The Funny Things that Songs do to Words

“Funny things happen to words when they’re in songs. They become more profound, or funnier…” said Simon Frith, Mercury Prize Chair of Judges, at the launch of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust’s latest campaign, Let’s Get Lyrical.

I’ve been volunteering at the City of Lit these last few weeks, mailing out bundles of promotional materials and proofing some of the website content. But even if I weren’t working there, I would still tell you to check out the Let’s Get Lyrical website and to think about writing your own story about the song lyrics that mean the most to you. Lyrics are such a huge part of our lives, whether they’re in songs by our favourite bands that we play on repeat, in catchy tunes overheard on the radio or in music added to films for dramatic effect.

The opening event for Let’s Get Lyrical was an evening of music and words entitled Why Do Songs Have Lyrics? Sandwiched between performances by King Creosote and Ziggy Campbell, the audience heard from a panel of musicians, writers and academics about the lyrics that have inspired them and about some of those funny things that songs do to words:

On the lyrics that have inspired them

Kenny Anderson a.k.a. King Creosote: Morrissey is a song writing genius. He tackles subjects head on and his lyrics make sense. Morrissey lyrics on the page look like prose.

Ziggy Campbell: Until I heard Arab Strap, I just listened to music. Arab Strap lyrics were the first lyrics that grabbed me. I think Aidan [Moffat] is an absolute genius. The lyrics to The Shy Retirer in particular are funny and visceral. He nails it at the end.

Ian Rankin told the audience how he was inspired by The Mutton Birds’ The Falls. Read the full story here.

On mishearing lyrics

Kenny Anderson : I put lyrics in album covers so that people know they’re not as bad as they think. Sometimes I am aghast by the way lyrics are misheard.  I have a song called Spystick and you can imagine how that sounds in my accent.

Ian Rankin: “I love to see song lyrics written down because if there’s any way they can be misconstrued, I will misconstrue them.” He misheard the Sex Pistols lyric They made you a moron/a potential H-bomb as They made you a moron/ touching your wife’s bum.

Simon Frith: “Mishearing lyrics can be a big problem if you’re a critic. I once wrote a review of Stop the Task Force by the Clash and that got into print.”

Which lyrics most inspire you? Which lyrics have you misheard?



Why I Love Edinburgh

Today Talli Roland posted Why I Love London, then Ellen Brickley followed it up with her list of Things I Love About Dublin so now I’m going tell you why I love Edinburgh:

  • The Book Festivals – How can I express how absolutely amazing the Edinburgh International Book Festival is? I was bubbling with excitement the whole seventeen days of this year’s festival. Sometimes I felt my head would explode. Then there is the more intimate but equally exciting West Port Book Festival which brings together authors, readers and cup cakes in characterful book shop settings. Of course there are plenty more book festivals in and around Edinburgh but those two are my favourites.
  • The literary and spoken word events –  wine and gossip at the monthly Literary Salons, wine and talks at Edinburgh City Reads, wine and poetry at The Golden Hour. I go to these things for the literature, honest.
  • The Art Galleries – In September I went to see Down Over Up, a Martin Creed exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery. The exhibition focused on things that went up or down in increments, for example, there was a row of cacti arranged in order of height, stacks of chairs with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on the top and sheets of A4 paper completely coloured in with felt tip pen wrapped around the wall in order of the darkest to the lightest shade. By far the funniest piece was the staircase, which had been tampered with so that the steps emitted a tone when you stood on them. With each ascending step the tone grew higher and higher so it was like you had your own personal cartoon soundtrack as you climbed the stairs to the next level. PLINK! PLINK! Plink! plink! Then last month I visited the Modern Art Gallery which is currently rotating its collection so that pieces that have been in storage for a long time are finally on display again. Robert Therrien’s giant table and chairs were hilarious. I was desperate to vault myself up onto the chair so that I could dangle my legs over the edge, but even if I had been able to get onto a chair, the seat of which towered above my head, I realised that I still would not have been able to see over the top of the table. I felt like a Borrower. I like modern art, I particularly like modern art that makes me laugh, and Edinburgh has plenty of both.
  • The tea rooms – I overheard someone say the other day that there aren’t that many tea rooms in Edinburgh. Absolute nonsense. Check this out. And there are still loads more to be explored.
  • The sky – look at my masthead. That’s an Edinburgh sky. Beee-ooo-ti-foool.
  • The City of Literature Trust – All hail the wonderful Anna and Ali at the City of Literature Trust who are responsible for the above mentioned Literary Salon, Story Shop (my first paid writing gig, yay!) and the annual One Book – One Edinburgh campaign (among many other wonderful literary things). I cherish my beautiful Carry a Poem book which I got free as part of this year’s One Book – One Edinburgh.
  • The Royal Mile – This is where you will find the oldest buildings in Edinburgh, huddled together like crooked teeth. The Royal Mile extends from the castle down to Holyrood Palace and is riddled with closes and alleyways. February on the Royal Mile is bloody baltic, but also clear and sharp glittery. It was on one of those February evenings that I realised that I really had to move to Edinburgh.
  • The castle – Edinburgh castle is like a village, a jumbled collection of buildings which you can easily spend all day exploring. From the grassmarket and Princes street it looks magnificent and imposing, particularly at night when it glows fiery orange.
  • The libraries – There’s a copyright library, the university libraries, public lending libraries and the Scottish Poetry Library. A wealth of books, journals and magazines to leaf through.
  • Leith – The first time I went to Leith was for a job interview. I was very surprised when the bus turned off a main road onto a cobbled street on the edge of the river. It used to be a separate burgh but now it’s been swallowed up by Edinburgh. A curious mix of very old and very new buildings makes Leith a charming and glamorous setting for a night out. It’s also at one end of the  Water of Leith walk, a riverside stretch that takes you right across Edinburgh passing six Anthony Gormley statues on the way. I did that walk a few weeks ago but I only managed to spot two statues. I think I will wait for spring before I try to find the other four.

Leith Festival

The programme for the 2010 Leith Festival, which boasts 150 events in 50 venues within a 1 mile radius, is now available online. I am very very excited. There will be literary events, music, drama, dance, photography and visual arts and loads of other cool things all taking place between the 11th and 20th of June. Only 36 days to go!