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The mysterious world of songwriting

Sometimes songs just come out, fully formed, as if they were coming from somewhere else, there’s really no effort at all. Other times you sweat for months and months over troubling chord sequences and niggling lyrics – it’s not always a happy ending. Some of them never get finished, they simply lie there on the factory floor, waiting for their carcasses to be stripped of good ideas that are plundered for newer songs with more chance of completion.

I know of few things more satisfying than that moment when a real tricksy bastard of a song finally gets finished. So I was thinking to myself while cycling home this evening, having just experienced this very moment of the final pieces of a puzzle slotting into place – the idea I’d been forming over the last few weeks or so had come together at last in the middle of Waterloo Bridge.

Waterloo Bridge - the site of many moments of creativityI’d been struggling over this song since last Summer and had performed it several times but something wasn’t quite right. If I was honest, I wasn’t really happy with the lyrics for the whole of the first verse. But I just wanted to get it out there so hoped I’d sort of get away with it.

‘Getting away with it’ lyrics are not really the kind I want to be writing. The kind of lyrics I aspire to are those where the juice could be sucked from each well-chosen word by every new listener and never run dry. I kept thinking of “One” by U2.

“One love, but we’re not the same
Well we hurt each other
Then we do it again”

Lyrics that are at once simple and profound, they make my heart turn over. So I was rejoicing on my bicycle that I had at least found a way to shift the block obstructing this song from being truly born. The new words seemed to fit better with the whole thing, as if they would help the song to know itself better.

I arrived home and picked up my guitar to seal the deal. The relief I felt was more like the feeling you have after painting a room that took a lot longer than you expected – there is a sense of weariness and resignation rather than outright celebration.

As I struck the final chord I made a mistake, but I liked it. So I kept playing, and another song began. And as I played, this new song just arose, fully formed, simple and profound, from the other, like an appendix to a long and gruelling novel. That’s what it feels like, an afterthought, or a second orgasm. Weirdly enough, the song appears to be about contentment.

Clapham Common - almost there

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