Blog : Gil Scott the Heron and Other Children’s Stories

I hate almost anything that could be considered performing, especially when put on the spot. This has been the case as long as I can remember. Back in my schooldays, one year the school decided it would make a great ice-breaker at the start of the new school year if each class wrote and performed a song together in front of the rest of the school. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than singing, on stage, in front of hundreds of my peers, and tried desperately to think of a way out of it. Eventually I settled on the idea of just staying in my seat when the rest of my class went up on stage. Fortunately, either no-one noticed or no-one cared.

Another time, when at a teenage party my friends’ band invited me up on stage to perform an Oasis song with them, mainly because I happened to know all of the words and I’m not sure their singer did. Again, I wanted no part of this, and my chances of being a rock n roll frontman were over before they had begun (probably a good thing in retrospect). This stage-fright, this fear of performance, can manifest itself on the most unlikely occasions, which hardly qualify as performance at all. I remember being at a fancy dress party, not all that many years ago, where the theme was mythical beasts (I came as a Mongolian Death Worm, which mainly involved wearing a sleeping bag). The host of the party invited us in turn to pull our most ghastly faces to the group and, unnecessarily embarrassed, I refused.

Doing a speech at my wedding did improve my performance confidence levels a bit. I woke up very early on the morning in question so had plenty of time to practice. Plus, I was in a room full of people who only wished me well. So, I think that one went ok. I made lots of people cry at least, which is surely what it’s all about. Becoming a parent though, is what has truly made me a performer, because as a parent to a small child you don’t have much choice. Whatever works to cheer them up, you will do, whether it’s songs, stories or silly dances. At parent and baby groups, there’s all these things and more. I can’t imagine many other situations where I would sing and dance in front of that many other people without alcohol being involved, but as everyone else in the room is in the same situation you end up throwing yourself into with gusto. I do at least, some parents still look pretty embarrassed by the whole business.

So, whilst if anyone else demanded I sing a song on demand, I would surely still refuse (Karaoke is still my idea of hell), but if my two year old daughter does I can hardly refuse, nor would I want to. She has also started asking me to make up stories on the spot, or at least handing me a blank pad of paper and saying “read me a story” which amounts to the same thing. This doesn’t come naturally to me so I usually turn to music for inspiration. When I did creative writing in school and had to think up the name for a character it would usually be somehow related to one of my favourite bands, and things are no different now.

The first time my daughter asked me to make up a story on the spot, my thought process went something like “What do kids’ like? Animals? Birds? How about a heron? And the heron of course must be named Gil Scott after the great black poet, writer and musician Gil-Scott Heron” And so the tale began of Gil Scott the Heron and his riverside friends. I decided not to base the story on Gil Scott-Heron’s own novels though. Having read ‘The N*gger Factory’ not so long ago, I’m not sure it would be that appropriate for a two year old. Although who can say when it is too early to introduce your children to 1970s racial politics?

Subsequent stories have had similar inspirations. My personal favourite was the story of four music-playing pixies named Frank, Kim, David and Joey. Of course, Frank and Kim fell out for a long time, but they made friends again eventually and lived happily ever after. I left out the bit where they fall out again and Kim is replaced by a superficially similar pixie, but it doesn’t feel quite the same.

The possibilities of musical inspiration for children’s stories is almost endless. I’m sure I could make up a decent tale about a Starman waiting in the sky. Or one about a laid back dog called Snoop. Or Maggie’s Farm where all the animals have a lovely time (admittedly this might go against the spirit of Dylan’s song a little). It would be nice to think that, if my daughter takes an interest in music when she’s older, she may realise where the inspiration for these tales came from.

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