Saturday, 2 March 2019

Give us a song...


Give us a song...

When people learn that I write song lyrics, specifically people from certain specific cultural backgrounds, there is a tendency to say, at maybe specific times of the evening, Give us a song...

Whilst there are no theological objections to this, you do need to know...

I am a good lyricist.  I am a not a good singer.  I am a terrible musician.

It is true that I have attended singing lessons, for some years now - but that has mostly been about acquiring knowledge rather than acquiring skill.

The singing lessons are certainly good for my health, and my complex respiratory problems.

But mostly I use the lessons to explore song and lyric - my own work, of course.  But also, when I want to understand a Dowland song, I study and sing a Dowland song.  Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the same.  When I want to understand Brecht, I study and sing a Brecht/Weill song - and usually I have to tidy up the English language version of the Brecht lyric.

And, also, of course, I am learning how to talk to and listen to musicians.  And better understand their needs.

In turn, if you are asking me to Give us a song, you must understand my needs.

First of all, with my delicate nature, I need a properly structured warm up.  You cannot expect me to just launch into song, like a wild bird.

Then I will need some sort of instrumental intro - this vastly increases the chances of me starting on the right note.

But I will also need some sort of counting-in guy - I might start on the right note, but will I start on the right beat?

Musicians - I do need musicians, someone or something to keep me on track, something to help me with the melody...  I do tend to drift off, and dangerously find comfort in some generalised folkloric drone.

Ideally there should be a backing singer or maybe more than one backing singer, one for harmony, one for melody.  My friend Stephanie Hladowski is very good at this.  She finds a harmony or some sort of structure to whatever I happen to be singing, and almost makes it sound as if I know what am I doing.

Remember, musicians, that if you take some sort of instrumental break - whilst the singers stand around looking appreciative - I am going to need the counting-in guy again.  Do not let the counting-in guy think his job is done.  If it was hard to start on the right beat at the beginning, it is even more difficult to hit that beat in the welter of noise.

Now, all this musicians will understand, but be puzzled by - for are all these things not second nature?  No, dears, they are not second nature to me - I had to learn.

So, I am not saying that I will never Give us a song.  But you do need to know that when you ask me to Give us a song you are asking for something complex, difficult, needing forethought and planning.

Also, I am very shy.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Lyricist


People who know my work will recall that I am a writer and researcher, based in Yorkshire, England.  My current academic affiliation is with New York University – I am Visiting Scholar at the Glucksman Ireland House, NYU.

My work is visible in a number of places, on the web and in the research literature – as is my CV.

Not that visible in the standard CVs is my work, over the years, as a working lyricist. 

Most relevant here is this version of my CV on the British Music Collection web site…

A song lyric selection is visible, in book form, on Amazon, and in many other places…
Love Death and Whiskey - 40 songs, by Patrick O'Sullivan
Read the Introduction to that book, for some first thoughts at that time...


This is one of my song translations on Soundcloud - this is an English language version of the much loved Cabo Verde song, almost a second Cabo Verde national anthem, Papa Joachim Paris…

Blog entry about that here...

And this, on YouTube, is a lyric I wrote for a much loved melody, Jill's Theme by Ennio Morricone, from the Sergio Leone move, Once Upon a  Time in the West…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt29GzVKGRU

Blog entry here...

I have been able to give more time and thought to the song lyric part of my output, and to the lyricist part of me, over the past decade, since the publication of Love Death and Whiskey - and have gathered a little team of musicians and singers, just to make sure that I have resources to illustrate the material.  As we say in the industry, make a demo...

And I have gathered research material, to place my own practice within the research record - specifically, I am developing research projects on traditional verse forms, especially the use of rhyme.  And on song translation.

Patrick O'Sullivan
February 2019