I had the misfortune to be ill recently; nothing serious, but enough to confine me to the house. As the saying goes the devil makes work for idle hands, and I found my hands had switched on daytime TV and selected A Place in the Sun: Home or Away from the assorted trash on offer. For those readers outside of the UK* the concept of this show is that a couple of house buyers must browse through prospective properties in the UK and then travel to somewhere abroad, to look around alternatives in sunnier climes, such as the Mediterranean. There is also a contrived dispute between the couple where the husband has always wanted to live in the South of France but his wife has her heart set on Devon. It’s all bollocks of course, and made even more irritating by the parade of fussy wealthy people rubbishing perfectly good houses because the front window faces two degrees off South or there is a main road three hundred yards from the building.
Even worse though, the foreign houses always look impossibly exotic, are usually cheaper and don’t suffer from the long, dark damp winters we suffer at home. If that was all there was to life this little island would be empty, but what price do you put on shared culture, a sense of belonging and getting a decent cup of tea. Wherever you are from in the world, your home is somewhere special for reasons you can’t always explain in simple words and reference to an average temperature and rainfall chart.
Anyway, the time in the house also gave me some time to work on some new songs, and I got to thinking about a sense of place in song lyrics. It seems to me (and maybe this reflects more on my prejudices than actual reality) that writing about British place names is extremely difficult without sounding quaint, parochial and provincial, especially if referring to an area outside of that great metropolis to the South. There are plenty of bands we love who have done this well, but often end up with labels such as ‘quintessentially English’, which seems to deny them the universality that their music probably deserves. In contrast, it seems American musicians can write about an obscure city in Arkansas (population 250), or gushing songs about the wonders of their state without falling foul of this problem. Bands such as The Thrills had success in the noughties success writing about Big Sur and Santa Cruz. Would these songs have had similar appeal if they wrote about places in their native Ireland?
I’ve no idea if this is down to the A Place In The Sun effect of the exoticism of foreign places or just that popular culture is dominated by the USA to the extent that the norms of songwriting are ‘quintessentially American’. I’ve no idea if Candi’s Dog are acquiescing to this by not writing about the places we know and love. I don’t have an answer to this, or know whether this problem really exists, or if it does exist whether it is a problem at all, or if I just have too much time on my hands and am overthinking things. I probably should have thought about this a bit more before I started writing, but I need to get this blog finished before Bargain Hunt** starts of BBC1.
*This blog now has readers in the USA, Canada, Russia and Israel!
** Readers outside of the UK do not need to know what Bargain Hunt is. It’s not worth the effort.