A Child In These Hills


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At the risk of sounding like a broken blog, I love Jackson Browne. 

It was 1996, and I was in my final year at school.  My own musical ambitions as a songwriter were practically embryonic; content as I was to be “that guy” at the party who could play the songs my own generation was listening to.  I’d studied classical guitar for four years – primarily so I could one day learn to play Cavatina, the theme tune from the movie “The Deerhunter” (duly scaled and conquered) – and eventually graduated to modern pop music, determined to impress a girl I fancied who only had eyes for Damon Albarn.

Damon’s band Blur proved to be a decent starting point, providing me with some undoubtedly great songs and complex enough guitar chords (courtesy of Graham Coxon) that I could get my teeth into.  Next came Oasis (easy crowd pleasers), then Pulp (one for the fey hipsters), before tracing my way back to learn the songs from all bands that had in turn influenced them: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Scott Walker and so on.  You don’t get to decide which era you’re brought up in, and I just so happened to be part of the Britpop Brigade.

Still, something was missing.  The music seemed to lose its shine; the role of party singsong leader soon became a chore (as I discovered with alarming speed, chatting up girls is difficult to do when you’re sat behind a guitar and your mates are moving in).  What’s more, there was a nagging feeling at the back of my head that I hadn’t really found anything that particularly I connected with.  Ownership is important with music at a young age, and I didn’t feel any of these songs really belonged to me.  And then in walked Jackson Browne.

I’d seen the records in my dad’s collection – most of which featured pictures of a frankly girly-haired Californian – but never thought to play them. And then I was offered a ticket to see him perform at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, which I only accepted because I didn’t want my poor dad to have to attend the show alone.  And so it came to pass, I trudged up the concert hall stairs as a vaguely interested 16 year old and took my seat for the evening.

What happened next was entirely unexpected and quite revelatory.  The now older (but still girly-haired) Jackson walked on stage by himself, with only a guitar and a piano for musical company, and proceeded to deliver a show that ebbed and flowed like a golden river of song.  Late For The Sky, These Days, Fountain Of Sorrow, The Pretender, For A Dancer, Doctor My Eyes, Sky Blue and Black, Call It A Loan; sumptuous melody after sumptuous melody, stunning lyric after stunning lyric, beautiful song after beautiful song.  There was a certain magic in the room that captivated me, and completely transformed the way I thought about music.  It was to be the night I first properly contemplated the possibilities of writing my own songs. 

From that day to this day I have always had a special place in my heart for the music of Jackson Browne, because I genuinely feel I owe it a debt of gratitude: I wore out the Jackson Browne compilation cassette tape I made when I bought my first second-hand car; I taught myself to play the piano with the Jackson Browne Songbook (I still have it); I discovered the importance of crafting a good lyric; and most importantly I learned that forming a relationship with your audience through the honesty you can deliver in song (no matter how emotional that may be) can be the difference between a songwriter you carry with you for most of your days, and one that fades in the memory.

In fact, Jackson Browne was one of the first artists I bonded over with BBC Radio Scotland’s Ricky Ross – who I’ll be depping for again this Friday night from 8.05pm on Another Country (featuring some completely brilliant live highlights from Southern Fried Festival in Perth) – after seeing the cover for Jackson’s debut album “Saturate Before Using” (not technically its name, but that’s another story) lurking in his vinyl collection at home.  A man of good taste, I thought.  And so this week on The Roddy Hart Show we have Jackson Browne as our Undercover Writer, demonstrating just how important his songs have been to other songwriters.  Add that to a brand new Record of Note, Live on Arrival from Kathleen Edwards, plus music from LumineersJohn Grant, I Am Kloot and more, and you have a show that – like my first Jackson Browne concert – simply shouldn’t be missed.  The place to be is BBC Radio Scotland at 10.05pm.

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