Unlike the wonderful Graeme Miles (also from Teesside), I am not - and never will be - a prolific writer of songs. Eighty songs in just over fifteen years is hardly a world record, although I comfort myself with the thought that it is probably seventy-nine more than most people write! In contrast, Graeme has written hundreds, if not over a thousand songs. I only met him once. It was towards the end of one of those aforementioned folk parties, and we were all ‘sung out’, and ready to crash out on the floor. In walks Graeme at about 3am, and proceeds to sing non-stop until dawn, not once forgetting the words. In contrast, nowadays I can barely manage to read the words of my songs unless they are in large print, and, try as I might, I struggle to retain most of the songs in what has become the sieve-like nature of my memory.
(When drafting the above notes, I thought I would see what Graeme was up to, but, sadly, discovered that he died in April 2013. In hs memory, the EFDSS staged a major concert, and money raised from it is to be used to establish a bursery to support budding musicians from the North East.)
One kind person once asked me how I went about writing a song, and the answer is not an easy one. Sometimes a short phrase does it for me, and, similarly, a couple of notes and/or a few chord changes can be the starting point. On reflection, I think I am at my ‘best’ when I am given a theme (usually a disaster, of course!), and can then start to build the song around the facts/story. My usual approach is to scribble down a few key lines for verses, then put the words onto the PC where I can refine and expand them. Even when a snatch of a tune is the starting point, the full words tend to come first, after which the guitar comes out of the case. The shortest time for completing a song, from idea to performance, is around three hours, but some drag on for weeks or months!
When putting together this website, I decided that it should include every song I have completed and performed - at least on one occasion. I am well aware that the songs vary in character and, indeed, in quality, so, if you happen to pick on a not-so-good effort at first try, please take a look at something else.
One point I would make to any budding writer is to capture the moment. Inspiration for a song can come at any time. If it happens to be 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, that's usually fairly convenient; if the Muse strikes at 3am, it is not so convenient, but DO get up and make some sort of record of what has been going around in your head. On several occasions, I have come up with a good idea in the middle of the night (no guffaws, please), and have thought it so obvious it would easily keep till morning. Take it from me: it doesn't, at least not in my case (see earlier reference to sieves!).
No doubt some would regard it as a cheating, but I make no apology for declaring that my ‘bible’ in song-writing is The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary. If you haven’t seen this trusty tome, do try to find a copy. Think of any word you know - the more obscure the better - and you will find at least one rhyme for it. In truth, the book is so comprehensive that it often takes longer to wade through the possible rhymes for a key word than it does to write a verse, but I still wonder how Shakespeare managed without it!
When it comes to singing the songs, you are perfectly at liberty to do them any way you like. If you can read music, then you will soon pick up the bare tunes for most of the songs, but please don’t fall into the trap of simply singing the songs exactly as they are notated, as this will rarely allow you to incorporate the syncopation and variations necessary to stop the songs sounding bland. Take a listen to the audio clip of each song, and see how I do it (or rather ‘I did it’ on the day, as you can rest assured that a performance the next day would be different!), and then do it your way. A lot of instrumental workshops talk about making the tune your own, and the same goes for songs. Personally, I would prefer not to see reggae versions of some of the slower songs, but it’s a free world….well almost - see next section.
In putting together this compilation, I have tried to respect others’ creative efforts, whether musical or artistic, but I am conscious that I may unwittingly have transgressed on a few occasions when I have been unable to discern, or have overlooked original ownership. Should anyone recognise any of their work in these pages, then please contact me, and, as they say, I am sure we can come to some amicable agreement.
I claim copyright on these songs, but I am not seeking either fame or fortune from them. I am simply trying to put something back into folk culture as payment for the many thousands of hours I have spent ‘taking’ from it. Feel free to sing any of these songs within folk clubs or sessions as often as you like, but, on the off-chance that you might want to record any of them or perform them at a paid gig, kindly contact me on:
It may seem a little odd, but, during the tenure of the self-styled 'greenest government ever', Cumbria Wildlife Trust is decidedly strapped for cash, and needs every penny it can get.
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Below is a picture of a young Rob and me (Rob is the clean-shaven one, by the way) entertaining punters at a Concertinas at Nunnery event. The expression on Rob's face does rather suggest that, not for the first time, I had played the wrong chord, but at least I didn't need a sticky label to remind me who I was!
Hear what the critics have to say....
“I guess all songs is folk songs. I never heard no horse sing 'em.”
Big Bill Broonzy (and others)
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