I started this little series of blog articles last year and I’ve just realised that I missed one…
Here are the links to the first three:
I put a post out on my Facebook page and Twitter feed asking if there was anything people who read my blog would like me to write about. One of the questions asked was that I publish a ‘soundtrack of my life’ post. The suggestion was 16 songs, which I thought would be too many, but when you really sit down and try to think of those peak moments that are linked to one particular song it’s amazing how quickly those 16 places get filled up – particularly when you’re on the wrong side of 50 years old…
Also, 16 in one post felt like it would be too many. So I decided to split it into three posts and see how that works out. Well, I posted three articles but only reached my late teens! Then life got in the way and I totally forgot to post the more recent influences and favourites.
So my friends, here it is.
Music is amazing magic. All of us know a song that, when it comes on the radio (showing my age there…) you’re pulled straight back to that moment in your life. Well, here are some of mine:
I was on holiday with Cerri. We had left England and had travelled into Scotland to visit some of the Hebridean Islands. We had spent time on Mull, travelled over to Iona, over to Harris, then on to Lewis. Our travels then took us back to Skye and it was there I first heard the music of a man who would be a huge influence on my songwriting for years to come. We were in the B and B having breakfast when I heard this amazing song being played as background music. As I listened my heart opened and it felt like I was hearing a fellow traveller on the road I’d been walking since I first heard John Denver as a child. His voice was in exactly my register, and the melodies were emotional, clear, and it felt like I’d heard the song before. I caught the eye of the waitress and asked who it was singing and she told me it was a man called Dougie Maclean. So on our trip, I stopped off at a record store (again, showing my age…) and I found the album Roif, and I played it all through the rest of the trip in the car. In the end, I bought all of his albums, and have seen him live many times. A genius songwriter, and an amazing man.
Caledonia – Dougie Maclean
Another songwriter whose music has been of great influence to me has been Steve Knightley of the English folk band Show of Hands. In fact, it wasn’t only Dougie and Show of Hand’s music that influenced me. Neither Dougie, nor Show of Hands has ever signed record contracts. They formed their own labels, published their own songs, and both succeeded in earning a living from their music without the support of a label. By doing so they also retained all of the publishing and copyright of their songs. So when I started taking my music seriously and stepped out to make it my living, I took their model as my own. I promised myself I’d remain completely independent, that I would never sign my songs away, and that I would stay in control of my own musical direction and career. I started out on that path properly in 2006, and I’ve kept true to it so far. So thank you Dougie and Show of Hands for your inspiration, both on the instrument, and off.
Country Life – Show of Hands
Time to get heavy now…
Me and my friends were on our way to the Hungry Years, a rock club on Brighton seafront. Neil was driving in his Triumph car (I remember every now and then it would stop, he’d have to park up, get out of the car, and bash something in the engine with an iron bar to get it going again) and on the way down he popped a cassette into the player saying he’d just discovered this new band called Metallica. They had just released their Ride the Lightning album. He pressed play. Now I’d heard heavy guitar before. I guess the heaviest before that moment was Motorhead, but nothing prepared me for the guitar and double-bass drum assault that filled my ears after, what has to be said, was a very chilled out intro. Admittedly, there are better Metallica songs, but this was the first I heard, and I’ve never forgotten that moment.
Fight Fire with Fire – Metallica
Ok, so now we are going to get into where my love of rock went. If you’ve been following this series you’ll know that I am split down the middle when it comes to my love of folk music, and rock music. From the Ramones to AC/DC, then into glam, and then thrash metal. I love it all. But I confess I had to force myself to love some of the rock of the 80s. It seemed to me that the keyboard was muscling in on the realm of the guitar and marshall stack. Rock music for a while, to me at least, sounded just like pop music, but with a distorted guitar. Take the guitar away and what you had left was a pop song, and I didn’t like many pop songs. I didn’t get it. So I turned away from rock for a while, to be honest. It felt like it had done its course, and had morphed into something very different.
But then… I heard this…
Smells like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the like revealed a lyrical depth that had, to me, been missing from rock for some years. I loved Van Halen and their feel-good party songs. I loved Motley Crue, Guns n Roses, and a few other bands of the time, but then it seemed the record labels smelt a fast buck, and the market was swamped with quantity, rather than quality. When I heard the opening chords of Smells like Teen Spirit I knew something was about to change, and sure enough, very quickly, what was seen as heavy metal and ‘hair metal’ began to die away. In more recent years some of those bands, the really good ones, attained the accolade of becoming ‘classic rock’, and they found themselves once more back in favour, and headlining gigs and festivals again. A second wind for some really fabulous bands.
Just one more to go.
Since I rediscovered my love of rock music there have been lots of bands that have opened my eyes to different and exciting directions. Marilyn Manson with his Antichrist Superstar album, Nine Inch Nails with Endless Spiral, Rob Zombie with Hellbilly Deluxe, gradually they courted me back into the metal fold, and now I can’t bear to miss a Download Festival.
So which song shall I end with?
A songwriter that I love, yet isn’t in this list is the great Paul Simon. Without doubt, he penned some of the greatest songs of his generation but, for me, one song he wrote entered that limited list of songs that have been better when covered by other people. I’m thinking of Bob Dylan here with Hendrix’s All along the Watchtower, or The Byrds cover of Tambourine Man. I prefer them both to the original (not that the original is bad, just that the other versions captured something more in the song). The song of Paul Simon’s that joins those other great songs is Sound of Silence.
When Simon and Garfunkel recorded it I heard a wonderful melody and incredible lyrics. I’ll be honest here, I think it’s one of the best songs ever written, but then a metal band called Disturbed covered it. I think they absolutely captured the real emotional message behind the song.
There’s a great video for it on YouTube, but the copyright owners won’t let me embed it in this blog (it’s well worth watching), but I found this live performance of the song. Disturbed played it at Download the last time they were there. 80,000 metalheads stood, ironically, in silence. There wasn’t a dry eye in that field when they finished.
The vocal is astounding.
Sound of Silence – Disturbed
So this song shows what can happen when rock and folk meet, and I think some of my songs live in that space too. I’m thinking Spirit of Albion, Sabbat, The Cauldron Born, there are others. All of them owe a lot to both folk and rock and long may that relationship thrive and continue.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk down memory lane.
What are the songs from recent years that have been peak moments for you?