We’ve had the pleasure of meeting and appearing alongside Phil Langran on many previous occasions (see Post 36, Post 70, Post 85 and Post 97). This time Carolan gets to spend a few weeks with Phil as part of our residency programme, hearing about his inspirations, how he learned to play and write, and capturing some recordings of songs both old and new. Thanks for hosting Phil and for the new song! Over to you …
Song-writing and guitar noodling I
Having been given some time with the magnificent Carolan guitar I thought I’d share a thought or two about song-writing.
I started playing guitar in my teens, spurred on by a wonderful BBC programme, ‘Hold Down a Chord’, hosted by John Pearse. The first tune I nearly learned was ‘My Creole Belle’ by Mississippi John Hurt. The ‘Rocking Thumb’ technique gave me an opportunity to nearly play many of the songs I heard in folk clubs. After many happy hours and days and months noodling around with this pattern I realised the unlikelihood of catching up with Mississippi John (or indeed Ralph McTell, Tom Paxton et al). But I still desperately wanted to be a song-writer. So I worked on every chord, guitar technique and song-form that seemed within my capabilities. And I attempted lyrics that would communicate my windswept and interesting folksinger’s soul.
Why not google around for Mississippi John? Here’s a good place to start …
Fast forward half a century and I can still find my way into writing new songs via the established styles and techniques, not least the many invaluable ideas introduced by John Pearse and practised by countless immensely talented singer/songwriters. Thanks to Steve Benford and the Mixed Reality Lab for the opportunity to look back fondly on the days of denim and centre-partings.
Song-writing and guitar noodling II
Another session with the Carolan guitar and the Mississippi John Hurt ‘rockin’ thumb’ finger-picking style.
Trawling through the dusty archives (now there’s a stage name) I realised just how often I’ve nicked that guitar trick in my many years as a suburban hobo. Of course I’ve stolen many other guitar-lickin’ ‘n pickin’ ideas, but this is the one to which I most often return when faced with the dreaded song-writer’s block.
The two songs here, ‘You’d Be Right’ and ‘Black Mountain Blues’, date from the 1980s and a fruitful time in Leeds, playing in a band called The Spencer Brothers, and watching the masterful Steve Phillips and Brendan Croker in local pubs and clubs. But that’s enough autobiographical old waffling.
Song-writing and guitar noodling III and IV
Having further use of the Carolan guitar I took the opportunity to re-visit some more of my songs from the dusty archives of the last century. ‘Last Train Song’ is from the late 1990s, and yes, there’s that fingerpicking guitar style again.
In the midst of all this nostalgia I also wrote a new one. This is an attempt to balance apprehension and hope in the same piece: it’s called ‘Strike the Set’.
Strike the Set: written and performed by Phil Langran