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  • Songwriting

    Finally a blog on songwriting. Unfortunately if you are a songwriter this will be next to useless to you.
    McCartney wrote the lyrics first. Lennon wrote them after he'd developed the melody.
    The way the process works is that when you find the words in the melody you either do a stream of consciousness thing (which is great fun), or you use notes that you have collected on various bits of paper and in notebooks. Many of my friends who write songs do it this way. I don't.
    I never take notes. Nor do I plunder the ether for hippy-babble "simple silly secrets running rings around a no-show, she is solitary out of line, she's naked but she isn't mine". Yes I actually wrote those lyrics.

    At this stage of the songwriting process I have around ninety minutes of skeletons. The fleshing out of these pieces is a delight and it's hard to keep away from them. However my Architectural teeth are firmly grasped onto a concept and will stick to it. So to give you some idea of the process, I've outlined the production of one piece of the puzzle below.

    I was wintering on the beaches of Kerry in 2012 (it was March), courtesy of a good friend whose house was at my disposal. I was walking around 20 kilometers a day along some of the most desolate shores in Europe. I'm posting a few photos to give you an idea of what I was doing and where I was working.
    After 3 days of lung-bursting deep breaths and occasional bouts of euphoria I began to notice that the further I got away from the house and the small mostly holiday settlement, the more unsettled I became. After a week alone I did one heroic walk of 16km and ended up completely out of sight of the headland I'd come from. I saw this unusual figure in the distance travelling rapidly towards me. Closer and closer it came and I realised that it was moving in an extremely unnatural way, completely static where it met the sand and yet frantic and intense at the top. Something I'd ignore usually. However when you are alone in the middle of nowhere and have seen Whistle and I will come to you many times, you don't stand around waiting to see the thing in the distance getting closer. So I started to walk quickly back the way I came and then began to trot and dammit if the figure wasn't closing on me. I checked myself and just gave up. What could it be other than my imagination fuelled by too much health and fresh air? It was a guy running with a pram at full belt. "Howareye!" he shouted as he passed me by, zipping around a corner I'd missed on the way down. I followed him straight into a golf club. The desolation lifted and I remembered where I was. Kerry in the Spring.
    I started walking back to the house. It began to get darker and I picked up the pace, arriving at the final beach just as the sun went down. The tide had come in and I had to cut back to the road for the final few hundred meters. It was covered in sand which blew into my eyes. Then the song came.
    I'd been playing a bizarre riff over and over for a week. It was intoxicating. I sang nonsense words over it with different melodies and it still stayed interesting. In my experience that is the sign of a good song. There were no lyrics. They would either come or they wouldn't. On the sandy road they came in waves. They filled the melody up until they spilled out. I couldn't find one of the words, the title. I rang a friend and shouted "HEADTHEVAR!!" repeatedly down the phone. "WHAT DOES THAT SOUND LIKE, WHAT WORD?" The signal was terrible which didn't do much for my credibility. I hung up as the dusk began to settle in and the lights all over the peninsula came into focus. The word "Heavenward" came. The song was written. The production of this song was the turning point in my songwriting. I'd had a similar though profoundly sad experience when Elisabeth Sladen passed away the year before almost to the day. "Sweet Sarah Jane" came in one go on the back of a riff I'd worked on for 5 years.

    What I have learned is that the process must be filled with joy no matter what the subject matter is. I returned to Kerry this year for ten days and nothing came. I consolidated what I had already written and completed a couple of pieces and walked an awful lot. Finally I spent a week in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at the end of September and realised that the album was ready. I can put no finites on the songwriting process. For me it's about riffs. The melody follows and then the lyrics. For me the lyrics sit somewhere in the song waiting to be found. They can't be forced because they are already there.

    Enjoy Fahamore beach. Somewhere out there might be another song.