19. Granola

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19. Granola
S.Rhatigan/J.F Morrison © 1997

thwl-front-cover_300pxl“Who is your audience Suzanne?”  Terry asked impatiently. He had been listening to demos for my 2nd album.  That familiar sick feeling rose from the pit of my stomach. Shit what do I say, I felt like the kid who was out the day they did algebra and somehow never quite understood what x was from that point on.  “I’ll tell you who it’s not” he said “it’s not college kids, it’s blue collar workers, it’s ‘Granola’ and until you accept that, you’re wasting your time”.  He dropped me from the label the following week.

2014 where to begin… New year, same old same old.  Here I am wrestling again with my choice of song dilemma.  I’ve battled this demon my whole career, my entire life.  Define who you are, what genre which direction, which gang.  Everyone around me always seems so certain of what they’re into, this is what I like, these are my choices, the places I go to, these are the people I mix with etc etc.  I can’t make those choices.  When it comes to music at any rate, I like elements of almost everything.

Growing up there was very little music in our house;  a few sound tracks, musicals; South Pacific, Mary Poppins, a few crooners; Andy Williams, Eartha Kitt, Barbara Streisand, a bit of light classical; Strauss, and religious stuff, choirs and hymns etc.  Eventually a few folkies were added to the mix when my sister started buying records; Bread, Neil Young John Martin, Janis Ian and of course we loved a bit of ROCK; Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Status Quo…  I was always singing along with these records imagining myself on stage in the Hollywood bowl or Top of the Pops.  Every lunch hour in school I made the dash home it took exactly 10 mins from desk to door.  I grabbed a sandwich, 5 mins, sang along with Barbara, Janis, Aretha, whomever, 30 mins, applied TCP to my spots and performed other ablutions, 5mins, cycled back to school 10 mins = x.

I realised more and more that I could sing and I loved it of course, maybe mostly because it was something I was good at.  My motivation to listen to music was to make music.  I don’t think I listen to music as a ‘fan’ even now.  If something I hear strikes a chord with me I tend to immediately want to work on my own music. For example when I hear something I like on the radio, I might drift off and pick up my guitar or sit at the piano and get caught up in whatever I’m working on.  I forget altogether what it was that I’d heard and liked.

I do become obsessive about some artists though.  In my teens I went through my Barbra phase into my Aretha total immersion years, which segued into my Mary Margaret O Hara compulsion. By then I was writing and I was a working session singer with pop impresario Pete Waterman among others, so it was hardly surprising that most of my output was ‘Pop’ with a capital P.

I wasn’t altogether confident in myself as a solo writer so I began to co-write.  I mostly contributed melody and lyrics, and as the co-writers varied in style and background, unsurprisingly so did my song writing.  Some ballads of course, a few dance pop tunes, a little bit of funk, some blues, country, and of course ROCK.  You get the picture or maybe that was the problem you didn’t get the picture. In fairness the picture was a bit confusing.  Imagine how screwed up it became when during secondment in New York I was exposed to alternative and lofi.  All of a sudden my obsession was Guided by Voices and Pavement, Breeders.

I’ve never understood the snobbery associated with certain genres.  Depending on who you spoke to or in my case worked with you had and still have, to be very careful not to upset anyone.  Your Indie Rockers for example held Stock Aitken and Waterman in complete disdain.  SAW believed 100% in the quality and integrity of their commercial pop music and thought musos and folkies and punks etc were at best deluded.

Maybe all this goes some way to explain why my 1st album To Hell with Love was a collision of all those influences, but without, as with really great albums, coming together to form one voice.  I was trying too hard to please all the people all the time.  While promoting the album I gained a good insight into how radio worked though.  In the early 90’s radio in the US and increasingly around the world was undergoing an invasion.  The invaders? ‘Consultants’; shady corporate marketing types who had segregated music and radio into rigid formats.  Top 40, R&B, Urban, Country, AOR, MOR etc etc.  But what if your music is kind of souly, poppy, punky?  A little bit country even?  Where do you go then?  Answer:  In the bin.

Terry Ellis at Imago had definitely had enough when I had it in mind to do the same again for the follow up to To Hell With Love, except this time to record in a kitchen on an 8 track with only 7 working tracks! Sean Worrall at Org records on the other hand had no such problems and right or wrong, good or bad the punk funk folk and noise out burst that was ‘Late Developer’ became THWL’s successor…..

If commercial success is the only kind of success, then maybe Terry was right and I have been wasting my time, however I think success is making the music I love.  One thing for sure, writing songs that communicate my thoughts feelings and desires, while also entertaining the people who listen to them, whether they be in the tens or tens of thousands, whether they’re blue collar white collar dog collar or no collar is certainly not a waste of time.

So there.  Put that on your cereal of choice and eat it!

PS:  A rather belated thanks to Terry Ellis and everyone involved with To Hell With Love for giving it a real shot, sorry it didn’t work out! Xs

PPS: Granola was not on THWL!

Suzanne Rhatigan Vocals, guitar… John Morrison Bass… Bryn Burrows Drums…

6 thoughts on “19. Granola

  1. Wow Cathy I thought you were writing another novel there! Thanks again for your encouragement. It’s ironic that when we eventually find our voice, it’s not one ‘they’ want to hear. Still we’re very lucky, I think, to be able to express ourselves in music, novels, drama, how’s the play going btw? I read Charlie And Me a few years ago and enjoyed it, I’m full of admiration for your persistence and professionalism. I have no one holding me back these days but my self. Sometimes the old self confidence desserts me and I flounder around that’s the worst part. The 50 Greatest Misses blog is really working for me I’m finally back doing what I love regardless! xxx

  2. I must tell you I didn’t like THWL. I was quite shocked by it, it wasn’t you, lots of influences of course, but I mean your voice, wasn’t defined as a particular one take that as a compliment as you can sing anything. But I can understand totally what went down here. When it came out I was on the rookie ladder in the arts business myself, and when I signed was told it was because I was (wait for it) UNIQUE/DIFFERENT. Yep. Only two books later they were then at me to write commercial book because the other two hadn’t sold in the millions. I said it won’t work but I had to do it for two reasons A. In this business you have to compromise, to make connections and stay in the loop, stay in the public eye. B. You have to pay bills. ( I had two small kids to support. So it is always a toss up as to which to do. I see my own son talented as fuck, stuck in this rut, of gigs non stop, covers, doing really well, and just can’t get the time to do his own stuff, my third book was a disaster as a result, and I learned they are not always right and frequently wrong. I spent fifteen turning myself inside out because I wanted to belong, be accepted, be a part of, it was a long road back to Humpty Dumptys wall where I put all my broken parts together again. I recall our teenage years when we listened to Dark side of the moon on the couch dissecting every groove and twitch and lick, singing Janis Ian, munching on Cathys famous chocolate biscuit cake and salad sandwiches. Days of hair ironing, desert boots, the Crofton and Baggots. Blue Nun. ah….Life was so simple because we were out selves. And now we have come full circle back at our self. Back in our own skin. You know I didn’t write for five years when I was dropped. Best thing that ever happened me. I now had no agent, no publisher, nothing. And then one night I was woken up and ‘Charlie and Me’ was handed to me on a plate. It took a year to write it, it was agonizing, and oddly enough the shortest book I had ever written. I had, at last, found my voice (excuse pun) I learned so much from all of that. I’m a lone wolf, I don’t walk in anyone shadows, I never ran with pack. and I can only write ME!! Every time I hop on here I hear YOU. The real you. Trust me it’s damn fine good! That song ‘Pleasures and the terrors’ knocked my socks off, and this IS your voice. I always look forward to your posts, they take me back to that place were I was able to just be me. I strive to stay there. You’re big fan Suzanne. Hope all that made sense. Didn’t mean to go on! xxxxxKeep them coming chick. XXXX

  3. Love this wee song 🙂 and always wondered why you chose to sing about a cereal! 🙂 I always thought it was from an advert (like the butter song) 🙂
    One of my faves from those Cushy days.

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