In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy interview multi-award-winning singer songwriter Colin Buchanan, well-known for his hilarious children’s songs and country music. Colin shares his discoveries about navigating the insecurities of a creative career, and how to write fun and kooky material while also being soberminded with God’s truth.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
- Colin Buchanan, multi-award-winning children’s singer/songwriter
Topics covered in this episode:
- Finding sparks of inspiration in the beauty of creation and in the middle of life’s daily pressures.
- How Colin’s early mentors helped him grasp the gravity of attempting to shape the truth of the Bible into creative lyrics.
- Breaking the ‘formula’ and writing what YOU are called to write.
More about Colin: www.colinbuchanan.com.au
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Hit subscribe on your favourite podcast player so you never miss an episode and find show notes, useful links and a full transcript at gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, we welcome Christian singer/songwriter Colin Buchanan.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood teacher. I have four adult children and I write under the name Alison Joy and you can find all my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy and for the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to underpin my preaching and speaking and more recently to inspire my young adult urban fantasy series, Armour of Light. You can find out all about me, that and all my other projects at donitabundy.com.
Alison Joy: Well, we’re all excited to welcome former schoolteacher, Colin Buchanan, who has a prestigious career as a multi-award-winning country music singer/songwriter and he’s been penning songs with some of the best in the business here in Australia. He was a presenter on the much-loved children’s show, Play School and was well known for his uproariously funny kid’s songs.
As Australia’s most successful Christian recording artist, he has a range of material which includes his AUSSIE PRAISE for Kids albums. He has DVD’s and several children’s books to his credit. His cheeky sense of humour has wide appeal to both young and old and he’s a regular panellist on ABC Radio, Thank God It’s Friday!
Married to Robyn, they have four young-adult children and we’d just like to say, “Hey, welcome Colin. Thank you so much for your time!”
Colin Buchanan: Thank you so much all three of you and unfortunately that’s all we have time for on this podcast! So, thank you all so much for joining us and we’ll see you next time!
Donita Bundy: Not quite yet! Not quite yet!
Colin Buchanan: Silly me!
Donita Bundy: Before we get into the immediate questions, we wanted to subject you to our rapid-fire five. Are you ready?
Colin Buchanan: Standing by.
Donita Bundy: Okay. Who is your favourite target audience?
Colin Buchanan: I’d have to say children.
Donita Bundy: Yep.
Colin Buchanan: Because they’re so delightful. Is ‘why’ the second rapid-fire?
Donita Bundy: No. Nope. You can insert why here.
Colin Buchanan: Well, I just don’t want to go on for too long. I already have by starting to clarify the question which is destroying the rapid-fireness of the rapid-fire five.
Donita Bundy: It’s just five now.
Colin Buchanan: Five! So, number 1, part (a), children. Part (b) of number 1, because they’re just so full of the moment. And so, if you can find the moment and enjoy the moment, it’s kids that are just going to engage with that so beautifully.
Donita Bundy: Yep. Cool! What is your favourite genre to write?
Colin Buchanan: I’m going to cheat and say lyrics. A genre that allows the power of lyric to capture imagination and whether that does that by stories or by painting pictures in the mind or by taking ideas and shaping them into something that is something fresh in the mind. So, I just love the power of lyric wrapped around song to really capture imagination. So, I’ve cheated on number two!
Donita Bundy: Well done. Okay. Number three then, when is your optimum time for writing?
Colin Buchanan: When I’m inspired! I used to think that it was lightning strike and it still is to some degree. I discovered at another point which we might probe later that I was actually able to circle a time in the calendar and write and I didn’t think that was how writing worked.
But my favourite time to write is not so much a time of day although if I had to choose one, I’d say mornings. But I would say it’s when the moment strikes. When my kids were little in the bath and my wife would wonder where’s he gone and that would be because I was writing a song. Yes.
Donita Bundy: Okay. And what about your favourite place to write? Do you have a specific place you go to or you enjoy the most to write?
Colin Buchanan: It’s really interesting how writing creates a place out of a place. It’s just quite interesting in that regard that if you get lost in a song, the most seemingly chaotic place, say in the middle of the house while dinner’s burning and kids are sort of going hither and yon and there’s lots of other things happening, can somehow just disappear into a really great creative space because of the joy of creativity.
But, by the same token, a quiet place if I could engineer it, I do like a quiet place because it’s just amazing how writing can burn hours for seemingly not a lot of output.
Donita Bundy: Okay. And how did you get into songwriting?
Colin Buchanan: If I was a mountaineer, you would be asking me, “Why did I climb the mountain?” and you all know what I’d say.
Belinda Pollard: Because it was there!
Donita Bundy: Because it’s there!
Colin Buchanan: Exactly! And there’s something about writing that once you start writing you realise it’s there or it’s not there yet but it could be there if you wrote it! And that’s a delicious, that’s a really joyful wonderful thing to be able to do that and to enjoy that.
Alison Joy: When did you discover that you had a talent or two or three for songwriting?
Colin Buchanan: My favourite subject at school was creative writing. That doesn’t tend to happen so much nowadays. I don’t know. I know when my kids were little it was all text type. So, they had to write a procedural text type or they had to write narrative or a recount and I used to love that they’d just bring a pot plant and say, “Write a story about that.”
Or it was a rainy day and they’d say, “Okay everyone.” The teacher would write, The Rainy Day, on the blackboard and I loved that. I loved the possibilities that creativity affords. I wouldn’t say that I’m massively talented. It’s not like the teachers were blown away by my stories but I did love the way words fit together.
One of the things that is key in just about any pursuit but in creative pursuit is that you get a lot of joy from the creative expression and if you get the joy, there’s a good chance that you have a gift in that. Perhaps the gift is there for you or for a small audience or perhaps the gift is there for a bigger audience but it’s quite rare that someone would not have the joy and have a huge audience though.
Alison Joy: So, do you actually have a musical background? Were you a kid who was always making up songs?
Colin Buchanan: I was making up songs but I wouldn’t say I had a musical background. My parents didn’t send me to piano lessons. Dad came home with a – in fact, just back here is a little ukulele hanging on the wall and dad came home with a ukulele when we were kids and I’m not quite sure, to this day, why and the E-Z or Easy Ukulele book and we thought, “So, if you… (singing) ‘My wife and I live all alone in a little log hut we called our own.’” We all play Little Brown Jug. A miracle of miracles. And that was about as musical as it got in our home.
Dad always loved singing and there was a reasonable record collection but that record collection was predominantly classical with a few folk albums thrown in there. I used to walk around the backyard making up songs and not songs that I wrote down. Just turning the day into something musical just out of instinct and imagination and that was just a really fun thing to do.
So, it really wasn’t until I got into church, Sunday School, where music sort of bolts itself onto a lot of the things that happen there. Yes. People playing guitar. That became the conduit into music for me and to songwriting, actually.
Belinda Pollard: Was it a Christian family that you grew up in?
Colin Buchanan: We were a church-going family. Yes, you would say it was a Christian family. That’s interesting because that question… As an upfront Evangelical I’ve raised my family to understand our Christian faith as something that really is integrated into the breath of our lives and we read the Bible at dinnertime often together and we pray every night and we attend church regularly. Whereas my family more manifested itself in morality and church attendance and faith for my parents, I think, was a more personal thing and so that made it a bit ambiguous to me especially as I discovered a more Evangelical faith which reveals itself more readily, I suppose. It’s sort of in the DNA. From my earliest memories, church has been part of it.
Alison Joy: So, you started writing kid’s songs when you were teaching; is that right?
Colin Buchanan: I started writing songs I’d like to say for church and Sunday School. The one exception to that was the song about Shorty’s Dry Cleaners which you probably don’t know which I wrote on the ukulele, brought it in to Shorty and to Carol and to Baz, the presser and I said, “I’ve written a song I’ve recorded on cassette,” and played it to them. And I’ll never forget Barry’s words as the last chord rang out and he said, “I couldn’t really understand the words!”
But the thing that I had done was that I’d had an experience, there were people there and I put them into a song. It wasn’t a very good song, at all, but I would have been 16, I suppose. But then I found that at church there were a lot of simple songs that had truths in them and especially memory verses. We found actually putting some music around memory verses was a really useful way to help teach memory verses in Sunday School.
So, I think that was probably the conduit into creating, starting to discover songwriting in that sort of setting.
Alison Joy: So, you obviously enjoy storytelling through your songs and you’ve met some amazing characters along the way judging by some of the songs you’ve written. What does your writing process look like? Is it different depending on if you’re writing country songs, you’re writing kid’s memory verses? How does it work for you?
Colin Buchanan: Yes. The spark is really important; the spark of inspiration. So, in a memory verse the momentum of that might come from, “Wow, this is a really vital verse.” Or in the early days it might have been, “I’ve got a class at the Christian school and we’ve got to learn this memory verse and even I can’t remember it so music might help us!” And the spark’s born out of necessity in that regard.
I’ve found that it’s sort of instinctive. I’ve got a pretty good radar for what’s going on around me and that radar when something ‘blips’ and you think, “Wow, that’s really quite powerful.” That can sort of be the spark for writing.
When my wife and I moved to Bourke in western New South Wales from Sydney, suddenly we’re in the outback living in a caravan in a Christian community, I found that there was just so many new things around me so I was writing songs about the road and the show and the mud and the galahs in the Gidgee and the mountain on the horizon and the sunsets and the sheep kills and the people who I was meeting. It was a case of just try and stop me. But I think the spark was, “Wow! These things are significant.”
Look, I wrote a song the other day after I sold my old desk on Gumtree and I took it to just a local person who bought it. It was on the community noticeboard and out came an elderly couple who were the parents of the woman who bought the desk and we just got chatting together. It was a really nice chat and found that they lived near where I grew up in Sydney. In the course of the conversation, I noticed that in a very gentle way that the husband took the front foot and the wife was just back a little bit. And at one stage, they’d recently moved house and she said to him, “Where do we live again?” And a few questions like that made me realise this husband was just beautifully, tenderly buttressing this decaying memory that his wife had. That was a really beautiful picture so I like the thought of where I discovered that and how that happened.
The song starts, “Sold a desk on Gumtree.” It finds its way into that. It’s a song about love and grace between a couple living with dementia but it doesn’t mention dementia. So, those things happen and my response tends to be creative. Not always.
So be careful. You might end up in a song!
Alison Joy: We’ll be waiting for the song about this!
Belinda Pollard: Yes. I think you’ve got us all a little bit emotional now from that.
Colin Buchanan: We’ve got to take a breath. That’s what’s happening around us.
When I lived in Granville, in the Central West, that was the second year out in the bush and another just quite different small-town experience. We’d been suburban. And I wrote a song about the Debutante’s Ball which was just a bit of a sendup really of the ball but it all sort of happened. You could see it in your mind as I sang the song. It was this mix of farcical formality and everyone knew that. And I sang it at a men’s dinner and I wasn’t sure whether I needed the Blues Brother’s chicken wire up in front of me, whether or not they’d say, “You watch it. My daughter was at that. She was beautiful. What do you say!”
And at the end, Mr Murray came up to me and he said, “That song you sang about the Debutante’s Ball.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “We do some funny things, don’t we?” And I think that songs are pastoral. They don’t have to rip your heart out.
Think of James Taylor. I’m a big James Taylor fan and say, Sweet Baby James. It’s just a song about nourishing loneliness and something about expanse. There’s something beautiful in that song. It doesn’t rip your heart out but it makes you feel something and sparks the imagination. There’s just this truth in there.
You don’t always know that you’re doing it creatively, do you?
Belinda Pollard: Words are powerful, aren’t they?
Colin Buchanan: They are powerful. You think, there’s only 26 letters and it’s just amazing how they fit together; isn’t it?
Belinda Pollard: I find it interesting, too, that God creates by a Word in Genesis 1 and in John, “In the beginning was the Word.” God identifies himself as communication.
Donita Bundy: And teaches through story.
Colin Buchanan: That’s right. And if you think of it, the scriptures are so full of, dare I say it, many different text types and just incredible beauty of poetry or just potency of words, explosive moments of words. Or Jesus’ parables where they’re just incredible, beautiful, simple directness. It’s got the power of divine authorship and inspiration behind it and it’s also got the power of simplicity and we’re still marvelling at those words thousands of years later.
Alison Joy: So, Colin, my husband said he heard you describe yourself as a troubadour. What does that mean?
Colin Buchanan: I was probably searching for a fresh word for singer/songwriter! It sounds like I should have some sort of special costume on, doesn’t it?
Belinda Pollard: Well, you’ve got the ukulele!
Colin Buchanan: That’s right. I’ve got that standing by. Vagabond is another word I like, as well. It doesn’t have the creative element to it but it just interests me.
Last night, my wife, we were just going to go to bed and she said, “I’m watching one more of the British Sewing Bee,” or whatever it’s called. And I said, “Aargh!” And then next thing you know I’m sitting down and I’m starting to get invested in pintucks and bodices and necklines! And I said to Robyn, “These people are cutting out pieces,” and there were patterns on this fabric and they had to make it all line up and I said, “It just boggles the mind that people can do this. It’s just so complex.”
So, it’s really interesting to find your way into something that just fits but also, I’ve sort of done the same thing with my guitar in a way where I just sort of fit things together and that’s where vagabond probably more than troubadour. I image troubadour is a little more polished so maybe it’s not the best word!
It’s a simple blank sheet of paper and a pen and a guitar are interesting tools of the trade to stand at 57 years old and say, “Actually, that’s kept me alive. It’s paid the bills for a long time. It’s a great job.”
In music, you can think, “Will I be able to keep going? What happens next? How secure is this?” So, it’s just interesting to think, “Oh, three decades have just flown by!”
Belinda Pollard: One insecure year at a time!
Colin Buchanan: That’s right! And ‘don’t look down’ is my advice.
Alison Joy: So, did you have a fallback in case it never worked out?
Colin Buchanan: Maybe it’s a little bit like getting in your rowboat and you look back at the shore and you think, “Yeah, I could swim that. We’ll go a bit further!”
I trained as a teacher but I think teaching is a long way back in terms of classroom teacher and a lot has changed too.
Belinda Pollard: How did you move from being a teacher to having a children’s album? What was the progression?
Colin Buchanan: I get reminded semi-regularly, by adults, of my first children’s album, I Want My Mummy. I recorded that for ABC and interestingly a lot of those songs are written in the classroom and they were kooky songs inspired by either what was happening in the classroom or some of the subject matter.
So, I Want My Mummy was inspired by Egyptian mummification Year 3 was studying at one point, which I felt was a macabre and gruesome thing to be studying and thought it deserved to be sent-up and put in a song. It became a great assembly item only weeks later!
Or it’s raining at school today and the kids are just all hanging off the fans! So, interestingly, music was a big part of my teaching. By that stage I was doing part-time music teaching. The world’s first music teacher who couldn’t read music! Shh!
So, I was writing songs and they became part of an album when I’d just started doing Play School and ABC music. I’d already been recording country music and then they said, “You should make a children’s album since you’re doing Play School,” thinking I would basically replicate early Wiggles and we’d get a few suited characters and use the ‘formula’. I didn’t do that. I made this piece of lunacy that I think they just didn’t know what to do with and all these years later I’ve got friends who say, “We reckon that’s your best album you’ve ever made!”
Belinda Pollard: Just for our listeners in the US, the ABC is an Australian broadcaster which is funded by the government as opposed to the ABC that you might be used to in the US.
Colin Buchanan: So, music and teaching overlapped a lot there. My kids Christian music was just an overlap of teaching Sunday School and Youth Group, as well, and just enjoying the process of combining, essentially doing the same thing but taking Bible truth and thinking, “How does that shape itself into song?” and with all the dynamics that go with that.
It’s really important when you reshape the Bible somehow, whether you’re a preacher or a teacher or a songwriter, there’s a gravity to that. You’ve got to be careful that you don’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse! And that you don’t mislead people or lose your way, and many have. And it’s very easy because aesthetics push you potentially in one direction and you’ve got to make sure that the truth is guiding that process, as well. That those two are in harmony.
Donita Bundy: Obviously you have joy that just pours out of you, not just in this interview but with your music, with everything that we know of you and you do have an incredible audience appeal. We know that kids who grow up are still very much connected to you and your music. Have you ever had those times when kids will come up to you and just really share what your music has done for them? Have you seen the impact on your audience in a personal way?
Colin Buchanan: I can spend a long time after concerts talking to people. Entirely not my fault! I’d barely say a thing as you can tell! It would be all these other talkative types who line up! But we have some great interaction after concerts and I think of one boy who would have been maybe Year 5 or 6 and I don’t know why I particularly remember this. It maybe happened three or four years ago and it was after a concert and I was signing something for him and he said to me, “I really like your songs.” And I said, “Thanks so much,” and he said, “No. I really like them.”
He wanted me to know that they meant more to him than ‘I like chocolate’. And that was after a Christian concert.
Right from the start, I’m really grateful back in my teenage years that when I was starting to write songs for church and Sunday School, I had some great friends who were training us to think about how we were teaching and to take a really soberminded, substantial approach to Sunday School teaching. And it might be that you create a crazy collage or that there’s a drama or there’s music or there’s colour and fun.
So, it didn’t mean that it was a very drab sort of Victorian chalk-and-talk type exercise but just to be soberminded about the truth. And I think that’s where it’s really satisfying that songs have been able to go out there. It’s more than satisfying. It’s part of what you hope the music will do. That it will have a substantial, lasting, truthful impact and if God’s Word is in there, then He’ll be about His good work through those things.
When I was in Canberra doing a gig one time, one of the helpers, so, a young-adult woman, had gone to the school that the concert was being held in and at the end of the concert when we were just about to go and she said, “You know, I just wanted to say thank you for the songs.” She said, “Strong and Courageous, that song of yours, I had a hard time in the middle of high school and I’d go behind that building over there, there’s a little spot where you can hide away from all the other kids. I used to just go there and sing that song on my own. I’d often be in tears there and that would be the song I’d sing.”
And I’d think, “Wow! There’s no child-sized faith and adult-sized faith, is there? It’s just faith in God and Jesus commends children for their faith.” That’s the real thing happening really, isn’t it?
Donita Bundy: Yes. It’s powerful.
Colin Buchanan: Yes. It’s beautiful. It’s a privilege to hear those stories and it’s a privilege to have had a part to play somehow in that sort of story.
Donita Bundy: Well, thank you so much for your time this morning and coming to meet with us and share your experiences and your knowledge and just part of your incredible, joyous personality. We thank you and it’s been a real joy to have you. Thank you.
Belinda Pollard: Yes. Thank you, Colin Buchanan. You have contributed so many ideas and so much inspiration, I think.
How about we pray for you before we finish.
Heavenly Father, we thank you, for all that you have done in Colin’s life, even going right back to when his father accidently brought a ukulele home. To all the different things where you have been involved over years and decades and speaking to so many different people through those words. So many words that Colin has put out there and without having a clue where they would go or who would hear them or what difference it could make like that young girl behind the building, singing Strong and Courageous.
So, we thank you, Lord. We thank you for these possibilities that you will use our words no matter how faltering and no matter how lacking in confidence we might be at some times. We thank you that we believe in a big God who can do amazing things with our small things. And we commit Colin and all of the Gracewriters to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Colin Buchanan, thank you so much. Alison Joy and Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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