By Laura Rickenbacker

Laura Rickenbacker

I was a music student and had just graduated from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in July 1998 when I did a try out for the Songwriting Masterclass with Graham Gouldman. I sent the Zenith television production company a letter to accompany my minialbum.


The producers liked my CD and I was asked to write a song to the following brief:

  1. The song should be between two and three minutes (maximum).
  2. The song can be within any idiom or style that falls under the broad category of popular music.
  3. It should be written as if it were for either a singer/songwriter or a vocal group, with a view to commercial success.
  4. Each student must be capable of performing their song with either guitar or keyboards-preferably guitar.
  5. The content of the song should be observational and about life and/or love in the North of England.

A week later I'd finished and recorded a crude demo of a song I called 'Liver Birds'.
The producers said that they liked the song and I was selected to take part in the
Masterclass programme. Three songwriters

On Tuesday 4 August 1998 I was standing in a nice but very hot flat somewhere in Newcastle.

We, the participants had our make-up done and meanwhile the film crew was setting up their gear in the living room when Graham Gouldman stepped in with his guitar. We shook hands and introduced ourselves and I was a bit surprised that he wasn't taller. He seemed to be a little stressed but nice. While waiting for the crew to get ready we tuned our guitars and chatted with Graham about guitars and compared plectrums. I had 2 plectrums, one in each of my pockets just in case I'd loose one. Graham commented on this and said he'd never seen pearl grey, nacreous plectrums earlier.

I observed that Graham had an acoustic Taylor guitar and asked him if he would recommend me to get one too. He said that he was very pleased with it since it sounded good both amplified as well as unplugged.

Graham looked at my crappy, borrowed guitar and said he liked the name 'Renata,' the name written on the guitar's head.

Graham During the shooting Graham improvised most of his talk on songwriting. He had prepared for the filming and had some notes that he read through between the takes.

There was a little funny episode when we all tried to remember the lyrics for Every Breath You Take by Sting but neither of us could figure out the words for the second verse. Even the film team tried to help us with the words. I think Graham decided in the end to abandon the idea of performing that song.

After I'd performed my song 'Liver Birds' I remember Graham pointing out that the song had an ugly chord change in the middle eight. I knew he would point out that particular section in the song because it was a bit unexpected. I've been told similar things about my songwriting earlier so I wasn't surprised about Graham's remark. I was just interested in what chords he would suggest me to replace that 'ugly' chord change with.

Unfortunately, I thought his chord suggestions were too predictable and would have made my song 'boring'.

And in between takes we talked about this and I mentioned that the group No Doubt had written a couple of songs in a similar way. I suggested that it might be a 'new' style of songwriting since there are quite a few bands out there writing really weird stuff with unexpected chord changes. Graham replied that I might be right and asked me to raise this question when the cameras started rolling again. Unfortunately I clammed up and didn't manage to remind him about this issue. The funny thing was that afterwards a couple of people from the film crew said that they thought that 'ugly' chord change was the coolest bit in the whole song. So in the end what it comes down to is that it's just a matter of taste and opinion. There are no wrongs or rights in songwriting really.

The filming took us 3 - 4 hours and then Graham had to rush to his next scheduled work.

GrahamA month after this I sent his agent a thank you letter, my CD and a pearl grey, nacreous plectrum. To my big surprise Graham Gouldman replied with a hand-written letter saying he enjoyed my CD very much and wished me luck in the future. Wasn't that nice of him?

Laura Rickenbacker has her own web site.


The Graham Gouldman Masterclass review    

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