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Neil Campbell


Neil Campbell's music making has at various points embraced free improvisation, songwriting, minimalist composition and solo guitar virtuosity. In 1998 he embarked upon postgraduate studies in Music through the University of Liverpool, refining an approach to music making based around the composition of musical systems or processes. Much of this music has been recorded and has received airplay on Radio 3's Late Junction.


Over the last three years, he has poured his activities as a composer, songwriter and performer into work with the Neil Campbell Collective, a new kind of progressive rock band. Their first album 3 O'Clock Sky (2005) has been a critical success and the band are at an advanced stage of development of their second album Particle Theory.


After twenty-five years of playing, a virtuoso classical guitarist, Neil has produced two CDs of solo guitar music Through the Looking Glass (Mayfield 2003) and Night Sketches (2004) and a book of Music for Solo Guitar. He has also recorded, with cellist Nicole Collarbone, a CD of Music for Cello and Guitar - Fall (2006).


Neil is also currently at work on a collaborative album with singer songwriter Stuart Todd (as the duo Campbell Todd) and is working on various art-music installation projects.



Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?


A: Not really....  although it is satisfying when lyrics scan (away from the music) as something worthwhile in themselves - something like a poem.


Some artists are more “poetic” than others. One thinks of Leonard Cohen for instance.... although I guess even he would not consider his song lyrics to be the same as his pure poetry. An artist like Neil Young often creates very un-poetic lines and yet in the context of his music and his personality they seem to make artistic sense.


The process of writing a song for me can begin with a series of words without music (as a poem might start). Then once the lyrical “seeds” are married to the music a whole new inspiration comes from the music which in turn further develops the lyrics. The relationship between music and words is synergistic so one cannot really exist without the other and be

artistically complete.


Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?


A: I like the craftsmanship of rhyming or para-rhyming lyrics. Rhymes occur as little cadences like musical cadences and, in the context of a song, musical and lyrical cadences can work together to create a structure. For this reason to me the idea of free form verse in songwriting is anathema to songwriting.


Q: 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:  There are no concrete rules and different writers have different preferences. I usually like it when things are nicely tied together. I think there is a reason that “traditional” forms exist. It's because they work - they make sense and are satisfying. A good song is like good essay - i.e. there is a certain clarity of structure which then allows the content to make some sense. As a composer (writing instrumental music) and a songwriter one of my primary interests is structure.


Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed?


Some poems are more “set-able” to music than others. I have set poems by Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, Ben Okri etc. I started to set poems to music before I started to write my own songs. The sort of poems I like are those that are most set-able. Once I started writing songs, the models for intelligent lyrics started to come from other songwriters like Richard Thompson, Randy Newman, Leonard Cohen or Paul Simon (and not from poetry)


Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?


A: See above


Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?


A: If I were to be cynical I could say that, as a form, it is easier for songs to be banal than poetry and this appeals to the lowest common denominator. The lowest common denominator is thus pedalled to the masses via commercial radio and hey presto here we are! Even supposedly “intelligent” new artists do not seem to be a patch on their predecessors who sprung up in the 60s and 70s. People do not like to have to make the effort to complete experiences - they want everything on a plate. This is why film and TV are more popular than books. Songs offer more on the surface than just instrumental music or just poetry so it is no wonder that they are more popular.


If I were to be generous, I could say that songs are more present in the background experience of our lives - in the office or on the factory floor, at the supermarket etc. Songs also carry with them a sense of nostalgia which poems perhaps do not, because they are more present in the day-to-day shared experiences of our lives. I think many people find the “abstraction” of poetry to be quite alienating and they feel they do not understand it in the same way that they feel they do not understand modern art. Poetry and modern art appear to belong to a cultural elite and not to ordinary people. In contrast, songs on the whole do not have that elitist quality to them and belong to everyone.