In my teens and twenties life was all about music. I made a living through journalism but my dreams were bound up in writing songs and performing. And perform I did. I had a fairly regular slot at the Mean Fiddler, played places like Dingwalls and the Twelve Bar and other good acoustic venues in London.
Then when I hit thirty I realised that what I really wanted to do was write. I sat down and turned out a novel. The first draft took me about three months, which was fast for 105,000 words.
Writing hadn’t come quite so easily before, however a couple of years earlier I’d had what, in retrospect, was a pivotal meeting with a writer that, in a sense, gave me permission to write.
I had arranged to interview the sci-fi and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock for Vox magazine. I used to do regular book reviews for Vox. It was a fairly highbrow music mag that had grown up as its readers had grown up – an NME for people who thought about their music a bit more, if you like.
Moorcock’s publishers had just reprinted pretty much his entire back catalogue collecting a couple of dozen or so books into seven or eight volumes – Moorcock’s novels tended to be short series of three or four stories following the same character (though in some respects all his characters were different facets of ‘The Eternal Champion’). I can’t remember how many I read before I met him and how many afterwards, but I read the lot.
So I went round to his place in The Boltons, a very smart part of West Kensington where he and his wife had a really lovely apartment in a Victorian mansion block. Moorcock told me he’d had a fantasy that I was Nick Kent’s son, Nick Kent being the Rolling Stone journalist who’d travelled round with The Stones in the early 70s documenting a very dark period in the life of the band; all smack and orgies and screwing people over.
He also had a lovely anecdote about being pursued down Ladbroke Grove by Marc Bolan, he on his bicycle, Bolan in his Rolls Royce shouting ‘Michael, Michael, why won’t you talk to me?’ and Moorcock muttering ‘fuck off you ponce’ under his breath.
I also remember him talking about how he got a lot of his inspiration from migraines. His were debilitating but also hallucinatory and somehow unlocked his imagination.
But the greatest thing I took away from out meeting was his telling me he would write as much as 10,000 words a day, enough to churn out a short novel in a week.
That was pretty intimidating until I discovered that Ernest Hemingway used to write just a couple of hundred words a day. That was when I think I relaxed about writing. I knew that when I decided to write I’d write more than Hemingway and less than Moorcock and, indeed, that however much I wrote was OK so long as I wrote.
When I joined the BBC however I found that a lot of my creativity was sucked into my work. That was no bad thing. I loved making radio features. However it was difficult to find the energy to both write and make radio and, in any case, radio honed my writing skills. It did however put paid to my songwriting.
A little while ago I pulled out my guitar case where all my lyrics live and dug out this. These are the words to a song I wrote in my early 20s. It was written with someone in mind but, as is often the case, I think I simply found inspiration wherever I stumbled upon it. It was a passing fancy, however the song that came out of it had far more substance to it than any of the transient feelings that brief crush provoked.
It’s called, rather self deprecatingly, ‘(Does the World Need) Another Love Song’. With hindsight I think the answer is yes. It’s not just that you can never have too many. It’s that this most complicated of emotions has as many permutations as there are combinations of people. It has inspired art and artists since there have been art and artists to be inspired.
And while there are plenty of songs or poems or books or paintings that get nowhere near expressing how you feel, the genius of art is that through other people’s expression of their feelings, one’s own feelings find better expression. So, always seeing myself as a better lyricist than writer of tunes, I think these were quite possibly the best lyrics I ever wrote.
Midsummer’s night and a solstice breeze whispers that spring’s gone by,
Between gravestones and a perilous moon, just you, the ghosts and I,
And I hold your hand, as pale as the light, and wipe those sad eyes dry
Hoping that when the earth claims us both it’s next to you I lie.
Laughter and love are ageless
As sweet as life is long
Give me back my innocence
And I’ll write you an innocent song
Oh, I’ll write you a guileless song.
Making love in the fields as the September sun casts down its autumn light
The cornfields sigh and shudder in the wind, tall and golden and ripe
The morning mists lie on the orchards as dew, bejewelled and glistening bright
And you in the grass with your hair in your eyes a godsent and ravishing sight
When I am lost by the city
When its poison bites at my frame
Take me back to my Wealden home
And make me well again
Oh, and make me whole again
Winter will chase you, chill and abuse you, scold and misuse you and turn you to stone
Long nights await you, snows come to plague you, frost at the window and the cold at your bones
But it’s warm on the inside, sprawled by the fireside, curled up by my side and transfixed by the flames
As they dance with abandon, swirl in confusion and, if you’ll forgive the allusion, you’ll find me much the same…
Spring comes again and the wild geese come home to revisit their haunts on the lake
The rush overhead of a hundred beating wings, the water that ripples in their wake
Ask yourself not if the thrill that you feel is felt for the season’s sake
For love turns as sure as the mill and its wheel the staff of life to make
May this year be but one of many,
Till grey hair has taken its hold
They say age cannot wither and whether or whither
This romance will never grow old
No, this heart will never grow cold.
Lyrics are far, far harder to write than prose. Arguably they’re harder to write than a lot of poetry because the melody, with its rhythms and structure, is an additional constraint, albeit no more, say, than the conventions of the sonnet. But for that reason lyrics are rarely best judged out of context. So I suppose I should record this again and post it…