The meaning of life: banish the audition blues

The meaning of life: banish the audition blues

This blog introduces the video of Audition blues, the second song on my first album, I know a little place.  Whilst it is inevitable that songs are influenced by the writer’s own life, I owe it my parents, family and teachers to confess that the first verse of my song is untrue – everyone encouraged me to keep asking questions, to understand what life may be about – even if there can be no definitive answer.  I don’t remember ever being just told “because”.  I was told, never be afraid to ask.

The circle of life

Curiously, the first image I chose for the song happened to be a photo I took of the first carving in the circle of life series from the Toshogo shrine in Nikko, Japan of the mother and her child – the mother looking to the future and the child looking with trust and perhaps for answers.  The next appropriate image for me is one of those wonderful open tree-lined roads in France, followed quite naturally by Le Penseur from the Musée Rodin in Paris, concluding with the almost endless beach at Le Touquet-Paris-Plage.

 

What now, what’s next?

The song, illustrated by some pilgrims in India streaming along the road in their bright yellow saris, alludes to the idea that life can be one audition after another, and to the idea of an afterlife “if we pass the audition, what’s the next part we play?”. Do we get a second chance? – “if we turn out a failure, can we re-audition someday?”  I will never know if the man in his red shirt whom I photographed high in a tree knew what he was doing or somehow had just taken a wrong turning!

 

Do we write for our audience or ourselves?

Then a little dig at the X Factor culture “when they see what they want will they know it” – in this video I went back to Shinto shrine in Nikko for the three monkeys who capture for me the idea of going before a judging panel. This 17th century wooden carving is the origin of the “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” proverb, the monkeys being Kikazaru, Iwazaru and Mizasru. How important is the verdict of the judging panel?  Do we write for our audience or for ourselves?  Selfishly I write first for my own pleasure – whilst there is great satisfaction if I get the bonus of others liking my work too! I am very happy that a friend told me he plays it a lot because of the meaning it holds for him.

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Kikazaru, Iwazaru and Mizaru, Hear no evil, Speak no evil, See no evil

Go with the flow

The images then indulge in a little poetic or visual licence, as the “river with rapids” and the “canyon with multiple bends” are accompanied by the peace and tranquility of the wonderful backwaters of Kerala in India and the elegant, graceful and dramatic Chinese fishing nets of Cochin (reported to be disappearing). As I wrote the song I confess that the image in my mind was of the (once mighty?) Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon to the Pacific Ocean – but I haven’t got good photos of that!

 

And the reason for living is…..?

So if you want to know the reason for living, well up to a point you will have to work it out for yourself. For me it lies in other people who I love and whose company I enjoy.  It lies in the wonderful colours and sights of the world.  It lies in the ups and downs of life and in the thrill of the chase often made greater by the effort it takes to succeed.  And it lies, most definitely, in words, pictures and music.  Write no evil, draw no evil and sing no evil?

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You can’t sit out the dance

You can’t sit out the dance

For this little homily song on our journey through life, I have chosen a few pictures from my own travels.  This song niggles at me whenever I’d rather hide away from the world, trying to “sit out the dance”.  Perhaps subconsciously we write about the challenges we know from experience are hard to meet.  Having spent much of my working life helping people deal with the future, it’s always been worth remembering that whatever the future, or present, you have to work with it.  That way you also have a chance of shaping it! It’s not the first song I’ve written that has made me think I should practice what I preach!

Decisions, decisions

So we start with an obvious train-track image setting out clearly the long journey ahead: but I just love the chap standing bang in the middle of the tracks as if he is wondering what to do next – well, he is on the phone to someone trying to find out perhaps.  Of course the alternative could be to take the road on the left….

 

 

Some like to know where they’re heading

Some rather just leave it to chance

But however you tackle the future

You know you can’t sit out the dance

Rich or poor, you still have to play the game

Whoever you are, you still have to play the game you are in.

 

 

It may be a ball, with champagne on ice

It may be a barn dance, with the straw and the mice

Whatever your fancy, whatever your home

You can’t sit out the dance

Life keeps you jumping

I love this photo of the boys playing cricket on the endless beach of Chennai, India.  Wherever the ball goes or is coming from you have to play the game.  Though sometimes when you are young you are directed where to go, like these Japanese schoolchildren.

 

Life keeps you jumping, rest when you can

Between boredom and surprises, between dry toast and jam

Keep smiling and look forward, celebrate and applaud

All those who keep dancing, sweet lady, sweet lord

The dance of life follows many rhythms

 You can be on your toes, you can wallow in the mud, but you are still in the dance.

 

You may like the polka and wear little red shoes

Or something much slower, dance to the blues

Whatever you do, dance!

 

 

Move with your partner, sway with the band

Take your place for the dance

Thank you for reading and listening!  Enjoy the dance!

Ok, life’s a puzzle….

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The Art of the song

The Art of the song

This is the first of a series of blogs I will be doing in the coming months to introduce brand new videos for I know a little place, the first of my three albums.  Songs conjure up images in the mind of writer and of listener.  Here I have curated my own selection of wonderful images that have surprised me with their appropriateness for the lyrics. For me both lyrics and these artworks are depicting similar sentiments – even though I may being seeing something different in the Art from that intended by their great creators.  I hope you enjoy listening to this first song, Take it as it comes,  in the company of the talent of fourteen great European artists stretching across five centuries.

“All this will be ashes….”

My opening line “There will come a time when all this will be ashes” is more doom laden than I ever meant. To the rescue, Jacques Tissot’s 1868 depiction of Paris society in Le Cercle de la Rue Royale, sums up the idea that however smart we think we are, we won’t go on for ever.  Then Lawrence Alma–Tadema’s 1887 Women of Amphissa couldn’t be a better vision of passion spent. Next, Henri Gustave Jossot‘s 1894 series Artistes et Bourgeois satirises intellectual pretensions, as one asks “And your next book?” and the other replies “Oh, becoming simply Shakespearian!”  We are finally rescued from our musing as Brandenburgian Jacob Phillip Hackert’s fireworks explode Rome’s Castel Sant’ Angelo and allow us to celebrate, as they still do today.

Our transient life, with Tissot, Alma-Tadema, Jossot, and Hackert

“But until that time, keep an open mind….”

But we still search for knowledge. In La Tache Noire (or The Black Stain) Albert Bettannier, a French teacher tells his charges of the terrible loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia in 1871. Then Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s depiction, of the trance-like spiritual transfiguration of Beatrix Portinari at the moment of her death, uncannily matches my words “when you see beyond” – though I wasn’t thinking of death particularly, but perhaps more the moment of insight, as in Joseph Wright of Derby’s “The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful Conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers”. At this point Gabriel von Max’s book-reading simian is just the ticket to keep our feet on the ground – “but until that time, keep an open mind”.

Our search for knowledge, with Bettannier, Rossetti, Wright and von Max

“When time passes slowly….”

Verse three starts with the woman in the window  spinning yarn,  a good task to accompany reflection – by another artist from the Franco-German borderland of Alsace, René-Paul Schützenberger.  British painter John William Waterhouse’s moody young man in red depicts the Roman Emperor Nero reflecting on matricide. In the next frame there is more family trouble: I saw this stunning painting by Évariste Vital Luminais last summer in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Quimper, Brittany –  King Gradlon on the white horse is trying to save his daughter from drowning, not knowing she has become an evil woman – her death at least calms the seas.  The final artwork, The Travelling Companions, by the wonderfully named Augustus Leopold Egg, now in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, allows us to relax with our favourite book on our train journey through life, or even fall asleep to the dulcet sounds of my harmonica – whatever, “take it as it comes”!

The short and the long of it, with Schutzenberger, Waterhouse, Luminais and Egg

“Breathe the air around you………….”

After the musical interlude we can drift reflectively through the successive images of my own shadow in the Dordogne sun, of another Rossetti beauty struggling to raise a smile in the sun, of Shakespeare’s Shrew Katherina, (by Edward Robert Hughes), thinking what to do when she is not being given food. Finally, staying in thespian company at table, we spy on Mr and Mrs David Garrick enjoying tea in the open air at “Garrick’s Villa” by the Thames at Hampton, by Johann Zoffany.  “Breathe the air around you, take it as it comes”.

 

Reflect with me, Rossetti, Hughes and Zoffany

“All the contrasts…..”

For our final verse we flip from the bright noisy utopian colours of Wenzel Hablik, to the drizzle of Julius von Ehren‘s German city, the brightness of Henri Biva’s lily pond in the summer sun, to the complex 16th century Nicholas Hilliard miniature of a handsome man, possibly the Earl of Essex, leaning upon a tree amongst roses.

The contrasts of life, with Hablik, von Ehren, Biva and Hilliard

And relax with the coda: “take it as it comes”

The song finally closes as Charles Bargue‘s black dog and a white parrot play their own game of chess, the liveried footman paying no heed, as Etienne-Prosper Berne-Bellecour’s Normandy shepherdess calmly “takes it as it comes” in the fading light, and as Johann Tischbein’s Goethe reflects on the Roman campagna.

Take it as it comes with Bargue, Bellecour and Tischbein

Art enhances music

For myself, this song now has many new dimensions in breadth and depth.  If you had asked me to write a song to fit the paintings I’d never have got there – albeit just a hypothesis as I doubt if these nineteen images would ever have appeared together.  It’s been like curating my own art exhibition around a theme, with help from the internet, Wikipedia etc, giving us access to all these public domain images from around the world. I’ve learnt more about art and have gained new insights on my own songs!

Take it as it comes!

Three Love Songs

Three Love Songs

As we run into the festive season let me present my three love songs through life, two of them duets with my wife.  Sugar and spice and all things nice.

Young love

yes

We begin on Soundcloud with our first duet about young love, She said yes, a short (less than a minute!) and sweet song from my first album I know a little place. He’s so overwhelmed with getting the answer Yes! he can’t remember the question….. but who cares…..

Off to the future, here we go
Always say yes, never say no
It’s great, whatever the question

Marriage

Then it gets a little more serious in a Musical marriage, the opener from my second album, Anguneau sunset. Lovers meet at the taxi rank, as they crash out from their respective classical and heavy metal concerts in the rain. This was first written for the Valentine’s Day Love Eclectic concert in Highbury, North London.

Do they listen to music in bed?

And then the reminiscences

…. and our final duet the schmaltzy heart beating Overtime, the accordion stepping up the pulse as we reminiscence on the very first kiss, the holding of hands, and you’ll love the animals and birds in this video – also from Anguneau sunset.

Happy listening.