Being fearless: The Chris Difford Songwriting Retreat

Recently I was asked to write an article entitled ‘Fearless’ for an Unsigned Music Magazine. I decided to describe my experiences at the Chris Difford Song Writing Retreat to write this piece, I hope you enjoy it 🙂

FEARLESS!!!!!

Sometimes you need to be a little fearless in music. I think it’s something that gets harder when you get a little older. Maybe you are more aware of your reputation or simply fear that embarking on anything outside of your comfort zone could end in disaster. I know the young music students I teach seem to be totally fearless and this always amazes me – and makes me slightly envious!! I was certainly NOT fearless when I was 10 years old……

So in Aug 2015 I ended up busking on the streets of The Edinburgh Fringe which, in itself was great fun and a rewarding experience, but I also made friends with another performer from Norfolk called Johnny. After a few late night beers by the campfire, our stories of life and music told, Johnny offered his help with getting me involved in a song writing retreat ran by Chris Difford – best known for his hits with the band Squeeze (Up The Junction, Cool for Cats, Tempted By The Fruit Of Another) and so on. I had heard of these retreats as they had been running 26 years but getting on one was an altogether different matter. I left Scotland with the thought to “not get excited” as campfire talk rarely leaves the campsite.

True to his word a few weeks passed and I received an email from the Buddy Holly Education Foundation asking for all my recordings and information I had available. Four days later I was invited to join the next Song writing Retreat in June 2016.

It was around September 2015 that all this happened which left a good 9 months for this not-so-young singer/songwriter to start imagining all the things that could go wrong. The most crucial thing for me was that Radio 2 presenter Bob Harris was heavily involved with the project and would most definitely be there during the week.

Bob has been championing new music for over 50 years and more recently was the UK flagship for bringing Country Music to the UK. Country music is a genre which, though not traditionally my style, my music seems to fit with the audiences which helps my career move alongside the narrow corridor of the UK industry which is largely controlled by X Factor & Radio 1. Indeed my performance at the Country To Country Festival in 2015 gave me so much confidence I am still riding on it now.

Fast forward to June 2016 and the fear set in. All the guests, some from Nashville, but also from all over the UK had arrived at the country house in Glastonbury on the Sunday evening, This was so they could settle in, get to know each other before the intensity that followed. I had a gig in London that night so arrived in the early hours of Monday morning. Approx 2am in fact. The house was in silence, all were asleep. I found my room and after spending a good while trying to free an enormous bat that had found it’s way into the room, I settled down to an uneasy sleep.

I woke up to the sound of a house full of life. Many voices, laughter, clinking of plates, cups, spoons and all the other noises that go with the hustle and bustle of enjoying breakfast with those that have already bonded and relaxed with the night before.

The knot in my stomach was so intense I almost doubled over. I stepped out of my bedroom door to the smell of bacon. Hunger was gripping me but came a poor second to the anxiety that dominated me. I went back in to the room and shut the door. Breathing deeply I again opened the door. More sounds of laughter. I had the attendee list on my email and I knew that anyone of those clinks or chirps could belong to a multi national hit selling songwriter or a new artist full of hope and intrigue. Again I paused by the door and then slowly and deliberately forced myself to the top of the stairs.

An eternity of paranoid delusions passed and I found myself at the bottom of the stairs and being ushered into a large dining room by Trudie Harris (Bob’s wife) and voice of authority. Sat round the table were many faces I didn’t recognise but also many I did. Nik Kershaw – 80’s pop star and beautiful songwriter. Graham Gouldman from 10CC who I had very recently watched on a documentary explaining how ‘I’m Not In Love’ was formed of 250 recorded voices. At the time, genius, unheard and ground breaking. Dave Stewart from The Eurythmics, Crispin Hunt from the Long Pigs (one of my all time favourite bands of the 90’s). Robert Montgomery (son of Bob who wrote all the big hits with Buddy Holly) and on and on it went round the table. I sat down and my mouth refused to work as morning greetings mumbled out. This was surely a movie, a YouTube clip that required not my inclusion?

After breakfast each morning a list was put on the wall and young artists were paired off with two songwriters. The day was spent intensely writing, with only a break for a short lunch and then 20 mins in a make shift recording studio to immortalise the effort of the day. After dinner we all convened to the stable house for ‘The Show”. It was not enough to write with a stranger, surrounded by legends, record in the studio so the powers that be could analyse the song after we had left – Oh no! we had to perform live in front of everyone. The spectrum was broad – those who had never sang live to those who couldn’t remember a gig with less than 10,000+ in the audience.

This happened for four days, the fear went, inspiration took over, determination, competition and drive became the force. Legends became friends, songs were traded like Pokemon chips in the dark over beers and cocktails. Artists huddled in circles ignoring the chill wind and rain as music warmed us like an invisible bonfire.

Fear is good, to be fearless may create the wrong impression. My fear gave me the chance to stand back and survey the uncertain ground before me. Sometimes guilty of my own ego and the need to control I was in check and ready to learn – make connections and impress those that really count. One night Bob Harris and I chatted over a glass of wine. A week later he played one of my songs on BBC Radio 2 – an audience of 10 Million + (far greater than Radio 1 or X Factor)

Fear hurt and paralysed, but ultimately, it worked just fine 🙂

With the wonderful Bob Harris

With the wonderful Bob Harris

Nik Kershaw

Nik Kershaw

IMG_3129

Crispin Hunt

Dave Stewart (who pulled me up to play guitar on 'Sweet Dreams'

Dave Stewart (who pulled me up to play guitar on ‘Sweet Dreams’

Robert Montgomery, Miles Harris

Robert Montgomery, Miles Harris

In the studio with Ryan O'Shaughnessy & Alistair Griffin

In the studio with Ryan O’Shaughnessy & Alistair Griffin

Learning the guitar solo to 'Sweet Dreams' with Dave Stewert

Learning the guitar solo to ‘Sweet Dreams’ with Dave Stewart

 

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