For some of my songs I just start off with a vague notion of what I’m singing about and ad lib something to get a demo with a melody recorded, the tune is usually the more important component. More often than not it’s stream of consciousness gibberish at least for the first pass. I attempt to transcribe the words I’ve sung some of which might be indistinct and not actual words (didn’t Michael Stipe make a career out of that approach?).
Once I’ve got something transcribed, there’s usually something intelligible to fish from the debris, there’s almost always a vocal hook at least (ironically enough, given the fish). If I find I’ve got one verse, then a second verse will emerge by varying the theme of the first and the chorus will usually be something that triggered the initial writing anyway. I don’t specifically do that dice and splice cut-up technique that Bowie borrowed from William Burroughs, but my approach on those songs is to take bits from the initial demoed verse perhaps, and cut and paste different words that sound similar of have the same rhyme to get something akin to verse 1 for verse 2 and 3.
Then, there are the songs that are more of a story that has to be written a certain way. Like my tribute to Grace Darling, which is released on the 175th anniversary of her death later this month. There was a bit of ad libbing, but it was mostly following a narrative to get the facts down in a poetic manner.
And, finally, there are songs that take a specific theme and I try and shoehorn in a few puns or allusions on that theme. My latest song is about time. Its working title was Seconds Out, alluding to a boxing match and counting time too. Although that pun was used famously for the late 1970s Genesis live album, their first after Gabriel left, so I turned to one of the phrases in the initial lyric I’d put together instead to give it its actual title – “Just a minute…” (And, no it’s nothing to do with the long-running BBC Radio4 panel show hosted by Nicholas Parsons). The song is about someone marking time in a relationship but also not wanting the relationship to end. Hanging on to forever but maybe just for a day.
Just a minute…
Can you wait for just one minute,
Before you head on out the door?
I was trapping time forever,
Now’s not the time to settle the score
The seconds, well, they tick on by
Regardless of my fears and pride
Won’t you hold on for a moment longer?
You see I’ve always been on your side
You know I’ve always been by your side
Think of all those second chances,
I always give when we’re apart
It was only second glances,
that were the ones that broke my heart
If not forever, then a day
It’s not the time for us to pray
Was it all the time you had? (Only time will tell)
Time of your life either way
Song written and recorded 5-7 October 2017
Dave Bradley on guitar, vocals, bass, percussion