In the run up to Vinterlejr, the songwriting workshop in Denmark (previously mentioned here), I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d heard about songwriting circles, and co-writing, and workshops; I’d never done any of that. Co-writing especially made me nervous – I don’t even like to know someone else is in the house when I’m writing a song. I get far too self-conscious about someone hearing all the crap lines that have to get written before the good one comes out. (For example, that story about Paul McCartney writing Yesterday – his first draft was called “Scrambled Eggs”.) I wasn’t sure I could do that in front of another person.
Still – I had to try. I managed to convince Aortas boss man and singer/songwriter Dan Plews to give me a lift down to Stansted, we picked up Jimmy Brewer and Chris Nikoloff on the way, and we all arrived late on Wednesday night, at the snowy scout hut near Give in Denmark. We were shown the kitchen and our rooms, and I thought it was probably bedtime; but then we were shown where our guitars were, and where the beer was. In the end there were seven or eight of us – me, Dan, Jimmy Brewer and some of the Danish guys – who stayed up until about three, playing our songs to each other by way of introduction and drinking. I went to sleep quite happy in my tiny bunk: if there’s anything I love, it’s an opportunity to show off and drink beer.
It turned out there were a lot more opportunities for both of those things over the next four days. Thursday was a full day of co-writing: everyone’s names were put into a bowl so we could be randomly paired up for songwriting together. My first songwriting partner was a very unconventional and fantastic guy named Karsten, a Dane who sings like Prince and plays some of the jazziest guitar I’ve ever heard. We wrote a bizarrely catchy pop tune called “You Blowin’ Up My Mind” together. After lunch I was paired up with Børge (which I still can’t pronounce properly) who plays violin and writes poetry, so we decided he should write the lyrics and I would write the tune. We came up with something about walking in the trees in winter, and we finished it quickly, so I took my borrowed guitar to my little room and wrote a song about a superhero who keeps losing their cape and getting stuck in trees or down manholes… That one will go up on Youtube at some point soon.
Every evening was a little concert in the biggest room at Vinterlejr – everyone played what they’d written that day, together or alone, and then generally just kept on playing songs late into the night… On Thursday night I was one of the last to go to bed: it’s hard to drag yourself away when the songs are so good and the audience is so attentive when you play. Also Danish beer is delicious. I think it’s because we were keeping the beer outside in the snow for coldness. Really gives it a refreshing kick. By this time Naomi Rose had arrived from England, and there were a few latecomers from Denmark too, so there were three ladies sharing the room that night. We didn’t go to bed until three and then giggled like schoolgirls until four.
I managed to wake up at 9 in time for breakfast on Friday morning. Normally I’d be like an angry zombie after five hours’ sleep but somehow I felt fine – possibly due to the fresh Danish air, possibly the chocolate chip cereal. After breakfast was a “speedwriting” workshop run by Kaspar, one of the Danes: we were paired up at random again and told to write a song in HALF AN HOUR. We were given three assignments and three partners each: my first song was with Stig, a giant bearded man who rarely took off his hat and seemed able to just cough up a song in seconds. Second I was paired with Børge again, the violin-playing poet. The assignment was to write something angry, so we wrote a song about… well… being angry. It had the line “I never liked you anyway” in it. It was very scathing. My third partner was Jimmy Brewer, an English chap I’d met at the Aortas songwriting competition, where he won his place at this songwriting camp. We were supposed to be writing about work, so we started off writing the usual stuff about staring at the clock and willing the hours away… Then we wasted some time down the blind alley of a crazy idea: “What if it’s ambiguous whether the song is about someone looking at a clock, or… someone who is… ACTUALLY A CLOCK?” This seemed like a brilliant idea at the time but led to us desperately scrabbling for lines in the 29th minute. We managed to finish the song (enough to play, at least) while walking down the stairs to the room we were supposed to perform it in. A slightly rough performance, that.
We decided to get back together that afternoon and try to finish the song off. In the end, though, I managed to sneak one of my own songs in – something about a blue cross sale that I’d half-written just after lunch – and we finished that off together. That too will go up on Youtube at some point soon. For now I’ll take a break from blogging though – next time, expect the curious tale of what happened when I wrote a song with Dan Plews, and how I managed to make three giant omelettes at once…