The Key to a Happy Life
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What makes us happy? A nice cup of tea? A walk in the park? Shopping? Chocolate cake? A hug from a loved one? An unexpected win? A good night's sleep? Having a laugh with friends? Sun bathing? A good movie? Swimming in the sea? Falling in love? Having your own home? Going on holiday? Etc, etc.
About a year ago, I sat waiting for a plane at Newcastle airport and, for no reason, began pondering such questions. As usual, I took out a notepad and began jotting down some thoughts - maybe poems or lyrics, I had no idea. On returning home a couple of weeks later, the pad was almost full. But I still had no idea what to do with this rambling assortment. Though having written several children's novels, plays and hundreds of songs, I'd only ever completed one adult book in 2012, and vowed never to do so again - it was far too much work and hassle.
However, something compelled me to type up my scribbles and within a month or so realised I had the makings of a book. The contents would include stories, anecdotes, memoirs, biography, verse and song lyrics, etc - and, I realised, needed an audio CD to accompany it. A year later the finished book is completed and available on Amazon (print and ebook) and the double album of songs from Spotify, etc. (or SoundCloud for free).
And the key? In my experience there isn't just one but many, according to individuality and circumstances. Not the answer many self-help gurus, politicians and others with a vested interest might say, but that's my experience. At the very least, I hope readers (and listeners) find both book and album amusing - maybe even instructive.
'The Singer-Songwriter’s Last Stand’ opens with a quote from Will Hodgkinson’s book ‘Songman (one man’s mission to write the perfect pop song’- published by Bloomsbury, 2007).
"I remember the excitement of friends in bands when we were in our early twenties, when boxes containing copies of their debut single would arrive from the record pressing plant and they would stare at the slab of vinyl in their hands, marvelling at this sacred object. Those friends got older, their bands split up, they found jobs and had families, but that single would be rediscovered in attics, basements and charity shops, perhaps even cherished in a few record collections, and almost definitely have its ghost lifted onto the internet. It had a story of its own and would, in one form or another, live on."
This is the tale of one of those singles – plus a load of other stuff. Oh, and 187 gold discs! I got the idea to write a novel with each chapter loosely based around a song many years ago but did little about it – partly because I was too busy working and making music but also because I just couldn’t figure out how to go about the task. Then, in the autumn of 2009, while strolling down a shopping precinct in Newcastle upon Tyne (my home town for the past fifteen years) I heard a ghost – a wailing busker I’d assumed long dead. Though he’d been an inspiration to me and many other musicians in the Sixties and Seventies, reports were he’d been killed in a drunken car crash years ago. But here he was blowing a rusty blues harmonica, stomping his feet in time and screaming out "Traitor!" and "What about Geronimo?" Arthur Grimsby, like Marley’s ghost, had returned. But what did he want? Revenge? Repentance? Or just some loose change?
If nothing else, I began to realise, here was my opportunity to get writing. The book delves into musical lives – mine and others – and goes on a rambling journey that ends in a big pot (well cardboard box) full of gold. Along the way are many song tales, including how I get to perform at the legendary Crystal Theatre, Oklahoma, on the same stage Woody Guthrie, inspiration for many modern sing-songwriters, also once played. All songs have stories and here are some from many artists including Keith Richards, Billy Bragg, Sam Baker, Buffy Sainte Marie, Paul Simon, Pete Seeger, Seasick Steve, Eric Clapton, Eddie Cochran, John Martyn and more.
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