‘Only musicians should review albums’, ‘If you can’t create things, you shouldn’t criticise them’, ‘why don’t you try and write something better than this?’; just a few things you hear about writers like me who really don’t have a clue. It’s hard for me to argue with it either, why should I have the skills and knowledge to critique very particular things about music in a review if I can’t hold a tune or would struggle to write a song? Of course this ignores the subjective and artistic element of music, but it’s definitely something I think about a lot.
It wasn’t always like that. From a very young age I was certain I was going to be a creative person. I loved music and especially loved dancing to it. I was convinced I was going to be a performer, whether a back up dancer for Steps, or a popstar all on my own, I was going to be a STAR. Thankfully my parents edged me away from the singing bit of all of this as I remain to this day a terrible singer, but dance and playing the violin became massive parts of my childhood.
I was never the best violinist, some would say my renditions of ‘Little Donkey’ and ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ were harrowing, but I stuck at it through those tuneless years to reach my peak ‘sat at the back of the string orchestra’ phase. I should add some context here, I’d really only picked up a violin because like most 8 year olds I wanted to be like my older brother. He would go on to become a fantastic musician, qualified in composition and performing arts as a Masters, so my ‘giving it a go’ hardly feels like a fair comparison. As much as the theory and technique I struggled with, I absolutely loved playing in an orchestra.
That sense of creating music together, playing as one alongside my friends, and feeling like I was contributing to the sound an audience was listening to was incredible. Whether or not the end result was truly spectacular will always be up for debate, but I really enjoyed playing music. But then it was off to university; I put down the violin and never went back. All those years of weekly rehearsals, lessons and performances, but clearly it just wasn’t something I’d keep with me for the rest of my life. Soon after I wasn’t even dancing anymore either, I had lost the most genuinely creative and expressive parts of my life.
It’s something I massively regret, whether it’s that I never dedicated more time to actually improve my skills, or that it was so easy to turn my back on engaging with art rather than just admiring it from afar. I speak to people now, friends who are musicians, or performers or even fellow Picky Bastards who write and release their own (very good) music and I feel a sort of jealously mixed with guilt that I never bothered to give it a go myself.
I absolutely love music, I spent years as a teenager making my own mixes and original songs on those shitty programs full of samples and drum patterns, but I’ve never actually done it for real. I’m so fascinated by production techniques and the studio environment and yet the only times I’ve been anywhere near a studio desk has been at a radio station. I sit and listen to Björk over and over again trying to unpick how she created such industrial sounds on Homogenic, or I see live performances from Bon Iver and struggle to believe how they’ve managed to play the album fully live like that, but I don’t have a clue about any of it. I’ve never written a proper song, I’ve never played a guitar, I’ve never mixed a DJ set and I probably never will.
This isn’t a moment of self realisation where I launch my solo career, which I’m sure all of you are very happy to hear, but more just a reflection on how sad I am that music no longer feels like a creative outlet for me. It’s one of the most important parts of my life for sure, nobody mention the fact the postman has to do a second round in his van so he doesn’t have to carry all of the records I’ve ordered, but I’m not a musician myself in any sense of the word. I sort of wish I was, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
Words by Sam Atkins.