Songwriter’s Corner: Michael Tinholme

Why did the fan of Christmas songs open up Spotify? To listen to “Silver Bells” by Michael Tinholme, of course! Okay, that’s the awful opener out of the way – it’s the time of year for terrible cracker jokes anyhow. In all seriousness, if you’re looking for a classy new addition to your xmas playlist, you could do far worse than check out “Silver Bells.” Tinholme’s version is lushly produced and full of genuine warmth – exactly the kind of song to relax with as you treat yourself to some expensive chocolates while watching the snow flutter down outside your double-glazed window.

If you’ve not heard of Michael before, you will certainly be surprised and moved by his back-story. Michael has overcome obstacles and challenges which most of us would shudder to think about, including domestic abuse and homelessness. That’s a huge amount of trauma for anyone to overcome, so it’s even more impressive that Tinholme remains an optimistic, upbeat person, with nothing but love to share. Give “Silver Bells” a listen and it might just become your new seasonal favourite.

Follow Michael down below!

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Songwriting Spotlight Showcase: David Hicks

If you ever need a photographer who can show you the world in all its simple and chaotic beauty, David Hicks is your man. A photojournalist with an eye for a story, each of his collections provides a unique and special insight into the specific culture, country, or community he is documenting. 

From art shows in Peru to Ukrainian girls, it’s not hard to tell that Hicks is well travelled. His work is a public photo album filled with his life experiences, and it’s obvious how passionate he is about his work.

And with the many lockdowns physically stopping us from being able to see the world through our own eyes, there’s something comforting about the fact that we are able to experience it through photos, including the many travels that David has been on in his lifetime.

Follow David’s work down below:

Website: HiXPOSURE | Travel Photography

News Under The Spotlight: Baluji Shrivastav OBE and The Inner Vision Orchestra

If you’re day is lacking a little inspiration then the tale of Baluji Shrivastav may just be the thing to give you that jolt of motivation. Having been blinded at the age of eight months, Baluji has certainly had quite the journey from his youth to being awarded an OBE and playing at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games.

Despite seemingly being dealt the wrong cards as a child, Baluji stands as a multi-instrumental prodigy with pedigree in the sitar, dilruba, surbahar, pakhavaj, and tabla. In 2008 Baluji founded the Baluji Music Foundation, an organisation driven by their aid of visually impaired artists. Just four years later, the foundation would give rise to the world-famous Inner Vision Orchestra – the only professional ensemble of blind and partially sighted musicians.

The collective quickly gathered momentum in their battle against the same barriers Baluji faced in his youth and found themselves performing at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games; an undeniable achievement for any group of musicians.

In 2021, however, the group certainly haven’t slowed up their momentum. Both Baluji and The Inner Vision Orchestra have prepared a compilation of live performances running into the Summer of 2022 across the UK. These simply are awe-inspiring experiences and those wishing to indulge in such an aural treat should check the dates down below!

Live Shows

Carols by Candlelight – HENSHAWS, MANCHESTER – 16/12/21

Interactions: Indian Music and Flamenco – LAUDERDALE HOUSE, LONDON – 17/12/21

The Inner Vision Orchestra – KEELE, NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME – 16/03/22

Classical Indian and Jazz Orient – ROPETACKLE ARTS CENTRE, SHOREHAM– 27/03/22

Antardrishti – Inner Vision – WILTSHIRE MUSIC CENTRE, WILTSHIRE – 07/05/22

Baluji Shrivastav OBE – NORWICH ARTS CENTRE, NORWICH – 13/05/22

Check out Baluji down below!

News Under The Spotlight: Tunetables

Calling all music lovers! Are you fed up with your precious vinyl being squashed into boxes or lined up like soulless pieces of cardboard into a bog-standard shelving unit? Well, fear no more, as there’s a new kid on the block.

Introducing Tunetables, the UK-based company that creates custom-made record display units that resemble music-equipment flight-cases. They also serve as epic tables – we know – pure genius, right?

Rob Chappelhow, the brains behind this game-changing product got the idea after visiting the Joe Strummer exhibition in Covent Garden. He says of Tunetables: “Set out under an acrylic plinth was Strummer’s personal tape cassette collection… his musical heritage and inspiration perfectly showcased. It was totally spellbinding. I soon started to conceptualise how I could create my own version of this… a personal time capsule of life-affirming music. I wanted something that could be inherently useful, something that I would see and use every day, and that would be a talking point for like-minded music enthusiasts.”

Well, you’ve got us sold.

Check out Tunetables below:

Website

Under The Spotlight: Ajay Mathur

When a song takes four decades to write you know full well there’s a story worth telling. In the case of Ajay Mathur’s single ‘Anytime At All (The Aftermath Of Silence)’, pen first met paper after the death of John Lennon as a pathway for grief but was never fully realised for fear of an emotional relapse if it were to be sung. In the grips of lockdown when grief was certainly all around, Ajay forged a way forward and the single finally took shape; and we had the chance to find out how…

SS: How would you describe your songwriting process?

I have a selective process of writing songs. Let me explain…. the melody comes to me first. It generally comes with the theme of the song, sometimes even with big chunks of lyrics. I play it on my guitar (or piano, whichever instrument is at hand) and sing it until I get to a key that fits. What happens next is that I try not to record, write or save the song idea right away. I let it rest for a couple of days or even weeks. If the song idea sticks in my head, then I know that there could be a song in it. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t worth pursuing anyway. If it sticks, I record the song and whatever pieces of lyrics I have on my phone and jot down any lyrics that came with it.

The lyrics are the crown-jewels of my music and clearly play an important role. I write a lot of the lyrics myself and I also collaborate with Mary Lou von Wyl, a very talented, creative writer and a fiercely independent thinker. Mary Lou’s style is more poetic than mine, which tends to be quite direct. At least that’s how I perceive it. Mary Lou and I have also adopted a real-time process of writing lyrics. I play, she writes, I sing what she just wrote and we tweak as we go. It’s very fast, fun, often cathartic (yes, tears flow sometimes) and it also prevents us from overthinking. This is basically the creative part of my songwriting.

My approach to working out arrangements, final lyrics, grooves and licks, etc. vary from song to song. I approach my production song by song and work towards whatever brings me closer to my concept of the essence and the atmosphere of that particular song, regardless of a style or a genre. When I work on a song, it gets my undivided attention until it’s finished. Then I move on to the next one. My songwriting and recording is an ongoing process. I don’t have a specific album in mind during the creative and production work.

SS: How has this process evolved over time?

It hasn’t really. I do remember earlier on in my songwriting career, I used to meticulously record all the ideas I had on cassette tapes (yes, cassette tapes!). In the end the cassettes just seemed to pile up never to be listened to and I only worked on songs that stuck. About two or three years back I actually threw away a big box of those cassettes!

SS: Do you take songwriting inspiration from anyone in particular?

No. No one in particular, though my songs have been inspired by other people’s stories and of course a lot comes out of my own life experiences. My lyrical themes span from personal, romantic, circumstantial or cynically narcissistic to social, political and environmental. The current exodus and the mass movement of people seeking safety and refuge far away from their homes and culture – their faces, their stories, their journey, the plight and the political fallout they have been facing, especially in Europe and the United States – has had a profound effect on me. It has been very disturbing and at the same time has motivated me to write and sing about it. Another theme is the culture of fear that is consistently been cultivated and induced into our thinking. It’s been drilled into our heads to believe that we’re not good enough. We focus on our blemishes more than on our beauty. Even though there is much to be distressed about, on a more cheerful note, there have been many events in my personal life where I’m absolutely convinced that the universe has conspired in my favour. That has inspired songs about love, life and personal epiphanies.

SS: What is the hardest thing about songwriting to you?

For me, there’s nothing hard about songwriting. It’s not a compulsion for me. I think there is an inspirational energy, the Greeks called it the ‘muse’, that occasionally comes knocking at the door. If I’m tuned in, I hear the knock, open the door and let the muse in. It stays for a while and then just goes away. I have creative phases where I write lots of songs in a very short period of time, but also phases where I write nothing. I don’t try to force it because that doesn’t work for me.

SS: Do you have any remedies for a creative writing block?

As much as I have spurts of very creative phases, I also have phases where I have absolutely no song ideas. That’s okay for me. I don’t force myself to write a song. Either I’m in a creative phase and the songs come flooding in or I’m not. When I’m not, I focus on other things in life that I also enjoy, like walking with my dog, cooking, and listening to awesome music. I don’t worry about so-called writer’s block.

SS: How would you say your life philosophies affect your musical work?

I try to live consciously and be aware of what’s going on within me and around me. I try to avoid thinking in terms of problems but rather see things as situations or circumstances that could offer opportunities different than what I anticipated. I try not to be fearful, but careful where the situation demands. In that sense I’m resilient and don’t panic. I try to get clarity before I take actions. I have a positive attitude towards my life and the people around me. I also have a healthy sense of social justice. I think that is reflected in my music.

SS: How has the process of writing Anytime At All (Aftermath of Silence) influenced how you understand managing grief and fear?

Anytime At All (Aftermath of Silence) took a long time to write. Initially, I wrote it in the early 80s shortly after John Lennon’s murder. The song was a reaction, a gasp for breath after the shock. Writing the song opened a pathway for me to move on and it possibly helped me with my grief. Yet, I left the song untouched because I feared the emotional impact the song might have on me if I tried to sing it.

It wasn’t until April 2020, during the Corona lockdown that I revisited the song. That’s when I found emotional strength and the musical voice of that song. It was liberating when I finally grasped the full depth of a song that I wrote decades back in a completely new context. At a time when cancellations, stillstand and uncertainty due to the Corona crisis was stifling me, the song was a perfect moment of clarity. It not only broke the deadlock of inertia, but also boosted my confidence to finish an entire album, which is my upcoming album ‘Talking Loud’. I think that moment is perfectly reflected in ‘Anytime At All (Aftermath of Silence)’.

SS: What have you learnt about yourself as a person and a musician from the process of writing Anytime At All?

As a musician and songwriter it was a lesson in patience and in the acceptance that it can take decades for a song to mature. As a person it was a lesson in courage to let go. I didn’t pursue the song, but I just let it sit until it was ready to be rediscovered.

Anytime At All (The Aftermath Of Silence) is out now and available everywhere!

Follow Ajay down below:

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Tidal

Under The Spotlight: The Mad Game

Striking while the irons hot, we caught up with the folks at The Mad Game off the back of their debut EP release, ‘Player One’. It’s a world of protest, electronics and venom-fuelled bars; but how does it all come about?

UTS: How would you describe your songwriting process?

Chaotic, frustrating, emotive, inspiring…a bit like a crazy, cruel boss…constantly demanding and never satisfied. Stories and emotions feed random thoughts that pop into the head, ideas for sensations in the six dimensional space that is sound. Then the challenge is not just to turn it into reality but to keep focused on the emotion we are trying to communicate and share.

UTS: How has this process evolved over time?

Technology has been the main driver of evolution. Changes and advances in hardware and software have made the process more convenient and accessible. Everything is in one neat little package, the laptop. In some ways, we miss the days of not having a spaceship full of buttons and lights to interact with on the creative journey. But the power of portable technology has allowed us the freedom to set ourselves up anywhere and spontaneously create whatever is in our minds. This has not just been essential to us, but actually a matter of survival. Otherwise, the actual mental creative process has more or less stayed the same: find a story and tell it in music.

UTS: Do you take inspiration from anyone in particular?

Do we have a specific muse? No. We are inspired by the collisions between our lives and those of other people. We are inspired by events that we experience and witness, be they good or bad. So it can be about anyone and anything. We live, we observe, we interact, we learn and then we write about whatever fires our imagination.

UTS: What is the hardest thing about songwriting for you?

Sudo: Staying in that psychological place that inspired the song in the first instance. This is especially difficult if events overtake you.

Karla: Avoiding too many expletives in the lyrics.

Sonya: Making sure that those those two [pointing at Sudo and Karla] are focused and efficient.

UTS: Do you have any remedies for creative writing blocks?

Two main remedies:
▪ Do something mundane but useful for a bit. Let the imagination wander.
▪ Go and experience something strong. Take a risk. Stop being so fucking safe and expecting it to be inspiring.

UTS: Can you summarise the main concepts and messages in your new EP?

The EP is really five individual singles rather than a single concept in itself. The project is much broader than just an EP and music. However, to provide a relatively simple answer, the main idea is that everyone is both player and being played in The Mad Game. In terms of common themes throughout the songs, there are probably two main ones: nothing is as it seems don’t take your past too seriously otherwise it owns you.

UTS: What has been the reaction so far to the new EP?

We’ve had excellent feedback. The comments are overwhelmingly positive, both from professionals within the industry and the audience.

UTS: What have you learned about yourself as people and musicians from the process of making the EP?

Far less that what we learned about ourselves during the events that pushed us to make this project in the first place. However, it was a nice confirmation that we really can make good quality music on the bare minimum of equipment.

Follow The Mad Game below:

Website

Apple Music

Under The Spotlight: Alan Dweck

A globetrotting, prog and classic rock influenced visual artists with a penchant for elaborate and provoking art? We want to know how it’s done. Fortunately we got a chance to nab Alan Dweck for a few moments to ask him how such a smorgasbord of glory comes about…

SS: How would you describe your songwriting process?

AD: Obsessive – I’m forever finessing and adding detail. Often detail that will never be heard or picked up by anyone apart from me. But I just cant stop myself. I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist. But I also think that attention to detail is the difference between mediocrity and quality. I’m always striving for quality and therefore get perhaps too obsessive over detail.  

SS: How has this process evolved over time?

AD: It just intensifies as I strive to improve all the time. I want the next thing I write to be the best thing I’ve ever done. An impossibly tall order and I do recognise that it never really is. But, having said that, the more I find interesting ways to express myself musically, the more tools I have in my song-writing kit bag, tools I can use to express more with – so perhaps it’s actually getting easier to express more ideas in different ways.

SS: Do you take song-writing inspiration from anyone in particular?

AD: No I try to work out what I am trying to say musically and then expound on it. Essentially it’s a personal journey. There are many songwriters, composers  and musicians I admire. But in the end inspiration is personal and comes from within not from external sources. I listen to a wide range of music and these external sources can and do influence, That is why I embrace so many different styles in my music.  In the end it stems from my personal inspiration and desire to express myself. I believe that because comes from my pen and is honestly formed, that is enough and serves to give my music its own stylistic continuity.

SS: What is the hardest thing about songwriting to you?

AD: Finding something new to say when you’ve already said it (Ie The next verse)

SS: Do you have any remedies for a creative writing block?

AD: Yes – Play something else. Play guitar and just Jam or play along to something. Play covers, play anything, Eventually something will always spark off.

SS: What influenced you to remaster ‘Before’?

AD: There were some things I didn’t like about the version on the album. Remastering gave me a chance to fix them. I’ve recently worked on another remixed and remastered for the song Melting Icicles. Sometimes you get too close to a piece of music and it takes a while before you can hear it properly. Remixing and remastering gives you a chance to get it right after you’ve given it proper space.

SS:Do you have any music-related plans after the release of the next album?

AD: Play more Gigs. I’ve got a number of ideas for live performances and really want to get out there again. The problem is getting the right collection of musicians together for the backing band.  

SS:What’s your favourite piece of music from 2021?

AD: Nitin Sawhney: Immigrants.

Follow Alan Dweck down below:

Website

Under The Spotlight: Grave Jones

Writing music in the epicentre of modern history’s worst financial crisis is no easy feat yet that hasn’t stopped Lebanese rock star and philosopher Grave Jones; in fact, it’s only made his spark burn brighter. With a new record, ‘Heartrage Hotel’, on the way we got chatting to Grave to see just how the cogs get turning…

SS: How would you describe your songwriting process?

GJ: It almost always starts with a melody that randomly pops up in my head. I’m lucky enough to have my own studio where everything is set up the way I want it to be, so all I have to do is press a button and start recording. Generally, I identify the bpm of the melody I have in mind, throw in a drum loop and start building the song around it. I let the melody go where it wants to take me, I build chord progressions and harmonies around it, try various parts and see how they work together, always trying to maintain a catchy, pop structure. The first vocal take is always recorded with random words that don’t mean anything. It’s only after I find myself happy with the whole arrangement – when the song is nearly finished, technically – that I sit down and write lyrics. They always come last for me. As a lyricist I try my best to stay away from clichés. I’ve noticed that most song lyrics end up being recycled expressions and bits of other songs. How many times have you heard the sentence “walking around the street at night,” “wash away the pain,” and having “pain” rhyme with “rain,” for instance? I try to stay away from that as much as possible, unless it’s obviously made in an in jest or tongue in cheek way. My favourite lyrics are always deeply personal, but also abstract and open enough for other listeners to make out their own interpretations of them.

SS: How has this process evolved over time?

GJ: It definitely has, as I became more and more independent, having developed not only as a songwriter but also as a producer. Also, I believe that my venturing in the world of electronic music with Slutterhouse has definitely made my take on rock more original than when I used to write with nothing but rock influences, references and codes in mind, when I was younger. I now find myself intuitively borrowing from sonic landscapes than are worlds apart, so the result is always more surprising. On “Heaven Only Knows,” for example, you can hear some Brit pop/rock on the verse, some Ozzy Osbourne over a disco drum pattern in the pre-chorus, and aggressive growling in the chorus. I guess my point is I’m more confident now in including all sorts of things I want to include in my songs, even when they hypothetically are not supposed to work together.

SS: Do you take songwriting inspiration from anyone in particular?

GJ: In a very indirect way, always. I never sit down and think oh I’m going to write something inspired by the Strokes or anything like that. But the creative process is always influenced by not only old references, but also whatever it was that I was listening to on a particular day. For example, I came up with the main riff of “Smithereens” after having been listening to the Smashing Pumpkins all day. Billy Corgan loves to play octaves on his guitar so when I picked up the guitar and started jamming this is where my intuition went immediately. I started noodling with octaves until I found a catchy riff I was happy with, then built everything else around it.

SS: What is the hardest thing about songwriting to you?

GJ: To try and stay original. Most songs tend to be recycled versions of previous songs. And in a digital world where everyone has access to all the existing music in the world with just one click, it’s difficult to stand out. I found that staying as honest as possible to oneself is the only way out. At the end of the day, no two artists have the exact same experience with music, the same subconscious references, the same history, the same tendencies, the same influences. So if one is able to shut off everything that’s happening around them and write something regardless of how it’s “supposed” to be written and sound, then they’re on the right track.

SS: Do you have any remedies for a creative writing block?

GJ: I don’t usually have problems like that I know that I go through phases where I find myself being extremely productive, followed by phases of rest. In my productive phase I always end up creating and producing a lot, which alleviates me from a lot of stress when I then enter a less inspired period, because I know I have enough material to work with. Also, with experience now I never worry about the creative period disappearing for good. I know it always comes back. A little tip though: usually getting excited about new music puts me in a creative mood again. That and purchasing a new piece of gear, or a new guitar.

SS: How has your experience in Slutterhouse helped your solo career?

GJ: Like I said earlier, it’s helped me a lot creatively by broadening my musical horizons. Without Slutterhouse, I think my approach to writing rock n’ roll music today would have been far more unoriginal. But having discovered and loved so much electronic music, along with having dabbled with electronic production definitely brings a lot of freshness to my rock sound today. Also, we were lucky enough to have a decent run in the music industry with Slutterhouse, which allowed me to learn a lot about the business, about managing expectations, about accepting that there’s an uncontrollable element of randomness to this whole game. Ultimately, it’s also helping me save myself some time by avoiding past mistakes.

SS: Do you have any music-related plans after the release of the next album?

GJ: During the first phase of the pandemic and the global lockdown, I went into an extremely productive period. I have enough recorded demos to work on a more than a couple of new records. Ideally, I would like to spend some time touring that first record “Heartrage Hotel” after it’s out by early 2022. Playing live was one of the main reasons I went back to music, so that’s my next priority.

SS: What’s your favourite piece of music from 2021?

GJ: Greta Van Fleet’s “The Battle at Garden’s Gate.” I also couldn’t not love Guns N’ Roses single “Hard Skool.” I know most people were disappointed but what were they expecting? I don’t expect Guns N’ Roses to reinvent music at this stage, but it was really cool to hear Axl’s voice with Slash’s guitar and Duff’s bass again after almost 25 years or something.

Grave’s latest single Heaven Only Knows is out now and available everywhere!

Connect With Grave Jones

Under The Spotlight: Ido Spak The Jazz Traveller

The intrigue surrounding the work of Ido Spak is potent to say the least and this is only spurred onward with a fundraising campaign for a brand new project; ‘Epidemic Adventures’. From a well-travelled man who absorbs musical/cultural influences on a sponge-like level, we got chatting to see how the magic happens…

SS: How would you describe your songwriting process?

IS: Whereas some composers struggle and spend hours deciding about the perfect notes, I am one of those who just hear it in the head while jogging or driving my car and then write it immediately on a piece of paper. Many pieces from my first album have been written in Canterbury at the West Gate park while I was doing pull ups and set ups in the sun.

SS: How has this process evolved over time?

IS: Writing music has always come naturally to me. MY first compositions were very bad and not melodic but when I became 17, they started to touch other people and I had a little fan base in my school. During the army, I was creatively dead but then, during college, I started composing again and this time, Jazz harmonies became an integral part of them. In Holland, I had a creative block which ended as soon as I moved to the UK and started composing immediately when I moved to my first house.

SS: Do you take songwriting inspiration from anyone in particular?

IS: I take my inspiration from the ones I love. On my third album, Lumina and Funny were composed for my two dogs and Dribsy, on my fourth album, was written for another dog that used to live with me and my ex on a regular base when his owner was visiting her home land.  

SS: What is the hardest thing about songwriting to you?

IS: The hardest thing is the instability. I am lucky to be teaching in two schools and having a lot of pupils. With all of the new online streaming, you know that you won’t make a living from writing music when people no longer buy Cd’s nor pay for downloading the MP3. I see many good people give up and go to university to study a profession that brings money and makes it possible to feed a family. I make a stable income but I have decided not to have a family so that I can focus on my self and make music for the benefit of human kind and for the love of what I do, rather then make it only for the money, which is a very bad mindset.

SS: Do you have any remedies for a creative writing block?

IS: You can’t force inspiration, but you can run 20km or walk four hours to a nearby city to clear your thoughts and then, just write something. Once you start with a clear head, it will come back.

SS: Do you have any music-related plans after the release of the next album?

IS: I wish I can go on tournees again, but it’s hard to plan it with the pandemic. I also want to write 7 more ‘sonates’ for piano and sax.

SS: What’s your favourite piece of music from 2021?

IS: Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to really watch new compositions. I know that Omer Klein has a new album which I am very curious about and I would like to listen again to some new pieces of Omer Avutal.  I would like to see Robert Glasper and Chris Dave again when they come to Germany.  

 Audiences can support the album here: https://sonicly.com/Projects/Experience/733/1827/ 

Website 

Viral TikTok Star Jovian’s Ethereal ‘Dreamcast’

Harry Fenn

Hot on the heels of his previous singles, ‘Welcome to the Show’, ‘Where Did You Go’ and ‘Timothee Chalamet’, viral TikTok star Jovian is set to release his new single ‘Dreamcast’. The ethereal theme is exemplified by the floating synths and flowing melodies throughout, all underpinned by a spine-shaking beat that you can’t help but tap your foot to. Amongst his other self-evident strengths as an artist, he is first and foremost a storyteller. The 11 years that he spent at acting school (alongside Timothee Chalamet) shine through as his lyrics and delivery will have you reaching to repeat this track again and again. The result is a vulnerable and honest pop song that is as fun as it is raw.

Jovian has found solace in music, which has helped him overcome struggles with depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia. He also has synaesthesia, which has helped formulate his distinctive sound and allows him to see the world in his own unique way.

‘I use music and specifically Hip-Hop to express myself and literally survive. Hip-hop has saved my life and supported me in expressing my feelings when I felt speaking to others failed me in this process… My music and platform are meant to show kids they don’t need to harm themselves using substances to numb. There’s an artistic outlet for every sensation they feel!’ – Jovian

‘Dreamcast’ is out now and available on all platforms. Keep an eye out for Jovian in the future – there’s more to come from Brooklyn’s up and coming hip-hop TikTok star.

Check out Jovian here:

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Website
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