How I became a Songmaker
Laurieston Hall, a community and housing co-op in SW Scotland, was the crucible for my writing life. I first went there on a life changing ‘Music Week’ holiday in 1986. And it was there I met the inspirational poet, Linda Chase (1941-2011). She ran a workshop on writing poetry and putting words to music and the experience sparked against some kindling inside me. I went on to live at Laurieston Hall for 5 years and during my time there I began to explore my love of words and to think more deeply than before about my cultural heritage and connection to the land. That thinking trickled down into my early songs and I then shared them with the many singers who came to the Hall on various events where singing played a big part.
All these years later I’m still completely in love with the creative process of song-writing. The careful binding of text, melody and harmony constantly fascinates me and I’m drawn to elegantly sparse lyrics that leave the work with the listener. But I also write because I have to – it’s how I stay sane in this bonkers world and how I process the inner landscape of my life.
And I love the title ‘Songmaker’ because I’ve always been a maker of things. From my completely bonkers and unpractical 4-foot-tall totem pole hat entry in my primary school’s Easter Bonnet competition (I was gutted to get 2nd prize because the 1st prize went to a spectacularly dull (in my humble opinion) bonnet covered in daffodils!) to the recent big ‘make’ of a wall sculpture. If I see something appealing in a shop my first thought is always ‘I could make that!’ Consequently, my home is full of tools and bits and pieces of various makery shenanigans.
At some point I began using art and craft projects as a way of supporting my song making. Part of my creative process is generally to have a slow-moving theme that I sit with for a few years. For a long time, I wrote about my relationship to the land. And for 10 years or so I explored belonging and community. I’ve also written many songs about surviving grief. And now I’m mostly thinking and writing about transition to a low carbon lifestyle as our climate changes.
At first art allowed me a place to just be creative without too much investment in the finished piece. But as time has passes it become more and more important to me and these days a song idea may become a painting, a video or something more sculptural before, or while, it emerges as a song. What I do know is that painting and making allows me to think deeply about an idea. My finished songs may look simple but there’s often a hidden mass of work behind them.
‘The thinking behind a song gives meaning to every act in my daily life. ’AB
‘I write because I have to – it’s how I stay sane in this bonkers world’AB
‘…a workshop on writing poetry and putting words to music… sparked against some kindling inside me’AB
‘And now I’m mostly thinking and writing about transition to a low carbon lifestyle as our climate changes.’AB