Crossroads/update

I returned from the BASCA Monnow Valley writing retreat on Sunday night, about 12 hours before I was scheduled to do, but it was the right thing to do to slip away earlier than planned. My thought last year was that it would be the last one that I would do should realistically have been the one that I ought to have stuck to. Like last year my contribution as a writer was somewhat tangential and I spent most of it in a production capacity. The first twenty four hours ended up being written off after I found that I couldn’t really do anything with the combination of an elderly Romanian Jazz Piano Diva and a Polish ambient techno-metal/odd time signature composer (yes, really. Very challenging when they are the matches and the dynamite and you’re the oxygen. The next two rotations brought about two good tracks, with intelligent lyrics (Without You and Heroes) but while my storytelling and production contribution was valuable (approx. 50-60% in each case), my lyrical contribution was down in the mid to low 20%’s.

Which in itself would be fine had it been a “Production Retreat”. But it wasn’t. What I hoped would happen (capitalising on the energy of the other participants to capture some of that passion and energy for writing and creativity again that I could leverage for KOAS) didn’t really come to pass.

Our mentor was her usual irrepressible self (wouldnt have her any other way) with fabulous war stories and brought along another great professional writer to impart some wisdom and encouragement. Funnily enough, the road that he’s walked down to find himself where he is now is looking very similar to the one that I’m on. Lovely fella, experienced, wise and a great sharer of this recieved wisdom.

So…. (before I digress any further) combining that level of reduced participation with the lack of momentum since returning from the US on the KOAS project, it started to get quite mentally cloudy for a while. The thought did cross my mind as to whether the fire, the passion for writing songs had gone out altogether – and at some point, I would need to stop trying to light a fire that had limited fuel and was never going to catch and concentrate on going back into the day job and just accepting that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew and that the project wasn’t going to be realised.

After all, I did say nearly four months ago that I wasn’t going to get a better chance to do this, that it meant a lot and that I should seize the opportunity while I had the money and health to do so.

Well, hand on heart, I cant say that I have seized the day. A lot of examination led me to rationalise that because most of the time I wrote over the last five years for catharsis, that because I have a different emotional attitude these days (dont ask) that maybe there are no more demons to be slain and no more catharsis is necessary. So, ergo, nothing really left to write about and where the older material is concerned, what is done is done and thats that, going back and revisiting it and raking it over isn’t really a good idea, on reflection.

36 hours later and not a huge amount has changed; there still doesn’t appear to be any real fire and I cant deny that I appear to be at a bit of a crossroads.

Do I stop writing full stop and just accept it that the whole thing of it was not so much the realisation of the goal but the journey to try and get there…?

Or do I try a different alternative… namely still have a goal of writing/producing/playing an album’s worth of material (meh, maybe even two, who knows), but dropping an awful lot of the material that while I am proud of it, by the same token is just too damned complicated, just too damned time consuming, energy sapping and to be frank, just too damned dark. Yes, I did just say that. So stuff like Let It Go, Stars, Never Be Mine, Stay, Manhattan Lullaby and others may well end up being canned and replaced by FOMO, Castles In The Sky, Doesnt Matter Now and others.

And writing different stuff instead that isn’t primarily for therapy. Who knows, maybe even starting with the music first and then seeing where that leads….?

What I do know is that if I continue to do nothing and stay stuck in this torpor of overthinking, thats exactly what will happen; Nothing. And that isn’t good.

So. KOAS and No Expectations and London Road may end up getting either put on ice or binned altogether or they may end up being completely different to what I planned them to be six months ago. At the moment, the direction hasn’t really clearly formed. I’m allowing myself no later than the start of August to make a clear decision one way or the other. And then to start acting on it.

Time will tell, I guess.

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Latest Developments

The trip to the US is over, the two big gigs that I was hoping to draw inspiration from are now only memories, albeit very fresh ones. Essentially, I am one month and a week or so into the 3 month timeframe that was allocated for the KOAS project and I did say that I would post an update.

So, how is it going? What has been done? What is to be done?

The answers to that being: “Not bad“; “Some very good progress has been made so far” and “still lots and lots!

Firstly, the New York trip. I made a start on the music for The Fear Of Missing Out, but havent got as far with that as I would have hoped. There is something starting to emerge but there is a lot of work to do on it yet.

But where the most progress was made in the US was on The Last Dance. This was the one that I wanted to work on more than any other over there with the help of the family of musicians and although it came about in rather different circumstances to what I figured it would, it did come nonetheless. My uncle Angel played me an old Intensive Heat jam from 1975 called Elia from a rehearsal session which was written by him and one of my late father’s best friends, Paul Oves who was a vibraphone player.

It is difficult to describe and probably more difficult to believe that the tune that I had in my head for the last three years was more than close enough to a track that I’ve never heard before for it to be viable for me, with the permission of Angel to use for The Last Dance. Singing the vocal melody to him while the wav file of the track was being played proved that it was a viable chord structure to be used. So, all I have to do really is build the rest of the track and put down the vocal melody or find someone who can. And, I have someone in mind, if I’m not up to it. *grin*. All I’ve had to do is change the arrangement slightly. Its bordering on serendipitous and somewhat spooky that a song I’ve never heard would end up being 95%+ what I heard in my head three years ago and that wont go away.  I’m absolutely not complaining though and believe that it will be a great track. I have 12 guitar takes from Angel at various stages of the track to be included in the finished song and it will be listed as a collaboration between Angel and I.

As I say, I would have liked to have achieved more in the time I was there but there was a lot of family duties to be done, including the Puerto Rican Day parade (1.4 million watching from the streets and 100,000 of us, including yours truly, marching down 5th Avenue for 30+ blocks. Surreal….) and other matters. So, all in all, two good steps forward, all things said and done.

On the return to the UK, it took me longer to decompress from jetlag than I’d thought after a particularly disappointing flight back from JFK. So, not much if anything done last week but the two big gigs that I hoped would bring inspiration did so in spade loads.

Firstly Heart – Apart from learning why I dont drink sodas any more (long story), the gig was a total pleasure. Ann’s voice is still in great shape and the Albert Hall, as ever, is the perfect venue. Even when you’re closer to the ceiling than the stage, the sound is still great, the view, though distant is still perfectly adequate. And her voice filled the whole hall.

And as for Carole King and Don Henley yesterday in Hyde Park in London – apart from a really annoying contingent of people who just wouldnt stop talking during Henley’s performance (my pet hate, I’m afraid. Cant understand people who spend lots of money buying tickets to an event and then figure that their own conversation is more important than the artists performance… it drives me nuts) – this was an unforgettable show. Carole, at 74, one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years, was so full of energy and passion and as my closest friend remarked, honesty – its impossible not to love what she does. I did figure that when I bought the tickets on Artist Pre-sale that this would be a one off and the last chance to get to see her at all, let alone to hear the whole of the landmark Tapestry album in full – but it dawned on me very heavily that once the show was over, that was it.

This was something we were never going to get to see again, especially not in the UK.

It truly was a one off show and thats why I was determined not to miss it. And, the sights and sounds of 62000 people singing along, and when we were leaving Hyde Park, there were groups of guys and girls, just clumps of five or eight of them at a time, just all singing Will You Love Me Tomorrow or You Got A Friend, at the tops of their voices, singing their hearts out, filled so full with joy at what they had just experienced – I’ve never seen that in London before. I saw something similar in Wales about a decade ago, leaving the Millennium stadium after seeing The Eagles, but the Welsh are different in that respect, they always have a song in their hearts. London on the other hand… I’ve never seen this before and it is going to be one of the most enduring memories of the day. Wonderful and definitely inspiring.

Aside from that, my dear friend and collaborator Robert and I worked on a number of tracks for the KOAS project between the shows over the last weekend. Amongst these were Doesnt Matter Now (which I have been stuck on for quite a while and some progress was made there, but still a lot to do) and more significant progress was made on The Wishing Game (which has vocal and keyboard guides down on disk now – it wont take long for the rest of the track to come together) and also music that Robert had originally worked out for a song called Escape From The Shadows which didnt fit the original lyrics – these lyrics were used to great effect by David Barnes in a totally new track which worked very very well. This version shares the same name, but that is about it. All the lyrics that I’ve been writing for it are completely different and the track is anticipated to have quite a New Order/Talk Talk kind of feel – sort of 80’s/electronica. They’re great chords so I hope my lyrics can do it justice.

The 2016 BASCA Songwriting Camp in Monnow Valley is coming up next long weekend, so its now a case of building up and maintaining momentum now. There is still an awful lot to do and time is slipping by.

I need to do more… I must do more. And I will do more.

I will keep you all posted. Its an interesting journey, thats for certain.