The Songwriters

Q Magazine, 4 septembre 2007

The Story of the new issue :

I like looking at the cover of this month’s issue more than is normal, or perhaps strictly healthy. Not because it is especially a thing of beauty – although, as these things go, I think it more than passes muster. No, I like looking at it because it amounts to an idea fully and completely realised, and such things are a rarity.

The idea for The Songwriters’ Issue came, as ideas tend to, during our weekly Ideas Meeting (the clue for the point of which may reside in the title). Thoughts during said session had turned to the 1October issue, so I strongly suspect this would have been at the start of May, since we’re usually thinking roughly five months ahead of ourselves. Said issue was one we’d identified as looking ever like not having an immediately obvious cover feature set aside.

Oh, we had planned one – indeed, had already spent several weeks working upon it – but it involved several artists and therefore several PRs. And at least one of the latter had begun using the expression, ‘I’m sure we can make this happen’. This is the music business’ version of the Chairman’s vote of confidence in football, and upon receipt of it one is best advised to place one’s head between one’s legs and kiss one’s arse goodbye. Ergo, the long planned 1 October cover was assuredly on its way up a certain creek minus a paddle.

Hence, the search for a replacement cover feature. The Songwriters concept came early in the meeting. One person (that’ll be me) suggested photographing seven or eight songwriters for a lavish gatefold cover, only for others (everyone else) to point out this was much – well, exactly – the same as we were doing the month before with a group of internationally renowned guitarists. Come the point all agreed that there wasn’t one single songwriter or piece of artwork that could best sum up the concept, come the decision to have a smaller group of like-minded artists on the cover.

Unusually, it took but a matter of minutes to narrow this group down to Michael Stipe, Rufus Wainwright and Bjork. There were numerous Good Things about focussing upon these three, but foremost of which was the fact that they all liked and respected each other’s work. This tends to make things that crucial bit easier. This triumvirate having been established – and with little or no consideration being given to the small matter of none of them living in the same place, or sharing the same itineraries or, in Bjork’s case, showing much inclination at all to do any press for her current album – the next stage was to speak to their respective PRs to see if all this could be swept aside for the sole purpose of The Q Cover.

The stage two part of the equation can take an age of delicate diplomatic negotiation (who’s going to occupy which spot on the cover, how many pages are going to be allocated to each, etc, etc), but in this instance it simply breezed past. Bjork decided to forego her blanket refusal to do any new photographs. Messrs Stipe and Wainwright share a PR, the indomitable Barbara Cherone, for whom pulling such events off is par for the course (I remain convinced that, in the event of a nuclear holocaust, not only will she survive it, but she will be setting up press interviews for whomever or whatever else is left still standing). Dates were set (Stipe and Wainwright happened to be in Dublin on the same day in June, Bjork passed through London in the week leading up to Glastonbury – a small degree of photographic trickery did the rest), dates were met, and all came together swimmingly,

Once the cover was locked in, there was the small matter of everything else to fit around it, since clearly an issue devoted almost entirely to songwriters required other songwriters to fill it. Again, the notion of what to do was far easier said than done. Part one was a Songwriters Portfolio, wherein we would interview a broad cross-section of noted tunesmiths – some old, some new, none occupying the same musical terrain. Since Michael Stipe and Rufus Wainwright were interviewed together, Bjork would kick this portfolio off, with a planned five other folk following on.

Happily, this is exacty how it transpired in practise, Even better, a couple of missed targets aside (damn you and your elusive ways, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen), this too assembled itself quickly and easily (or relatively so, at any rate), Given that this list amounts not only to Keane’s Tim Rick-Oxley, beardy folkmeister Devendra Banhart and Nick Cave (no offence intended at all to either, but if they didn’t wish to talk about their considerable gifts it really would have been time to pack up the plantation and head home), but also to the very great Burt Baccarach (who has no real need to do such things, so largely doesn’t) and to Pete Doherty (who has, let us say, issues that often render him incapable of doing, or unwilling to do such things), this is a minor miracle.

Likewise, part two, the icing on the cake went on smoothly and without much fuss. We wanted to, and did, find 30 songwriters to cast a vote each for the 10 Most Perfect Songs Ever, and if required to discuss their choice at some length. KT Tunstall took very little persuading to sit in a pub for A Round With…, and even less to do so at breakfast time, wherein she heroically took whiskey chasers with her toast.

And then there was James Blunt. The man Blunt is, of course, a songwriter who divides people straight down the middle into those who go weak at the knees at the mere sight of his fizzog and those who would like to remove it with a blowtorch. Whatever camp you sit in, I’d contend you’d be hard pushed to deny that the man gives good copy. He has excelled himself this month in Q, whether it via posing on a diving board above a swimming pool glittering beneath Ibizan sun, or discussing his ‘friend’ Omar The Pharmacist, whose specific role is perhaps entirely obvious.

And there, give or take The Police in New York or the Stereophonics in Moscow, and side stepping a bat-crazy Avril Lavigne interview, is the issue. For once, it is one that was almost as routine to put together as it is to write about. Perhaps fortune favours the brave ? Next month’s 21st Anniversary Issue should be a stroll in the park, then…

par PAUL REES publié dans Q Magazine