Points of Light

Points of Light

Most of my songs take time to write. They come together phrase by phrase, line by line. They get edited, broken down, reassembled and sometimes abandoned. Space is given to reflect on each part of the process. I can write a simple couplet, or let my fingers find one little riff, consider it a good day’s work, and not do anything more on a song for several days. Sometimes songs need time to grow on their own. Or perhaps I’m just lazy. Regardless, it’s usually a span of months before a new song is considered ‘finished’, or at least grown up enough to step out in public.

Not so with Points of Light.

Reading the canon of modern popular music, there are many stories of great songs that arrive fully formed. Usually they’re written on the back of a napkin, or sung into a dictaphone after a momentary awakening from a lucid dream. Invariably such songs go on to be classics. Keith Richards woke from a drunken stupor, wrote the riff and lyric to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, then fell back to sleep.

I haven’t had many such bursts of instant creativity in my songwriting career. However, I have noticed that those few times I’ve succeeded in a creating a song within a short timeframe the results have been pleasing. Perhaps the jury’s still out on Points of Light – Mrs. Far Flown Falcon (the main arbiter of approval) was initially rather dismissive of the tune, but further exposure won her round. You can be your own judge:

If anything, writing quickly prevents overcomplicating a composition. Points of Light is certainly simple – three major chords on the verse, two of the same chords for the chorus, an easy reggae strum throughout. Easy reggae strums lend themselves very readily to the ukulele. I faked my way through a little percussion on the uke body on the repeat of the final chorus, picked at the verse chords for the outro and done! I’ve been listening a lot to Hawaiian reggae artist Mike Love* of late, and his approach to melody was no doubt an influence to Points of Light. Also:

Hold on to this little piece of cosmic positivity

Listen to too much reggae, and such phrases find their way into your vocabulary. Don’t be alarmed, it’s all for the good.

Preah Khan James

What’s perhaps unusual with Points of Light is that it grew from an emotional rather than creative seed. There was no melodic fragment or pleasing couplet that launched the song, or even an appealing title. Rather it was a need to express a feeling. That was a common enough motivation when I was younger, and my heart was getting broken on a regular basis. But these days, in my thirties, happily married, comfortable in my skin, I tend to write songs because they explore something interesting or tell a curious tale.

Not so with Points of Light.

And even though they are far, far away

They stray into my heart on every, every single day

As an incredibly sturdy and tireless crow might fly, my best friends live approximately 7,000 miles away. Luckily, thanks to the 21st century, we don’t have to rely on a mail boat to keep in touch. Skype let’s us talk to one another whenever we want and to see each others’ (rather pixellated) faces. It’s not the same as being in the same room, but it’s enough to touch upon the depth and invincibility of our friendship. It was after one such Skype conversation I was inspired to create Points of Light.

As I’ve continued to travel I’ve been lucky enough to make friends who are now scattered across every continent**. It may be years before I see many of them again, and there’s always the possibility I may never see some of them again. But the distance doesn’t diminish the importance of those relationships when the friendship is true.

Last year I had the chance to return to Peru. It was closing on a decade since the last time I had seen my friends there, but the time apart meant nothing once we’d finally reunited.

And when I piece together

All these points of light

We’ll come together into a

Soaring, soaring flight

Listen to the distance

Dwindling to a single beat

Let’s find a cloud together and rest our weary feet

80% of the song was written in a single evening, with the rest finished the following day. I didn’t think too deeply about the writing, I didn’t try to push myself with a complex arrangement. I just tried to express my feelings in as simple way as possible.

So I guess Points of Light came from wanting to tell how lucky I feel at having such wonderful friends all around the globe. And, not always being the best at keeping in touch, Points of Light is a message for all of you – the Carrs, the Lazy Lizards, the Somerset crowd, the Vallejos family, Lichi, Nayda and Mildred, Su and Si, Anh Dung, Tuyen, Thanh and Nam, Lance, Kari, Charlie and Rose, Mohammad and Habiba, all the others I’ve forgotten and the others still to meet. All these points of light.

Points of Light

This world is spinning in the darkness

Whirling around and around in the void

But if you look down from orbit

You can see a dozen points of light

Now these are not burning fires

These are not cities at night

These are the souls of my dear friends

Shining and blazing bright

Bright

 

And even though they are

Far, far away

They stray into my heart

On every, every single day

So if you’re out there listening

Wherever you may be

Just hold onto this little piece of cosmic positivity

 

A long time living the life of a nomad

But it’s only the places that I leave behind

And as my feet keep on with the motion

The rest of me resides with your voice

Your counsel, jokes, your consolations

Those times when we all rejoiced

And when came the time for departing

You only blessed my bittersweet choice

 

And when I piece together

All these points of light

We’ll come together into a

Soaring, soaring flight

Listen to the distance

Dwindling to a single beat

Let’s find a cloud together and rest our weary feet

And even though they are

Far, far away

They stray into my heart

On every, every single day

So if you’re out there listening

Wherever you may be

Just hold onto this little piece of cosmic positivity

Finally, a word on the video itself. We are travelling at the momentand found ourselves in Siem Reap, Cambodia, home of the famous Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is just one of an enormous temple complex dating back centuries. The whole area is a World Heritage site, and of course tremendously popular tourist destination. However, such is the vastness of the temple complex that it’s relatively easy to escape the crowds and explore on your own.

We discovered Preah Khan, one of the smaller, outlying temples, on what was supposed to be the last day of our stay in Siem Reap. Still half covered in forest, the 800 year old ruins really captured our imagination, so much so that we vowed to stay another day, and returned the following morning at 5.15am to shoot the video for Points of Light.

It was a glorious morning – we had the whole temple to ourselves for more than two hours, except for the company of a myriad of birds – hornbills, parakeets, myna birds, orioles and more. Their incredible dawn chorus makes some pretty fine accompaniment for the song.

*On Mike Love. An incredible talent – follow the link and prepared to be blown away by the imagination on display. Then go and watch his other songs, they’re just as good.

**Well not Antarctica, but if there are any penguins who want to be friends then please write to me.


IN OTHER NEWS

  • Deep in the Music reviewed the A Crown on a Chain EP. It’s a great music blog reviewing all kinds of music.
  • I’ve been exploring WordPress myself, and been enjoying the Secrets in the Wall blog by Rosanna of New York duo Scott and Rosanna. It’s an interesting read for anyone interested in songwriting, and their music is super to boot – original songs, and some nice weaving together of ukulele and acoustic guitar on the demos shared on the blog.
  • Oh, and on a whim I shaved my head the day before making the video. Don’t worry Mum, it’s growing back fast.
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Points of Light

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