’s new track About Last Night is out now. Find out more by going to his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.

On The Stereo

September 12, 2018 in Music

Runaway June

Runaway June: the trio are one of the most exciting country acts around

We introduce some sublime new music from Runaway June, The Coral, God Complex, Kane Brown, The Mutineers and Black Futures

Wheelhouse Records

This huge country-pop song is taken off Runaway June’s brilliant debut self-titled EP. The trio is one of the most exciting country acts around at the moment and this pop-infused track is a real standout. It has shades of Shania Twain and the vocal harmonies are sublime.

Ignition Records

The melody here is pure Coral but the rhythm section is synth-driven and muscular. Throw in some glorious backing vocals and you have one of the most enjoyable indie tracks of the moment from the enduringly talented Wirral masters.

Venn Records

God Complex’s latest single really captures the true horror of modern humanity. It also holds an energy that brings out a need to headbang relentlessly and leaves you wanting more. Passion like this is rare to find.

RCA Records Nashville

Country music golden boy Kane Brown returns with his latest release Homesick. This is his most lyrically mature track to date and it really showcases his songwriting skills. While the production allows his country vocal tones to shine through. Homesick is country at its finest.

Mutiny Studios

An eerie nostalgia washes over the latest offering from husband-wife duo The Mutineers, with Merry Young’s slightly jaded delivery contemplating the pros and cons of a co-dependant relationship. Both sonically and lyrically, this is Americana with added kick.

Music For Nations

If you’re looking for a song that’s a perfect blend of relaxing, uplifting, heavy and upbeat, this is it! It’s chaotic, anarchistic and sounds like a waterfall of colour, covering both the light and dark. The overall meaning is about the wonders of life. What could be better?

Words: Duncan Haskell, Laura Klonowski, Ellie Wacks

Listen to these songs and other On The Stereo selections on the Songwriting Magazine SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify ‘New Music’ playlists.

How I wrote Whitney Houston’s ‘Run To You’ by Jud Friedman & Allan Rich

September 10, 2018 in Interviews, Summer 2018

How I wrote Whitney Houston's 'Run To You' in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

How I wrote Whitney Houston’s ‘Run To You’ in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

How one of the lucky few original songs to appear on ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack was inspired by a real break-up

In the late 80s, Whitney Houston rose to international prominence as an exceptional vocal talent and was already on her way to becoming one of best-selling music artists of all-time. But by 1992, the soul diva from New Jersey made her screen acting debut starring alongside Kevin Costner in the romantic thriller, The Bodyguard, and took her career to dizzying new heights. The film’s Original Soundtrack Album won numerous awards, topped charts the world over and broke records – it remains the best-selling soundtrack album of all time, selling over 42 million copies worldwide.

The LP spawned a number of massive hit singles, including the cover of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, but the fourth single would be the original song, Run To You. Despite only achieving relatively moderate chart success, it became one of Houston’s most recognised songs, and was nominated for a 1993 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

The songwriting duo of Jud Friedman and Allan Rich had previously scored a No 1 with I Don’t Have The Heart for James Ingram, but that didn’t mean the pair were a shoe-in for The Bodyguard soundtrack. As we discover, it was a miracle Run To You got selected at all…

Whitney Houston 'Run To You' single

Released: 1992
Artist: Whitney Houston
Label: Arista
Songwriter(s): Jud Friedman, Allan Rich
Producer(s): David Foster
UK chart position: 15
US chart position: 31

Jud: “In those days I worked in a studio at Peer Music in the Hollywood Hills – Allan lived close by – and virtually every day of the week we would show up and work all day long. Everyone had heard that Whitney Houston was doing her first movie, which was going to be a huge deal, but we were hearing conflicting reports about how much music was going to be in it. By the time we got involved, all the songwriters in the world had been receiving breakdowns saying they needed four songs. They didn’t know, but it turned out that virtually all of those would be ‘inside’ songs, mainly covers. There ended up being just one ‘outside’ song written by songwriters who had nothing to do with the project, directly. When we got a breakdown from our publishers we thought, ‘Well, this is worth a shot. It’s going to get killed by the critics, but it’s going to be huge.’”

Allan: “I had a verse and a chorus, and gave it to Jud, who wrote the most beautiful music and helped me with the lyric. I did write it specifically for Whitney, but it coincided with a 10-year break-up in my life. Jud and I like to move and touch people, that’s the goal for our songs, and I’m an emotional person. So it was a happy coincidence, if you want to call it that, that they were looking for a Whitney song when I was raw – it worked very well.”

J: “Allan put in this lyric idea and then I sat down and started playing stuff, singing and showing him ideas. We actually wrote two pieces of music and then went home; I wasn’t sure if either one of them was any good. Then we came back the next day and thought one of them – the version that ended up sending to Whitney – was like, ‘Holy shit, this is actually really good.’ The lyric happened pretty quickly, probably a day or two, then we recorded a bare-bones version. I played it as we were writing it, and I liked the feel so much that I kept the out-of-time version and layered stuff on top – we did at as piano, vocal and some strings…”

Read the rest of this interview with Jud and Allan along with other artist features, news, techniques, reviews, gear and more in Songwriting Magazine’s Summer 2018 issue > >

Interview: Aaron Slater

Interview: Travis’ Fran Healy

September 9, 2018 in Interviews, Summer 2018

Travis' Fran Healy

Travis’ Fran Healy featured in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

The Scottish group’s frontman and talismanic songwriter talks about telling the truth, being “the shittest” and making ‘The Man Who’

Formed in Glasgow in 1990, Travis are a Scottish rock band comprising singer-songwriter Fran Healy, bassist Dougie Payne, lead guitarist Andy Dunlop and drummer Neil Primrose. The group is widely claimed as having paved the way for other bands such as Keane and Coldplay to go onto achieve worldwide success throughout the 2000s, particularly through the band’s second studio album, The Man Who.

Four singles were released from that influential record: Writing To Reach You, Driftwood, and the Top 10 hits Why Does It Always Rain On Me? and Turn. Fueled in part by the band’s triumphant appearance at the 1999 Glastonbury Festival, The Man Who went on to spend a total of 11 weeks at No 1 on the UK Albums Chart.

More than 18 years since its release, Travis have extended a celebratory tour that started in 2017, playing The Man Who live in full to delighted audiences across the UK. What a perfect excuse to reminisce with the group’s affable frontman, Fran…

Take us back to when you first picked up a guitar.

“I remember standing in my kitchen in my mum’s house in Glasgow and I must’ve been about 17 years old, or maybe a bit younger. As soon as I got a guitar when I was 13, I immediately started writing because we didn’t have a record player – oh no, we did by that point, but I didn’t have much music. I had just one tape with loads of rock ‘n’ roll songs, like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and I would listen to that all the time. When I got the guitar, the first thing I tried to learn was Pretty Woman – I’m still trying to learn that!”

What sort of guitar did you have back then?

“The thing is I’d seen Roy Orbison playing the song on Jonathan Ross and I got my mum to change my Christmas present to an acoustic. It was an Encore from the Grattan’s catalogue – the action was about a centimeter, so it was like cheese wire. I didn’t know how to tune a guitar or anything about it, so when I got it I tried to do the riff and failed miserably. Then I tuned the guitar to, what I didn’t realise was, an open tuning and learned Three Steps To Heaven by Eddie Cochran. I didn’t know what tuning it was but it meant I could put my finger like a barre, up and down the fret.

“Not long after that I started writing songs because I didn’t really know that much. But when I was 16 I realised that everything I was doing was total shit! I thought, ‘How do you get better at this?’ Then I stumbled along for a little while and there was a teacher I met on an art course, when I was about 17 years old. Me and a guy called David Bell were up late in the dormitory trying to write songs, and this teacher came in. We were supposed to be asleep, so first of all we shat ourselves and were about to put the light out and hide the guitar. But he asked what we were doing and we said we were trying to write a song, so he sat down and started explaining songwriting to us.”

Can you remember what he said?

“He looked at what we were doing and said, ‘You’re doing this all wrong. You’re supposed to write what you’re feeling. It’s important to tell the truth when you write. I wrote a song when I was your age.’ I had a Stephen King book called Different Seasons and he opened it and wrote down this song on the first couple of clean pages of the novel. Then he told us the chords and sung a bit to us, and we ended up performing it at the end of the art course. I’d been singing and, at the end of the song, I looked up and almost everyone was crying! I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a really powerful thing.’

“After that, I got to know the teacher Jerry well and he would play a lot of Joni Mitchell, and I began to see that you’ve got to be honest at all times. Whatever you write, don’t just write words, write stuff that is the truth. I think there are two parts to songwriting: there’s the melody
and there’s the lyric. For me, the melody is the most important and if you get a good enough melody, the right lyrics will find that melody.”

Read the rest of this interview with Fran Healy along with other artist features, news, techniques, reviews, gear and more in Songwriting Magazine’s Summer 2018 issue > >

Interview:Aaron Slater

The ISC 2018 deadline is approaching

September 8, 2018 in Competitions, News

Vance Joy

Vance Joy: an International Songwriting Competition winner in 2015

International Songwriting Competition is open for entries, offering a chance to win a share of $150,000 in cash and prizes

The 2018 International Songwriting Competition (ISC) is open for entries. Now in is 17th year, ISC offers more than $150,000 in cash and prizes, and the opportunity to be heard by celebrity artists and record label executives.

This year’s judges include Kenny Garrett, Danilo Perez, Peter Erskine, Ted Nash, Booker T. Jones and Tom Waits. Past winners include Gregory Porter, Omar Sosa, Lindsey Stirling, Vance Joy, Gotye, Bastille, Kehlani, The Band Perry, Kimbra, Passenger and Kasey Chambers.

ISC is is open to both signed and unsigned artists (bands, duos, solo performers, etc.) and it is possible to enter by uploading a music file or providing a link to a song on a streaming site such as SoundCloud or Bandcamp. Categories include AAA (Adult Album Alternative), AC (Adult Contemporary), Americana, Blues, Children’s Music, Christian, Comedy/Novelty, Country, EDM (Electronic Dance Music), Folk/Singer-Songwriter, Instrumental, Jazz, Latin Music, Lyrics Only, Music Video, Performance, Pop/Top 40, R&B/Hip-Hop, Rock, Teen, Unpublished, Unsigned Only, and World Music.

The regular deadline is approaching at midnight CST on 19 September 2018. To enter, visit songwritingcompetition.com

Interview: Graham Nash

September 7, 2018 in Interviews, Summer 2018

Graham Nash in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

Graham Nash in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

Having spent much of his life in two of the world’s biggest bands, he’s enjoying some time on his own

Despite being a name that most will know, Graham Nash is still synonymous with the music he has created with his groups The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young, from time to time). His recent live performances have afforded him the opportunity to strip back some of his best-loved compositions and reclaim them, almost as if they were solo songs.

That same ethos is there on new album, Over The Years, which presents a remastered selection of his work alongside the original demo recordings. Once again, without the lush production and bandmates, it’s another chance to enjoy these tunes in their purest form and reappreciate the man who created them.

We recently caught up with Nash to talk about his upcoming shows, new album and the troubles facing Trump’s America…

With such a large body of work, how do you decide upon your setlist?

“I tend to do it like this… I realise that people spend their very hard-earned money to come and see me and they’re expecting to hear certain things. They’re expecting to hear Our House and Teach Your Children and I know that and so I try and put myself in the same emotional state that I was in when I wrote those songs. That’s how I’m able to sing them night after night and not get totally pissed off. I then have a skeleton for the show, because I know the 10 songs that they definitely want to hear and will be disappointed if they didn’t. I’ve got about 25 songs in my set, so I now have 15 songs to figure out what I would like to play. One of the great things about the small intimate places that I’m playing in is that I get to do what I want to do. I don’t have to ask David or Stephen or Neil anything and it’s very freeing in a way. I’m enjoying these tours tremendously.

“I want my audience to know two things. One, I want to be there for them. It’s not like I’m going through the motions or I’m phoning it in. I want to be there and my audience know it. And the second thing I want is to see them smiling on the way out. That’s when I know that I’ve done my job as a musician.”

Is there a third desire, a little bit of education into songs that they might not know were written by you?

“Absolutely. There’s one line from a song on my new record called Myself At Last, ‘Is my future just my past?’ and what I meant by that is that there are a lot of people who know Graham Nash but there are a lot of people that don’t know me other than as part of CSN or CSNY but I don’t want to be that anymore. I know what we did, I know we were a damn fine rock ‘n’ roll band with some very interesting songs to sing, but that part of my life is over. So I don’t want to be trapped by my past and I’m finding that when I take all the songs down to the very essence of how they were written with either an acoustic guitar or simple piano you know pretty soon whether or not you’ve got a good song or not because the audience will respond and let you know exactly how they feel about it. That’s one of the things I love about these small theatres. I can see their eyes, I can see if I’m getting through.”

How hard is it to strip those tracks back?

“It’s not hard at all because I realised that I’ve written some pretty decent songs in my life. And that’s nice to know.”

Do these shows also give you a chance to fix a song and make them closer to how you perhaps wanted them to be originally?

“I’ll never sing a song that I don’t like, what the fuck is the point of that? I do make it slightly different every night, I change the rhythm and the structure but I know that they want to hear Our House in its purest form. I have a new record that’s about to come out called Over The Years and it has 15 of my most popular songs and 15 of the demos of those songs, so you can hear me do Teach Your Children on an acoustic guitar in 1968 having just heard the record of it that CSN made in 1969.”

Do you enjoy going back and listening to those old songs?

“I don’t think ‘enjoy’ is the right word. I discover little jewels that I had forgotten about that I then want to sing that night and very often we make left turns on our setlist. Quite frankly, the setlist is only a sheet of paper to annoy our crew because we never stick to it. But I’m having a great time on these tours. I feel appreciated, I feel loved, I feel understood. I’m having a good time.”

When writing a song, does it ever come into your head that you might still be singing it five decades later?

“Well now I know that, after all these years, but in the early years you were doing it day-to-day. You count yourself lucky if you were still writing and still creating, I never thought in 1969 that I would still be singing in 2018, I didn’t realise that at all. Don’t forget, you weren’t supposed to trust anybody over 30. But now I’m 76.”

Read the rest of this interview with Graham Nash along with other artist features, news, techniques, reviews, gear and more in Songwriting Magazine’s Summer 2018 issue > >

Interview: Duncan Haskell

Songs In The Key Of… Finland

September 6, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Satellite Stories

Satellite Stories: the perfect people to take us on an audio tour of their homeland. Pic: Michael Mac

Who better than Finland’s most-successful indie band Satellite Stories to introduce some of the musical highlights of their Nordic homeland

Cut Out The Lights, the new album from Finnish indie-pop troupe Satellite Stories, presents them in all of their synth-soaked glory. The group’s fifth and final record took shape when Esa Mankinen, Marko Heikkinen, Jyri Pesonen and Olli-Pekka Ervasti locked themselves away amongst the Nordic landscape in search of inspiration. The album’s melodic beauty suggests it was very much mission accomplished and makes them the perfect people to take us on an audio tour of their homeland…

“Finland is a small country with thousands of lakes and forests and a fresh indie culture. Lot’s of cool cats making beautiful music. Our band members come from the opposite sides of Lapland and far eastern parts of Finland but our current home is the harbour town Oulu, where the morning begins with the scent the seawater. Here are 10 songs we think represent the Finnish music we are listening right now.”

To listen to these songs in one go, check out the playlist on YouTube or Spotify

“We did our third album in the Kentish countryside in the UK and our fourth album mostly in Brooklyn New York so for our fifth we wanted to do something different again. We rented a cabin in the eastern part of Finland, near the Russian border. We remember the landlord being wasted on his ‘locally drafted’ vodka when he gave us the keys to the cabin. During a weekend we recorded a couple of high energy indie tunes and had lots of sauna time to unwind (a sauna is a hot place Finnish people sit in and where they don’t speak anything). Coupons was one of those songs.”

“Finnish people are really good at silly but catchy electronic songs, ever heard Sandstorm by Darude? Olli’s Kiss You has an eclectic mix of atmospheric acoustic instruments and cheap-sounding virtual synths. The story seems to be about a girl who comes back from the dead to visit the singer, but the singer is okay with it. It’s a very Finnish thing to cope quietly when the walls around you are crumbling.”

“The Holy is a band whose music has a very movie-like quality. They have this huge sound that comes from an honest love of music. When we see them live we’re always impressed how they blend their songs together in a set.”

“LCMDF always have this honest edge in their pop songs. Their songs never feel processed or without life. Another Sucker is a track which could have been killed by making it sound too slick or too safe, but LCMDF can make pop songs exciting. They have lots of other hits like Something Golden, which has one of my favourite guitar lines in Finnish music.”

“This is a track that’s pure ear candy for us. It’s such a smooth production and arrangement with lots of life. Easy to listen to but with lots of depth. The music video really shows off the best parts of Finnish nature in an epic way that’s rarely seen.”

“This Finnish rap song was tremendous club banger a couple of years back and we always come back to it to relive that era. This artist brought back a lot of smarts to Finnish music, it’s like people rose from a deep sleep and understood that not all songs need be about drinking beer (the most common topic in Finnish music) if you want to make popular music.”

“We really enjoy this pumping mix of indie-electro and bedroom RnB. In current electronic music, the chilled out vibe is a really big thing. I think this song hits the right mix of being in a club but feeling really relaxed about it.”

“This is an indie gem that we always come back to. Ten years ago, UK-style indie disco was a big thing in Finland so there were lots of bands in that style. We don’t think this band ever released an album but the singer arranged our first ever show in the capital of Finland, Helsinki. We started in the same scene as this band so it’s good to remember where you came from.”

'Boys And Girls' by Yes Please!

“This is a Finnish traditional song that was an unexpected YouTube smasher and it best represents the Finnish quality of music making. Just be your honest self and put out stuff you believe and the right people will appreciate that honesty. Ievan Polkka is just a fun song that was made to impress your village or something and it became a phenomenon because it communicated the fun in a way that wasn’t blocked by a weird language. And that’s pop.”

Carried Away was our summer single and the highlight of the track is Jyri’s cool bassline. It gives the track a sense of dread that rare funky indie songs have. One of our favourite indie tracks is Metronomy’s The Bay which sounds a bit like it could be for an indie disco or for a horror movie. For some reason, it feels like a cinematic and a cool mix.”

Satellite Stories’ new album Cut Out The Lights is released on 7 September via Playground Music. For more information, head to satellitestories.com

On The Stereo

September 4, 2018 in Music

The Shires

The Shires: the British country duo comprising singer-songwriters Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes

Our latest collection boasts tracks by The Shires, The Fall, Andy Brown, Martin Lloyd Chitty, Will Simms and Nick Jonas


For the acoustic version of this Ed Sheeran-penned track, The Shires totally strip back the production and lay their stunning vocals bare. This takes the heartfelt ballad to a whole new level and showcases the raw talents of Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes.

Beggars Arkive

If you’re yet to discover the talents of the late Mark E Smith then the new compilation 458489 A-Sides is the perfect introduction. This caustic classic, written when Smith was still at school, plots the downfall of the classroom cool kids who can’t hack it in the real world and is our pick of a notable bunch.

LTLA Music

Former Lawson frontman Andy Brown is one of the most exciting names in the UK country scene at the moment and with his latest offering About Last Night he has well and truly found his voice. The rock infusion and lush guitar riffs sets this track apart.


The closing track from Martin Lloyd Chitty’s debut album, Antiques, highlights his ability to immediately draw you in to his world. It’s as if the characters from Eleanor Rigby have been taken out of their Beatles-shaped novella and dropped into a sprawling, but equally engaging, tome.

Island Records

I think Nick Jonas is one of the most talented songwriters of our generation, and his latest hit Right Now sees him mixing heartfelt lyrics about true love, with a wonderful EDM production courtesy of Robin Schulz.

Island Records

This uncomplicated fusion of pop and afro-beats comes from the deft skills of producer-songwriter Will Simms, who has already made a name for crafting tracks for Germany’s Pop Idol and the likes of WSTRN and Aloe Blacc. This time Simms is joined by Ghana-born, UK-based vocalist Eugy and it’s a potent combo.

Words: Duncan Haskell, Laura Klonowski, Aaron Slater

Listen to these songs and other On The Stereo selections on the Songwriting Magazine SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify ‘New Music Reviewed’ playlists.

Interview: Janis Ian

September 3, 2018 in Interviews, Summer 2018

Janis Ian

Janis Ian: interviewed in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

Between the songs: the iconic NYC-born songwriter reflects on a five-album run which is up there with the very best

From her self-titled 1967 debut through to 2014’s Strictly Solo, Janis Ian’s music has soundtracked our lives for over five decades now. That first album was released when Ian was still a teenager, yet songs such as Society’s Child revealed an ability to channel themes of social awareness into her music that belied her young age. That artistic integrity has been a thread which has continued throughout her career and made her an icon in the eyes of her legions of fans.

Out of all her material though, it’s her run of albums in the mid-to-late 70s which remains the pinnacle of her songwriting. Over five LPs (Stars, Between The Lines, Aftertones, Miracle Row and Night Rains) she established herself as a bona fide star. Tracks like At Seventeen, Jesse and Love Is Blind remain essential listening to this day.

These albums have now been remastered and reissued, giving audiences new and old a chance to hear Ian’s masterpieces once again. They also provide us with a perfect opportunity to revisit that period of her career…

Do you come from a musical family?

“My family are Jewish. Jews of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation tend to use music as a way to gather together, so we were always singing. In addition, my dad went to college after he served in the army; they paid for him to go and he eventually became a music teacher, so there’s a great passion in the family.”

And you wanted to be a songwriter from a very young age?

“I must have only been two-and-a-half when I put together that the sound coming from the piano was being made by my dad, and that was it. It was, ‘That’s what I’m going to do with my life. Forget everything else.’”

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?

“Oh yeah, Hair Of Spun Gold, which wound up on my first album. I was 12 and I remember it distinctly. I wrote the song and then I sang it for my parents while we were in the car going to visit my grandparents in New York. My mum asked where I’d learnt that song from and I said, ‘I wrote it.’ They both just stopped and looked at me. It had never occurred to me to tell anyone that I had started writing.”

You’re probably not thinking about songwriting as a career when you’re 12…

“I was thinking about getting good grades so my parents would let me go away at weekends and play with my friends, write songs and sing in the Village.”

How much did that Greenwich Village scene inform your early work?

“It was huge. Those were my heroes. To suddenly be on speaking terms with Joan Baez or Tom Paxton, that was amazing. I was 13 the first time I played out at a real gig, I submitted the song to Broadside magazine and they invited me to perform at what was then called ‘The Hootenanny’ in Greenwich Village at the Village Gate, which was normally a jazz club. The owner Art D’Lugoff would donate it once a month to a bunch of folk singers and so there I was on stage with all of these people that I had been listening to for years.

“It was just an amazing group and I did well and then we moved to New York and I fell in with a group of kids who were hanging around with the Reverend Gary Davis. He was blind and he would have his hand on your shoulder and we would lead him around New York. His wife liked me because I loved her chicken. She made the best potted chicken ever. Gary asked if I could open for him at the Gaslight Café when I was 14, when they said no his wife said that he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t think that he’d be able to do the show, and so they said yes. They were pretty amazing.”

Was it the confidence of youth that enabled you to take it all in your stride, or did it feel momentous even back then?

“I don’t know that anything feels momentous at that age, because you’re so busy thinking of the next moment. I mean it was great and amazing but take the Leonard Bernstein special where he featured Society’s Child. I was 15 and didn’t understand the impact of something like that for a long time because I was too busy thinking, ‘Okay, that was really cool but now my maths test is due and I’ve got a gig, what am I going to do?’”

Read the rest of this interview with Janis Ian along with other artist features, news, techniques, reviews, gear and more in Songwriting Magazine’s Summer 2018 issue > >

Interview: Duncan Haskell

Statement Festival 2018 launches

September 2, 2018 in Events, News

Emma Knyckare: the brains behind Statement Festival. Pic: Julia Lindemalm/Wikimedia Commons

World’s first major festival exclusively for women, non-binary and transgender persons took place this week in the city of Gothenburg

The first annual Statement Festival kicked off on 31 August in Gothenburg, Sweden. The two-day event is a reaction to the amount of abuse reported at music festivals and gigs around the world. Although there has been a sharp rise in the number of incidents being reported – largely due to the #MeToo movement – there is a strong belief that festivals, venues and gig organisers aren’t making enough progress to prevent these attacks.

The idea for a festival free of cis-men came from Swedish comedian Emma Knyckare. Cisgender is the opposite to transgender. The term identifies people whose sex matches the gender they were assigned with at birth.

“We work exclusively with women, non-binary and transgender persons… this ranges from artists to catering to security personnel,” said Knyckare. “#MeToo has changed the debate, making it easier to organise the festival… our desire to create a safe place, a free zone. [But] it’s not the solution, it’s a reaction to the problem,” she said.

A statement from the festival’s website reads: “At music festivals everyone should feel safe. This sounds obvious, right? But year after year, the abuse at music festivals has shown the opposite. At Statement Festival safety is a given and we are now organizing a music festival completely free from cis men, in both the audience and on the line up.”

The line-up consists of some of Sweden’s biggest musicians, comedians and poets, including 10 times platinum-selling artist Loreen, DJ duo Rebecca & Fiona and Emma Knyckare, herself.

How I wrote ‘Jilted John’ by Graham Fellows

August 31, 2018 in Features, Interviews

We hear about a punk song whose protagonist was so heartbroken he cried all the way to the chip shop

Jilted John is one of the best examples out there of a parody song which transcends its genre. The work of English comedian Graham Fellows, it might have started out as a satirical take on punk music but now sits proudly alongside anything released by the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks or Clash. Fellows clearly has a knack of creating such tunes because he subsequently went on to further success with his singer-songwriter character John Shuttleworth, whose songs like Pigeons In Flight also elevate themselves out of their comedy beginnings.

Originally the B-side to the track Going Steady, it was the advocacy and air time provided by legendary BBC DJ John Peel which made Jilted John impossible to ignore, as Graham explains here…

Jilted John

Released: August 1978
Artist: Jilted John
Label: Rabid/EMI
Songwriter(s): Graham Fellows
Producer(s): Martin Zero
UK chart position: 4
US chart position:

“I had just started studying at the Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama in the autumn of 1977 and would see this battered acoustic guitar in the canteen that various people would pick up and strum during tea breaks. I started playing it and tuned it to a chord after someone had advised me that it was one way of playing very simply, just putting your finger across the frets to make a bar.

“The first thing that came was this samba-esque riff and on the back of that I started writing this lyric which was parody of punk, making fun of some of the songs that I was hearing on the radio. That included the phrase, ‘Ere we go two, three, four,’ which I’d heard on a few records. It evolved from there. Early versions were quite slow and folky and it toughened up during the rehearsal period.

“The first demo was just me playing the acoustic guitar and my friend Bernard Kelly banging out a rhythm on a Monopoly box lid, he went on to play Gordon the Moron on Top Of The Pops because he was very tall and gangly.

“I played it to a few people who said it was catchy and I should do something with it, so I found a local recording studio in Sale, Manchester and we went and recorded it there. I paid the princely sum of £25 for a little demo tape and I got a few musicians to do it for next to nothing. I then walked into a record shop in Didsbury and asked if they knew any punk record labels. They mentioned Stiff Records in London and one that was just down the road called Rabid Records. I went down the road and found the record company with all these punky guys sitting around drinking coffee, which wasn’t very punk. I had the tape on reel-to-reel and they had a tape machine so they stuck it on there and then and said, ‘Can we hang on to this?’ It was my only copy so I took it home, but they liked it and wanted to make the record, so rehearsals began.

“In those days recording time was very expensive so it was all about rehearsing first. We had weeks of getting together in a cellar in Withington. John Scott played guitar and bass and Tony Roberts was the drummer. Bernard sang backing vocals, he was cooler than me and knew more about music and the punk scene and he was a very good person to have around.

Jilted John

Jilted John: “Part of the reason it is so different is because it was written by a young lad…”

“We recorded it at Pennine Sound Studios in Oldham in March 1978 and I absolutely loved it. It was very exciting as it was my first time in a proper studio and we did it all in one eight-hour session. Martin Hannett hadn’t really heard the song that much so he came into it quite fresh, which was good. He suddenly got the idea to do the catchy bass riff on the breaks and it was also his idea to fade in the, ‘Yeah yeah, it’s not fair,’ bit. He really did put some fairy dust on the thing and he went back a couple of days later to remix it.

“It was doing well in the indie chart and Rabid couldn’t meet with the demand so several companies were invited to take it over and EMI International were the highest bidder. John Peel must take big credit for the success. He played it a good few times and his show was extremely trendy and influential so then other Radio 1 DJs who wanted to bask in his coolness started playing it, even people like Simon Bates. It was a time when novelty singles were quite acceptable.

“Part of the reason it is so different is because it was written by a young lad who hadn’t really written any songs before. So it has a rawness and an innocence. I’ve written hundreds of songs since and would never consciously write a song with that structure now because it breaks all the rules. The melody should be repeated every verse but for some reason I minimised the tune. It becomes more chant-like and the tune almost disappears as John gets more plaintive and sad, but I wasn’t really thinking of those things. The riff carries on for the second half of the song and it doesn’t waiver from that. I wrote it when I was 18 and didn’t know that you had to put in a chorus more than once.

Jilted John in 2018

Graham Fellows: “There wasn’t a real Gordon but it was one of those trendy names, like Gary or Colin”

“There was a big inspiration and that was John Otway. He had this hit called Really Free in 1977 and I just loved that kind of spoken delivery and the way he half sings during the chorus. There was an everyday quality to the lyrics, it was just throwaway and had a quirkiness that I wanted to copy. I’d always thought there were so many love songs that spoke in generalities, ’If you leave me it will break my heart,’ ‘I can’t go on without you,’ all that shit that I never believed. I like songs with detail. I was also aware of Squeeze and the lyrics of Chris Difford who shares a love of the minutia and detail and rhyme.

“There wasn’t a real Gordon but it was one of those trendy names, like Gary or Colin. They were working class names but were guys with cool hairdos and leather jackets and the shirts with the big collars. And ‘Gordon’ happens to almost rhyme with ‘Moron.’ But my childhood sweetheart was a girl called Julie, so that’s that.”

“I’m in the middle of writing a song about what John’s up to now. I suspect he’s still a bit of a loser who goes to the library a lot and carries a plastic bag, he might still live with his mum or on his own. But it’s not known for certain, you’ll have to find out.“

Interview: Duncan Haskell

Jilted John’s 40th anniversary tour will be hitting the road this October. Details can be found at jiltedjohn.co.uk

Interview: Chvrches

August 29, 2018 in Interviews, Summer 2018

Chvrches in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

Chvrches: Lauren Mayberry, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook interviewed in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2018

Scotland’s synth-pop gods, Lauren Mayberry, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook, are on the cusp of becoming the UK’s biggest band

Back in May 2012, a Scottish synth-pop trio made a song available on the blog of the Neon Gold label as a free download. Within a year they’d been featured as one of The Guardian’s New Bands of the Day, played their first proper gig, released their official debut single, and come fifth on the BBC’s Sound Of 2013 list.

A lot has happened for Chvrches since; their debut LP, The Bones Of What You Believe, made it to No 9 in the UK and No 12 in the US, before the group’s follow up, Every Open Eye, cracked the Top 5 in the UK and Top 10 in the US.

Songwriting spoke to them just days before they released their hugely anticipated and absolutely fantastic third album, Love Is Dead. It’s the band’s best record yet, and with an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show behind them and four sublime singles already released, it has left Lauren Mayberry, Martin Doherty, and Iain Cook on the cusp of becoming the UK’s biggest band.

Not only are Lauren, Martin, and Iain true stars, they’re also three of the nicest people Songwriting have ever had the privilege to speak to, and are deserving of the very greatest successes for their incredible songwriting – just don’t mention Metallica!

You’ve just performed on The Tonight Show, had your faces on Times Square this February, and begin a lengthy North American tour this August. Will America be well-and-truly yours by the end of 2018?

“If I have learned anything in this game it’s that nothing is for sure and nothing is for keeps.”

How does the songwriting in Chvrches work – what’s the process?

“We start with a synth pattern or a beat and riff on that until we have a rough vocal melody topline. At that point, I will go write lyrics and then we normally do a rough vocal and live with it for a while before finessing the production and doing a final vocal take. Sometimes the style of the first vocal feels right so you just want to emulate that, but other times I find that sitting with a vocal pattern and a set of lyrics for a while can help you really figure out how best to express it.”

How has your writing evolved on Love Is Dead?

“I think I am more sure of what my voice is as a writer. I don’t get caught up thinking, ‘Does this sound like a Chvrches lyric?’ all the time. I’m more focused on finding what feels like the most honest and genuine thing for me to say, and trying to stay vulnerable in that.”

Could you please tell me how you wrote Gun?

“I wrote the lyrics for Gun sitting in a park near Waverley Station in Edinburgh. ‘Gun’ is Glaswegian slang for someone who is a bit head strong and ready for a fight and I don’t think that really worked in translation outside of Scotland but at that time we didn’t really know if there would be an audience anywhere, let alone outside of our home country.”

Read the rest of this interview with Chvrches along with other artist features, news, techniques, reviews, gear and more in Songwriting Magazine’s Summer 2018 issue > >

Interview: Damien Girling

On The Stereo

August 28, 2018 in Music

The Kinks

The Kinks. Pic: Barrie Wentzell

This time we pick out new tracks from The Kinks, Kurt Vile, OMI, Petrol Girls, Ariana Grande and Ward Thomas


A bonus track from the 50th anniversary release of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, this poignant piano-led ballad would have sounded perfectly at home on the classic album. There’s no higher praise.

Ultra Records

OMI returns with another summer banger in the form of Masterpiece featuring Felix Jaehn. This is a track focusing on the Instagram craze of posting selfies with the lyrics focusing on the real beauty that the girl doesn’t see. It’s a fun track with a poignant message of true love.


Your favourite drawl-pop songwriter is back and he’s gifted you with another twinkling gem. Drenched in the easy Philadelphia sun, Loading Zones has Kurt Vile trading in glorious melodies he’s made his songwriting name on. With lyrics covering Vile’s unique parking strategy, Loading Zones is not only a song to soundtrack your summer drives but one to inspire you when you set your vehicle down.

Republic Records

This month saw Ariana Grande drop her new album Sweetener and the track Breathin has topped iTunes charts worldwide and is a huge fan favourite. It’s a stunning track about the anxieties people suffer everyday. It has a wonderful message to just keep going and Grande’s vocals are breathtaking.

Hassle Records

The latest single from post-hardcore band Petrol Girls celebrates every aspect of sisterhood, from the bonds formed between blood sisters and friends to being a small but integral part of something larger. The insightful video is a must watch for everyone, regardless of your taste in music.

Sony Music

Ward Thomas have released the music video for the acoustic version of new single Lie Like Me. The stripped back version allows the message of the track: how social media can project a fake life through, to shine through and it offers a more country vibe than the original. .

Words: Dave Chrzanowski, Damien Girling, Duncan Haskell, Laura Klonowski

Listen to these songs and other On The Stereo selections on the Songwriting Magazine SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify ‘New Music Reviewed’ playlists.

Interview: Clare Bowen

August 27, 2018 in Features, Interviews

Clare Bowen

Clare Bowen: “I couldn’t write an album as a character, it had to be me.”

Having conquered ‘Nashville’, this Australian artist is stepping out from behind her onscreen character and releasing an eponymous debut album

Clare Bowen is one of the stars of Nashville, the much-loved television show which recently came to a close after six series of country capers in Music City. As singer-songwriter Scarlett O’Connor, Bowen’s character led a tumultuous onscreen life, but one in which she was able to showcase her rich and captivating vocals. Blurring the lines between fiction and reality even further was the fact that the cast frequently toured the UK and Ireland together, playing original material alongside fan favourites from the show itself.

With the curtain now closed on that chapter of her career, another has opened for Bowen. Leaving O’Connor behind, she is about to drop the debut album that she’s been working away at over the last few years (when filming schedules permitted). It’s a soulful country effort which proves that the time is very much right for her to go it alone – albeit with the help of co-writers such as husband Brandon Robert Young. An eponymous record, it leaves you in no doubt that what you’re hearing is the real Clare Bowen. That voice is very much at the album’s centre, but so is its empowering message – none more so than on the closing ballad Warrior, a song that will become a source of comfort to all who hear it.

When we’re this taken by a record there’s only one thing to do, have a chat with the person behind it. So that’s exactly what we did with Clare…

Congratulations on your debut album. Does it feel as if your life’s work has led you to this point?

“Yes, up to this point. I’m glad it took so long to write. It was all done between shooting Nashville and shooting Nashville was never just recording – it was also learning instruments and recording songs for the show. I was trying to write the album in-between all of that, but the time that it took really helped me make sure I made an album as me and not as something that other people would try to turn me into. I’m so glad it took the time that it took, because I needed it.”

Do any of the songs predate being in Nashville – both the city and show?

“All of the stories predate Nashville and there’s one song on there, Sweet William, which is an old English folk song. I think most of those songs were ideas that were written down before I moved here that were finished either in Woodstock, where we recorded the first part of the album on the side of a mountain, or Nashville. Woodstock was the most beautiful experience, I had Josh Kaufman the producer and D. James Goodwin the engineer and they took us on this pretty amazing journey to start the thing. We finished it in the city of Nashville in Southern Ground Studios, it was quite the journey getting it done. So yeah, there are stories from all over time on the album.”

You have a ready-made and loyal fan base, is that just a blessing or would you ever find that you would second-guess yourself trying to write songs that they’d like?

“I have been very lucky with our fans. They’ve been vocal about the fact that they like me just the way I am. It’s always been particularly special coming to the UK, there’s something about the fans. They’re so warm and excited and willing to go on that journey with you.

“As an artist you can never just expect that people are going to like what you do. If you think that everybody is going to like you, you’re going to be sorely disappointed because art is so subjective. The heart behind the live shows is that it doesn’t matter where you are, where you’ve come from and what’s happening in your life. If you feel like you don’t belong anywhere, you belong in this room with us and that’s something that I wanted to do with the album. Creating that kind of culture has maybe given a window in. I share a fair bit with my fans and I’m very happy to, hoping that I can tell a story from my life, or the life of somebody that I love, which makes somebody out there feel like they’re not alone. It’s that culture which has maybe made people more willing to go on a journey with me. They’re so sweet and lovely, it helps me keep doing what I’m doing.”

Clare Bowen

Clare: “Music is what happens when words are not enough to express what you’re feeling.”

Have the Nashville live shows helped you road test your own compositions to see how they would go down with an audience?

“That’s been a huge blessing. Steve Buchanan, who came up with the idea for the television show and is the president of the Opry, is a dear friend and has always been so encouraging of me and my own music. To get to play our own music out there was a huge privilege. And yes you’re right, it is a great way to test a song. You’ve kind of got to make sure it works before you play it at the O2. My live shows are definitely different to the Nashville shows, they give me room to stretch out and really get into the stories and it’s also just a big love party where everyone ends up dancing.”

Does your songwriting tend to start in the same way or is it different for each track?

“They’re all different and depend on what mood I’m in. Bernie Cahill, one of my team leaders and most influential people in my life, said to me right at the beginning, ‘All you need is an idea. Once you have that idea you can run with it. So just write them down whenever you think of them.’ I’d never really written songs with anybody before, I’d only written by myself before I moved to the city of Nashville and that was one of the most valuable pieces of advice that anyone has ever given to me. So every time something pops into my head I jot it down somewhere. Then I have to find it again, which is a whole other thing. Sometimes it’s just one little line that comes through and it’s important to document them before they disappear into the ether again. Then you can go into a session with your friends and say ‘Hey, I had this idea and I’ve got a line and a melody.’ So sometimes they start like that, but not always…

“We were playing in Dublin one time and I couldn’t go to sleep, it was four o’clock in the morning and I was riled up from the show as it was so much fun. I wrote a song called Who Hid The Whiskey from the top down in that hotel room and it’s become the closer for all of our shows and it’s this really silly drinking song.”

What was it like when you entered that world of co-writing and how do you find it now?

“I just had to not think about it. I knew that I had to write an album that was me. I couldn’t write an album as a character, it had to be me. So I had to go deep. In the beginning I just had to not think about my inhibitions, you can’t. It’s like being an actor, you have to put yourself in a really vulnerable position and be able to access that at all times. I didn’t have the spare time to get self-conscious about it.

“I’ve become friends with all of the writers on my album – Wyatt [Durette] who wrote Let It Rain with us, Amy [Wadge] who wrote Little By Little and Doors & Corridors, and Justin [Halpin] who wrote Warrior with us. I’ve never made an album before but in my head I can see every room that we wrote every song in. Hotel rooms and living rooms, sitting round our kitchen table in Nashville, places all over the world, and I see the faces of the people that we wrote them with.”

In a weird way, it sounds as if your acting abilities helped you be yourself during the writing process…

“I get what you mean. In the beginning you might have to tell yourself that you’re fine but then it becomes, ‘These are my friends and we’re going to sit here and we can talk about anything.’ We don’t just write songs for me, we write songs for them as well. You just get to know each other on an intimate level. I don’t know if it’ll ever be easy because I don’t allow myself to get comfortable, I always have to be doing something to evolve. It’s always a joy even when we’re writing about sad stuff.

“There’s a song called Aves’ Song which is about my best friend. I said to Brandon and Wyatt, my two trusted friends, ‘I have a story that I need to tell about my best friend,’ and I told them that a long time ago somebody made her feel so worthless that she decided she didn’t want to be here anymore but somehow she found a way to love herself enough to recover from that sadness. It’s a story which still makes me tear up, because I don’t know what I would do without Ave, but the more you open up and write about these things the more comfortable you get.”

Clare Bowen

Bowen: “If you think that everybody is going to like you, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.”

There are some songs on the album that you didn’t write, how did you choose them?

Sweet William was something that Josh bought to me which I thought was so beautiful. It’s about love that never stops and never giving up if you have to do something for the person you love. I thought it was so simple and so gorgeous. With Grace Of God & You, Lori McKenna is a hero of mine, she’s amazing. Lori’s one of the most down to earth people, I loved Humble And Kind when Tim McGraw cut it and her version is gorgeous. She writes songs straight from the very fabric of her soul. Because I know her a little and know how wonderful she is, that was a big part of why the song spoke to me. It’s just a beautiful song which reminds me of my parents.”

Warrior struck as a particularly inspiring song, is there a specific story behind it?

“I grew up in the Australian bush and in a children’s hospital, so wasn’t really socialised in a conventional sense. It was more animals than people and then very sick children. I realised I’d never written a song about those children that I grew up with, most of whom didn’t get to grow old because we were in a terminal ward, and their families. I was in a situation whereby somebody passed away literally every day. It leaves something with you having an experience like that. I watched a lot of people fight through stuff that no person should have to fight through and they were so incredibly brave. Watching people find some good in a horrible and harrowing situation was an inspiring thing to see.

“I knew that it was not an easy subject to write about because all of those people are so close to my heart but I said to Brandon and Justin, ‘I have this song that I need to write about the kids,’ and they were like, ‘Oh boy,’ and teared up almost immediately but said they’d write it with me. That’s the thing, I have these wonderful people who will go there with me, even when the stories are hard to tell. We started to write and as we wrote I realised there isn’t a single person out there who hasn’t been through something. I just started to realise how many people out there might be feeling alone.

Warrior turned into something bigger than what it began as, but it will always be rooted in where it came from originally. Just to be able to reach out to people and say, ‘There’s a whole lot of people out there who are just like you and it’s going to be okay.’ Sometimes just recognising that someone is struggling and validating all of the feelings that they’ve been going through is the best gift that you can give them.”

It’s clear that the relationship with your audience is so important to you…

“Music is what happens when words are not enough to express what you’re feeling and I think because I share a lot of my life, and not just the fun stuff but the hard stuff as well, it makes people more comfortable telling me things. People share their stories and they come and hang out and it’s nice to be able to be human with people, it’s what it’s all about. I think it’s important to include as many people as you can in your thoughts. Everybody knows their own warrior, it might be themselves and that’s okay

“One of the things I love about songwriting and the live shows in particular is saying, ‘You know what, it’s okay to tell people you’re not okay.’ I try to give people a safe place and an outlet. They don’t have to say anything; they can just roll about in the music. I just want to put more good in the world.”

Interview: Duncan Haskell

Clare Bowen’s debut album is out 31 August. For details of her UK tour head to clarebowenofficial.com

Metallica and While She Sleeps among Heavy Music Awards winners

August 25, 2018 in Events, News

Metallica: winner of Best International Band at HMA18. Pic: Kreepin Deth/Wikimedia Commons

HMA is in its infancy, but they’ve taken big strides to recognise artists and charities that celebrate heavy music subcultures

This week saw the second annual Heavy Music Awards ceremony take place at London’s Koko. Kerrang! Radio presenter Sophie K hosted the evening’s festivities which included performances from The Fever 333, Milk Teeth, Black Peaks and Coldbones.

The highlights included Metallica picking up the award for Best International Band and While She Sleeps taking home Best Album for 2017’s You Are We , while the award for Best Festival went to France’s Hellfest Open Air. But the standout award went to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. The charity received The H for their work challenging prejudice and intolerance towards people from alternative subcultures. In 2007, Sophie Lancaster was attacked along with her boyfriend Robert Maltby. The attack resulted in Sophie’s death while leaving Robert with life-changing injuries.

The finalists were nominated by a panel made up of music industry figures and HMA has partnerships with charities including Safe Gigs For Women, Nordoff Robbins and Love Music Hate Racism.

Heavy Music Awards winners in full:

Best UK Breakthrough Band
Milk Teeth

Best Festival
Hellfest Open Air

Best International Breakthrough Band
Knocked Loose

Best Album Artwork
Sikth, The Future In Whose Eyes? by Meats Meier

The H
Sophie Lancaster Foundation

Best Producer
Will Putney

Best Live Band

Best International Band

Best Photographer
Ed Mason

Best UK Band

Best Album
While She Sleeps, You Are We