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Posts Tagged ‘February Album Writing Month’

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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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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We’re into the second week of FAWM and I must apologise for the tardiness of this post… A weekend of crewing and my nephew’s christening has left me able to do not much more than stare at the television and drool quietly. Any sort of work today has been like trying to wade through fast drying cement with antique cannon balls strapped to my ankles and thirty angry badgers stapled to my head.

My own personal FAWM progress has been lacklustre. I have two songs up, one with a demo, and one that is lyrics only, and then 3 half finished ones in the pipeline: one with music and lyrics that I just need to record, another with music and most of the lyrics, and one, in the style of musical theatre, called “Being Gay Makes It Rain”, of which I have most of the lyrics, but very little idea of how I shall tackle the demo. I’m thinking a big orchestral number, and maybe tweeting Neil Patrick Harris to see if he’ll sing on it. Watch this space…

So as promised, I return to the world of FAWM to bring you some spectacular finds of the week. The first of these was stumbled across while I was using the “shuffle” function to find songs to comment on. It’s called, catchily, “Uke in Bed, Saturday Afternoon” which as a title, gives no real clue to it’s quirky, charming character. Actually, it’s the sort of song I fully expect to find on a romcom soundtrack, or possibly a random, artsy coffee advert. The artist, Melissa Schiller, has a lovely voice and brings a heartfelt performance to the song. Highly recommended for a sunny Saturday morning.

The second pick for this week is Johnny  Wire’s The Fashionate Ones. This has only two comments so far, and I can’t work out why. It’s awesome. Awesomely awesome with a side order of awesome sauce. With a strong 80’s influence, this reminds me of David Bowie and Pulp by turns and is so very polished, it’s hard to believe this isn’t on an album already. With a strong, catchy hook and a very listenable structure, this is a very enjoyable track and I’m looking forward to hearing more from this artist.

Returning to the female singer-songwriter ouvre, I very much enjoyed Even Perfect Love Can Die by Meri Amber. Another stunning voice, which combines with bittersweet lyrics and a stripped back acoustic performance to tell this story of love and loss. She describes this as one of her “darker” songs, but it still manages to be bright and easy on the ear.

An electronica instrumental now, Skybound by Dan Wallbank. Rapidly marking himself as one to watch on FAWM this year, he has produced a rich, glorious instrumental here that takes you on a gorgeous auditory journey. The melody of this one will stay with you long after you’ve finished listening to it.

Finally, in my tradition of including one lyrics-only piece, I very much enjoyed We Are Like Coca and Cola by Arthur Rossi. I’d love to hear music ideas for this one, if nothing else because the lyric pairings are so cleverly done and anyone who can use the lines “like music and cello…like Monet and yellow” deserves to be appreciated.

And that concludes this weeks update from the world of FAWM. I hope you are all having a great week out there, and remember, stay away from angry badgers!

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Ah it’s that time of year again. When florists triple the price of a dozen roses, Hallmark overdose on pink and red ink, the world’s quote of helium is used up, and mountains of cuddly, fluffy bears and other animals are adopted that will soon be homeless again when the novelty has worn off (cuddly toys are for life, people, not just for Hallmark Day..!). You can almost smell the saccharine in the air. Mmm February.

Thankfully, February is also the seat of a very awesome yearly thing known as FAWM. February Album Writing Month. The challenge? To write 14 songs in 28 days. How far you take this is entirely up to you, some people only post titles, some people post fully recorded demos. The more complete the song that you post, the more likely you are to get feedback, but ultimately the challenge is individual. The quality every year staggers me – I have managed to complete the challenge three times (none of them recently) and my quota is inevitably made up of some questionable lyric only songs, and at least one attempt that turns out to be total drivel that I cringe whenever I hear again afterwards. But what other people produce can be utter gold. For today’s blog post, I want to share some of the great tracks that have been produced so far.

First up, Please Come Out of the Snow, by Tim Wille. This grabbed me because of the unusual use of the drums, the way they roll through the verses, and also the massive, complex, soundscape that has been created. This is an example of a fully demo’ed, very polished track, and as someone who’s followed Tim Wille through many years of FAWM, I’d say this is one of my favourites of his. 🙂

For a Tori Amos-esque piano and gorgeous imagery, I adore Elaine DiMasi’s Weightless – the piano fills the space wonderfully, and the lyrics are extraordinarily evocative. This is another musician I’ve followed for a long time, and I’m always impressed by the quality of her work.

The line “you were drunk as a skunk and surrounded by punks” led me to immediately decide to listen to this next one, The Theme Tune to The Lord of the Rings, by Dominic Gray. A low-fi acoustical cracker of a track that transported me immediately to summer festivals, cider and starry nights. Fantastic piece of work and he has a great voice to boot.

Now a bit of HullHop from my good friend Vinnie Whitehead: Cash Counter (NSFW – contains swearing). With a solid hook, and a topic we can all empathise with, this is an enjoyable listen, and like all of Vinnie’s work, is practically album ready even as a demo. Vinnie’s got a lot of energy which isn’t lost when he’s recorded, and he works the lyrics brilliantly.

Finally, a lyric-only contribution, Sleepwalkers, from the wonderful Gemma Robinson-Wilson. FAWM is a great opportunity for lyricists not only to get some writing in but also to meet up with and collaborate with other musicians. What I love about this song is that the imagery is so clear, unequivocal and powerful, I can almost hear the music to go with it.

And that concludes this Monday’s blog. I’ll be posting about FAWM probably every Monday in February to share more wonders I’ve found with you all. Finally, if you are interested in following my progress on there, check out my profile. See you Thursday 🙂

If you are a musician or lyricist and want to take part, it’s not too late! Go to the FAWM website and register, write some songs and you’re away! 

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As I write this, it’s actually a Wednesday. I have a busy day tomorrow crewing for Mr Jools Holland, and I’m worried that unless I write and schedule my blog post today, I will miss my self imposed timetable of blogging on a Monday and a Thursday….but here’s the thing, I spent all day today trying to think of what to write about. Ah yes, it’s that old friend, writer’s block.

This is a doubly relevant post at the moment, as a number of people will be about 3/4 of the way through NaNoWriMo as you read this. National Novel Writing Month – the longstanding challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November – is now in its 14th year. I have attempted the challenge myself twice, and my longest attempt reached about 20,000 words, but ultimately I’m more suited to songwriting challenges. In any case, writer’s block was almost certainly instrumental in my failure both times.

Anyway, I digress. What I decided to share with you, dear reader, is 7 tips for beating writer’s block, so without any further ado:

1) Write rubbish

This is possibly my favourite of all of the tips and hints that I have tried over the years, but it requires an ability to stop being afraid of being ridiculous. The idea, at it’s most basic level, is to just write ANYTHING. Any old thing at all. Just let it out. The nonsense, the cheese, the cliched claptrap that you’re embarassed to let anyone else read/hear/experience… just write it, all of it. If you are stuck in a 4 chord pop progression and can only construct tacky rhyming couplets about having fun in the sun, just let it happen. You can actually have a lot of fun challenging yourself to write something worse than Justin Beiber, just for the hell of it. Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter. The very worst that will happen is you’ve written something you hate that no-one else ever has to hear/read. What is more likely to happen is that you will clear the pathway for new, better writing, and you may surprise yourself by secretly enjoying the monster you created.

2) Listen to the urge

Creativity is not a linear, controlled path most of the time – certainly not for me anyway. I have a terrible habit though of forcing myself into a box, when really I’m feeling like trapezium today. In other words, I set myself the task of writing a cool piece of electronica, but when I sit down at the piano, all that wants to come out is some sad, piano-led ballad. So I fight it, and force myself to program some drums, or generate a bass-line. It turns out awful, because what my psyche really wants to create is a sad, piano-led ballad. If your creativity is leading you down a path, don’t fight it, let it happen. Don’t force the square peg into the round hole, you’ll only end up with a knackered peg.

3) Brainstorm

Word association games, spider diagrams and word clouds are all really good ways to come up with ideas. Starting from a mundane concept can often lead to some very interesting ideas coming together, or you may end up somewhere so utterly different from where you started that it’s truly inspiring.

4) Consume instead of create

If you are seriously stuck, take a complete break and read, watch something or listen to something. Let your brain take a total holiday from any sort of pressure to produce, instead become a consumer and allow yourself to feel excited by something someone else has made. Then, when you return to your own creative process, you will increase your chances of having something exciting waiting in the wings of your subconscious, created by your hindbrain when you were looking the other way.

5) Change your location

Part of the problem with writer’s block is the feeling of being in a rut. Shaking this up a bit can make a world of difference, so get moving. Go for a walk in your favourite neighbourhood, or go somewhere completely new, get out into nature, or find somewhere fast-paced and exciting – in short be somewhere that makes you feel alive and interested. Notice how it makes you feel, or any words or concepts that come into your mind.

6) Change your tools

One memorable occasion for me was when I was taking part in February Album Writing Month, and I was running seriously dry. So, instead of sitting in front of the keyboard feeling stuck, I removed the keyboard from the equation completely and wrote an entire vocal piece using my voice as the only instrument. Something as simple as a change of approach can really help you get things moving again.

7) Always carry a notebook…

…And keep one by your bed. Jot down ideas as soon as you have them. Then, when writer’s block strikes, you can have a browse through some ideas and see if something grabs you. I have piles of notebooks dating back years with single lines or words throughout, and many of my lyric ideas have been born that way.

Those are some of my tricks for keeping writer’s block at bay. What are yours? Leave a comment, say hi, and share your tips and tricks!

Lyric sheet

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