The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang defines the expression ‘one singer one song’ as a call for order to those who “uninvited, join in a singer’s song and, inevitably, fail to add a pleasing harmony.” The Glaswegian version of the saying is the far more poetic, angular Wan Singer Wan Song! It is this that gave us the title for the first event of MA: Songwriting & Performance, which took place at University of the West of Scotland Ayr Campus on Friday 28th September.
The format of event was simple enough: play one of your songs that has meaning for you, talk about it for a couple of minutes and then let everyone else talk about it for a few minutes more. As an icebreaker and an introduction to the talents and spirit of those in the room it was pretty special. It is a truism of live performance that the smaller the audience is the more nerve wracking the experience tends to be for the performer; Wan Singer Wan Song! was open to participants of MA: Songwriting & Performance only, thus the audience at any given time was 12. But the special qualities of songs and their performers are often accentuated not only by the intimacy of surroundings but also by the manifest nerves of the performers themselves. Judy Collins recounts first introducing Leonard Cohen to an audience in 1968 and the singer getting to the middle of the first song before dropping his hands to his sides and declaiming, “I can’t go on!” (BBC, Omnibus, 1988) Collins continued, “and of course the audience went wild.” Good wild. Nobody resorted to such drama at Wan Singer Wan Song! but there were nerves and shyness and caginess and love for the common song all in equal measure and the effect of this song sharing was ultimately inspiring and moving. Among the highlights were Gerry Rafferty Scholar Andrew Howie’s beautiful rumination on 11 years of marriage, Barry MacLean’s surreal, stark run along the M8 from Glasgow to Stirling at 3 o’clock in the morning in his pyjamas and Yvonne Lyon’s Christmas / New Year blessing phoned in by CD because Yvonne was playing somewhere else to almost certainly a bigger audience. But I can honestly say that every song and every performance filled the room with gladness and promised much for the first delivery of this great project. Such was the collegiate support and the intimate level of discussion as to the meanings, origins and internal lives of songs that one very late addition to the MASP cohort, there to observe the proceedings, remarked later that the only word he could think of for the event was close.
MA: Songwriting & Performance moves next to a full week of songwriting and related activity on the Ayr Campus from 15th to 19th October, thereafter to a series of participatory arts events with various groups and in the New Year a series of performances under the Celtic Connections banner. Details here, there and everywhere as soon as I have them.