Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Ornithologist

So I've been hard at work on the guitar this weekend, practising for the Big Event (of which more below). Sadly it seems I have no natural sense of rhythm, or maybe I just lack the hand-eye coordination necessary to pass the rhythm from brain to guitar, but I am quite proud of the fact that I've finally cracked a new strum pattern, in spite of this deficiency. (Funny how it's often the achievement of small goals that's the most satisfying).

I've been plugging away at a few tunes over the last few weeks and, technically speaking, I have written 7 songs, with another 2 in progress. It's mostly a learning exercise at this stage and I wouldn't dream of torturing anyone else's ears with my efforts. A couple of them aren't too bad and they're fun for me to play but we're very much in chick-with-a-guitar territory and they're all pretty generic.

All of this is by the by because what I actually want to talk about is the lyrics.

Lyrics are infinitely tricky things, as has been blogged about here before; so many pitfalls. Trying to be intelligent and interesting but not self indulgent. Original and quirky but not completely obscure. Simple and memorable without being clich├ęd.

I find I often start out with a promising idea but by the time I’m finished all I’m left with is a diluted and slightly bland version of what was in my head and, for some reason, a recurring theme about birds. Seriously, everything ends up in a bout of ornithology, it’s bizarre. They’re trapped behind a window, falling from the sky in flames, trailing clipped wings and losing their voices. If it weren’t for the lucky few managing to fly freely in the odd chorus I think the RSPCB would be onto me.

No doubt Freud would have a lot to say about it, but I’m sure most people attempting any kind of writing find this problem – a particular (and often easy) theme or image gets caught in your head and insists on surfacing. Plus words like ‘fly’, ‘flight’ and so on come in useful and crop up a lot when you’re trying to make something rhyme.

Before all these crows, larks and phoenixes start leaving droppings all over my songs and building nests in my brain (see, I’m doing it again!), I think I need to expand the repertoire. The problem I find is that ignoring the birdhouse in my soul doesn't help; it still keeps piping up and efforts to replace it end up feeling forced. So for now I'm going with the theory that my birds on the brain are there for a reason and if I can release everything in the proverbial aviary, maybe I can move onto other things. Or I may try the alternative and see if I can carouse them into something more coherent. If I'm going to write about birds then at least I can try doing it properly, with fewer obvious cliches. We live in hope...

Thankfully one song has nothing to do with winged creatures but then it's not one of mine. I'm playing The Shining by Badly Drawn Boy at my brother's wedding in two weeks. I'm playing it in a different key to the original (which is too low for my voice) but it's a very simple arrangement and the challenge has actually been trying to make it a bit more complicated before it gets boring to listen to. Since the original opens with a very lovely french horn section, and my brass band skills aren't what they used to be, I'm having to improvise. Today I worked out a modest intro bit that at least references the french horn and which I can then throw in again towards the end. Plus I'm now using a more complex strum, so fingers crossed. Now I all I have to do is sing loudly enough over the guitar, since I won't have a microphone on the day. So my lucky neighbours have had me belting it out all afternoon. I'm hoping they weren't home.


Woolly Stuff said...

Nice to see you yesterday :)

Rog produces this russian band back in NYC and they have a song that starts "A thousand crows upon my head..." which, even though the music is a tiny bit too "heavy metal" for me, I find to be a killer first line - the imagery is intense.

Hoxton said...

Nice to see you too!

That's a great line. Maybe I shouldn't worry about the bird thing so much!