The Argotist Online
Gillian McCoy is a singer-songwriter and freelance music teacher living in Berkshire, UK. She was born in Liverpool and lived in Canada and Suffolk, UK, before returning to Liverpool to study English Literature at Liverpool University. After which, she had a short stint working as a business journalist and in the music industry. She then moved to Spain, where she lived as a hippy for a while, before returning to the UK, where she discovered songwriting. She divides her time between performing as a folk duo with Bex Rennie called Wolf Note, and teaching her students. She plays guitar, dulcimer and ukulele.
Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?
Of course! Words with rhythm and rhyme that paint pictures in your mind and are
pleasurable to listen to. Poetry is
making music with speech and making order out of the chaotic things that happen
to us in life. Poetry holds up a mirror to life, things that can be not very
beautiful, and creates beauty out of them. They are beautiful because they help
us to see that our experiences are all shared. Sometimes things that we sat on
our own and worried about!
Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
A: It depends on the song. For example Tracey Chapman's ‘Fast Car’ only has one rhyming line in the first verse but people still remember all the words because it has that certain something. If you could bottle that certain something they would have made a songwriting app, and all us songwriters would be out of a job so please, keep it a mystery!
When we sit on mother’s knee as a baby, we listen to songs that have a rhythm and a rhyme because it helps us to learn language and understand the world around us. As adults the songs have more grownup subject matter but they still help us to understand our world of love and loss: the things that bind us all together, as human beings.
Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as
clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can
also be like free verse?
A: Yes, so long as you aren't trying to really challenge the listener with avant-garde prog trance rock! I think that to identify with a song emotionally, you need to feel at ease when listening to it. If the song has
structure of a verse verse, chorus and middle eight, it leaves you free to get
under the listener’s skin in other ways, with an unusual chord or dark lyrics.
However, I think a lot of the music that large record companies produce now,
don’t challenge the listener enough.
When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to
the music you enjoyed?
The first band I was into was (embarrassingly) Boy George. I bought the record
when I was five. I remember looking at the artwork inside, coming across the
lyrics and asking my parents ‘What does “Karma Chameleon” mean?’, and
they didn't have a straight answer to that one! That's when I realised that
words with a certain ambiguity make you want to listen or to read them again and
again. It can mean different things to different people. Unlike the Peter and
Jane books I had read, where everything is spelled out to you...
Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?
A: I am very ashamed to say I haven't read that many books lately! I did an English Degree, and reading three novels a week put me off a bit. I prefer to get my images from real life now. I do have a book of Bruce Springsteen's lyrics. I am fascinated by how he uses the idea of “darkness”; and also by Bob Dylan's idea that you have to be constantly travelling to write good lyrics. So as I am not travelling that much these days, I try to do so in my mind, by constantly trying new things.
Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
A: Because poetry and music are most popular when they are combined. Poetry without music and music without poetry, are often seen by some as being “classical”. For me though, I prefer them together. Music goes directly to your heart and your soul; it is so pleasurable to listen to music. And when you are having fun, your mind is open and receptive, and it adds to your understanding of the poetry.
Also, when you have poetry and music, it allows a songwriter to juxtapose, for example. really dark lyrics alongside a jaunty tune so that it confuses the senses slightly.
© Gillian McCoy