As lockdown descended on the city of Edinburgh in late March, the morning ritual of opening my laptop had become very much an ordeal, incoming emails were no longer about booking in concert dates or tours nor were they from enthusiastic fellow guitarists or concert goers but for the first time in my career, largely about cancellations, postponements or rearrangements. Everything of course, has to be seen in the wider context of what was happening across the globe, but on a personal level, I found it dispiriting, to say the least. Coming to terms with the loss of all this work whilst simultaneously receiving next to no financial support from the calamity that masquerades as a government in Westminster (for overseas readers the UK chancellor recently advised with more than a little condescension that all musicians and artists should retrain as their jobs were no longer ‘viable’) had created the most challenging circumstances in my career to date.
Those of you who know me personally know I am optimistic by nature, and I decided I had to find a way to overcome this unprecedented adversity and put my newfound spare time to the best use I could. After a decade of solid touring intermittently across the globe, the opportunity to write in a concentrated and focussed fashion rarely availed itself, and I would often have to steal a few days here or there, the album ‘Broken Before’, for example was fleshed out in a few inspirational days off from my autumn 2017 tour in the stunning environs of Romainmôtier Abbey.
As I gazed out from my front window in Edinburgh, the once bustling and thriving street upon which I live had been reduced to a shadow of its former self, the tranquillity was eerie, scarcely a person or vehicle in sight. One random April afternoon I picked up my gorgeous Taran guitar, set to a new tuning which to date I had only used in the writing of one song. Within minutes, I stumbled upon a little hammer-on hammer-off sequence which seemed to me to have an immediacy to it, one of those rare moments where I think – yes!! These are the magical moments a songwriter lives for, completely inexplicable – as the great Guy Clark once opined – ‘Some days you write the song, some days the song writes you’. This instance was definitely one of the latter, and very quickly I had assembled both the music and the lyrics for the song ‘Hand On My Heart’, which was to ultimately become the title track for the album.
I realised then that here in my own home, I had the perfect conditions to write. Conditions I had long sought and craved, along with giving me, as no doubt many close to me would argue, a much-needed break from the road (I have a somewhat indefatigable and unwavering commitment to the performance of my chosen art form, longstanding readers will have noticed). Solitude, tranquility, peace, quiet, pen, paper and an array of beautiful guitars spearheaded by my custom-made Taran, I embarked upon a deliberately solitary and reclusive lifestyle, entirely in keeping with the conditions the authorities had forced upon us all.
And so this became my routine through all of April and May, writing every afternoon and evening for hours at a time, until I’d amassed almost fifty songs upon a wide variety of disparate topics. As signs of the rare Scottish summer started to appear, I decided to then reapply my focus, sift back through the songs and select the ones which I felt had most promise, were the most honest, authentic and original, resulting in around twenty which I would then redraft and rework again.
This process alone was intensive and exhaustive, but absolutely necessary. Was this song original? Was I in danger of repeating myself, or worse still someone else? Can I stand behind this song on stage with complete and absolute authority and authenticity? Were the music and lyrics up to the high standards I expected of myself, and more importantly still, what my audiences expect from me?
These questions haunted me for much of the summer, I procrastinated, ruminated, reworked, discarded and dismissed various songs, before finally settling on the thirteen songs that make up the album.
I shall in due course, write more on the recording, mixing and release of the album – a Part Two if you will, and in the meantime click here to purchase the album.
Thanks, as always for reading.