Literacy For Lyrics

I really can’t believe book 3 is finally out. It really feels people can finally binge on The Rock n Roll Diaries now, the music, the books. It’s a great big giant thrill for me and thank you for all the amazing and supportive comments, reviews and tweets. Have you checked the back of the book? Is your name in there?

So, you know about the books but that’s not all. You may know that I work with a leading charity called the National Literacy Trust. These guys do important work in getting the country reading - kids, teenagers and adults alike. Literacy is close to my heart - I couldn't write books or songs if I didn't understand the way words work - and the easiest way to get to grips with words is to read!

I know I am preaching to the converted here, as you obviously enjoy books, but the stats show that many of your friends don't. Over 70% of 8-11 year olds think reading is cool, but among 14-16 year olds that figure drops to only 24%. That really worries me, because not only do I Iove books I love songs too, and I want to hear new ones - but if the next potential generation of songwriters are turned off by reading they may never develop the skills to write a great lyric.

So, me, Danny, Mark, Dave Berry (off the radio) and the National Literacy Trust are launching #LiteracyForLyrics, which is a competition to find a young songwriter to help us finish a song for the fourth book in The Rock 'n' Roll Diaries, due in October. The song is called Kids of Summer and you can hear the demo on the link below. Well, you can hear most of it - your job, if you are aged between 14-18, is to write the last verse.

For those lovers of the book who aged over eighteen then there is a scene I wrote for book 1 that never made it and of course you can listen to the song.

Go check it out, and please tell your friends using #LiteracyForLyrics. Full details are on the website here: http://therocknrolldiaries.com/lyrics 

Thanks all. Keep reading and keep rocking!

Old friends

Drifting apart from people, often really monumentally important people, is something I think about a lot. Not losing touch for any acrimonious reason just because life takes over.

With that in mind I wanted to dedicate this blog to two people who are vital, fun, dedicated, sexy and very important to my bands career. They will always be my friends.

Caffy St Luce was our manager (Officer Kicks) for years and she was the best manager any band could ever hope for. She worked as a press agent for everyone in the nineties (from Radiohead and the Manics, too Oasis and Elbow). Her lust for life and sense of fun made her a joy to be around. Her ideas to get us noticed in the early days led to lots of cool gigs and tours and gained us great contacts. Her artistic flare meant that we had the coolest backdrops on the toilet scene and our logo rocked hard.

Chris Fleetwood was our label boss. His relentless efforts and belief meant that again we were able to gain ground and do things you only dream about. Touring with big bands in distant countries, playing big festivals and getting us on the front cover of a music magazine. He really is the biggest hearted most generous man I know and it’s not just me that thinks it. All in the band feel the same and, as it happens, everyone I ever met that knows him does too. But hold tight add that to his keen nose for a deal and business acumen. It shouldn’t be a match but it is.

Anyway, I don’t suppose this blog is of much interest to people who don’t know Caffy or Chris but im not sure that matters. I guess the point is, when you meet someone fantastic and they affect your life is such a profound way that should be celebrated, even if it is only a few lines on my little blog.

It wouldn’t be a blog without a good anecdote. It relates to my books in a way. (All will be revealed in book 3). See this picture of me arsing around in a pink fluffy coat.

 
 

I stole it from Caffy, who stole it from James Dean Bradfield of the Manics-See this cover shot-

 
 

He in turn stole it from Richey Edwards RIP.

Anyway, the point is I didn’t know its history until I saw a picture of Richey Edwards wearing it online a long time after his death. When I asked her she simply said “Oh yes, it was Richey’s.” And that was the beauty of Caffy, she had all these amazing stories that she never boasted about. Like you would be at some gig and Liam Gallagher would run over and hug her and we didn’t even know they knew each other. Isn’t that refreshing?

Chris was the only label boss that attended every show we played. Enough said.

We haven’t got long on this spinning death orb so let’s try and make time for each other. Especially if you like or love them.

Commercial Vs. Credible

I’ve been around musicians of all types all my life and one thing that comes up in conversation a lot is whether something is commercial or not, credible or not. Basically is it cheesy or cool? Before I go on, I want to state for the record that I am using a great big broad stroke by putting artists into two camps. Hopefully by the end of the blog you will see why I have. If not then tell me.

I have had conversations where the authenticity of a so called commercial artist is called into question by a so called credible artist. They attack the process. I.E. How the song is conceived. If it’s written by more than one person they might say it’s been contrived rather than collaborated on. Equally I have had conversations with commercial artists that attack the credible artist because they see them as being arrogant and pompous about their art.

If you haven’t suffered for your art is it less worthy? I know plenty on both sides that don’t suffer for their art. I know plenty on both sides that do.

So, is song writing an art or a craft? I tend to lean toward it being a bit of both. The inspiration part of the songs conception is art. The work that goes into finishing it is craft. But again this is a matter of personal experience. If a songwriter tells me they only write from a place of inspiration then I am totally down with that.

A good friend and big commercial artist recently judged on the panel of a big music award. She got into an argument with another artist (credible) because she suggested that the song they were judging hadn’t sold very many units. The credible artist asked why that mattered.

So does it matter? Well, that’s a tough one for me to answer. Mr Blobby* sold more records than my band but I honestly think that if you listen to my music back to back with Mr Blobby’s you might place my bands artistic worth above that of the fat pink blob.

It’s subjective. In my experience both types of artist feel no less attached to their work, no less protective and proud.  I have heard people call things cheesy I really don’t think is. Equally I have heard people call things credible I think sounds really corny.

In truth, I think it’s a subject that bogs us down. I have seen this picture a few times knocking around FB and Twitter.

 
 

But what if we replace Justin and whoever the girl is with Lorde and The Weeknd or two people you rate right now. For me the argument doesn’t stand up. I mean I actually know people that don’t dig Prince. Not people I like very much, ha ha, but people none the less (no one dislikes Bowie, that’s just silly). But you get my drift. What you think is cool is personal. There is no bearded, tattooed trendsetter living in East London who gets to choose (actually there is). It’s all of us. Artist and consumer. Visionary and taste maker.

I mean what is commercial anyway? Music the labels and radio stations spoon feed us? Or the music the public choose with their hard earned?

Whatever your thoughts its worth reminding ourselves that there is plenty of amazing music out there, under the radar, that once discovered can go right to the top of your personal chart.

*Don’t know Mr Blobby? Google him and let me know if his music is better than mine!

What’s it’s all about Scallion?

I think it’s best to start off by telling you that my life has been one extensive research campaign for this book. My band Officer Kicks never reached the highest heights or else you would have heard of us right? We never headlined an arena tour or had a huge hit record but with my pals and partners The Scripts help I was able to see first-hand, fly on the wall style, what it’s like to be in a big band. This added an extra dimension of authenticity. I've seen the pressure, the fun and the lifestyle rock and pop stars enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I did experience an awful lot myself. I played Glastonbury, I supported bands on big tours. My band’s music was played on radio and we made videos that were shown on MTV. It was brilliant fun. 

Throughout, what I found most interesting were the interactions between me and my band mates. That’s what I wanted to explore when I started writing The Rock ‘n’ Roll Diaries. It really was like a four way marriage. It can be tough at times living in each other’s pockets, but it can for the most part be a right proper laugh. 

Writing from multiple viewpoints gave the book balance and objectivity. After all Singers, Guitarists, Bass players and Drummers are individuals with various characteristics. The singer in my book, Burt, is a bit of a knob head. My guitar player is a shy introvert, my bass player is relaxed and cool and the drummer is happy go lucky. 

I wonder what if you had to be in a band what would you want to be? Singer? Show of hands (comments, tweets). Guitar? Drummer? Bassist?

Along with The Script lads and a brilliant fella named Jim Barry we brought The RockAteers to life. One song that features quite heavily in the book captured people’s imaginations in particular. Some lyrics from the song below. 

Satellites

Verse 1

Someone give me hope
Something I can see
Something I can touch
Something I can breathe

Chorus

Give me all your satellites and all your stunted cigarettes
Give me life and give death and give me all your worry lines
Give me ups and give me downs, it don’t matter how you do
As long as you believe in me and you

*

It was important we convey how Egg really feels in the book through his lyrics. He has a lot of angst and insecurities and we needed to get that down and keep it true to his character. That was a big challenge but also a great deal of fun.

I wonder do any of you know what Egg is saying in the chorus “Give me all your satellites and all your stunted cigarettes”?

He gives it away in a later line. It’s all about ups and downs. Satellites are in space (up) and stunted cigarettes are butts crushed into the pavement (down). Egg is trying to say that we can go through anything as long as we stick together. The song is also subtly eluding to the fact that, just like Burt, he's in love with Bex.

It’s the first song he plays to the band and as I said before he’s a loner, is bullied and very shy. But he is musically very gifted. The moment he sings Satellites is a pivotal moment in the book. He finds his voice, literally. 

So, that’s a little of what it’s all about. You might need to read the book and listen to the music to get the full three sixty experience.

The Sun Newspaper Article

Prologue

I really have had a fascinating January. Book Two is almost finished, I wrote an article for a national newspaper, I gave my first ever talk in a School and I’ve been on the twenty first century authors programme. I’ve also been chatting with a brilliant and very gifted American writer about the process (dabs brow) and an equally ace and successful blogger. 

Giving yourself the time to get into the connecting space (networking) has become an vital part of being an author. I love it. I love writing the books but equally I love chatting with people who have read the book (or not to be honest because it gives me a chance to employ my sales technique, honed over many years) and with other writers, bloggers or people in the industry.

As I confessed in an earlier blog, the life of an author is very different from the life of a lead singer, the fundamental difference being social. 

Basically when you’re in a band you’re surrounded by people twenty four seven. When you are writing novels you are not. Its why I think I enjoyed the author programme so much. I had a chance to share, listen and talk about being a writer with other writers. 

Equally I loved going into a school (with the very fantastic Bali Rai, if you haven’t read any of his books then do). Having the opportunity to talk face to face with my target audience was so rewarding. I am going to do a lot more of that I can tell you. 

The discipline of writing an article for a national newspaper was also very interesting and challenging. Take a look at the article published in The Sun in Dec 2013. It’s a subject very close to my heart. 

Rock Authors plea to teenagers

When I was fourteen I was obsessed with football, music and girls, in that order. The only books I read were the ones I was told to read by school. I didn’t relate to them at all and the fact we had to study them didn’t help. It put me off reading anything else. A few years on and 

I’m still obsessed by the same things, except of course not in that order. At least that’s what I’m sticking to, my friends might tell you different. 

Nowadays, I find reading for pleasure a necessity. Not just because I write songs and books - I love the detail; there are depths to a good novel that no TV show, video game or film can achieve. Once you’re hooked into a great story it’s another level of entertainment. You get lost in the pages and time flies. 

We know now that reading for pleasure increases young people’s vocabulary, boosts their understanding of the world around them and is even credited with supporting good mental health into adulthood. It’s a fact that children who read for pleasure do better in life than those who do not.

On the trains and tubes I see a lot of people reading Kindles. I often peer over shoulders to see what they’re getting into. I don’t see young teenage boys reading, Kindle or otherwise. It occurred to me that the characters in my books are teenagers and that at least half of my target audience are teenage boys. I decided to dig deeper and find out why I wasn’t seeing any teenage lads reading.

Many boys leave reading behind in their mid-teens - way more so than girls. They don't find books out there that engage them as much as other leisure activities, like video games, and they think reading is boring and un-cool. Why not have a stab at changing this? I wanted to write a novel that they could instantly engage with, that could reflect their lives, use the language they use and convey the emotions and dilemmas they deal with. A teen novel like Melvin Burgess's ground breaking Junk didn’t pull its punches. I didn’t want to pull mine. Once I’d finished my novel I started to chat to people. I talked to my partners in the project (The Script). They were equally horrified at the teen reading crisis and far more altruistic than me on the subject. This isn’t just about boys not reading The Rock ‘n’ Roll Diaries, this is about boys not reading at all. Where will the next generation of writers, poets and lyricists come from? I hope I’m doing something about it by putting The Rock ‘n’ Roll Diaries out there. I’ve got over a hundred five star reviews on Amazon and readers are telling me they love it – even ones who don’t normally read. I hope we’ll start to see more books on publishers’ lists which reflect real teenagers’ lives; books they can truly identify with.

Let’s get boys reading again! We’ll be giving them an advantage as they grow up and unlocking a whole world of excitement, laughter and wonder. Maybe one day when I peer over someone’s shoulder at their Kindle I might see them reading my book, so I can give a gentle nudge, smile and say. “I wrote that don’t you know.” I imagine they would turn to me and grin. “I love it, can you sign the back of my Kindle?”

Jamie Scallion

Some reading gems for 14+ teen boys to try:

Melvin Burgess - Junk
Robert Muchamore - Cherub series
Dan Tunstall - Big and Clever
Bali Rai - (Un)arranged Marriage
The Knife That Killed Me - Anthony McGowan
Louis Sachar – Holes
Holly Smale-Geek Girl series
Kill your friends - John Niven

FAME

I’m standing here (I stand to write, better for my back and for my fitness, especially after the Christmas food party I had with myself) writing book 4 and thinking about this coming year with some considerable excitement. I get to release all of my books and all of the music that I have worked on over these past years. 

A life’s work would be putting it a bit strong but I have certainly dedicated a fair portion of it to this world. 

The quartet charts the journey from teen years into adult hood. We watch our main protagonists Burt, Egg, Tea, Clipper and Bex grow from fifteen year old wannabees into twenty one year old superstars, all under that microscope of fame.

I won’t give away too much about book 4 but that exploration into what fame does to a young person, how it can twist and turn a person really interests me. Two of my characters have just had a chat about it. Just now. A talk that stemmed from a chat I had with one of my partners . We concluded that fame does change a person. It just does. Not necessarily into a bad person. I won’t give away why I think that. I will let the book do the talking but I am always genuinely interested in others view on this matter. Tweet me, reply me, message me. I always have an eye out for a good point of view. 

@JamieScallion

Have a look at the amazing landing page Amazon created for me.