Since starting The Small Change Diaries back in 2014 I have increasingly appreciated the importance of regular vocal and instrument practice. I have learned to develop a regime that without doubt has hugely helped in writing, recording and performing music.
Every week I have a two hour songwriting slot with Jessica Bowie and we’ve been doing this for almost three years now. Its funny to listen back to early sketches of tracks like “5 string man” and “Perfect Place” and to hear how these developed to be finally recorded and often played on BBC Radio. In each case these tracks benefitted massively from being worked up and such work ups require a great deal of time. The writing partnership with Jessica and other members of the band mean that we get something quite unique with four very different views. It continues to be a fascinating process watching songs unfold.
When we were asked to play the 2016 Lagoa Guitar Festival we rehearsed every week before heading to Portugal. Without doubt this helped with the final performance. When Adrian Knowles joined the band and became musical director, we moved up a level in terms of our musical development and playing with Adrian and Rich Ferdinando is like having Sly and Robbie as your rhythm section, just terrific.
On an individual basis I always make sure that I have instruments at hand where I live are often on stands rather than tucked away in cases. Sometimes I might pick up a uke, mandolin or guitar and discover a musical phrase that’s really interesting. These sketches are always recorded for future development. Sometimes an entire song can reveal itself in a very short period of time and sometimes such sketches might remain dormant for many months. The same applies with writing lyrics. Often a real life event might inspire a phrase or chorus for a future song. The secret in all instances is to record these sketches for future development.
In working on my solo material for an anticipated 2018 release, I am deliverately working in a different way. Some of the tracks are written on ukulele but I’m working out the vocal parts to piano, focussing 100% on the vocal delivery. I’m lucky to have an excellent vocal coach in Alice Higgins and her input has become invaluable in developing my own vocal delivery. It also means that I have a totally different sounding board for this seperate project and the music is quite different to the band material. Working only with a piano in rehearsal sessions is a fascinating experience, On the first track “He’s shooting blanks” I sing and for once don’t play any instruments. With this track I have Alice on piano, Adrian Knowles on double bass and Laurent Zeller on violin.
Regular practice and interaction with other musicians continues to spark all kinds of create ideas. Many who know me, know I’m a big fan of creating original music rather than covering existing material. Playing an all original set live is certainly not the safe option, but its a real joy to hear a song you have created receive great feedback. At the heart of this creative process is regular practice which means songs have the chance to mature and develop. Another key consideration is to have lessons with really excellent teachers. I’m lucky to have both Martin Simpson and Phil Doleman on hand. Martin remains a big inspiration on my playing and writing and I generally spend a few hours at his house talking about musical development. Phil is a wonderful tutor and “reality checker” especially when it comes to all manner of good advice when playing live. I’m lucky to be surrounded by such terrifc folks which help deveop my own musical pursuits.