Songwriter for literary festival
No more than half an hour ago, as I was finishing my cuppa and settling in to write up this article, I was looking at Jamie Lawson singing ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’ on YouTube. This was the 452,520th time this simple little video had been viewed since the Plymouth-born songsmith posted it at the start of January 2011. Minutes later, when I went back to check something about the clip, it had already been looked at another 27 times. Remarkable really. Describing it simply as ‘a new song for a new year’ at the time, little did Jamie realise what was to come for him and his song which was originally planned for release on an album later in 2011.
The clip exploded with popularity after being picked up on by one of the national radio stations here in Ireland – to such an extent that he was compelled to record it as a single for immediate release. It subsequently went straight to Number 1 on the Irish iTunes chart and number 3 in the official Irish Singles Chart.
West Cork’s own budding songwriters now have a chance to get up close and personal with Jamie at the upcoming West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry (July 8th to 14th) when he will host a songwriting workshop which takes place over five days (9th to 13th at Colaiste Pobail Bheanntraí). In anticipation of this, I got in touch with the man himself the other day for a chat. I started by asking him if he was looking forward to imparting his knowledge.
‘I am yeah, I can’t wait actually. It’s quite unusual for me to be doing something like this – I’m a bit nervous about it but it should be fine. I was actually quite taken aback to be asked to run it.’
Lest his modesty and his apparent overnight success on the strength of ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’ fool you, the reality is that Jamie is an accomplished songwriter, with over 20 years of experience notched up. ‘I started writing songs when I was about 15 or 16, so I’ve been at it a fair time. I’m 36 now. Whether I’m any good at it is for other people to judge!’
That said, being able to write a song is one thing, being able to teach someone else how to do it is something else entirely. ‘Because for most of my life I’ve been doing it, but I’ve never really thought about it, I just kinda do it. Since I’ve been asked to do this workshop I’ve been constructing and deconstructing what it is I do, what others might do. It’s been quite interesting and fascinating to try and work it out. It’s surprising how much the brain does for itself without prompting – it just seems to come up with things. I think that’s the important thing – to try to get to that place.
‘I have no idea what level people will be at when they come to the workshop. They might be complete beginners who have never written anything, or they might be people who have been doing it a while and are just looking for tips. It’s going to be interesting to find out. I’ll have an idea what we’re going to do each day and I’ll have to play a bit of it by ear depending on where people are at and what they’re after really. They might come with very specific ideas to continue working on things they’ve already done, or things that we just start from scratch and we all work together on. It’ll be quite interesting and I’m really looking forward to it in that sense.’
Given the fact that the workshop is being run as part of the West Cork Literary Festival and not, as one might expect, as part of a music festival of some description, I asked Jamie if he felt that the emphasis would or should be more towards lyrics than music. ‘Quite possibly yes. I would lean towards lyrics myself anyway. I’m more interested in words than I am in music. Obviously the two marry together very well, so we’ll work on both sides of things for sure. I used to write a lot of poetry when I was younger, but these days it’s purely lyrics.’
So writing lyrics as opposed to poetry – different disciplines? ‘I think they are different. I think you can write a song and it can be a bit more throw-away, whereas poetry has a lot more...what’s the word...effort...in each word almost, more depth to it. That’s not to say that some lyrics don’t have that but I think you can go from one into the other in music a lot more so than in poetry. While singing you can change emphasis quite considerably, depending on the feeling that you’re singing with at that moment. From one night to the next it can be different.’
So will there be an element of performance built into the workshops...? ‘Quite possibly yes, because that is important. There’s no point in singing it dead weight. There will have to be a consideration given to melody and which words are important, so yeah, that’ll be in there as well. I’m kind of assuming that people are aware of these things, but it will be a bit of a learning curve for all of us.’
Influence and inspiration
Jamie believes that influence and inspiration for songs can come from any number of sources, it’s just a matter of being open and aware. ‘I take influence from wherever it comes from. Whether it’s from watching a film and then a certain line that gets said resonates with me or whether it’s in a book, or on television or just out in the street. It’s really important to keep your head and your ears open to those sorts of things.’
‘It’s everything,’ he explained when I asked if songwriting comes easily to him. ‘It’s heartbreaking and it’s wonderfully rewarding at the same time. It can be a struggle, but then it can be the easiest thing ever. That’s just the nature and the mystery of it I think.’
Jamie can remember feeling the power of music at an early age. ‘I’d have been young. I’d have been very young. I remember as a kid listening to a lot of different music, but it was always kind of melody-based – stuff that moved me and even though I wouldn’t necessarily know what the lyric was about, being too young, I would sing along whole-heartedly.’
When I asked if he continues to feel that power when he listens to music today, Jamie went on to pay a fantastic compliment to an Irish artist who featured in this column last year. ‘I went to see a gig in Wexford by the band The Man Whom – I’m a big fan. Ian Doyle (a.k.a. The Man Whom) is a brilliant songwriter. His band was fantastic and the songs, they really moved me. I was absolutely stunned. It was one of the best gigs I’ve been to. The Greatest Event (TMW’s 2011 debut) is a brilliant record. Any songwriter should have it – a fantastic record.’
Given the success of ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’ via the internet, and the obvious knock-on effect that it had on Jamie’s career, who better to ask what the internet can mean to musicians looking to promote their material. ‘Well it’s brilliant to reach people, but it doesn’t necessarily make you any money. It’s two-fold – you get yourself out there with it, but it doesn’t make you any money, but then people come to see you because of it, so it does make you some money. There are two sides to the internet coin really. Obviously you can reach millions of people all over the world so you’d be a fool right now not to be using it.’
Jamie is currently working on his follow-up album. ‘I’m in the midst of working that out. I’ll have something out for sure this year, I’m hoping September. It’ll probably be an EP first I think. I’ve written so many songs, and I really want to get them all out there, so we’ll probably do an EP or two first and then the album proper.’
Go to www.westcorkliteraryfestival.ie for further info on the songwriting workshop and how to book your place.
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