Wednesday, 30 July 2008

David and David

David Miliband's article in today's Guardian seems to have provoked a lot of speculation about whether or not he'll take a shot at the Labour leadership.

Whilst battling a horrendous hangover this morning, I read said article. It wasn't much of a hangover cure (and certainly not as effective as the bacon sandwich which was also being consumed at the time).

Despite the media fuss, basically what Miliband is offering is exactly what Brown is currently providing - Blairite "reform" of public services (read creeping privatisation). The 'platform for change' that his article refers to is more of the same, albeit maybe at a faster pace.

What David Miliband might be able to provide which Gordon seemingly cannot is a bit more personality. He's definitely more likeable and seems more at ease with the media. I could see him having a reasonable chance of improving Labour's situation should he become leader (then again, it couldn't get much worse).

If Miliband does lead Labour into the next election, it will amount to a personality contest between two rather well-to-do Davids. This is because Miliband's New Labour politics are so close to Tory positions that there will be little for voters to choose from except the likeability of the respective Davids. Once again, voters will be denied a proper choice, and will have to elect a right-wing government or a er, right-wing government.

In other words, it would be like voting for David...or David.

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Saturday, 26 July 2008

Chris Singleton on iLike

This is a post for those of you using iLike - would be grateful if you could 'iLike me' (another weird social-networking verb is creeping into my lexicon).

If you are on Facebook:

  • Visit http://apps.facebook.com/ilike/artist/Chris+Singleton and click the 'Click to iLike' button (you may be prompted to log in / add the application).

  • Then, please dedicate a song of mine to your friends: just scroll down a bit to 'featured songs' and pick a song that you'd like to dedicate. I suggest 'Worry Number One', as your friends will be able to download that MP3 for free, but feel free to choose whichever one you'd like.

If you are not on Facebook:


Many thanks,
Chris

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Saturday, 19 July 2008

Mrs Thatcher and the state funeral

So Thatcher is getting a state funeral.

I'll have more to say about that another time, but what I'll say now is this: Thatcher always fought intensively for a smaller state and low public spending. It's deeply ironic that there is going to be a big state-organised event when she dies, which will cost taxpayers millions.

I wouldn't mind so much if it were a party celebrating her departure, but the event is actually going to be in her honour.

Perhaps some of the people who got rather rich when she sold off our public services might be better placed to organise and finance the funeral.

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Thursday, 17 July 2008

New track: "Bad Ambitions"

Hello all,

If you go to my Facebook page, you can stream one of the tracks I'm working on for my new album:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chris-Singleton/6947253243?ref=ts

Scroll down a bit and click 'Bad Ambitions' - it's one of the tracks in the music player. You can also hear it on Myspace but it sounds pants on there (Myspace MP3 compression is rubbish!). Listen to it on headphones, not tinny cheap computer speakers, and play it loud please.

The song features the fantastic drumming of Ben Woollacott, who is kindly helping me out with some tracks at the moment. He's doing some fab overdubs and I'm really pleased to be working with him. We recorded some of this song down in Hackney's Exostudios, and the rest in my own setup.

Assuming you like David Bowie mixed with Blondie, it should hopefully appeal. We still need to tidy a few things up on it, add some more strings and maybe some soulful John Gibbons backing vocals, but it's getting there. Enjoy it while you can 'cos I'm taking it down in a couple of days!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Knives out for the economy

There are two things which seem to be dominating the UK news at the moment: the state of the economy, and knife crime. Both serious topics.

But I can't help feeling that the more the media tell us that the economy is deteriorating, and that knife crime is spiralling, the worse the economy gets (because people are scared to spend their money) and the more kids carry knives (because they're scared of being knifed).

I may be wrong, but it feels to me that we're all talking ourselves into bad situations, or reading ourselves into them.

English newspapers being (broadly) the muck that they are, they are clearly using both stories to sell papers, but I reckon it's time for a bit of calm-headedness. Or else more kids could die - and the economy will get so bad that we'll cut back on buying papers.

Obviously Murdoch will worry more about the latter.

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Thursday, 10 July 2008

Songwriting

Been talking to some mates about songwriting lately, and reading some blogs about it. Several musicians I know have recently done courses on the subject, facilitated by people who are presumably qualified to instruct others in the art of songwriting. It got me wondering whether you can actually teach somebody how to write a song.

The way these songwriting courses seem to work is that there are various workshops where an 'expert' in songwriting imparts words of wisdom on how it's done to an audience of (presumably) aspiring songwriters. Then everybody pairs off and writes songs together, and there's a bit of a love-in where everybody's efforts get discussed en masse at the end of the day.

Thinking back to how I learnt how to write songs, I suppose that in a roundabout way, somebody did show me how to do it: Lennon or McCartney, but (sadly) not in person. From listening to their songs, I worked out how to structure my own, write a Beatle-esque melody, harmonise and so on. As a precocious songwriting teenager, I copied the poor band shamelessly (some would say that I still do -- and that I'm still precocious). I listened to them non-stop and tried to soak up as many of their ideas as I could; and in their day, the Beatles did exactly the same, with Elvis and Chuck Berry. This 'soaking up' forms the building blocks of every songwriter's music (there's no such thing as an original idea after all).

This makes me think that a) songwriting is, initially at least, all about copying stuff and b) other musicians influence songwriting immensely. Which leads to this: how good a songwriter you are will depend in no small way on your ability to copy things (think of it as similar to being a good draughtsman) and on the quality of the musicians you are copying.

In other words, if you're into James Blunt, you're fucked.

Of course, the thing about these songwriting workshops is that it's highly unlikely that the great songwriters are going to turn up at them to do a spot of teaching (you're probably going to get somebody who had a bit of a hit in the 80s or knew a man down the pub who did). And if you were lucky enough to have a great artist show up, would they really be able to teach you anything?

If McCartney decided to give a masterclass in songwriting, I'd love to attend it: he is universally acclaimed as one of the best writers the world has known, and he is a massive inspiration to me. However, I still doubt there is anything he could verbally articulate that that could teach me how to write a song. In fact, and being slightly cruel here, he hasn't written a good one himself in quite a while -- so if he can't teach himself how to do it again, how on earth would he instruct me? I'd say he'd be more interested in suing me for occasional attempts at plagiarism.

The other thing about songwriting which makes me think that it is difficult to teach is the personal dimension. The great songs are all inspired by personal traumas or joys. I could not imagine anybody at a songwriting course being able to supply either of those on tap (well, unless a certain Mr Blunt I referred to earlier was doing the teaching -- there would be plenty of trauma in that instance). The great songwriters do not overtly teach; we listen to their music and absorb their ideas over time.

Maybe I'm being a bit too harsh on the notion of songwriting classes. There are very basic elements which I suppose can be taught: structures (intro/verse/bridge/chorus -- you know it all now), and maybe some history around the topic. But not much more.

However, I'm quite Cartesian at heart, and in the spirit of trying to teach people how to write a song, I'm going to give it a bash. In a mathematical way. Here's an equation which I think will predict how well you will be able to write a song:

Ability to rip an artist off + quality of artist being ripped off + own personal experience/inspiration = Quality of song

Sadly the word 'quality' crops up too many times in my little equation. Quality is an impossibly subjective notion: one man's meat will inevitably be another man's poison. So even if somebody thinks they know how to teach somebody else how to write a fantastic song...somebody else will think that the song that ends up being written is, quite frankly, shit.

My conclusion: songwriting can be learnt, but it sure can't be taught.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Scouting for Girls...

Well, I'm just back from a well-deserved break in Italy. It was great. Visited an island that had a volcano on it and smelt of farts; went on a trip at sea that involved a small boat, a singing captain and no life jacket; saw a Pizza called 'McDonalds Pizza' which had chips and a burger on it (note: didn't order it, just looked at it). All in all a good holiday.

The one thing I'm extremely glad I didn't encounter was any Scouting for Girls songs. As I lay back on the beach, reading my overpriced international edition of the Guardian and getting a Cornetto all over my chest, I was listening to the stuff that they're currently playing on Italian radio. Much of it was the same as what is dominating the airwaves in the UK right now: Estelle, Duffy, Mark Ronson doing his celebrity karaoke thing - but thankfully there was absolutely no Scouting for Girls.

Clearly the Italians have taste (when it comes to music - we shouldn't forget that they recently re-elected Berlusconi.)

Now, I've been at the receiving end of rock criticism, both good and bad, so I tend not to write blog posts slagging off other music. And I don't want to encounter the inevitable response of 'You're jealous - they're selling more albums than you'. Or the 'You can't argue with popularity' argument. (Popularity is hard to argue with. Mind you, Hitler, Thatcher and James Blunt all enjoyed massive degrees of it).

But I'm sorry, I simply have to make an exception to my 'no slagging musicians off' rule for Scouting for Girls. I can't bear them. It pains me to have to hear them every time I turn on the radio.

In one way, what they've done is quite an achievement: they've effectively released pretty much the exact same single 3 times. And they've got massive airplay on each occasion.

The formula is simple: a tune with one note repeated ad nauseum, some staccato piano, and a pained, earnest voice singing any of the below trite lyrics:

She's so lovely, she's so lovely, she's so lovely, she's so lovely
or
Elvis isn't dead, Elvis isn't dead, Elvis isn't dead
or
I miss a heartbeat, I miss a heartbeat...

The band will also stop at various points in each song, and sadly, just as you think it's over and you're getting a much-needed respite from the staccato piano and crap one-note tune, they'll start up again, singing the same crap one-note tune again over a backdrop of staccato piano.

I just don't get it. Or maybe I'm getting old. But I have to say, I think this is the worst band I've ever heard. Westlife appeal more and I bloody hate them too.

But one way or the other, if this continues I'm moving to Italy. If you haven't heard them yet (unlikely), go to http://www.myspace.com/scoutingforgirls. Bring earmuffs.

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