Where to start? 1978 seems like a good year. I was quite young, free and rushing nowhere fast. I remember waking up what? Two or three o’clock one morning – in recollection, I’m sure it was a Saturday morning – with a song in my head. Not just a few words but a SONG – lyrics, chorus, central riff and chords all fully formed. Okay, so now looking back it sounds like a cross between Richard Thompson’s “Poor Ditching Boy” and Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood” but that’s not really the point. It expressed an emotion at the time – unrequited love I suppose – but it was created by me lurching out of bed, picking up my acoustic conveniently propped up near the bed and strumming out this masterpiece in one go. Reaching across for a pen and paper (a Bic or whatever was to hand in those days – I’m much more particular today about what I use) and jotting down this paean to my latest heart-throb, I then crashed back out for a few hours. When I awoke, there it was! A fully formed song. Although I can barely remember lyrics or even what I was thinking about an hour ago, I can still play it and (more-or-less) remember most of the lyrics after all this time. It is basically unchanged – although I will admit to adding a bit to the song within the following day after a chance comment by my good friend Terry. He mentioned Saturday being a “razor-blade day”. Great line, I couldn’t ignore that one! We were sitting in the Wimpy in Stevenage – no McDonalds in those days. So, I remember it well. The song, known amongst the three of us that have ever heard it as “The Old Fashioned Girl”, falls into a genre the great singer-songwriter Bill Caddick called “Fake-Traddie”. However, much as it is probably embarrassing now and laughable to sophisticated 21st Century iconoclasts like yourselves, it came from somewhere. Everything comes from somewhere.
I’ve often read interviews with songwriters (believe me, I’ve read a lot of them) where they mention songs coming from SOMEWHERE – almost a gift. The apocryphal story of Keith Richard springs to mind – him lurching out of bed and playing the riff to “Satisfaction” on his acoustic – yes, propped up by his bed – and playing it into his cassette player. Come the morning, there it is fully formed. The rest is history. Keef went on to riches and fame, whereas I still have my own blood and (most of) my own teeth. But the point is, gentle reader, where does this gift come from?
Moving on a few years forward (or backward, depending on your pov) to 2002. There I was sitting in an exam room at a time when common-or-garden teachers still did invigilation, and my mind starts wandering. Pondering this very phenomenon, I realised that songs (poetry/stories/inventions etc) do come from somewhere. They are probably a gift – possibly from another place we can only access at particularly intuitive times. I called this phenomenon the “Ethereal Radio”. There’s something almost spiritual about writing, as there is with creating any art. I’m not claiming to be producing art, but someone, somewhere wanted me to create that song. I haven’t really created anything similar since. Again, it’s not perfect as a song but it did (does) summon up a particular place and a particular time. She never heard it, though.
Driving across the South-West of America a few years back, I was quite taken with the miles of desert highways, ghost towns, Joshua Trees and telegraph wires. Although I’m not a fan of long-distance driving in Britain, I enjoyed it in the States – and these images kept reminding me of this “spiritual radio” that seems to transmit ideas, songs, poetry, art etc to those of us that are receptive to it. I have occasionally written stuff that I feel inspired by but rarely have I felt touched by something “out there” again. John Tams talks of “song-making” rather than song writing, and I think that it’s a more apposite term quite often.I write this to explain to my various friends that over the years may have heard me mention the term – or indeed used it as a heading for a string of emails. The ethereal radio is something I’m sure we all tune into at times. You may have your own term for it.
Out across the desert
It's not the wind that howls
Where dust-parched travellers
Hear mournful vowels
Hang like windhovers with nowhere to goIt's the sound of the ethereal radio