I think it was Billy Bragg who once said he had a toe in the Folk Club door. I remember sitting in my bedsit as a teenager listening to “Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy” thinking it must be cool to be a one man clash, to be able to hold an audience just by wielding a guitar. I would never have put Billy in the folk singer box but looking back it’s obvious. Billy, like so many of us, is a folkie.
All of us write songs. Some of us collect them and put the lyrics and chords on to paper or try and capture them on tape.
The most powerful songs, I think, are the honest ones, the songs that tell the stories of our lives. The songs that don’t shy from doubts, songs that don’t conform to the pop culture. Our experiences are the pen and paper, how we choose to respond is how the song is written.
Everyone has a different way of writing songs. Sometimes we struggle with the lyrics, sometimes the tune, sometimes the subject. Some folks spend hours wrestling with concepts or ideas and some are able to throw something onto the page like it’s being dictated to them from the songwriting angel.
For me, I hear something and let it rattle around in my head. If it’s still there after a couple of days I’ll start to play with it and it’s more like painting a picture that composing a song.
Like an artist chooses a brush I’ll choose a guitar, a different tuning or maybe a piano. I’ll listen to other artists and learn from them. My friend Gareth Davies-Jones introduced me to alternate tuning a few years ago. More recently I was introduced to the music of Dougie Maclean. He uses a lot of open tuning and so I tried it.
I love the folk tradition, I love blues and americana, rock and jazz. I listen to classical music and on the way home from a gig I’ll listen to the shipping forecast on Radio 4. When people ask what type of music I play, like so many songwriters I struggle to put it into one particular genre. Someone at the BBC once said my music was like ‘Bruce Springsteen having English tea with Billy Bragg’. High praise indeed. Perhaps like Billy, I have my toe in the Folk Club door.