I’m a lot of things. A writer, a psychiatrist, a maker of off-centre marmite sandwiches. But I’m also a musician. The music part of that has always sat alright with me. But the ‘-ician’ bit has always felt uncomfortable. The ‘-ician’ is that extra square of chocolate. You know when Hendrix knocks out an unequalled riff. Or Kate Bush trills to the far reaches of the piano. Or George Ezra smiles a smile so wide you could launch boats off it, whilst, apparently calmly, strumming his way through the highest reaches of pop heaven.
But over the years I have grown more comfortable with ‘songwriter.’ That fits a little more comfortably. I write the songs and pull out the guitar chops that make the songs work, and then the musicians around me, make the songs fly.
I’m proud of this, my umpteenth album of songs, for lots of reasons. Not least because it feels properly musical. Not in a prog-rock-origami-maricami kind of way. But in the radio whisperer kind of way. I can hear so many of these songs coming out of the radio. Almost as if they’d persuaded the transistors they were good enough. Now DJs may or may not agree. But the transistors. The supernatural sound of summer showers on dry pavements of those transistors…well…
One of my earliest memories is being driven to school and hearing an Abba song coming out of the car radio. And thinking how on earth did that happen? That thing there. That sudden shot of energy that came into my ears and through my body which I now call melody but didn’t have the words for at time. How can someone possibly conjure that out of the air, channel it through a machine the size of a sandwich box, and into the back seat? This, now this, is the conjurers transcendence. Not the stuff they call fairy in fairy tales. Not that thing at a pantomime where someone yanks fabric flowers from a dusty looking hat. Not even the melancholy gap between the cut jumps in the original Paddington Bear animation after school ( which always properly spooked me). This Abba thing was it, this indescribable sweetness, coming out of the radio. This was magic. And, was surely, something, I would never be able to do.
There was no culture of musicianship in my family. My Dad learned the accordion but I’d never really heard him play. My Mum was and remains a brilliant fine artist. But there were no songs being sung around the family fire, no journeys through the scales of musical instruments, no long playing records skipping through the dusk. Essentially there was no musical language in my childhood. Not in a poor-me musical poverty kind of way. It just never occurred to any of us to make those score sheets and cassette tapes a central part of our lives.
So the idea that this form of non-words might one day be available…that I could open my mouth and make sounds fly into melody and let the melody lead me through a song seemed ridiculous.
And now here I am releasing an album with my bandmates, The Woodlice, some of whose songs I can imagine coming out of that Datsun radio on the way to school, and thinking, that, well that, that, might just be magic. It may not set the discos alive or shake the foundations of Scandinavian pop. And probably isn’t appropriate for the ears of most seven year old boys. But it’s certainly up there with some of my best wonky marmite sandwiches.
The album ‘Keep the Light On Baby’ was recorded in Easton in Bristol July / August 2020 between the first and second lockdowns in the UK. A time when, for a moment, everything seemed lighter than air. Free from the past and trying not to think about the future. ‘Keep the Light On Baby’ reflects that period of freedom and release, searching for brightness, jumping between shadows, looking for lift-off in the pillars of sunlight.