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“You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off…”

Thirteen years ago I attended a residential songwriting course run by Tom Robinson. He suggested that I should write and record an album as Bruford Low. Since then I have been putting it off, always making excuses. Finally, the fear of producing a less-than-perfect album was overcome by the fear of failing to make one at all. Last June, I set myself the target of completing it in 12 months, and have pretty much achieved that. The CDs are in production and can be pre-ordered from my website and (from 1 August) on Bandcamp, from where digital downloads are also available.

When I embarked on the project I gave little thought to where it might lead. The plan was to complete the album whilst working part-time. But then what – go back to “normal” life? I don’t think I know what that means for me any more. As I invested more time and effort into the album, the more deeply rewarding it became, in particular the production and arranging sessions with Jonny Amos. I started to entertain the possibility of forging a career in music – composing, arranging, producing and recording for myself and for other people. I researched courses and opportunities, and decided that I was prepared to take a big gamble. I have “retired” as a plumber and start a degree in Music Production and Popular Music in September. I can just about afford to live on my savings for the next three years, but I’ll need my new business to be generating income by the time I graduate in 2020.

For all the uncertainty, I feel more alive that I can remember. So much of my self-doubt has evaporated and I have a sense of true purpose for the first time in my life. From this, it felt somehow appropriate to become Bruford Low.

 

 

It’s the final countdown…

The tracks are mixed and ready, the artwork is nearly complete, and Work In Progress will be available as a CD and download within a few weeks.
Although not on the album, I have also re-recorded Breakfast At Tesco. It didn’t seem to fit with the other tracks, so I am putting it out as a separate “single”.
You can listen to and purchase Breakfast At Tesco and Rhythm Of The Train, a track from the album:
Bandcamp – Bruford Low

At various points along the way, I have worried that the finished tracks would not be “good enough”. I think it is in the nature of artists to remain hyper-critical of their own work, and that’s a positive trait provided it is channelled into striving for higher standards. I do have to remind myself that the very reason for calling the album Work In Progress is to remind myself and my audience that the versions of these songs (and indeed any recorded version of a song) are just that – a work in progress.

Quite a few of the songs are new, written since the start of the project. I deliberately chose to give myself the pressure of coming up with some new material in place of revisiting older songs. There are a lot of myths about the creative process and in particular the concept of “inspiration”. Sure, it’s possible to wake up with a tune in your head or a lyric, a concept, whatever. That’s the easy part and only the beginning of a process that requires stamina, focus and determination. (Well, that’s how it is for me.) Over that last few years, I have been learning the craft of songwriting, collecting tools and techniques to start songs, to get past mental blocks and to refine existing work. Pushing myself to create a body of work to a deadline has been a stern test of my skills and, overall, I am very pleased with the end result.

Making the album has been a challenging and rewarding journey. I am aware of how much I have learned and grown along the way, and I am grateful to all the people who have contributed and helped me realise my long-held ambition. What I didn’t expect from the process was to make a series of life-changing decisions…

“What do you do?”

I have been songwriting and composing since I was in my teens, but it has taken me until recently to actually think of myself a songwriter/composer. How often is one asked the question “What do you do?”, which is polite shorthand for “What do you do to earn money?”. Thus we are defined as accountants, nurses, labourers, plumbers. What about the fact that we are lovers, footballers, volunteers, thinkers, musicians, artists, parents, activists, poets, mountaineers? We have allowed ourselves to be described solely in terms of economic productivity and it is time we looked beyond that, in ourselves and in other people. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll get to the point…
As a songwriter, I wanted to create an artefact, an album. But this is no mere “bucket list” item to be ticked off along with skydiving and swimming with dolphins. My prime reason for recording the album is to learn. About writing, about arranging, about recording and producing, mixing and mastering. I want to improve, to hone my skills.

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Jonny Amos @ The Song Lab

When selecting a studio, I wanted to work with someone who would guide me through the process and help me to develop my skillset. From the initial meeting onward, Jonny Amos has been generous in sharing his knowledge and experience, and given me exactly what I was looking for. Studio time is hugely rewarding, even recording my vocals, which I find quite stressful. I also have my singing teacher, Dawn Lesley, to thank. She has coached me in the studio, encouraging me to a better vocal performance.

Over the course of the project, I have become aware of how much I want to continue this journey. I have developed a vision of who and what I want to be. This is my life now.

When someone asks me what I do, I will tell them that I am a songwriter.

Work In Progress…

I am recording an album of original songs. It has been a long time coming but, having finally run out of excuses and locked my demons in a box labelled “The Past”, I am on the case.
I am very grateful to my Life Coach –  Jo Van Osch – for helping me to realise that it was the project I wanted to pursue. (More recently, Jo has helped me to kick-start a much bigger project, but more of that at a later date.)
I am working with Jonny Amos at The Song Lab, based in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter. Jonny is producing the tracks and mentoring me in songwriting and production. The process is a lot of fun and I am learning a great deal – always part of the plan.
Despite misgivings about my vocal abilities, Jonny has persuaded me to sing the songs myself. Recording the vocal tracks has been by far the most taxing process, and I still find it difficult to listen to my own voice. However…
I have nine songs out of ten somewhere on the production line, but the final song is eluding me. For now.

The title of the album is Work In Progress. For years, it felt like most of my creative output fell into one of two extremes of quality – very bad, in which case I would trash it, or nearly great but requiring endless tweaks. I had so little “finished” work that I started doubting my own abilities. A couple of years ago, I had an epiphany (probably something I ate, or read in a self-help book). I realised that creative work, even that in the public domain, is and remains “work in progress”. A recorded song is just one version at a particular point in time. Bad songs can be improved upon, or scavenged – a verse here, a snippet of melody there. Good songs can be set free into the world, recorded or played live, and further improved at a later date. Once I grasped this concept, I was able to radically increase my throughput. I’m still not what you’d call prolific, but the ideas do keep coming.

So, the deadline for having the album finished and out as a CD and download is August 5. I’d better get on and write that last song…