The coastline, coves and windswept cliffs of Cornwall are inspiration for many of my songs including ‘Laburnum Trees’ and ‘The Tide’. ‘Heading for the Shore’ was my first ever song about the ocean and how life is enjoying the journey rather than reaching the destination. My latest song ‘And it Flows to the Sea’ was released on the 2021 SoundZanobi album ‘Liquid Gravity’.
The tide creates an ever-changing marine landscape, and the sea is a metaphor for life in all its movement and change. Life is fluid and never stays the same. One moment rough and stormy, then calm and serene. Always vibrant and alive. The ‘spirit of the sea’ is a central influence and inspiration in all my songs and music.
The river is another key influence in my songs with its image of constant change, as well as finding inner peace, acceptance and calmness. This is reflected in ‘As it Flows to the Sea’ and also in the 2021 song ‘Pressure Cooker (Don’t Push the River)’ on my EP ‘The Fixer’.
My first musical heroes were The Beatles. John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but above all the spiritual influence of George Harrison really impressed me. Other early influences were Paul Simon and James Taylor, later to be joined by Leonard Cohen, Billy Joel and Tom Waits. Added to this mix were the English folk strains of Fairport Convention and John Martyn and Scottish folk hero Bert Jansch
The imperious progressive tones of Queen and Pink Floyd were pillars of inspiration to me as I began my song writing. The melodic chords and tones of Phil Collins were also a template. The diverse and carefully crafted songs of Sting along with those of Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, were rich and formative influences. These albums and songs – so full of emotions – captured my imagination.
A musician and song writing hero whose guitar playing was just sublime, was Eric Clapton. I loved to see him play live at the Albert Hall, and his gifts as a songwriter enriched my appreciation of what it was to write beautiful songs.
The tight riffs and energy of Paul Weller, the bright melodies of REM as well as the sweeping and emotional drive and drama of U2 all influenced my song writing. The spirit of those early U2 albums were part of my desire to express something magical in music.
Being a pianist and lover of melody, I was touched as a teenager by the songs of Elton John, in particular his early catalogue from the 70s. His singular, syncopated movement and rhythmic arpeggios are like a DNA imprint in my piano style. The singular genius of Kate Bush with her amazing vocal range and sweeping piano pieces also left a deep impression on me.
The piano lies at the heart of my music. Bill Evans was a key influence I discovered in my foray into Jazz in my early 30s. However, it is the majestic touch and expression of Keith Jarrett who left the deepest impression on me. He awakened my love for that precious relationship a pianist has with their keyboard that combines expression of passion and verve with moments of deep tranquillity and intimacy. The boundless energy and creative genius of Jarrett in the Koln Concert is matched by the subtle touch and tenderness he shows in ‘The Melody At Night, With You’. Touch and control are all in music.
Melody is at the heart of my trade and passion, but also simplicity. Two Glaswegians I admire for their part in this quest, are The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan and songwriter and arranger Craig Armstrong. Their songs and music reach straight to the heart.
Where melody is mentioned, I must speak of the genius of Brian Wilson. He was a visionary songwriter for me, as much as the Beatles were. Not just for the blissful harmonies on ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘God Only Knows’, but for the richness and choice of arrangements on all the Beach Boys songs that gave me a blueprint for creativity and harmonic creation.
Peter Gabriel was and is such a massive influence on me, for his diverse musical creativity and passion, and his experimental vision. He expresses such a breadth of emotion, and I love the emotional resonance of the piano, when it is at the heart of his songs.
However, the greatest inspiration of all was without doubt, the subtle and laconic songs of the most English songwriter of all – Nick Drake. He combined intensity and attention to detail with a carefree touch and spontaneity. There is an ‘otherworld’ quality to this music that seems to come from a lost age. His lyrical ballads are timeless and unfettered by any musical ‘style’.
As songwriters and musicians today we must be bold, and stand strong among our heroes and influences. We need to find a place ourselves – however small – among this family and be fed and nourished by this rich heritage of influences. And then we can make our own contribution in our own little way. Not by making pale comparisons or by copying previous styles, but by taking them a springboard to discover and hone our own distinct sound. By exploring and experimenting, and pushing ourselves all the time going beyond the familiar and our own comfort zone. To find our own little space and niche and corner where we feel at home and connected to our heroes, ourselves and our audience.
In the end it’s like having one large family for musical inspiration. I like to think of these heroes and musical spirits like stars in the night sky, set in bright constellations above me. There are so many lights shining that have inspired. There are also others that influenced me less, but are up there too. Finding a place in this family of stars is like looking up and feeling you belong. It helps you to shine your light and give your own gift and music with all the strength you have. Musical heroes and influences are with us all the time. And they give us the courage to follow our dreams and express our musical passion.