We (Phil and Dom) are joining the NMDC programme at around the halfway point so it’s fair to say we have a bit of catching up to do!
On one hand, we’re beginning to get to know the group. It’s been fascinating to hear from other musicians and lyricists as they develop their material and to have the benefit of their feedback on our early ideas. It’s also been great to hear from visiting practitioners in the industry sessions and to listen to their reflections on the creative process.
On the other, we’re doing trying best to get up to speed on our own project – a musical about a fictional soul star (Martin Sinclair) and his female backing singers (the Mary Janes.) Part of our job as composers will be helping to write Sinclair’s back catalogue, from the first hit as a young man, to his iconic protest anthem, the misjudged rap album (which we imagine would be called Addicted to Money), 90’s remixes and lots more. For our research we’ve been immersing ourselves in soul music from the 1950s to the present day.
One of the areas we’ve been exploring is the work of 1960s girl groups (to help us build up the musical world of the Mary Janes). Like most people we were familiar with the big hits from the period but listening to the records in depth has been a revelation. It’s difficult not be struck by the vocal performances on some of the early Supremes and Marvelletes records – even more impressive considering so many tracks from this period were performed in a single take. We’ve also been surprised by how adventurous some of these tracks are especially in the context of 1960s pop music.
For example, we’re still trying to get our heads round the chord sequence in the verse of this song:
The Marvelletes – The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game
We’ve also been discovering 1960s all-female garage rock bands for the first time – groups such as The Feminine Complex and the Daughters of Eve. It’s not exactly soul but there’s some great tracks there. For example:
The Daughters of Eve – Help Me Boy
Of course it’s a little daunting at times. The songs we’re listening to for reference are some of the most iconic and popular songs of the 20th century, and the main challenge we face is writing songs that could plausibly be from this time without falling into comical pastiche. No pressure. Naturally there are certain attributes that we’ll need to ape in order to make them sound of the era but the songs also need their own identity.
Importantly we do have a few things in our favour though – we play in a band together, have similar tastes, each of us knows how the other works and we both have the internet at home (please see picture below). Also many of our collaborations over the years have required us to delve into other musical styles (disco, grime, national anthems etc.) so hopefully we’ve got a good foundation to build on. Our own music, whilst not soul music, shares/steals a few key features from soul music. There’s an expressive lead vocal, a central groove, vocal call and responses and you’ve got to have a hook. In most soul songs, as soon as someone tells you the title of the song, that melody has got to immediately pop into your head. I Heard it through the Grapevine, Uptight, Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, In the Midnight Hour, Knock On Wood, Respect, Baby Love, so so many, you know the hook as soon as you hear the title.