What exactly is the creative process?

Last night some musical colleagues called around to my house to put a shape on a piece I’m writing for an upcoming show.

Afterwards my wife said she really enjoyed sitting in the room with us, seeing how the creative process worked.

It made me think about what that process was.

Looking back, it was little more than throwing around ideas, and picking which one we thought worked best. A little bit of polishing at the end and we had the bones of our piece.

And that’s the thing – there can sometimes be a myth around how certain things are created, but it’s actually not that hard most of the time. It just requires some focus, open-mindedness and some judgement at the end.

Also in today’s blog – a chord chart for Mary Black’s version of Carolina Rua – and the answers to yesterday’s questions.


  1. In what key is the song? Ab
  2. How many beats in a bar? 4
  3. The first chorus comes in at 0:27 and the first two chords are the 5 and the 1. What is different about this particular 1 chord? It’s played over the bass note of Eb (not Ab as you would expect).
  4. The same melody sequence happens again at 0:32 and again it’s over a 5 chord. However the second chord this time is not a 1 chord. What is it? 4 over 5 (Db/Eb)
  5. What is the chord played on Bar 13 of the chorus? Bb minor6




Carolina Rua and Thom Moore

As Sligo prepares to to pay a musical tribute to one of it’s favourite musical sons – Thom Moore – this Friday, Ken and I jammed out a quick version of one of his most famous songs this morning – Carolina Rua.

Every Wednesday for January, the blog has been based on a particular song and I have posed some questions for people interested in improving their ears. This will be the last in this particular series, but I will continue this exercise in a different format next month, as it has proved to be popular among some readers. Stay tuned for news on that.

Today’s questions – based on this version.

  1. In what key is the song?
  2. How many beats in a bar?
  3. The first chorus comes in at 0:27 and the first two chords are the 5 and the 1. What is different about this particular 1 chord?
  4. The same melody sequence happens again at 0:32 and again it’s over a 5 chord. However the second chord this time is not a 1 chord. What is it?
  5. What is the chord played on Bar 13 of the chorus?

Answers in tomorrow’s blog.

Revisited: Theme Night #15 (Piano Man)

Part 4 out of a 5-part series:

By now the theme nights had a new home. Marie O’Byrne in the Hawk’s Well Theatre had planted seeds by suggesting we try one there, possibly with the Sligo Academy of Music Sinfionetta and a choir. And so we did. It’s fun to see so many current older members of the teenage theme night crew look so young in the orchestra here.

Theme Night #15 (Piano Man) took place in May 2016 – it was the third consecutive theme night to take place in the Hawk’s Well, the second with the Sinfionetta, and the only one so far that has run for 3 nights.

And it was fun. It featured the music of Billy Joel and Elton John and hence there were lots of great piano lines, chords and improvising to get my head around.

And I sang! Followers of this blog will have read recent blogs where I wrote of the mental and physical benefits of singing and also the value of getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new. I did both that night, and enjoyed every minute, as you can see below.

Other highlights – well they were endless. I nearly brought this show to Vicar St again because it was so full of magic performances.


To name but a few – I remember Dean Gurrie on Goodnight Saigon, Michael, Robert, Neil, Luke, John on The Longest Time, Felip Carbonell on You May Be Right, John Kavanagh and Leonard Dorrian on Lullabye, Chris Baillie on An Innocent Man, and Stephen, Tiernan and Peter (all 18 at the time) with the orchestra on She’s Always a Woman to Me brought the house down.

A big show in the Story So Far.

“No dickheads”

In college, some friends and I used ask each other and others who joined our group to name the three people in the world to whom they looked up to most. People like Muhammad Ali, Roy Keane, Brian O’Driscoll, Robert De Niro, people’s Dads and older brothers used feature regularly.

I always struggled to come up with names.

Because with every musician or sportsman I thought of whose music or playing I liked, I could also think of a story about how he had treated his band badly, or his teammates, or his family, or his fans. And I didn’t want to look up to someone who did those things, no matter how well he played the piano or how good a footballer he was.


It was only a laugh really, a conversation to pass some time, and I possibly took it too seriously.

But the point at the heart of it remains – is it possible to be a top class sportsman, musician, or actor, and be a decent person too?

It’s why people say never to meet your heroes – because so often as people they will disappoint you.

The New Zealand rugby team have a motto, which they borrowed from the Sydney Swans AFL team – “No dickheads”. It means they are trying to create not only rugby players who fans can admire, but people to whom others can look up.

Nice guys don’t always finish last. It’s possible to be good at what you do, as well as being good to others.

Strive for that.



The A dream…and when it doesn’t come true.

I remember it well.


October 2008. 3/4 years into life as a musician and I felt I had a handle on it. McGarrigles (downstairs). Three good mates (Steve, Dave, Tommy) and I were getting ready to play a gig. We had worked hard on the set, the place was packed, and we just had a feeling we were going to deliver the goods. I remember thinking – I wish I could do this every night.

And that’s the dream isn’t it? For most musicians starting out anyway.

In the Netflix documentary Hired Gun, Jason Hook (guitarist for Alice Cooper, Mandy Moore and others) calls it “The A Dream – to be in a band, with four or five guys, writing original music – and everyone loved it and everyone wanted to buy a ticket to the concert – that’s the A dream”.

It didn’t work out for him – “nobody gave a s**t about the bands I was putting together” – so his B dream is to rent himself and his skills out to top artists who are living their A dream.

It doesn’t work out for most people. And even if it does for a while, it’s unlikely to do so forever.

So we all need a B dream, or even a C and a D dream.

A friend of mine who gave most of his 20s to writing original music, pushing bands he was in, touring Ireland and elsewhere, is now a bit older, and recently told me he now plays lots of daytime gigs in nursing homes. And is enjoying every minute. There’s great learning in it for him – he has never played much solo, so is figuring that side of things out, and also has never played many of these old time swing tunes that his new audience wants to hear – so he’s adding to his repertoire all the time.

I spent last weekend making music with a bunch of people over 20 years younger than me, and enjoyed every minute too.

There’s lots of ways music can make us happy. If the A dream doesn’t work out (which it probably won’t), don’t stop. Keep dreaming.

“I’ll sort that for you”.

Every time you promise something and don’t deliver on it, it makes it harder for us to believe you’ll deliver next time.

“I’ll deliver those leaflets for you”, “I’ll score those arrangements for you”, “I’ll take 10 tickets from you for the gig”.


Your word is not just your bond, it’s you.

Thankfully however the inverse is also true – if you do deliver, it makes it easier for us to believe you’ll deliver next time.

If you say you’ll sort something for someone, for your and the other person’s sake, just sort it.


“SOLD OUT” can mean anything these days. Promoters/media often tell us gigs were sold out when they clearly weren’t. But those two words hold such power today, that people use them regularly, even when they aren’t true.

Likewise, “Only a few tickets left” doesn’t always mean what it says either – in fact it can often mean “Loads of tickets left but we’re trying to create a need in you to buy some now”.

And “Get your tickets now!” usually means “Not as many people as we hoped have bought tickets so now I’m going to use an exclamation mark because I really want people to buy them as soon as possible so I can calm my nerves”.

Regular readers and followers of this blog will know that I have a big event coming up – in the biggest venue to which I have ever brought a gig – and naturally I’m very excited about it. However I’m at the stage where I really need to focus in on the music and hence I won’t be mentioning it in any more blogs after today until it’s showtime.


Thankfully lots of tickets have been sold already, and we’re at the stage now where I can be confident that we’re going to have a fantastic atmosphere in the venue one way or the other.

What I will say is that yesterday Ticketmaster released the last batch of tickets, and there are some really good ones there.

So if you haven’t yet got tickets, and want to have a fantastic view, bring a group, or be sure of sitting with your friends, today the words ‘get your tickets now’ and ‘there are only a few tickets left’ are actually true.

PS for anyone travelling from Sligo, there are also some seats still left on the Thomas Connolly’s bus (up and back on the same day).