Collaborative Project-The Great Drain at Paisley Abbey

cp group photo

“we live in a multimodal society that makes its meanings through the combined use of semiotic resources (e.g. spoken and written language, visual imagery, mathematical symbolism, sculpture, architecture, gesture and other physiological modes). Multimodality refers to the fact that all texts combine and integrate diverse semiotic modalities.”(Wu,2014)

The Making of a Proposal

After completing our introductions, we were organised into small teams of five or six students -our first task was to identify ourselves to our fellow students and then to pinpoint the skill sets of our group, which would naturally differ from group to group.

Our group, the Paisley Foundlings, consists of:

2 musician/songwriters, including myself-Jim McCulloch, Linzi Clark

1 script writer/editor – Amanda Johnston

1pr/communications student- Lucia Lobont

1 filmmaker/digital art student- Rui Weng

1 sound production student- Heather Sannachan

Three of our number are also foreign language students, which may or may not impact on the effectiveness of the group communication of ideas/concepts. Time will tell.

We looked at various organisational team management systems to determine our strengths and weaknesses and therefore identify any gaps in our arc of skills which could be addressed-or perhaps affect the direction our collaborative project would take.

After completing the Belbin diagnostic tool, we found that our group had strengths in the role of the “Plant”- ideas people, who generate concepts and original ideas, and also “Company Workers”-who basically listen and build relationships and who have a keen interest in the social aspects of interaction within the team.

Our weak areas appear to be in the Complete/Finisher and Monitor/Evaluator areas. This essentially means that we have to be aware that we deliver on time and be cognisant of the fine detail of what is required of us.

The proposal we are to work on concerns Paisley Abbey, a Medieval edifice in the centre of modern day Paisley. Or more specifically the Great Drain of the Abbey, which was silted up for many hundreds of years. The drain has now become the focus of archaeologists keen to discover more about life in medieval Scotland, and our remit is to focus on and explore the significance of the finds from the excavations, as well as the relationship of the Drain to the Abbey itself .


Week 2

We have been joined by a new group member, Harini, from Chennai, India. Harini`s field of study is also Digital Arts/Film making.

The project itself is now in the formulation stage. Our preliminary strategy is to put together a proposal for a sonic/video installation in the Abbey itself.

This will include a mixture of ambient soundscapes and also more defined music – perhaps 2 musical works, combining with abstract visuals and also more concrete documentary-style footage relating to specific historical evidence and creative/poetic extrapolations of the Monastic life in the Abbey`s pre-Reformation history.

Linzi was this week`s Chair and she drew out the various roles that we will be occupying to kickstart the project off.

To this end it was agreed that we should have a day trip to the Abbey on Monday 28th  of January to view the Abbey and drain in situ- enabling Heather our sound production student to record found sound onsite and Cindy our photographer to visually record our field trip for the installation.

Being mindful of the fact that we have an initial assessment for the group proposal next week, I thought I should move forward and start writing material for the others to get their teeth into.

I have come up with a song structure/melody and basic lyric for a chorus-

“I found meaning, I found form I found beauty I found warmth

Silent notes tremble and spring into life,

Float over the rooftops and into the night”

This is in reference to inscribed slates of polyphonic music found in archaeological digs in the Great Drain itself-the earliest examples of which ever found in Scotland.

My concept is built around the fact that this music has lain undiscovered and un-played for over 600 years, with the unearthing bringing them back to life, like the watering of a long-dormant seed.


As Kreutziger-Herr points out, “Unlike all other historical artefacts and remnants of material culture, music is irretrievably lost when history progresses…a musical artefact is only present when it is completely gone.” (Kreutziger-Herr, 2009)


I have passed this embryonic song on to my fellow songwriter Linzi and Heather our sound producer to reflect on, to critique and to feedback on.

Over all there was great interaction in the group, although I was conscious of the fact that 3 of our number-the foreign language students- were pretty quiet. Perhaps the Scots in our enthusiasm were speaking too fast for them to keep up? We will need to bear this in mind when our group gets together.


Week 3 -Field trip to the Abbey and preparation for Assignment Proposal

I have now completed my song lyric and Heather has booked studio time for recording. This will be on Monday February 11th.

We congregated at the Abbey around 1.30 and proceeded to document our visit. The accompanying photos highlight some of the invaluable preparation work we accomplished here.




As my song was now complete, we decided to record an acoustic version in the main body of the Abbey to capture the tremendous natural reverb of the great stone space to incorporate into Heather`s “found sound” ambient collage. Linzi and I also sang a section of my work a cappella, using the wordless Gregorian/Cluny melismatic tradition to draw together and highlight the differences and similarities between Medieval and modern singing traditions.

“A melisma occurs when more than one note is sung to a single syllable. Melismas are common, for example, in Gregorian chant where a florid sequence of pitches is associated with a relatively small number of syllables.” (Johnson, Huron and Collister, 2014)

We then relocated to a local coffee shop to piece together our proposal and work out who would present which areas of our collaborative plan.

 Weeks 4/5

Our presentation in front of our fellow course members seemed to be well received. I think we presented our proposal well, with all members of the group participating.

It became evident that there are 2 other collaborative groups looking to present their project in the Abbey , and it was pointed out that perhaps we should look to combining our output and so come together in the Abbey space on the same day. This would obviously be beneficial for everyone involved-primarily to minimise disruption for the Abbey trustees and also maximise audience potential for the 3 collaborative groups, as well as realising the benefits of pooling our resources for technical equipment, publicity/pr and logistical needs.

Week 6


Finally we can start on the recording! My song contribution is called “Found”, and over the next 2 weeks or so Heather and I will endeavour to record and mix it. I will be using Heather`s skills as a sound engineer but also her talents as a keyboard player to augment my recording. Linzi will also be involved as she has agreed to sing backing vocals , especially to highlight the chant effect in the instrumental  breakdown of the piece.


Midnight -I know what I`d wish for- a full moon to carry me home

It`s a new day and fingers of sunshine start feeling their way to the dawn

Highrise and motorway junctions float by me so graceful and sleek

Silvering rivers of concrete are tracing the Ancient reborn


I found meaning I found form I found beauty I found warmth

Silent notes tremble and spring into life float over the rooftops and into the night


Tears shed my patience rewarded from past tense to present again

All my dreaming and longing will resonate deep in the heart of the song


I found meaning I found form I found beauty I found warmth

Silent notes tremble and spring into life float over the rooftops and into the night

The university studios can be booked in  3 hour blocks, so this 3 hour window means we had to be laser-focused on what we planned to achieve in the time available. It was therefore my intention to record and double-track the main rhythm guitars, a double-tracked high guitar part, a main vocal and backing vocals, with special emphasis on the instrumental break of 16 bars in which I wanted to conjure up an chant-like atmosphere using vocals on very sparse instrumentation.

Listen to it on its own here-


Weeks 7-11

The Trouble With Deadlines

So a month has passed by. A quick update is probably long overdue. Heather has finished constructing the 10-minute sound collage which integrates two finished songs, a spoken word poem and “found” sound recorded on our field trip so many weeks ago.

She passed this along to Amanda who has combined it with visual footage and photography captured on several visits to the Abbey by Harini and Rui. We have now reached the point of reality setting in, as the Abbey performance/exhibition will take place on April 3rd-next week- in conjunction with two of the other student groups and in agreement with the Abbey trustees.

Our personal levels of engagement in the Project have ebbed and flowed as our other academic/professional/personal responsibilities have jostled for attention, but I reckon now is the time for focus.

” There are inevitable conflicts that arise because of different philosophies and
goals, differing levels of experience, and ownership questions “(Strand, 2006)

Strand stresses the “dynamic nature”(ibid) of the curriculum-of how it is affected by the changing relationships between teachers`implementation and students` engagement.I suggest that the above quote which refers to teachers could equally apply to Masters students involved in collaboration and working towards a set goal!

There has been a lack of engagement from some members of our group which I think may in some part be due to the language barriers I mentioned earlier. However, even on our private group chat it`s been hard to elicit a response from some members, which I am finding  frustrating .

resurgence flyer

Heather Sannachan designed our wonderful e-flyer…

Installation Day

I contacted the manager of the CCA in Glasgow, Kenny Christie, to see if we could borrow a white projector screen and stand, to which he graciously agreed to. This I picked up yesterday and this morning, along with Heather who had the projector and sound bar, we made our way to the Abbey.

It was a cold damp morning in Paisley, the air was full of biting sleet – slightly out of character for the time of year.

In the Abbey we started to set up and the rest of our group began to arrive. We found the 10-foot screen to be too large and cumbersome –the frame was difficult to set up as the white plastic screen would not attach properly due in part to the cold atmosphere in the Abbey. As can be seen from this photo, another issue was that external light was causing visibility issues with the darker segments of the film.

abbey screen

Blane, our Module Co-ordinator, had arrived by this point and suggested we try projecting without the screen which we did, onto a pillar next to the minor lectern… By 11.15 we were good to go and ready for the public.


This seemed to be a more satisfactory way of displaying. The picture was much clearer, and the installation made a lot more sense. Thankfully, there were no issues with the music and the Abbey cloisters resonated joyfully with our recorded performance.

I think we just about overcame the logistical difficulties (electricity points especially) of setting up a modern installation in a Medieval space . The actual film will be uploaded to YouTube and integrated with the footage that we filmed on the day.

Here it is without today`s footage:-


As this project is being assessed at both an individual and collective level, there has been a need to work on different planes- to pursue our own disciplines to the best of our abilities and also to interact and combine with students in other creative fields to produce something that is new, interesting and surprising  that didn`t exist before.

As stated by Yong et al, when our interests converge then that makes for a harmonious experience- “when team members are incentivized collectively, perceptions are more similar than not.”(Yong, Sauer and Mannix, 2014)  Was this then perceived as a successful collaboration?

From my point of view, I felt that I  learnt and achieved a lot from this project. Writing to a set brief is something that I enjoy doing and I am good at it. My song response, “Found”, was a personal artistic success.

Working within a culturally-diverse multi-disciplinary team , however, was a real challenge and at times I felt thwarted by the challenges that that brought.

Problems of logistics, of people struggling to find their role within the group, or of team motivation would burst into life like little bush fires and have to be dealt with collectively within our group chat. There was a strong sense of camaraderie which was great to see, but I felt that within the group there could have been a stronger ethos of  constructive critique which would have  ensured our project being more developed and more focused .

There were missed opportunities to strike the  balance  between being unremittingly positive about everyone`s contributions-and the fear of causing offence by critiquing their input- which could really have taken the Project to another level.

It`s​ possible that having a bit more experience working in Arts-based situations has given me  more insight than some of my colleagues as to what constitutes a successful project, and I sincerely hope that they haven`t felt that I was steam-rollering through the collaboration.

I also think that the issues I flagged up at the beginning of this Blog- the  language and cultural barriers- may have impinged on our progress despite our efforts to be more inclusive.

Gassmann asserts that “in multicultural teams a clear sense of direction must be established at the beginning of the conceptualisation phase” otherwise there will be “a drop in team morale; communication problems, and different styles of working and decision-making”.  I totally get this, but I also recognise our field trip to the Abbey at the end of January was important not only to collect audio/visual materials, but as a team-building exercise that was “successful in stabilising team morale at a high level”.(Gassmann, 2001)

Perhaps if we had been less insular from the perspectives of our own disciplines and developed a more holistic approach, then this could have been a truly internationally collaborative experience.

“Cultural diversity can lead to totally unexpected impulses of creativity and innovation.”(ibid)

References (2019). Home. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Feb. 2019].

 Gassmann, O. (2001). Multicultural Teams: Increasing Creativity and Innovation by Diversity. Creativity and Innovation Management, [online] 10(2), p.11. Available at: [Accessed 11 Apr. 2019].

Johnson, R., Huron, D. and Collister, L. (2014). Music and Lyrics Interactions and their Influence on Recognition of Sung Words: An Investigation of Word Frequency, Rhyme, Metric Stress, Vocal Timbre, Melisma, and Repetition Priming. [ebook] The Ohio State University Libraries., p.2. Available at: [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].

Kreutziger-Herr, A. (2009). Imagining Medieval Music: a Short History. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan. 2019].

Strand, K. (2006). The Heart and the Journey: Case Studies of Collaboration for Arts Integrated Curricula. Arts Education Policy Review, [online] 108(1), p.11,12. Available at: [Accessed 27 Mar. 2019].

Wu, S. (2014). A Multimodal Analysis of Image-text Relations in Picture Books. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, [online] 4(7), p.1. Available at: [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].

Yong, K., Sauer, S. and Mannix, E. (2014). Conflict and Creativity in Interdisciplinary Teams. Small Group Research, [online] 45(3), p.17. Available at: [Accessed 10 Apr. 2019].

music for health, health for music


You turn to me and say I shouldn`t hide, from strong emotions buried deep inside” (McCulloch,2018)

Hand on Heart

“I thought about it for a long, long time I never thought to spill my heart despite

Of all the funny little moments sharing them with you, I couldn`t see the upside no I couldn`t see the view

I serenade you at the end of day, some loving words can go a long long way

To spark the magical connections that would follow you around

To celebrate our feelings with a music so profound,

Get on up with hand on heart,there`s something missing but I know its a start

Get on up with hand on heart I sing for you and then I know its a start

You turn to me and say I shouldn`t hide from strong emotions buried deep inside

Don`t need a sunny disposition I got all the light I need

I`m smiling on the inside and I`m ready to be freed

Get on up with hand on heart,there`s something missing but I know its a start

Get on up with hand on heart I sing for you and then I know its a start”

P&C J McCulloch 2018

The recording of the music involved Graham Holley on Bass and programming, Rachel Jack on backing vocals and Megan Andrews on Flute. I thank them all and am so grateful for their selfless contributions. When I originally wrote the track I could hear Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons ripping through it all guns blazing (!), but as is the way of it, we ended up with a late-Summer Bossa Nova vibe which, you know, suits it down to a “T”.

Lyrically it grapples with my own very personal reflections on a prescient and emotive subject- how I “deal” with emotions both as a man and a creative artist.

“Emotional literacy is described as being aware of our own feelings in order to improve our personal power and life quality as well as people`s life quality around us” (Akbag, Küçüktepe and Özmercan, 2016)

They go on to cite Claude Steiner, a psychotherapist specialising in transactional analysis- who stated that emotional literacy meant “being aware of one`s own emotions, being able to empathise sincerely, knowing how to manage one`s own emotions, being able to restore emotional damage and being able to develop emotional interaction” (ibid).

One of my creative inspirations, Burt Bacharach, once wrote a song called “Something Big”. I`ve occasionally performed it to small (but appreciative) audiences. Hal David wrote the lyric “I want to be the man I’m not and have the things I really haven’t got“(Discogs, 2018). The Bacharach/David songwriting team were able to “create a symbiotic sense of balance: Bacharach`s fine melodic phrases often extending and contouring across several bar lines while David`s often strangely long and complex sentences worked note-for-syllable.”(Brocken, 2003)

The aspirational tone set in this song has stayed with me over the years. I`m a natural optimist and am drawn to songs that I can identify with. I sincerely believe that with help a person can strive to change their maladaptive mindset, no matter how fucked-up they feel inside. So what is a “maladaptive mindset”?

“While adaptive behavior is used to adjust to (sic) situation, the opposite of this is maladaptive behavior. The latter interferes with a person’s activities and life or his or her ability to adapt on different settings.”(, 2014)


My Pal Duglas

duglas and me
Two amigos, 1986.(Fitzgerald, 1986)

For a long time now, my musical cohort Duglas Stewart has been dealing with mental health issues. We don`t talk about it as much as we should, but that reticence is perhaps down to me not wanting to pry too much. When we were writing the Bmx Bandits album “Bmx Bandits In Space”, I went around to his house in Bellshill regularly to work on songs. Eventually we reached critical mass and had enough material to start recording, but we never really talked about the deeper things as perhaps we should have. We were both writing the lyrics so there was an ebb and flow of ideas, but a lot was left unsaid.

In a recent interview with the Mental Health Foundation, Duglas states  “I have been living with mental health issues for many years now. These issues have threatened my life, affected my standard of life adversely and are related to my ongoing physical wellbeing. Being an artist, my mental health issues have also been a defining part of who I am and of my work.”(Mental Health Foundation, 2018)

According to the British Journal of Nursing, “it is extremely challenging to engage men in conversations that challenge stigma around mental health, normalise talking about distress, or change behaviours and attitudes” (Patrick and Robertson, 2016).

I strongly believe that music is a redemptive force for good, a pathway to the heart, where emotions can be expressed in song; that male “stigma” or perceived weakness of talking about one`s feelings can be challenged- and even celebrated– in words and music.

“Some try to fight, it’s hard on bended knees
With one hand tied it’s better to deceive
Yourself and I like everyone will be the unforgiven” (McCulloch and Stewart, 2015)

Music for Health,health for music-the live performance

“Organisations… that want to foster creativity need to recognise that creativity takes place as a result of problem-solving and conflict“(Jeffrey,2005)

Jim and Rachel
Rachel and I performing “Hand on Heart” (Andrews, 2018)


In conjunction with our Industries and Production colleagues, we were tasked to bring our music to life in the form of a collaborative and life-affirming concert. A songwriter`s circle with an over-arching theme of highlighting and promoting good mental health and well being in creative individuals.

As Mary Hilton observes-“By its very nature artistic production in all media questions and discusses the world. Work in the arts forms and is informed by these cerebral conversations, by the dialogues with the self and others that inhere within the creative process itself. Art requires reflective discussion to create and shape meaning”(Hilton, 2006)

Over a series of both formal and informal meetings, we managed to piece together a running order,(mostly) ironing out any logistical issues with regard to the songwriters technical requirements in good time for the day of the performance. These conversations were important in ensuring the event ran smoothly. All credit must go to the other disciplines for making this happen! Honestly, organising a bunch of songwriters can be like herding cats at times…

If I can paraphrase Pamela Burnard in closing –“The importance of live music provides a context wherein an audience has a sense of itself ,potentially, as a community”(Burnard, 2012)

I felt a real, tangible, sense of community throughout the process and especially on the day of the gig. It really was ALL about nurturing and supporting one another, and I think we did ourselves proud.


Akbag, M., Küçüktepe, S. and Özmercan, E. (2016). A Study On Emotional Scale Development. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2018].

Brocken, M. (2003). Bacharach: Maestro! The Life Of A Pop Genius. 1st ed. New Malden: Chrome Dreams, p.105.

Burnard, P. (2012). Musical Creativities in Practice. [ebook] Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online, p.13. Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2018].

Discogs. (2018). Something Big. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2018].

Fitzgerald, S. (1986). Two amigos, Bmx Bandits photo session 1986. [image]. (2014). Maladaptive Behavior Examples | Flow Psychology. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

Hilton, M. (2006). Reflective Practices In Art Education. [ebook] New York: Springer, p.49. Available at: [Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

Jeffrey, G. (2005). The Creative College. 1st ed. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books, p.6.

McCulloch, J. (2018). Hand On Heart. [online] GLASGOW. Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2018].

McCulloch, J. and Stewart, D. (2015). BMX Bandits – The Unforgiven K-POP Lyrics Song. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

Mental Health Foundation. (2018). Duglas T Stewart of the BMX Bandits. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2018].

Patrick, S. and Robertson, S. (2016). Mental health and wellbeing: focus on men’s health. [ebook] Mark Allen Publishing Ltd, p.2. Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2018].

YouTube. (2018). Burt Bacharach – Something Big. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2018].

YouTube.(2018) McCulloch, J. and Stewart, D. (2015). BMX BANDITS – The Unforgiven [Audio]. [online]  Available at: [Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

The Long Road

The Long Road
The Long Road-walking into the sun

“The presence of music is not a necessary condition for having creativity, but having creativity is a necessary condition for having music.”(Burnard,2012)

We discover as we create, and we create as we discover. How to get from A–good songwriter to B–GREAT songwriter is certainly a journey  with some key stops along the way.

i need a chorus

I`ve been a published songwriter now for 12 years, but I had no formal training in the art of writing..indeed, such a thing would have been anathema to me a decade ago.

Well, the Songwriter Workshop has blown away any vestiges of ego-driven pride over who has a right to tell me how to write……

Okay.. so…collaborative songwriting. A seething cauldron of angst and frustration or a source of unalloyed joy? Jimmy Webb says.. “In my view collaboration has always been a necessary evil, which is no doubt why I have never been particularly adept. The primary advantage in collaboration…being influenced by a completely different perspective.”(Webb, 1998)

jimmy webb

The Workshops involved A LOT of collaborative writing. I mean A LOT. I`ve found it enjoyable in the past, but it can be problematic. Bennett identifies seven collaborative songwriting models, and it certainly felt like we ran through the whole gamut in the weeks we were doing the Workshops…

“Nashville, Factory, Svengali, Demarcation, Jamming, Top Line Writing and Asynchronicity”(Bennett,2011)

Probably the most appropriate for our purposes was the Nashville model-

“Acoustic guitars/piano and minimal technology – a ‘pen and paper’
approach typically featuring two writers, who usually do not have demarcated roles”(ibid)

There was certainly an observable degree of overlap from some of the other models as we worked together, pinpointing each others strengths and dancing around any perceived weaknesses, trying hard not to offend or become overbearing when coming up with creative suggestions.

Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman were a collaborative songwriting team who worked out of the Brill Building in the 50s/60s. They wrote this little beauty. Pomus mused years later on the secret of successful collaborating-“I don’t know what the subconscious mechanisms are, but right away something happens…the whole thing is communicating...”(Pollock, 1975)

So,not unlike Marriage, communication seems to be key to successful collaboration. Bennett again-

“all creative ideas must manifest themselves in order to be communicated to the other writer”(ibid)

Storm Warning

Jason Sweeney, David Law and I were set to work writing a song with a defined narrative. Right away communication/problem solving issues expand exponentially as we moved into a three-way collaboration .

Narrative songwriting, then, is the telling of a story . Three distinct writing styles were discussed-

  • Abstract/Conceptual
  • Micro to Macro
  • Inventory List

Okay, so this list looks a bit perfunctory and delineated, but as with all human interaction, things quickly started to get messy and mixed up. David manned up and volunteered to use his personal life as the fountainhead of our narrative`s theme. Brave chap! ​We lost and gained focus along the way, steering each other on and off metaphorical cliff edges whilst we sought to stick to the brief. We had to heartlessly refine David`s life, remorselessly cut and paste it into a workable song.

To make things worse, I had prior work commitments and so had to leave the session early, leaving the fate of the new-born song in the  hands of the other two. I won`t lie, but I had deep misgivings as to where we would end up…

I needn`t have worried, though. The other two surrogate fathers more than compensated for my absence. They even kept in my suggestion for a modulation on the final chorus! My reasoning for modulating ? It adds “power, drive, emotion”, and breathes “new life into a song”(Brantingham, 2018)

Jason sang the song. He`s got the chops.

Blue Violin

“Improvising in jazz is about creating a situation where change, transformation and
process are focused and where even the structure, the referential foundation of improvisation,may be part of the alterations“(Alterhaug, 2004)

Bea hitting the keys

On day 2 I was paired with Beatrice Montorsi, one of two Italian exchange students on the Masters course. We had initial discussions attempting to find common ground to start our collaboration. One musical reference point that came up was Etta James and so we leapt on that as a musical starting point. I started to vamp in a slow 6/8 using a chord sequence not unlike “At Last” (see above).

Bea began to riff a sensuous melody- very free-flowing and open – and eventually a loose structure began to emerge. We had been asked to consider the relationship between lyric,melody and meaning. Albin Zak states that “ideas are not merely
expressed in sound; rather, ideas become sound. Thus, concept and performance enter into an integral relationship” (Zak,2001).

This is especially true of Bea`s approach to composition. We also discovered a mutual love of Bossa Nova and so the rhythm gradually morphed out of 6/8 and into a slow, syncopated 4/4. Her voice is an improvisational instrument which she used to linger  over my slow chord changes-the second verse is basically a tone poem in miniature. She immersed herself in the melody, inhabiting the notes, elongating the vowels.

I put together another sequence of chords for the chorus and added what I hoped would be a structured and anchored melody – one which Bea could return to after the improvisational direction she had taken with the verses.

Free writing exercises often throw up striking images/juxtapositions which often creatively spark lyrical concepts -which is precisely what happened here. Although the word count in Blue Violin isn`t particularly large, there is a distillation of ideas which resonate long after the song has finished.

blue violin title

The dialectic of improvisation and structure , and of lyrical “connectedness” to the melody, are all played out in 3 minutes 11 seconds. It`s short-but very sweet.

The Ballad Of Pauline And Joe/ Anything Joe

“when family members have been given the chance to talk about their experience they often describe it in terms of ‘doing time’ with the inmate or serving parallel sentences of ‘imprisonment on the outside’”(Jacobs, 2018)

Two songs, then, reflecting on Songs for Social Intervention (Practise as Research).

The protagonists in this assignment are all caught up in the prison probation system. Joe,a prisoner up for probation, his under-pressure case worker Pauline, and Joe`s wife/partner who is left unnamed for the purposes of this exercise.

“The Ballad Of Pauline And Joe” is an extrapolation of the short extract from “Pervasive Punishment” by Fergus McNeill that was supplied to us as inspiration for the brief . I wrote it in the form of a theatrical narrative , with the narrator offstage, switching between different viewpoints and insights into Joe`s seemingly hopeless and intransigent situation.

The second song, “Anything, Joe”,  is written from the perspective of Joe`s long-suffering wife. It is a declaration of undying loyalty . It deals with devotion and faithfulness to the prisoner in the face of the many obstacles and difficulties that couples who are separated in this way must endure.

There was a phrase in the above article which really chimed with me…”Invisible punishment”(ibid)

I also chose to reprise a section of the first song in the second one as I felt the words tied the two songs together rather neatly..”Is there anything I can do for you? Apart from bury you deeper inside“(McCulloch,2018) the feeling of being “bound together” was a key signifier for me of the situation the protagonists found themselves in.

Unusually for the workshop process, it was decided by mutual consent that we would approach this assignment as single writers-so no collaboration as such. However..I was asked if I had considered asking a female to sing “Anything,Joe”- after all, I was attempting to examine the situation from an alternative viewpoint…an exploration of the nuances of a different perspective…perhaps prisoner Joe`s long-suffering other half should be played by a woman? At first, I took umbrage at the thought- is MY singing not good enough to convey the meaning of MY lyric?!?

Anyway, my mini-strop didn`t last so long and I soon saw the wisdom in this simple suggestion.  So I asked fellow student Rachel Jack if she would do me the honour…

This we recorded on my phone, which added a bit of lo-fi grit to the piece. And grit, as you know, is sometimes the starting point for a pearl.

My Salem Song

“And this seems an even more obvious question about popular music, of
which the dominant forms in all contemporary societies have originated
at the social margins”(Frith, 1996)

Working on this song , Rachel Jack and I used elements of Bennett`s Nashville model of writing, but also his Demarcation Model: to wit- “A lyricist provides a finished lyric for word-setting by a composer, or the composer provides music for a lyricist to
write to”(Bennett, 2011). Using the story of the Salem Witch Trials as our jumping off point, we brainstormed and came to the conclusion that we could use the story as a metaphor for the rise and rise of Donald Trump -just who were the disenfranchised masses that put him at the top of the heap? The climate of fear and loathing engendered by his cretinous philosophy was/is creating a baleful atmosphere and I wanted to explore that using music in the idiom of Jean Ritchie et al. Ritchie “has proved an important spokesperson for the inequities of the Appalachian region.” (Carter-Schwendler, 2018)

The melody and chords came to me pretty quickly to be honest, but the meat on the bones are the lyrics which Rachel and I hammered out over a couple of hours. An element of creative frustration crept in, however, as we couldn`t think of a title for the song…or a strong enough line of lyric to finish off the all-important chorus . Dr Jo asked a pertinent question when listening to our unfinished effort- “why not combine the search?” quoth she; and looking at the material with this fresh perspective, it came to me that:

  • this assignment is about the Salem Witch Trials
  • why not call it My Salem Song ?

This title, as luck would have it, scanned beautifully into the final cadence of the chorus.

“I WANT TO LIVE” (weak,meh…) “”MY SALEM SONG (strong,KILLER HOOK!!)

A “different perspective”, as Mr Webb points out at the top of this blog, can be highly effective in the songwriting process . It certainly got us out of a creative cul-de-sac.

Apropos of nothing- in my opinion the best “list” song ever written–

4 In The Morning Love

“It seems to me that Duglas Stewart has been holding a mirror up to the seasons for a while now… He thinks he might die in flames”(Scott, 2006)

“We may have to wait for the death of a star of the stature of a Dylan before such depth of sorrow is experienced again”(Lester,1997)

Paul Lester sums up the late Laura Nyro`s approach to songwriting succinctly..”intricate meditations on the pain of romance and the romance of pain”.

Sample lyric:“Never mind the forecast/Cos the sky has lost control/Cos the fury and the broken thunder’s/Come to match my ragin’ soul”(ibid)

Honesty..Integrity..Confronting uncomfortable truths in song. I found  this workshop  very hard to bear. When I first played this final effort to Becci Wallace she felt I was obscuring my lyric behind a guitar wall-of-sound…what was I trying to hide?

Mort Shuman (remember Mort from the top of this Blog?) ended up working with Jacques Brel, the Belgian songwriter rightly lauded for unflinching lyrical honesty. Shuman “was entrusted to introduce his songs to American audiences using musical theatre”, but  Brel`s appeal outside of Europe was limited ,not only because of the language barrier and some iffy English-language versions of his material, but I think because of “some of the specificities of the popular chanson form (or, at least, the brand of chanson identified with Brel): the foregrounding of lyrics, the honesty of emotion, the readiness to tackle taboos such as death.”(Tinker,2005)

Anyway. For me it was a revelation.A cathartic baring of my soul on paper, in the form of a throw-away pop song, for all the world to see. Is this what Art is all about?

I`m way over my word count, but if you have managed to stay the course with me I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It IS a long road we are travelling and as a songwriter i am not sure if I am anywhere near becoming the finished article. But I think I am getting there.


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