Sam Semple is a songwriter with a debut album called Mystery Songs, a timeless, soulful record that evokes the literary songwriting era of the 1970s. It’s a testament to good old-fashioned songcraft echoing the music of Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, Paul Simon and James Taylor.
Over the years Sam has established himself as a successful songwriter writing with other artists. He co-wrote ‘Better’ with Tom Baxter (a song covered by Boyzone), and ‘Miracle’, the signature track for the BBC’s Beijing Olympics coverage. More recently Sam co-wrote the hit song ‘How Would You Do It?’ with French pop star Medi.
When Sam asked for help to finally make a ‘proper’ record of his own songs, an illustrious band of artists and musicians were ready to assist. Some of the players on Mystery Songs include: Tom Baxter, Scott Matthews, Jamie Morrison (Stereophonics), Sam Lewis (Owiny Sigoma), Charlie Winston plus epic string arrangements from Danny Keane (Bat for Lashes, Nitin Sawhney). Sam said of his long-held dream to record this album:
“I always wanted to make a ‘classic’-sounding record, to hear my songs come to life with big arrangements, great musicians. I love Neil Young, that whole 70s singer/songwriter vibe, but I’m also very influenced by literature; writers like Beckett, Tolstoy, Mishima, Hermann Hesse. I wanted to make my album a ‘book of songs’, each fitting together like chapters, telling a story from page to page, song to song. The songs themselves explore the struggles we all face making sense of life’s mysterious journey, from birth to death, knowing we can’t foretell how the story ends. The songs also deal with the journey of becoming a writer. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful album.”
The end result of Sam’s endeavour is Mystery Songs, a wonderfully moving, emotional-sounding record that captures his unique songwriting talent.
In Sam’s own words:
Mystery Songs is an autobiography of sorts and a thank you letter. It’s a very small contribution to the ‘Great Conversation’ about our mysterious journey through life. The songs draw on childhood memories, dog-eared books and poems I’ve loved and leaned on and carried with me everywhere, old train ticket stubs, paintings and love letters, trinkets and curled up photographs of sunburned holidays on the Isle of Wight, cassette tapes and vinyl records I’ve long since scratched to bits. (Why do Roy Harper albums always end up more trashed than the rest?) I imagined people could listen to Mystery Songs as you would read a book, from page to page, chapter to chapter, song to song. I’m a late starter but I grew up with music in the house, my dad being a wonderful singer who sang with The Fortunes, a much-loved harmony pop group. In particular, the Nashville-tinged songs written for the band by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway made a lasting impression, leading me to wider American musical landscapes; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Glen Campbell, Elvis Presley, Harry Nilsson.
And Led Zeppelin. I’ve always found something in that stirring Black Country magic. I was born in Scotland but grew up in Halesowen in the West Midlands. The view from the top of Pershore Road looking down across Romsley; the Clent Hills and the rolling patchwork of fields and red soil; Saint Kenelm’s spring and the Bluebird factory chimney – that’s what I think of when I think of the band. Being seventeen, discovering music, smoking roll-ups and that gentle Worcestershire view. I was also Saturday boy at Woolworths on Peckingham Street, as was a certain young chap called Robert, twenty-odd years before me…
As a child, in my dad’s cabaret years, I travelled with him up and down the country to smoke-filled working men’s clubs, cramped dressing rooms, bingo, late nights on empty motorways (I could never stay awake), and the harsh glare of service stations, chips and beans at exotic hours of the night and morning. Great memories.
This album is my thank you letter to all the writers, artists, songwriters, real and imaginary friends, who wrote for me an alphabet of the soul so I could better express what it was I was feeling. Who made sure I was never really alone. These are my Mystery Songs. I hope you find something in them.
Sam Semple May 2013