Sunday 31 January 2016

Songs of Love and War - Part 1

A few musings on love, life and death. Songwriting is a strange thing (for me anyway). I often feel that I don't write songs, I pluck them out of the ether. Often songs will simply start with a feeling. The songs I've written which seem to connect best with our audience are the ones where we successfully encapsulate a simple feeling. One of my favourite songs on the album is feelings. This is a song about insecurity in a loving relationship. I am sure that at some point we've all been in this position. We want to tell someone how we feel about them, but we find ourselves tongue tied and seemingly unable to get this across. Even worse, we suspect that the object of our affections is in the same dilemma. Love is a strange thing. The first thing we find when we are attracted to someone is our brain is scrambled. How often do we hear of indoor types taking up hiking, vegetarians developing a love of steak and slobs having a complete makeover within days of meeting a new beau? This is what love does to us.

Another favourite song of mine in the set is Winter in your heart. My input on this song was purely musical (and berating Allen to write a chorus, when he thought it didn't need one!).

This is a song about the other end of a relationship. The part where our relationship is falling apart. Again, I suspect we've all been in this situation. The song is about the stark moment where you realise that what you want from the relationship is not the reality of the situation. But we still see some light on the horizon. The song finishes with Allen singing longingly "Restore the miracle". The highlight of the song is a dynamic drum break as Allen sings "Our universe is falling apart". It really emphasises how important it is for a band to all contribute to the process of arrangement of the song.

Then there are the songs about war. It sometimes seems that the fine musical traditions of protest songs has been lost in todays manufactured pre packaged pop age. I think that all of the band think it is important to have an edge and to say things that are relevant. Back in 1983, I wrote a pair of songs about the Falklands war and the experience of British squaddies (I had a couple of mates who fought there and had very scarring experiences). Action Shock is a song about survival on the front line. It is about thinking of loved ones back home and then having to face and kill or be killed. It is about taking the life of a complete stranger, to satisfy the political career of far off politicians, tucked safely up in bed. I put together a video to accompany the song.

The second of the two songs is called Blue Soldier. This was a far more experimental piece. When I presented it to Allen, he saw echoes of WWI poet Wilfred Owen. He extensively reworked the lyrics, adding a rather surreal middle section. The song explores the feelings of fear and dread we feel when we are in a hostile situation with seemingly no way out. It also touches on the moments of beauty we sometimes find in such stressful situations. Sometimes it is almost as if time stands still and we can step out of ourselves completely in times of great stress. I've alway felt that Blue Soldier totally captures the way that our minds can be free even in the most dire of situations.

I have always felt that it is a unique strength of the songwriting of The False Dots, that myself and Allen are very different personalities. Although we have co-written many songs, we don't sit down together and work through the lines. I will present an idea to Allen and he'll refine it. For the songs he writes, generally I have no lyrical input. This is more because I feel Allen has to sing the songs, so he has to be comfortable. Sometimes, I will suggest that there are more or less lines or that the chorus may need to be added etc. Being from a poetic background,  Allen is probably the lyricist who has been most committed to ensuring that the lyrics are consistent and make sense. Many of the singers who have worked with The False Dots would virtually sing anything. With Allen if he doesn't think the lyrics work, then he won't sing them.

I think this has given us an extraordinarliy strong body of work. Musically we are not a fussy band. We try and write songs that are easy to give a dynamic perfomance in a live setting. We try and also ensure that there are strong and memorable hooks. One of the newer songs is called Saturday and it is about the experience of attending football. We felt that there have been many songs about football, but none capture the experience. Perhaps the hardest aspect of writing any song is getting the music and lyrics to collide in such a way that even without the lyrics, you know what the song is about. The tribalism of football for many has replaced the tribalism of war, religion and secatarianism. Football is a game of passion and irrelevance. I feel that we've perfectly captured how it feels to be a fan on the terrace. For many of us living in 2015, perhaps the elation and dread on the terraces is the nearest thing that (God willing) we will ever come to a war.

For me, my band and our music has been a major passion in my life. It may seem strange to say but I am happier with the music we are making now than at any other time in our long and illustrious history. That is not to say that we haven't had brilliant line ups and talented musicians in the band. Every line up of the band has had some unique special element. Connie Abbe and Venessa Sagoe are two of the finest singers one could possibly hope to work with, and God willing, I will collaborate with both again at somepoint soon, however from the perspective of having a band where all of us are 100% involved and contributing, the current line up is unique. For a songwriter, this is a very special pleasure. When you feel that you are capturing emotions and conveying them to an audience it is very special.

No comments: