And other stuff

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Season’s Greetings

I hope all my readers had a Merry Christmas and that you will all enjoy a prosperous, fun-filled 2022. Let’s hope it’s the year we see the back of this damned pandemic.
I’ve added a few new lyrics recently, there are about thirty to choose from now. Help yourself and don’t forget, I’m interested in hearing what you’ve done with my words, so send me a link.

Song contests
The end of the UK Song Contest 2021 is in sight. The huge number of entries have been whittled down to the finalists in each category and from those the category winners, and the overall winner, will be selected. My lyrics to “Circle of Life” are in the finals so I’m very happy about that – if I were to win again, that would be super but unexpected. I’m also in the finals with two co-writes so fingers crossed.

Christmas present

For Christmas I received Paul McCartney: The Lyrics. This enormous two-volume tome is fascinating. The lyrics to his songs, from Beatles days to the present, are presented along with his reminisces of the writing of the song, his thoughts behind it and usually some autobiographical gem from the era in which the song was written. The neat trick is that the songs are presented alphabetically so the time-line drifts backwards and forwards between the early Beatles days and the present. This prevents the book becoming just another Beatles story.

New Year’s Resolutions?
Mine are pretty simple. Lose the five pounds I put on over Christmas, learn to play piano properly, add some melodies to my own lyrics. What could possibly go wrong?


The UK Songwriting Contest 2021 is drawing to a close. We’re at the semi-final stage and I’m still in it. The finalists will be chosen in the next couple of weeks and from those few the winners will be selected.

Last year I won the lyrics section with “It’s Later Than you Think”. The contest seems to be well attended with around 9,000 entries from 84 countries last year.

Fingers crossed!

Update – I made the finals. That’ll do me.

Circle of Life

Seeing news of the continuing drought in east Africa and the burning of the Amazon rain forests I wrote a new climate protest song, Circle of Life.

Here are the lyrics, I’m sure someone will make a great song and spread the word far and wide:

Circle of Life
2021©John Schofield
Verse 1
The sun beats down on the African plain
Where the long rains are late again
The waterholes are cracked and dry
And there’s not a raincloud in the sky

A new child cries, an old man dies
The circle of life goes on
A new child cries as the planet dies
The circle of life is undone

Verse 2
The Amazon rain forests burn and smoke
The lungs of our planet are choked
East and West are racing to space
When they should be repairing this place

A new child cries, an old man dies
The circle of life goes on
A new child cries as the planet dies
And the circle of life is undone

Verse 3
Wild fires and floods and oceans depleted
Cause and effect still debated
Governments fiddle as mother earth burns
Actions would speak much louder than words

A new child cries, an old man dies
The circle of life goes on
A new child cries as the planet dies
And the circle of life is undone

C’mon everybody, it isn’t too late
As long as we don’t procrastinate
Let’s give Mother Nature a helping hand
And she’ll repair our wonderland

A new child cries, an old man dies
The circle of life goes on
A new child cries as the planet dies
And the circle of life is undone

UKSC2021 – Finalist

Stephen Sondheim RIP

Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91. The New-York born composer won eight Grammy awards, nine Tony awards – including the special Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre – and one Academy Award. He also received a Pulitzer Prize.

Send in the clowns.

Writing lyrics (4)

Don’t despair!

People don’t listen to sad songs to make themselves miserable. When you write a sad song, and sad songs are very popular, be aware the listener is not interested in hearing you whine about your awful predicament.

What a sad song should do is tug at the heartstrings but then show a way out – redemption, hope, light at the end of the tunnel. Make them cry, but then offer a hint of a smile.

A sad song should show how the singer was faced with a sad situation, one the listener can identify with, but in the end found a glimmer of hope, a way forward.

“Don’t despair”, it should say, “I’ve been there and there is hope, I got over it, and so could you.”

Magic place

My magic place is the uninhabited island of Hawkesbill Cay in the Bahamas. I’ve anchored there many times, the most memorable being when the sun set on the last day of 1999.

I wrote some lyrics based loosely on this place, Magic Place, and they’re posted in Lyrics 3.

Writing Lyrics (3)

There are hundreds of books and thousands of articles on the art of song writing and I’ve read quite a few. Some go into exquisite detail, others just hit the high spots. This is my take on the subject:

It’s often said that songs are poetry set to music but I don’t believe this is strictly so. Although poetry often has a rhyme scheme and some structure, most poetry is meant to be read, each word mulled over, tasted, enjoyed. Songs go by quickly, there’s no time to savour the lyric to that extent.

Songs are more like short fiction set to music. A typical song of four verses might have a total of 100 words; that’s what we call flash fiction. You have to complete the story arc with those words – setting, body, conclusion or resolution. The chorus doesn’t help the word count, it’s a summary of the story so doesn’t actually add anything new.

Each verse is a short chapter, each chapter has to move the story forward, towards its conclusion. And, because we have so few words to work with, you can’t use two words where one will do.

Let’s get started. We want to write a song about a couple that have a fling on a beach in Zanzibar and afterwards the singer wonders what happened to his partner in that brief encounter years before. First, let’s establish the setting.

Verse 1
On a moonlit beach in Zanzibar
Strumming my old guitar
Our eyes met across a driftwood fire
Smouldering with desire

We don’t need to tell the listener how they got there, how they met, where they found the driftwood, how they lit it or how old they are – the listener’s own imagination will fill in all these details. We’ve provided enough information for the image to form in the listener’s mind. That’s what’s important here – the listener becomes involved, feels emotion.
We’ve also piqued interest – what happens next? A story is forming.
Verse 2
Beside the fire’s dying embers
That’s where we surrendered
On a blanket, under the stars
That night in Zanzibar

Once again, we’ve provided the stimuli to stir the listeners imagination.
We’ve moved the story along. We’ve resisted the temptation to dwell on the waves lapping on the beach, the moon’s pathway to heaven and all the other cliché’s we could have indulged ourselves with. We’ve used barely forty words and our couple have met and made love on a beach, beside a wood fire, after she’s been serenaded by our strumming Romeo.

Waiting in the wings at this point is the chorus, anxious to tell us what’s going on. As if we didn’t know. But the chorus also breaks the monotony by introducing a different rhyming scheme, a different cadence, even a different key should you so wish.
African rhythms, eastern spices
Sultry nights, a million stars
Exotic dishes, papaya slices
That’s the magic of Zanzibar

To underline the fact that this is a departure from the verses, the rhyme scheme and the syllable count has changed.
The chorus reinforces the idea that this is a romance fed by the exotic location. Now we can bring the story to its conclusion:

Verse 3
I wonder now if she remembers
That night beside the embers
Of a driftwood fire, under the stars
One night in Zanzibar?

We find the story was not a love story with a sweet happy ending but, in fact, a story of a love unfulfilled, at least by one of the participants. He wistfully recalls the past encounter. Maybe he’s old, dying, in an unhappy marriage. No need to elaborate, the listener gets it.
We bow out by repeating the chorus.

Now look at the construction of the verses. They each have the same number of syllables set on the same number of lines. This makes the song singable and more easily remembered, for the singer and the listener. (The syllable count is not something I slavishly adhere to; I’ll allow a syllable more or less to avoid making the line sound forced – the vocalist can take care of these small discrepancies).

There is also a rhyming pattern that is consistent throughout the verses.
In this case each verse is made up of two couplets, the first two lines rhyme and so do the last two. This is an a,a,b,b rhyme scheme.

The chorus has its own rhyme scheme, in this case a,b,a,b, and the syllable count is different to the verses. This is important, it identifies for the listener that a change has occurred. I see many songs where the writer uses what is really verse material, lyrically and structurally, in the chorus.
Realise that in the chorus you are expressing the general idea of the song but not providing additional story line. If you did, it would be an additional verse and should comply with that structure. Otherwise, the listener will become confused. So, the chorus has different content and a different structure. In most cases the chorus will be repeated without alteration; if the chorus changes whenever it appears you basically have two stories going on at the same time, creating further confusion in the listener’s mind.

Structure is useful as a frame upon which to hang the story, but you must clothe it with words, phrases, metaphors, and similes that evoke emotion in the reader. You have to provide the stimuli that trigger the listeners imagination. Some suggestions:

You have to show, not tell: “Don’t tell me it’s night, show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass” Anton Chekhov’s brother is supposed to have advised Anton in a letter.
Say “Through unwashed windows the sunlight streamed onto empty bottles and broken dreams” not “The bar had closed down and the owners had left town”.

You have to use strong verbs not weak verbs supported by adverbs: Don’t tell us “He ran quickly”, say “he sprinted”, you save a word and create a clearer picture.

You must never mangle the English language in order to make a rhyme work. Conventional sentence structure, conversational English, is the way to go.

Avoid clichés at all costs. Remember that every day more phrases that were once clever join the ranks of the cliché through over-use.

Don’t use the word love in a love song and if you do, never rhyme it with dove. Love is a word that always needs to be quantified – is this the love of your family or your new hair-do? Show us the love, don’t declare it.

I hope this has given you some ideas for how to approach your song writing. As I’ve said before, there are no rules, but structure will help hugely when it comes to coupling the lyrics to a melody. A basic plot will help you to concentrate on telling your story and not wander off somewhere irrelevant taking confused listeners with you.
Keep writing!

2021 ©John Schofield

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