I know this blog has been quiet for the past few months. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean nothing has been happening! Although I didn’t get a certain job I wanted, I’ve still been working six days a week, so it was very busy. Too busy to busk, even!
But for the past three weeks, I’ve been on vacation from work, so I finally found time to work on some music again. I finished writing two new songs, practiced fingerpicking patterns and did some recording. Nothing final yet, but I hope to be able to let you guys hear something new soon.
I also bought a new ukulele! It’s a semi-electric Lanikai LU21CE BK. Unlike with my first uke, I can plug it into the computer and record directly, rather than messing about with a mic.
So just know – it may have been quiet, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening here in Lydialand!
Every musician has a hero. Someone they’d like to be like. Someone who they’d love a chance to play with. For the last decade or so, Sarah Slean has been that hero for me. And last year, I got to share the stage with her and got to hear her sing one of my songs.
For those unfamiliar with this goddess, Sarah Slean is a Canadian singer-songwriter and pianist. That description doesn’t really do her justice though. She writes fabulous, life-affirming songs, influenced by cabaret and Paris and philosophers and nature. She also writes poetry, paints, composes classical music and acts. I tell you, there isn’t anything this lady can’t do. If you are not familiar with her work, I strongly urge you to check it out.
Last September, she played two shows in the Netherlands. I had seen her live a few times before, and spent some time talking with her at those shows. Before the first September show in Amsterdam, I tweeted her “would it be weird if I brought my ukulele?”. You see, she inspires me a lot, and I wanted to play her one of my songs. Her reply: “Who would say no to a ukulele?! I mean REALLY?” And so I brought my uke to that first show. Because I’m a nerd who always arrives super early, I managed to see Sarah before the show started, she asked me what I could play, and when I mentioned I could play Set It Free, one of her songs, she immediately suggested playing it together.
Uh, okay! And so it happened that halfway during her set, Sarah asked me to come up and I played Set It Free along with her. We didn’t rehearse it in any way and I made a few mistakes but I don’t think anyone really noticed. More importantly, it was oh so awesome to be out there playing with her.
“But wait!”, I hear you say. “Didn’t you say you played one of your songs with her?” Reader, so I did. Because after that Amsterdam show, I did play her one of my songs in the lobby. By the end she was already humming along to it. “That’s a really good pop song! Can you send me the lyrics? I want to sing backing vocals tomorrow!”
And so I did. The next night, in Qbus in Leiden, Sarah again called me up on stage. First we played Set It Free again (the above video is from that night), and then I played my song Shake it up and she sang backing vocals. Again, without any rehearsal (which explains why I fudged the last note of the chorus the first time around).
As you can imagine, it was a pretty amazing night for me. I mean, how many singer-songwriters get to share the stage with their hero at all, never mind so early in their career? And not only did I play with Sarah Slean, I also managed to not get overrun with nerves or fuck up too badly. It remains one of my proudest moments.
It’s one of those questions that any writer gets regularly: where do you find inspiration? It appears that writing is one thing, but finding what to write about, that’s the real challenge. Songwriting is no different. Some people can write about anything – Nora Ephron’s mother famously taught her: “everything is copy”. I’m not quite the same, but I do find inspiration in unexpected places. Here is what inspires me the most.
History I’d say a good 75% of my songs concern historical people and events. I wrote my first serious song about Mary Boleyn, a 16th century noble woman with a tumultuous love life. I also have (partially) written songs about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Boudicca, Catherine of Aragon, Juana of Castile and Anne Boleyn. Their dramatic lives make for far more interesting songs than my mundane little life. Don’t think I just cut and paste their biographies into songs though – I like to use my imagination to explore how they might have felt. Even an intimidating woman like Eleanor of Aquitaine must have had fears and dreams.
About a year ago, I started busking. In fact, I need to renew my license this month! Although I had a bit of a rocky start, I adore busking now. It gets me out of the house, playing music I love. Sometimes I meet nice people and make a bit of money on the side as well. What’s not to love?
I could elaborate for you. In fact, that’s what I did in a post I wrote last year for Offbeat Home & Life (incidentally, one of my favourite blogs that you should totally check out):
I’m not here to give you busking tips; I haven’t got nearly enough experience for that yet. No, I just want to explain to you why busking is AWESOME, and why you should consider doing it if you play an instrument (or have other performance skills).
Curious yet? Then go and read the rest of the post, entitled Why you should try busking; Yes, even you! over at Offbeat Home & Life. And do share your thoughts, either at OBHL or right here. What do you think about buskers? Would you ever consider busking yourself?