Music with a message for our times . . .

An album and two singles with titles that sum up these distressing times

. .

My novel, Homeward Bound is available from Amazon and Waterstones online.

What Rebecca’s Read wrote: “Homeward Bound” is a funny, feel-good read that I’d highly recommend. With music intertwined throughout, this is a story of family, love, hope and dreams and finding your purpose at different points in your life. 5 stars!”

Five recommended books, self-isolating or not!

Looking for something to read? Five new books explore the experience, opportunities and issues of ageing, each bringing a unique take on the subject.

Hazel Prior Away With The Penguins is about a cantankerous but charming woman, her estranged grandson and a colony of penguins. (Amazon/Waterstones/ebook)

Richard SmithHomeward Bound follows a 79-year-old musician who is expected to be in retirement but isn’t ready to close the lid on his dreams, and his 18-year-old granddaughter, who shares his house and the dreams he once had. (Amazon/Waterstones/ebook)

Salley VickersGrandmothers is the story of three very different women and their relationships with the younger generation. (Amazon/Waterstones/ebook)

Francis LiardetWe Must Be Brave explores the fierce love that we feel for our children and the power of that love to endure. (Amazon/Waterstones/ebook)

Anne Youngson Meet Me At The Museum is a celebration of long letters, kindred spirits and the possibility of writing a new story for yourself, at any stage of life. (Amazon/Waterstones/ebook)

Click on the links for more information and where to buy them online (if your local bookshop is closed and can’t deliver to you). Amazon offers ebooks as well as hard copies. The e-book link is to a Google site. There are other links to the ebooks (like kobo) that need a sign in to a free account.

All the books were part of the Age UK Camden Literary Festival in March 2020.

This post first appeared on richardsmithwrites.com

Your first ever record was . . .

What was the first record you ever bought?

Go on, admit it, if only to yourself, in private. Odds on it was something way too guilty to be even a guilty pleasure. Bob the Builder? Mr Blobby? Bros?

I’ve yet to meet someone who said their first record was Jimi Hendrix or Nirvana.

Mine was My Old Man’s A Dustman (Lonnie Donegan – ‘My dustbin’s full of lilies.’ ‘How do you know they’re lilies?’ ‘Lily’s wearing them!’) For years it was my party piece whenever my parents had friends round to visit. Funny they only ever came the once . . .

My embarrassing first record theory was knocked on New Year’s Eve when one person told me hers was Shostakovich (and she wasn’t posh, she assured me, and she didn’t know if Shostakovich was embarrassing in classical music circles.) Another proclaimed his first to be a Bob Dylan record. I ruled him out on two technicalities – the first he didn’t know which song, so that doesn’t count. Plus he’d lived in a remote part of Ireland and didn’t come into contact with pop music until quite late in his life, by which age all of us have moved on to something more credible.  I was ten for Lonnie and swiftly moved on to rock’n’roll and American punk – though I must admit the second record I bought was barely more credible than the first. Delaware by Perry Como. (‘What did Delaware? She wore a brand New Jersey.’) Maybe for me the damage was lasting. I’ve had a weakness for puns ever since.

Of course, it’s different for today’s first-timers, with so much available to stream and children plied with music at child sensory and music classes. I doubt We Built This City On Sausage Rolls is ever going to be fondly remembered as a musical first by this decade’s teens. Will there ever again be a ‘first record’ to pass into personal histories, like Lonnie Donegan and Mr Blobby? And is that a good or a bad thing?

Richard’s novel, Homeward Bound, is available from the high street and online bookshops and Amazon (paperback and Kindle).

More doesn’t always mean better

A shelf fully stacked in Cuba. Quantity, yes, but variety and quality . . . ?

Choice. It’s what everyone wants. Spotify offers access to millions of songs, Amazon music quotes 50 million songs online. You can have what you want when you want it. Good? Not necessarily.

I’m not anticipating a return to the days when the only music you could hear came from a handful of radio stations, the music was what the producers liked or a record company paid them to play. Yet there’s a case to be made for taking back control.

When there was a limit to what was available, every new release was eagerly anticipated. Excitement grew at the impending release of a new song by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Police, Madonna. Conversation in the office would often begin with, ‘Have you heard the new single by . . .’  The anticipation and reaction of a new release was way beyond casually ‘dropping’ a track, as happens now. And chart positions were analysed, watching avidly to see if a favourite would climb or fall, not the dull, predictable (and often unnoticed) charts we have today.

It’s undeniable that the music industry was controlled – and for the benefit of the big and rich record companies. True, new artists needed the companies to spot them and give them a chance – meaning many never had the opportunity to see the light of day. For every Beatles that were turned down but eventually made it, there are probably countless who didn’t get a first chance, let alone a second. Yet when deals were signed and records made and released, it provided an excitement and anticipation that is unimaginable today. And now there is so much, it’s arguable that the opportunities for major breakthrough are just as limited.

What’s more, by being able to choose what we listen to, the risk is we’ll go for what we know we like. New music – and different styles – are forsaken for something we already know. Who listens to a radio station or streams music that they don’t initially like?

It all adds up to music going stale. There’s still plenty of good stuff, and innovation is still possible, but too much choice leads people (and TV programmes that feature music) to fall back on what is safe. And for someone who grew up being excited by music, that’s a shame for generations to come.

Richard’s novel, Homeward Bound, is out now.

Author’s Angst

It’s the night of my book launch.

Drinks are ready, copies of Homeward Bound, my first novel, are stacked behind the counter and a table is set aside for signings.

Let the launch begin.

Except there’s only me. I take a deep breath, taste the sweet aroma of bookshop and look around at the empty space.

Is anyone going to come?

It’s a lovely local venue – Ink@84 in Highbury – but will people find it? Was this all a terrible mistake? And what if people do come, but all at once and bringing uninvited friends and relatives? Will there be too many? Jostling for space, complaining that it’s too hot. What if there aren’t enough books to go round? And worse, not enough drink? Will there be rioting in the street?

Twenty minutes to go. Still no-one. Perhaps it’s for the best if they all stay away. They’ll probably hate the book, anyway.

I was asked if I had thought of doing a reading from my book. I saw no point in that. It’s taken me a couple of years to create the voices of my characters in my head. How can I be expected to reproduce them out loud to unforgiving ears?

Yet if I’m not going to read from it, what then? I have a short speech prepared, but what if no-one listens? Or they can’t hear me? Or I’m staring at faces barely concealing boredom, disinterest, wishing they were home watching Love Island?

The thought of seeing people I know brings a new dread. I am as incapable of memorising names as I am of giving birth to a child. I see myself, pen poised over the title page, being asked. “Make it out to me, please,” with no idea who they are, even though I’ve worked with them for twenty years, live in the same street, drink in pubs with them.

“Hello, Richard. Thanks for inviting me. Not too early are we?”

Someone’s arrived.

“Richard, will you sign my book for me, mate? Make it out to Paul.”

Loads of them.

“I’ve read the first chapter online. It looks really interesting.”

The shop is full, everyone’s drinking, chatting, smiling, taking photos and selfies. It’s going to be alright.

“That went well, great speech and they all seem to like the book.” the host says when the door has swung shut on the last guest.

Success. I should be able to bask in the compliments. But what if no-one else likes it? Or no-one else buys it. Will distant shops only stock it if I change my name to ‘Local Author’?

Any writer who thinks the agony will be over after the final proof is approved, just wait until the book launch!

Homeward Bound is available from the high street and online bookshops and Amazon (paperback and Kindle).

First published on https://www.troubador.co.uk/blog/#!author-angst

Performance of perfection?

Looks great, can you make out what they’re playing?

When was the last time you went to a music gig? What was it like? What as the music like? I went to one recently, half decent position, standing to one side. The sound was poor – loud, unclear and unbalanced – the vocals lost in the bass. At not much change from a £100 a ticket. What’s more, they didn’t play the songs I wanted and quite a few I didn’t. At home, I have them all on records and CD – and in unsurpassed quality. In the comfort of my own living room.

That’s why I don’t go to a live gig for the music. The recorded version is the real deal, perfected for listening by the artists and producers after many hours in a studio, only signed off when everyone is satisfied with it. And it can be listened to again and again. And listen is what I do, invariably with my eyes closed, putting pictures to the sound. A gig’s not about what you hear. It’s about being there – the ambiance, the excitement, the energy. The performance is unique but the music’s rarely memorable. They offer you alcohol and then pump up the volume to lift your spirits and create an experience. What’s on stage? Forget it!

Bands must know this. Otherwise, when they put out a ‘live’ album, why do they spend hours in the studio, perfecting the performance before it’s released? In the studio, the microphones are positioned to maximum effect, multiple tracks overlaid in the mix, final masters completed in front of top of the range studio monitors.  At the gig, they know they can’t reproduce the studio sounds. What counts is setting the mood and blasting the audience away.

So let’s get this straight. Gigs are good if you want a lift and an experience – at least, so long as you’re in a decent spot, preferably near the front, where the atmosphere can envelop you and the people next to you aren’t discussing the trouble they had getting to the venue. But studios are where real music is created. I don’t care if it involves trickery in production, with auto-tuning, multiple layers and double-tracking. This ‘perfection’ is what most performers are aiming for.

Of course, I couldn’t live off, ‘I saw Jimi Hendrix live’ for the next forty years if I’d not been to one of his gigs, but my memory is from watching him play. That’s not music. It’s a different kind of craft. If you want performance, go to a gig. If it’s musical perfection, stay at home.

Richard’s novel, ‘Homeward Bound’, telling the story of a seventy-nine year-old wannabe musician and his eighteen-year-old granddaughter is available now from bookshops and online. To find out more, click https://richardsmithwrites.com/blog-feed/

Want to know about the book?

For those who don’t know about Homeward Bound, I talk about it to Hannah Murray on Talk Radio Europe‘s Book Show. You can hear it Wednesday March 4th from 6pm (UK time) and repeated Saturday 7th from 7pm (UK time). https://www.talkradioeurope.com/the-book-show/

And in the meantime, I talk about it here . . . .

Of course, if you’ve already bought the book and read it, please hang on for a new and different blog!!

Do you hear voices?

Do you hear voices? I don’t mean paranoia or schizophrenia, or a whispering in your heard when you’re alone. Or imaginary sounds from the late, lamented shop in Oxford Street. When you read a book or a magazine, do you skim the words in silence or do you hear someone reading them to you?

I wondered this after someone asked me if there’d be a talking book of Homeward Bound. (There is an eBook but a talking book’s not anticipated at the moment.) But it started me wondering. Do I imagine a voice when I read, giving them accents and mannerisms?  And are they different from the non-speech narrative?

I was reading something written by Stephen Fry and I know I put it in his voice and with his intonation. The same for newspaper columns by Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson and a Twitter message from Danny Baker. Is that just me or does everyone? So whose voice do I hear when I read back my novel? Mine? Bill Nighy, who people have suggested should play George in a film version? Or Phil Daniels, the voice I always default to when I want a voice of the people?

I know that in writing these sentences, I’m speaking them to myself, rising and falling as the sentence progresses, lifting it if I pose a question and falling as the full stop approaches. And I assume it’s my own voice. I also read out loud what I’ve written as it seems to help, though it does get funny looks when I do it on the top deck of a bus.

Thinking of funny looks – when I wrote about the ones I get on buses, did you visualise expressions people give me? Did it make you think of things you’ve done that resulted in a reaction you weren’t expecting? Does description is a novel lead you to picture it in your head? In Homeward Bound, George has a room full of records. Would you imagine a room in your house filled with shelves and create your own geography of where the door is, where the light is coming from? Does light creep in from the windows or is it a lit by a single pendant light – perhaps a naked bulb . . . or does it have a shade?

I suppose I ask all this as – having been a film maker – the Director, the art department and the cast all have to bring descriptions to life for the camera. Maybe that’s why some film adaptations don’t work, each viewer having already designed the set and cast it in their head.

So back to my original question – when you read, do you hear voices?

Richard’s novel Homeward Bound is out now, at good bookshops and online

Save me from the audience

Save me from the audience at a live gig!

You pay your money (usually lots) and then endure people around you who seem to have misunderstood why they are there. Or is it me?

Judy Collins with a well-behaved audience at Cecil Sharp House folk venue, Camden.

I was at a Bruce Springsteen concert a while back. Around me, fans were wearing tour T-shirts, declaring their love for the Boss. Yet when he came on, they were absent for much of his set, trailing to and from the bar or the toilets. And each time they left, it meant people standing to let them pass, obscuring my view of what was on stage. When they finally made it back, treading on my toes and slopping over me the contents of their plastic pint glasses, they gave the stage cursory glances and yelled an occasional ‘yeah!’ but mostly simply talked to each other – at least when they weren’t taking gulps of beer. Yet at the end of each song, they’d jump and whoop, ‘More!’ Maybe they needed more since they’d not seen any of what had gone before.

Here’s someone who hardly considered there might be other people in the audience before doing her hair . . . London’ Soho Theatre

Then there was the concert where I watched the performers, not on stage, but on screen. And not the giant screen either side of the stage. The iPhone screen of the people two rows in front of me. They were standing on their seat to ‘film’ as the person in front of them was using an iPad that was blocking their camera. Both effectively denied me a clear view of the stage. I did try and ask them to be more considerate, but the amplification was too loud for them to hear – probably turned up to deter people from talking.

Lulu at Union Chapel, Islington. Maybe it helps being at the front!

It seems to me that people use gigs as a meeting place, reinforcing my view that live performances are about socialising not music – certainly at major venues. I exclude more intimate locations like London’s Union Chapel  – and I can remember a gig at Bristol’s Colston Hall where you could hear a pin drop, though whether that was because the audience was better mannered, entranced or just bored, I can’t say.

For me, adequate retribution occurred at a 20/20 cricket match. The crowd showed the same lack of attention to the entertainment on offer as the music at a gig, talking, drinking, looking in any direction other than towards the pitch. With the match finely poised, one of a particularly irritating group near me set off to the bar. When he returned with six overfilled pints, the game was over and everyone was leaving. Though I don’t suppose his group had noticed.

Quite what those on stage think of this. I suppose as long as the stadium is full, the merch is sold and the profits are high, they don’t care. But can they not see, do they not hear, that only about a third of the so-called adoring fans seem to be taking any notice? Surely not their ambition when they set out to become entertainers.

High Street is best – but Homeward Bound is now an e-book

For those of you who prefer screens to paper,  Amazon.co.uk now has Homeward Bound as an ebook https://www.amazon.co.uk/Homeward-Bound-Richard-Smith-ebook/dp/B084G6NXF6/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=homeward+bound&qid=1580811121&s=digital-text&sr=1-4.

And it’ll start to appear on other sites too. But of course, the best place is a bookshop. I always urge people to use the High Street. For me, there’s nothing better than browsing – well, browsing books and records. Not when it comes to clothes and shoes which are high on my list of things to avoid!

Below is a link to an interview I did with the Islington Tribune.

http://islingtontribune.com/article/highbury-authors-vinyl-destination-a-novel