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The Making of 'The Promise': The Title Track 

July 25, 2015 by Caitlin Grey 

  So, we come to the title track on the album! 

The inspiration 
 

In complete contrast to the narrative-based tracks on the album, The Promise was written very much from the heart. I had written some lyrics some months back, during a time when a very, very close friend was going through a very difficult and protracted divorce. It was heart breaking to watch her suffer. As anyone who has experienced a break up knows (and we have all been there), there exists a long period of time when you feel utterly bereft. You feel you will never be happy again, never find love again and are perhaps totally undeserving of either love or happiness. The pain of rejection, betrayal and loss is just hideous, turning your life completely upside down. You wake up every morning with a sick knot in your stomach and it stays there all day. Very often, not only do you lose your life partner, but you lose your extended family too, your in-laws and also friends, who sometimes feel that they need to take sides. Indeed, the effects of one person leaving another person can be incredibly far-reaching and so you grieve for a love, and a life, that has now gone. 

Listen to The Promise 

But then, slowly...... 

  

'This too shall pass'. 

  

So, I wrote The Promise for my friend, as I wanted to demonstrate that hope does literally spring eternal and our resilience and capacity to bounce back is utterly primal. 

The song was written to inspire this hope, a literal 'promise' of better times to come. An affirmation that there is life after loss of any kind. We grieve, we suffer but go on. We get up in the morning and we function (just about). We cope until one day the sun is shining a little bit brighter in our hearts and we begin very slowly to feel happy again. Interestingly, writing this song was quite cathartic for me too. In fact, writing this entire album has been pretty cathartic. I've exorcised a few demons I can tell you. 

  The music  

This song started out as a much slower track, almost a lament actually, with no rhythm to speak of. However, given its lyrical content we felt it needed a more uplifting structure. 

Musically, the melody was already mooching around my head along with the lyrics. Neil took a germ of an idea and developed it further adding counter melodies and Celtic instrumentation. We wanted it to build so we layered up the vocals and added harmonies which all took ages, I can tell you! No cheating, just good old-fashioned over dubbing….singing over and over again in order to achieve a bigger sound. 

  The distorted guitar solo has got to go! 

  Very often the middle section of any song is tricky. The verse and chorus melodies generally come quite easily as they are usually based around the same key/chords. The 'middle 8', so called because it's generally about eight bars of something different, an instrumental solo perhaps or even a completely new chord sequence, is where many songwriters come unstuck. You get your verse and chorus nailed but then comes the dreaded middle section. You know you have to take the song 'somewhere else' but nothing flows or sounds right. It can be quite a bugbear! With The Promise, we tried a few different middle 8 variations before settling on the one you hear in the song. Yes, it went though quite a few changes. At one point we even had an electric guitar solo in there….eek! I have to say, it was a great solo as Neil is brilliant on the electric guitar. Poor Neil never gets to rock out working with me...never mind Neil...one of these days! Suffice to say, it didn't work within the context of this song so we wrote parts for Irish whistle and violin working in a dialogue with each other and interwove the melodies. 

To further build the song and add impetus, we very slightly increased the tempo from the middle onwards to give it that 'climactic' ending. 

  

'To be or not to be...the title?' 

  

To begin with, The Promise was never intended to be the title track. In fact, our original working title was Return to Avalon, a track which, in the end, was not actually finished in time to put on the album so we couldn't use it. 

So when we were deciding on what to call the album, The Promise was a good strong title and as it's the most 'hopeful' song on the album, it seemed like the natural choice. 

  

'This I promise, you will find a way.' 

Copyright Harvey/Grey 2014 

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 

The Making of 'The Promise'  

The writing of the album The Promise 

by Caitlin Grey (Additional notes by Neil Harvey) 

So, here we are at the first song in my new series...The making or should that be the writing of  The Promise. Before we begin with the first song, I wanted to preface the series by saying this. Sometimes, it's very difficult to de-construct and demystify the writing of a song. Apart from the fact that it's all too easy, once it's written, to forget quite how it came about in the first place! However, the main worry in publishing details is that in doing so, some of the mystery will be lost and the listener's own interpretation of the song, of equal importance in the communication process, will be somehow compromised. That said, I, myself, love to read about how favourite songs of mine came about. For example, we know that Abba's 'The Winner Takes It All' is to some extent about the painful divorce of Agnetha and Björn. Knowing this only makes it all the more poignant when watching her sing the song. You almost feel her pain. For me anyway, it certainly doesn't detract from my own enjoyment of the song, rather it enhances it.   

So with this in mind, I hope you will enjoy delving a little deeper into the writing process and discovering little nuggets of information about the making of The Promise. There are a couple of intertwined themes running through this album. I will reveal them later in the series and it may become clearer to you anyway, as you read more about the songs. 

  

Any songs, films or books I mention will be listed for reference at the bottom, just in case you'd like to look. 

                                                                   So here we go with the first song on the album......

                                                                                                          The Gypsy

 

                                                                        'Long ago in a far off land, there lived a lady fair-o

                                                                 She fell in love with a gypsy vagabond, oh she loved him true.' 

  

This song holds a special place in my heart for two reasons. Firstly, it was one of the first tracks to be recorded and, secondly (and most importantly), my little dog made a cameo 'appearance' on it. The Gypsy was actually first recorded roughly in April/May of 2013. One day in the studio, Neil was recording some guitar for the middle section, the 'dance around the camp fire' and my little Jack Russell, who was chilling out under the mixing desk, suddenly started to bark. His bark was recorded along with the guitar. So, as is usual when there's a mistake or glitch etc., Neil just hit record again. However, the original recording was still on the PC. The little fella passed away that same June (aged 15yrs). Those of you who follow me on Facebook etc. will know that I was pretty sad, as were we all. He was a smashing little dog, my little soul-mate and I miss him dearly. So as a little tribute, we re-instated the original recording and now he is forever on the album. If you listen very closely you can hear him barking in the middle section. It makes me happy & sad at the same time whenever I listen to it. 

Click below to listen to The Gypsy 

  

Gypsies, romance & inspiration 

 I have always loved gypsy folklore. As a child I loved the Raggle Raggle Gypsy song and the Spanish Gypsy Dance song. Amongst some of my favourite films were Sky West and Crooked and The Virgin and the Gypsy. I also loved Madonna of the Seven Moons, The Barefoot Contessa and Gone to Earth. These films and songs weaved their way into my subconscious, forever imbuing me with a love of all things Romany gypsy and romantic! I was fascinated with the folk tales of high born ladies running off with handsome, rugged gypsies and equally high born men falling for free-spirited wild and beautiful gypsy girls. Of course, one of my my all-time favourite films (and books!) is Wuthering Heights. Obviously, I'm not alone in my love of this Brönte classic, as many artists, most notably, the amazing Ms Kate Bush, have been influenced and transported by the tragic tale of love and death, of swarthy, moody Heathcliff and the beautiful Cathy! 

 The music 

For our first album Siren's Song, Neil had written a lovely little melody that developed into The Romany. To listen to The Romany click here 

On this album, The Promise, something similar happened, as Neil already had the 'chorus' riff which was originally intended to be something completely different. It wasn't meant to be a vocal at all, but I forget now what we were doing with it! But anyway, I went away with the melody and started adding more bits to it, then lyrics came for the main 'Where do you go my gypsy lover' and the rest of the story just developed from there. Once we had the refrain 'Come and dance with me', the verse melody progressed quite quickly and Neil used a simple but beautiful guitar accompaniment to enhance and support the narrative. Talking of the narrative, the next task was to write the lyrics for the verses which effectively tell the story. The most challenging part of writing lyrics for a narrative song is fitting all the content into three or at the most four verses. In traditional folk songs written in a strophic style, (that is verse after verse after verse!) one can pretty much tell a detailed story by adding as many verses as necessary to get the tale finished. However, obviously, I did not have the luxury of doing that. I don't want to bore my listeners to death! So, once I'd decided on the 'action' so to speak, I had to work out how to tell the story in a concise and rhyming fashion. This is both highly frustrating and enjoyable at the same time. I love writing this kind of song, it is always a completely different experience to writing a song 'from the heart' as it were. Songs written from personal experience and general life events etc. tend to be much more organic in their evolution. They come from somewhere inside and often you really just follow where they take you. Writing a story-based song from an outside perspective is a very different, but equally challenging task. I love to do both! The most complex songs to write, however, are the ones that appear on the surface to be about something else entirely, but actually hold a much deeper meaning altogether! Then it's up to the listener to decide for themselves if they spy another meaning within the lyrics? Ooh..cryptic! 

 

References 

Song library 

Spanish Gypsy Dance  From: Folk Songs of Many Lands, 1911 

The Raggle Taggle Gypsy (Traditional) 

The Romany Caitlin Grey/Neil Harvey from the album Siren's Song 

Filmography/Bibliography 

The Virgin and the Gypsy Novella by D.H.Lawrence 

Madonna of the Seven Moons Gainsborough Films 1944/45 

The Barefoot Contessa starring Ava Gardner Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewizc 1954 

Gone to Earth starring Jennifer Jones 1950 Dirs. Powell & Pressburger 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brönte 

Sky West and Crooked 1965 Director John Mills (released in the US as Gypsy Girl) 

Tags: 

#lyrics 

#songwriting #songs #Celtic #gypsies #Romany #gypsy 

 

How I write songs 

How I write songs by Caitlin Grey 

Hi everyone & welcome to my new blog on my brand new website! To start off, this is an article I wrote for another blog site. As I'm beginning a new blog series on this website all about the making of my second album, 'The Promise', I thought I would preface the series by posting this piece again for those of you who didn't get to read it. Before we get into the minutiae of 'The Promise', it will give you a bit of an idea of my song writing process. 

Here it is: 

  Writing about song writing is a bit weird! As I’m sure many other creative people will tell you, song writers (unless they are also teachers) don’t normally have to analyse the mechanics of what they do. In general, I don’t really think about how I write songs, I just do it! When I first began teaching singing and performance, explaining how I sing and perform came quite naturally, as you could argue that teaching itself is a form of performance. But song writing…mmm? Song writing (to me at least) is a rather personal endeavour, generally involving copious cups of tea and choccy biccies and executed behind closed doors in a small, airless studio…. mysterious and secret! When you decide to share how you do it and write it down, you actually have to sit down and deconstruct the process because it’s not something you consciously think about…so, like I said, it’s weird! 

(Scroll to bottom for useful links!) 

                                    Enough waffle…let’s get to it! 

The first thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to write songs – however you do it…hey, if it works for you, then keep going! If your way of writing is not working for you, however, and you’re unhappy with the results of your efforts, then that’s the time to seek help and support from other writers! I hope that sharing my writing process gives you some tips of what to do (or not!) and will maybe demonstrate that whatever you are doing is not wrong!   
                                                              The nitty gritty! 

I write songs in a few different ways, often in a jam/improvisation session with my song writing collaborator. This is a brilliant way to write, I have to say, as ideas can just flow when you work with someone else! 
If I'm writing for a client then, depending on the brief, I will work from set lyrics and write a melody or vice versa. This type of composing requires a slightly different skillset, so I won't go into this now. 

However, when writing my own songs, I would say that about half of the time, I generally tend to start with a melody and a lyric combined when I’m on my own. That’s just the way I work. It could be just a saying or a phrase that comes into my head and I just start singing it over and over. Usually, (as soon as humanly possible!) I record it on my phone or my voice recorder, just in case I have to leave it to do something else. There’s nothing more annoying than thinking up a great melody and then forgetting it and, let me tell you, I've had inspiration for a tune at the most inconvenient times (steady on now!).  So, if I’ve recorded it, I have it filed and I can go back to it later. Some composers and writers notate their ideas (write them down as sheet music... same process, different filing system!) Sometimes, I will do this, but very rarely, and, before you budding writers out there panic, it isn't necessary to be able to read/write music to write songs, at all!   

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, so, sometimes, when I listen back to the idea, I’ll think it’s got potential and get really excited to work on it, but then sometimes, I’ll think, ah, not so good after all and I disregard it, or at least leave it for a while. I have many, many, half recorded ideas that started out as a hit! 

Some writers don’t record their ideas, but I have to, as my mind is like a sieve! Icelandic singer/songwriter Bjork says that she never records her ideas; she just waits to see if she forgets it! If she does, it wasn’t any good anyway![1] I tend to take a more pragmatic approach to writing and I record absolutely everything I write (if possible). 

  

So, if I decide the idea is good enough to work on, I’ll sit down at the piano and carry on singing it to see where the tune wants to go. Then I’ll try to add more melody and play around with some chords. So, for example, I’ll take it into a chorus, or if I’ve written the chorus part first, (this is quite normal for me) try to work in a verse type melody. Sometimes, this is easy and it all fits and flows fantastically and, sometimes, it’s a bit trickier, depending on the melody I’ve initially come up with. I would say that I mainly write from ear rather than notating music, although like I said earlier, I have done this for a few songs. Generally, I’ll have something in my head and I can ‘hear’ the basic arrangement that I want for the song. 

  

I then take my rough melody and lyrics to my song writing partner Neil and we start working on it properly, trying to flesh out the structure and instrumentation. We decide on a key and then add the chords to accompany the vocal melody. Much of the time, we get stuck on the middle 8 (termed the 'middle 8' as it's usually the 8, or so, bars of instrumentation or vocal melody, that come after the second chorus in most pop/rock songs, that differ from the main melody of the song)! Often a bugbear! (More on Middle 8’s in another article!) Once we have a basic arrangement we record a guide vocal and probably a guitar accompaniment, or a keyboard, depending on the type of song. This is where it starts to get really exciting as you can hear your song coming together. Also, the song can alter radically at this point, for example, changes in vocal melody, lyrics, arrangement, all sorts of things! Or, it could stay very close to the original idea, like I said earlier there is no one way to do this. Just go with the flow and do what feels right to you. 

  

Obviously, it also depends on what genre you are working in. For example, garage or house/hip hop writers generally tend to start with a beat, or some beats, building a song or track around a strong rhythm and working from there. Other writers, say.. rock writers for instance, may come up with a great guitar riff and develop a song that way. Like I said at the start, there is no right or wrong way to write songs, this is just how I do it! I tend to be melody driven as I’m a singer and the voice is my primary instrument to work with. I suppose that I would be considered in the industry as a top line writer; that is to say, someone who writes the vocal melody of the song, termed the top line in sheet music. Although, I do have significant input into the instrumentation as well!

                                                          Solo writer or team player? 

I am lucky in that I have a collaborator to work with. There was a time though when I worked alone and I wrote my songs on my own (hence all the tea & biscuits!). I just recorded my ideas and maybe put a few chords (from my keyboard) underneath to support the melody. Then, when I could afford it, I went into a recording studio and recorded the song. Many studios offer an arrangement facility. This is when you take a raw song in, for instance, a rough melody, lyrics and a bit of an idea of how you want it to sound, and the arrangers work with you until it’s finished. It can be expensive but at least you get your song done professionally. This is invaluable if you don’t play well enough to do it yourself and/or you don’t have recording facilities at home. Of course, nowadays, with the advent of home studio set ups, most people can record everything themselves. (The home recording process in all its glory will be covered in another article!) 
The link below gives you an idea of what to expect from a full arrangement/recording service. 
http://studiopros.com/record-a-song.php?utm_source=google&utm_medium=banners&utm_campaign=Placements&utm_content=the-pros&gclid=CI7koPLT1r8CFSMIwwodBwcAsA 

If you do need help with recording your song, but you’re a bit broke, (we’ve all been there!) then sometimes music tech students are generally willing to work with you for the experience, or you could throw out a call for help to other budding producers/writers on social media. This is a great way to meet like-minded musos! And you never know…a hit making partnership may be born! 

So, this is how I write…warts and all! No secret tricks involved, just commitment and perseverance! If you’ve been hitting a wall, then, hopefully, it’s inspired you to experiment with your own writing process. All I will say is don’t give up! It gets easier with experience and if you have a passion for your music you will find a way! I wish you good luck, happy writing and see you next time! 

Cheerio for now! 

Love & music, 

  

Caitlin x 

PS. My good twitter pal Anthony Ceseri is offering a free songwriting report with lots of helpful tips! Do check it out, you're bound to find something jolly useful! 
http://www.successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/twitter/ 

Another very informative blog worth checking out! 
http://garyewer.wordpress.com/ 

PPS. If you'd like to ask me a specific question about song writing, anything at all, then please do feel free to email me on caitfirst4music@outlook.com 

I can't promise to know all the answers but I'll do my best to help! 

Keep writing! 
Caitlin xx

Summary

My musings on music, song writing, my inspirations and influences.