Why Travel Broadens The Songwriting Mind

In about 24 hours time, I’ll be setting off for Los Angeles to attend an awards ceremony.   I’ll be there on business rather than for  pleasure and I won’t have too much free time – if any – to explore the city, but I’m looking forward to it. After all, travel, is travel, is travel and it’s always inspiring.

A Source Of Inspiration

But hey, I know what you’re thinking. This is a songwriter’s diary – so why is he banging on about travel.  Well simply because a few days ago, a friend asked me if travel is a source inspiration for songs.

Directly or indirectly, I think it is.  In fact some of of my favourite songs have strong travel themes –  Foreign Affairs by Tom Waits, and Joni Mitchell’s Amelia spring immediately to mind. More recently, Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a wonderful song called Transcendental Reunion on the unlikely subject of queuing up at arrivals.

In my own case, I’ve written quite a few songs that have –  directly or indirectly – been inspired by a holiday, business trip or simply moving between one city and another by air sea or land. So why does travel broaden the songwriting mind?

Alone With Your Thoughts

Well one obvious reason is that you often spend long periods of time alone with your thoughts – say on a bus journey or eleven or twelve hour flight. That in itself can stir up memories that by some kind of alchemy morph into choruses, hooks and verses.

You Meet New People

You meet new people and hear new stories. And maybe also you expose yourself to fresh ideas or even figures of speech that you haven’t heard before.  All these things can feed into song ideas.

You Soak Up Musical Heritage

Last year I visited Chicago and when I was there I made a point of going to a blues club and a jazz venue ( as well as seeing the Killers on the shores of Lake Michigan).  The next album (Love and Pride) had a definite blues tinge. (see above link)

The Landscape Inspires You

And it’s always worth remembering that simply being in in a different place – replete with its own landscape, sounds and smells gets the creativity juices working.

Getting the Juices Running

But the travel/songwriting equation plays out in different ways. As I already mentioned the blues/jazzy feel of much of my last album owes much to a week spent in Chicago. More directly, spending my birthday alone in San Francisco, directly inspired a song entitled San Francisco, New Eve.

But the inspiration can be more circuitous. Years ago, I spent time on a bus driving through Greece from the the city of Sparta. It was full of soldiers returning to camp and none of them looked particularly happy. That experience ultimately resulted in me writing A Soldier’s Pay – a song about an English soldier returning to his camp after a week long drinking session.

So to close, here is a spotify playlist of some of my favorite traveling songs.  Hope you enjoy.



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