Tim Arnold recently released his latest album ‘When Staying Alive Is The Latest Craze‘ – “An album of times, created in the current pandemic and although it may not have answers to end the virus, it does contain an underlying message of love and hope.”
Tim took time to tell us more about the album, his summer live shows and more…
Your latest album was recorded during lockdown. What sort of challenges did that put up and how different, if at all, is it making music in lockdown?
I’ve written and recorded several of my albums in situations when I knew I would be in one location indefinitely. I actually find it helpful in terms of my work ethic and discipline. Also, the optimistic and hopeful side of the album was a reflection of living with my partner, instead of being alone at home, so I am one of the lucky ones who found something new in my life to build with during lockdown. On a practical level, I didn’t have all my equipment or instruments, so the only real challenge was being limited by what I could use to make the record. But I took Peter Gabriel’s advice about “Limitations being an artist’s ally”. Challenges have always been a creative opportunity for me. Everything I created in Soho often looked quite glamourous to my audience, but part of making an album about Soho and staging so many events there is because I couldn’t really afford to go anywhere else. I always make the best out of the situations I am locked in to.
‘Change of System’ is a very strong song, both lyrically and musically, commemorating the NHS workers who died in the 2020 pandemic. How do you approach writing a song like this which is deeply personal to many?
Thanks for the kind words about the song Jason. I had several approaches to the song when I wrote it. It’s what I call one of my ‘hybrid’ songs. I often do what Lennon and McCartney did together, on my own. That is, where one of them would have a strong verse, the other might say “I’ve got a chorus that might work with that”. It’s how a lot of their songs were written. Not all, but many of them. When I started writing when I was 13, I wanted to do what they did, but of course, I was on my own. So ever since then, instead of always trying to complete a song, I often write a verse or a chorus, shelve it and hope that the right counterpart will arrive at some point. And it generally does. Sometimes the next day, sometimes years later. Because I’ve written songs or part of a song every day of my life, I have a large library of ‘limbs of songs’ waiting for the rest of their body.
I wrote the chorus ‘Isn’t that enough’, walking my partner’s dog up and down a hill for about half an hour. I’d had enough with our leaders, but hadn’t filled in all the words. The melody just sprung from the walk with Wings (the dog). When I got back home, the first thing I read was the list of names of all the NHS workers. At that moment, I knew what I’d had ‘enough’ of and the song wrote itself. I don’t believe in restricting yourself when you are in the writer’s seat. I’m very much ‘Let’s just drive and see where we get to’. I never censor myself at that stage of creating. But as soon as I realised I would want to make the song public, I realised I was carrying a deep responsibility in singing those people’s names, and a responsibility to their families. The song is very much in their defence, as well as a commemoration, so I took a chance and hoped that the spirit in which I wrote it would be received well. As it turned out, many of the families and colleagues of those people I sang about contacted me, mostly on Twitter, to thank me.
I think that was the main reason I wrote the song. It’s the job, or habit, of news publications to turn a large group of individuals into a collective noun to create a snappy headline. Maybe it’s an artist’s job to slow down time and reveal the individuals in the collective.
To let their names echo in our ears and imaginations long enough to realise that it could just as easily have been you or me.
‘Another Record That Changed My Life’ name checks many classic albums that have obviously influenced you, both musically and artistically. If push comes to shove what would be your top five albums and why?
In light of the song being all about the personal value of our favourite records in times of distress, I would always need to have…Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, The Sensual World by Kate Bush, So by Peter Gabriel, The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd and Making Music by Zakir Hussein. And I’d need them all for the same reason – it’s the sound of my childhood awakening into adulthood and how I was nurtured by family through the music of those records. Those albums are soundtracks to being looked after for me. They make me feel cared for. They make me feel like I am enough.
This is your twentieth album. Looking back how do you see your music and songwriting has changed/developed over the years?
It’s taken a long time, but being overly precious about what’s in my head is starting to become less of an incentive to me. My OCD has found it’s way into so many areas of my life now that I’m starting to phase it out of the music. A bit. I feel that these days, I’m trying to impress myself with getting more out of less.
I’ve also been fortunate to develop over the course of 20 albums by mostly being out of the mainstream. That’s a real privilege to have no spotlight or critics wading in with their opinions every time I release a new album. It hurt me for many years, but once you’re into your second decade of being a sort of fringe artist, you can start writing about all the things that someone in the mainstream can’t or doesn’t write about. So the music I make and the way I write songs has reverted back to my original childhood ambition, which was simply to live inside the music I make. It’s very pure again to me, which is good, because it wasn’t ever my intention to have a career in music. I think that was someone else’s idea. I’m braver and happier with my music now.
For someone new to your music, aside from the new album, which album would you recommend of yours they listen to first?
I am hopeless at recommending my own music to other people. When someone asks me “What should I listen to of yours Tim?”, I never know what to say. If someone likes 60’s 1st British wave and Retro, then ‘The Soho Hobo’ album is a good start. If someone likes my first band Jocasta, then they should check out ‘Sonnet 155’ which was produced by Chris Sheldon, if they like Nordic Neo-classical, then the third album in my classical suite ‘Sounds To Pictures’, if they like solo singer songwriters, then my albums ‘I Am For You’ and ‘Another World’. If they’re into magic, community and civil disobedience, then probably the latest album. It works better when someone finds one of my albums, rather than me pointing them towards one. There always seem to be more fans of a particular Tim Arnold album than there are of Tim Arnold music. I don’t think I’ve ever written more than one album for one demographic. I change too much between albums for that!
You did a series of socially distanced gigs in the summer in your garden. How did that idea come about and what were the shows like?
I decided not to do any live shows in 2019, so you can imagine by the time we were half way through lockdown in 2020, I was really kicking myself that I hadn’t done any gigs the year before, but I did the best I could. I worked the shows with all the restrictions – rule of six, curfew and then the Tier system, same households etc. Again, it was really challenging and added an extra 4 hours of prep onto each show, but the rewards were worth it, just to be in a space where people could be together without screens between us. The garden gigs were the easiest way to start the shows and it made them very intimate having a small audience come to my home. When the restrictions changed, the shows moved to different venues in Soho which was lovely in a totally different way. It felt more like a night out. It was also the first time my partner Kate Alderton and I had both produced a show together and performed in it together too. I think there’s something special trying out something for the first time under extraordinary circumstances. The shows will remain a highlight of my 2020.
What piece of positivity would you give to people to keep them going, especially as we enter the winter months?
I’m still learning this myself, but when we can’t do what we want to do, it might be helpful to ask if there’s something useful we might have been avoiding that we can try instead. I’ve tried it a few times, and it has yielded positive results. For the main part though, I think staying positive means keeping conversations going. Not trying to win them.
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