Sunderland duo writes award-winning song on the refugee crisis
Sunderland duo win International Songwriters Challenge
Fresh off their victory in an international song-writing challenge, Mark Tyers caught up with Thorney Close rapper Adam Penman and Town End Farm based singer-songwriter Rob Burlinson to ask them how the refugee-crisis inspired Safe came to be and what they’ll do to celebrate.
Mark Tyers: The Indi.com original song-writing challenge is always entered by a huge number of unsigned artists from around the world – why did you enter it and how does it feel to win it?
Adam Penman: Well, I came across an ad on Facebook saying ‘original song competition’ and it was around the same time the video of me and Rob performing the song I wrote (Safe) went viral, so I thought if all these people are feeling my words then it might be worth entering, so I did.
Once our video was uploaded I shared it on my Facebook and so did Rob, asking for everybody’s help, because it specified on the Indi website that the way to win was for our video to get as many hearts and shares as possible. It wasn’t getting anywhere near as many likes as some of the other videos that were entered into the competition from different artists around the world, so I kind of left it and stopped sharing it, thinking we had no chance.
A few days later I got an email saying my song had won by judges decision and that I’d won $250! I was pretty shocked and immediately shared the good news on Facebook. It felt good and it reminded me never to give up. I may be just a lad from Sunderland and not from London or New York, where most artists get signed these days, but you can get noticed no matter where you come from. You just need to push yourself and share your material anywhere possible.
MT: Speaking of viral, how many times was your original video viewed?
AP: Well, at the minute the video has 35,200 views and still counting, which in my eyes is pretty awesome for a little video taken from an iPhone [laughs].
MT: That’s a pretty incredible figure, so what inspired the song? I see you’ve got a picture of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee toddler, probably the definitive image of the refugee crisis?
AP: I listen to BBC Radio 2 everyday at my day job, and Jeremy Vine speaks politics everyday at midday and he used to speak a lot about the migration crisis and about the Government’s decision to bomb Syria. People use to phone in and speak about how the Government should send them [the refugees] back where they came from and that infuriated me, and the only way to express my emotions was to write a song, so I did.
I chose to have the picture of Aylan Kurdi sketched up [on the artwork for the single] because that image alone explains the title of the song and that is people are dying trying to reach safety.
MT: Could you tell us a little bit more about the process of putting the song together?
AP: I spent about 2 months writing the rap and another 3 on the chorus. The reason it took me so long is because the song is political and I had to keep going back and changing my words in case they offended people. In the beginning they [the lyrics] were way too angry and crossed the line a little, so, yeah, I had to rewrite them. But they still had to get my anger and point across. It was definitely the biggest songwriting challenge I’ve had to this day.
I finished writing the song and I came up with a little guitar riff, just a few simple chords, nothing major, just simple enough so you could focus more on the words rather the music. I then messaged Rob and asked if he’d like to jump on board, because I’m not a great guitarist I’m just a learner and I’m definitely not a talented singer like Rob. He’s a top lad. He’s always helped me with my music when I’ve needed it and I’m glad I asked him to get involved because I wouldn’t have the track any other way, it’s perfect!
Rob Burlinson: I’ve watched this song progress for months and Adam’s been over to mine a good few times when he needed help. The song changed a good few times, then he came to mine again a few weeks back with a structure of chords and with the intention of having two guitars playing. I changed one chord and put my [style of] playing on it. Adam ok’d this and decided he also wanted just my acoustic [guitar] on the track, it sounded fantastic. Then we changed the ending to a rhythm strum with my harmonies and never looked back.
We did a video which was recorded in the studio which was great and now its growing and growing and we’re both amazingly happy and grateful for all the support from our friends and families, its been amazing!
AP: We went to Broadwater studio in Gateshead to record the track professionally, so we could release the song onto iTunes, Google Play and other digital download sites. I also had the art work drawn up by an artist called Carl Stevens.
RB: Yeah, so thanks to them for their input and hard work!
MT: What are you going to do to celebrate?
AP: We are planning on spending the money on a professional music video [for Safe ] sometime in May by Sektion Red Witch, who is a director/producer from Bristol caller Oliver Whitehouse and besides music. I think I’ll take Rob for a cold one just to say thanks for singing his heart out.
RB: I’m looking forward to the video as I’ve never done one before so it will be new to me. Hopefully, it does as well as the song and live video!
AP: I thought it would be a good idea to donate the money we make from digital downloads to charities working with the poor families over in Syria – but then we thought hey, we haven’t achieved any major successes yet and nothing is certain to say we ever will. On a real level we haven’t really made anything from the song so far, so a couple of pounds, will it really make a big difference?
Right now we just want to focus on getting a professional video produced and that costs big money, so hopefully the prize money from the competition and whatever we’ve made from digital sales [Safe is available on iTunes and Google Play] will fund the production.
Once a proper video is online, who knows it might take off and reach a bigger audience, and maybe then the song will make more money, enough to make a difference to a charity working with poor families in Syria.
At the end of the day I’m not all about money, I just want my material to get noticed and hopefully make a career out of it. At the moment I’m just happy getting a little limelight doing something that I enjoy and Rob feels the same way, he definitely shares the same love for music as I do.
Safe by Adam Penman featuring Rob Burlinson is available to download on iTunes and Google Play now. Adam Penman is also lead singer of local tribute band Rage Against A Machine and Rob Burlinson is a Facebook guitar star.