Writing Music

At the beginning of my career, as a singer discovering her voice, I didn't feel the need (and scarcely suspected that I might become) a singer/songwriter. There were plenty of great songs with which to test myself and find my emotional as well as musical range. As a teenager I had written poetry: perhaps it was inevitable that I would eventually become unsatisfied as an interpreter of others' inspirations.

Tom Waits didn't decide to write a whole catalogue of work for me; I didn't find my own personal Bertolt Brecht; I fell into writing myself. Archaeologists of my oeuvre will find examples of those early efforts on my first album. My first song I recall with respect was Cry (Heaven Virgin Records 1992), which was my earliest co-write, with Alastair Gavin. It was written from the heart of a broken relationship with a painter, and because of its honesty, it marks the moment when I began to understand that songwriting should provide the artist with a voice, in the poetic, emotional and political senses as well as the musical.

Although consistency and range take years – decades -- to achieve in songwriting terms, I was assisted through collaborations with Martyn Barker, Calum MacColl, Johnny Brown and Dominic Miller, all band members whose mutual understanding of the music we made together allowed high levels of creative empathy in the song-making process.

I have grown to love this process and find that it is not tortuous, it happens almost immediately: a song arrives complete, usually at some level a political statement, often inferring the politics of gender relations, the power deficit endured by women, often overtly so. Thus I wrote about the suicide of friends, motherlove, betrayal, divorce, redemption, while also developing my voice of protest against injustice and bigotry, the theme of the politics of Human Rights and humanitarian socialism.

I find that it heals me to write about my life, and to allow its story out into the world as I sing. Songs are for everyone to make of them what they will. They don't belong to any one person; they definitely don't belong to me.

with Martyn Barker during a recording session in 2008

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