Category: Random thought
Dad - I'm, four (I mean we are all four) Rose, John, Stephen, Anne, Peter
A poem written for my dads 75th birthday:
Dad - I'm, four (I mean we are all four) Rose, John, Stephen, Anne, Peter
And I know what dad's are for
A knee to be bounced on
A shoulder to be up high on
Or sometimes - a shoulder to scream and cry on
Dad I'm four (I mean we are all four)
And you are like the biggest tree in the forrest
Solid, rooted, always dependable
With strong branches that cover and protect
So I feel protected.
Dad I'm four (I mean we are all four)
And Dad, I want your attention -
I am rapt - I follow you, entranced
I always want to be in your gang.
And you give me your attention and I am in your gang - so I'm nothing but happy.
Dad I'm four (I mean we are all four)
And you are a magician - and you can fix and make anything
A seat for the bogey, a paper hat from a newspaper
A rabbit with your hands, a tissue for a snobbery nose
And I'm always breaking something - and you always fixing it.
Dad I'm four (I mean we are all four)
And you make me smile when I'm sad
like when I've been told to stop eating the the coal from the bunker
And Dad, how come when you comfort me
you can sang better than Elvis or Nat King Cole:
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you
10 facts you didn't know about the singer songwriter Jim Byrne
- Played guitar in the Psychadelic rock band, The Primevals.
- Co-wrote a song with Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet. Marti Pellow who grew up in the same town (Clydebank) and is related through his mothers sister.
- Has American Indian blood in him - as a result of through a turn of the 19th century marriage between an Irish booth boxer and a touring Cowboys and Indians show.
- Was a runner up in the UK 'Grolsch live wire' songwriting content.
- Attended Glasgow School of Art as a teenager after winning an art contest in the Glasgow Herald.
- Has received an award from the king of Sweden; The Global Bangemann Challenge award for work related to web accessibility.
- Is a published author of technical books and web accessibility guides (author/editor of the current Scottish Accessible Information Forum Accessible website design guide).
- Worked for a time as a statistics and research methods lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University.
- Worked as a computer programmer from 1979 until 1982 with a business called Computrav; programming 'mini' computers which used 12" circular storage discs that screwed in to a cabinet.
- Runs a web design and development business aimed at the Voluntary, public and education sector and is a specialist in accessible web design.
Who are my real influences?
I've been thinking about who and what has influenced my music. Many of the writers who reviewed my latest album wrote with great confidence of the artists I was 'clearly influenced by'; but the things is, they were wrong. It seems that if your voice sounds a bit like someone else's - then that artist is cited as an influence; apparently my music has been influenced by Johnny Cash, Lloyd Cole and Leonard Cohen; because I've got a deep voice and I'm a bit wordy at times.
I don't consciously try to sound like, play like or write like anyone else; however - like every musician who has ever lived - I'm clearly influenced by the artists and songwriters that I've listened to or played the songs of.
So what's in the mix that has lead me to write the songs I do, play the guitar the way I play it and sound the way I do?
The following accounts are the people and events my brain is throwing up in response to this question; it could be that it's suppressing influences to protect myself, or to throw both of us of the scent.
Tom Waits has been a songwriter, artist that I've listened to since the 70s - starting with his first piano driven 50s hobo act - through to his re-invention as a clanging hoarse junkyard poet (Swordfishtrombones). As an aside, I met Tom Waits in Edinburgh after a gig he played at the Playhouse in the 1980s; it wasn't quite the momentous occasion that it sounds; he asked me if I knew a good place to go for a late drink. Not being from Edinburgh I had no idea. The personal relationship between me and Tom started and finished right there.
The events, books and players who taught me guitar but are now 'hidden in the mix' of my style are:
- Classical guitar playing. I first started to learn guitar (I was about 13) on a nylon strung classical guitar; I learned from a book on classical guitar playing. I still have the tendency to play the odd arpeggio or a random flamenco influenced lick.
- A book on 'rock rhythm guitar playing' that I can't remember the name of; it taught me how to 'strum' in lots of different rhythms and added a very distinctly sharp staccato to my playing style.
- Wilko Johnson; as a teenager I learned every one of his guitar parts from the 1976 Dr Feelgood's live album 'Stupidity'. Chunk, chunk, chaunka - 'Back in the night'.
- Steve Forbert; similarly I learned almost every guitar lick on every song from Steve Forbert's 1978 album, Alive on Arrival. Lots of G, Am and D stuff.
- Big Bill Broonzy and lots of the finger-picking blues players from the 30s and 40s. I couldn't play the complex blues picking of those old guys but because I listened to so much of it, it seeped in to whatever part of my brain that stores musical styles - and it is now seeping out again when I play the guitar. In general the simplicity of the blues has influenced my songwriting and taught me about building and resolving musical tension.
- The Beatles and the Stones; I learned a lot of Beatles and Rolling Stones songs as a very young teenager; I wasn't trying to learn the style of any particular player (I wouldn't have known who played what) but playing their songs taught me the logic of their chord structures and the way they put their songs together; I'm influenced now in as much as if I play anything that reminds me of one of their chord structures I try to avoid it; because I'm so familiar with it, it sounds like a cliche.
- Punk and Garage bands; my playing in bands consisted of me playing fast - with lots of bar chords and bits of chords half-way up the guitar neck combined with open strings; I did this while swinging my arm about theatrically. I'm still trying to figure out how that translates to playing the acoustic guitar.
- The Carter Family; most recently my guitar playing has been influenced by Maybelle Carter; as I've been playing quite a few Carter Family songs.
The Punk Era
Punk music was the music of my teenage years and like many teenagers at the time I wasn't just a fan I was part of the Punk 'movement'; bands like The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, PIL, The Rezillos, Siouxsie & The Banshees and later bands that had punk attitude like The Jam and Adam and the Ants.
The first band I played in was a punk band and all the bands I've played in since have been influenced in some way by the attitudes of the punk period. I'm still not keen on long guitar solos and I struggle at times to connect with delicate, quiet and reserved playing styles.
Punk taught me to play fast energetic music; so I struggled to play slowly when I started playing solo acoustic; it has taken me a couple of years to slow down.
It also taught me to jump about on stage; but that doesn't work in the folk clubs for an artist playing an acoustic guitar.
I'm fond of the 'do it yourself' attitude; which was part of punk; so no need to use a studio if you can record your album yourself (not that that is unusual now; it's become the default approach).
However I've no desire to listen to punk music now; it was the music of my youth and I'm not a nostalgic person. I wore a 'Denis the menace' style top when I was a punk; and I don't wear that now either.
Piano players have influenced my guitar playing. I loved a lot of piano playing when I was young; anyone who had the New Orleans swing; people like Professor Longhair or Dr John - or could play barrel-house blues or stride piano. The rhythm of the piano players influenced my songwriting and the rhythms I play on the guitar.
There are a lot of styles that I think have influenced the way I sing (or don't sing); the crooners (including Frank Sinatra), Elvis, Edwyn Collins, old time American country and blues players, dramatic 'European' sounding singers like Jacques Brel and the pop singers of the 60s and punk 'anti-singing' style of Johnny Rotten.
I sang 'Blue Christmas' a few years ago in the Ettrick in Old Kilpatrick - and was told by an admittedly drunk audience member that I sang 'better than Elvis'. Clearly I don't believe that but I've been waiting for the day when I can tell someone about that compliment; and this is as good a time as any. :-)
So there you go - that's as much as I can remember right now; the people, books and music that have actually influenced me rather than those people that I 'sound a bit like'.
And this influence thing goes on; I continue to learn and be changed by the music I listen to and the cover songs I learn. At the moment I'm listening to a lot of old time country music and American and British folk. These styles are coming out in the songs I'm writing.
Thinking about what I'm writing at the moment I notice another influence I haven't mentioned and that is 20s and 30s Jazz; of the sort of that Louis Armstrong would be playing trumpet in.
I could go on for ever; there will never be a time when there isn't great music to listen to, learn from and be influenced by; this continual discovery of new music is a joy in itself.
Check out my new album, Every Day is Sunshine, to hear how what all these influences add up to.
My favourite albums and music from 2010
Here are my favourite albums from 2010 - written in response to Harpers list on The
- W C Stoneking - Jungle Blues
- The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
- Eels - End times
- Kurt Wagner and Cortney Tidwell - Invariable Heartache
- Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues
- Kris Drever- Mark the Hard Earth
- Fionn Regan - The End of History (well I only found it this year)
Although not released in 2010 the following list of artists are those I listened to over the last year; I'm surprised how much time I've spent with headphones on (I tend to work while listening to music on headphones):
John Prine - in particular his album of duets, 'In Spite of Ourselves' which is an absolute classic; It may be too country for some though. It entertained us on our trip to Ireland along with Fionn Regan and Steve Earle.
Tom Waits - listened to his Orphans album for a wee while - and revisited his classic 'Swordfishtrombones' recently.
Access to Spotify transformed my ability to find great music - so it's just been one long year of musical discovery.
Was glad to have listened to: Wilco, Lambchop, Calexico, Mark Eitzel, Elliot Smith, Devendra Banhart, Micah P Hinson, Nina Violet, did a chunk of 'Son of Dave' listening at one point, Sufjan Stevens was too good for his own good, Mickey Newbury surprised me with his songwriting and unusual arrangements.
I was cleansed by Charlie Mingus and listening to Bach's Cello suites (which for some reason sit in the same musical space for me), Kilby Snow made a short appearance during the year as did Screaming Jay Hawkins and Cab Calloway, William Elliot Whitmore, The Mississippi Sheiks, Willard Grant Conspiracy - Jacki Brenston, Warren Smith, Clarence Frogman Henry, Billie Holiday and Willie Mabon.
And a host of artists via Bob Dylan's radio show compilations - though not sure which ones came to me that way.
Not forgetting - I consumed doses of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Mose Allison, Redd Foxx, Professor Longhair (of course), Janis Martin, Hank Williams, The Pilgrim Travelers, Memphis Jug Band, Little Maxie Bailey, Johnny Burnette, Vashti Bunyan, The Carter Family (of course), The Broadside Singers, Jim Reeves (yes I did), Oren Lavie, Harry Nilson, Tahiti 80, The New Lost City Ramblers, The Incredible String Band, Andrew Bird, Rufus Wainwright, Bert Jansch, Gram Parsons (big time), Janis Joplin, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Steve Forbert, The Magic Numbers, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star (today), Johnny Cash, Mary K Burke, The Dirt, Ciaran Dorris, Balahulish Hellhounds, Jamie Flett, The Flaming Jets, Chris Barret, Brawth, Dave Acari - and probably more that I didn't bookmark on Spotify.
I forgot to mention all those bands that Jack White plays in - or produces. And I didn't mention Led Zeppelin or The Beatles or The Rolling Stones (I bought the reissue of Exile on Main Street) either - or Eliza Carthy who's gig was a highlight of the year. Or the Secret Sisters, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Swell Season and Nina Simone or the complete works of Robert Johnston and John Lee Hooker - bought for peanuts in Fopp.
Only problem with this list is that you can tell I'm not a 12 year old nor am I keeping up with the hip and cool crowd; I didn't mention - or take time to listen to The National or Robyn or Kings of Leon or Arcade Fire or LCD Soundsystem - nor surprisingly the Saturdays. :-)
I did buy the Gorillaz Album; so not completely a man of yesterday. And there have been some 'Hot Chip' songs I've liked; discovered on the Playlist in Tinderbox.
Phew! Once you get started with this stuff it never stops. It's never been a better time for music consumers. :-)
Interviewed by Helen St Helen
(Helen)---Have you always had a love for music?
(Jim)----I must have liked music when I was young as I remember in Primary School going to 'try out' for the violin; unfortunately the school only had one violin and it didn't fit me - so that was the end of my violin career. I also tried to join the school choir, but again was unsuccesfull; I couldn't sing a note in tune at the time, so I can't say they made wrong decision. I wasn't even the singer in my own bands until my wife Pat persuaded me that I should be singing my own songs. She thought I could do a better job than the singers I had.
I started playing the guitar when I as a teenager. If my memory serves me right it was mainly because my friend and neighbour Derek Macpherson had started learning guitar himself. I was a competitive youngster and I thought I could be better at it than he could. :-) As soon as I could play a few chords I caught the bug (so to speak) and started writing songs; first as a song-writing partnership with Derek and then on my own.
I found it easy to make things up on my guitar; whether the things I was making up were worth listening to I have no idea. However, I haven't stopped making things up since.
(Helen)----- Who were some of your role models growing up?
(Jim)---I don't remember consciously thinking of anybody as a role model - even looking back I can't think of anyone who showed that a life in music was possible for someone like myself. I admired skillful people; whether they were golfers, racing drivers, tradesmen (like my dad who was a Plumber and was very good at his job), artists, or people who made things in their garden sheds.
I didn't especially admire musicians for their skills - it was more about whether they played the type of music me and my friends liked, i.e. when I was in the last years of secondary school the music we were into was Punk; which influenced me in terms of attitude and in terms of the idea that anyone could play music - even if you weren't good on your instrument.
In fact being a good musician was a disadvantage if you wanted to be in a punk band. I didn't consider Johnny Rotten a great role model though. When I got a bit older that changed when I started listening to old blues guitarists and piano players; people like the guitarist Big Bill Broonzy and the new orleans piano player Professor Longhair. Those people blow me away with their playing and still do.
(Helen)---How did you feel when you released your first cd/album?
(Jim)---My first public release was a tape cassette and my next was a vinyl record; CDs hadn't been invented then. :-) It was while contributing to the cassette release that I met my wife Pat - as she was organising this; that was in 1985.
Pat has been my manager since I decided to go solo. Pat's love and support has been the most significant thing that has happened to me in my music - and in my life. The vinyl record was a compilation with other Glasgow bands. It was a fairly low-key affair - but it was exciting to hold that piece of black vinyl and to see my bands name on it. My name was also on it as the songwriter - so I liked that.
I also played as guitarist on a single released by the band The Primevals, and released quite a few CDs with my own bands over the years. Apart from my very first cassette and vinyl records, the most exciting musical release was last year that I put out my first solo CD; that one felt special.
(Helen)--- What are some challenges you face as a musician?
(Jim)---Worrying about whether I'll ever write another good song; trying to figure out how to best promote myself and my music; finding enough time to work on music; learning words of new songs; finding other musicians to play on my records; playing entertaining shows; figuring out how to best arrange and record the songs I write.
(Helen----)Was it hard for you starting out in music?
No I don't remember it being hard; just picked up the guitar and tried to write songs. It was hard to become commercially successful because I had no clue how that worked. I like playing my guitar and I like playing gigs; I do a lot of both - and that's not hard.
(Helen)---- Who are some musicians you've been lucky enough to work with?
I've played with lots of great people, including; guitarist Graham MacIintosh, my brother Peter Byrne, who plays the bass, Drummer Bruce Ferguson, Robert Ruthven, Lawrence Alexander and Stevie from the band the Creeping Charlies and guitarist David Rodgers.
However, I guess you are looking for names that people might have heard of. I've written songs with Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet and the Jazz singer Carol Kidd MBE and met up with and played along with talented songwriters like Chris Difford and Martin Stephenson.
(Helen)-- How would you like to work with musically?
(Jim)---It would be nice to write songs with Tom Waits.
(Helen)----- What was it like growing up in Glasgow?
(Jim)---No idea, as I come from Clydebank originally; an industrial town to the West of Glasgow. I probably had a fairly normal childhood; riding my bike; playing football; running around the streets, fishing on the local canal.
As a youngster my health was poor - as I had asthma (still do) so I spent a lot of time in bed wheezing and feeling sorry for myself. I left school during the economic recession in the late 70s, early 80s - which had an impact on my world-view and my career path; i.e., I didn't have one. Luckily I've never needed one.
(Helen)---- You have a new album out "On these Dark Night", could you tell us a little about it?
(Jim)---I wanted to get a CD out fairly quickly after I decided to go solo (after playing in bands for 28 years) - mainly so that I would have a calling card for getting gigs - so I wrote a batch of new songs and got the CD recorded and mixed over two weekends.
Pat was also a big driver in getting it recorded and out so quickly - and it was the right decision - it just moved everything up a gear right from the start. The CD was made with help from friends: Mick West, (nominated for the award of Scottish Traditional Singer 2008),who helped with backing vocals. Graham Mackintosh (Guitar), Geoff Martyn (keyboards and recording), Peter Byrne (Bass, Banjo, Banjo mandolin and backing vocals) and Robert Ruthven (Guitar and backing vocals). If it is of interest, the following is background to each of the songs on the CD.
The Holiday Song
This song was written to conjure up memories of my Scottish seaside holidays when I was a kid. I've tried to make the music evocative of the weather you tend to get on the Scottish coast; fresh and breezy. The spanner in the works is that when I was young I suffered from bad Asthma - so I was never feeling that well.
My Weather Girl
My wife Pat loves watching the weather reports on the TV. A long time ago I wrote a song called, 'I'm at one with the weather man' in reference to this. This particular song starts from the same idea - and is a partner for the original song. The music reflects the styles of the blues pickers I was in awe of when I was a teenager. It is also marked out by its short length; about 1 minute 30 seconds.
Come dance with me
A romantic ballad about music dance, dreams and travel. Part of it seems to be about a city dweller romantisising the lifestyle of the traveler; the apparent freedom and lack of inhibitions. It is all played out in the imagination of the stay-at-homer - looking for a way ahead in their own life. The lyrics where written in collaboration with Pat. I'd been playing the music for the song for a long time (perhaps 15 years) before the song was written.
As we step up this stage
This is a song about the points in your life when you decide to make major changes - when you decide to take a different path.
The Handle's broken on my cup
A heart-felt song about love, heartbreak and reconciliation.
A song about those times when everything is good within you - and between yourself and your partner; you are exactly where you want to be - and who you want to be with.
A simple country style song about young lovers - at the point where they are striking out on their own - breaking free from parents.
A simple country song about love, friendship and sensuality.
On these dark nights
I wrote this song after a trip to Orkney and specifically after meeting and playing with Hazel Wrigley of the fiddle and guitar duo The Wrigley Sisters. The music is inspired by Orkney and that meeting - the words are about love and commitment.
(Helen)---- Where do you get your inspiration when doing music?
(Jim)---Generally I just play my guitar and hope that something happens; songs emerge with no prior thought. Once I'm started on a song I then try to figure out what it is about - and try to finish it in a way that is consistent with the existing music and subject matter of the song.
Over the last year I've been collaborating with my wife Pat - which has led to me finishing more songs than I might have in the past. Occasionally I write music based on existing words - then it's about creating the music that suits the words. For me, music is a habit - like picking my nose - it happens with no fore-thought. Having said that, I do tend to have an over-riding idea that I work within - which provides a context for the songs I write. This is based on two things; the general style of music and how challenging or accessible I want the music to be. This general idea changes every few years.
(Helen)--- What advice would you give someone who wants to perform music?
(Jim)----Play music with other people and play in front of an audience as soon as you can. Don't think everything needs to be perfect, i.e. your playing or your songs - just get out there and play. Playing live is a different skill from playing at home - and the only way to learn that skill is to play lots of live gigs. If you want to play live that is - not everyone does. Whatever it is you want to do, just do it and don't make up excuses why you can't.
(Helen)------ Do you have any hobbies?
(Jim)---- I've only recently started learning to record music on my computer; so I suppose that's my hobby at the moment. Another interest of mine is photography.
(Helen)------ Is there anything you would like to add(such as a story, advise, or anything you would like the readers to know about you)?
(Jim)---Steer clear of the idea that commercial success is the same as personal success; unless you like being miserable.