New book details iconic rock bands and their songwriting secrets


Isle of Noises: Conversations With Great British Songwriters is written by Daniel Rachel and looks to be amazing. Isle of Noises features brand-new, exclusive, in-depth conversations with twenty-seven of the UK’s greatest living musicians. Artists discuss their individual approach to writing, the inspiration behind their most successful songs, and the techniques and methods they have independently developed. It is an incredible musical journey spanning fifty years, from ‘Waterloo Sunset’ by Ray Davies to ‘The Beast’ by Laura Marling, with many lyrical and melodic secrets revealed along the way.Original handwritten lyrics from personal archives and notebooks (many never-before-seen) offer a unique glimpse into the heart of the creative process, and some of the greatest names in photography, including Jill Furmanovsky, Pennie Smith and Sheila Rock, have contributed stunning portraits of each artist.The combination of individual personal insights and the breadth and depth of knowledge in their collected experience makes Isle of Noises the essential word on classic British songwriting – as told by the songwriters themselves. Here are a few excerpts from it.

The Kinks.

Can you recall the sentiment behind writing “Lola”?
It was about love, but not directly. The song was designed. I didn’t show the words to the band. We just rehearsed it with the la-la la-la Lo-la chorus which came first. I had a one-year-old daughter at the time and she was singing along to it. But I was bothered by the arpeggio guitar at the beginning. I said, “It’s got to be hit in the first three seconds.” Later I went back in the studio and took the phrase at the end of the verse, C C C C D E, and replayed it at the beginning to grab people’s attention. I had a new Martin acoustic guitar which I tracked three times all slightly out of time to give it character. And then I put a National guitar on top of it.

Mick Jones, the Clash

How complete were your and Joe Strummer’s ideas before you took them to the band?
Sometimes I had a little tape recorder … for instance, “Complete Control” was pretty much all done. “London Calling” we had a thing about the lyrics, but also in the music it was a bit more chunky before and I made it smooth, somehow … They were mostly complete, I think … Later on we got a little bit more experimental. We stretched out a little bit and then obviously we had to cut it down. It was like the two ideas of “Casbah”: Bernie [Rhodes] said, “Why does everything have to be raga?” you know, really long … and at the same time, while our manager was saying we need to shorten everything, the ayatollah was saying: “I don’t like rock’n’roll.” Topper went into the studio; it was amazing. He put the three things down: the piano, the bass and the drums. I did the chorus tune, Shareef don’t like it, then Joe did the lyrics, but Topper was the main guy.

Sting, the Police

I understand you wrote “Walking on the Moon” in a Munich hotel with the original words “walking in the room”.
I did! I do remember waking up in Munich, it’s amazing you know that, and I had that bass riff in my head and I started walking round the room. You can’t have “walking round the room”! “Walking on the moon” seemed a useful metaphor for being in love, that feeling of lightness, of just being able to walk on air. It’s an old idea. So from that refrain I just worked backwards, so 1969: “Giant steps are what you take”, one giant step for mankind … It’s not meant to be serious.

Noel Gallagher, Oasis

When the band needed a first single you just went into a room and wrote “Supersonic”.
That just appeared. We were doing “Bring It on Down” because Creation wanted it as the first single and it was just f**kin’ rubbish. Instead of scrapping the session somebody said, “Just go and write a song.” I had the chords and that, it was just magic, and I’ve never done it since. It was amazing, that night. I wrote the whole song in less than half an hour, recorded it and mixed it that night, played it to Creation and that was it – f**kin’ hell, great.

Lily Allen

Wonderful rhyming couplets dominate your songs in “LDN” : Tesco / al fresco; “Everything’s Just Wonderful” weight loss / Kate Moss; “Him”: caucasian, tax evasion. Do you find rhyme leads your thoughts?
Yeah, definitely, but weirdly, because my mum and dad always used to sing stupid songs to me when I was little. My mum is a big couplets fan; that’s her thing. She sings this song to Ethel [Allen’s daughter]: “You’re a little trouper, you’re a star, You’re a little trouper, you’re a star, You’re Ethel Merry Cooper, yes you are.” She’d always just do that about silly objects: what you’re wearing or what you’re having for dinner. Maybe I was always trying to second-guess where she was going with the end of her songs. I’ve probably inherited it from her.

“I am a weapon of massive consumption”
Yes, that’s a real Lily-ism; it’s what we are, isn’t it?