For the video for The Last Introvert, we decided to emulate the video for one of the best songs of all time, SOS by Abba. We got the idea after noticing that we have a few things in common with them (ostentatious pianist, interesting song structures, beard, beautiful lead vocalist) and thought that we should make our video an homage to them.
Distance runner is an attempt at a kind of sonic lyric poetry, an attempt to describe beauty found where it might not be expected. It is an ode to landscapes for which there are no existing odes. The spaces between estates, suburbs, industrial areas and farms, flat yellow and grey landscapes framed by A-roads and motorway networks. An area that can be collectively described as the Edgelands.
The idea to write a song about these spaces was inspired by the book “The Edgelands” by Paul Farly and Michael Symmons-Roberts.
Want to listen but not interested in remuneration for musicians? You can now listen on Spotify.
Or you could buy it on iTunes for a measly quid.
Original published for Trebuchet Magazine
The argument made by the Tory MPs who this week voted through a £30 cut to the out of work sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance, is that it will incentivise claimants to look for work.
The trouble is, the people who receive this benefit aren’t fit to work, that’s why they receive it. In order to receive it in the first place they are signed off by their GP. Then they must submit evidence of their illness, often at a significant cost, before going for a DWP medical assessment. Eligibility for the benefit has very narrow qualifying criteria: you are not assessed as to whether you can do your job, but as to whether you are physically and mentally well enough to do any job at all.
They will now have to live on £73 per week. £73 a week isn’t enough for a healthy and fit person to pay the gas, electric, water, transport (for job seeking), phone (needed for job seeking), internet (needed to claim benefit in the first place) and food. People with illnesses and disabilities have a higher cost of living than those of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy. They often need taxis rather than buses, need more heating, have frequent medical/rehabilitation appointments that they need to attend or have specific dietary requirements. With appropriate financial support they can live comfortably and work towards finding work they are capable of. Without it, they will be punished for their poor health. They will become indebted. They will be stripped of their income when they don’t attend job interviews because they couldn’t afford to get there or they were too ill. Their illnesses will become worse from the stress. The will become malnourished. They will have to choose between heat and food. Their relationships will suffer. Their lives will be miserable and they will die, either due to the unnecessary deterioration of their conditions, or because it’s a better choice than living.
In our society, our big society, where we cut corporation tax, where we cut the top rate of tax, where we give peerages to people who do the best at avoiding tax and where we knight paedophiles, it is our most vulnerable people that are treated as being sub-human. Choosing the stick over the carrot isn’t just an ideological standpoint. It is to place a divide between us like a perimeter fence at a zoo. This is the latest in a long line of cuts to disabled people, and it won’t be the last – currently under government review: whether the need to use prescribed adaptations (such as a grab rail) constitutes disability. These slow nicks to the flesh are a gradual, unglamorous, and barely reported upon genocide of people without enough prominent voices for the rest of society to notice. If this cruelty is not reversed or addressed, then the bystanders, as well as the perpetrators, will not be forgiven by history.
Original published for Trebuchet Magazine
The perfect pop song is something that eludes most songwriters, and I should know, it’s been eluding me for some time. If you’re familiar with any of the music by my band, Man & The Echo, you might be surprised to learn that we are trying to write perfect pop songs, given the often unconventional nature of our subject matter. I would be just as surprised if you are familiar with any of our music.
In the last twelve months we have released:
1) A song about tax dodging major corporations and abhorrent career politicians.
2) A story about a liberal being kidnapped in a right-wing village.
3) A song about banal social media updates, containing the word “fuck” 24 times.
4) An explanation of political correctness for idiots.
We’re currently recording our debut album which, amongst others, contains a song based on a Roland Barthes essay, an attempt at lyric poetry about the spaces between industrial estates and housing estates, a song about a class divide at a wedding, and one that is just a list of things that a carer does in a day.
You might think that I’m trying to carve out some sort of obscure niche identity, or trying to sabotage our faint chances of commercial success by picking intentionally strange topics to write about, but I genuinely see what we do as being accessible pop music. I think that pop music has a duty to be as interesting, odd and unexpected as possible. It should excite, amuse, surprise and provoke. Nothing in the art world has the potential to affect as many people as a slice of three minute pop, and nothing makes words more powerful than singing them.
A glance at the type of music which becomes popular, suggests that my way of thinking has me in the minority. Pop music in the 2010s amounts to insincere bragging and narcissistic self-dramatization. The following are my biggest annoyances when it comes to banal song topics:
The Writer/Performer’s Journey
It’s common in hip hop music for a rapper to, particularly on a debut track, give a kind of autobiographical introduction to, well, themselves. This is great when it’s done well as the journey from the streets to the studio is often a story worth hearing. What I can’t abide is when a singer songwriter uses the mediocre pop ballad as a self-congratulatory assurance to the listener that they’re grateful to be making music and that they won’t forget their roots.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the currently chart bothering “7 Years” by Lukas Graham. The jarring way he describes his situation at various ages (“once I was seven years old” should be “when I was seven years old” – the fact that you are now older than seven tells me that once for a whole year you were seven, so you don’t need to) is almost forgivable, given that the writer is Danish and writing in a second language. The nauseating way in which Graham pats his own back for making the most of his own brilliance however, is not. “I only see my goals, I don’t believe in failure,” Graham drawls, pointing out the difference between successful him and shitty you. Thankfully one of his goals wasn’t to become a driving examiner.
Writing a song about being a songwriter is the musical equivalent of starting a short story with “Jack had writer’s block.” For me the worst bit is when he says “Once I was twenty years old / My story got told / I was writing about everything before me,” because writing a song about writing a song is not writing about everything before you, it’s doing the precise opposite. A song that amounts to “look at me” portrays not the talent of the writer (which is what is intended) but how little they have to say.
The Proudly and Pathetically Debauched/Rebellious
Major labels are only too happy to let their stars sing about how unruly or nonconformist they are, because it sells well to unruly, nonconformist teenagers and that’s who buys records (in the 60s). What they don’t want are artists who are actually unruly and nonconformist because that would be somewhat at odds with the PR principles of major multi-national corporations.
Songs where artists talk about getting wrecked tend to be cloyingly bland. Loads of the big hitters have form here, from Ed Sheeran and Ke$ha to Beyoncé. Coldplay recently released their latest stadium swayer, “Hymn For The Weekend,” which contains the celebratory clarion call for letting loose; “I’m feeling drunk and high.” When I’m pissed I to veer between talking inarticulate drivel and denying my own inebriation rather than declaring with primeval abandon how wonderful it is to have sunk a few. In fact as far as I’m aware, the only people who talk about how drunk they are, are those who are pretending to be drunk to try and fit in at parties. I should say that I’m basing that on depictions of parties I’ve seen in films: I don’t tend to get invited to a lot because I spoil them for everyone else by deconstructing all the music and pretending I’m not drunk. Nevertheless, these songs all carry a whiff of insincerity because they sound like the sort of things that people who don’t really drink say.
Even worse than the disingenuous revelers, are the fake rebels. I recently had cause to look up who Charlie XCX was, because I saw reputable music publications saying good things about her. She has a song called “Break The Rules” which actually contains the lines “I don’t wanna go to school /I just wanna break the rules.” This has to be the least edgy thing anybody has written since I wrote “Gaz is Kool” on my pencil case in year 7, and at least I was being honest. The transparent stretching to seem nonconformist by these mainstream dullards has the ultimate effect of feeling less cool than a song about the importance of paying attention to detail when filling in a tax return.
The Simplistically Optimistic
Picture the scene: You are David Cameron. Junior Doctors are striking, the government is split over whether to stay in Europe and people are dying whilst waiting to be assessed for sickness benefits. It’s prime minister’s questions and Jeremy Corbyn has just asked you what you are going to do save the country from impending economic and social disaster. You take a sip of water, stand up confidently before the dispatch box and simply say:
“Don’t worry, I think everything will work out fine in the end.”
“But how?” cry the opposition benches, “What are you going to do? There aren’t any Doctors! People are dying! Our businesses and jobs are under threat!”
“Everything,” you say, calmly, “will work out fine in the end.”
I’m not saying songwriters should be held to the same levels of accountability as politicians, but they should at least try to make sense. It’s all very well for Paolo Nutini to say “nothing’s gonna bring me down,” but in truth, there is always something that could bring anyone down. What if a dog bit your hand off, Paolo? Daniel Powter thinks my bad day will be turned around if I work on a smile and go for a ride, but what if the cause of my bad day is that my car was stolen? How do I go for a ride then? You’re making me feel worse Daniel!
The performers of these types of songs portray themselves as wise soothsayers, when in reality they are simplistic morons. I, for some reason, am regularly told by perfect strangers to cheer up, and I find this infuriatingly grating. It’s even more irritating to have the same sentiment glibly crooned at you in a mid-Atlantic accent.
I find music at it’s most uplifting when it recognises my pain, without trying to explain it away. The first time I heard “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” it cheered me up immensely because it empathised hilariously with the shallow causes of my bad mood. Being told that I can adopt a veneer of positivity in order to quash any bad feeling simply fills me with murderous rage.
From the above bad tempered ramblings you might think that I regard myself rather highly as a lyricist. The truth is that, whilst I don’t think I’m terrible, I’m filled with doubts about my abilities and the quality of what I do. I agonise over lines for fear they might be shit and I’m haunted by the lyrics that I didn’t improve until it was too late and they’d already been released. I suppose my big lament is that, when you look at what is truly popular, the effort and worry that I expend trying to make lyrically interesting music is pointless. As a friend once put it to me when I said one of my songs needed a re-write; “Don’t worry about it, no one listens to the lyrics anyway.”
My biggest turn off is when somebody bemoans a situation with the phrase “It’s political correctness gone mad.” Sometimes the phrase is used in completely the wrong context – I actually heard someone say it whilst talking about how often their bins are collected the other week – which is only amusingly maddening. But more often than not the phrase is sung as if it is the wail of the oppressed, as if the free and democratic fabric of western life is being carved up to protect the feelings of black transgender homosexual feminist Muslims.
Political correctness suffers from having an extremely unappealing name. “Political” makes us think of politicians, which is a bad enough start, and “correctness” immediately makes the rebuked party incorrect. People don’t like being incorrect and they much less like admitting that they are.
Try to think of a better name for it and you can’t. All my best efforts sound like the result of a call centre blue sky brainstorm on mindfulness, so the best I can do is come up with a very simple explanation: to be un-PC is to be a thoughtless dick.
And you are free to be a dick comrade, you are unbearably free. If you want to say that you’d have got that job/council house/doctor’s appointment if you didn’t have the severe misfortune to be white, straight and male (when will we get a break huh guys?) you can. If you want to call the refugees risking their lives in rubber dinghies to come to our country cockroaches, you can do it in a national newspaper. If you just want to get off your chest exactly how two people of the same gender who you have never met getting married has affected you, there’s this thing called the internet that you’ll love. But when you say things that degrade vulnerable or disadvantaged people, or just people who are different to you, you can count on members of the liberal elite like me (low paid charity worker) to put you straight and tell you you’re a dick. There’s no law against being a dick and your freedom of speech is entirely un-impinged by someone telling you are. Honestly, these people getting offended at being told they’re politically incorrect, it’s political correctness gone mad, gone mad.
Whilst I’m on the subject, our new single “Vile as You Want” is online now –