Tonight when Axel Hirsoux takes the stage for the first semi-final, his mother will be watching. But she won’t be the only person biting her nails. Ashley Hicklin, the songwriter behind “Mother”, will also be tuning in. He recently caught up with Wiwi to discuss why Axel was the perfect man for the song, the Belgian Eurosong final, and his success with Belgium’s 2010 entry “Me and My Guitar”
How did you approach “Mother”?
The process for this song was very different to my normal approach. Normally I sit with the artist and we throw out ideas together. I try to help the artists find their voice through melodies and chords, it’s my perfect job. But for this song, Axel’s team contacted me and said – “we have a demo idea that we like, but need some help with the lyrics and melodies”. So we threw some ideas around via email and came up with this song that fits Axel perfectly. The song is about thanking the main lady in Axel’s life, his Mother.
You had two songs in the Belgian final, but only one could go to Eurovision. What is that like for you as a songwriter, having to watch one of your kids eat the other one?
Haha! Yes I was very lucky this year, and a lot of my songwriter friends also had songs in the Belgium pre-selection. So it was certainly mixed emotions! Of course I was ecstatic that we won with Axel, there was a chicken dance and a few beers. But at the same I felt for the other contestants that I and my songwriter friends had written songs for… It’s everyone’s dream, but unfortunately not everyone can go to Eurovision.
Why do you think voters responded so well to “Mother”?
I think it’s a package thing, Axel’s amazing voice, his super nice character, the song, the team around the song… Essentially though, I guess everyone has a Mother, so it’s a universal theme.
If I understand correctly, VRT assigned songs to the artists. Were you pleased when you learned that Axel would be singing your number?
I knew of Axel before the Eurovision pre-selection – he was on The voice of Belgium and I thought he was amazing. It was an honour for me when his team contacted me about working on a track for him.
Back in 2010 your song ‘Me and My Guitar’ came sixth at Eurovision and won its semi-final. Were you expecting that kind of success?
To be honest, I had no idea it would make such waves. People still seem to remember that song a few years later so I’m really glad it’s stayed in people’s head and hearts.
Did that success open any new doors for you or create any new opportunities?
For sure, I mean in the songwriter world people often judge you on your hits, and this one was quite a big hit in many countries – so it definitely helped…
There is some major variety at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Have you listened to any of the other songs, and are there any that you, as a songwriter, admire or respect?
For comedy value I think the French entry is a good giggle. Not the finest songwriting but certainly entertaining.
Finally, you are British but your song is representing Belgium and you live in Germany. Can you give us a quick rundown of how you ended up away from home and how you established your connections in Belgium?
I guess my story is a little cosmopolitan! I moved to Hamburg 4 years ago, to escape the stress and mayhem of London. In retrospect it worked out pretty well – in London it’s easy to get lost in the rat-race, but in Hamburg I’m the only English kid in town doing lyrics and melodies. So I get a bit more attention here. Somehow the Belgium people seem to get my vibe I guess, I have a lot of friends there in the music world so I spend quite a lot of time there. It’s almost a second home to me…