Every time I’m asked to chat about my life in the music business I always remember the advice I was given by a Radio presenter in Manchester when I was 14 years old. I was on my first promotional tour to promote my debut single on Rocket Records and I had flown up to Manchester to be interviewed on BBC Radio Manchester and Piccadilly Radio. Before we started the DJ said, just remember, you might have told the same stories hundreds of times but for the listener it will be the first time. Try to be as enthusiastic with the last interview of the day as you are at the start.
This week I was a guest on ‘Face To Face’ presented by Adrian Masters on ITV Wales. The timing was good as I’ve got a new record coming out and I’m finally back on tour after lots of cancelled dates.
I’ve always admired Adrian Masters. Even when he’s interviewing politicians he always seems decent and reasonable; reasonable but still quite determined to get the answers to his questions.
I’m more than happy to tell the same old stories about sending a tape of my songs to John Peel on Radio 1, signing to Elton John’s rocket record company etc. In many ways I can be quite objective about my story because after so many years have passed it actually starts to feel like I’m talking about someone else, someone who I used to know, an old distant friend.
The programme was recorded in real time, no edits and the half hour flew by. I was asked afterwards if I had enjoyed the experience and I replied with a tried and tested response…it’s cheaper than going to therapy.
But there was something I read this week about the comedy writer Barry Cryer who sadly passed away last week that really rang a bell. I don’t mind talking about the past, but I don’t want to live there. That might seem strange for someone like me who regularly drops names of global superstars I’ve played Subbuteo Football with or shared a stage with but its true. Its all too easy to think back not look forward.
Back when it started in 1973
That’s why, for all of the amazing experiences I have had I’m more excited about the next 6 months than the past 30 years…or more!!!
Songwriters can often appear deliberately obtuse about their songs. When asked what one of his songs was about Bob Dylan said, ‘It’s about 3 minutes’. Don McLean was asked what the weird and wonderful American Pie song actually meant…. he replied it meant he never had to work again.
For all that I think songwriters always want to connect and maybe change peoples minds, attitudes or even their lives.
Just prior to lockdown I had recorded a new album. The songs weren’t totally finished when I went to Prague to record the orchestra. One had the working title of ‘California Blue’ as those were the words I started singing on the chorus when I first wrote the tune. Back home from the trip I had to sit down and work out what the song was about. Usually in amongst all of the nonsense you sing when you first write a song there are some words that can give a clue. For ‘California Blue’ the opening lines were:
‘Well she packed her bags and waits until the morning…’
As I chiselled out the story it soon became clear that the reason my character had packed her bags was that things weren’t right at home. The chorus changed from ‘California Blue to ‘You Are Not Alone’, the album was finished and turned into a CD and then came the Pandemic.
Pretty soon there were reports that due to lockdown domestic abuse was on the rise. Calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline rose by 49%. The Government decided to run an online campaign highlighting the problem and offered help using the hashtag #youarenotalone
It wasn’t long before my song ‘You Are Not Alone’ was taken up and used to help raise awareness of the campaign.
Then came the emails. I was amazed by how many people, women and men, who wanted to just say thank you for raising the subject in a song. Then came the email which made me stop in my tracks.
‘Your song saved our lives…but’
Now in my song the opening line was
‘She packs her bags but waits until the morning, but she doesn’t think she going to change her mind’
The email went on to say that ‘Jane Doe’ could totally identify with ‘You Are Not Alone’. The gaslighting, the lack of self-worth, constant underlying threat of violence, verbal, sometimes physical from her partner. It had got worse during the lockdown. In the end she decided that she would leave with her daughter.
The difference, she said, between my song and her life was that if she had packed her bags and waited until the morning, that if those bags had been discovered before they had left, well, she didn’t think she would ever have been allowed to leave that house.
Obviously, during lockdown I had a lot of time to think about what she had written, and I decided to write a new song which told Jane’s Story.
The other incredibly sad part of her story was that after she left she called her parents to tell them what she had done and ask could she stay for a few days. It was pretty obvious that after speaking to her father he felt she had a duty to return to the family home. On reflection she could see that in many ways her mother’s life mirrored her own. History was in danger of repeating itself and she was determined to break the chain.
But the one thing Jane wanted to tell the world that leaving her partner was the first step, standing up to her father was the second step, but the third step was getting in contact with people who understood her situation and were there to help.
So today sees the launch of a song of hope with a very strange title ‘So Sad’. The situation Jane and so many others have found themselves in during the pandemic has indeed been sad but there is hope. There are people who will help. It takes enormous courage to walk out of a bad situation. It’s sad that that has to be done but there really is a light shining at the end of the tunnel.
I expect over the coming weeks I will tell this story many times but as that Manchester DJ told me nearly 50 years ago I’ll tell it with the same passion every time because for one person it might be the first time they hear that there is a way out.