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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best entertainment magazine in the UK“, singer-songwriter Graham McGregor-Smith shares the inspiration behind his latest single, Road To Anywhere.

the best creativity magazine in the UK, the best book magazine in the UK, the best arts magazine in the UK, the best entertainment magazine in the UK, the best celebrity magazine in the UK, book marketing UK, book promotion UK, music marketing UK, music promotion UK, film marketing UK, film promotion UK, arts and entertainment magazine, online magazine uk, creativity magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed Graham McGregor-Smith about his life and career, his new single, Road To Anywhere, and his passion for making music.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I’m a singer, songwriter and performer and I write classic, life-affirming pop songs with a vintage vibe. As a teenager, I put aside any thoughts of singing for a living, and embarked on a full-on career in finance.

After twenty three years I was lucky enough to be able to step back from that to become a stay-at-home dad and support my wife in her career while I helped bring up the kids. During that phase of my life, I started singing opera and ran a local opera group for a number of years while embarking on a series of increasingly lengthy cycling challenges culminating in a 5,250km ride from San Francisco to New York in the summer of 2017.

Graham McGregor-Smith on The Table Read Magazine
Graham McGregor-Smith

Once the kids left home, I went back to my first love – pop music – started writing songs and recorded my first album in 2022/23. It’s set for release on 12th March 2024.

When did you first WANT to write songs?

Around the age of 15… and I tried, but found that every time I had an idea for a song it wouldn’t come out fully formed, so I gave up. Sadly, in my ignorance, naivety, call it what you will, that was how I thought the whole process was supposed to happen. I didn’t realise that songwriting is a craft, that there will always be roadblocks along the way, and so you have to work at it and problem solve like crazy!

When did you take a step to start writing songs?

From 2006 to 2018, I’d been singing and performing opera at venues local to me and came to the realisation that this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So in 2019 I dusted down my bass guitar and got busy. I started asking everyone I knew or met at the gym, at the pub, wherever, whether they were interested in making music.

I quickly found myself playing bass with two different bands. Then, coincidentally I bumped into a friend, Gareth while out on my bike. We got talking, and I told him I was looking to make music. He said he had a home studio – I already knew he was a guitar and sax player, but no more than that – and would I like to come over and we could see how things developed. I had a whole lot of lyrical ideas which I had been collecting, and he went through them all, picked one out, and said he’d write some music for it. Three weeks later he sent me a demo of the song he’d written, which totally blew me away. So that process with Gareth gave me the confidence to try it for myself, and once I started, I never stopped.

What was your first song released, and what was it about?

A song called I Could Have Cried Over You released in October 2023. It’s a jazz ballad which examines how men find it very difficult to talk about their emotions and relationships with each other, so our friendships with each other can be either quite fragile or quite shallow as we’d much prefer not to engage in deep discussion of personal matters.

A friend of mine was too keen to renew and build afresh a friendship with a mutual friend with whom we had long lost contact; asked too much of our old friend by inviting him and his wife to a dinner party at which he was going to be the special guest. The old friend couldn’t cope with this invitation, never replied to it, or the very tentative follow up texts and ultimately ghosted him

What was your latest song released, and what was it about?

Road to Anywhere was released in January 2024 and is an optimistic song about new beginnings. It also happens to be the first song I wrote following my friend Gareth’s guidance that I mentioned previously, and of all the songs I’ve written it’s my favourite.

I had a particular idea in mind when writing the song – it’s about that moment when someone has just escaped from a coercive, controlling relationship and they have a whole new life ahead of them. They have no idea what the future holds or where it will take them, however, they know life is going to be better than it was before.

Focusing on your latest song. What were your biggest challenges with Road To Anywhere?

Road To Anywhere by Graham McGregor-Smith on The Table Read Magazine
Road To Anywhere by Graham McGregor-Smith

As this was the first song I ever wrote, the entire process was a challenge, however, I think the biggest was composing the music. I’m definitely a lyrics-first songwriter. Don’t get me wrong, I can and do song-write in all sorts of ways, but lyrics-first is definitely a big comfort zone for me. The lyrics came in a giant splurge while I was on my way over to, again, see my friend Gareth. I had to get off my bike and spent 10 minutes or so typing them all into my phone.

The music took a while, banging away at the piano trying to come up with something that worked. Taking my inspiration from the deserts of Nevada and Utah, I had a vision for the opening line, which was that it should replicate the feeling of a long, straight road disappearing into the distance as it heads toward an unknown mountain range. This image conjured up the idea of a long, held note, and if you’re doing that, you really need the chords of the song to be moving underneath the note, rather like J.S. Bach’s Air on a G String. So coming up with that chord sequence was very much worse than pulling teeth. I think I sat at the piano for a couple of weeks trying to work something out that I was happy with!

How many songs are you working on right now?

I’m not doing quite so much writing at the moment as I’m very much concentrated on marketing. However, while I can put down those songs I’m developing on my own, there’s no getting away from the five or so songs that are I’m currently working on with different co-writers. Oh, and the four that are in varying stages of demo production. Then there’s the second album of songs that are written but need to be produced at some time too.

I’m finding that with my current focus, the most efficient way of scratching the creative itch is to leave everything behind and join a songwriting retreat for a few days. I have three songs written at day retreats which also need to be moved forward. So quite a few

Do you keep to a theme with your music, or just go where the mood strikes?

A bit of both. With an album in mind, it’s very useful to have an overarching theme, or to at least have articulated what you want to achieve with it. Then at an individual song level, I feel I have to go where that song wants to take you. Sometimes, you can say up front, I want to write an uptempo dance track, but your inspirations on the day take you in a different direction, towards introspective folk, so it’s very hard to be too precise about what you want to achieve on a particular day or with a specific song idea.

What is your favourite song you’ve recorded, and what do you love about it?

I love all my songs, they’re like babies to me, and if I don’t love them I probably won’t finish them and certainly won’t record them. Road to Anywhere has a very special place in my heart, as it was the first song I ever wrote, but I’ve already talked about it at length, so we’ll go with The First Time (I saw New York) which is a visitor’s love song to the second greatest city on earth, after London of course. I love the imagery, particularly of the second verse, and the wordplay, and the cheeky swing vibe. The horn arrangement is sumptuous and the whistle solo is just the icing on the cake.

Do you find other people’s music inspires you? Who do you listen to most?

Yes, absolutely. I find it very difficult to relax with music on in the background, as my mind demands I engage with pretty well every song I listen to. There’ll always be something about a song will spark taking the melody in a different direction; or a fresh lyrical idea; or conjure up a moody bass line. Over the last year or so, my favourite listen has been Little Dragon, who have captured my heart with their electronic, indie-pop sound.

Do you write your own music, or do you have musicians you work with?

I do write all my own music. If I have a co-writer then we’ll write both music and lyrics together. If I’m on writing my own, my typical music writing method is top line first; bottom line second then fill out the middle. So, I’ll sing a melody first, that fits with the lyrics as if they’re your side of a conversation. Then I work out the bassline that anchors the melody and the song, and then work out what the chords are that match the harmonic progression I hear in my head.

Do you play any instruments?

Since my teens I’ve really focused in on the basslines of songs, so I’m always playing them in my mind. I asked my parents for a bass for my 18th birthday and that got me started playing for real. I now play bass in a couple of local rehearsal bands, in that we spend a lot of time rehearsing and never seem to find the time for gigging! I also clump away on keyboards. I do most of my composing at home at the keyboard, either piano or electric. In an effort to improve my style over the last year or so, I worked with Klay Dumas-Copas, a fantastic British keyboard player now based in Italy, going through each of my songs and getting tips on the most suitable chord voicings, left-hand bass rhythms etc.

Do you like performing live, or does it scare you? Where can people watch you?

I love performing live. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking in the lead up to a gig, but once I’m in front of the audience, and the band strike up, I know it’s going to be a fun time. What could be better than inviting people into your world and sharing your stories with them? My next gig is sold out however, I’ll be announcing more shortly.

Is your music available online, and where can people listen to it?

Yes, you can find my first two singles on almost all streaming services – Spotify; Apple; Prime; Deezer and many more – just search for my name. I’m also available to download on iTunes and Bandcamp. I’m a big believer in owning something physical from an artist – I’ve collected vinyl and then CDs all my life, and find the economics of streaming to be stacked against the artist and the other creatives involved – so both of the singles are available in CD format on my Bandcamp.

Are you able to make music full time, or do you have day job?

I’m now at an age – the kids have long left home – where I can devote every waking hour to music, and apart from dog walks and bike rides, that’s pretty well how my weeks go

Are your friends and family supportive of your music career?

Yes, hugely so, and so much more supportive than I would ever have thought, to the extent that it can be quite a challenge to find those people who aren’t friends and family at my gigs.

What’s something you never expected about being a songwriter? What have you learned that surprised you? Have you had any experiences that really stand out because of your songs?

Simon, who mixed my album, told me that, as a new father who had had a few dark moments along the way, the second song on my album had really struck a chord with him, and had given him hope. That was a hugely important moment for me, as it showed me that my songs do connect with people and that what I am doing does have value.

Do you have any important events coming up we should know about?

I do, I’m launched my debut album on 12th March and celebrating its launch with a showcase gig at Pizza Express, Soho, London. The gig is long sold out I’m afraid however, there will be plenty of other gigs later in the year, just watch this space. And in the meantime, you’ll be able to stream, download or by vinyl or CD copies of the album from 12th March.

What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to write songs?

Remember that songwriting is 5% inspiration; then 95% problem solving… oh, and where your song idea starts may be a long way away from where it ends

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

An unreserved yes, to both. The reward comes from holding a copy of the vinyl for my debut album in my hands, and remembering the shy, teenage me,  completely obsessed with music, who would never have given himself the permission to believe that such a thing could actually happen.

Pop all your music, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Apple Music:

Website: the source – who I am and what I’m doing

Bandcamp: for downloads; vinyl & CDs

Instagram: for social media

Spotify: for streaming

Soundcloud: for streaming

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