It was a quiet Sunday evening and I was doing that thing I often do at that time of week; going through the large CD pile of recent arrivals. There are good weeks and bad weeks and, if I’m honest, this wasn’t a bumper crop. An email popped in from my sister. An old school friend had spotted our old family home coming on to the property market. It was impossible not to look at the photographs and to try to reconcile memory to new reality. I think I managed to identify the rooms and occasionally the geography of a cupboard or wardrobe and even the space where a first song was written. Little else made sense…my sister admitted she recognised nothing. How dare they throw out a bathroom fitted in 1963?
I once got to visit the house myself. Twenty years on from when we left it I was asked to make a TV documentary about returning to my hometown and the producer managed to get me access to see round it. In a strange coincidence the chap who then owned it had also taken a job I once had in the city…..all too much happenstance for comfort. When I went home I got so excited I eagerly invited my mother and sister to join me for a visit. Wisely, they shook their heads, ‘We don’t really want to spoil the memory.’ I wished I’d never gone and had never mentioned it.
At my age there are many homecomings over the ages. The first true one I experienced was a show we did in Dundee in 1988 where our old, dear friend Johan Mrvos (then our US A&R guy) accompanied us on the dates through Scotland. After a home town show in Dundee we took him the long way via the East Neuk to the last night of the tour in Edinburgh stopping in Anstruther (I think) before being very late for our sound check in Auld Reekie. So keen was I to show Jovan my home patch, I’d almost forgotten we had a show to do that night. As it turned out we were driving into Edinburgh listening to the chart countdown as it became clear that we were about to have our first ever proper hit song. That day was remembered recently as my wife and I wandered along the East Fife coastal path. I remembered too Jovan’s comforting words…’You can’t go home again,’ as he pointed me to Thomas Wolfe.
It’s a theme that comes up a lot in country music. The return of the native to make sense of where they came from and how they got where they did. In Nashville almost everyone comes from somewhere else and in a life of song they either try to eulogise the place they came from, make sense of why they left or pay tribute to the values home gave them. There are so many great examples to choose from but a particular favourite is Miranda Lambert’s, ‘The House That Built Me.’ I loved the retelling of the writing session we got when Allen Shamblin joined our songwriters ’round’ in Nashville a couple of years back. He remembered his co-writer Tom Douglas talking about the small town he grew up in and how, during that writing session he walked himself around his childhood home. The song, of course, starts with the sage advice, ‘I know they say you can’t go home again,’ but adds the beautiful rejoinder, ‘If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave, I won’t take nothing but a memory from the house that built me.’ A perfect couplet but a difficult act to pull off.
On this week’s AC we will play out another bit of song writing self reflection as we celebrate the place where so much magic has happened over the years – Music Row. For many song writers it’s a place where there is as much disappointment as triumph but recently the very talented songwriter, Luke Laird has brought out his own album of the same name. In the title song he tells the story of how a family holiday brought him to Music City where he found out what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. How he’s succeeded too! We thought it was a rabbit hole worthy of further exploration so with the help of Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, George Strait and Margo Price we’ll take you to 16th Avenue South, better known as Music Row. After that we’ll also bring you a celebration of Luke Laird’s own successful cuts. Listen out for gems from Tenille Townes, Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves and Tim McGraw.
With the special news briefing this Tuesday evening we plan to be on air a little later at 8:30 on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.