Eight stars reveal how they came up with their favourite lyrics

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The Independent Culture

ISOBEL CAMPBELL - Keep Me in Mind Sweetheart

If you ever find that you've fallen behind,
Please keep me in mind, sweetheart,
If your love is true then my money's on you,
And you'll know what to do, sweetheart

When I wrote "Keep Me in Mind Sweetheart" a few summers ago I was staying at my mother's house and I awoke one morning with the tune and first verse pretty much already written. I still hadn't quite woken up and I swear I could hear Willie Nelson singing it in my head. It made me feel good, reassured. I loved the melody and sensed that the initial idea had a Hank Williams "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" kind of feel. To me there is nothing clever about this tune – I had my head aggravated and full of some guy at the time and this little 3/4 lilting country song of mine is all about that, just genuine and heartfelt.


Left school together, went back to my place
Now I can
hardly remember her face
Before I met her I was... sad

When you nail something that you want to say, when you put into words what you felt – those are probably my best lyrics. "One Last Time" from the new record, when I look back on it and when I sing it on stage, on reflection, that's probably when I've written my most soulful lyrics. It's about first love – it's as simple as that. I hold simplicity in a high place. One of the things is trying to say a whole lot in a short amount of time. I write reams of words of what I might write in two verses. You want to make every word count. You often don't need words to know what the song is about.


They claim that the threat's high, oh do me a favour
Control you by fear so you don't know your neighbour
Tube station at midnight, shoot them on sight
Hearts beating fast on the Jubilee Line

I feel an attachment to these lines as it gets across a sentiment that is dear to me. I feel our Government, along with the US's, has over-hyped the terror threat post-September 11, mainly in order to induce a sense of fear among the populace and propose themselves as our safeguards and justify their foreign policies in the Middle East. This can only be a negative to my mind, and leads to a ghetto-isation of communities and mistrust, etcetera. The fact that Asian people, not to mention anyone with brown skin (the guy shot at Stockwell was Brazilian), are treated as potential terrorists, based largely on the colour of their skin, is awful and I wanted to make people see that, or at the very least debate the issues that aren't raised in the tabloid media.


Tell me, how did we fall into this place
We move on, we will never be replaced
And I can't even think about the next
It's too far away
First I must forget, by leaving I am a different man...

"Home" is the first song I wrote with Nitin Sawhney. Quite often when you write your first song with someone you get your best as there's a bit of nervous chemistry going on. I was definitely heartbroken when I wrote that. It means a lot to me because it's a sad song but there's positivity in it. I think that's what songs should be – I don't think there should be slit-your-wrists songs. Joni Mitchell said songs have a utility to them and I think about that when writing. That's describing a situation which is desperately sad, a sad resignation. You try your best and something has to come to an end.

STEPHANIE DOSEN - A Lily for the Spectre

I'm waiting, I haven't seen the ghost
Am I really here at all?
I'm silent, I'm the Moon, with one eye open
I'm waiting

My favourite lyrics are from "A Lily for the Spectre". It's about a woman who goes through a ritual with the Moon to reconnect with her dead lover. She likens the Moon to a watchman who is winking and very still. When her spectre finally appears she says, "I feel you, my spectre yet unseen. Did you get the lilies I sent? Did the violin that played make its way through the gauzy curtain?" At the end she speaks a little spell: "Come find the place where the curtain is thin. Wink at the watchman and he'll let you in." I like the idea of death being just a gauzy curtain. A thin sheet and a Moon wink are all that separate her from the other side.


Can shower and scrub
Still smell like the smoking bit in a Wetherspoon's pub

We Are All Animals

It's hard enough to retain control
When our instincts are egging us on
With biologists and chemists
Reducing our souls
To four letters

"We Are All Animals" is about the scientific reduction of human soul into DNA. I studied biology. I think we gave the demo to our manager and asked him if he understood. I was pleased when he said no – it's quite good to have some ambiguity in lyrics. What it actually means is the scientific reduction to genetics with the lyrics: the "four letters" are the four bases in DNA – A, G, T and C. I did get something out of three years' studying biology – a song. More interesting is the lyric in "Work, Work, Work". I still had my office job for the NHS at the Royal Free Hospital and I'd used all my year's holiday to go on tour with the band. It was very stressful – heavy partying and coming back to heavy jobs – and that song was my transition from humble NHS office worker into fully fledged rock'n'roll star. It summed up the, albeit temporary, mild depression of a stressful, busy month.


It seems lately I've been struck
By what I really am
You can't see it in a picture
Or in a photograph

I think I will choose "The Misbegotten" from the Charlatans' new record, as I used a new technique that David Bowie and William S Burroughs brought to my attention. I used this technique a couple of times on our second and third albums but this time it came together really well, I think. I wrote four stories, cut up the lines and put them in a Beatles sandwich box I got from Japan, then picked out the lyrics and, as everything came out not everything flowed, and I used my intuition to write my story. One was the story of my childhood (that theme crops up a lot throughout the record), one was about Diane Arbus (a huge inspiration, always), one was a bad acid trip in a hotel and one was, I think, about getting sucker-punched by our old tour manager. The song has an underlying feeling of being betrayed.

GUY GARVEY (ELBOW) - Station Approach

Coming home I feel like I
Designed the buildings I walk by

Weather to Fly

Poundin' the streets where my father's feet still ring from the walls

My favourite lyrics either describe a familiar feeling in a new way or describe a specific feeling that you've never heard described before – an emotion that's too complex to be put into words usually, ways of getting to specific feelings. In "Station Approach", that's a very particular civic pride, which is a very specific civic feeling. I love Manchester. I have a complicated love affair with Manchester because "Grounds for Divorce" is slating Manchester. Another one in reference to Manchester is "Weather to Fly": "Poundin' the streets where my father's feet still ring from the walls" – because he [my father] loved the city as much as I do and he was very proud of it.