Newcastle songwriter IMOGEN named her recent EP Bloodbag, a succinct encapsulation of the visceral, vivid and bodily way she writes. Never shying away from drama, her songs sweep through alternating realms of bruised shadows and gleaming light, accentuating the starkness of her voice and words. Her songs face fearlessly inwards, and are expanded with beams of horns or shimmering synths, illuminating the voyage to some deeply-hidden truth.
There is no shortage of personality or originality and IMOGEN’s songs and arrangements, but there is a clear deference to her forebears. She is the next in a long lineage of songwriters who can fuse the personal with the magical and make something universal.
Appropriately, for her On Deck, IMOGEN has illustrated that lineage for us by selecting five songs that gave her the push to start writing and performing her own songs. Take a look at her picks after enjoying her own “Lioncub”.
The Beatles – “Something”
I think “Let It Be” was the first song I learnt to play and sing at the piano, I remember performing it at school maybe aged 12 and feeling something change within me. Like, ‘ok, I really felt that’.
So naturally I learnt as many Beatles songs as I could, believing that that was my calling: to be a one-woman Beatles tribute act. Who knows, maybe it is. But “Something” is a track that has never left my side. I often just start playing it when I sit at the piano. It’s so massive and adventurous yet so delicate and intimate. A song and, in George Harrison, a writer I continually aspire and refer to whenever I’m writing.
Carole King – “So Far Away”
To write your own Tapestry… that’s the dream isn’t it?
I used to play and sing this song as a child and imagine how it would feel to sing it once I had eventually left home. It’s something that Carole King’s imagery is so potent that I was moved to project a hypothetical emotion on to an experience I had never had: loss. It’s safe to say I have now experienced this in more ways than one and re-visiting the song as an adult only affirms the greatness of her words in understanding the human condition.
Bat For Lashes – “Laura”
I played this at a busker’s night back in Newcastle and my friend came up to me and said “did you write that?! I really hope you wrote that” and I was gutted to admit that I did not and I did in fact just wish I was Natasha Khan.
“You’re the train that crashed my heart!” it’s so simple yet SO moving, why didn’t I think of it!! Her music always makes me feel like I wish I had written it, and those are the songs that drive me forward.
Fleetwood Mac – “Landslide”
One of those songs I feel like must have fallen to Earth. Like “So Far Away”, I learnt this on the piano at a really early age. Too young to know exactly what I was singing about but yet still moved by the colossal imagery and yearning in Stevie’s voice.
“Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? / Can I handle the seasons of my life?”
Of course as I’ve grown older I understand more and more of what she, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and other poets alike were and are writing about. To have access to songs that so perfectly describe and illuminate life’s biggest questions is such an incredible gift. I will forever be grateful for it.
Alan Hull – “One More Bottle Of Wine”
[Warner Bros.; 1975]
So I was sitting with my dad on the sofa at home and he pulled up this old recording, it was either Top of the Pops or Old Grey Whistle Test, and it was Alan Hull alone at a grand piano. I know Lindisfarne well, I grew up with their music and I even know some of the old members from around town but I hadn’t ever delved in to Alan’s solo work.
Since watching this performance of “One More Bottle of Wine” which left both my dad and I in tears, I haven’t looked back. He was an incredible poet and this song in particular so affectingly explores the breakdown of a relationship alongside his own battle with alcoholism. I think this may be one of the most moving songs ever written. For me personally this is also because we share a heritage and he is a depiction of home and many of the men and their stories I grew up with. The vulnerability with which he wrote is incredibly inspiring and this song remains my go to whenever I get a spare moment at the piano.
“One more bottle of wine. Opened up to the name of love in the nick of time, Drunk to the future of mankind For in truth we are the blind leading the blind Let’s have another drink for God’s sake Though we’re on the brink of a bad break Let’s have another drink. For God’s sake.”