The peril of the first person

Monday, January 17, 2011 10:31 | Filled in Blog

I see that Dire Straits’ song Money for Nothing has been banned from the radio in Canada because of use of the word “faggot”.

The song tells a story from the point of view of a jealous and ignorant man and uses the sort of language that comes with that mental territory.

The writer creates a character and then sings that character in the first person. I’ve found this can lead to serious misunderstandings by listeners used to thinking that all songs using the word “I” are about the writer. Largely this is because they hear little but “me/I” songs about luuurve and relationships on mass media.

Knopfler has doubts about the device:

”I’m still in two minds as to whether it’s a good idea to write songs that aren’t in the first person, to take on other characters. The singer in ‘Money for Nothing’ is a real ignoramus, hard hat mentality – somebody who sees everything in financial terms. I mean, this guy has a grudging respect for rock stars. He sees it in terms of, well, that’s not working and yet the guys rich: that’s a good scam.”

I’ve used this technique throughout my writing life.

Wheels, for instance, is about the consequences of Thatcherite thinking on a father who educates his son to be a winner at all costs. This leads to his son’s death in a car chase challenge. It’s pure fiction to make a social point, but a couple of times I’ve had people come to me at gigs to express their horror at the death of my son in a car crash.

How these same people could listen to my other songs and think that the character I had created in Wheels was actually speaking my opinions amazes me!

Wheels is just one of many songs where I’ve used this technique to tell a story, and in the end a writer must trust his audience to be astute enough to get the message and separate reality from fiction.

Woodman Folk Club 16 July

Monday, September 20, 2010 8:48 | Filled in Blog
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Sounds Magazine 21 April 1973

Monday, June 21, 2010 15:30 | Filled in Blog

A fan sent me this by email. I’m suprised at how much of what I say I still agree with!

Sounds magazine 21/04/73

Click to enlarge

Recent emails

Monday, June 21, 2010 14:28 | Filled in Blog

Hope Village Hall – 08/05/10
What a great pleasure it was to see you live. We both thought your performance was everything we had hoped for. As we said we only came across you about eight months ago and we now have just about everything you have ever recorded. You are far and away the best songwriter this country has ever produced. As a songwriter you have to reveal so much about yourself; your opinions, beliefs, hopes and concerns, that we feel we know you well. Keep writing the songs. Those new ones you did are up there with your very best.

The Davy Lamp Folk Club – 22/05/10
I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed last night’s gig at the Davy Lamp folk club in Washington. I always enjoy your shows. You are a great storyteller and your anecdotes are entertaining and sometimes thought provoking. You mentioned last night that you choose every word in your songs really carefully… that absolutely shines through in them. Your songs are enjoyable to listen to, but the words tell stories that often really make you think. I hope you will continue to do gigs for many years yet.

Harvey’s Birthday Song

Monday, June 21, 2010 14:26 | Filled in Blog

In early May I hosted a songwriting week just two miles from my home in Shropshire at Gleanings. One of my students, Rob Clarke, penned this ditty for my birthday on the 7th.

I’m certain Friends of Mine’ll
Be around somewhere on vinyl,
And Writer of Songs is on CD,
In my musical collection
This particular selection
Has always taken pride of place for me.
Snaps is often playing on my i-Pod,
Spring Again is always in the car;
There’s not a single track
That doesn’t take me back,
And doesn’t play itself on my guitar.

This guy he doesn’t know
Just how far back we go,
And his part in the soundtrack of my life;
How his records played
As I courted a young maid
Who now for thirty years has been my wife.
At nineteen I was singing Soldier – badly;
Some songs my growing children won’t forget;
Now his sad, nostalgic ballad
About a boy and mallard,
I’m singing with my daughter in duet.

Then this chance came along
To study writing song,
Here among the rolling Shropshire hills;
We five men and girls
Are swine who’ve found the pearls
And gleaned some shining facets of his skills.
He brings along the lessons of a lifetime,
Things he shares that everybody learns;
Now his birthday’s come along
And I offer him this song,
Wishing him the happiest returns.

© Rob Clarke, 2010

Unpacking the boxes

Thursday, June 17, 2010 13:59 | Filled in Blog
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Thanks for your patience as we migrated to a new server. Please let us know if we’ve missed any broken links or oddities that have resulted from the move.

Graham Cooper

Wednesday, June 9, 2010 8:52 | Filled in Blog

My dear friend Graham died on Saturday 29 May in Portugal.

We met in 1971 when he was a member of the Lonesome Travellers Folk Group based in the East Midlands.

Andrews and CooperHe was a versatile musician, being a fine singer, guitarist and pianist. We teamed up in November 1972 and did our first gig in Gravesend on the 3rd. We then went on to complete 300 appearances together before calling it a day in December 1975 with a final gig in Derby.

It was a mad time.

In 1971 I had issued a solo LP Writer of Songs and this had ignited my career and brought me a raft of gigs and a commission for a second album, Friends of Mine, which Graham collaborated on, both in performance and writing. Our first song was Autumn Song and we knew immediately we could work together. Generally Graham would footle about on guitar or piano until we found a feel and a basic melody that gave me the inspiration for a lyric.

The album was well received and we were instructed by the record company to accept a manager and agent, Tony MacArthur, who had previously worked with Three Dog Night.

This threw us, unprepared for what was coming, into the commercial pop/folk world. Before we knew it we were opening for Focus on their first British tour, opening for the Kinks on their comeback gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and then finding ourselves being introduced by Tom Paxton at our own London solo debut.

We did Peel Sessions, The Old Grey Whistle Test and wrote a series of songs for The Camera and the Song, a BBC TV programme that basically launched the idea of the video, and finally followed Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel at the Reading Festival at 10 o’clock at night in the open air!

Andrews and Cooper

More followed, but try as we might we couldn’t write the hit single the record company was now demanding, and we left MacArthur and joined the Ann Dex agency. This led to us going on Combined Services tours to Belize, Cyprus and Germany.

During this period we wrote and recorded the album Fantasies From a Corner Seat which again was very well received and were planning the next album Someday when artistic differences led to our split.

Fortunately we remained friends and the friendship strengthened over the years. We did perform again, reprising the songs of the 70’s. Our last gig together was on March 20 2010 when Graham was very ill, but still the consummate artist and partner.

After our split Graham worked with Fiona Simpson and with Rosie Hardman before finally emigrating to Portugal to play golf. However, he found a thriving musical scene over there and was soon in demand, playing solo as well as in various combinations and bands.

Graham was a rock for all those he worked with. In our time together he took everything in his stride and kept us both focused on what was important. I could not have done what we did without him.

He will be missed by so many, particularly his wife Maggie and his brother Michael.

Graham Cooper

It was Tom Topping at the Black Horse Folk Club, West Kirby who first called us “Harv the Marv and Sooper Dooper Cooper”.

Super he was, and a wonderful friend and colleague.

Our last work together was a song Graham sent me the opening line for. He wanted to sing it at a concert in memory of his friend Judy Hancock.

Popzien

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 7:29 | Filled in Blog

Abba on Popzien

Abba on Popzien

Extract from my diary for July 6 1973

To Amsterdam for the Dutch equivalent of ‘Top of the Pops’, called ‘Popzein’. We sang two songs.

“Also on were a bizarrely dressed group from Scandinavia, who, just as recording began realised they had no guitar to mime with! We were singing live, so it was arranged that as soon as the cameras were off us I would dash across the studio and hand over my guitar to one of the two men backing the female vocalists.

“We had seconds to do this, so when the cameras came to the group, he hadn’t got the strap over his shoulder, so he had to cling to my Gibson and pretend to play it with a dangly strap and a very restricted right hand! It was hilarious.

“Later, we saw the group sitting outside a cafe by the side of a canal and they asked us to join them for a glass of wine. We noticed the two women were only allowed mineral water. The two men were very interesting, telling us they had their own studio, wrote their own songs, and expected to be millionaires within the year. They were so confident!

“So I’m putting their name down in the diary tonight and we’ll see if we ever hear of them again – Abba.

This above pic, which I only stumbled across recently, was obviously taken after recording for publicity purposes.

The guitar is a Gibson J45 sunburst bought in 1965 and used as my composing and performance guitar until the late 70’s, heard to effect on “Writer of Songs” and “Friends of Mine”.

The J45 was retired after being replaced by a Gibson Blue Ridge Custom; itself retired by my current guitar, made in 1979 by Grit Laskin in Canada.

Review 12/08/09

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 7:50 | Filled in Blog
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“One of the true craftsmen of song, Harvey has created some pieces which are elegant magic and which last a lifetime. There are very few performers who are as committed as him and who can work an audience with such consummate skill. It is a genuine privilege to have met him and seen him at work!
Folk on the Moor, 2008

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YouTube: Man With A Gun, The Him and Us dancers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 6:31 | Filled in Video
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This is a curiosity I never knew existed. The single was issued by Transatlantic and sank without a trace. It would not have been my choice for radio play at the time. However, this gem appeared recently on the web, much to my astonishment. The PR department obviously did a good job getting this on the programme.