When I was about 13, I had to go over a railway bridge to get to piano lessons once a week. I still remember the rush of wind followed by the locomotive as it went under the railway bridge, with a thunderous noise, followed by endless goods carriages. Sitting on my bike on top of the bridge, I used to wait for the goods train on my way home from the piano lessons My mind used to wander as I waited for the train. Poor Warrick- my other ‘main’ early piano teacher- by the time I got home I’d forgotten what he’d taught me. I’d ring him up and he’d patiently play the bass patterns and chords over the phone to me (chords for songwriting are like the colours you painting).
Now that I teach piano to youngsters, I’m able to put myself in their shoes and remember that their lives are full of exploring so much more than just piano. So I’m patient with them if they ‘forget’ to practice. I really try to just keep the younger ones engaged and inspired each week – almost ‘sneaking’ the theory (the chords and scales) in, as part of the deal.. so much is spoon fed on the internet these days. It takes a lot of work to master an instrument. There is no quick way there. You have to be passionate. So I do my best to nudge my students along, in the hope they stick with for a long time.
Back on that bridge, all those years ago, I was fascinated, transfixed, scared to death & goaded by the trains. I’d fallen asleep to the sounds of trains from 5 years of age when my family moved to PN (without Dad) to live with my grandparents for a spell. Symbols of moving on, peace, etc. the rhythm , the inevitability of arriving (hopefully ) at a specific destination..so different from the path of our lives, as we unfold emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. There on the bridge, my mind used to wander….part of me was reminded how fragile we are…and how insignificant we all are in the scheme of things.
I used to have falling dreams as a youngster & I still have flying dreams now (and the only drugs I would’ve done in the 60’s,maaaan , would’ve been some panadol between the age of 0-5 … if that was what was being sold then). I love the feeling, the concept of being free in our dreams to ‘leave’ our bodies…
When I think back to my piano man years, I wonder what might have unfolded had I not gone down the path of performing covers for a living. I didn’t go to ‘Uni’ in the end. Studying fine arts at university probably would’ve have lead to me meeting up with some like- minded souls and possibly forming a band, anyway.. and I loved so much music that was written by other people – maybe it was somehow destined for me.
With Paul Dredge and solo, so many nights were spent singing and playing our hearts out.
The toughest part of a restaurant gig can be the resounding silence or frank indifference of an audience who are otherwise engaged with their meal; their dining companion; the conversation going on. It’s certainly an art. I did my best to make it that for the years when I sang for my supper playing background music. I learned a heck of a lot, it gave a lot of people pleasure, but I’m not sure if I’d go down that path again if I had a chance to do it all again.
Playing covers so much, it took me a long time to get confident about my own songs. I guess you do what you have to do to eat. Eventually you figure out that covers are someone else’s ‘originals’…
Paul and I recorded 4 or 5 4-tracked albums during our ‘piano bar’ years and we still write songs together and release albums. There’s a few on bandcamp and this one you can also stream on spotify, etc, here: Walking Through A Dream
Eventually I did make my living playing 100% originals in the restaurants and bars I played in. That was satisfying. Then started recording and releasing my albums (in various genres) myself.
There’s 12 albums here on Bandcamp … here’s one:
So. Starting in my late teens and carrying on for years, I lived a couple of lives at once: Mr Pianoman in the evening -and in the daytime Mr Songwriter. It’s taken me a while, but in these last few years I’ve been putting a lot of energy and time into (finally) drawing attention to my music online. Along the way I sold 5000 piano CDs of original piano music before CDs went west. Now it’s streaming and videos…and gigs.
Truth be known, I’ve loved it all and looking back, I feel like I’ve been really, really lucky to have made a living from my music.
I think the hazy line of our destiny lies before us. Maybe we weave backwards and forwards, hearing the call like a distant bell, or a dog barking at twilight somewhere in the neighbourhood. We follow the path loosely, a coincidence or a miracle seems to occur just when we need it most & a sense of peace descends when we are on the path. Equally, a ‘wake up call’ seems to happen when we stray.
It’s the same , following a song through to its completion: faith in your fingers that they’ll pick out the right notes, faith in yourself that what you are producing is ‘original’, ‘meaningful’, worthwhile and ‘true’. It doesn’t strike me as an art to take lightly, but it is definitely a joy- it pretty much fits in, then, with my life’s philosophy.
I’m enjoying speaking about the songwriting process on my podcast episode each week. it’s also an opportunity to let my mind wander back to old memories from the time I wrote the featured song of the week.. here’s the link : https://song-and-a-chat.blubrry.net/
One way or another, you’re going to learn stuff in this life. I had some pretty big edges knocked off in my late teens & mid 20s – we all do – and I don’t think it did me any harm. All my trials and errors of that intense time served to make me more appreciative of this life, made me more humble.
Once you’ve been down to the often sung about ‘crossroads’, there’s no way to come back to who you were before then. You’re a goner and you may as well enjoy the ride. The day I discovered my ‘mustard seed’ was alive and well was a day I never questioned then or since. It’s certainly a joy and privilege to be around.
….and all this it led to me writing 800 original songs – and now (in late Dec, 2020) my band just released another rock album that I’m really proud of:
(streaming now – here’s the Spotify link) The Roughest Cut by Pete Pascoe & The Patient Hum.
You can read about the band by scrolling down through this post on my other blog: