Our special correspondent and turf investment adviser MERCURY MAN returns for a bank holiday chat with a Charlton-based singer-songwriter who explores his life in his music.
For those of us grappling with old age – trying to take our onesies off without an involuntary forward roll across the room – it’s wonderful when one of our representatives produces something of artistic quality to confirm that we ain’t going yet.
Bill Crow’s album Crowsongs Two – the perfect example – is streaming as we speak and couldn’t be recommended more highly (hear it here).
The lyric “old” crops up more than once but is looked at squarely and with wisdom and humour: “Sometimes, I want to shout out / I want to shout out / OK, I’ll go shopping instead.”
Bill Crow lives between Charlton and his idyll in Suffolk – Woodbridge, quoted by Wikipedia, no less, as “the best place to live in the east of England”. Hence the picture on the album cover and the last song, Woodbridge Haven (Bill: “A beautiful town by the river Deben, where we have a small house.”)
So, Crowsongs Two? “I’ve written a lot of songs over the years – over a hundred,” said Bill.
“I started sorting through them a few years ago and found myself dissatisfied with the old versions. So I decided to re-record them using current technology. Crowsongs One was the first selection. This is the second.
“I came from an extended working-class family who all got together on Saturday night and sang songs. Then my mum and dad bought me a second-hand trumpet when I was 15/16 and I joined a brass band.
“After a while I got a trumpet teacher. He was called John Dickinson and he changed my life. He encouraged me to go to London and get to music college, which I did. This led to a lot of playing, teaching and eventually composing.”
After music college Bill became a class music teacher, first in Isleworth, then at Raynes Park High, which he loved. “It was then that I started writing music for the pupils at school. I also kept playing in orchestras and bands,” he said.
“Later, I left teaching and sort of freelanced, got a studio together and managed to write some theatre music. Also worked with singers. Went back into education as an advisor on music tech. Then made the leap to university. Lectured at Middlesex Uni and Goldsmiths.”
Big influences? “Too many to mention. I have very broad tastes. First it was the Beatles, Motown, soul. Then jazz – Miles Davis. Later the singer-songwriters: Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Paul Simon. Also a lot of classical: Mozart, Stravinsky, Ravel.
“Music should move you: make you laugh, cry, dance. And it should have a message.”
I’ve heard Bill play beautiful piano and assumed it was his main instrument. Wrong. “Trumpet and Flugelhorn are my main instruments. I also play a thing called an EWI, which is a wind instrument linked to a synthesiser. Been known to play accordion.”
Did he play in bands? “Yes. And I still do. Brass bands and orchestras to begin with. National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Lots of rock/pop bands. Quite a bit of jazz in and around the Greenwich area. Currently I play in a brass quintet and a jazz octet.”
(I played the triangle in an octet once, but the other seven were useless. I kept that to myself and asked Bill about the songs on Crowsongs Two.)
“I like songs that deal with the stuff we experience in real life. But I also want the music to draw people in and sound good: melodically, rhythmically, instrumentally.”
One of them is a tribute to the anti-war revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg (“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”)
Bill said: “Rosa Luxemburg was an amazing woman who fought for equality and justice. She was murdered for her views. I wanted to write a song about her but didn’t want it to be preachy. Then I realised that her name was so unusual and very beautiful. I ended up just repeating it, like an anthem.”
Let Bill take you through the 12 songs:
Please Let My Heart: “About hoping that we keep caring and loving as we grow older.”
Rosa Luxemburg: “An anthem to Rosa to sing in the streets.”
Shopping Instead: “About the lure of shopping. We all do it: hoping that the next new thing will unload happiness into our lives.”
Out There Somewhere: “Searching for love and care in the world.”
You Say: “About commitment and forgetting the past.”
The Missing (for Mum): “About my mother getting dementia.”
Everything To Me: “About being besotted.”
The Precious Days: “About saying goodbye.”
New Songs, Old Hearts: “About how older people still feel love and hope.”
My Time: “Basically about inequality. Contrasts the losses in my life with people who have nothing, and nothing to lose.”
Let Me Say: “About the confusions surrounding leaving.”
Woodbridge Haven: Hymn to Woodbridge, the beautiful town by the river Deben, where we have a small house.”
Crowsongs Two is available on Spotify, Apple Music and all other streaming platforms.
Mercury Man talks to SE Londoners with interesting tales to tell. Read his past stories.
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