It has been a long commute into work for me today, all the way down to the kitchen to make my morning coffee and then all the way back upstairs to my computer where I have been keeping an eye on the progress of all those poor souls who have proper jobs and are trying their best to get into work despite the onset of a tube strike which looks set to last until Friday. It is horribly windy and rainy out there as well, so I am counting my blessings at not having to leave the house today. I was out rehearsing with the Parliament Choir yesterday evening, doing some very constructive work on Haydn’s Creation, and only made it home by the skin of my teeth before London shut down, and, even then, only after changing direction and heading back the way I had come. Thankfully my diary over the next few days will keep me clear both of this strike and the one scheduled for next week.
I had lunch with a good colleague yesterday, a hugely talented and truly lovely gent who has recorded some of my songs in the past, and we caught up with what the other is doing, also swapping advice and tales of life in the music business. In both our fields we feel that our once-upon-a-time naivety that talent and dedication would be enough has given way to a slightly more realistic appraisal of how the music world runs. That is not to say that we do not get by quite nicely in our areas, and we are among the small percentage who live for and by music, but we both have some tales to tell.
I also received an email from my bestest and oldest friend this morning (hi, Matt, Sarah, Laura and Rebecca!) pointing me to a YouTube video for a song by a band, on the subject of being a rock star. It is one of those rare things, a product by a band acutely aware of what being an aspirational rock star really is, those trudges up and down the motorway to play to four people and a packet of peanuts for payment, while giving of your utmost. It was highly witty and amusing, but uncomfortable viewing too, for I thought “been there, done that” at least once too often.
As bands go, most of the ones I loved as a youngster have given up and/or died, but, in some very rare cases, they have either kept going (King’s X) or have split up for so long that a weak gravitational pull has brought them back together again (Soundgarden). I have to write a little, however, about a gent by the name of Willie Dowling who is, I believe, one of the finest songwriters of this or any generation. His latest band, Jackdaw4, have just split up after producing a cracker of an album whose musical ingenuity and invention simply blows everything else out of the water. Incisive lyrics too, as always, from Dowling. In fact, those of a nervous disposition might well look away now, but if you want thoughts on our place in society, former rock star heroes turning up on our TVs selling insurance and butter, bankers taking the money and running, that sort of thing, then you’ll find it here couched in music which runs the gamut from Queen to Sweet to T-Rex to Jellyfish to The Beach Boys to Radiohead and on and on.
The astonishing thing about Dowling, though, is that he has kept at it for nearly thirty years now, going through more bands than Matt Sorum, but consistently putting out top quality rock/pop product. In fact, it’s rather sobering to think that the first time I saw him play was in 1989, when I was fresh back from a jaunt around Europe and readying myself for university. You’ll have heard his music on the background of many a TV programme as well, and I had it in my mind that by now he’d be bathing in £50 notes, but apparently that is not so. Freddie Mercury once said that “talent will out”, but maybe he was just one of the lucky ones.
I think I am getting too old to cling on to my dreams of being a rock star, although I have toured Europe, played rock festivals and opened at the Apollo. The good news, however, is that I really do think that I am hitting my stride as a composer, and that, despite what all those competitions would have you believe, there is plenty of evidence for composers getting their act together in their mid-forties. I also believe that composition – Classical music in general, in fact – is one of those rare areas where talent can still win out, and that is a real encouragement. Good news for me then, and so much a better career choice than the rocker’s life…although I must admit that rocking out to a packed venue can be fun!