A Christmas (Song) Story...
Twas’ six weeks before Christmas when my publisher shouts ‘I’ve got a brief for you from Sweden, they want Christmas songs now!’
For those just here to hear the rest of This Year... Here it is. For those that want the full story read on...
With all the seasonal spirit of Scrooge on a hangover - I shot him down, citing the issue as ‘having to smash out some other work on a 6am train the next day.’ Bleary-eyed upon said train, I pulled out my laptop to find there was (shockingly) no. bloody. wifi. So I thought to myself ‘f*** it. I guess I’m writing a Christmas song.’
I’ve always found that songwriting on trains just seems to work. I imagine it’s the lack of familiar distractions (TV, Baby, Dog etc.) combined with the ever-changing, eternally fascinating passengers and surroundings, that make for the creatively conducive environment.
I got the notes app up on my phone and quickly decided that the concept had to be ‘Christmas meaning more this year than the last as none of us could celebrate then’ (Unless you went to Eton.)
I suppose one good thing about unprecedented times is that they afford us unprecedented song ideas, and when a song concept feels original it’s exciting enough to almost write itself.
By the time the train pulled in to Brighton Station at 08.13, I had a full first draft and was feeling less scrooge on a hangover, more Mariah on the Baileys. However, as I was now about to teach for 7 hours, I had to shake my own songwriting Stevens to one side, until I had a break at 15.51 to make a couple tweaks (rewrite number 1), and then send over my idea to my producer. Along with a topline voice note, Here’s what I sent…
Now, the reason that this guy is my producer is because he is a musical mind reading genius. His name is Itamar Lapidot and I was introduced to him via a mutual Nashville co-writer. When he moved to London, we hit it off and now he’s producing my debut album.
He hears my Christmas song voice note, and within half hour sends me one back. On my walk to the station to get my train back to London, I shove my headphones in and am grinning like the Grinch post robbery, as Itamar has added the ideal chords for this song. For those of you reading this that might not have attempted remote co-writing before, THAT. DOES. NOT. HAPPEN.
Through rush hour commuters and horrific phone signal, we persevered with our rewriting as we both know that good songs are written, great songs are rewritten. By the time I reached my stop at 19.11, we had a full demo and finished lyric sent through to my publisher to pass over to Sweden.
We heard back two days later that our Swedish friends were into the song, and had agreed to pitch it to their client! Great news! A week went by, then another before we realised that maybe this one wasn’t going to go the way we hoped. Not giving up on our Christmas miracle, we spent the next couple of weeks pitching the song to any potential Christmas crooner we could think of. We tried Jamie Cullum, and even the original Micky Bubbles himself… Cliff Richard.
Whilst waiting on Cliffs carrier pigeon, we played the song to family and friends. Now, I am a soppy, sensitive songwriter that will weep at any BBC slow motion, sporting montage with Elbow playing in the background, but when I saw the eyes of my ever-stoic mother-in-law well up I knew we had a song that was moving even the hardest of people to move!
Itamar and myself must have been on Father Christmas’s naughty list this year, as we unfortunately never heard from Cliff.
So here it is, our song ‘This Year’. Briefed, written, rewritten twice, recorded and pitched within roughly 12 hours. Rejected swiftly after, but we decided to share it anyway. I learned that there is always time to write a song, that Itamar can sing like something out of an Andrew Lloyd Webber wet dream, and that sometimes though we think we know the reason for writing a song, sometimes that song can have an idea all its own. If you like it, share it. Maybe we can get it to Cliff for 2022.
(If you like this article, subscribe to 'The Song Satchell' to receive these every now and again, direct to your inbox.)