Friday, 12 February 2016

Marmalade Radio - transcript...

A couple of weeks back, Marmalade Radio in Athens kindly asked me to say a few words on their live Monday evening show. 

I had some great feedback after the programme. With grateful thanks to Giorgos Florakis for giving me airtime, this - for better or worse! - is a transcript of my contribution.


"I started writing songs seriously when I was about eighteen or nineteen. I’d done a few pop-type tunes when I was with The Raiders in Leeds in the early-sixties, but it was people like Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs on the Elektra label that really started to turn me on. And – most importantly around that time – I discovered Lead Belly and the twelve-string guitar.

It’s funny, but one of the first questions most people ask when we get around to talking about song writing is “Which comes first, the lyrics or the tune?” And my answer is, almost exclusively in my case it’s the words. I’ve written a lot of songs in the last fifty-odd years, and I can count on the fingers of one hand those where the melody came before the lyric.

Of course, there are as many ways of writing songs as there are song writers. Everybody has their own way of going about it, and their own reasons for putting pen to paper in the first place.

I realised a long, long time ago now – back in the seventies, actually – what my motivations are. It’s a curious fact that for twenty-three years between 1972 and 1995 not a single track of mine was released anywhere in the world and, apart from a very short period around ’78-’79 I think it was, I did no public performances at all. But during that whole time, I was writing – quite furiously, actually – and also recording in my studio at home. Hundreds of songs. Some of them have now come out on “Edge Of The Dark” and “Fables & Façades”, but they were never written for that purpose.

Because then – and indeed still – I write primarily to help me make sense of the world. It maybe sounds a bit pretentious to say it – I hope not – but they’re my life-notes, they’re distillations of my reasoning, maybe sometimes a bit obscure to folks listening in but they help me. That said, I’m always very grateful – and pleased! – that a few other people seem to like them as well!

Not all the songs are Beau’s philosophy on life, obviously! I’m a story-teller – I like telling tales; though most of the time I guess even those songs tend to have some sort of a moral dimension. And the muse hasn’t diminished with age. It certainly hasn’t left the building! It’s only a few months back I went through my most intense writing phase ever, even going back to my twenties. Eighteen songs in fourteen days! I guess a few things were bugging me!

Like I’ve said somewhere else some time, “If I write songs, I don’t break windows!” 

For me, songs really are about the words. Y’know, obviously I understand voices can be used – are used – in recordings in many different ways and for many different purposes. They can be just one more instrument that contributes to the soundscape. But in my case, in my songs, the words are key. They’re what the whole thing is about; and that’s why I mostly choose to record simply with just the twelve-string guitar, and the voice upfront in what Buzz Magazine were pleased to call “Beau’s cut-glass English accent”. You’ll have to judge for yourself on that!

Since I was a kid, I’ve been a politics and news junkie. I’m one of those sad people who sit up through the night at General Elections, and always have the TV open up with a twenty-four hour news channel. And yet, if any canvasser turns up at the door and asks, “Can I count on your vote?” the answer will always be “Most definitely you cannot!”

I know it goes against conventional expectations of a folk singer and writer, but I actually don’t have a commitment to either the left or the right, and I never have had. I loathe prejudice and intolerance and cruelty and bigotry across the board, and I see them all in equal measure coming from both sides of the political spectrum.

So, in the songs, I try to tell it like it is. Whether I’m writing about censorship or the weather, or hunting or nostalgia, or God or war or history, I try to take things topic-by-topic rather than be locked-in by dogma or hidebound by what’s just narrow-mindedness dressed up as principle.

It’s not my job to tell people what to think. If I hope to encourage them to do one thing with the songs, it is TO think! And maybe to remember, particularly in the democratic West, that no political party has the monopoly of good ideas or good intentions; that a leader may indeed be the Devil incarnate, but it’s most certainly not just because he or she sits on the opposite side of the great divide.

People tell me they like the routine we’ve established over the last few years of making both lyrics and back-stories to album songs available, either online or including them with vinyl LP sleeves. It’s not an original idea, of course, but as with diplomacy, so it is in song writing; the words really do matter.

Thanks to all my good friends in Athens, and efcharistó Marmalade Radio!"

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