Song Writing Competitions - The Dark Truth!

The Rabbit In The Spotlight - Performing 'Fighting In France' at Maldon
Why, oh why do we enter song writing contests?There you are, sitting nervously on a wooden bench in an old country hall with all the other contestants waiting for your turn to deliver your masterpiece to the harsh, uncompromising judgement of a panel of experts, a panel who know just how crap you really are. This is not like strumming out your latest creation to the wife 'yes dear, that's very nice. Now are you going to bring in that washing or do I have to do it myself.... again?' No, this time your song is under the microscope and every little 'she'll be right' or 'I wasn't quite sure what to do here so I left it in' will come home to roost. Yes, you'll be drummed out of town with your lyrical tale between your legs and your melodic head hung in shame 'leave this festival at once and don't ever show your face (or your songs) here again!!!'
As I'm thinking these thoughts one of the other contestants, a wonderful writer and performer who I admire very much, turns to me and says 'I'm nervous'.
She's nervous! Good god, I haven't got a snowball's hope in hell! What am I doing here?
I look down the list and see I'm on 10th. As each performer sings their song I become increasingly desperate. They're all so bloody good! Not only that but the audience is stacked with great performers I've known for years. All of whom have come to watch me prove once an for all that any ideas I had of being a performer were hopelessly delusional (actually they were to support their mates but don't let the truth get in the way of a good story).
Finally it's my turn. I walk to the mic, hoping I remembered to do my fly up after my nervous trip to the water closet earlier. Oh well, too late if I havent. A bit of tackle adjustment might be kosha for test cricketers from the golden age of cricket but is definitely out of the question for a song writing competition, unless of course you're a hip-hop artist in which case you never take your hand off it. 
I'm not allowed to say anything before the song which is just as well as anything I had uttered may well have been used against me later in court. Remembering my Granny's advice from forty years ago I breathed in deeply through the nose and out through the mouth several times. The nerves begin to steady and I start off, 'Football boots in the corner', what comes next? Oh no, don't think about it, just do it! Fortunately I had sung the song about a hundred times in the week or so leading up to the competition and muscle memory takes over. As each verse passes I feel a little easier and dare to look around at the audience a bit. One or two are looking at their phones,probably tweeting 'at Maldon Song Writing Comp. Evans on now LOL!!' or something similar. One or two others are clearly asleep, I can tell that by the dribble coming form one corner of their mouths. But some, miracle of miracles, are paying attention, maybe, just maybe enjoying it.....
I get to the end, and apart from playing the finishing note one fret too high (creating an interesting be-bop  effect) I think the song went reasonably well, in fact I think I've survived! I go back to my spot on the wooden bench and start to relax. Unbelievably my hands start to shake and stage fright takes hold. Thank God I kept that at bay during the song...... I look around and am rewarded with some approving smiles and nods from my fellow competitors. It was alright!
I didn't win, that would have been too much to hope for, bit I did ok. And that's why we enter these contests. It's about putting your art up against the art of your peers and, in some cases, heroes. It provides validation for your efforts. The reason it's so terrifying is because it means so much to us that our songs are accepted. I have been on both sides of the song writing competition, often as a judge in my Maton capacity and mare recently as a contestant. I know how difficult judging is, especially when there is a wide range of styles involved. There has to be a winner, and you often hear judges say things like 'there were many fine songs today and it was really tough finding a winner' and I can vouch for this. It's not just a platitude to comfort those who didn't win. 
So, go ahead, enter a competition. It'll test your resolve and teach you performance skills you never thought possible. Above all, practice that song till you cant get it wrong. If there are any weaknesses in your performance of the song they'll be sure to come out when you play it on competition day.
Thanks to all involved in providing the contest at the 2014 Maldon Folk Festival. It was a great experience and I'll definitely be back for more. Congratulations to Ann-Maree McKee and Bernard who took first place with a brilliant song and performance. 
Oh, and the headline 'The Dark Truth'? Just trying to grab your attention tabloid style.
Cheers
Patrick

 

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