Last weekend I was heading to Bore Place with my guitar and, arguably, an ambitious number of notebooks.
I had been invited down to a songwriting weekend in an old manor house in Kent by the unbelievably generous Tom Robinson. The idea is that 12 people gather in a place for a weekend, cut off from the outside world, and try and write 20 songs. As soon as I was invited I spent the next week wondering what exactly to expect. Tom and Sue (Tom’s partner) had provided plenty of information, but my being unsure was more about what it would be like working in an environment like that.
Collaborative work when it comes to music is something pretty new to me. I’ve done some here and there, but generally it has been done more remotely via email or messages on Facebook or something, adding parts and gradually building something. This is a totally different kind of collaboration to sitting in a room with someone and just writing.
Here’s some footage from a previous Immersion Songwriting Weekend.
What I arrived to was a friendly and welcoming environment where everyone was in a similar position of wondering how this was going to play out. I also arrived to pastry.
11 of us (the 12th was on his way) gathered in the kitchen, ate, and introduced ourselves to one another.
After a chat over breakfast and an ice-breaker game, we made a start. The living room had a bunch of extra instruments for us as well as plenty of helpful books for inspiration.
My first instinct was to go exploring for a bit. I went wandering around the amazing grounds of the place in disbelief that I was there. This was a common theme of the weekend which I’m sure I’ll come back to in a bit.
I then made my way towards my guitar and threw together a song. With the ridiculous thing that was last year’s project, I think I got a bit better at throwing together something resembling a song. I was half way through it when I decided it wasn’t looking like it was going to be anything to shout about, but I was also pleased that I was going to at least manage to put something together over the weekend. I pushed through just to get the song finished and rid of, and I started to feel like less of a fraud. I’ll explain.
It’s weird. Even though last year was pretty devoted to an aforementioned ridiculous project to release 365 songs in 365 days, and even though I still release music and put it out there for people to listen to should their ears wish, I sometimes feel strange saying I’m a musician. Similarly, I feel strange saying I’m a writer even though that’s also something I clearly do.
I was now surrounded by creative and talented people. All musicians. All there to write songs. And I had been invited down there to do the same thing.
So, after putting together a song in a way that I was comfortable (with roughly 2 and a half chords and some whimsy), I decided to start working with other people on things. It turns out I didn’t die when I did this. It turns out I could sort of contribute ideas to a song. This took a little while, as I found myself censoring my ideas at first, but eventually I felt comfortable with doing it. And we got some things together.
Saturday evening was one of the many highlights for me. We gathered in the living room and entertained one another with music and nonsense. It were right good fun.
The whole thing was set up to be open and welcoming, and so by the time I performed some of what I’d helped to write by the Sunday afternoon, I had decided that maybe sometimes I’m some sort of musician. Which is probably quite helpful considering I’ve decided that music is something that I definitely make.
The inimitable #StrictlyVanilla. So glad to be part of it!
L to R: Craig Higgins Jnr (Mutado Pintado), Me, Danni Nicholls, Orlando Seale (Orlando Seale and the Swell), Melissa James, Sue Brearley, Stuart Rook (Lux Lisbon), Sarah Bleach (Velocette), Swami Baracus, Nayfe Slusjan (Chailo Sim), Tom Robinson, Vincent Burke.
The others who were there are listed below. And I can’t stress enough how talented they all are. You should do yourself a favour and take a listen to them all and find out more.
(I couldn’t find embeddable tracks from Sarah from Velocette, but head to their Last.fm to find out more.)
Finally, the generosity of Tom and Sue are the reason these weekends happen. So thank you (again!) to them.
Tom and the team at Fresh On The Net provide plenty of advice to musicians. I also recommend you watch Tom talking about songwriting in a lecture given here. And finally, I recommend you keep an ear out on the listening post every week.