TNR: Who were your early influences as a singer/songwriter?
PS: I love James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Dan Fogelberg…basically all the songwriters who write poetry in music form. I was a big fan of the Dunfermline rock band, Nazareth as a teenager and loved Dan McCafferty’s voice. I was never a great Beatles fan but recognised them as excellent songwriters, particularly their later work. I was really more about the rock music of the 70s than the 60s, despite my appreciation of the 60s singer-songwriters.
The folk singers seem to be the great storytellers and that’s what I really go for.
TNR: Were there any northern voices who shaped your career and inspired you to embrace the arts?
PS: I grew up in a Salvation Army family and so music was always a part of my life. I played cornet in the brass band but also guitar in local rock bands around Newcastle. This blend of influences has definitely shaped my style and thinking. It was the unsung heroes of the working-class streets of Wallsend and Newcastle that influenced me the most; the lads who played in local bands and the talent within the Salvation Army…the voices that not enough people heard.
TNR: What genres of songs do you write and sing? Can you please tell us your favourite song in your music catalogue?
PS: My music embraces a number of styles. I’m the lead singer and lyricist for the Progressive Rock band, Stuckfish. These are storytelling songs with a fantasy twist. However, I’m also the songwriter and guitarist/vocalist for the contemporary folk band Cloudberries, where the themes are mainly Northumbrian.
TNR: You have written a critically acclaimed collection of short stories, ‘Matters of Life & Death,’ what inspired this collection?
PS: The short stories in this collection are quite varied in style and content, but they share a common thread, namely how our circumstances reflect our philosophy on life and its inevitable end. It’s not a grim take on death but rather a celebration of the dark and light we all experience. There is a little fantasy, some gothic horror, real life experience and humour. It could be described as philosophical fantasy or magical realism. I’m pleased to say it has been well received.
TNR: What are the elements of a great story?
PS: Most of us want to escape within a story, share the adventure and see something of ourselves reflected back. Sometimes we read a book to admire the craft of the author, their skilful writing, but the best stories for me are those that create empathy through wonderful characters.
TNR: As a poet, singer/songwriter and storyteller, do the different areas of artistic endeavours make you better in your other talent areas.
PS: Definitely yes. A song that is also a story or a poem has more power. A poem that lilts along musically is a joy to the ear. One compliments the other naturally.
TNR: What has been the highlight of your career to date?
PS: That is very difficult to answer. Stuckfish has two very successful albums. My short story collection was accepted for publication. I have been fortunate to perform in front of large appreciative audiences. My daughter Madelaine and I won the Starsearch competition, resulting in an album deal and the CD ‘9 Lives.’ I have been blessed in so many ways, there is no obvious highlight. Maybe it is yet to come.
TNR: What advice would you give an aspiring songwriter to make a success of song writing?
PS: Write from both your heart and your imagination. Don’t get stuck in any one genre, just write whatever feels good. If you are good at one thing and not another, find a songwriting partner. I write for Stuckfish with Adrian Fisher who is great at composition whereas I’m better at melody and lyrics. It makes a synergistic blend that allows the songs to flow from our imagination.
TNR: What one lesson have you learnt from the coronavirus pandemic and how has the pandemic affected your art?
PS: When you get to my age, every year counts. Two years away from performing was hard to bear. Also, the loss of musical friends was tragic. The pandemic taught me to treasure every day, every experience.
TNR: What are your artistic plans for the future?
PS: We are working on album 3 for Stuckfish and I have just finished a fantasy novel called The Hunt for Moss & Magic. I hope both will be published next year.
Cloudberries will hopefully record an album of original songs next year too.
There’s still so much to do!