THE 365-DAY SONG WRITING CHALLENGE TO BEAT BLOOD CANCER. ARE WE NEARLY THERE, YET?
I realise that the quest to raise £10,000 to help beat blood cancer is nearing the end
I realise that the quest to raise £10,000 to help beat blood cancer is nearing the end
It’s been over six months since the last blog so I thought that I might put pen to paper and give you guys an update regarding the songwriting challenge. Before I get going, I think I need to say that I hope that this blog will be a little different to the last one; I recall, with a degree of anxiety, that I was coming to terms with the unforeseen, personal demands of the challenge and, in hindsight, I see the last blog as something of a cathartic necessity. During those dark, January days I was in serious trouble and genuinely anticipated throwing the towel in. Writing the last blog, along with some subtle encouragement, helped me to change my mind and I’m really glad that I did as I presently find myself beyond the 80 per cent stage with fewer than 70 days of the challenge remaining. If you’ve stuck with me to the end of this first paragraph - the serious one - then I can assure you that the rest will be more of a light-hearted read!
There are a number aspects that I’d like to reflect upon since the last blog. I am really enjoying the challenge, despite knowing from the beginning that it would be tough - I’m obviously taking every day as it comes and, unless Amazon start selling crystal balls, I never know what each day will bring - but the thing that drives me forward, as well as the thought of doing all this for a good cause, is the support that I’ve had, and continue to get, since the very first day last November. There is a small army of people who are always willing to retweet, share a track, post a comment or simply ‘like’ a daily song. It may sound completely trivial but it really makes a massive difference. Whatever happens, the challenge is to do what I do every day - record and post a track - but if I’m writing the day’s song knowing that people liked the previous day’s effort, I have those people in mind while I’m busy getting on with today’s job. They help me along while I’m writing lyrics or recording a backing vocal. I know it seems insignificant but they do a great favour by having given a simple gesture of encouragement yesterday to get me to the end of this day. And when every day is like ‘Groundhog Day’ to some extent or another, the support and encouragement, in whatever form and quantity, makes the day a little bit easier. I try and thank as many people as I can for the feedback that I receive on a daily basis but, because I am constantly aware that I can never seem to thank you enough for your support, I want to say thank you, once again.
I’d also like to mention the fabulous people at Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research; their attitude is simply astonishing. I often think about the kind of people who associate themselves with a cancer charity and I always come to the same conclusion - they are people who like to give. I don’t mean that they donate money to a good cause; it’s much more than that. In the fight against blood cancers and the pain that they cause to sufferers and their families and friends, this legion of admirable people give positivity and hope, encouragement, energy, expertise, experience and, most importantly, time. But they don’t just do it once a month or at weekends. They devote their lives to the cause almost as if their own lives depend upon it - and, heaven forbid, in the future they may find themselves, as a sufferer of a cancer, in need of the type of help from others that they once used to give.
I also need to say a special thank you to Lauren, even though I’ve not spoken to her for ages - she took an awful lot of pressure off my shoulders during the “I’m thinking of packing it all in” phase that I went through. Again, she gave her time at the other end of the phone while I moaned and groaned about the challenge - sorry for that, Lauren! She agreed with me and explained that everyone has ‘challenge’ doubts before offering some very delicate encouragement and managing to steer me forward. She freely gave her time to support someone she’d never even met - and she probably thought that it was nothing, too. But I’m realising that this behaviour is typical of the members of this great family who, at the root of it all, really want to make a difference to the lives of sick people. When you see the type of things this crazy bunch of hooligans get up to (have a look at their Facebook page) you’ll see that they will stop at nothing to try and make that difference. Incredible people!
In a slightly different vein, and to answer one or two people who have asked exactly what is it that I do with myself every day, the songwriting challenge continues to tick along but, despite having already recorded almost 300 songs in a methodically similar way, the roller coaster ride that is the day-to-day routine is something that I am still struggling to come to terms with. Each night, as I lie in bed reflecting upon the day’s activities, I look forward to the next day with great excitement but I am only too aware of the events, and associated emotions, that each new day will bring.
At the beginning of the challenge, I had the freedom to write and record ideas in a way that I don’t have now. I could go ahead with all confidence, whether I fancied recording an uptempo headbanger or a piano-based ballad, because every track at that time was novel. I didn’t have to worry if I’d recorded something similar because, quite simply, I was in the first throes of the challenge and everything was new. I could almost rattle off a track by midday and use the afternoon to generate a bit of publicity. As the challenge has progressed, however, I have felt the need to avoid obvious repetition of lyrical and musical themes. This brings new constraints that were naturally not present in the first weeks of the challenge. As such, I find myself scribbling away at a lyric before realising that I’ve used something similar in a previous song and having to rewrite or, in some cases, start afresh. I wasn’t ready for this aspect of the challenge and it’s something that increases the ‘thinking time’ of each song day by day. On some days, I’ll be lucky if I’ve started recording the music before two o’clock in the afternoon which, consequently, leads to something of a late finish. In essence, the time taken to write and record a song varies every day but, as the challenge progresses, it generally takes longer.
Once I have a good idea of the track of the day and I’m ‘off and running’, I feel a great sense of relief that I’ve managed to survive another day and that, somewhat masochistically, I have earned the privilege of going through the whole process again tomorrow. I suppose that, when you force yourself to be creative every day, you take whatever comes out of the subconscious brain with a degree of gratitude. I think that my songs vary so much from day to day because of this; I don’t hang about when an idea presents itself - I grab it and use it while I can!
Luckily there are still days, though, when I get an idea and, from start to finish, it takes about three hours and I’m all done before lunch. I like those days; they are rare and I suppose that makes them even more precious! I was lucky enough to do a Radio Merseyside interview with Paul Salt in March and he asked me if I ever worried about not being able to think of an idea for the daily song and if I’d ever got to 7 pm and still hadn’t recorded anything. I responded by telling him that I get up early and get on with it and that, if I hadn’t thought of an idea within the first couple of hours, I go for a cup of tea, try and switch off a bit and tell myself to remain calm and not panic. I then sit at the piano or play a few chords on the guitar until a news story that I’ve absorbed melds with the music. Well, this is still true but, nestling quite comfortably in a quiet corner at the back of my mind, is the fear of ‘drying up’ and not being able to get started. In fact, as the challenge has progressed, this thought has started to make its way from that quiet corner and it now pops into my mind most nights as I’m turning in. As yet, it hasn’t happened; the ideas continue to present themselves and, fingers crossed, will continue to do so up to the very last day which, ironically, seems further away the closer it gets!
I couldn’t write a blog without mentioning my immediate family - especially Pat, my mum, and Sharron, the missus. Everywhere my mum goes (and believe me, she has a very active social life and meets a lot of people) she mentions the fact that I’m doing a charity challenge. In fact, when she’s in the supermarket, the check-out girls ask her how it’s all going; when she goes to the doctor’s to collect a prescription, the receptionist asks what day I’m up to! They bear the brunt of my ups and downs, the good and bad days, and sit, with glazed eyes, listening to me drone on about a particular technique that I employed to record an acoustic guitar track or how I changed my mind about the perspective of a song lyric. They have both been ‘doing’ the challenge with me in one way or another. To be honest, I could say that Sharron has done every day of the challenge because there’s no way that she can escape from me, and no way that I can escape from it! I know that, without their support, I wouldn’t have made it beyond Christmas. I am sorry for the extra hassle that the challenge has given to them, because I know that they feel it when I’m under pressure. To be honest, I think that they want me to finish the challenge almost more than I do!
Before I sign off, I’d like to apologise to those people - friends, work colleagues, old schoolmates, bloggers, vloggers, videogaphers, publishers, musicians, singers, band members - who, in some way or another, have wanted to collaborate or socialise over the last year or so and I’ve had to let down. I simply have not had the time but, on 4th November when the challenge is complete, I’ll be more than happy to take you up on the various offers!
Finally, Lauren mentioned that I should be thinking of something to do at the very end of the challenge - a ‘last goodbye’ after I’ve recorded the 365th song. I think that Sharron is arranging a social/fundraising event for Saturday 7th November to thank all the people who have been generous enough to have listened, supported, donated and taken time to help with the challenge in whatever way; details will be posted on Facebook very soon.
Thank you, one and all, for the tremendous support that you have given over the course of the challenge so far and for taking the time to read this blog. I’ll write a final one before the end of the challenge - in about 60 days or so!