What do you do in the Day?

The John Kirkpatrick Songbook, Quarry House Publishing, 2000

What Do You Do in the Day?


The songs in this book have been written over a period of more than 30 years. Most of them are firmly rooted in the conventions of the English folk scene, in which I have been a keen and active participant since my early teens. Any departures from the norm in terms of style or subject matter are usually caused by some outside impetus driving the song in a particular direction, as you'll see in the notes.

I am not a compulsive songwriter. My first love is for traditional English folk music, and there are enough wonderful songs there to satisfy many lifetimes of singing, without the need to make a load of new ones. But from time to time I get the urge to chase an idea, and, for no reason that I can explain, I find I can write and compose to order. This has come in particularly handy when working on music for plays, although more often than not pieces that come about in this way have no life outside the context that gave rise to them. Those that appear on these pages are living proof of the theory of survival of the fittest.

Committing music to the printed page is a sterile business. The whole lifeblood of a song is sucked out when you lay it to rest in this way. It requires a lot more than metronomic precision to raise it from the dead, and to fully engage the emotions of the listener a singer has to work hard to breathe life into the piles of old bones.

Dull words and insipid syllables gain enormous power when they are sung rather than spoken, but I would sound a note of warning against getting too seduced by the beautiful noise you can make whilst singing. These songs need clarity, and on the whole my rule of thumb would be to phrase the words with the same emphasis and rhythm as when they are spoken. This means you are constantly re-inventing the tune, bending the notes to accommodate the sense of the words with each successive verse. This process can be mildly terrifying, but it's actually also great fun, and infinitely more rewarding than performing like some ethnically enhanced robot.