A variety of things are responsible for ‘Think of a Song’ coming into being. One is the fact that a number of people have commented on my lengthy song introductions at acoustic gigs. I have even been asked if I have a recording of these.
The reason for taking so much time explaining the stories behind the songs is that the lyrics are important to me and I want audiences to understand the context and nuance that informs them. A couple of artists initially led me to trying this out, after I saw how effective it was for them. Here’s the story of how I came to meet one of them.
Back in the late 1990s, I had the honour and fortune to be working with some very accomplished folk musicians: Henry Seers, Jenny Crook and Dominic Harrison. As is the tradition within the folk scene, they went out as ‘Crook, Seers & Harrison’ (yes, genius). Their music was characterised by tightly arranged tune sets, woven around contemporary folk songs.
When I saw them perform, it was obvious to me that Dom’s driving Bluegrass-inspired rhythms could do with a little back-up and I suggested we tried adding drums to the mix. After one quick rehearsal, I joined them for an appearance at Gloucester Docks festival, followed the same day – and without warning – by a wedding. And within weeks, we were in the studio to record our first – and sadly only – album, ‘Uncorked’ (take a guess…).
It was also clear that we could not possibly become ‘Crooks, Seers, Harrison & Madigan’, unless we were planning to open an estate agency. So my serendipitously Celtic surname ‘Madigan’ was adopted as the band’s moniker. Under that name, we achieved some success in a relatively short time. And a highlight of this was an appearance at Shetland Folk Festival.
The festival takes place in May, just as the locals are emerging from a long, hard, gloomy winter. To say that they are up for a party would be a gross understatement. Each day comprised transport from the festival club in Lerwick to one of the many venues dotted about the islands, at which there would be a program of around 3 hours of music. After this, the artists would all return to the club, where ‘sessions’ (essentially folk-based jamming) would ensue until closing time at 4 am. Then somebody would say ‘OK – back to mine’ and the party would continue until some point well after dawn.
On the second evening, Madigan were scheduled to close the show, after Francis Black. Now, at that point, I had no idea who she was. So Francis and I had a very pleasant chat during the soundcheck, whilst my band mates worked themselves into a nervous frenzy. The reason for their trepidation was that they were more than aware of Ms Black’s reputation (she was at that time one of Ireland’s biggest exports) and somewhat intimidated at the prospect of performing after her.
With good reason. Francis had the audience eating out of her hand before she had even sung a note. She did this by telling tales of her upbringing in Ireland (with her equally talented siblings). She told of hardship, love, adversity and triumph. And all of this dressed to the nines; oozing charm and confidence.
A Touch of the Old Blarney
Now, I am not so well endowed in those last two departments but – perhaps because of my own (if somewhat distant) Irish roots – can talk for England. And, for whatever reason, people seem to like the chat. It serves both to calm me and to let the audience into my world. The specifics of my lyrics can then make sense to an unfamiliar crowd and they can relate them to their own experiences.
The logical step to removing the songs altogether was not such a big one. Although, of course, there is more to it than that…