I was reminded this week that 2017 is the 25th anniversary of one of the most memorable times in my life.
All Those Years Ago
In 1992 Miles Copeland hosted the very first songwriter’s retreat at his Castle in the south of France. Constructed in the Dordogne region of Perigord Vert, France, the Chateau Marouatte is a 14th century fortified castle steeped in history. Yep, about as cool as it sounds. Two weeks writing with some great songwriters and artists with an eye to coming up with songs for the artists in attendance as well as pitchable songs.
I was signed to Miles Copeland’s publishing company with Sting, Bugle Songs, the first signing thanks to my longtime buddy Torquil Creevy. Many of the artists had a connection to Miles’ management company or to his label, IRS Records. These writer retreats are common now in different parts of the world but at the time it was a revolutionary idea and like any brand new idea it had its share of magic and missteps.
One Of Three For Me
I’m not sure how many workshops Miles hosted in the years after but I attended the first three. Retreats 2 and 3 were great but nothing was as much fun as the very first one. Some of the names escape me now but along with my Nashville buddies Kye Fleming and Mary Ann Kennedy, there were some writers I was dying to get with like Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze and Bonnie Hayes (Have A Heart and Love Letter for Bonnie Raitt). Torquil was in charge of trying to corral us into one co-write a day, 3 writers to a room every day with wonderful meals made on site and jam sessions at night. Henry Patavoni was there as well to help, great guy and original guitarist in the Police.
Co-writing was not as common as it is these days and the idea of having one day only to come up with something was a little daunting but usually big fun. There are endless stories from these trips but a couple of my favorites were from the first one. Miles came to me on day two (first day was meet and greet, eat and drink….a lot of drink) and asked “ how much wine do songwriters usually drink”? South of France, great red wine, hanging in a castle….hmmm… “quite a bit I’m guessing Miles, why do you ask”? “Because the cellar’s empty”! said our fearless leader. Now, not knowing what he was in for and not being a wine drinker himself I could argue that he hadn’t really stocked up but in the end I just suggested he hang onto the key to the cellar in the future. That started a game of “find the key” that lasted until he gave up, as I remember.
Life Gets Weird
The other story for me was writing with Glenn Tilbrook and Kye Fleming one day in the room you see in the picture. Just an amazing day writing a song called “Life Is Weird”. Now Glenn is still one of my favorite voices in pop music and just hearing that voice all day long with a brilliant lyric from Kye was the best. It got even better when Kye and I went on to England to Glenn‘s home studio in Blackheath to record the demo. I played bass and Dennis Greaves, who had also been at the retreat, played guitar along with Glenn. It was one of two demos we did that day for a proposed solo album. The session was interrupted by the best pub crawl ever with our host Glenn. I’ve included the very rough and slightly damaged demo from the day.
Some of the songs got used over time including one written with Bonnie Hayes, another favorite of mine, but it almost was an afterthought to the buzz surrounding the event. Later trips to the castle introduced me to some fantastic writers including Brenda Russell who went on to be one of my dearest friends and frequent co-writers, Vinx, a totally unique talent, Kevin Savagar, Shelly Peiken, Chris Difford, Jools Holland, Billy Lawrie, Siobhan Maher ( Kennedy), Alan Rich, Bruce Roberts, Patty Smyth and even Cher.
It was a trip to come down to breakfast and find myself across from her. More than once. The 2nd workshop had its share of stories but, another time. Ok, one short one :-) The artist Des’ree (Gotta Be) was a bit different. She was convinced the ghosts of past battles were inhabiting the castle by night and not the Casper, friendly sort. Miles woke up all the guys in the middle of the night to chase the ghosts out of every room on the property.
Maybe one more... I had taken over my favorite room to write in the castle ( year 3), got Brenda Russell and Kevin Savigar on keys and we were workin it. Patty Smyth came by and joined in. Sounded so good now we were 4. We were stuck on a bridge idea when we heard a voice from outside the window join in...and eventually jump in the window, stand on the window sill and proceed to come up with a fantastic bridge. Bruce Roberts was now the last a part of a song called "Don't Get Any Better Than This" which turned into a jazz hit for Tom Scott with Meysa Leak.
The Castle got more and more focused in later years on trying to get hits and coming away with pro quality demos during the week but for two weeks in the fall of ’92 it was all about making friends, making music, fine food and fine wine…a lot of fine, fine wine.
How about a reunion of that very first class Miles? I’m in!
Feb 16, 2017
There are some great retreats still being done in various parts of the world including Judy Stakees held at the very same castle. Chris Difford has a cool one in the UK. I attended one as a mentor in September in Spain hosted by The Uk Song Academy and Martin Sutton and it was so cool to do it all again, just a wee bit older this time! Here's a recent blog on the subject.
If you know of any great camps and retreats please share!
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About Mark Cawley
Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. Mark’s resume includes hits on the Pop, Country, R&B, Jazz, and Rock charts and several publishing deals with the likes of Virgin, Windswept Pacific, and Steelworks/Universal. Mark calls on his decades of experience in the publishing world, as an artist on major labels, co-writer with everyone from Eliot Kennedy and Burt Bacharach to Simon Climie and Kye Fleming, composing, and recording to mentor clients around the globe with iDoCoach. He is also a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to USA Songwriting, Songwriter Magazine, Mentor for The Songwriting Academy, sponsor for the ASA, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops.Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.