Remember Jona Lewie?
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
I’m a member of a songwriters and composers association now called the Ivors Academy which is based in London. Around the time when I joined, in the late ‘90s, I signed up for a panel review where three members of the music industry gave feedback to a group of aspiring songwriters. One member of the panel on this occasion was #Jona Lewie.
Lewie had a couple of hits in the UK in the early ‘80s. I remember these – “You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties” which made the Top 20 in 1980, and “Stop the cavalry” which got to No. 3 at Christmas that year. The first of these was a quirky song which was part of the New Wave movement, while the latter seems to have become a Christmas classic. In an interview in recent years Lewie recounted that the song was not originally intended as a Christmas song, but the recording ended up being completed in October, just in time to be released for the Christmas market. The line “Wish I was at home for Christmas” and the sleigh bells which followed helped it to become a seasonal hit. And, as they say, the rest is history!
Back to the panel review. We aspiring songwriters only found out who the panel members were on the day; as well as Jona Lewie there was David Stark who ran SongLink International (and still does), an organisation that provides song pitching opportunities (i.e. recording artists looking for songs to record and perform), and another guy whose name I can’t recall who was either a manager or a producer. We were informed that Lewie had not yet arrived – he turned up about 45 minutes late. But when he did arrive he had great presence, and his charisma won us over – well, me at least.
We had each brought along two songs for critique. One of mine was “Friend” which was inspired by Carole King’s “You’ve got a friend”. The guy whose name I have forgotten criticised the song for not having enough emotion. One line in the song is “If you ever leave town you’ll be sadly missed”, at which he commented “This is my best friend – I’d be devastated if they left!” Someone also said it sounded dated – the opening includes a piano intro inspired by George Benson’s “In your eyes”. Definitely an ‘80s influence which wasn’t in fashion at the time. On the other hand, at the end of the session Jona came up to me and said that he thought the opening lyrics of the song (“We come into this world alone and we leave alone”) had a Shakespearian feel.
The other song that I took along was “The dancing flames”, which I have recently rerecorded as it was my late mother’s favourite of my songs. It didn’t go down particularly well with anyone on the panel – regarding “In the auspicious light of the full moon” someone asked “What does ‘auspicious’ mean?” Jona frowned as if he didn’t get the song – in retrospect I took a gamble as the song isn’t particularly commercial. But it seems to work well in the folk arena. I will soon be releasing an accompanying video, as the internet has opened up a lot of opportunities that weren’t around in the late ‘90s, with platforms like YouTube and Facebook.
After the experience I took another look at “Friend” and considered rewriting it. However I thought that the song would lose its character if I altered it too much; I ended up changing one word – “sadly missed” became “sorely missed”. I also take Jona Lewie’s comment on the opening of the song as a great compliment. I must re-record it…
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