"WHY should song lyrics be excluded from literature?"
A good question, and one posed forcefully by Michael Stewart, director of this year’s Huddersfield Literature Festival.
The reason’s clear: Michael is a Huddersfield University lecturer in creative writing, but also an author and songwriter.
If I were him, I wouldn’t want a significant part of my creative activity treated disrespectfully either.
His colleague, Dave Gill – also a songwriter, poet, playwright and author – was in charge of the Masterclass: Album In A Day.
As a songwriter of no account whatsoever, I felt I ought to see how the masterclass would work.
Here’s the premise. The masterclass ‘students’ are given a sheet of paper and a pen and told to write a song.
Well, okay, gently and creatively nudged in the art and ways of song-writing.
After two hours these sheets are swept up, typed out and given to professional lyricists who put a tune to them. Musicians and singers collaborate to produce the songs.
Then they record them. And, some time after 6.30pm the same day there’s an album, complete with sleeve artwork credits and packaging.
"Come and make music history," said Dave. "As far as I’m aware, nobody has ever recorded an album of songs in a day."
Most of the albums I know have 10 to 15 tracks on them.
I’m thinking ‘two hours in an afternoon, and by 6.30pm – just three-and-a- quarter hours later – there’s a finished CD? This I must see.’
So yes, it was curiosity that led me there.
One of those involved was Leeds-based singer songwriter Hayley Gaftarnick, who gave this advice.
"Sing with your music," she advises. "What comes out might be nonsense and it might not. I just get very personal with my lyrics."
She thought my piece, Dear Anna, was ‘very personal’.
"I wouldn’t want to intrude on those feelings," she said.
It’s okay, Hayley. I made it all up.
At 6.30pm all the faces were present at Sleepers’ Bar under the railway arches off Viaduct Street in Huddersfield town centre.
It had been three-and-a-half hours and we’d all visibly aged.
Staff from the university were sitting with the headphones on, staring at laptop screens. There were lights and cameras, microphones and music stands and guitars leaning nonchalantly against walls.
There have been problems, Dave Gill announces. We wanted 10 songs and there are only nine. In addition, this is a live performance of the songs and the artistes will have to re-record some sections.
In essence, he was saying we’ll not see anything resembling a CD that night, or possibly, for some time.
Everybody who wrote lyrics was surprised at the interpretation the musicians and singers gave their words.
Some were, shall we say, more entertaining than others.
But it was a terrific experiment, a great bit of creativity, and all power to the university’s elbow.
I can’t wait to get my CD.
‘Dear Anna, your lipstick’s still on the dresser
The music you loved neither greater nor lesser
Than music that died on your lips as you went
Than tears that were cried and were dried and were spent.
Dear Anna, it’s settling, it’s silent, it’s older
The days so much shorter, the nights so much colder
Sun’s silvers the roof-tiles, the starlings have gone
Food’s cold in the oven. I hate meals for one.
Dear Anna – no footprints – the snow’s extra virgin
No time like the present but I’ve given up searching
Come back if you need to, don’t stay with a friend
The frost’s on my soul and the song’s at an end
Dear Anna, dear Anna, don’t put out the light
Dear Anna, Dear Anna, don’t wish me goodnight.