It’s clear now that my journey with music and spirituality began as a teenager perceiving profundity in the lyrics of my then favourite artists … with my readily pedestalling them as great seers imparting some sort of transcendent knowledge and wisdom via their songs. To my friends, I used say ‘the answer’s in the music’. The challenge for us mortals was to get beyond the layers of lyrical ambiguity … for then we would surely access all those deeper meanings. Growing up in Somerset in the mid-70s, I had my head in the clouds. But the seed of an idea had taken root.
While still at school I formed a band with class mates. ‘Early Daze’ – a nod to a Jimi Hendrix song – we called it. We practiced and played cover-songs, interspersed with a few of our own compositions, and later performed to meagre audiences in local pubs and village halls, and of course dreamt of making it. In writing those early songs, I discovered I instinctively knew how to work my melodies and chord sequences. I’d had no musical training, but somehow it all seemed to make complete sense from the outset. The music was flowing, the songs where coming … then I took a bit of a left turn.
My brother Cliff had come home with a LP and a book. Some guy on the street in Minehead had sold it to him saying something about helping people for something or other. Not sure what. The book ‘The Science of Self Realisation’ waited on a shelf in our bedroom for a year or so, then it pounced.
Long and short, the book was a collection of lecture-transcripts and interviews with the founder of the Hare Krishna movement – the Guru, who I later found out had passed away several years previously. The subject matter was alien to me, but I felt intrigued enough to take a bus trip to London with my sister Dawn, to visit their new temple on Soho Street.
I can only describe my then experience of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra for the first time as an uncovering of something deeply familiar. It was like a resurfacing of a long-buried memory. A coming home. An awakening. I immediately knew this is for me, and within a year I had become a vegetarian, handed in notice to my West Somerset District Council job, given away my guitars and amplifier, shaved my head and joined the movement. I was twenty-one. I found myself living in an old Hertfordshire mock-Tudor mansion-come-temple in the village of Letchmore Heath. The one that George Harrison had donated a few years prior. It was the beginning of a great, often varied, sometimes troubled, adventure that absorbed my enthusiasm for the next fifteen years.
During those years my musical interest was expressed through playing traditional Indian instruments. The clay mridanga drum, the kartal hand cymbals, the harmonium reed organ, and a little dabbling on the sitar. During one kirtan (group mantra chanting) a friend leaned over and said ‘you nitch an mean ivory’ to my slightly inappropriate rasābhāsa rock-n-roll chord progressions on the harmonium. A sign that change was afoot perhaps?
After eight years as a celibate novice (seriously), I got married (yes, that was allowed), and along with children naturally came the need to make a living. So I moved outside the temple, and around this time guitars re-entered my life and I soon resumed song-writing and home-recording. Was I falling away from the pure path? Maybe some judged that I was. I didn’t feel so. Indeed, my fascination with eastern philosophy, and especially the Bhagavad-gita not only remained, but broadened and continued to grow.
Over the coming years I gradually developed a more personalised brand of spirituality, with differences in areas of focus and emphasis to those front-stage in Hare Krishna movement. For example, whereas the movement might characterise this world as primarily a place of misery wherein fallen souls are trapped by karma into a cycle of repeated birth and death, I increasingly preferred to see it as a place where divinity is being expressed and explored by everyone in ways of their own choosing, and I imagined that in so doing we all contribute and serve the completeness of the divine. Even in the dark stuff. Somehow.
Fast forward to the 2020s and my song-writing has gathered momentum to the point of 50+ songs annually. And though my do-it-yourself recordings lack a certain professional sheen, they are intimate, and 99% centred on spiritual subject matters. Sometimes in the form of imagined dialogue with God; sometimes about my striving to celebrate the divinity in all life beyond cultural, political, religious, and species divides; sometime asking hard ‘why’ questions, facing doubt, or pondering apparent philosophical tensions, for example as in karma vs self-divinity, or fallen soul vs sacred collaboration. I routinely rise by 5am and do an awe-ful lot of thinking before the day begins. This means there’s never any shortage of material for my lyrics. For me there exists always the chance for a perfect marriage between soul and mind wherever self-expression is genuine and uncontrived, and this is my endeavour. To my mind that’s the potential beauty of the singer-songwriter genre. Its less about entertainment and more about connection, conversation and relationship with a listener. Some say it has a certain type of purity to it.
Having grown up in the 70s, and with one foot always firmly in the 60s, my musical influences are primarily of that era. Mine is thus a mixture of soft-rock, mellow, acoustic, Beatle-esque, with an occasional smattering of rock-n-roll angst. In spite of this my hope is that through my songs I can connect with people who find something spiritually positive in my offerings. Perhaps something that mirrors existing values and/or outlook, or even something that inspires a listener in their own spiritual journey, or provokes a new positive way of looking at our place in the bigger scheme of things. Or perhaps something that simply helps a spiritual person feel they are less alone in a material world.
HEAR DAVID’S TRACKS
Reflecting on my experience of inexplicable familiarity upon contact with mantra chanting, and my never-learned yet ready-knowledge of melody and chords, I now see all such things as simple resumption of past life cultivations. To me reincarnation persuasively explains many things. All it takes is a timely trigger to bring past passions rushing back to the surface of conscious awareness. To resume, so to speak, from where one last left off. Of course, I’m not saying it’s proven … just it makes sense to me personally.
Has the seed of my teenage wishful thinking now born fruit? Did I become one of those imagined musical seers of my youth? Probably not. After all I’m just a fallible person with a fleeting point of view, looking at something very big and perhaps from time to time some appreciating a very small aspect, as seen from where I presently stand.
Perhaps my music is your cup of tea? I hope so.
All the best