Despite being described by friends on the Edinburgh scene as ‘a legend’ or ‘the king of Edinburgh songwriters’, Norman Lamont is growing comfortable with obscurity. He continues to gig with his band The Heaven Sent, and produce albums, the most recent being last year’s All The Time in Heaven.
And now for the questions:
Music or words first? Or a bit of both?
Almost always a bit of both, that is, a line or two complete with a melody and tempo. That suggests what the rest will be, which is work. The music is easier than the words. I’ve had melodies with a few lines hang round for twelve years waiting for me to knuckle down and write more words. Some are still waiting. (Gravestone ‘He never did finish that —-ing song’)
I do write words on their own, but never as embryo songs; they’re just scraps of stuff I keep for when I’m scrabbling around trying to finish something. When I write them I think they’re rubbish; years later when I find them I think they’re brilliant compared to the rubbish I’m writing now. My room is full of notebooks.
Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?
Usually I write in my head, and then work out the guitar chords afterwards from the completed stadium version I hear the E Street Band playing in my head.
Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?
I’ve had that experience a few times. Driving or walking along the street I just open my mouth and start singing a completely new song I haven’t planned. It certainly clears the pavement. When I examine it, it’s often linked to something I’ve been listening to earlier in the day so it’s not that magical, but it feels that way at the time. But that’s just the start – the rest is work and anticlimax.
Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.
A semi-retired Edinburgh singer called Dave Christopher, not known by many. He let me join his band in Glasgow in the 70s and it was the first time I’d actually met someone whose songs astonished me. He has a McCartney-like gift for melody.
Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?
I’ve never tried to write for someone else, as no-one has ever requested such a service. I often ‘hear’ a new song with someone else’s voice, but when I play it to people they don’t often recognise my mangled interpretation of that person, which avoids charges of plagiarism.
Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?
Structure stays the same, but every time I sing in front of an audience I find new ways to sing them, often with new melodies. Somehow there has to be an audience for that to happen.
Name three favourite songwriters of yours.
Rennie and Brett Sparks (The Handsome Family)
Leonard Cohen (you did say four favourite songwriters, didn’t you?)