The Argotist Online
Cartwright is a UK singer, songwriter, guitarist and author. Born in Haslemere,
Surrey in April, 1943, the son of an RSM in the Worcestershire Regiment, he grew
up in the West Midlands where, on lead guitar and vocal, he formed his first
rock'n'roll group in 1959. He then joined the now-legendary Kidderminster outfit
The Clippers, before “discovering” folk music in 1965.
His subsequent folk club work and the signing of a deal with Transatlantic
Records in 1971 enabled him to turn professional. He is best known for his
seventies solo albums and TV appearances on BBC daytime show Pebble Mill at
One and as a former music presenter on BBC local radio in the UK Midlands,
where he hosted two shows, Rock'n'Roll—The Vintage Years and Folkus,
an acoustic showcase. Both shows ran for over 13 years.
A book of poems entitled Thoughts Through Glass is due for publication this spring, followed by Arlecchina, his first novel. He is the author of Bittersweet, the highly respected biography of the late singer/songwriter Clifford T Ward. In the year of publication, the book was voted 3rd best biography in Record Collector's review poll.
prolific songwriter (over 800 songs), who 'lives for performing', he now resides
in Worcestershire producing and issuing his own recordings on his Luna label,
whilst still touring in the UK and Europe.
loves the music, hates the business.
Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?
Most definitely. I try to ensure all of my lyrics can stand alone on the page
and away from the music.
Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
I don’t rhyme 100 per cent. One of my most popular songs, ‘The Shepherd’s
Return’ from the album Back To The Garden, actually doesn’t rhyme at
all. But then, it is a conversation piece between husband and wife, and one
doesn’t talk to one’s spouse in rhyme. One knows better than that….
I do prefer a lyric that conforms to some pattern. For me, writing original
melodies has always been easy, so I use the lyric to enhance the tune. I
sometimes spend hours looking for the perfect rhyme, and have often changed a
whole verse because of it. To me it is like doing a crossword. Also, as a
performing songwriter, I consider rhyme to be something of an aide memoir!
Learning my craft initially in the folk clubs of the 60s, it was often the only
way a lyric by someone else could be remembered in the car on the journey home.
Of the 800 plus songs I have written, there aren’t many that don’t rhyme;
but they most certainly are not doggerel.
I do hate lazy rhyming, imperfect rhyming, vowel (as in sound only) rhyming. To
me it’s akin to papering over a crack. Maybe it was growing up listening to
lyrics written by Dorothy Fields, Ted Koehler, Sammy Cahn and all those other
masters of the craft. Before I found the confidence to start writing, I often
altered lyrics that I found lazy or unnatural. I know some will call that
sacrilegious, disrespectful, but I just wasn’t comfortable singing bad rhymes.
our greatest modern lyricist (and certainly the most imaginative), is guilty of
it. In his song ‘One Too Many Mornings’, Dylan writes:
a restless hungry feeling that don’t mean no one no good,
When everything I’m a-saying, you can say it just as good.
rhymes ‘good’ with ‘good’. Ok, I can forgive Bob anything, absolutely
anything, and I really am nit-picking here. But when I performed it, I sang:
a restless hungry feeling; I would change it if I could,
and everything I’m a-saying, you can say it just as good.
is not a criticism, by the way. It’s just me. Pedantic Pete.
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 song uses some form of rhythmic structure to carry the words. Consequently, I
believe the lyric should compliment that form. But sometimes I do try to break
the mould of “recognised” structure, if only to make the song a little
different. And yet, again, as a performer I seek audience reaction “in
transit” to gauge the appeal of a song. Hooks, refrains, choruses are the
obvious way. Involvement in a song indicates immediately an appreciation of the
work. Saying that, there is nothing wrong with a quiet audience, just as long as
they are not moving towards you….
I write a lot of poetry and yet I haven’t yet put one of my poems to music. And I don’t know why. I do love the rhythm of words, and a few of my poems don’t rhyme. But I have to be honest, I don’t understand the culture of free verse. Through my children I was persuaded to listen to The Doors. That is, ahem…. free verse set to unrecognised structures, and I can’t say I put them on when I’m driving. For me Dick Shawn in The Producers nailed that approach superbly.
When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to
the music you enjoyed?
Absolutely not. But that is my age, dearie. In the late fifties, there weren’t
many rock’n’roll “poets”, at least, not in the educational sense. Chuck
Berry, Leiber and Stoller, Buddy Holly were all terrific, witty lyricists, but
certainly not required reading in the school syllabus…
poetry I read today: Houseman, Frost (a great free-verse poet), Larkin, Betjeman
(an auto-biography in free verse!), Chesterton, are all rhymers at their best,
but also great romantics, to which I am proud to associate. I think on the whole
I am a romantic songwriter, so any connection is in the subject matter.
Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?
‘The Shepherd’s Return’ (see above) is my take on Robert Frost.
Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
Ah well, here I must tread carefully. The Times occasionally publish a
poem, relating to an article or a review; they do try hard to push the genre.
Invariably it is in free verse. Invariably I read it through a hundred times and
still come out the other end clueless as to what is being said. Songs are more
popular because they a) have a rhythm that appeals; b) a melody that appeals; or
c) a lyric that appeals. To be popular you have to appeal! For some reason
poetry has now become free-verse, abstract, and, as such, elitist. Look at any
winners in poetry competitions. They are all free-verse. But why does it have to
be so unreadable?! ‘Death of a Hired Man’ and ‘Birches’ by Frost don’t
have a rhyme anywhere within, yet they read so beautifully. Dylan’s
‘Advice for Geraldine on her Miscellaneous Birthday’ is the man
freewheeling at his best, but modern free verse is, to most readers, unreadable.
views expressed in this interview are most certainly subject to change. I have
never been certain of anything.
© Dave Cartwright