by Elizabeth Cawein
As we prep for another weekend of songwriting in Liverpool and the completion of ‘From Memphis to the Mersey,’ I wanted to share a bit more about the mechanics of the project itself, how it came together, and what we hope will come out of it.
Once Emma Foxall (of Liverpool-based Monkey Mind Productions) and I sketched out the concept for ‘From Memphis to the Mersey,’ our first task was identifying two mentors from each city. We knew that we wanted the mentors to play an active role in the experience, so we sought out mentors who not only would bring fantastic songwriting chops to the project, but also would be artistically and creatively open and giving. We were lucky to end up with such an incredible group: GRAMMY-winner and Stax legend William Bell and songwriter/artist/producer Susan Marshall from Memphis; and the face and voice of international chart topping band The Christians, Garry Christian, and Christians band member, multi-instrumentalist, writer and producer Joey Ankrah from Liverpool. Our hope was that the mentors would get as much out of the project as the emerging artists – and in the end there was a real energy of learning and genuine exchange of ideas that coursed through the Memphis weekend. Maybe because, as Susan Marshall pointed out at our finale event in Memphis, “we’re all emerging artists.”
With our mentors set, we had to find our emerging artists. We opened submissions simultaneously in Memphis and Liverpool, asking artists to submit a number of things: tracks, an artist’s statement, lyrics to a few songs, chord charts and a biography. A panel of eight judges – myself and Emma, our four mentors and an additional music industry professional from each city – weighed in on submissions through an online portal. The artists with the highest composite scores were then invited to an in-person audition, where they performed two songs and were interviewed. I was overwhelmed and energized by the in-person auditions – there was so much talent in both cities. I weighed in on our Liverpool artists, but recused myself for the Memphis selection and handed that judging over to my Liverpool counterparts. (With my personal and client relationships with several finalists, I didn’t feel comfortable being involved in the decision.) Throughout the project I’ve been thankful to be able to defer to Emma’s perspective and experience – her successful Bluebird at the Bluecoat project, which brought Liverpool artists to Nashville for the Tin Pan South songwriters’ festival, is really what inspired this entire adventure.
Our goal for this project was to build a creative dialogue between these two sister cities, so linked by culture, music and history. Our finale concert in Memphis featured a brief conversation about the Liverpool artists’ relationship with Memphis music and this creative energy between the two cities. I’m particularly looking forward to our finale event in Liverpool, where I know the conversation will be even richer after another weekend of these artists making music together. (Thanks to ARCHd, the Memphis finale event and some of the songwriting sessions were captured on film. Once we return from Liverpool, they’ll sit down with the Memphis artists to discuss the entire experience and add that to the mix – stay tuned for the short film on the project, which will be shared here when it’s complete.)
There was also a strong desire going into this project for ‘From Memphis to the Mersey’ to build relationships and begat opportunities that would last beyond the confines of these two weekends. That may mean continued creative dialogue between the artists, and it may mean professional opportunities like international touring, gig sharing, resource sharing, etc. If we’re able to do this again in 2018 and onward, I would want to chart the ongoing conversations between each class of artists to track how their relationships both enhance their own careers and continue to strengthen the connection between Memphis and Liverpool.