Set it free

Here in the UK the Arts Channel is running an excellent  series called ‘Songbook’.  Each programme comprises of an interview and an informal performance from a leading songwriter about their craft. 

Now, in Series Three, it was the turn of Bob Harris (remember him from the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’?) to interview a real legend among songwriters – Diane Warren.  With 38 Number One hits and 100 of her songs featured in Hollywood films, she has written more hits than Elton John, The Beatles and George Michael put together.  Vocalists who have covered her work include Eritha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Toni Braxton (who sang the beautifully haunting ‘Unbreak my Heart’), Aerosmith, Whitley Houston and Roy Orbison… she knows a thing or two about songwriting!

I found the interview fascinating, how she eavesdrops on conversations and sometimes mishears phrases to give her lyrical ideas.  Describing her cluttered workspace (not unlike my own, I might add!) and the process of what she calls “cracking the code” – that is, identifying the distinct quality of each individual song, I found her surprisingly vulnerable, yet incredibly driven in her work.  

A feature of the series is that during the interview the writer will share examples of their compositions by playing live.  This is not Diane’s prime forte, preferring writing to performing.  Suffering with laryngitis certainly didn’t help.  Armed with several ‘hot toddies’ to consume she soldiered on, but when asked to play her composition for the film “Love Actually” she conceded defeat by asking the English studio audience to sing along.  Over in the far corner she identified a strong voice.  It was someone who clearly was familiar with her material. 

Out of generosity and desperation Diane there and then invited the studio guest to join with her and take up the vocal. I love these unvarnished spontaneous moments when the rough edges show, for what we saw next was another ‘Susan Boyle’ moment.  As an unknown, plump, London girl, looking very ‘street’ burst onto our screens with an amazing soulful voice.   Diane Warren was visibly moved.  Promising to write for the young unknown in the future, the unknown was clearly shocked by the attention.  In addition to being impressed by Diane’s warm, generous mentoring spirit I was struck with a thought that so many people carry latent ability but are never given the opportunity to show that talent, the opportunity to shine.

Today, I leave you with the thought that if we could see it, there lies much more within each individual than sometimes we give credit for.  Our job, surely, is to help coax it out.

To quote one of my own songs:
            “Set free this song you’ve put within me
             And let the music play, for the glory of your name”