Endless Miles

I’m writing this sat alone in the Learning Cafe, having just finished tinkering with one of my essays, due on Friday. There is almost total silence, save for the background hum of a generator an annoying high-pitched whine I can’t quite trace the source of. Despite my solitude, I am happy, since I have a Christmas meal at Lara’s flat with all of the gang to look forward to tomorrow, and I’ve just listened to the new Coldplay album, Everyday Life, which is simply brilliant. Once I’d taken my headphones off at the end, I started thinking about my own adapted set of Coldplay lyrics, which I’m working on for Composing Song Lyrics.  I had to take them into class earlier this week so they could be critiqued by everyone, which is always a nerve-wracking experience. Even though I know it’s highly unlikely, I always expect everything I write to be completely torn to shreds, so you can imagine my relief when the lyrics came back with only a few notes for improvement at this stage.

My version of ‘In My Place’, entitled ‘Endless Miles’, is an intentionally cliched love song. Since I greatly admire the original, I was worried about accidentally making a mockery of it with my own words, but I knew I wanted to include it in my portfolio – and that any other lyrics I wrote for it would probably be no better. We are, of course, discouraged from including cliches unintentionally, but as long as you can justify your use of them, anything goes. Cliches can help to make a song more relatable or accessible to a listener, and as you might expect, they can be beneficial when you want to parody something. I wasn’t trying to do that, but I still found some of my lyrical choices laughably cringeworthy! I include ‘Endless Miles’ here for what I hope will be your enjoyment – although I haven’t made any of the changes that have been suggested just yet. Listen to the original track as you read these lyrics, and decide for yourself how well they fit:

(Verse 1)

Endless miles, endless miles

I’ve driven looking for you

Following your trail

But in the end, in the end

I rounded the final bend

And I saw no more

 

(Chorus 1)

There, the last call to let you go

There, no footprints left in the snow

There, the curtain to end the show

I go

 

(Verse 2)

Coming home, coming home

No-one and nowhere to roam

No-one on the phone

Is this love? Is this love?

You’re dropping me down from above

Down into the rain

 

(Chorus 2)

Here, the next chapter of my life

Here, when will I be free of strife?

Here, you cut me just like a knife

A knife

 

Darling

Why? Why? Why?

Why did you have to go?

No, no

Why don’t you say you’ll stay?

Now, now

Come on and talk to me

Please, please

I’m here at home

 

(Verse 3)

Endless miles, endless miles

I’ve driven looking for you

Now we’ve reached the end

The end.

 

Mason

 

Outer Space, Outer Space

I’ve recently started a new project, creating the 120-150 lines of song I need for my next Composing Song Lyrics assignment. Unlike others in my class, I don’t sing or play, so I’ve taken what is supposedly the easiest option by choosing to rewrite existing songs instead. The first step in all of that is choosing the tracks I want to work on, and as I write this, that’s still very much a work in progress. I do have one song set in stone, which I rediscovered my love for a few weeks ago thanks to Spotify’s random choices – Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’ (song titles go in single inverted commas, apparently). However, the only issue with being able to choose songs you enjoy is that you risk butchering musical masterpieces with your own mediocre words, and that was definitely at the front of my mind as I started to think about mine.

We’ve been doing various writing exercises in seminars over the last few weeks that we hope will get our creative juices flowing. Many of them have involved writing about different unrelated emotions or scenarios in prose or loose verse, so that we can pluck certain words and phrases for later use. In my case at least, some exercises have been more fruitful than others, but a few words, lines and images have helped me to get started. Last night, I went to the library to begin my new version of ‘In My Place’, and because the song has a relatively simple syllabic structure and rhyme scheme, I had written a draft I was satisfied with in around half an hour – giving me 39 lines of lyrics. A blank sheet of paper is daunting for any writer, so I initially focused only on getting started and committing to an opening line. What I came up with was “outer space, outer space”, which mirrors the repetition of the title in Coldplay’s original, since I felt a degree of pressure at first to be faithful to it. It had the effect of evoking something better, though, so I soon replaced it with something else. From there, the rest of the piece seemed to flow nicely, and my portfolio was officially underway.

Because I’m rewriting something existing, it is imperative that the new song exactly matches the syllabic count of the original. In some cases, there may be an opportunity for an extra syllable in a line where one has been stretched by the singer – but I have to try and remember not to get greedy. I have a feeling that whatever the next four songs are, their new words won’t come quite as easily as the first set did, and I’ll have a lot more to consider before I can make them work. Each submission has to be accompanied by a 30-second recording explaining what you were trying to achieve with it, so there are both technical and emotional aspects to think about. Even so, I’m finding the study of lyrics less highbrow and much more accessible than I did traditional poetry last year. I can only conclude that that must be because of the nature of popular music as something which is designed to be cherry-picked and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, experience or background.

Mason

 

Bum Notes

Ahead of starting my new “Composing Song Lyrics” module next semester, I wanted to do something different here and review the next album I listened to for the first time. That way, I’d have something to go with my review of the film Whiplash, which I posted here at the end of June. It was my birthday on Sunday, and at my request, Louis gave me one of the albums that I needed to plug a conspicuous hole in my vinyl collection – I was missing the final three Oasis records, of which Dig Out Your Soul is the last. Released in 2008, this seventh studio effort was also the seventh consecutive album by the Manchester icons to go to number one in the UK, and their last hurrah before their abrupt split in August 2009. As we have now arrived at the tenth anniversary of the event, it seems apt for me to tackle their last offering now, even if this did come about entirely by coincidence. Louis tells me that he chose Dig Out Your Soul because out of all my missing Oasis albums, “it had the prettiest cover”.

Dad plugged my record player back in – after it had spent the last couple of months in the garage following my return from university – and I listened to the album from start to finish with my notebook to hand. I tried to write something about every song, even if it was just a few words or a single sentence. For the opening track, “Bag It Up”, I wrote “raw, repetitive, lumbering juggernaut of a riff begins the album. Liam’s vocals are crisp but full of attitude.” As I soon discovered, those words presented me with a considerable problem – namely that I could pretty much say the same for every song. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but as I got further into the album, I struggled to muster anything more adventurous, to the point where it felt like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel out of desperation at times.

I can see the decline in the notes I made. Of “The Turning”, the album’s second song, I was able to say that its opening was “soft and more subdued, with gentle drums and keyboards.” From this point, though, I can tell that I was gradually running out of any kind of valuable insight. All I could offer on “Waiting For The Rapture” was that it was “stylistically similar to the opening track”, and a throwaway reference to the fact that Noel Gallagher apparently wrote it about meeting his wife. It got even worse by the time of “Ain’t Got Nothin'”, another song full of attitude that only received a response of “typical Liam!” from me. I did redeem myself to some extent with certain judgements. I managed to specify that “The Shock of the Lightning” was “a great, unashamedly rock and roll anthem that would have been great to hear live”, and “I’m Outta Time” was a song that seemed to “unknowingly foreshadow” the fate of Oasis itself. Overall, though, my attempt to thoroughly review Dig Out Your Soul fell flat on its face – there were several songs about which I could say nothing at all.

I don’t think that’s a reflection on the quality of the album at all. There are only a select few records I’ve ever heard that I’ve categorically disliked. It’s more a reflection on my own reviewing abilities, and the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the depth I was looking for. I didn’t feel confident enough to try using any musical terminology either, and the end result was a set of notes that couldn’t have looked less knowledgeable if they’d tried. They’ve given me a reason to go back to the drawing board, but I’m going to look at that as a positive thing. Maybe my upcoming module will give me the insight into the songwriting process that I need to confidently discuss how music is made. At the very least, it’ll allow me to think about adding another string to my writing bow, and including more reviews here. Mum has told me they’d be well worth doing more often, so maybe – for once – I should take her advice on board!

Mason

 

The Pull, Part 14

Allow me to present what is effectively Winchester Mission Control, just six days before we launch the rocket towards its destination. The large pile cluttering up the centre of the image above is made entirely of clothes I will be taking – in the process of clearing out the wardrobe, I was surprised to discover that I owned many more T-shirts than I thought I did! The garments that had to be retired after years of loyal service were consigned to one of two other piles, and as I write this they are destined either for the charity shop or to be used as miscellaneous rags in one of Dad’s many household jobs. I have to say that seeing everything I would definitely need grouped together made the whole exercise feel somewhat therapeutic – together with Mum I had been ruthless and made some sacrifices, which did feel quite calming. The first thing that introduced even a modicum of stress to proceedings was deciding what to wear to the ball I have booked a ticket for during my fresher’s week.

The dress code is very much a formal one, but even though that seems straightforward enough, it did open up something of a small can of worms, because “formal” can mean any one of a number of style choices. I tend not to be good at those, so I turned to my new flatmates for a spot of fashion advice – I had no idea whether I should choose a jacket, waistcoat, shirt and tie, bow tie, or anything in between. Panicking, I put the question forward, but the response was encouraging and it really helped to defuse the situation. The general consensus was that I should go for whatever I felt most comfortable in, since all of the contenders fell under the umbrella of formality. I have therefore decided to keep it simple – as things stand, I will be opting for a shirt, a tie, and a nice pair of trousers in an attempt to look dapper.

That particular dilemma was thus resolved, but what remained proved to be just as difficult. As I plan to take my record player away with me, I needed to choose ten albums that I simply could not do without. Panic filled my brain – what if I sorely regretted one or more of my choices, and couldn’t do anything about it? This notion immobilised me for a moment, causing me to flick through my collection aimlessly before I gathered my thoughts and decided my choices had be well-established, undoubted favourites. You can see one of them in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture – Oasis’ Be Here Now (1997). It is one of two albums by the Manchester greats that I selected. The other was their debut (and absolute finest hour) Definitely Maybe (1994), and that in turn was accompanied by Blur’s Parklife (1994), Pulp’s Different Class (1995), The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow (1984), Jamiroquai’s Automaton (2017), Busted’s Night Driver (2016), Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations (2006), Moby’s Play (1999), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979). They have now been separated from their fellow LPs ready to be packed up, and I have reassured myself that if I do regret not bringing one or more alternatives, I can just listen to them on Spotify instead. That’s it now, though – final choices are being made and the final ball has been set in motion. When those records next see the light of day, they will be two whole counties away…

Mason

 

The Top Twenty Records Of All Time, Part 2

A little while ago, I gave you the first four of eight songs I’d take away with me to a hypothetical desert island, as all guests do on Desert Island Discs. I promised that the rest would follow in a second post – since it was such a difficult list to devise – along with my chosen book and luxury. There’s no time like the present, so without further ado, I give you all my remaining choices. Songs first!

Just bear in mind that these will be listed from 1 to 4 again, as WordPress doesn’t seem to allow me to enter 5 to 8. I wouldn’t want to confuse you, would I?

  1. “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” by The Smiths. Like Muse, I knew that The Smiths would be assured of a place here as soon as I started thinking about the lucky eight songs. There are many legendary musical names, such as Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards, that are often grouped together in iconic pairings, but – somewhat bafflingly, in my opinion – singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr are rarely put up there with them. I view them as the greatest duo in history. The impact they had upon their band was such that when Marr left in 1987, they had no choice but to disband. This is because neither man was expendable, and no incarnation of The Smiths could have survived without either of them. They complimented each other perfectly, despite their differing styles – Morrissey’s melancholic lyrics and delivery shouldn’t match Johnny Marr’s upbeat and chiming riffs on paper, but in reality they were a force to be reckoned with and remain so to this day. Their talents have made Morrissey a legendary lyricist and vocalist – whatever you think of him as a person – and Marr the most distinctive and talented man ever to play guitar. Furthermore, their partnership was an incredibly fruitful one, in spite of the fact that it lasted just five years, from 1982 to 1987. During that period, the band produced four studio albums in quick succession, along with a whole host of compilation records – Hatful of Hollow stands out among these in my eyes – singles and other non-album tracks. You might expect that this level of productivity means there are many gems to choose from in The Smiths’ catalogue, and you’d be right. It was “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” that eventually won the toss after much deliberation. It’s one of the songs I often find myself retreating to when I’m in a reflective mood, perhaps as a result of sadness or regret. Like many of the group’s tunes, it resonates with me primarily because of its lyrics. They tell a story of misunderstood love, something to which many of us can surely relate (“how can they see the love in our eyes, and say they don’t believe us?”) For reasons I’m not willing to elaborate on, it resonates very clearly with me (not because of “hatred” or “murderous desire”), and every time I hear the song I am transported immediately back to a difficult time. The song is a thing of such beauty, however, that I often overlook the darkness, feeling only the admiration stirred up by such a great piece of art.
  2. “Lift Me Up” by Moby. I have loved dance music for as long as I can remember, and for me Moby is akin to royalty within the genre. His album Play is my second-favourite of all time – when it comes to the albums I consider to be the very best, I always find that they offer something very different to anything else, and that’s usually something I can’t quite put my finger on. I found Play a relaxing and somewhat dreamlike record when I listened to it for the first time – tracks like “Inside” and its biggest hit single “Porcelain” are the best examples of this – but Moby’s interest in other musical styles, such as gospel, also caught my attention. “Lift Me Up”, however, does not actually feature on this album. It would not surface for another six years, until the release of Hotel in 2005, when Moby ventured into the field of alternative rock. My track of choice would be issued as its lead single, becoming a Top 40 hit in the UK. What seals its inclusion on this list, however, is the role it was given a year later as the theme music for ITV’s Formula One coverage. From 2006 to 2008 it formed part of a very prominent soundtrack to my weekends between March and November, so ignoring one of my biggest passions when choosing the music for this selection was simply never going to be an option. This is the first F1 theme tune that I can properly remember hearing from my formative years, and with the exception of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, it may well be a contender for the very best of all. Hearing it now takes me right back to watching some great seasons unfold – even though ITV would always insist on showing continuous adverts during the race…
  3. Murray Gold’s 2010 arrangement of the Doctor Who theme tune. Continuing on the TV train of thought for a moment, I give you one of the many awesome variations of this iconic show’s signature tune, composed by Gold for the fifth revived series – the first to feature Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. I have chosen this version of the piece mainly because of my fondness for said series and the memories it evokes – described here – but it also stands out because of how it fuses a traditional orchestral arrangement with modern synthesised elements. This combination is, in my eyes, very effective. Although it arguably lacked the grandiosity and clout of the previous exclusively orchestral post-2005 themes, it did convey the start of something new and exciting while also retaining the sense of spooky alien mystery that makes Doctor Who great. A match made in heaven!
  4. “D’You Know What I Mean?” by Oasis. We have now made it to the eighth song on my list, and I have decided to save a slice of rock and roll until last in the form of one of the many barnstormers from Oasis’ Be Here Now album. My mind was made up because of my admiration for this record – the black sheep of the band’s catalogue, slated by fans, critics and Noel Gallagher himself – because it showcases rock star extravagance like no other disc I can think of. Those who enjoy it do so because of the very things that alienated its audience (albeit not before it sold eight million copies) – very long, very loud and excessively over-produced songs. “D’You Know What I Mean?” is the first of these, a bombastic, seven-minute number one hit often cited as one of the album’s saving graces. The moment walls of roaring sonic volume fill my headphones, I feel a sense of euphoria of the kind created by all great anthems. I also see the band as they were at that time, enjoying the peak of their fame and all it had to offer. The critics have said that this was to the detriment of Be Here Now, since it has been described as “over-indulgent and bloated”, but I don’t mind that at all. On every listen I revel in being transported back 21 years to an era where proper rockers like the Gallaghers still roamed free. Sadly, it seems that we can only dream of such people in 2018. On the whole, there seem to be very few true characters entering the music scene, and this makes me even more grateful for albums like Be Here Now and songs like the aforementioned. It’s a great shame they aren’t more widely appreciated, but I hope I can rectify that to some extent by listing one of them here.

Now that all of my songs have been selected, I must choose a book to go with them. I do consider myself highly literate and a keen reader, but although I have read quite a few books in my time, none have really made an impact big enough for them to be included here. The Writer’s Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook is the only published one that really comes close, since it provides such a great insight into the production of modern TV and the lives of those who write it, but the one that has been most useful to me is one that is yet to be filled. My definitive choice is my own red Moleskine notebook, bought in Waterstone’s during a lunch break last year, in which I now record the majority of ideas that appear on this blog and in other musings. It goes wherever I go, resting snugly in my wheelchair’s sidebag with a pen accompanying it, and a few weeks ago it served as the receptacle for Christopher’s story during my taster session in Winchester. I can’t wait for it to be with me for many more when the course begins. If it’s going to go with me to a hypothetical island, however, it needs to be much longer – so I’ll take it exactly as it is, with all the notes I’ve already made, but with the minor addition of infinite pages so that it lasts forever. I’m going to be there a long time, after all. That’s doable, right?

Finally, we come onto my luxury, and something I was never in any doubt about. Quite simply, I want a TV – although how you’d connect it on a desert island remains to be seen – capable of showing full live and uninterrupted coverage of every Formula One Grand Prix. The future of Formula One on free-to-air TV is a very prominent issue among fans at the moment, and in the UK, Channel 4 is entering the last year of its three-year deal to broadcast the sport. It would nice to have no worries about losing it from weekend afternoons, and alone on a desert island I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone interrupting the start either!

Mason

 

 

 

The Top Twenty Records Of All Time

I’m willing to bet that most people have a definitive list of songs they consider to be extra special to them – their Desert Island Discs, if you like. Mum certainly does, only hers is an ever-changing beast. The Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr Blue Sky” and Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” seem to be permanent fixtures, but otherwise her self-proclaimed list of her top twenty songs of all time is never quite the same, sometimes from day to day. On occasion, it numbers more than twenty, and although I have challenged Mum on this, it seems I may never get a proper answer regarding what the actual fixed selection is. The questions, however, did lead to me considering what my own list would have on it. I’m not sure I could think of as many as Mum, but I’m confident that I can aim for eight.

On Desert Island Discs (which I only listen to when someone interesting is a guest – Murray Walker and Noel Gallagher featured on the last two occasions), the participant is asked to choose eight songs they would take away with them if they were to be marooned on a hypothetical island. They discuss their reasoning behind each choice before a snippet is played, and at the end of the programme they must also select one luxury (limited only by the imagination as pretty much anything goes), and one book (which they are granted alongside the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare). Following Mum’s indecisiveness, and an extensive pondering period, I have now concluded that they are as follows (in this post you can have the first four, with YouTube links – I’ll get back to you on the rest).

 

  1. “Canned Heat” by Jamiroquai. You need only read this to find out why the Space Cowboys make this list. And I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this song played live!
  2. “Your Love Alone is Not Enough” by Manic Street Preachers and Nina Persson. Whilst this isn’t a very heartfelt song, it gets the blood pumping and has all the hallmarks of a great anthem and crowd-pleaser. On my tenth birthday in 2007, I was given a CD copy of Now 67, on which it features. Along with Paolo Nutini’s “New Shoes”, it was one of the hits on the album that really stood out as I listened to it on my cheap imitation iPod. I knew nothing of the Manics, their reputation or their success when I first heard this, but it paved the way to me becoming a fan, and I now eagerly soak up their music. I’m happy to report that their new single “International Blue” is another winner! Above all of this, however, it brings back memories of a simpler time of life in Year 5 at school. A time of fish and chips on Friday lunchtimes, green ties, house points and two pieces of homework a week. Next to no adult responsibilities whatsoever. Bliss.
  3. “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane. I’ve always felt drawn to this band, and their use of the piano as a lead instrument on a lot of their material. Perhaps it adds an extra sense of depth, grandiosity or profoundness to their music – I’m not an expert, so I don’t know. But what I am certain of is that I have always been awed by that special something, and it must be at least partially responsible for my decision to take up the piano nearly five years ago. This particular song is one of my favourites because, rather aptly, it always reminds of somewhere – or, more importantly, someone – particularly meaningful to me. It gained added significance in Year 12, when the appearance of the 2013 John Lewis Christmas advert in our Media lessons meant that I got to hear the equally sublime Lily Allen version of the song on a weekly basis for a while. It was a selection that suited the advert perfectly (maybe I’m biased, but I personally believe that John Lewis haven’t managed to top it since), and its use in sixth form made it even more special, since it would be forever connected with a great period in my life.
  4. Any one of four Muse songs (either “Supermassive Black Hole”, “Knights of Cydonia”, “Plug In Baby” or “Defector”). Yes, I know this is technically cheating because I’m supposed to choose a definitive eight, and I know that’s exactly what I promised would result at the beginning of this post. But as soon as I knew that Muse could not be left off of this list, I also knew that I would find it incredibly difficult to single out one of their many absolute bangers for inclusion on it. You know how some musicians talk in interviews about their formative moments, often from their youth? Whilst I will never claim to be a musician, hearing Matt Bellamy’s voice for the first time in Year 12 did – as I have often related since – send a shiver down my spine as the hairs on the back of my neck stood. It sounds clichéd, but it’s absolutely true. I believe his voice can be placed alongside the greatest in music, and its power is a perfect match for the two bandmates who drive the group’s monstrous sound, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard. The three form an unbeatable combination that I am desperate to see live – and, with new music arriving on the scene almost as I write, I might get that chance sooner than I’m expecting. I had hoped that by the time I’d finished typing Muse’s section, I might have decided which of those four songs to take to my desert island, but it seems that as with the next four (and my book and luxury, you’re just going to have to wait). Watch this space for the tunes to come!

Mason

Every Sentence is a Song

I’ve long said to myself that when I can write or find the right ones, I will post some interesting poems or quotes on this blog to provide a little bit of variety alongside the longer posts you normally get to read. At the moment, I can neither come up with nor locate anything worth uploading – but thankfully, something came to me by chance when I was least expecting it and I decided it was too good not to share. It was this blog, and where to go next with it, that I was pondering when I suddenly remembered a brilliant quote about sentence structure that a teacher had on their wall at school:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

This quote came from a man named Gary Provost, and whilst I’ll have to Google him to find out exactly who he is, his words intrigued me from the moment I first laid eyes on them. As I’ve written before, I’m a mildly capable keyboard player. I’ve been doing my best to improve for four years now, but it’s becoming increasing clear that no matter how much I play, I’ll never be as good a musician as I am a writer. It’s therefore reassuring to know that in Mr Provost’s eyes, we’re all musicians through our respective languages. We’re creating musical pieces of many different shapes and sizes in anything we write, be it a shopping list or an epic novel. And the very nature of language means that we’re often led to use shorter, medium-length and longer sentences in varying quantities, so every day we have an opportunity to be creative and expand our grasp of English in the process. Maybe we won’t even be aware we’re doing it, but think about two of life’s greatest gifts, language and music, combined as one. Isn’t that just something that beggars belief?

Mason