Something out of Nothing

I have always been fascinated by the idea that one minute something doesn’t exist, and then it does. A perfect reversal of the magician’s template:” Now you see it, now you don’t”.

Writing a song, do you start with the lyrics or the tune? Some prefer to have the beginnings of words on the paper so you have a clue about the general idea or story, while others like to create the music adding the lyrics later. It really doesn’t matter.

I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to write TV themes, movies, commercials, animation films, songs and instrumentals mostly on a commission basis. Meaning that someone out there has asked me to write these things for a specific reason.

But each time they all started from nothing. A blank canvas or piece of paper.  It’s a very strange process and one that’s never the same twice.

I remember sitting round the kitchen table with Jem after I’d bought her a ukulele. I had thought that this would be a good way for her to learn some chords and be able to accompany herself. In fact, this ukulele became quite familiar over a period of three years. It began one Christmas where I’d been excited to find it, buy it, wrap it and place it carefully under the Christmas tree. The day came for her to open this rather special gift and the usual sounds ensued of grateful appreciation and random plucking. That’s where it seemed to end. So, the next Christmas I wrapped it up again and presented it, possibly in different paper so she wouldn’t guess. She opened it with a degree of surprise and frustration that the hint was being dropped yet again. More gentle and uncommitted noodling followed with a quick browse through the ukulele chord book I’d added to help the process.

A day later the ukulele was abandoned alongside the chord book and the wrapping in deference to a new umbrella and several clothing vouchers.

I gathered up all the bits and saved it again for the following Christmas where, possibly embarrassed to reject it yet again, she decided to venture further into the chords and started playing especially with the prospect of some new gigs on the horizon.

Back to the kitchen table, we were having a writing session and she was playing the ukulele. When I say playing, she was simply picking out the open strings: G, C, E, A like a mantra, a repeat phrase which either resembled the definition of perfect pitch:’Throwing a ukulele into a skip and it not hitting the sides’ or the beginnings of a fun little tune especially when a new chord progression was added to the relatively maddening, ‘My dog’s got fleas’ repeated over and over.

Within minutes a new song was born. ‘I was in Love’. It was the start of a great run of songs most created again around the kitchen table. Something out of nothing. It’s a genuinely worthy pursuit. It’s a mystery that keeps on giving. And no one really knows how this works. Give it a go and amaze yourself and your friends.