Writing Early Stroll Songs

We're now getting itchingly close to the first performance of my new collaboration with poet, BBC broadcaster and Barnsley's chief raconteur Ian McMillan.

As I write, singer Martin Le Poidevin and guitarist Amanda Cook are preparing this 13-song cycle to burst forth, blinking into the lights of St George's next Tuesday like a rare vulnerable creature.
The short songs are all settings of 1, occasionally 2 tweets that Ian tweeted over the past 4 or 5 years: His 'Early Stroll' poems.

Commissioned by Martin with support from Arts Council England, I wrote the songs over the summer, settling into a pleasing routine of completing 1 song each day, starting early (6am-ish) getting down a rough hand-written version by mid-morning. We have selected a series of tweets that mapped a full year, from Autumn to Autumn, each one referencing something of the season, a Santa-hatted hairdresser, and abandoned fridge full of pink blossom, summer heat.

I'm used to writing for voice and piano. Classical guitar is very different. The shapes of chords work differently, the sound is so much more fragile and brittle, which suits the spareness and dry humour of the texts. The emotion is beneath the surface, fleeting and beautiful. Last week a player described my music as "well-ventilated". I've always strived for an airiness and a vulnerable clarity in my music. Acoustic guitar and human voice naturally have those qualities.

I have tried to find a different sound and character for each song (apart from the first and last), using different techniques on guitar: layers of harmonics, squeaky slides along strings, thick strummed chords and scurrying patterns. 

Various musical themes emerged through the cycle: A repeated note getting faster and slower represented birds; an aching 3/4 theme as Ian talks of his parents' headstone and nagging memory. One song (taking the cue from a house called Graceland) is a shameless homage to the opening of Jailhouse Rock...  Worryingly, I suspect Martin will need little encouragement to channel the spirit of Elvis.

If you are anywhere near Bristol on Tuesday 11th Oct you must come along to hear Ian McMillan present the first performance at St Georges, Bristol. It's going to be quite marvellous. Huge thanks to our supporters: ACE, RVW Trust St George's Bristol and our stupendous Crowdfunders.