The Blog

Writing Believers

I was taken with this idea in the song The Believers. I realised I was commenting about the people on either side of the news footage. Sure, those poor people forced to flee were certainly 'believers' who had staked their future on the thinnest of chances.
Andrew Benge via Getty Images

Writing an album is a strange thing. In the first instance you're never really sure you are writing an album as the mechanics of making the record are often beyond your own control. In the second instance there's no certainty that a song which closely follows on from another will necessarily make sense eventually when the scythe of mastering final tracks come into play. Each song has to work within its own limits and these limits are pretty well curtailed to two and a half minutes of lyric and music.

What is constant is the backdrop. When I was writing the songs that became Raintown I wasn't aware of any deadline and was only writing up against my own experience of life in Glasgow. Work, rain, home were constants and that nagging idea of home and how resonant that word was for so many people in so many places weighed heavily on me. The problem about making any record is that a song will come along which breaks up the narrative and bears very little relation to the theme you may well have been pursuing. Do you allow yourself to explore this new branch or do you continue scurrying up the same tree?

Most often there is no set theme but simply a background of life which can't be ignored. In beginning to write 'Believers' it was impossible not to be affected by the constant news images of people from Syria desperately trying to flee the war by boat. Turning on the web, the radio or watching the TV made it very difficult to ignore those risking everything to cross the Mediterranean Sea. My daughter had lived in Syria for 6 months in 2009 and another daughter and I went out to Damascus to visit her there in the November of that year. Remembering the kindness and hospitality of the people who had looked after us I found it hard to imagine what these families were experiencing.

What amazed me was that despite the insurmountable dangers and odds stacked against them so many people packed up what they had and set out on the sea knowing only about what they were leaving and almost nothing of the future other than the desperate search for a safe haven. Our responses were probably broadly similar: How could they risk so much? How could they not? Why are we not doing more to help? Like a number of people here we tried to get involved in some small way as it felt the only decent human thing to do.

However, what I couldn't get out of my mind in song after song was the image of the orange dinghies being thrown around on a perilous sea and people simply trusting in someone - anyone - to save them. Leaving the reasons for the conflict aside and notwithstanding the gulf in their experience to my own I think I understood why some of this happened.

When everything has been weighed up and assessed there will always be a moment when we discard so much of what our intellect is telling us and allow ourselves to follow faith. Malcolm Gladwell has described it as the 'blink' moment where we make momentous decisions in a relatively short space of time. In recent times we've had referendums over Europe and Scotland where, to be fair, a good proportion of people on both sides have probably followed their hearts over their heads.

I was taken with this idea in the song The Believers. I realised I was commenting about the people on either side of the news footage. Sure, those poor people forced to flee were certainly 'believers' who had staked their future on the thinnest of chances. But what kind of people were we? It seemed to me, and I asked myself this question at the end of the song, that we could be fearful, myopic and perhaps less than human if we chose to see all this as simply a problem. Wasn't there a good reason for us too to be 'believers?' Not in a political idea or a religious faith but in the one thing it's possible to change: ourselves.

Thinking back to that first record I kept thinking about the resonance of that idea of home. It's an idea more than a place and all of us are trying to find it. To misunderstand that search or try to build walls and defences in the way of that search is to distort that very idea. Our response to those out on the sea can only be made when we remember where we have all travelled from oursleves. It's taken some of us longer than others but all of us are looking to for safe places to live and grow old. In his recent biography AA Gill concluded, 'We are all in the same boat, all refugees from the past trying to find a home.'

It seems to me too that for humanity to survive we all too must trust the stranger. The alternatives are too awful to contemplate. And so, the song ends:

you wake up one morning

there's nothing you can do about it now

you know you're on one side or the other

you're just one more believer