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The Ivors

ivors2BASCA, in association with PRS for Music, is celebrating the 62nd Ivor Novello Awards on Thursday 18th May 2017.

The Ivors celebrate, honour and reward excellence in British and Irish songwriting and composing, for works released in the UK within the award year.

The Call for Entries in the following categories for works released in 2016 is now open:

Best Song Musically and Lyrically
Best Contemporary Song
Album Award
Best Original Film Score
Best Television Soundtrack

Anyone can enter an eligible work and the deadline for entries is Monday 6th February 2017.

The Rules and Guidelines for Entry and the Entry Form can be requested from Cindy Truong – cindy@basca.org.uk

The Inimitable Peter Gabriel takes time out to answer our questions.

Last December, Peter Gamichele turriani_ IMG_4254.fbriel was among 12 music industry heroes to be honoured with a Gold Badge Award.

No stranger to award ceremonies, Gabriel is undeniably a great songwriter, producer and artist, but it’s his support for his f : ellow musicians that makes him, as writer Mark Sutherland put it, “a Badge winner worth his weight in Gold”.

Gabriel’s support for established and up-and-coming musicians alike shines through in every guise he assumes. Whether he’s championing world music through WOMAD festival and his Real World label or launching his online music service We7 to help struggling musicians thrive in a digital world, there’s no denying his impact and influence on the music industry.

We were fortunate enough to grab some time with Gabriel after the Awards ceremony for a short interview:

WOMAD has been entertaining audiences for 35 years now, what was the inspiration behind it? York Tillyer_MG_5961

It was really hard to find a place where you could see many great artists. It was 1980. The few festivals that existed did not feature many of the artists that we were getting excited about. It was a simple idea – to create a festival out of all the brilliant music and art made all over the world. Stuff made outside of the mainstream – music that wasn’t getting on the radio and was even harder to find in record stores.

You’ve been composing for nearly SO years now; do you have any tips on how overcome writer’s block?

Yes. Take a long off-peak train journey. It’s always worked for me and for quite a few others, to whom I have recommended it My theory is that it activates some parts of the brain through peripheral visual stimulation – i.e. lots of trees, houses and bushes rushing past you.

Much is talked about your flamboyant stage presence in the early days of Genesis. Now that listeners have such easy access to almost every song recorded, how would you advise new artists to stand out from the crowd?

I would recommend that any serious musician dress up as a flower – there are so many beautiful flowers to choose from.

With your albums 1, 2, 3 and 4, then So and Us, you seemed to skirt between massive hit writer and contentious songwriter. For every Sledgehammer there was a We Do What We’re Told (Mi/gram’s 37). Was this by design?

I have always loved experimental stuff -hymns, soul, blues and great pop. So when I’m writing, I just follow my nose when anything smells good.peter gabriel

Given the shift in the way music is consumed with the arrival of streaming platforms, what do you see as the next big developments in technology and how will these affect the next generation of songwriters and composers?

I love the idea of having everything available,  anywhere, all the time. However, currently 50 years of negotiations for fair payment on behalf of the musicians are being ero

ded in favour of the streaming services and record companies. The musician Jack Conte was so fed up with not being paid fairly he created his own site Patreon, which enables fans to support new artists at a time when they most need it. We need more initiatives like that.

I would argue that, in a big data digital world, it’s relatively easy to track everything that is being streamed – in most cases it is done anyway, as a matter of course. And, fro



m that data, micropayments could be made according to what is actually listened to, rather than according to who has the most clout, money or the best lawyers. Hybrids involving collaboration, curation and re­purposing should create lots of cool new stuff.

You continue to tour and create new music. Can you give us an indication of what your next musical project will be?

I am writing a lot of new songs at the moment and working on some ideas for a new type of musical performance.

At the Gold Badge Awards you made reference to a festival of songwriting. Can you tell us more, and can BASCA be involved or support in some way?

I’d love to see a festival that is based around songwriting, where you might see Joni Mitchell, Richard Sherman Qungle Book, Mary Poppins etc.),Trent Reznor; Dolly Parton, Jay Z and alt-J all discussing and playing examples of their work. Songwriters are not so different as the critics would have you believe. We have been discussing whether we could piggyback something on the weekend after WOMAD. We might see if there is enough demand and then make it happen if we get a good response. I’d like to call it ‘Hum Festival’. If we can find a way to make it work, it would be great to collaborate with BASCA.


This article was featured in Issue 47 of The Works magazine.

The Ivors Composite Logo 300dpi RGB ONLINE ONLY

BASCA, in association with PRS for Music, announce the nominations for the 61st Ivor Novello Awards. The Ivors will take place on Thursday 19th May at the Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London.

The Ivors celebrate, honour and reward excellence in British and Irish songwriting and composing. They are presented by BASCA [British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors] and are judged by the UK songwriting and composing community. They have been sponsored by PRS for Music since 1974.

“The Ivors were created to celebrate the best in British and Irish songwriting and composing.  As we move into our 61st year BASCA is delighted that these nominations reflect the health and diversity of UK music and include a raft of first-time nominees alongside past winners.  Congratulations to everyone represented here today.” Stephen McNeff, BASCA Chairman

The 2016 nominations are for works released in the UK during 2015 and recognise the songwriters and composers of these works, along with their UK music publisher.

Best Song Musically and Lyrically

Written by Piers Aggett, Kesi Dryden, Amir Izadkhah, Gary Lightbody, Johnny McDaid, Leon Rolle and Ed Sheeran
Performed by Ed Sheeran and Rudimental
Published in the UK by Ed Sheeran Limited – Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing and Polar Patrol Publishing

Written by Ellen Rowsell
Performed by Wolf Alice
Published in the UK by Kobalt Music Publishing

Wasn’t Expecting That
Written & Performed by Jamie Lawson
Published in the UK by Imagem Music

Best Contemporary Song

All My Friends
Written by James Carter, Oliver Lee, Cass Lowe and Chance The Rapper
Performed by Snakehips ft Tinashe & Chance The Rapper
Published in the UK by Sony/ATV Music Publishing

Written by FRED and Roots Manuva
Performed by Roots Manuva
Published in the UK by Promised Land Music – Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Just Isn’t Music Ltd

Written by Ragz Originale and Skepta
Performed by Skepta
Published in the UK by Warner/Chappell Music Publishing

PRS for Music Most Performed Work

Hold Back The River
Written by Iain Archer and James Bay
Performed by James Bay
Published in the UK by Kobalt Music Publishing and Spirit B-Unique Music

Hold My Hand
Written by Janée ‘Jin Jin’ Bennett, Jess Glynne and Jack Patterson

Jack Patterson

Jack Patterson

Performed by Jess Glynne
Published in the UK by Universal Music Publishing, BMG UK – Black Butter Music Publishing and Sony/ATV Music Publishing

Written by Michael Goldsworthy, Mark Ralph, Oliver Thornton and Emre Turkmen
Performed by Years & Years
Published in the UK by Universal Music Publishing and Sony/ATV Music Publishing

Album Award

Darling Arithmetic
Written by Conor O’Brien
Performed by Villagers
Published in the UK by Domino Publishing Company

Conor O'Brien - Villagers

Conor O’Brien – Villagers

In Colour
Written & Performed by Jamie xx
Published in the UK by Universal Music Publishing

Written & Performed by Gaz Coombes
Published in the UK by Kobalt Music Publishing

Best Original Film Score­­­­­­­­­­­­

Composed by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury
Published in the UK by Universal Music Publishing

Composed by John Powell
Published in the UK by Universal Music Publishing

The Duke of Burgundy
Composed by Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira
Published in the UK by BMG UK and Universal Music Publishing

Best Television Soundtrack

And Then There Were None
Composed by Stuart Earl
Published in the UK by Imagem FTV

From Darkness
Composed by Edmund Butt
Published in the UK by Du Vinage Publishing

London Spy
Composed by Keefus Ciancia and David Holmes
Published in the UK by Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Kobalt Music Publishing


On the 19th May, BASCA will also present awards to songwriters and composers in recognition of their contribution to British Music. These awards will be:

International Achievement
Lifetime Achievement
Outstanding Song Collection
PRS for Music Outstanding Contribution to British Music
PRS for Music Special International Award
The Ivors Classical Music Award
The Ivors Inspiration Award

BASCA will also present the Ivor Novello Award for Songwriter of the Year for 2015.

The 61st Ivor Novello Awards take place on Thursday 19th May from 11.30am to 4.30pm at the Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London.

For more information please visit The Ivors website


    Mark Sutherland meets BASCA’s first female Fellow, Annie Lennox

    ANNIE LENNOX_2014-PR#2

    (C) Robert Sebree, courtesy of Annie Lennox

    Like so many things, it began with The Beatles. As a primary school student, young Annie Lennox would spend every possible moment with her ear glued to her battery-powered transistor radio, marveling at the sounds seeping from it.

    Her home in Aberdeen might have been a long way from Liverpool, let alone the bright lights of London, yet she felt a powerful connection with the Fab Four and the other young artists forging the thrilling new music that would transform the British landscape and, ultimately, the world.

    “They were all young, brilliant, artistic guys,” Lennox says. “They were right at the epicenter of this whole vibrant shift post-war. I didn’t understand the bigger cultural picture, it was just music to me, but I loved it. I imbibed it. But I would never have dreamed in a million years that I would become a songwriter one day…”

    Fifty-odd years later, however, and Annie Lennox is not just a songwriter. Not even “just” one of the greatest songwriters of her generation. In fact, she’s also joined her childhood heroes in one of music’s most exclusive clubs.

    As only the 18th person – and first woman – to be awarded a BASCA fellowship, she now rubs shoulders with the likes of Lord (Andrew) Lloyd Webber, John Barry and yes, Sir Paul McCartney.

    Annie Lennox receives the BASCA Fellowship at the 60th Ivor Novello Awards at the Grosvenor House in London on Thursday, May 21, 2015. Photo by Mark Allan

    Annie Lennox receives the BASCA Fellowship at the 60th Ivor Novello Awards at the Grosvenor House in London on Thursday, May 21, 2015. Photo by Mark Allan

    Unsurprisingly, her induction – at the 60th Ivor Novello Awards – was a joyous affair. Hailed by fellow Fellow Sir Elton John as “one of the finest singers this country has ever produced”, an almost overcome Lennox declared gleefully: “With this, the glass ceiling is broken!”

    “It’s extraordinary,” she beams, as she chats with The Works ahead of the ceremony. “It’s so strange it doesn’t sound real. I’m not worthy.”

    But in truth, over her 35 year-plus career, Lennox has proved herself more than worthy. She has sold tens of millions of records, both as a solo star and as a member of The Eurythmics and, before that, The Tourists. And she has written some of the most memorable pop songs of that era, including such classics as Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), Who’s That Girl?, There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart), It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back), Walking On Broken Glass, Into The West and Why.

    Nor is she any stranger to awards. At school, she was never a prize-winner (bar the occasional one for music) but her career has seen her scoop an Oscar, a Golden Globe, four Grammys, four Ivors and no fewer than eight BRIT Awards.

    She may remain slightly dubious about seeing music as a competition (although she concedes “Of course, one would rather be in the winning camp…”), but she believes the recognition bestowed on songwriters by the Ivors has never been more needed.

    “We’re living in an age of celebrity,” she sighs. “You can be renowned and regaled for just standing there in a dress with a hairdo. My initial impulse towards becoming an artist had nothing whatsoever to do with that.

    Celebrity has nothing to do with your talent, your skill, your ability, your insightfulness or your ability to create. The impulse to be an artist and touch people’s souls and hearts and minds is a whole other thing – if you take that away, it’s totally throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

    So fame was not on the agenda as the young Lennox dreamed of making music. The urge to write songs began, in her words, as a “small impulse”, a tiny “spark” that, over the years, she has learned to chase and nurture until it bursts into flame. And, in the early days, cut off from the emerging music business in Aberdeen, and with few female singer-songwriter role models apart from Carole King and Joni Mitchell, she had to chase harder than most. At school, her careers officer informed her that songwriting and performing was “not a proper job”.

    Nonetheless, she secured a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London, studying flute and piano. “It was my passport out,” she muses. “It felt like an opportunity to pursue music, but I quickly realised that it didn’t suit me. I spent a good two years before I dropped out just feeling lost and not quite knowing what I should do with myself.”

    Lennox was working as a waitress – although not in a cocktail bar – when she finally found her direction. A friend brought a young musician called Dave Stewart in to the restaurant where she was working, the pair hit it off and the course of Lennox’s life – and, indeed, pop history – was changed.

    Annie Lennox receives the BASCA Fellowship at the 60th Ivor Novello Awards at the Grosvenor House in London on Thursday, May 21, 2015. Photo by Mark Allan

    Annie Lennox receives the BASCA Fellowship at the 60th Ivor Novello Awards at the Grosvenor House in London on Thursday, May 21, 2015. Photo by Mark Allan

    During her Ivors acceptance speech, Lennox described that moment as “catalytic” as she dedicated “a massive chunk” of her award to Stewart. Lennox didn’t write much in their first band The Tourists but once she and Stewart formed Eurythmics in 1980, one of the decade’s most successful songwriting partnerships was born.

    “Artists can be very self-critical,” says Lennox. “But if you’re working with a great collaborator, you bounce off each other. So much depends on perspective so when you have a great collaborator they will be like, ‘No, that’s a great idea’. You run with that confidence or [otherwise] you might be very quick to kick it out. If you’re cooking, you’re working with ingredients. But with music, it’s invisible. You feel it but you can’t see it, smell it, taste it or touch it. It’s a very spiritual thing.”

    Consequently, Lennox – who went on to write her solo work by herself – is not one of those songwriters that has a set process for writing. Most of her songs have been written at a keyboard and start with a small element – be it melody, chords or lyrics – that she can’t let go, and which is tweaked and teased for hours/days/weeks until finally the song emerges.

    “Everyone’s always looking for this formula and I don’t think it’s to be had,” she says, “Because the great songs are serendipitous. They are like chemistry, it’s mercurial.”

    She has also, over the years, found that a certain mood helps.

    “Most of the moods that have accompanied me through most of my life [of songwriting] were not coming from a happy place,” she says, wryly.

    Consequently, a now happy and fulfilled Lennox insists her own songwriting days must be talked about “in the past tense”. She hasn’t made an album of original material since 2007’s Songs Of Mass Destruction. But, given all the great songs she’s penned in the past, will she really never go back?

    “I don’t know,” she says. “Songwriting has been a deep, deep passion for me. I needed it because I was tuned into it. I was deeply committed to that whole way of life. But there’s a lot of sacrifice in it, as a woman specifically. It’s a hardcore lifestyle and it’s not for everybody. A lot of young men and women haven’t made it because it is hardcore. I’m not necessarily talking about songwriting, but the whole nine yards: writing, recording, touring, making videos, being a public person… it can destroy you.”

    Lennox says she decided to quit Eurythmics “beast” because of such pressures and, similarly, has now stepped away from songwriting. She continues to make music – last year’s Nostalgia album illustrated what a brilliant interpreter of other people’s songs she has become – and is one of music’s leading philanthropists, a tireless campaigner for AIDS charities and many other causes.

    She could never write another note, and this jolly good BASCA fellow will still be able to look back on one of the most remarkable pop careers of the last 40 years. Even if that music-obsessed schoolkid with the transistor radio would never have believed it.

    “I need to feel I have a purpose in life that’s more than just having a job,” she concludes. “I’ve been so privileged. I was passionate about songwriting as a life that I needed to follow. And that sweet dream, if you like, really did come true.


    This article was featured in Issue 44 of The Works magazine.

    12 December 2013

    Entries for the 2014 Ivor Novello Awards are currently invited for works released in 2013.

    The Ivors celebrate, honour and reward excellence in songwriting and composing, for works released in the UK within in the award year.

    BASCA is inviting entries in the following categories:

    Best Song Musically & Lyrically
    Best Contemporary Song
    Album Award
    Best Original Film Score
    Best Television Soundtrack

    Submissions are now open and the deadline for entries is Thursday 6 February 2014.

    BASCA in association with PRS for Music will present the 59th Ivor Novello Awards on Thursday 22 May 2014 at the Grosvenor House, London.

    To download our Rules & Guidelines for Entry and the 2014 Entry Form CLICK HERE


      Mark Sutherland meets the recipient of the 2013 Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement, Gavin Rossdale.

      Nineteen years ago, a DJ saved Gavin Rossdale’s life. Back in 1994, Bush’s debut album was in the can, but their career was in the toilet. After years of trying, fledgling frontman/ songwriter Rossdale and his then bandmates – guitarist Nigel Pulsford, bassist Dave Parsons and drummer Robin Goodridge – had finally secured a record deal and recorded Sixteen Stone, an album stuffed full of pulsating postgrunge anthems, with producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley.

      But changes at the US-based lworks37abel had left them in limbo, and a disheartened Rossdale had returned to his day job, painting and decorating. For four months, he found himself opposite Miss Selfridge in London, painting “identical offices the same shade of magnolia”.

      “It was,” he concludes, “a super Kafkaesque moment for me.”

      He was rescued from (sur)real life by the intervention of Los Angeles radio station KROQ which, having been sent a pre-release copy of the album, put Bush’s song Everything Zen on heavy rotation.

      The song took off, MTV came on board, Sixteen Stone ended up being released after all (on Interscope Records), Rossdale put away his paintbrush and the rest

      is rock history. Nineteen years and well over ten million album sales later, one of UK songwriting’s most successful global careers finally received some long-overdue acknowledgement when Rossdale picked up the International Achievement award at this year’s Ivor Novello Awards.

      A few days after his triumph, the Kilburn-born star is on the phone from Minneapolis – site of his first-ever date with his wife Gwen Stefani and where the revived Bush are playing live – still buzzing from a rare moment of recognition on home soil.

      “So much of what I do revolves around travelling to distant places,” he says. “Somehow these kind of fun events haven’t really been a mainstay of my career in England. So for that to happen was such an incredible compliment and thrill.”

      Rossdale was presented with his award by Chris Martin – who hailed the inspiration given to the young Coldplay by Bush’s US success – and also took the chance to hang out with Noel Gallagher formerly of Oasis, who even at their peak struggled to match Bush’s US success. And really, that’s the sort of company Rossdale should be mentioned in the same breath as: after all, they’re all great British songwriters whose songs have connected with millions of people all around the world. Even if Gavin was the only one of the three suffering from chronic nerves on the day.

      “I don’t usually get wound up,” he laughs, “But this just took the humour out of my life for a whole morning. I said to Chris, ‘I’m so fucking nervous I can’t think straight’ and he was like, ‘Why? You won!’ But that gives you an idea of the poignancy for me. It’s my job to not escape my emotions, but here I was diving right into them.”

      And it’s those emotions that have made Rossdale’s songs some of the most treasured rock anthems of the last 20 years. Bush may have only had one UK Top Ten hit – Swallowed in 1997 – but with the band back on the road since 2010 (albeit with Rossdale and Goodridge as the only original members), US fans queue up night after night to thank him for providing the soundtrack to their youth.

      It’s the type of Stateside impact that has eluded many more critically acclaimed artists from this side of the pond over the years. Rossdale puts his US success down to a combination of his lyrics connecting with a 90s generation primed by grunge, and the super-charge provided by extensive Stateside radio play.

      “If you want to be part of the Zeitgeist, you have to be on the radio,” he says. “In the US, people tell me every day how [Bush’s music] got them through A, B and C in their life. People didn’t hear me as the backdrop to their lives in the same way in England.”

      The thought of crafting such a songwriting legacy drove Rossdale from the moment he first started playing in bands in the 80s. At a time when the UK alternative rock scene’s ambitions were strictly parochial, Bush signed a US record deal in 1993; not because they intended to “dominate America” but because, after several near-misses, Rossdale became convinced that “no one was going to sign us over here”. Inspired by his love of assembly hymns at Westminster School as much as punk rock, Bob Marley, The Beatles and the Pixies, young Gavin just wanted to make an album. Having made one, his first thought was that it would no longer matter if he got hit by a bus, “because I’d been this songwriter for so long, but I hadn’t really achieved anything.”

      Yet, ironically, Rossdale developed the signature songwriting style that would bring him such success as much through accident as design. Having been discouraged from playing guitar in one pre-Bush band, he became annoyed later when he found his songwriting ambitions frustrated by the lack of a guitarist.

      Coldplays Chris Martin presents the the 'international achievement' Ivor Novello Award at the 58th Ivors to Gavin Rosendale at the Grosvenor House on 16 May 2013 Photo by Mark Allan

      Coldplay’s Chris Martin presents the the ‘international achievement’ Ivor Novello Award at the 58th Ivors to Gavin Rosendale at the Grosvenor House on 16 May 2013
      Photo by Mark Allan

      “I was like, ‘You can’t say you’re a songwriter if you’re waiting for someone else to play guitar for you – it can’t be that fucking difficult. Just sit down and write a song!’”

      So he did, and it eventually became Come Down, later a Top 30 hit for Bush in America. Even when he first met Nigel Pulsford, however, Rossdale wanted songwriting to be collaborative, but with Pulsford often busy on other projects, he took to writing on his own and then presenting tunes to be worked up by the band.

      That system proved hugely successful for Bush through four hit albums until they

      split in 2002 (even if the unimpressed band did “talk amongst themselves” through his initial presentation of Glycerine, which became Bush’s biggest US hit). Rossdale worked hard to change up his style for his post-Bush band Institute (who released their only album,

      Distort Yourself, in 2005) and for his 2008 solo album WANDERlust, which saw him back in the US Top 40 with the hit single Love Remains The Same.

      But now, with Bush back together, he finds the old methods still work the best. When he worries over lyrics, he still turns to the Sex Pistols’ highly controversial Bod

      ies as evidence of just how far you can push things (“It’s like a cold shower of ‘Just man up!’” he chuckles), and he still presents his songs for the band to suggest improvements (“Although often the best ones are the ones that refuse to be changed”).

      But if the process remains broadly the same, the environment has changed dramatically. Where once Rossdale spontaneously recorded his songs on a cassette using just an acoustic guitar, when he’s in writing mode he’ll now work five days a week with an engineer in his state-of-the-art home studio “with every instrument open to me”.

      “I just work at it in the same way that great painters have this vocation to paint and go in to the studio every day,” he says.

      Gavin Rossdale, of course, knows all about painting. But he’s determined that his 2013 songwriting won’t deal in identical shades of magnolia.

      “I’ve got to be able to play the songs live otherwise there’s no real function to making new music,” he says. “It has to be a song that can displace something that I’m playing in my set that’s really strong and that people know. That’s inspiring – it raises the bar for me personally.”

      And, when the curse of the songwriter– writer’s block – strikes, Rossdale is not one to get stressed. He resists the temptation to tap up the other award- winning songwriter in his household for help (“Gwen and I probably did it a bit when we were doing our solo careers,” he says, “but there’s too much respect for each other’s bands”) and instead gets out of the studio to search for inspiration.

      “If you reach a point where you start to feel a bit thin on the ground, it’s time to take stuff in,” he says. “Go to an art gallery, see a film, go see other bands, read books. For me, reading is a major source of ideas.”

      Neither does he get too hung up on finishing every song, usually working on three or four at a time and ruthlessly dropping the ones that don’t work out.

      “Songs can be stepping stones,” he shrugs. “Sometimes you need to write a bad song to get to a good song. It feels really cathartic to let go of something. No song gets too precious ‘cos it could be one that’s going to hit the chopping block anyway.”

      But when it works… during our chat, Gavin will variously compare the emergence of a great song to “alchemy”, “striking gold” and “The Holy Grail”. It’s a sure sign of a searching, inquisitive songwriting mind that refuses to rest on all those multi-platinum laurels.

      To that end, even with a summer of festival appearances ahead, he’s already working on songs for the next Bush album. After 2011’s well-received comeback album The Sea Of Memories, he’s determined to show the band is “a consistent thing”, not just a brief, nostalgic reboot.

      And, even with that long-awaited Ivor taking pride of place on the mantelpiece, he’s still got his sights on future accolades.

      “When I hear someone like Tom Waits or The Beatles I realise there’s so much further to go,” he laughs. “Music is like this incredible muse. There’s such a small amount of notes, but you have these infinite ways of arranging them.”

      Which is more than you could ever have said for those magnolia offices. Painting and decorating’s loss is undoubtedly, international songwriting’s gain.

      This article was featured in Issue 37 of The Works magazine.

        Writer and broadcaster Paul Morley meets Siouxsie Sioux the recipient of the 2012 Ivors Inspiration Award.

        works-34-coverOutside the packed, plush Hotel bar opposite Broadcasting House in Central London, it’s dusk, it’s blustery, and it’s suddenly pouring with an almost violent rain. A discreetly glamorous, off stage Siouxsie Sioux sips her tea from a bone china cup, looks out at the swaying trees and spiralling rain illuminated by lamp light, and expresses quiet, almost childlike delight. She can be quite stern and even withering about things that concern her, and limit the world, but her attitude is, in general, strangely sunny and positive – craving difference and newness. It’s her kind of night, hinting at something untamed, at the mysteries that lurk the other side of the ordinary. She admits she prefers the sun setting to the sun rising, that she’s a night owl, something she discovered when she started to go out to night clubs in the early 70s as a 14-year old.

        “I used to love dancing and I had my outlet there… it helped being able to identify with gays. I just couldn’t hack it with straight guys when I was 14, 15, 16, they were really weird and clumsy, not much fun. I discovered the clubs, they were open until four in the morning. Experiencing gay culture in discos opened up all sorts of fantastic music, sometimes novelty music, but with amazing strings, incredible bits of screeching, swelling music. It was so physical, and it was full of life and celebration, about the moment and the joy of being alive.”

        We’ve met to talk about the award she’s received, although she’s not too sure what it’s for. She’s cheered when she hears it’s for being an inspiration, as a songwriter.

        “Inspiration is much better than just contribution. I am thinking why now, I am probably the most inactive I’ve ever been, it’s typical isn’t it… I hope it’s not a way of shutting me up – giving me an award. It’s great that it’s not an icon award, which is usually wheeled out for what I look like rather than my work. Inspiration is good, as long as it’s for the right sort of thing, not The X Factor or anything… perhaps it’s an award for someone who gave this industry hell!”

        What kind of songwriter does she think of herself being ?

        “Well that’s the thing, I still don’t feel as though that is what I am – I just couldn’t really get anyone else to write the sort of songs I wanted to sing, so I thought, well, I’ll write them myself. I just see it as ‘I wrote my songs.’ And needs must. I taught myself really, to do it the way I wanted, whereas now it is so institutionalised. There is actually a college course now to learn how to write pop songs. I find that an anathema. It’s why the world is full of the Bonnie Langfords I used to despise. There’s a lot of competence about now in music, but who wa

        nts to be merely competent?

        For me the most important element in any creative endeavour is instinct, much more so than having a good technique. Instinct is so overlooked, and so is having an imagination, because without it you just get the clichéd greeting card lyrics and the constant recycling of themes and ideas, not in a deconstructed level, mashing things up in an interesting way.

        To just slavishly copy and water things down seems very uninspiring. Instinct makes you explore, technique takes over and removes the imagination. Technique is satnav, and instinct is working out which direction to go by following the sun and stars. The satnav tells you where to go, but it’s best to find out for yourself.”

        Siouxsie’s been singing, writing, and performing since the days when she was in the court of the Sex Pistols, pretty much their first fan, participating in some of the early scandal, forming Siouxsie and the Banshees, tearing into all forms of complacency with spectacular haughtiness. They were the Banshees because of the Vincent Price film Cry of the Banshee, a film they watched a few days before their first gig in September, 1976. “The intention was to play one number until they threw us off stage, but they never did. We got bored before then. It was meant to be our 15 minutes of fame, but it ended up lasting for years and years, which just goes to show how addictive dressing up and making noise for a living can be.”

        57th Ivor Novello Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London on May 17, 2012. Photo by Mark Allan

        57th Ivor Novello Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London on May 17, 2012. Photo by Mark Allan

        She was liberated by punk to create a mutant, militant pop music that was as influenced by movie soundtracks, experimental literature (Ballard, Beckett and Burroughs

        ), and surrealist provocation as it was by glam theatrics, Germanic electronic rock and psychedelic punk. The extreme pop fan became a fantastic, ingenious writer of extreme pop songs, creating a bewitching repertoire of songs that reflected her idea that a great song is cinematic, atmospheric and alien.

        “When I started it was based on an idea that the things we were influenced by were not necessarily in the Top Ten, like the Velvet Underground, but they should be. Iggy Pop should have been our Frank Sinatra, so we were trying to change what had become the establishment. For me, great pop music was where you wondered how it had made it through the system, through a barrier of blandness. It was all about finding a sound that acted like a drug no matter how weird it was, so that something hooked you in that turned the strange into a pop song – think of O Superman by Laurie Anderson, that was number one, and it was entirely different from anything else, and I love that way of surprising with the unexpected but it still being a pop song.”

        From the very first chaotic, cathartic gigs, she was an irresistible performer, coming to challenging life on stage. “I feel intrepid and brave when I am on the stage… there is no one better, I am indestructible. Without that I feel vulnerable and at a loss because I am not letting out things… I am getting better at being relaxed, but I still need to be able to do that. And it has always been about being physical – even though I could singer better if I don’t move about I can’t help it. My body just has to go with it.”

        Siouxsie and the Banshees were the last of the original punk groups to be signed, but the most imaginative, and enduring when it came to developing as musicians and writers. They were twisted show business luxury

        fronted by the hardest, strangest most flamboyantly inscrutable female pop star of them of all. She evolved quickly into a distinctive and startling if underestimated writer.

        Her collaborators included core Banshee member Steve Severin, Banshee guitarists including Robert Smith of the Cure and John McGeoch of Magazine, and drummer/percussionist Budgie who became husband and partner in her other great psych-pop group, the Creatures. (They divorced in 2007.)

        Their songs travelled through space, time and sexuality, used handsome, enchanting melody to confront traumatic experiences. The Banshees and the Creatures ended up gate-crashing the pop party playing the most violent, exquisite and erotic pop music imaginable. They sneaked hell into the pop charts, as well as a brittle, opulent heaven and a jarring lewdness. Considering their song topics included mental illness, medical terrors, surreal diseases, depraved urges, sinister intensity, unearthly energy, sexual abuse, childhood disturbances, sordid mysteries, unbearable nervous anxiety, fairytale fears, urban discontent and the bleak dignity of solitude, it was astonishing that they ended up as much as anything else a sublime singles band. Nothing that has come since has made those songs sound dated; they’re of their time, but completely timeless.

        Sioux had plenty to write about, much of it growing up in a household constantly on the edge of frightening breakdown. A word she uses when describing what many of her songs are about is damage.

        “Damaged lives, damaged souls, damaged relationships. Most of the damage I sing about first happened when I was younger and I am still feeding off it and working it out. Early experiences are what create a lifetime of damage. The songs you write can help you fix the damage. And just the environment you are in is so important and can waste potential and corrupt something. For me, there was neglect. An alcoholic father who is not there because the most important thing for him is just to get alcohol and your mother is trying to compensate for the non-existent second parent so she’s never there because she’s working all the time and when she is around she’s stressed out. Being isolated and not having anyone to connect with, there was just no physical touching back then… it was a post-war, generational thing, there was no physical contact, which can make so much difference. A good hug is so important…”

        Your songs have ended up becoming…

        “Strange, creepy hugs…”

        And the word she uses

        57th Ivor Novello Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London on May 17, 2012. Photo by Mark Allan

        57th Ivor Novello Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London on May 17, 2012. Photo by Mark Allan

        the most in her songs?

        “Skin, apparently. Breaking out of it, being enclosed by it, it’s easily bruised, it’s a source of pleasure, it’s at the end of your fingertips, it’s what makes us different. Without it, we’re all the same. We’re just bones.”

        I tell her that as pop star, she’s up there with those that were on her list of inspirations when she started; the Bowies, Bolans, Iggys, Reeds and Nicos, and I swear she blushes a little. For someone so sure of herself, so damned fearless, she takes nothing for granted about her influence and impact.

        “You want something but you don’t know what it will be like. You want to leave your mark. I was here, wasn’t I? I did do something, didn’t I? But you don’t know how overrated fame is until you have some form of it… and it is the one thing I’d say that anyone who has it and is not an idiot would prefer not to have… if people didn’t meet me and have this preconception about me I would love that. They think they know me, ‘Oh, I saw you on the telly the other day,’ and some will use the ‘p’ word, you’re a punk are you, as if that captures me, and dismisses me… or they use the ‘g’ word… ‘I know you, you’re in that goth band.’ How dare they say that! It makes me want to punch their lights out.”

        When mentioning some favourite cover versions of her songs – by Jeff Buckley, Devotchka and LCD Soundsystem – she is only aware of the Buckley – “which I love, and perhaps that is a real moment in terms of thinking, I really am a song writer. That’s my song, and it sounds like a proper song even when sung by someone else.”

        It occurs to me she never reads her own Wikipedia page. “No way!” she recoils, absolutely unconcerned this might make her seem disconnected. “I hate the internet… I can Google on a friend’s computer, but when I am at home I would so much rather be outside at my home in France with the birds and bees and my cats… if it’s miserable weather I will read or watch Sky Arts.” She doesn’t need to monitor her own image? “That’s for others to worry about. I don’t want to know, it might change the way I think about myself and not in a good way.”

        Because she’s won a song writing award, I ask her what the most important kit is that she uses as a writer.

        “Pen and paper. I never write on the computer. No, no, no. The paper has always got to be big and lots of it. A song becomes a bit of trail that I have to follow. And I don’t want to scroll down… I want to see it all and hold it in my hands.” What about musical equipment? “I’m the singer not the fucking drummer!” (She will admit she picks melodies out on keyboard and, sometimes, guitar.)

        Sioux can still be as scary and uncompromising as she was 35 years ago, with an uncorrupted youthful energy, but (whisper it) she’s mellowed slightly, and is realistic about being in her mid 50s. “The older you get the less you know oddly, so there is uncertainty about what to do next. Can I do what I’ve always done as a 60-year old? It might be a bit obscene… I don’t know. I haven’t made my mind up. The writing, yes, but the physical side takes its toll, and I can’t perform without being physical.”

        What happens next?

        “I don’t know. Surprise me. If I say what I want someone up there will say she thinks she knows it all and that’s not going to happen…”

        A final hug, and then Siouxsie Sioux disappears into the night, where she belongs, where nothing is certain.


        This article was featured in Issue 34 of The Works magazine.

        Paul Allen meets Ben Drew, the triple Ivor-winning songwriter behind Plan B

        British singer Ben Drew (Plan B) with his 3 Ivors Awards at 57th Ivor Novello Awards, at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. on Thursday, May 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Mark Allan)

        British singer Ben Drew (Plan B) with his 3 Ivors Awards at 57th Ivor Novello Awards, at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. on Thursday, May 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Mark Allan)

        Vodka and coke in one hand and Marlborough Gold in the other, Ben Drew is recalling his first lesson in songwriting. “My godfather taught me that all modern songs are based on The Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson,” he says, waving the cigarette like a conductor. “When I was 14, he told me to write all my songs like that until I’d mastered the structure. Then I could start messing around like the Beatles did. It was a brilliant piece of advice.”

        Fast forward to 2011, and Drew, better known as Plan B, is still following in Smokey’s footsteps. Not only is his second album, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, drenched in Detroit soul, but he has joined the Motown legend as an Ivor recipient. The 27-year old has just walked off with three statuettes, winning Songwriter of the Year, Album Award and PRS for Music Most Performed Work for the single She Said.

        What does it mean to him? “It’s actually really hard to explain how good this is for me,” he says. “It’s like I don’t need to prove anything anymore.”

        Validation is a recurrent theme for Drew. If he felt “undermined” and “dismissed” as an underground rapper, the East Londoner has had to seek fresh affirmation following his recent soul reinvention.

        It is five years since Plan B unleashed his hip-hop debut album, Who Needs Actions When You Have Words. Hailed as a voice for disenfranchised urban youth, Drew spat tales of inner city brutality over acoustic guitar licks. When he took up acting roles as a gangster in the movies Adulthood and Harry Brown, it was perhaps inevitable that some would begin to confuse art and reality.

        Rather than a documenter of sink estate stories, Drew was increasingly depicted as one of the violent youths he was portraying. But if his debut release was misunderstood, Drew’s newest album risked confusing people even more. When the hoodie-wearing MC reappeared last year in a sharp suit and singing sweet soul, fans and music critics were shocked.

        “It was a massive risk,” says Drew. “But [the soul] I did on that album is what I do best. It comes so naturally. What I do with my hip-hop, I do to the best of my ability – that’s the difference.”

        Conceptually, The Defamation of Strickland Banks still has its roots in rap. The album was originally intended to be a “film for the blind”, a connected series of hip-hop vignettes about inner city life. The only problem was that Drew didn’t have a story.

        “When I was writing, I just kept coming back to soul music, so I thought why not make a record about a soul singer,” he recalls. The album’s protagonist – Strickland Banks – is a
        British soul singer who finds fame but loses everything when he is jailed for a crime he didn’t commit.

        By the end of the recording, Drew had a problem. He had a chronological story told through hip-hop and soul, but the two styles didn’t work together. His record label suggested splitting them into two albums.

        Drew takes a puff on his cigarette and smiles. “The boss said if you release the hip-hop album first and it doesn’t do well, you’ll probably get dropped. So why not try the soul one?”

        Released last April, the album went straight into the charts at number one, and has produced three Top 20 singles. For Drew, it has been the best possible public validation of his musical talent. From now on, he says he only needs to prove things to himself.

        Born in Forest Gate, East London, Drew had a tough upbringing, somewhere in the “void” between working and middle class. His father (“a weekend dad”) left home when he was six, and he had a turbulent relationship with his stepfather. As a teenager, he was expelled from school and was referred to counselling for getting into fights.

        Musically, he was soaking up a range of different styles. “I was influenced by everything,” he says. “I was MC’ing with my mates in the playground, but also listening to guitar music, jungle, drum and bass, pop, everything. East London was a very multicultural place to grow up.”

        When he took up guitar at 14, he stuck to popular chart hits – swapping Beatles and Oasis songbooks with his mates. Later in his teens, he started attending Tribal Tree Studios in North London, a charity offering music courses to disadvantaged young people from across the capital.

        Here, Drew found himself writing and performing the kind of r’n’b love songs he had been hearing on MTV. “I wasn’t comfortable doing it,” he says. “I was singing about love, something I’d never even experienced.” He started losing confidence in his singing voice, and decided to be a rapper instead.

        At a Tribal Tree showcase, he convinced the programme leader to let him try out a hip-hop track he’d been working on. Backed by acoustic guitar, he played Kidz, a song inspired by the murder of the south London schoolboy Damilola Taylor and the first track on his debut album.

        “When I played those soul songs, the A&R guys were just looking at their fingernails,” he says. “Then I played Kidz and their jaws were on the floor.”

        Within six months, Drew was signed to 679 Records (since taken over by Atlantic) and began working on his first album.

        Despite the venom of its delivery, Drew says Who Needs Action… has a positive, anti-violence message. The whole point was to challenge assumptions. “If a crime happens, the media always says it’s because of mindless thugs,” he explains.

        “I wanted to ask why they are like that. If you delve deep, it’s the government who created the council estates where they throw all the poor, uneducated people. A lot of those kids grow up with no role models. They’re not loved, they’re told they’re a piece of shit from a young age and they grow up to believe that. Then they start acting like it.”

        But if the release was a critical hit, it didn’t sell in the numbers that Drew or the record label wanted. “I was very bitter about the lack of success,” he says. “A lot of pressure was put on me to sell records.”

        Drew’s frustration came out through alcohol and anger. He remembers nights where fans would recognise him in a pub and buy him a drink. “It would start out nice but eventually the conversation would go into how I didn’t sell that many records and I’d just lose it,” Drew says. He would get into fights and end up being arrested.

        “I’d be in a cell with a policeman looking through a slot in the door, saying, ‘You’re that rapper, Plan B,” he says. “It got to the point where I was in court and they were going to give me a criminal record. I thought, well, that’s America done.”

        Let off with two years’ probation, he knew he had to change his life around, and voluntarily sought counselling for anger management.

        at The Ivors Music Awards, Grosvenor House Hotel, London. Photo by Mark Allan

        at The Ivors Music Awards, Grosvenor House Hotel, London. Photo by Mark Allan

        Looking back, Drew says it has “done wonders” for him. “I had to peel back the layers of what I thought was confidence, but was just a front,” he says. “I was a public figure but reacting like a kid. A lot of the problems I had stemmed from things that happened to me when I was four or five years old.

        “When you’re a human being and something f**ked up happens, you need to talk about it or it’ll never go to bed,” he explains. “Sometimes I think we spend our whole adult lives trying to fix the things inside of us that someone broke when we were kids.”

        It was, he admits, a hard process to put himself through while living in the public eye. “I lost my sense of humour, I became very sensitive and fragile but I still had to go up on stage and do interviews,” he says. “It was the hardest year of my life.”

        Today, he says the anger is still there, but he can cope with it and he tries to avoid people who push his buttons. That said, he admits that the people he tends to make the best music with are those who he doesn’t get on with personally.

        If the edge and intensity remain, it’s clear that Plan B is far less sensitive about his own abilities. After all, artists need self-belief to admit their weaknesses.

        “I wasn’t the greatest guitarist and I’m still not,” he says. “I don’t know my scales, I tend to finger pluck a lot and I can’t do really complicated rhythms and rap. But if you have conviction, you don’t have to be the best performer in the world.”

        That conviction was the catalyst for his last record. Promising himself he would write whatever came into his head, Plan B stuck with the soul sound and the story of Strickland Banks.

        The album has changed everything. But Drew didn’t know that when he began writing it, which explains why – as a back-up measure – he simultaneously began a raft of other creative projects, all of which now need his time and attention. This year, Plan B is completing a UK and US tour, writing and recording two separate albums, putting the finishing touches to his debut movie, Ill Manors, writing the film’s soundtrack, playing a host of summer festivals, and starting the filming for Nick Love’s new movie, The Sweeney, in which he will star alongside Ray Winstone.

        The original hip-hop tracks about Strickland Banks will be released as The Ballad of Belmarsh and his third album, provisionally titled The Director’s Commentary, is currently being finished. “I lived at the studios, I even moved my cat in” he says of his most recent recording sessions. “There were producers in every room and one studio where I was banging out ideas.”

        On top of this, on the day of The Ivor Novello Awards, he also released a charity single in aid of the victims of the Japanese tsunami and Pakistani floods – a slowed down version of his single Hard Times, recorded with Elton John and Paloma Faith.
        What happens next? “I feel like I want to go backwards a bit from the public eye,” he says. “With the Ballad of Belmarsh, I know I’ll be going back there. You know, I’m not so comfortable being man of the moment or put on a pedestal. I figure I’ll go from being underground one minute to overground the next.”


        This article was featured in Issue 31 of The Works magazine.

          Paul Allen meets legendary lyricist and new BASCA Fellow, Don Black.

          Snooker is an unlikely aid for a music writer. But Don Black is not alone in his love of the game. A few minutes at the green baize have blown away writer’s block in many great minds down the years. Mark Twain, Ira Gershwin and Mozart are all said to have sought sanctuary in billiards and pool.

          BASCA Fellowship - Don Black - The Ivors 2009 photo David Fisher (4)

          BASCA Fellowship Don Black at The Ivors 2009. Credit: David Fisher

          Today, the snooker table takes centre stage in Black’s study. As if to prove its powers, the bookshelf on the back wall gleams with awards. There’s an Oscar, two Tonys, a Golden Globe and five – no, make that six – Ivors. Black has just received another honour, an Academy Fellowship, at this year’s awards. At 70, he joins a very select group of musicians, among them his friend and frequent collaborator, John Barry.

          It is with the Yorkshire composer that Black has created much of his most enduring work. The partnership has produced multiple Bond theme tunes (Diamonds Are Forever, Thunderball, The Man With the Golden Gun) and a hit musical in Billy. But of the hundreds of songs that Black has written, it’s the Barry-composed movie theme, Born Free, that remains the most iconic. So inseparable are words and melody that it’s hard to even say the title without singing it, and to stop short of the next line. These lyrics, in particular, have captured imaginations around the world. They were adopted by antiapartheid fighters in South Africa and still speak for those struggling against oppression today.

          Born Free won Black his Oscar in 1967. A framed black and white picture in his study shows the lyricist, aged just 28, receiving his gold statuette from Dean Martin. Looking back, it’s lucky that he was there at all. Carl Foreman, the producer of Born Free, didn’t like his lyrics. The movie was about lions but Black’s words didn’t mention animals once. Had US bandleader Roger Williams not recorded a hit cover version at the same time, life could have been very different. Instead, there was a last-minute scramble to get the chart smash back into the movie. Black and Barry were nominated, and became the first ever British winners of an Oscar.

          Within a couple of years, an incredible 600 cover versions had been made of Born Free. How times have changed, says Black. These days, no one would want to record an Oscar winning song – it’s all about doing your own material. But in other respects, the statuette worked much the same magic as today. It opened doors. Suddenly, Black was in demand from the likes of Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein and Quincy Jones. He would go on to collaborate with them and many more great composers.

          It isn’t hard to find stage and screen smashes in the Black back catalogue; Tell Me on A Sunday, Sunset Boulevard, Bombay Dreams, The Italian Job, Out of Africa, True Grit are just a few. But among the hits, there have been misses too. Songs – sometimes entire musicals – that were variously ignored, savaged or dropped over the years. After a few big setbacks, some writers give up.But Black has always shrugged off the disappointments. It is his temperament, as much as his talent, he says, which has helped him to succeed.  Certainly, optimism is something he found at an early age. “My parents were always very grateful for every little bit they had,” he says. “My mother was happy just to see the sun.”


          The Works, Issue 25 Credit: Justin Sutcliffe

          Donald Blackstone was born on 21 June 1938 in Hackney, East London. The youngest of five children, his parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia. For the young Black, home meant a cramped council flat bursting with language, music and song. “That background had a big influence on my taste for music,” he smiles. “Gypsy music, Russian music. Anything with a minor key, I’m there.”

          His first break into the music industry came as an office boy at the NME. Surrounded by writers and musicians, he discovered London’s Denmark Street, better known as Tin Pan Alley. “It was a magical place,” he recalls. “The stars of the day – today’s equivalent of Coldplay and Bono – would just be walking down the street.” Black wanted to be a part of that world but hadn’t yet worked out how. He certainly didn’t realise it was possible to make a living by lyric writing. Instead he turned to stand-up comedy. The craft of joke writing, he says, has helped him to learn concision and lyrical dexterity. But his shtick never took off and he returned to Denmark Street, this time as a song plugger. He would schmooze producers and DJs to get clients’ songs played on the airwaves.

          It was back in Tin Pan Alley that a friend, Mike Hawker, showed him a PRS cheque for £1,200. It was his pay for writing the words to Helen Shapiro’s number one song, Walking Back to Happiness. Black didn’t need any more encouragement. He began writing lyrics immediately. And it was at this time that his path crossed with a very special musician, Matt Monro.

          Monro, later dubbed the British Sinatra, had nearly made it big once before. When Black became his manager, the singer rediscovered the road to stardom. In his biography, Wrestling with Elephants, Black talks of a kind and honest man, who fought a hidden battle with alcoholism. Drink would ultimately stop him from becoming an even bigger star, but Monro was never all that impressed by fame anyway. After receiving standing ovations in London’s hottest clubs, he would turn to Black and shrug, “What does it all mean, son?”

          The line is Monro’s but it clearly strikes a chord with Black too. Both East Londoners, they shared the same lack of “luvviness”. Black relates one of his favourite Monro anecdotes. “We’d be backstage and I’d say to him, ‘Sammy Davis Junior and Tony Bennett are in tonight to see you – they’re going to come backstage.’ Matt would look disappointed and say, ‘Oh, can’t you get rid of them quickly so we can go and have a curry, son?’”

          For many years, Black juggled management and music writing. It was hard, he explains, to see a career in writing songs. But after penning Walk Away for Monro, the work kept coming. First shown in Born Free, his trademark is deceptive simplicity – using straightforward words to harness universal themes.  He needed these skills for the title track of the movie, Ben. Ostensibly a song about a rat, Black’s lyrics instead drew on the theme of the film: friendship. Sung by Michael Jackson, Ben topped the charts in 1972.

          Legendary songwriter Don Black in his West London home where he has a full size snooker table in his office.

          Legendary songwriter Don Black in his West London home where he has a full size snooker table in his office. Credit: Justin Sutcliffe.

          By then, Black, his wife Shirley and their two children had moved out to Los Angeles. The LA lifestyle never really suited the Blacks, however, and they were soon back in London. But times were beginning to change for lyricists. Increasingly, songwriters were beginning to double up as musicians and wordsmiths and there was less room for out-and-out lyricists. The movie industry was changing too. Bond remained one of the few film franchises to continue the tradition of a title track – a song that sets the scene for the movie.

          Black laments the fact that film music today rarely bears any relevance to the storyline – many songs, he says, could easily be switched for other generic tracks and no one would notice. And often, it’s the star singing who is more important than the song itself.

          Black had no shortage of work but by the late 70s he was already taking a new direction: musicals. His first attempt, Barmitzvah Boy, flopped but it brought him to the attention of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Over the next two decades, he wrote a succession of hit Lloyd Webber musicals: Tell Me on a Sunday, Aspects of Love and Sunset Boulevard. In 2003, he teamed up with another great composer, AR Rahman, on Bombay Dreams.

          Talking about the creative process can be hard for any music writer. Of Born Free, Black simply says he had “a good day at the office”. But writing great lyrics is an underrated skill. To tap into universal emotions with such brevity reveals both Black’s talent at observing life and his linguistic agility. As for moulding the words around the music, he calls on a different set of skills.

          Black has worked with many tortured composers over the years. Diplomacy, he says, is usually the key. The celebrated Canadian journalist Mark Steyn has remarked that Black is typically “the sanest guy in the room”. He doesn’t disagree but insists that his collaborations never get too heated.

          Legendary songwriter Don Black in his West London home where he has a full size snooker table in his office.

          Legendary songwriter Don Black in his West London home where he has a full size snooker table in his office. Credit: Justin Sutcliffe.

          “I have a theory that no matter how different composers are [in their private lives], they’re all the same at the piano,” he says. “Andrew Lloyd Webber or John Barry, it makes no difference. We’re all looking for the melody and the right lyric.”

          Today, Black is still seeking out that perfect lyric and is particularly touched by the recognition at this year’s Ivors. “It’s a special award in many ways,” he says of the Fellowship. “It shows that people hold you in high regard and it’s a real honour.” His award is also very opportune. At the time of press, Black’s lyrics are top of the British charts. US rapper Eminem has just sampled Black’s track, Reaching Out (originally recorded by Queen), on his comeback album, Relapse.

          There are more projects ahead too. Black is currently working on the lyrics to a new musical, Bonnie and Clyde, due to open in San Diego this October. There is also a workshop production with Debbie Wiseman at the National Theatre this summer and another collaboration with composer David Arnold (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough) is in the pipeline.

          Looking across his study, copies of Music Week and Variety lie on the snooker table, next to scribbled notes and pages of music scores. Black still keeps up with the trends and is showing no sign of slowing down. “My idea of career happiness is having a big hit show on Broadway while I’m at home watching The Sopranos,” he smiles.

          It’s a funny line but there’s a truth to it. Black’s talent speaks for itself but perhaps the true reason why, at 70, he is still at the top of his game lies more in his nature than anything else. For all the accolades and awards on the bookshelf, Black knows not to take life too seriously. After all, what does it all mean, son?

          This article was featured in Issue 25 of The Works magazine.

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