Despite my musical limitations I soon wrote quite a few songs, the most important of which was called Fotheringhay. So much so it pretty much became the band’s anthem. Everyone at the folk club could sing along to it because we played it so much.

Fotheringhay was an imaginary tale of some ancient battle where the losing king ends up in chains in Fotheringhay castle. There was no historical accuracy to this cautionary tale but it did fit the genre of mystical tales that a lot of music, especially folk music, hooked in to at the time. Vaughan had written a song around the same time called Loving King’s Court so you get some idea where our musical heads were at the time.

Fotheringhay and Loving King’s Court were by far our most successful songs and once they had been written we played them at every gig and practice.

I was especially proud to debut Fotheringhay to the boys because it was played by using a capo on the second fret. It was quite a novelty for me, much less so for Chris and Vaughan but it did add something unusual to the song. There was little time given over to arranging our songs, we tended to all play our guitars at the same time and all sing throughout each song. Given the fact that we had no amplification it made some sense to do things this way as nuances were likely to be lost if we didn’t make enough noise to begin with.

In addition to our own songs we were heavily influenced by Lindisfarne and we played a number of their songs. Vaughan, if I remember correctly, was from the North East and he was very into Lindisfarne. For us the Lindisfarne music bridged the gap between the folk clubs which were our only outlet and the amplified, electric music we would have preferred to play if only we had electric guitars and amplifiers.

Lindisfarne influenced me sufficiently to set my Fotheringhay song in the North East as there’s a castle there with a similar name, or so for some reason long forgotten I thought at the time. It turns out Fotheringhay Castle is actually in Northamptonshire, but what’s a little artistic licence between friends, or a few hundred miles? Either way we’d strap the capos on and thrash away on the E and A chords, or more accurately the F# and B chords, that were the basis for the song.

Writing a song was, for me, a personal, often deeply personal thing. I wanted the lyrics especially to mean something. I was listening to people like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and host of other singer/songwriters who seemed to me to prioritise words over music and I liked the idea of writing something that had substance to it rather than just meaningless lyrics.

There was a deluge of high quality music being produced around that time. Without doubt 1971 was a watershed year of stunning music and that tripped over into 1972 and 73. The range of music being released was also amazing and I was soaking up a plethora of great music and using it to galvanise my writing. From the singer/songwriters to established stars like The Beatles, The Rolling Sones, Simon and Garfunkel to the new kids on the block like David Bowie and the glam stars like Slade and T Rex. It was a dazzling time in more ways than one.

My mate Steve had the most eclectic musical taste of anyone I knew and he introduced me to bands like Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath and to more obscure artists like Loudon Wainwright III and Tir Na Nog. As we crawled our way into the 6th form we had access to the 6th form room at school and music was at the centre of that smoker’s den. In one week in Leeds Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Stones all played venues and the university and polytechnic became essential stops on the touring circuit. We all got our Student’s Union cards and tried to see as many acts as possible. In addition to the great music we were finding out the joys of drinking and for those more adventurous souls soft drugs. Personally I’ve never tried any drug because I reasoned that I have quite an addictive trait within me that would soon be doing far more drugs than was sensible or even affordable. It was difficult enough affording cigarettes but we did compromise by rolling our own cigs which quickly became quite an art form in itself.

Couple all this with Leeds United continuing to be one of if not the best club in the land and it’s easy to see why schoolwork had no chance and predictably my grades suffered. But hey, music was going to be my saviour wasn’t it? Well no, actually. Despite being able to write songs, despite now being in the house band at the local folk club I never truly believed that I had any real future in music and no-one gave me any reason to doubt that belief. I simply lacked confidence in my musical ability to even consider that there may be more to my music than where I was. Outside of the band no-one gave me licence or confidence about my ability to write a song.

In retrospect I completely ignored the fact that I could actually write songs. The reality is that songs, and new songs especially, are the life blood of music. If the world stopped writing songs we’d grow sick of the existing songs and eventually stop listening to music. It’s new songs that fuel both the past and the future of music.

The actual act of writing songs may have been personal as they evolved and took on their own little lives but I found that once I’d demoed them to the boys they lost that personal touch and were now just another song we learnt and played. Don’t get me wrong, I was delighted to be writing songs and I wanted to write the majority of songs we played but once they were ‘out there’ they were no longer my sole property.

The competition in my head was to become the band’s principle songwriter, to dominate that aspect of the band. I never felt I could become as good a guitarist as Chris let alone be as musically talented as Vaughan, who it seemed could play just about any instrument and play it well, but I was confident I could write the best songs. But my lack of musical ability and knowledge held me back from believing that I could make any sort of living from my music, certainly at first and for a long time after. What I didn’t know was just how unusual it was to be able to write songs and even more rare to be able to write songs that people really seemed to want to listen to.

At the end of the day there are a lot of talented musicians, there are a lot of talented singers but there are a lot fewer people who can write a good song. Although it’s true that some 60,000 new songs are uploaded to Spotify each day, that’s worldwide for a start. The number of good songs is considerably less than 60,000 though, no matter what standards you apply to define a good song by.

Whether or not I can write good songs is in the ears of the beholder. Certainly sales of my music measured by streams, downloads and CDs indicate that the listening public are somewhat underwhelmed by my offerings but I’d like to think that by any definition my songs are a long way from being bad and much closer to being good. Well, I would say that wouldn’t I?

Back then the evidence was that the two most important critics, Chris and Vaughan, liked my songs enough to play them to people they knew and didn’t know. Outside of the boys there was enough people prepared to listen to my songs and applaud for me to believe I was on to something. Certainly not Lennon and McCartney’s standard but some way ahead of the local competition. And besides I was just starting, just wait until I got the hang of this music thing.

However, the boys in the band weren’t going to risk their futures by being in a band versus university and as Vaughan once pointedly told me we simply weren’t good enough to become professionals. I doubted him at the time and I’ve had reason to doubt him ever since. What Vaughan didn’t appreciate was that our chaotic, amateur little band had a couple of songwriters who could both actually write a decent song. From what I saw around us we were very unusual in that respect and we simply didn’t appreciate what we had going for us. Indeed I thought we were capable of writing songs every bit as good as most of the bands and artists who were releasing music, we just had to hone our craft and that would take time but it would be time well spent.

Also, we wrote independently of each other, we never tried to write together, we never even tried to arrange the songs together, we just took the lead from whoever had written the song. We also blithely ignored the fact that people liked our music. That was the most important single lesson we failed to learn, people would listen to our music and enjoy it and they would come back time and again to hear us play. No matter how we might have viewed our captive audience that was a fact and it was a fact we both took for granted and the lesson we failed to learn.

Despite being almost paranoid about my lack of musical knowledge and ability I really thought the band was on to something, well, I desperately wanted to believe we were on to something.



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