Hi. I have moved all this songwriting blog across to my new Chris T-T website. It forms the SONGWRITING section of the website and I’ll be updating it regularly there.

Thanks so much for reading my stuff on songwriting here – and I hope you’ll check it out and keep reading over at



Jon Boden’s Radio 3 Under The Influence essay

This blog turns once again to folk singer Jon Boden. His fifteen minute essay for Radio 3 connects a pile of influences we share (though perhaps never spoke about as schoolfriends), kicking off with the post-apocalyptic teen sci-fi literature of John Christopher, Peter Dickinson and others, to a current point of recontact – the Dark Mountain philosophy and their Uncivilisation festival.

Here’s the essay, it travels an absolutely fantastic way in 15 minutes and his conclusion about ‘folk culture’ being resilient enough to outlive the civilisation collapse is spot on:

Listen HERE (BBC online, possibly UK only, sorry!)

Radio 4’s Soul Music series

One of my very favourite radio series has started again on BBC Radio 4 and I thought it’s worth mentioning here. It’s called Soul Music and each week focuses on a single piece of music; either a song or piece of classical music.

It’s not a technical guide to the craft – however we often hear a variety of perspectives around one song, alongside intricate detail, that gets right into the heart of the history of the piece. For me, Soul Music regularly gets closer to somehow explaining why a piece of music is wonderful than any other radio or TV programme. Which is a magical feat. It also has a (still rare) lack of snobbery about classical versus contemporary work.

Anyway, if you can access the iPlayer, HERE is a link to episode 2, about the Shaker spiritual song ‘Simple Gifts’, which had the lyrics re-written to become ‘Lord Of The Dance’ and also appears in Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’. I pick this one because episode 1 was Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet which, though gorgeous, is less relevant to songwriting.



Tom Robinson & Billy Bragg

A rare summit for two of our greatest radical songwriters – Tom Robinson’s extended interview with Billy Bragg on BBC 6Music. Well worth a listen – it’ll be on the iPlayer for a few days HERE – it starts about 32 minutes in.

Darren Hayman’s 31 Songs In 31 Days

I’m not going to blog about it in depth now – maybe afterwards when I get a chance to listen to them all – but this is a quick flag-up for former Hefner singer Darren Hayman’s ongoing January Songs project, where he’s attempting to write a new song each day this month.

Hayman has written some beautiful songs in his time and this is a very admirable exploration of his own creativity, so if you can, get onboard HERE, where he’s using Tumblr to post the project as it continues.

Songwriting on Chrimbo radio

Howard Goodall’s fascinating history of Christmas Carols is HERE on the iPlayer.

Also this week, Stephen Sondheim is reading the Book Of The Week on Radio 4, as part of his 80th birthday celebrations. It includes a lot of fascinating stuff about lyric-writing (first episode HERE on iPlayer).

Finally, on Radio 2, in the perineum: Weds 29 Dec at 10pm, listen out for Sally Boazman: In Search Of A British Route 66. It’s a documentary about British music and roads (Sally is ‘Sally Traffic’, Radio 2’s legendary traffice and travel correspondent) – looks very interesting and I took part, talking and singing ‘M1 Song’. Worth a listen.

my songs of the year

Over on Blognostic I’ll post my review of the year in a few days. I’m still working on it, however since I’ve finished the ‘songs of the year’ section, I thought I’d stick that up here now.

To be precise, this is my Top 10 Songs of 2010 – though tracks on my Top 10 Albums of 2010 are excluded:

1. Tom Williams & The Boat – ‘In Love’
2. Caribou – ‘Odessa’
3. Isy Suttie – ‘Pearl and Dave’
4. Kate Nash – ‘Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt’
5. Kanye West ft. Pusha T – ‘Runaway’
6. Frank Turner – ‘I Still Believe’
7. Robyn – ‘Hang With Me’
8. Tinie Tempah – ‘Pass Out’
9. New Pornographers – ‘Your Hands (Together)’
10. Eminem/Rihanna – ‘Love The Way You Lie’

Also nods to: I Am Arrows, Mavis Staples, Anna Madeleine, Tim Minchin, Robyn again for ‘Dancing On My Own’, LCD Soundsystem, Emily Barker, The Fall, The Hold Steady, Warpaint and She Makes War.

doing sex in songs

Josie Long did a couple of tweets this morning that reminded me of probably my favourite ‘doing sex’ lyric, from Paul Simon’s ‘I Know What I Know’ (on the album Graceland). He talks to a woman at a party, spiky and flirting. Most of the lyrics are conversation. For me, Simon obviously pulls that night because – without saying anything else about it – he drops in:

She moved so easily all I could think of was sunlight.

(full lyrics HERE)

Yeah I’m sure you can take this to mean simply how much he likes the look of her, still chatting at the party. But for me (ever the optimist) there’s no doubt, he’s taken her home and they’re doing the barry business. So anyway, throwing it open, do you know any great lyric lines that describe sex? Not lovey dovey or peripheral stuff (and ideally not uber-seedy R&B shite unless it’s particularly good). I’m sure there’s loads…

Stewart Lee’s performance analysis

After looking at such a tiny detail of the Ultrasound song in the last entry, I need to mention stand-up comedian Stewart Lee‘s ferociously brilliant new book How I Escaped My Certain Fate as a great resource if you’re into developing any kind of self-absorbed analysis of your own work-in-performance.

(I did have a powerful personal reaction to the book as well, but prefer to blog it here, not on Blognostic, to focus on its value as a resource. But I did LOVE it; it punched me in the face with recognition over and over again, on different levels.)

It is partly a memoir of Lee’s abandoning of live performance after near stardom in the 1990s, his confidence shattered, then his unexpected success with Jerry Springer: The Opera, leading to a tentative, more thoughtful return to stand-up in 2004. The book features three full transcriptions of key live shows since that return, which have been annotated in intricate, lengthy detail. The shows are transcribed from specific live performances (the sets used for DVDs I think, since they were taped) rather than using some kind of generic ‘perfect’/’idealised’ script.

Lee makes a jawdropping success of writing down his insightful analysis of his own creative performance process, of breaking down each stand-up show and relating clearly how the prepared material blends with the live unfolding moment, how the set might digress or not, what he says and what he’s trying to say. It’s not just fascinating but truly useful: obviously (the task of) stand-up is a magnified, concertina’d version of (the task of) music performance: the audience feedback that happens every 3-4 minutes for a songwriter, at tacitly agreed points (between each song) happens near constantly, second-by-second for a comedian. They need to be far greater masters of crowd control than we are, especially if they’re trying to do more than tell jokes, if they have an underlying point. Thus it would be less relevant if Lee were a populist gag man but his stuff is multi-layered, a complex, ambitious beast unfolding with plot and rhythm.

Beyond the analysis, I also found How I Escaped… brutally honest, yet oddly reassuring about the continuing potential for a career in minority interest, uncompromising performance arts today. Lee’s comedic rebirth and his refusal to bow to the shit he’d bended to in the past, exactly mirrors the ‘new DIY’ approach so many of us musicians are facing/embracing. He’s not trying for an over-arching message but I took from it a determined: ‘the quality will out’.

Read it if you can.

nothing fills Tiny’s hole

I was planning a longer thing about seeing reformed 90s band Ultrasound but I don’t have time, so instead I’m concentrating on a small lyric detail I can’t resist writing about. Here is just one repeated line in a verse of their epic song ‘Everything Picture’:

Nothing fills the hole
‘Cos nothing fills a hole

I love this repeat, primarily for the performance that delivers it.

Singer Tiny gives the first line sleazeball, lascivious volume, then the repeat is soft and cracked like a heartbroken philosopher. In one phrase repeated twice you get a summation of a much, much huger song, perhaps a summation beyond the song of a frustrated unfilled whole. Deviancy (if you’ll excuse the word, I think it’s right, not prejudiced) and isolation.

Tiny is a divisive, confrontational figure with the arch stridency of Morrissey, Brett A or Bowie, yet he’s big, with a huge belly and a rock/soul voice that further throws expectations. Ultrasound’s schtick is almost Anthony (of the Johnsons) doing Pink Floyd or Pumpkins. Ultrasound (or at least this Ultrasound) aren’t on Spotify so I won’t link to audio but their one album is supremely worth seeking out.

I hate repeated lines when they’re pointless (scouting for shite) but adore them when they work. The Proclaimers’ four times repeated “Sorrow…” in ‘Sunshine On Leith’ is a stunner. And you might not be expecting this from me but James Blunt’s “My life is brilliant…” sung twice as the opening two lines of his nauseating breakthrough hit ‘You’re Beautiful’, is fantastic. To reassure you, from that moment onwards I agree the song (and the career) is so awful it is without equal in shittyness – yet most of all for the waste of the opening lyric.

%d bloggers like this: