Tag Archives: music

Listening to music while writing

Phil: When team NolanParker meet up, we like a bit of cake. And quite a lot of chat. Sometimes though, we need to get some words on the screen and then everything changes.

Laptops out. iPods on.

The iPods are an essential piece of kit. For a start that stop us talking to each other. Mostly though, it’s all about blocking the rest of the world out and helping our concentration.

We have both spent years of our lives in noisy offices. Environments where you learn to tune things out. I know that I now can’t work in a silent room. The walls seem to close in on me and the lack of noise become oppressive. I like to use this as an excuse for my poor exam performance rather than admitting I’m just a bit thick.

Is this just a comfort thing though? It appears not. Reading this fascinating blog post by author and expert Nicola Morgan, there does seem to be science to back all of this up.

Most interesting is how the choice of music matters. It must be:

  • Familiar
  • Music you actually love
  • More than one song – an album or playlist
  • At a volume that doesn’t intrude on your thoughts

Which probably helps to explain why I get more done with the iPod on than the radio.

Even with over a thousand tracks on shuffle, it’s rare that anything surprises me. My memory for music isn’t bad.

The radio, on the other hand, will play tracks that I don’t know so presumably, part of my limited brain capacity feels the need to pay attention. Part of the historic response to danger we developed as cavemen, although more to avoid being eaten than exposed to something new by Harry Styles!

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So THAT’S what the song is all about.

Phil: Last week, Candice was blogging about one of her earliest favourite albums – Phil Collins “No Jacket Required” and by coincidence, I was listing to a show on the radio about one of mine.

1985 saw the release of Suzanne Vega’s eponymous first album and to promote it, the first single “Marlene on the Wall” enjoyed heavy rotation on Radio 1. What I should have done is rushed out and bought the album, but in those days, my local library loaned proper vinyl albums out so I simply borrowed it and made a tape using my sisters record player and the tape recorder I used for my ZX Spectrum. Obviously this is bad so don’t do it kids. As they said at the time, “Home taping is killing music” even if the phrase “It tapes tapes” appeared on every stereo system in my mum’s catalogues at the time.

Anyway, while I liked the songs and the imagery, the inspiration for the lyrics was always a bit of a mystery. Until I heard Johnnie Walker’s Long Players last week. The program covered the album track by track with explanations of each from Vega.

Much of it was slightly disappointing, stuff about songs being something to do with whoever she was dating at the time but for pure weirdness, the track “Small Blue Thing” wins.

Inspiration struck when she saw the blue doorknob in a boyfriends apartment. In the centre of the knob (stop sniggering at the back) was the image of a blue eyeball. All of which inspired the opening lines:

Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye

Utter barking mad, but oddly, still sounds good today.

So, songwriter, get down to the ironmonger’s for your next hit. It just shows, ideas can come from anywhere.

Mind you, if you think this is oddball, I’m working out how to shoehorn a Lieutenant Pigeon joke into our latest book just to see if anyone spots it…

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In the air tonight

Candice: I have just finished reading Phil Collins’ autobiography.  I actually bought it for the other half for Christmas but had finished my previous book and was looking for something else to dive in to.  It was collecting dust on his bed side table so I took the opportunity to steal it.

Well I’m glad it did.  I like bios – either self written or by someone else, though the autobiographies are always better as they are closer to the truth.  I like to know how celebrities ended up where they are as its often a strange collection of happy accidents as much as their planning to get famous.

Phil’s is a bit of both.  He was determined not to follow his father into insurance, a family tradition, but also had a wandering streak so when presented with a drum kit at an early age decided he wanted to do something really different from an office job.  It did help that his mother got involved with a talent agency and he ended up performing in ‘Oliver’ at an early age, whetting his acting chops.  But music was his real thing and by his mid teens he was a jobbing drummer looking for a band.

Though contacts and coincidence he ended up  auditioning for ‘Genesis’ an up and coming band with an already tight knit group of players.  Phil passed the audition but struggled to fit in.

There is a lot of talking in the book about his relationship with Peter Gabriel, the original lead singer in Genesis.  The rumour mill insists he was pushed out by Phil, Phil says it was all for Peter’s personal reasons and he was reluctantly made the new front man when no one else stepped up to the plate.  Reading the rest of the book you find out what a driven man he is so I think this is six of one and half and dozen of the other.  Phil’s Genesis explored a different musical route so I also think this would have been an influence.

The rest of the story takes me to the time of Genesis that I remember, and also Phil’s solo career.  He is one of the few people to have run concurrent careers, which meant a punishing schedule of touring and writing for both projects.  It made him a rich successful man, but also lost him three marriages in the process.

And then he decides to retire, and falls of a cliff.  With no focus for each day, alcohol takes over and he quickly becomes an alcoholic. The stubborn person he is it takes a few goes at rehab and arguments with family and friends before he realises it was give up the alcohol or life. Hence why the book is called ‘Not dead yet’!

I really enjoyed it, especially when it was at his peak as each record mentioned brought back memories of different part of my youth.  I can remember playing ‘No Jacket Required’ a lot, especially round at my friend Kathryn’s house for some reason.  I will be going out and buying the ‘best of’ album.

However, Phil is an interesting character.  He is focused and ruthless, there is no other way for him to have got where he was.  The book is quite open and I don’t think he would realise how some of the things he says or did would make some of  us wince. The music always came first, and pity his children, wives or even sleep if they got in the way.  I think his brush with death made him realise that there is more to life than this, but only just.

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Rick Astley nails it

Phil: So there I am listening to Dermot O’Leary on Radio 2 last weekend and he’s interviewing Rick Astley about his return to prominence and No.1 album. Suddenly Astley says something profound:

“It’s never been easier to make music that gets ignored.”

By jove, I think he’s got it!

It’s true. Anyone can cut a track (I know all da modern lingo daddy-o) sitting in their bedroom fiddling with a computer. They can even knock together a video and release it to the world on YouTube.

And the world probably won’t even notice.

The same thing is happening in publishing. Whereas writing used to be the preserve of a select band of people, monks mainly, now any numpty can string together some words and stick them up on Amazon for the world to buy.

The trick is to MAKE the world beat a path to your door, or at least the webpage selling your book.

So the skill is no longer making the product, it’s selling it. Marketing people are the new kings. Nolan is going to be insufferable now I’ve worked that out…

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Are you being safe today?

Candice: No, this is not a reference to Fifty Shades of Grey (I am not going to see the film even though Phil seems to think I should) but an unashamed plug for a project that I worked on.

Last year I was working for the Farm Safety Foundation (aka Yellow Wellies) encouraging people to be safer when they farm.  Being a highly dangerous profession (just check out the HSE stats) I thought this was a worth while cause.

One of my projects was to find a way to connect with the younger audience – and between us on the team we came up with re-recording a song that struck a chord with the farming community, ‘I’ve got a brand new combine harvester’ by The Wurzels.

Well with some negotiating and an trip to their recording studio, we came up with a new version. In fact I had a lovely day hanging out with the lads making their part of the video (and being invited to get ‘scrumpied up’ with them!) I then left for pastures new and hoped my little project would come to fruition. And this week it did.

So you can see the new version ‘Farm Safety is the Key’ on You Tube. So if you know anyone who works in a dangerous job, farming or otherwise, send them this funny video and let them think a bit more next time they want to cut corners. And if you watch it to the end you might just see my name in the credits.

Enjoy!

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Here comes the rain again

Candice Phil’s last post was about how songs can transport you back to a place and time. This ringing a real cord with me as I am in to my music and there are definitely songs that have strong memories for me, and I am always trying to find new music in which to build new memories. I associate Clean bandit’s ‘Rather be’ with being at home with Erin, and am quite into Sam Smith ‘s new album at the moment which is creating a whole new set of memories.

Well Monday was a complete wash out in the Midlands, typical bank holiday weather. Hence the reference to the Eurythmics’ song in my title. I can remember first seeing Annie Lennox on ‘Top of the Pops’ with her red hair and androgynous clothes and everyone saying was it a girl or a boy, but that voice gave it away. However, it did allow me to get things done round the house I wouldn’t have if the sun had been out.

I don’t know about everyone else but if there is sun outside I want to be in it, which often doesn’t bode well if I have things to do inside. I’m self employed which often means I have work things to do evenings and weekends, but a nice bout of sun can make me struggle with work versus fun. I’m missing the lovely sunny weather we had this summer, and the warmth too, but at least I had a chance to catch up.

The same could be said for writing. I can remember trying to crouch over my lap top doing some work in the conservatory, and struggling with wifi and seeing the screen. I could have done it faster if I’d just given up and worked indoors but the pull of the sun was too strong.
I’m off on holiday again soon, and in the meantime I’m hoping Phil and I will get more feedback on our book so we can soon see it in the public domain, but woe betide them if they try and give them me things to do on holiday. That will be an epic fail.

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The People’s Songs

Peoples SomgsPhil: Does a song transport you back to a place in time?

If it does, then you’ll probably enjoy Stuart Maconie’s latest book, The People’s Songs. Although nominally about music, it’s really a history of the UK from World War 2 to the present day focussing on youth culture. We kick off with Vera Lynn and the sentimental songs that everyone wanted during the war years and finish in 2012/13 with Dizzee Rascal and Bonkers.

The concept is sound enough but sometimes the author’s position firmly ensconced in the media bubble as assistant editor at NME shows through. I’m never convinced that punk (for example) was as important to the world as it was in London. Even those heavily in to the scene at the time like Danny Baker have suggested that the whole thing was overplayed by a metropolitan media.

Which makes you wonder how much the music reflected the time and how much it drove the mood. For example, Ghost Town by the Specials is a fine reflection of the period but in the same year (1981) we also bought two different versions of 9 to 5, Antmusic and Girls on Film. Duran Duran came from Birmingham, The Specials from Coventry – 25 miles apart by road but separated by a million miles in terms of musical style.

There’s a distinct hint of shoehorn in the way some tracks are tied in to the histories. Maconie likes to make sure we get some Smiths so there is space for a few quotes from Morrissey. I’m assuming the singer has some incriminating photos of Maconie as he pops up in every book with no hint of derision no matter how ridiculous he is being. Some of these aren’t so much People’s Songs as songs that tie in with the period and say something about it.

Overall though, this is an enjoyable read. I had the advantage of knowing most of the songs, but if you don’t then you’ll probably be scurrying for YouTube to fill in the blanks. Take it as a history of pop culture and enjoy the many tangents the text heads off in. The 50 chapters are bite-sized and idea for commuting or grabbing in short bursts of reading when you don’t have time to wallow in anything longer.

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