It’s true; music has a magic that makes it so much more than sound-waves and luxury commodity. In 2010 I had the honour of working with the legendary saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis who co-wrote ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud’. He autographed my photo of him that I have proudly hung on my bedroom wall as “Love is music, Pee Wee Ellis”. More recently I am beginning to understand the true meaning of that.
Think back to the beginning of popular music, to slaves singing work songs in the south of America; work songs that later became the foundation for blues and gospel music. Testifying to the strength of love, gospel music gave people the courage to keep on pushing through hardship. Gospel music gave civil rights marchers the strength to go on. Mahalia Jackson described the power of gospel music as she recalled how the freedom riders arrived at the Montgomery bus depot in 1961: She said “gospel music had given people courage and spirit when they were in danger. Cars were set on fire and bombs were set off but Negroes kept right on coming. They filled up the church and began singing hymns and gospel songs.” With music and the leadership of Martin Luther King, the huge burden became a huge movement.
I’m a big Motown fan. I can’t get enough of Motown and like gospel music those songs are so happy and joyful. I can’t listen to Motown without smiling and singing along. Behind these soulful pop songs though there is often something so much deeper. For example when the Detroit Ghetto erupted into violence in 1967, Martha Reeves and the Vandella’s classic hit “Dancing In The Street” rose up above the despair and atrocity. I saw Martha perform at The Concorde 2 in Brighton a few years ago and she was just wonderful. I wondered if she had realised the hope and healing that she’d brought to radio listeners through her music.
It’s no coincidence that music is always there in times of hardship. As a lover of most music, I always try to see my living hero’s perform live. One of my many heroes is Paul Weller. Of course as the voice of ‘Style Council’ Paul took a very political stance expressing the struggle of the British working class in the 1980’s which in turn gave hope, strength and unity to his listeners through his songs. The healing effect of music is of course not always a grand political affair for the masses. Often it comes down to one individual making a connection with a song. I remember when I was touring with blues artist Candye Kane she had a thank-you letter sent to her from someone who was going to take their own life but then they listened to Candye’s inspiring song “Toughest girl alive” and it gave them the strength to keep on living.
Music can also be therapy. I have seen first hand the power of music on children when I have worked on music projects with HIV children living in the slums of Kenya and also the smiles and confidence of the fantastic young children I play music with in my home town of Brighton who suffer from Cerebral Palsy. Music can always be relied upon to bring people together and alleviate suffering.
Sometimes as songwriters of any genre we may write a song to express the pain or joy we are experiencing and it helps heal us just through the very process of writing it. This kind of writing therapy has been happening since the beginning of song writing. When Robert Johnson wrote Love In Vain he obviously had troubles that he had a personal need to express. This is probably why love songs have always been so popular. Most of us at some point will have our heart broken and songs about heartache are something we can all relate too whilst realising we are not alone in our terrible experience.
To conclude, thank you to all those artists who have inspired me as a writer from John Lennon to Foy Vance, Patty Griffin, John Lee Hooker and Lyle Lovett and let us never forget the true importance of music in an industry that these days is so often is spoiled by those people who are in it for the wrong reasons. Love is not the music industry, but Music is Love.
Here is a link to my new single “Loving You” a sincere song about having my own heart broken and the emotional struggle to overcome rejection. It incorporates my country, blues, soul and gospel influences. I hope you will enjoy it.
You can purchase a CD or buy concert tickets here.