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You know how sometimes you fail to reply to an email, or a letter, and then time passes, with you meaning to respond, and then more time, and more time, until suddenly you realise that it’ll now be weird when you reply, and you’ve left it way too long and don’t even know where to start?

That.

I didn’t mean for four months to fly by with nary a post from me to let you all know I still had a pulse, I really didn’t. But one thing led to another and as the days crept guiltily by I just couldn’t think of what to write.

So what has kept me from you all this time?

My writer’s block hasn’t extended to music, not one bit. I completed FAWM comfortably with 14 solid songs, many of which are keepers. I’ve continued writing since the end of February, and even have a crazy plan to attempt 50/90 – another songwriting challenge. Where FAWM is a sprint, this one is a marathon. 50 songs in 90 days, or an ambitious 16.333333333 (recurring ad nauseum) songs per month (ish). It starts on the 4th July, and promises to be an interesting diversion. Or obsession. Tomato, tomato.

You know, I’ve only just realised this: “Tomato, tomato.” That’s one of the few phrases that simply doesn’t work in text. Crazy. Anyway, I digress.

What else have I been up to?

Well, amongst the writing, I created a brand new song in an afternoon, along with a video. The demo was basically recorded while I filmed, which was interesting, and the most complex thing I’ve attempted so far.

Videos have always seemed to me to be a dark art, and the one aspect of musical creativity I really don’t understand how to do. I go on Youtube, and I see these amazing videos, done by up and coming artists, who all seem to have tame camera operators and film editors to call on. They are also invariably gorgeous, own long flowing dresses and at least one grand piano, and live near a mystical forest, or a scenic beach, or an empty church… I try to do the same thing, and it looks like the cat got hold of the video camera, dragged it around a bit and accidentally turned it on. Given that an untrained chimp could produce a better video than me without really trying, I was actually pretty thrilled with this attempt:

It was both harder and easier than I expected. I’d like to try the picture in picture thing again, this time for something like Scarlet Casanova, because the harmonies kick in from the beginning. At this rate of video creation, I expect to be halfway competent before I’m sixty!

Anyway, sarcasm aside, if anyone out there feels like it would be fun to make a video for any of my songs, shout out. I have zero budget, but I do a good line in cake and gratitude, and perhaps worldwide fame one day! I’d love to collaborate!

What else? Well, I’ve been working part time at the University in a continued, misguided attempt to make my millions (aka pay the rent). It’s been hard this year, work seems to be thin on the ground, but I do have a good number of singing students, which is helping, and also I enjoy teaching. It’s hard to have a bad time singing duets or showing people how to stretch range and build power in their voices, it’s a learning process I’m immensely proud to be part of.

Musically, I have a few other bits and bats in the pipeline. I’ve started the process of editing and mixing the tracks for the new album. I don’t yet have a title, but I do know that it’s being released in September, and I also have an artist lined up who I’m thrilled to have on board for the artwork. I am so lucky to have the friends I do – I am surrounded by a very multitalented and generous group of individuals and I’m grateful every day for them.

York has a new radio station starting, 2 Rivers Radio, and I’m pleased to say that Vinnie Whitehead is going to be interviewing me and playing some songs from the new album for it. We’re doing a live In Session recording next Tuesday and I’m very excited about it.

To my abject astonishment and without any bribery on my part (either financial or in the form of baked goods) I have also been nominated, for the second year running, for a Yorkshire Gig Guide Grassroots Award, in the category of Outstanding Band/Artist. This is amazing and I’m thrilled to bits! This is where some audience participation can occur, if you feel so inclined, you can vote for me to reach the next stage.

So, I could say at this stage that I promise not to leave it so long before writing again. But you know, and I know, that that is simply a challenge to my subconscious to really fall off the wagon and not write another word until 2016, so let’s not, eh?

Until next time.

x

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Wow, time flies when you’re having fun.

Or working like a dog.

Whichever.

In any case, something more like normal service should be resumed now. After a crazy January of working 10 hour days between the university job and singing tuition, things have now settled down slightly with a reduction in hours to four days a week instead of five. I’m still busy, but I can now enjoy luxuries like eating and sleeping.

Oh, and taking part in the yearly write-fest that is February Album Writing Month. That too. 😉

So far, progress has been good, I think. A week in, I’m bang on target with four songs recorded and up on the site and several on the go. My biggest challenge is keeping up with the listening and commenting – the site is so much bigger this year than previous ones, so it can feel pretty overwhelming staying on top of everything. As always though it’s a fantastic experience and a strong and positive community.

I usually like to blog about FAWM and put up posts highlighting some of my favourite listens. I’m going to open with a post about what I’ve been doing, and then post again later in the week when I’ve narrowed down five or so recommendations – the quality this year is outstanding, which is great but makes finding five or so favourites actually pretty hard!

So my four so far (in order of posting and with the disclaimer that these are rough demos with some errors and glitches!):

Shadows on the Run

January was a horrible struggle this year, as it is for many of us, which is what inspired this one.

I know it’s not always easy
Life can leave you hollow inside
Striped down and defenceless
On a hellish ride

Too many corners and angles
The path ahead obscure and unknown
But nothing is forever
And you’re not alone

CHORUS
See the shadows on the run
In the path of something better coming true
Winter’s time is almost done
And the light is pushing through
See the shadows on the run
See the future stretching out before you
In the golden summer sun
There’ll be nothing you can’t do

I know you’ve been cold in the darkness
Chilled by every little mistake
Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing
More you can take

The wind is so bitter, the land is so hard
Stagnation feels so easy to do
But nothing is forever
And we’ll see it through

CHORUS
See the shadows on the run
In the path of something better coming true
Winter’s time is almost done
And the light is pushing through
See the shadows on the run
See the future stretching out before you
In the golden summer sun
There’ll be nothing you can’t do

Rubbish Fairy Tale

A favourite of mine and one that will be on set lists for live gigs from now on, this is a song about expectations and how reality so rarely matches up.

 

I was looking for a pot of gold
Had to settle for a pin
I dreamt of a knight in armour bold
Got a boy made out of tin

Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale

This “happy-ever-after” thing
Is so last hundred years
The poisoned apple book of lies
Makes a mockery of tears

Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale

I won’t guess your name
And I won’t let down my hair
I’ve kissed a thousand frogs and they’re all still there
You can keep your slipper
You can keep your throne
All I want is a good book and a night at home

Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale

Battlefield

This was written as part of a song skirmish. Song skirmishes are one of my favourite things about FAWM. Someone picks a title, and everyone who takes part has one hour to write a song with that title. Then they’re shared. It consistently amazes me how differently people interpret the titles. This was my offering.

Here on the battlefield we will take a stand
In the killing fields our test is close at hand
We won’t be bound, we won’t fear death
We’ll hold our ground until the final breath

Those who went before us
Stained the good earth with their blood
And we who follow after
Feel their heartbeats in the mud
The hounds of war are coming
Howling death, despair and rage
But our courage will sustain us as we meet them

Here on the battlefield we will take a stand
In the killing fields our test is close at hand
We won’t be bound, we won’t fear death
We’ll hold our ground until the final breath

There’s no honour in this bloodshed
But some things must be done
As we tumble rank and file
To never see the sun
Some may call us martyrs
And some may call us fools
But to bow before the enemy is foolish too

Here on the battlefield we will take a stand
In the killing fields our test is close at hand
We won’t be bound, we won’t fear death
We’ll hold our ground until the final breath

Impossible Windmills

This is the saddest one this year and carries a trigger warning because of the content of the lyrics (mental health/depression). I’d like to re-record the vocals at some point. Gemma helped out with the lyrics on the last verse 🙂

A note on the mirror, written in steam
I can see clearly, through the glass nearly
A chink in your armour, patched up with glue
A smile sad as oceans, as you go through the motions

You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night

A page in your diary, a hole in your heart
I understand partly, through the glass darkly
A word left unspoken, a thorn in your mind
You’re turning away now, you’ve nothing to say

You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night

You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night
You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night

A note on the mirror
Written in steam

 So there you are, February so far. I have several gigs coming up in March and April which I’ll be writing about soon, and at least two of these stand a very good chance of being added to my live repertoire.
If you want to follow my progress on FAWM, head to the FAWM website  🙂 Or you could sign up and take part if you feel so inclined, it’s not too late!

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I’m afraid I’m still battling this evil, evil virus. I went into work yesterday but it must be confessed, I was operating on only about 75% functionality, and I crawled home feeling very sorry for myself indeed.

I can only hope that today’s post, as late as it is, will make up for my negligence!

My plan for yesterday’s post was a sort of trip back in time to a previous, and hitherto largely ignored, song from my past. Some Retro Casee Music if you like. For this one, I thought it would be fun to revisit String.

String was written as part of FAWM some four or five years ago. There were many strange in-jokes that year, as there often are, and that particular year I recall there was a rash of haiku about dingoes that had been written. There was also a challenge to sample a section of another person’s music and turn it into a song. So I wrote a public service announcement about why string is awesome and dingoes, well, aren’t. Poor dingoes.

The song kind of disappeared onto my hard drive somewhere, but I’ve been wanting to experiment with making a music video that isn’t just film of me in front of the piano. It’s not perfect, by any stretch, I’m still a bit scared to play with chunks of actual moving footage, but this gave me lots of practice with gimp and iMovie, and I’m pretty happy with the results. There’s even a couple of drawings by yours truly hiding out in the film! If you like it, please share and subscribe and stuff!

I leave you with the debut video for String. Enjoy!

 

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It’s been a very strange week. As you know, I finished FAWM just before midnight on the 28th February, completing the challenge with 14 songs (13 of them with demos). Saturday I was too wrecked to do much other than listen to the final FAWMcast, and then watch silly space movies with friends, whilst eating my bodyweight in popcorn (Event Horizon, followed by Serenity, for those of you who are curious!). Sunday was an equally lazy day, involving Sunday lunch at a friend’s fine abode, followed by a mind-numbingly long session of playing Star Wars: The Old Republic – giving my neglected Sith bounty hunter some much needed attention and feeling confused by all of the armour I now suddenly own because of the starfighter expansion… You know, I don’t know how people can buy pre-made characters on MMORPGs. I can barely play my own character, lovingly developed and equipped by yours truly, after a break, much less learn to play a maxed out character purchased from a career leveller in south-east asia….

Anyway, I digress.

The title probably gives away much of what I’ve been doing since finishing on Friday – outside of work, I really have just been cabbaging gently in front of dodgy TV, gaming periodically (also enjoying Torchlight II as well as SW:TOR) and catching up on reading. In pondering what to write about today, I thought perhaps a plan of action, now that FAWM is over, might be wise. Otherwise, who knows how many more weeks I might lose to killing sand-people on Tatooine and watching back episodes of Grimm?

1) Make an EP of new music

Hot at the top of the list is to get a digital EP put together from a selection of new songs. Clockwork Ballerina and Leave a Light On are shoe-ins after the feedback they’ve had, I’ll probably put at least one funny track on, and two or three others. The basics are done, but all tracks will need re-records of vocals, and proper mixing, as opposed to the FAWM-ready demo-level mix that they all got. Could take a few weeks, but I’m aiming for April, preferably before my shiny gig at the Winning Post with Vinnie and the Stars.

2) Gigs!

I have some. My first one since FAWM is next Thursday (13th March), supporting Hollie McNish at the Basement, City Screen. Should be a lot of fun, and Hollie’s work is excellent. I have a gig to organise, because the wonderful Catself is coming over from Finland in May, bringing her unique, quirky and downright delightful music here to the UK. And I have the afformentioned gig supporting Vinnie and the Stars at the Winning Post on the 18th of April. Add in some open mics, like Isaac Lister’s marvellous night at the Rose and Crown, and it should be a busy few months once things get going.

3) Finish Quantum Ghostlands

This EP is so very very late. I’m having some technical problems working out how to do the DVD release for Bellytrance, and Sparks and Angels is still being really hard to get right. And so when I’m looking at Tasks I’d Like to Work On Today, this one always drops to the bottom of the list, because it’s Hard Work. It is coming, I promise you, and will hopefully be worth the (very long) wait.

4) Admin backlog

I also have to do some serious catching up on the business side of things, including re-sending my tax form to Music Dealers, recording and mastering instrumentals for Music Dealers and Sentric, uploading new music to Music Dealers and Sentric, and basically overhauling all of my syncronisation submission material so it’s of the best quality standard I can get it to be. Lots of legwork, but essential if I want to be able to make money from anything I’m doing.

And there you all were thinking the life of a musician was all glamour, champagne and swimming pools.

Nope. It’s daytime telly, and a fleecy, bunny onesie.

See you next week!

Hollie McNish is performing at the Basement, City Screen, on Thursday 13th March. Tickets £5 from City Screen, doors at 7pm. Also performing: Sarah Wood, Val Horner,  Sue Whittaker,  Andy Humphrey, Olivia Widdop, Charli Marie Martin, Clare deTamble, Jaime Bolzern, and music from Charly Irons and Casee Wilson. 

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Hello, hello! Firstly I must apologise, because I did something totally shocking last Thursday – I failed to blog at all. Not even an apologetic animation from Simon’s Cat to make up for it.

In my defence, on Thursday, I had 7 out of 14 songs up for FAWM, leaving me 7 to do in just over 24 hours in order to complete the challenge. I’d also had some other bad news and was in the process of many long and complicated phone calls to try to sort things out. In short, life took a bit of a wonky turn down the side streets of “oh crap!” and I had to stop and deal with it all.

Things were back on a more even keel Friday afternoon, and I started to tackle the seven songs. The FAWM site doesn’t officially close to submissions until mid-day on the 1st of March, but my rule every year is that all fourteen have to be written between midnight on the 1st February UK time and midnight 1st March, so I had to be done Friday midnight for it to count for me. I also wanted to have as many as possible with demos. Writing this many songs in what turned out to be a ten hour period is what’s known by FAWMers as a “feast”, so, Friday’s feast went a bit like this:

Song 8 – Fearless

The first one up on Friday, posted at about 4:30-5pm (I forget – the day passed in such a blur once I got started!), was a song about the emotional and physical challenge that was Trailtrekker. I already had a fairly good idea about the piano part –  it was something that I’d been kicking around all month. Something about the electric piano sound I’d used was making me think of dark hills for some reason and one thing led to another. I called it Fearless. Like all of the songs posted on Friday, it was essentially one take – no redos on vocals or pianos, and given the short space of time, nothing was terribly well rehearsed, (but don’t let that put you off any of the songs!).

Song 9 – Coffee and Conversation

About an hour later, Coffee and Conversation went up. This one didn’t take too long because I’d already drafted both the lyrics and the piano backing, so I just needed to tie it together and record it. I think it’s an ok song, it’s not one of my favourites, but we’ll see what happens later this month when I go back over these. Another one take wonder – like just about everything done Friday! The chorus is too slow to my mind, I’d used a metronome and recorded the piano independently of the vocals which meant it didn’t flow as well as I wanted it to, but that’s nothing rehearsal and re-recording won’t fix. I prefer recording vocals and piano together but that needs more muscle memory, which means rehearsal, and I just didn’t have the time!

Song 10 – Being Gay Makes It Rain

One of my absolute favourites this FAWM, the concept had been rattling around since the first week of FAWM, but I was a little intimidated because what I could hear in my head and what I felt I could reasonable produce with just me and a piano and some synths wasn’t really matching up. I still want a massive gospel choir to kick in on the chorus. In fact, what I really, really want is to see this as a musical theatre number. With dancing, and flamboyance, and pretty fabrics, damnit! Instead, it was me and a piano against the ticking clock. But close your eyes and listen for the gospel choir. They’re there in spirit. I had fun recording this, especially the ending 🙂

Song 11 – Eyes Like Summer

Written for my long-suffering better half, the piano part on this took me by surprise. I wanted to write something beautiful, mellow and expressive, and I struggled, as I often do, with finding lyrics that weren’t too twee. I hope I succeeded. I have some fondness for this one, not sure if it’ll ever make an album, but it’s got a lot of potential, I think.

Song 12 – Go **** Yourself

After a break for some dinner, I cracked on with this one. I had some help from friends on Facebook with the lyrics, again, it had been a concept that I’d been letting trundle about in my hindbrain for a while, and it was cemented by unpleasant events earlier in the week, so I asked Facebook friends to brainstorm other ways of effectively telling someone to cock off. I didn’t actually want to write an overtly offensive song, I thought it would be much more effective to write something that seethed, but very politely. Despite the NSFW warning, it probably is, really. Whether you think “go blow a goat” is too filthy for young children to hear is a matter of preference and morality, I think, but it really doesn’t get any worse than that, and the f-word, although implied very strongly, is never actually used. The piano was the hardest part of writing and recording this and as a result, I definitely want to re-visit it this month and fix it.

Song 13 – Darkest Timeline

It’s rather appropriate that this is song 13, as anyone who has watched Community will probably agree. This was a co-write with my better half, she wrote the lyrics and I wrote and performed the music. I use “performed” loosely at this point. It was 11pm Friday night and I was seriously up against the clock. This is officially the fastest piece of electronica writing I have ever done. It took 20 minutes. I already had the bassline, thank goodness, so I added a basic drum placeholder, an intro, and some seriously warped vocals. And then uploaded it. The base idea is there though, and again I think this could potentially be a strong track, once I’ve done some serious work on it. I do mean serious.

Song 14 – Here All Along

So I had a little over half an hour left at this point and no idea what on earth my final song was going to be about. I do like writing a-capella songs, so I thought maybe that would be a fun way to finish FAWM, but in the time I had, it couldn’t be anything too intricate. So I started scribbling lyrics about, well, writing. The first verse still feels a little clunky to me, but it works well enough and I can always revise it later. Ran a melody a few times, then hit record. I got the lyrics posted at 5 to midnight, and I finished recording at midnight on the dot, the whole thing plus demo was live on the site by 5 past, but that was fine as the writing and recording had been finished within the time limit.

And then I went and poured myself a large serving of alcohol. Yes indeed. I won FAWM. Fourteen songs with thirteen demos in 28 days.

I should probably explain the lack of a demo for Ode to Housework. It being a comedy track, the piano is fast, twinkly, and technically a total pig to play. Because I couldn’t play it well enough to get a demo down, I haven’t done it yet. I will never understand my propensity for writing things I can’t actually play yet. I do plan to get a demo up before the end of March, and I’ll certainly yet you know when it’s live 🙂

Overall, FAWM was a total blast this year, even around stressful life events and all that jazz. Gemma and I were even lucky enough to get one of our co-writes featured on the final FAWMcast (a regular podcast which ran all month showcasing tracks people had written). So if you are interested and short of time, Clockwork Ballerina  was played an hour (1:00:40ish) into this:

If you aren’t short of time, the whole show is, of course, awesome and worth checking out, the hosts review each track on air and the tracks are handpicked for their very awesomeness 🙂

Now I’ve waffled at you all to death, I shall leave you until Thursday 😉 . Have a fantastic week out there!

FAWM writing is over, but FAWM listening has begun. There are 9894 songs on the site, so it’s well worth having a look! http://fawm.org/songs/

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Happy Monday lovely readers! After a busy week of work, more work and a smidgeon of work, I managed to make a small dent in my own FAWM progress yesterday, bringing my total to 6 out of 14 songs. This leaves me with eight songs in five days. I’m optimistic, as this is a quiet week work wise 🙂 Wish me luck and a cooperative muse!

Meanwhile, this week’s pick of the FAWM crop starts with the catchy, quirky Listening Skills by Rachel McClean. Stompy, powerful, punchy, and packed with handclaps, this won’t leave your head in a hurry. Worth looking out for her if you live around Nottingham in the UK, I have no idea if she gigs, her profile doesn’t say, but I certainly hope so.

Next up, some solid hip-hop electronica in the form of Anozira by Gemini Knight. If you aren’t a hip-hop fan, don’t let that put you off catching this, it’s an ambient instrumental and very listenable indeed – packed with ear candy, an ideal headphones track. According to his profile, he writes using his iPad, which earns him extra kudos in my book, given the full rich sounds he’s achieved with this track.

I was torn on the next one, between the wonderfully silly The Swedish Chef Sings the Blues and Really Not That Hard, both by The Faithful Sidekicks. I have so many board gaming friends though that Really Not That Hard became the shoein, if nothing else for the interjection “poor little meeple”! Well, ok, and the fact that many Saturday nights in our house go like this!

Next up, a bouncy, enjoyable offering from Karlos Harrison, Mystery Wanderer. The overlapping vocals on the refrain are very reminiscent of They Might Be Giants, and in trying to work out which TV programme title theme it reminded us of, both my better half and I thought Grange Hill or Rhubarb and Custard. Regardless, this one is another ear-worm that you actually want to have. Beautifully produced, musically sound and synthtastic. And if that isn’t a word yet, it should be.

Finally, the lyrics-only song of the week. This one is dedicated to parents and grandparents everywhere, especially ones with toddlers – Learning the Language by an artist going by the name of wordsandstuff9. The line “you know one day he’s gonna inappropriately punctuate” broke me completely. Highly recommended.

And that concludes the final weekly FAWM posting this February. I hope you’ve enjoyed my recommendations, hopefully it’s inspired you to go and have an explore of some of the other wonderful things being created! There’s five more days to go, and 7,642 songs to choose from at the time of writing this, and best of all, the FAWM website will stay open after February for your listening pleasure. I’ll let you know next week if I managed to complete the challenge!

 

 

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Welcome back, lovely people, to another Monday post about the joyous things I’ve been discovering on FAWM, or February Album Month. My own progress is moving slowly, with 4 out of 14 songs posted, another 2 in the pipeline in a nearly finished state, and then several lyrical and musical snippets waiting to be transformed.

The opener for this week is the unusual and offbeat Alfred, Apparently, by Fallsastar. It was tagged as “steampunk” and “Jazzish” so I felt compelled to take a listen and I’m so glad I did. This glitchy, wonky creation does indeed immediately transport the listener to dark victoriana alleyways in an industrial district. This is an all percussive wonder that I highly recommend taking a chance on.

Next up, one of my close neighbours in sunny Yorkshire, Isaac Lister, with his offering, Drink the Decency Down. Reminding me by turns of the Beautiful South blended with Billy Joel, this carries a haunting, catchy melody and bittersweet lyrics. The production is solid, and this is a strong, well put-together track. For those in York, Isaac Lister also runs a fabulous open mic night every Monday at the Rose and Crown on Lawrence Street. Check it out sometime.

For a more mellow, folky history lesson, check out Charleroi by Jcuempire. A sparkling, beautifully put together performance with solid instrumentation and a gorgeous melody. This is his first outing this FAWM and I hope to see more.

And now for something completely different… Zombie Morris Dancers, by WobbieWobbit. There has always been a tradition, a noble one in my opinion, of having at least one zombie song in FAWM, and this one is a cracker. A shambolic, gory, cerebral mess of a song. It’s superb. The horns! The accordion! The lyrics (“Shuffle to the left! Stagger to the right!”) If you only listen to one song I have recommended in this post, make it this one. I promise you won’t regret it.

Finally, in the lyrics only section, the marvellously evocative The Last Leaf, by Stephen Wordsmith. This is glorious. It’s rare to find lyrics only posts that straddle poetry and lyrics so well, but this does both, it is wonderful, haunting and engaging to read, and, set to music, can only be made even more beautiful.

I shall leave you all now. I have an early start with work in the morning after a very busy day today, and I want to listen to Zombie Morris Dancers one more time before bed…

Brains….!

 

 

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