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Lone Star State Of Mind

People are always asking me, “Who are your influences?” Well, in answer to that question, this is the first in an occasional series of Blog Posts about singers and songwriters. While I do not consciously set out to write songs that are like those of any particular writer, inevitably I’ve soaked up the music that I’ve listened to and played throughout my life. Donovan said, at a workshop he led at the Belnash Festival, that the best way to learn how to write a song is to play the songs you like. So this is about some of the songs I love to listen to, the songs I love to play.

Nanci Griffith 

I grew up listening to Nanci Griffith. Her “Lone Star State Of Mind” album (probably a 3rd generation cassette copy!) was often played on long car journeys when I was a child. Her voice was unlike any of the pop singers I heard in the charts and her songs told stories, windows into other lives. I remember my Mum telling me about seeing her in concert, and that in her ankle socks and pig tails she’d seemed like a little girl. I think that appealed a lot: a little girl playing guitar.

When I got my first guitar, aged 11, I started learning to play those wonderful songs. I sat with my finger hovering over the pause button, writing down the lyrics and then worked out the chords. The stories she told were, of course, not the stories of a little girl at all, but mature tales of friendship, love and heartache which I came to understand more as I grew up. I loved belting out Ford Econoline long before I appreciated it’s message about triumphantly escaping domestic abuse.

“Love In a Memory” is a beautiful song which for me as a child captured something about the challenges of being a grown up and that there might be more to love stories than ‘happy ever after’. “Mary Margaret” made me imagine my Mum and her friends when they were little, and wonder what my friends and I would turn out like when we grew up. There have been many times over the years when I’ve sat down and played every song on that album, but one of my favourites is “Trouble In The Fields”. I’m not sure whether I heard the original or Irish singer Maura O’Connell’s powerful cover first. While it references the dust bowl of 1930’s America, and the hardships of rural life, I think “Trouble in the Fields” is powerfully resonant across generations and countries.

I was incredibly excited to see Nanci Griffith perform live at the 2013 Belfast Nashville Festival and when she played “Trouble in the Fields” and the legendary “From a Distance” I couldn’t hold back the tears. But what impressed me most was Griffith’s undimmed passion. Her latest album “Intersection” is personal and political, engaged with the world, confronting and compassionate.

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