How long does it take to write a song? That’s a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. There was a famous conversation in which Leonard Cohen told Bob Dylan that “Hallelujah” took a few years to write, whereupon Dylan responded that one of his songs, which Cohen had said he liked, took 15 minutes!
In my case, there’s no hard and fast rule. Some songs have taken weeks to get right – I might have the structure , melody and most of the lyrics but something isn’t quite right and I’ll keep coming back to it until I’m happy with it. Other times, inspiration comes quickly and the whole process might just be an hour or two from start to finish – and sometimes they’re the best ones.
My new song “Brimful In My Soul” is a case in point. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a set at the Zodiac Sessions as was a talented young singer-songwriter called Padraig MacMahon. He was telling me about his commitment to making music his life and his livelihood. His dedication was such that he’d think nothing of staying late at a session, missing the last bus home and chilling around town in McDonalds or suchlike until the first bus ran in the morning. That absolutely floored me – but my songwriter’s ears picked up immediately. It sounded like great material for a song.
The next morning I sat down at the piano and found that the song came very quickly. I just borrowed Padraig’s story. The first verse comes from that anecdote, the second verse is exactly what happened at the Session we’d just played, and the middle section comes from what he told me about his lack of interest in following his friends off to college. I made up the last verse, about busking in Temple Bar and being moved on for having no licence, but I felt it was very likely to have happened to him and indeed he subsequently told me it was spot on.
I sent him the song to make sure he was ok about my use of his story. Fortunately, he was delighted. The following week we performed it together at a couple of gigs where we both happened to be appearing. I had also been invited to record some songs for the Coffee Hill Sessions, so I brought Padraig in to accompany me on this one and you can see the results here
I love the song and it’s got a great response since it went online. That’s the beauty of songwriting – you never know when or where inspiration will strike!