Space, Shandy and Pressure
Davie Scott sent us this blog about recording this week's episode of The Culture Zone.
I'm spending today at PQ in the company of two students from the BA Commercial Music course at University of the West of Scotland, one of whom, Sarah Beth Brown, has just casually remarked that 1984, the year I made my first record, was the year she was born. Thanks, Sarah.
The reason we're here is that Elizabeth Clark, Zones producer, came along to one of our songwriting showcases and was seriously wowed by the quality of work on display. Now she knows how I feel almost every day going to work at UWS. Anyway, Elizabeth invited our students to curate an evening of the Culture Zone with selections from the seemingly bottomless Radio Scotland archive of music features and songs from our performance orientated students. So at the moment Sarah Beth (aka Born By Wires) and Andrew MacLellan (aka Akira) are giving the script some seriously forensic attention while I write this. In other words I am all but redundant. This has some resonance for quite a bit of my professional life; in fact it's probably fair to say that one aspiration for the teacher is to no longer be required, to simply provide a bit of space for the creation of great new work.
A few years ago I was one of eight songwriters who spent a week in a hunting lodge outside Castle Douglas writing songs and drinking shandy. There to represent the host organisation Burnsong was music industry veteran Ronnie Gurr who kicked off proceedings with benevolent assurances that we were under 'no pressure', that we were there just to find 'some space' and that we should just 'write what you feel' (to which he might as well have added 'if at all'). It was a beautiful dream and a big stinking lie. Songwriters may be in tune with nature and floaty things and spend hours going on about coffee shops and butterflies and all that malarkey but when backed up against the wall they can be fiercely competitive. No one in the Songhouse wanted to be the EEDJIT who came in for the free lunches and dinners having failed to write something. Therefore over the course of four days some 30 new songs came into the world. Many of them now exist on recordings and have graced stages across the globe. So that combination of space, shandy and that wee bit of pressure proved potent indeed.
When I put together a new writing module for our third year students I lifted the Songhouse format more or less verbatim (leaving out the shandy bit) and created the Advanced Songwriting and Performance Week. My partners today, Akira and Sarah Beth, are both veterans of the experience having attended the courses at Scotland St School and Film City Glasgow. Alongside the various music docs they and other BA Commercial Music students have chosen for the Zone we will be spinning some outstanding products of student work, some of it inspired by folktales (Adam Ross and Sarah Beth's The Monkey and The Girl), the poetry of EE Cummings (Kevin Lynch's Thank You, Colin Campbell's I Who Have Died and Jimmy Richard's Forgetting The Sea), the dissolution of a Sauchiehall Street Saturday night (Akira's Shite In The Night, yes you read that correctly) and yet more of it inspired by just being young and fabulous (Callie Rossi's Face To Face, Finn LeMarinel's Mothers).
It's a pleasure and a privilege to work with young artists in any capacity but also strangely comforting in as much as it reminds you that the world turns and nothing much changes. During a discussion surrounding what musicians liked to talk about most Sarah offered the following two things:
We promise to mostly let the brilliant music do the talking on The Culture Zone. Enjoy!