Songwriting is something I have toyed with since childhood.
On the way to and from primary school, I remember making up melodies and verses, sometimes sharing them with friends. I always thought I would one day write a song or two, but it wasn’t until my fifties that I did. My relationship with singing was always easy and fruitful; I sung in various choirs at different points throughout my life, with friends and more recently, in an acapella duo, Gaga Ladies. By contrast, my relationship with music was troubled. I was banned from the music room at secondary school where I had wanted to join my musically talented friend; and was denied the opportunity to learn the double bass for dubious reasons that wouldn’t now be permitted. It was a real set back and knocked my confidence. I turned to other activities instead.
However, my dad bought me a guitar when I was 18. I took it to France for a year and taught myself the basics. I loved it because I could add singing to music. I struggled to progress further than the basics, however, and lacked the funds to buy guitar lessons. Then work, family and life took over. Until my fifties. This was when I resumed singing in earnest and fell into arranging songs for our small choir. The formation of Gaga Ladies a little later prompted me to write original songs to add to our repertoire of covers and perform at local gigs and art events. Completing that first song was quite a milestone. At around the same time, I started having guitar lessons.
At 62 I haven’t looked back. Adding guitar to my acapella songwriting took me on an entirely unpredicted path leading to going solo as Jude Searl. Two people have been crucial in addition to my husband whose support and steer have helped enormously: my guitar teacher persuaded (pushed me, even) into recording my songs, and at the same time by coincidence I bumped into an old friend, a musician, who has a recording studio and supported me in arranging and producing my songs. Being such a latecomer to songwriting, not being musically trained, very aware of how age and gender is viewed in the music world, and naturally rather shy about sharing my work publicly, it took five years to complete the ep and a further two years to risk releasing it.
During that time I did, however, submit a couple of songs to the UK Songwriting competition. I didn’t reach the finals but was commended for one song and another was awarded a special mention. Last year, one of my songs was featured on an American radio programme, promoting women’s original songs. I was pleased to hear about and join ‘Talent is Timeless’ and joined a workshop in the summer last year. I continue to write and perform songs both as a solo artist and with Gaga Ladies with a view to recording a 2nd ep or album later this year. Songwriting is a craft and I know I have only touched the surface. A friend about whom I wrote a song and who also plays guitar and sings beautifully, said, when I casually asked him whether he wrote songs, that ‘you have to have a reason’.
He didn’t. It made me think about why I do it. There are lots of reasons of course. Lyrics, melody and a story are what drive me and there’s the knowledge that at last I’m giving an outlet to something that has been inside for such a long time. I adore singing, so playing guitar to accompany my own songs is a privilege. I remain aware, though, that being a woman of a certain age is a harder place to be than it should be, particularly in music. And the clock ticks. I would advise anyone, women especially, to follow their music dreams in whatever way they can. Taking lessons and collaboration have been enormously helpful to me and provided a big step on the way.
The more we can do openly and publicly, the better; it makes it that much easier for others to follow. But equally, playing just for oneself or friends and family can be the perfect tonic in a difficult world.