Musical Beginnings - An English Girl in New York
Updated: Jan 25
I wrote my first song when I was 12. I was a shy and lonely adolescent in a foreign country, the USA – although we spoke the same language there were cultural differences. My dad worked for IBM and had an assignment out there, in Poughkeepsie, New York. We lived in a small town called Pleasant Valley, where there was little more than an ice cream parlour, a Grand Union supermarket, a fire house and a hotel. The lower elementary school that my sister attended was at the start of the road that led to the close where we lived.
That close, Rawls Road, was a collection of 5 houses built by local landowners the Rawls, who owned a large house with a swimming pool further up the main road. Our neighbours were all IBM families, three from the UK and one from the Netherlands. The houses were made from timber; ours was red and contained mod-cons such as a dishwasher and air-conditioning. There was a basement and four bedrooms, so one each for my brother, sister and me. We quickly made friends with our neighbours and had many social get-togethers, like rowing and skating on the nearby lake, swimming at the Rawls’ pool, barbecues in summer and sledging and ski-ing in the winter. Despite this social life, I spent much of my time alone, retreating into my own world and listening to music and watching TV at every opportunity.
We were on holiday at Lake George with our trailer when songwriting inspiration struck. The only paper I had to hand was a paper bag, so I wrote the lyrics on that while travelling in the trailer. It was a tale of home-sickness titled “I wish I was back in Old England now”, and the words seemed to flow straight out of me. I later transferred these lyrics to a notebook, but have since lost both the paper bag and the notebook and have forgotten the lyrics except for the title. I can remember the tune, though.
Shortly after the holiday in Lake George we came back to the UK for a week to check on the house, and we played some of the vinyl records that had been left behind, including the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night (we had all become Beatle mad out in the USA, and my parents had bought a couple of American editions of their albums). As soon as I heard the second track on side 2, “I’ll cry instead” I realised I had borrowed the structure and chord sequence from this song for my song. I was disappointed that it was not an original idea, but as I had been listening to the Beatles so much that year it was inevitable that my first song would be influenced by them.
I wrote a few songs in the following year or so after that, but the only one that survives in my memory is “Today and tomorrow”. I think that was the second song I wrote – I can remember all the words, and I had thought of sending it to Olivia Newton-John for her to sing! There was also a song inspired by “Here comes the sun” and a sunny New Year’s Day at Jug End ski resort in Massachusetts, but I can only remember the chorus; and a fragment which consisted of a hook to the words “Are you coming out tonight?” – I eventually decided to write a complete song around the idea in July 2017 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of my songwriting!