What Syphillis taught me about Songwriting

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A few months ago Christella Litras began musically directing a show by emerging Director John Rwoth-Omack. The play, Bad Blood Blues, explores the (true) process of HIV drug trials in Africa and the ethical questions raised.

As the two lead characters in the play give us insight into these African trials the scenes are segued by the repeated return of a character called the Bluesman, a subject/victim of a different, infamously unethical experiment - The Tuskegee Study (of Syphillis in the Negro Male). - Never heard of it? Click here...

Stella suggested me for the role and, after a meeting, I was on board. For this show I got to do something I have been longing to do;  to tell a story that was not my own through music.

The character has no spoken lines, and instead progresses his narrative through existing blues songs. Pieces by incredible musicians like Robert Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller and Skip James occur throughout and gave me a whole new playlist of music to get familiar with.

Accross the board the artists are doing melodic work on their guitars to make way for their most emotive instrument, their voices. The aches, the squeaks, the blemishes boldly contributing to character of the song. On paper the lyrics are concise and oft repeated which highlights the heavy responsibility the vocal has. Even three identical lines can be delivered with different textures and intentions deepen the understanding of the artists perspective.

John is an incredible director, and approached this subject with sensitivity but also a veracity that hungered for truth. The bluesman is rooted in a troubling historical moment (Again. You NEED to read about it.) that at first was almost too daunting to consider. But over the time of working in this show it has taught me so much about story telling, about what happens when you strip a song down to almost nothing to channel it all through the vocal. 

There’s definitely a fear as a male vocalist/songwriter that being truly exposed, letting all of your emotion flow and mingle with itself, the resentment and the hope and the anxiety and the joyful abandon; all at once for all to hear; weakens you. To not put across a sense of control. Or worse, to put across a sense of not having the solutions to your problems, has no place in the vocabulary of the modern male. Yet here are these men; unapologetically giving us all of that. ALL of it. 

I think I’m still processing how impactful this show has been for me. 

If you haven’t heard much blues music, and wonder what all the hype is about I just added this AWESOME Spotify playlist! Click here to see my latest Artist Pick!

 

Can’t wait to get writing. 

 

Rob x

 

Windrush: Moving the People...

This week I performed as part of a dance production for the first time.

Lucky for the audience I was not dancing! Phoenix Dance Theatre, choereographed in this piece by the company’s artistic director Sharon Watson, staged Windrush: Movement of the People in Leeds last week, headlining a mixed programme at West Yorkshire Playhouse. 

I was brought in by Christella Litras, my mentor (co-producer of ROB.GREEN EP) and incredible theatre musical director. Initially I was asked to co-write lyrics on a pivotal piece; God Save The Dream , a minor key re-imagining of Rule Britannia and Britain’s national anthem as Caribbeans travelled to the UK ‘motherland’ in response to a desperate cry for help post WWII. 

Eventually as the whirlwind of production picked up I had been included to perform the song live on stage; along with full Gospel renditions of Amazing Grace and Shackles (yes, the one by Mary Mary).

What started out as a songwriting journey became very educational. Windrush, although a very recent piece of British history, is still a rarely told/staged story and even as a grandchild of Caribbean migrants myself there was so much about this story I didn’t know.

 Windrush: Movement of the people -  image taken from @PhoenixLeeds Twitter  

Windrush: Movement of the people - image taken from @PhoenixLeeds Twitter 

The furniture, the set design (done beautifully by Eleanor Bull) became like a time machine, the wood panelled Gram, the retro wallpaper and THAT rug. Suddenly an experience you believe to be individual becomes commune. I instantly recognised the trunks, suitcases, furniture and decor as that of my grandparents, which even by the time of my own childhood in the 90s had not changed. I was thrown back to a “God is the head of this house” mantra above the kitchen door, doilies on the backs of sofas and an ice bucket shaped like a giant apple... 

You Called and We Came; a sampled voice recording of an iconic speech of the same title given by professor Laura Serrant (named Britains 8th most influential Black Person - Powerlist 2017) - is set to Litras’ moving soundscape, the track serves as an all too relevant, sobering reminder of the hypocrisy of being invited and yet unwelcome. 

It became instantly clear why this story needed to be told, why it must be immortalised and although this story was told from very personal sources to creator/director Sharon Watson, it retains home truths and realities all Caribbean people faced when responding to the call from the UK for help. 

Overlooking the barriers this show breaks (a lead creative team made entirely of women, a rarely told story, Watson’s first narrative piece, Litras’ first compositions for Contemporary Dance, A European tour for a work developed outside of London...)

Overlooking that this is a British history, a piece of world history, marked this year as the 70th anniversary of the S.S. Windrush’s maiden voyage.

Overlooking it’s purest elements; the narrative, the movement and the music that are as compelling as they are enlightening.

Being part of Windrush felt like a far larger movement.

You need to see this show on tour.  Simple as.

 

 Get Tickets: http://phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk 

 

ROB.GREEN, Jake Bugg and Eyre Llew together for #GiveAHome

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LAST NIGHT! The vibe was INCREDIBLE!  

Such an honour to perform as part of Sofar Sounds groundbreaking #GiveaHome event with Amnesty International.

To be on the same bill and Nottingham's Eyre Llew and Jake Bugg was awesome and for a very pressing cause.  Yesterday's #GiveaHome event saw 300+ Sofar Sessions being held simultaeneously worldwide.  All proceeds go to Amnesty directly support upwards of 25 MILLION refugees worldwide.

Sofar is already renown for its intimate and communal vibe, bringing together live music lovers the world over into small secret gigs, so in this context the vibe was BIGGER THAN EVER! 

Thank you Sofar Sounds, Amnesty International and to all the people who made donations by entering for tickets and buying all the donated EP's and posters last night at Notts County!

If you would still like to make a donation CLICK HERE: https://www.sofarsounds.com/giveahome

ROB.GREEN performs at BBC Proms 57

I was SO honoured to be asked to perform as part of Clare Teal's BBC Proms show. Performing in the finale "Tanga" and with the talented Ben Cippola and Mads Mathias on "T'aint what you do" was incredible. But THIS moment floored me, performing "Orange Coloured Sky" made famous by one of my earliest influences; Nat King Cole. 

It was an honour to stand on a stage that I have only ever seen on television and pay tribute to the man that made me realise that your voice breaking could be the start of something wonderful..!

CHECK IT OUT BELOW!

Big love to Clare Teal, all the performers, Guy Barker and Winston Rollins for putting on such a wonderful show! Its was SO much fun!

Big Love

ROB.GREEN