I’d never really written songs for kids. Every couple of years children seemed to accept the current trend of pop tunes that I had previously imagined suitable for a much older audience. What was suitable for teens became acceptable for under tens, and on it went. The conundrum of what kids liked, found acceptable, cool, listenable and definitely not childish was well and truly eating into my creative confidence.
I had been writing for Kid’s Television, doing drama, BBC education commissions, character songs for movies and loads of animation. So, I felt that I could use something that I’d been doing to transition into some specific and hopefully relevant song writing.
Because specifics were the key; I had been asked to organise a kid’s group at our local church and produce something for what they mysteriously called: “All Age Family Worship”. Four words that really didn’t relate each to the other and had no real meaning as a familiar ‘well-known phrase or saying’.
This mangled heading was a euphemism for “Can you distract our kids for enough time so we, the parents, can have a breather, whilst pursuing other worthwhile endeavours?”
I decided to draw some inspiration from other writers, some of whom I knew as friends. The lovely and extremely talented Paul Field had been writing songs for kids and had penned such memorable epics as ‘The Wiggly Waggly Worm” and “Don’t be a Woolly Head”. So, checking in to his readily accessible catalogue I managed to find a few songs that would work, despite the fact that some had obligatory actions whilst singing.
I’d never been a fan of action songs. They seemed to reduce everyone involved to appearing uncoordinated, bewildered or simply on drugs!
After figuring out a few of his particular beauties, I discovered there were no more that I liked. That and the actions were just too perplexing. So, I set about to write my own. A completely new challenge made all the more possible with an old edition of the Penguin Rhyming Dictionary, analogue pens and a comfortable sofa on which I could lie and often drift off especially when wine was involved.
After a short time, I had enough to put together an album of songs but more importantly, enough material to sing and play to the kids in question.
Sunday morning came with a degree of trepidation as failure was a real possibility. These kids did not take prisoners, I discovered. “What about this one?” I would ask optimistically” Naw!!”. Too boring”.
Sound fx: Tearing up of lyrics.
“How about this?” Like the verse but the chorus is a bit pants!”. A technical term I came to understand as being still not up to the mark. Eventually we hit on some things they did like especially when shouting was involved. I made my position very clear about actions and said they could make up their own should the need ever arise. Needless to say, we thankfully didn’t have that many that involved waving of arms, nodding of heads or manic marching on the spot.
I came up with a name: ‘Dave Cooke’s Rocky Kids’. This seemed to be acceptable even to the hardest most cynical of the recipients and we went ahead to record the twelve or so tracks in the studio. It turned our surprisingly well. I created characters and made sketches between the songs so that it became a sort of Radio Show, or adventure within which the Rocky Kids could interact and identify. Grenville Smalltrousers was a favourite of mine. He was the guy who would sit in the back pew of the church moaning about everything especially things involving kids. The perfect foil and the kids loved him.
We managed two albums which included TV appearances, promotional videos and one of the first interactive websites trying to sell merchandising on line. The fact that the internet and website design weren’t actually up to delivering was another story but at least we gave it a go.
Rocky Kids still exists although I haven’t done any new material for quite a while. The songs still stand up well and the arrangements are pretty solid with some very fine players involved; Mike Haughton on Sax, Robbie Calvo Guitars with Tina Heath and Jonathan Booth coming up trumps as characters in my sketches.
I don’t think I could recreate these again. It was great for that time and no real point in trying to flog an old brand. Those interested can hear the tracks but probably time to think on new projects that may start as one thing and end up being so much better.
It’s worth saying that I’m really not that against actions in songs but have definitely become my cartoon creation, Grenville Smalltrousers for real. Another valuable and worthy bonus in the creative process and one I should really develop further.