Friday 18 December 2020

Songwriting with Ex Forces Veterans

2020 has been a very strange year, but despite its challenges I still managed to produce some great music with 'Stand Easy Productions'. Stand Easy are a live performance organisation setup with the intention of supporting sick and traumatised war veterans through engagement with live theatre arts. This year however, due to the restrictions of the lockdown, a new approach was pioneered using video production as a vehicle for theatrical and musical expression.

It was a great pleasure to be asked to contribute to this project in the capacity of musical director. Over the course of an intensive four week period we worked together in a carefully monitored bubble, doing our best to stay healthy and safe. It was a real challenge to compose songs and produce video while masked and socially distanced. There were some tense and difficult moments when the material brought up intense feelings for some of the participants but everyone held-fast and we managed to get through the process and produce some great songs and video pieces along the way.

Here's a few lines from the Stand Easy Productions website outlining their mission statement:

Stand Easy works with Wounded, Injured and Sick Ex-Forces participants, using drama activities to help their recovery. Most of our Ex-Forces are with us because of mental health issues and the majority of these are Post Traumatic Stress related.  We already work with one blind participant, and would encourage others with sight impairment to join us; we also work with Ex-Forces who suffer from isolation and have withdrawn from usual social contact.

We don’t expect participants to have previous experience of drama, nor do we aim to create actors – this is about the re-engaging of skills already possessed, including:  courage, teamwork, communication skills, a sense of humour, concentration, self-discipline, etc.  Stand Easy aims to add creativity and imagination to that list and to reduce stress and anxiety. 

Stand Easy Productions are an amazing group of directors, producers and filmmakers who strive to engage with ex-army veterans to explore emotional healing through drama, music, and the arts. 
Here's a link to their website: 

At the foot of this page is a video made for one of the songs. This song, 'The Heron' was composed by myself and Billy McWilliams. Billy loves music but had never dabbled with songwriting before. He was very taken by the presence of a heron standing in the river outside the community centre and it occurred to us both that the quiet solitude of the heron was a fitting metaphor for so much of what was going on for people this year.

I'm really pleased with the mellow vibe of this track which includes a lovely bit of clarsach (Scots lever harp) accompaniment provided by Rebecca Sharp. 

Thursday 4 June 2020

Songwriting Workshop at Falkland

A very cold and frosty Sunday in December 2018 saw a group of shivering songwriting talents arrive at the workshop space in Falkland's Centre for Stewardship. It was truly chilly outside but we soon had a roaring fire going and things began to warm up in no time. 

After the obligatory round of coffee, welcomes and introductions I presented the group with a bespoke PowerPoint presentation on songwriters and their words of wisdom covering everyone from Jimmy Webb to Carol King and beyond.

Next, I introduced the 'seven stories' concept and some of the basic ideas behind narrative songwriting techniques. To demonstrate this I showed how I had come to create the Dundee Back Stories Songbook using a year of local newspaper headlines and I went into some detail on the the creation of one of the resulting songs - Deadline Carriageway the terrifying tale of an errant gritter wagon at rush hour!

After lunch everyone proceeded to find a quiet(ish) space to hone or write their own songs and some very worthy collaborations took root at that point. Amazingly, in the space of one day everyone was able to present an original song at the showcase event that evening. Mulled wine and mince pies were served to the frozen arrivals who duly took to their seats for the evening's entertainment. 

I have to say I think everyone rose spectacularly to the occasion and I was deeply impressed by the songs I heard - not to mention the bravery and goodwill that was present in that room. To the audience, performers and staff at the centre,


We are hosting another event in March 2019 at the Centre for Stewardship and this time I'll be focusing on site specific songwriting, looking at some classic examples and then setting out on some song crafting of our own - can't wait!