As I drove into Nashville, I couldn’t help but notice that it was with a lot more confidence than I had left the city, eight weeks earlier, unsure at having to drive on the wrong side of the road and sitting on the wrong side of the car. Driving for 10,500 miles will do that to you.
It was week 10 of 11. There had been the two initial weeks in Music City, eight on the road, and now this final week back in Nashville. It felt like I was completing the circle.
I was staying with Nashville songwriter, Tucker Bouler. Tucker was the latest in a line of Americans to show me immense kindness by inviting me, and making me feel welcome in their home.
The week was spent in business meetings, meeting songwriters and co-writing, and attending evening songwriter showcases.
The co-writing sessions were arranged by a music publisher who wanted me to write with a couple of up-and-coming artists they were working with. I usually write alone – but like a lot of other things on this trip, I embraced this new opportunity. Tucker had told me that it is best to arrive at these sessions with something in your arsenal, such as a melody line, a hook, some lyrics or an idea at the very least.
I met with a young artist from Lincoln, Nebraska names Ty James. There was some initial chit-chat as we found out a little about each other. I’m sure that it must get easier, the more you write with someone, learn how they operate, and start to feel comfortable putting forward ideas. I decided that the best approach would be to throw myself into the session, and I offered up a complete chorus I had written on the road. My partner liked it and we moved on from there. Two hours later we had a song called Travelling Man which we were both happy with.
For my second session, I brought a chord progression to the table; my new partner – a ball of energy called Nolan Neal – jumped on it, and we bounced ideas back and forth; a couple of hours later, we felt we had nailed a good one – a ballad called Home.
Tucker and I went to see several Songwriter Circles during the week. One that stood out for me involved veteran writer Dave Gibson. Dave has had his songs covered by the likes of Reba McIntyre, Alabama and Tanya Tucker. His songs were deceptively simple, beautifully crafted, and memorable. It was a master class in songwriting and how to present them.
After eleven weeks in the US I am ready to go home. I am missing my family; I am missing my home. But this has been the most amazing trip.
As a musical adventure, this tour has been a complete success. Not only have I played to enthusiastic audiences (and sold a lot of CDS) but I have also connected with venue owners, promoters, musicians, radio DJs and music journalists. I have laid some great foundations for the future.
During my eight weeks touring the country, I have passed through 17 States and laid my head to rest in 24 cities. I have seen the most beautiful sights – deserts, rivers and mountains. I have driven through cities I had only read about in books or seen in movies and on TV; places with names that have been celebrated in memorable songs – songs which I would break into prompted by a road sign.
There have been many highlights along the way. The gigs in Nashville, Des Moines, Colorado Springs and Phoenix; playing guitar in Muscle Shoals; finding Robert Johnson’s grave; standing in the spot where Elvis first sang That’s Alright, Mama; the reaction that my song Kansas City Won’t Let Me Go received from my friends in KC; seeing the Rocky Mountains come in to view; crossing the Mississippi. All these things will stay with me.
But it is the people I will remember the most. The friends that I have made along the way – those that opened up their homes and their hearts to me. The citizens of the US have been the most welcoming, generous and kindly people I have ever come across. Wherever I went, I was accepted and embraced. They understood what this crazy foreigner was doing; I was taking the American dream and running with it.
I will never forget the kindness of strangers: Brad in Tennessee, who gave a ride to a lost troubadour on the highway; the truck driver in Texas who gave roadside assistance when my car broke down; the gang member in Mississippi who cut me some slack for inadvertently wandering on to his patch.
I have met Republicans and Democrats; Christians and atheists; blacks and whites; conservatives and liberals. Some with entrenched (and in my opinion, often misguided) views but there was always a deep moral fibre, a strong sense of fair play. I think that I have been granted a unique perspective of the US psyche as I watched it come to terms with some contentious issues such as gay marriage and the Southern flag fiasco. I have found a country that is polarised. Next year’s Presidential election will be interesting and the result will have a profound effect on the country. I heard an interesting fact on NPR (National Public Radio) that where there is a proposed government bill which is unpopular with 70% of the population, if the 30% in favour are made up of any corporate interests, then that bill will be passed. The people need to get angry about this in the way they did about taxation without representation all those years ago.
Things might get worse before they get better but I have such faith in the tremendous spirit of the American people that I know they will get there in the end.
America has been an inspiration to me. Its cities, people, powerful rivers, majestic mountains, beautiful sunsets, and evocative train whistles have all resulted in songs I’m bringing back to the UK and look forward to recording and performing. And the stories that go with them.
I know that I will return to the US.
Thank you America. As we say in Ireland – beannacht libh go bhfeicfidh mé gris thú (blessings until I see you again).