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Friday, January 21

The Show!
It's time to start bleating on about The Musical! again. I know I'll start to sound like a scratched record, but it's my responsibility to get things sorted out. Between May and August of last year, all I could reasonably think about was bums on seats and wires. The thoughts are returning to my head. It's all about filling the auditorium and making sure that the show is technically feasible and able to go ahead. In the 27 shows we did last year, very few serious technical glitches occurred - even when the lighting rack died, we were able to get on with the show in London. There's no room for complacency now, though. So I'll worry about these things if I may.

I have paid the deposit for Newcastle Arts Centre and I have had tickets beautifully printed and chopped up, so I'm back in business for the Newcastle show. Mail if you want some - £6 face value, £5 to Incredible readers.

I write the songs...
I've commented before on the responsibility of writing a song. Songs are designed to get imprinted in someone's mind. Tunes, especially repetitive ones, are intended to lock with the lyrics and make the song memorable. Lyrics are often intended to rhyme - the value of a rhyme being something else that I've harped on about on this site. Rhymes serve two purposes. Firstly, they are an aide memoire - if you know one line of the verse, you have a sound-alike to help you link across to the second line. Rhymes were used by the ancient storytellers to help them remember huge tales. The second purpose of a rhyme (and now we're into my opinion about what makes lyric-writing quite magical) is to act a bit like a pun does in comedy. Rhyming is clearly wordplay, and wordplay does a funny thing to our heads (it's got me playing scrabble in the middle of the night). If two words are linked in some way, then the brain tries to link the concepts too. This can sometimes lead to a surprise. The surprise in comedy, from a pun, creates a laugh as the brain rejects the nonsensical idea that the concepts are linked. In rhyming lyrics, the wordplay can create delight as the brain tries to keep up with the way the words sit together and still make sense, or it can create emphasis of the idea you are trying to convey. I will cite an example of both of these in some lyrics I've written for a new project I've been pecking at:

So gents please don't delay
bring out your dead today

There's alliteration, there's rhyming and there are probably a few too many "s"es. The net result is something which makes the point and does it in a way which affects the listener. This is why writing songs is a bigger responsibility than it might, at first, seem.

Over Christmas, working in a homeless shelter, there was a rather touching moment which resonated with this idea of songwriting. We had the radio on late into the night, which was a good idea as it provided a comforting backdrop to the nocturnal activities in the place, and was not a good idea since people could use it as an opportunity to wind each other up by playing with the volume. By far the biggest risk of having a radio on was that you had no idea what songs they were going to play. They played Lemar a bit, inspiring me to go out and buy his album (all for one song) which is in a style I would not normally touch, but that's not the story I'm aiming to tell here. At some point, the radio DJ decided, around Christmas time, to play the Beatles song "Yesterday". One of the guys started repeating something over and over - he was saying "Lennon and McCartney" - he wanted us to know that he knew the song was a Beatles song. I acknowledged this, refusing my urge to suggest that, to the best of my knowledge, the song was actually written by Paul McCartney alone. In fact, I believe he heard the tune in a dream... dreams like that I wouldn't mind - it's possibly one of the most recorded songs ever written. Anyway, the guy was agitated enough and I didn't want to interfere with him. He was captivated while the song was playing and then, when it finished playing. Sitting alone, he sang the whole song through again. With passion. With more passion than I have ever heard that song sung. I suppose that a song of how things were better at some previous time makes a lot of sense to the disenfranchised folks that find themselves in a homeless shelter over Christmas. It was quite touching. I realised that whichever of Lennon, McCartney or Lennon and McCartney had actually penned the song, they'd managed to sum up something which meant a lot to someone. That is one hell of a privilege and responsibility when you set out to write a song. It's not just about craftsmanship and pedantically perfect rhymes.

So, for every clunky phrase, or placeholder line, that's a commitment into the memories of the people who singalong with the song. For every magical lick of the pen, though, there is the opportunity to give people a gift. It's both flattering and worrying when people tell me that they know some of my songs. They could be the songs from The Musical! or ones I've done in stand-up, either way it's a surprise. Sometimes I change the words of the stand-up songs to make them more effective, hoping that nobody remembers the bad previous incarnations. Sometimes I hear someone sing one of my songs back at me and, for every inaccuracy in their repetition, it's an indication that I didn't write a totally memorable bit of the lyric... of course for every bit that comes back intact, I've created something. I'll state for the record that I've not created anything even close to the meaning behind "Yesterday", but I have, apparently, planted some tunes and words into people's heads and have even heard talk of flatmates ceremonially lighting their lighters while listening to the slow number. Aaaah


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