Skip to content

Posts from the ‘creation’ Category

Tax Return: A Spiritual Guide

Business description:

This is my favourite part, every year!

There is a limit of 42 characters.

Describe the indefensibly chaotic way you have chosen to just about survive in this world, in 42 characters…

“Pain causes art which sometimes pays bills”

“Waiting tables while dreaming of big break”

“Watching all my illusions slowly crumble”

It’s a fun game! HMRC is helping me to lighten up and enjoy life. At the same time sharpening my mental agility and integrating my heart and mind.

And not only that, it’s a profoundly spiritual exercise.

Enforced brevity is making me think long and hard about what it is I’m doing with my time.

This year I am going to come up with something really blinding and succinct that I can also use to describe myself to people at parties.

I find myself fantasising about a recognisable job title that does not provoke further questioning.

Ah the misty-eyed myth of the artist – so lucky to be doing what they love all day every day and making millions from it

Oh the dreamlife of waking at midday, lounging in cafés, sauntering round art galleries soaking up inspiration, occasionally injecting heroin into one’s eyeballs

HMRC tolerates no such frivolity!
Self-employment is a serious business. A sobering term that suggests responsibility, stability and independence.

Self-assessment is the annual retreat of the self-employed. A time for inner reflection. What’s working? What’s bringing me down? What’s totally bankrupting me?

Of course if one were to get into a true assessment of self, the ultimate end point would be utter dissolution into complete space and openness.

Only it’s hard to convey that to the tax authorities. In 42 characters. But I’m game for a try.

Describe your business:

Birth, something something something Death

Gaily wasting time in blizzard of eternity

Living, loving, learning, longing, losing.

 

Abraham Cruzvillegas’s installation at the Tate Modern – as a self-employed person I could literally stand and stare at this all day.

Abraham Cruzvillegas’s installation at the Tate Modern – as a self-employed person I could literally stand and stare at this all day.

Remembering Raphael Jago: Giving up on giving up

Whenever I dream of Raphael Jago, I know it’s about not giving up. In the sense of not giving up on myself. Mr Jago was one of those people that cut through my bullshit in a really healthy and jovial way. The first time I met him was my first audition at Webber Douglas. All the other auditions I had were pretty standard but this one stood out. It was about waking me up. He re-directed my piece right there in the audition. He called me out on a couple of my tricks. He got me to address the panel directly, as if it was actually happening now. Which it turned out, it was. I left that church feeling exhilarated, like I’d just been run over by a truck, creatively speaking. I loved it.

I was put on the waiting list for a place at the school. Group sizes were small, competition was fierce. I decided to pay him a visit to try and convince him so I took a train to London from Leeds where I was living at the time, and I went to the school unannounced and met him on the stairs. It was a true meeting. He seemed amused and impressed by my nerve. He gave an enigmatic answer with that mischievous smile of his. I knew we had connected.

During my time at Webber Douglas my relationship with authority was, as it very often is, somewhat rocky. Whevever I go, I seem to feel the need to shake things up, to question the way things are run, to point out injustice, to campaign against complacency. It’s not an easy path in life. There were times when we disagreed. But Mr Jago was someone in a position of authority who seemed to admire this spirit in me and in others. I felt he had a talent of really seeing the essence of each person and their potential.

I felt he saw my potential, in a way that I could not at the time. He saw what was unique about me, and he saw the challenges it presented in terms of the industry. He gave me an opportunity to try out for a big scholarship, massive panel audition, terrifying ordeal. We had extra classes together, he reflected on the unique set of qualities I had, that was nevertheless difficult to pin down in terms of casting. When it came to the crunch I crumbled under the pressure. Nerves, clinging, hope and fear – I am frequently crippled by nerves as it turns out. Perhaps this is exactly why I have chosen – or been drawn into – a life of performance. It is where I learn. It is where I burn up ego like a moth in a candle. It is where I die and am reborn in every adrenalin-fuelled moment.

Two days ago I attended a memorial service for Raphael Jago at the Actors Church in Covent Garden. A church full of former students, all with their own story to tell about this legendary man and what he had meant to their career. Music, words, contemplation and much Anthony Sher, Samantha Spiro, Julian Fellowes, Terence Stamp, Steven Berkoff, Hilary Wood, Alexa Jago and more wonderful people paid touching tribute, through performance or personal recollection. I had not up to this point known that Arthur Miller had been Mr Jago’s favourite playwright. I had always been obsessed with Miller and had written my university dissertation on his plays, which I knew backwards. Death of a Salesman, quoted so movingly by Alexa Jago, was a particular favourite. I often think of Willy Loman’s line, ‘I still feel – kind of temporary about myself’ as a heart-breakingly poetic expression of the experience of living.

What thrilled me most was realising that my experience of Mr Jago had been so similar to that of many others just like me. I felt joyful to reminisce over my time at Webber Douglas, to hear the stories of others, to be part of that blessed tribe. I saw my teachers again with renewed gratitude and love. It wasn’t always easy of course. Nothing in this profession, or indeed in this life, is without challenges. But to know that I belonged to an institution, or rather a community that fostered such a creative and anarchic spirit fills me with inspiration to go on, and never to give up on myself.

January Musings

National Rail succinctly sums up the flavour of the season:

IMG_2968

I like walking on the dark windy common with its mystical pop-up lakes:

IMG_3016

Apparently a tree IS just for Christmas – heartbreaking scenes:

IMG_2998

IMG_3005

IMG_2983

Some little boys that I love, and a lion:

IMG_2954

Frosty Buddha/Icy Sky

IMG_2915

IMG_2938

If you look closely, you’ll see that this bird is actually sort of skating…

IMG_2930

Some thoughts:

1. Never underestimate how much space it takes to create anything

2. Rest is a real activity

3. Always take your warmest coat

4. Try not to get trapped underneath something, especially ice

IMG_2923

Giving Birth to Album No. 2

What the hell do I know about giving birth eh? I don’t even have any babies to show for it. Well if you do not like metaphors, stop reading now because the entire premise of this blog post is based on one.

And at the same time it’s not a metaphor at all. Giving birth in an actual sense is the ultimate creative act. There’s you, and then there’s all this other stuff that’s involved – genetics, DNA, environment, karma, and all of that belonging to the other person too.

Similarly when I make a song it’s coming through me but it’s not completely made of me. I’m a conduit (I like this word.) And when I make a whole album of songs, that’s a bit like conceiving and giving birth to duedecuplets. (I had to look this up, and there is not an official word because 10 is the greatest number of babies on record.)

Imagine then, if the passage from conception to birth were impeded by financial constraints, band breakups, vocal complaints, general confusion, tangential creations of other albums, tours, and the like. Imagine if your twelve babies got stuck in your womb while you waddled around pregnantly creating a whole bunch of other stuff. Would that be comfortable? I don’t think so.

What if, waiting in line behind these overdue babies was a whole other set of twelve in various stages of development. What if they started to overtake the older ones. Would there be a struggle? Who would win?

Apparently some of the pain of childbirth derives from the difficulty of the mother’s body in letting go. It’s hard to let go of your creation because how do you know when it’s ready? In the case of childbirth, nature wades in and makes that choice on the whole. In the case of an album you’re on your own. You could keep on tweaking ad infinitum. Is it ever going to be the shining masterpiece you hoped it would be?

I’m going to let go of album number 2 now. It has been an epic journey and I am grateful to those faithful people who have helped by contributing their time, energy and creativity. I can wholeheartedly say that I’m proud of it and I did my best at every step of the way.

There are even some bits that I like.

Open Heart Circus will be on sale Thursday 27th November. Come to the FREE launch gig at The Bedford Pub in Balham the same day at 8pm. Limited Edition CDs will be available.

https://www.facebook.com/events/878538085492152/

Light and Puddles

It is such a privilege to make music in this world, but please, never assume that it is easy. The challenges, disappointments, stresses and sensitivities involved in creating something I can be proud of are continually taking me ever closer to breaking point. But what I realise now is that breaking point moves a little further away each time as I progress, make mistakes, learn to forgive myself for them and carry on.

The level of sensitivity required to feel and express what I experience of this world in my own unique way can rub uncomfortably against the financial and worldly realities of making a record or a tour, of working under pressure of time, in conditions that are far from ideal, of getting on with others and keeping connection in performance despite external and internal anxieties.

I wanted to say this because I know that social networks are a place where you share all the good stuff that shows how well you’re doing so people can like it and be a part of your success. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but it is imbalanced and symptomatic of our culture’s insistence on denying that the painful, difficult, ugly aspects of life are inevitable and pretending that the right elixir is out there for your particular brand of suffering if you are willing to search and spend enough.

People often laugh at me for focusing on suffering or the darker side of existence, they say I’m negative or a perfectionist or perhaps I should just relax and be happy. Yes worrying is fruitless, yes we should all relax and be happy, but until you look into what’s making you miserable how are you going to let it go?

Contentment, I have found, is a live process, not an achievement.  The kind of happiness that is gained from ignoring suffering is of little interest to me, although of course I continue to be dazzled by its promising sheen on a regular basis.

For me it is laughable that the possibility of happiness could exist without acknowledging the existence of suffering, the suffering that goes on at a low level in all of us all the time. Embarking on a creative project is like turning up the heat on that suffering to maximum and watching myself burn. And yet that is what I do with my life energy and that is how I spend my time and money.

Maybe that makes me a masochist or simply an artist, but I think all I am really trying to do is get close to truth of things as they are because I believe that is how real relaxation is found, not by switching off or hoping for the best when things are clearly not going well.

Failure is such a dirty word. I’m terrified of it myself. It’s like I’m running a race, I’m the only entrant, and I’m also the judge who sets impossible obstacles and keeps moving the finish line, all the while providing a running commentary on what a disappointing performance this is and how we had hoped for better.

I’ve been reading a book called ‘Tuesdays with Morrie,’ leant to me by a good friend. It was just what I needed. How would we live differently if we knew we were nearing the end of our lives? We can all roll our eyes at that old cliche or we could contemplate it every day and see what changes. Revisiting the wonderful ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ recently after the tragic death of Robin Williams, I was reminded of this great teacher’s lesson to his students, considering the students of the past, whispering ‘Carpe Diem’ as an inspiration.

As Morrie says, echoing the Buddha Dharma, death is necessary for new life to take place. Death of a dream, an idea, a fantasy, a relationship, these are all painful but inevitable stages in any journey of the life of a human being or an artistic endeavour. Do we dare to look directly at our experience in all its excruciating detail? This is where the jewels are, the lessons that soften us and keep us moving forward.

One thing I will say for myself, is that while I really know how to suffer, I also really know how to have a good time. It’s not a coincidence. Those (including myself) who think they can have sparkly magnetic liberated dancing Annalie without dark brooding volatile chaotic Annalie are gonna be disappointed in the long run.  Maybe it’s even better this way. The light reflected in the puddles has a beauty of its own.

Istanbul to Kiev and beyond

Every time I go on retreat things fall apart a bit more. This is said to be a good thing, although at the time it feels excruciating. The layers continue to peel off and the same questions percolate: what am I doing? where am I heading? what’s behind everything I do? My latest realisation is that what is behind everything I do is love. And what confuses this is fear. When I am connected to myself, my work and my life and the way I manifest in the world become an expression of love.

That’s a good start but it’s hard to pin down what it means exactly. It’s even harder to marry it up with the often painful, frustrating and lonely path of an artist. I have been thinking more and more about the value of what I create and where it fits into this impossibly diverse and hectic kaleidoscope of a planet we share. One piece of work I am really proud of is a song that I wrote last year for the Wilding Festival, called ‘We Will Be Heard.’ I really struggled with this song. I wrote at least seven versions before I came up with this one.

The inspiration that was guiding me at the time was the protests that were going on in Turkey surrounding the prospective demolition of Gezi Park. I was moved and impressed by the way people came together to stand up for themselves and their community. I felt that there was clear evidence of a common human spirit that when ignited will stand against corruptive forces.

There are many other examples of this, before and since. The crisis in Ukraine is now in its third month, and since November has involved many instances of violence by police against peaceful protesters. It’s a complex situation and not one that I intend to attempt to elucidate here, although I have found this article particularly helpful in understanding its genesis. Most recently people kicked back against an anti-protest law which was set to restrict freedom of speech and action against the government.

I am certainly no expert on politics and do not consider myself a political songwriter. If I could offer anything at all to people in times of struggle I would want it to be hope, strength and inspiration to continue manifesting with dignity the basic goodness of humanity. If Nelson Mandela taught us anything then surely it is that.

The song I wrote inspired a close friend of mine to create a video out of a wide range of footage documenting similar protests in Brazil, Turkey, USA and beyond. I was touched to receive messages of thanks and solidarity from people all over the world who had been inspired by this. At the time of producing the song I was entering a period of extreme chaos in my own personal life, which made it difficult for me to do much more than upload it to youtube and watch the view count. My intention for this year however is to give the song a further life and I am now looking for a charity with whom to collaborate on its release.

Bog-handling, and other end of year musings

This Winter I have walked through many bogs. Some I entered deliberately, others I just sort of ended up in. Today I went for a walk to wash my boots in the stream and on the way back found myself in yet another bog. This led me to contemplate a few bog-related matters.

1)   There will always be another bog. It is fruitless to hanker after a bogless reality.

2)   I do not especially mind whether I am in a bog or not. Some people are having the time of their lives in bogs. It really doesn’t matter.

3)   The word ‘bog’ is pleasingly simple and direct. Everyone knows what a bog is. A bog is not trying to be anything other than itself.

4)   Bogs don’t last forever.

5)   Nobody is going to save you from the bog. I realise now that many of the songs I have written up until now have actually been about bogs. For example the song ‘Save Me,’ on my EP released earlier this year: heavy mental boggery. ‘Skin,’ also on the EP: all bogs are subject to change.

On the way home I noticed I had also been formulating some new year’s resolutions, inspired in part by the National Federation of Fish Friers. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. walk up more hills in the rain
  2. create things just for fun
  3. stop giving up being an actor
  4. cultivate camaraderie

    “Bringing the fish and chip industry together since 1913”

  5. come up with a good way to describe your music to people at parties
  6. stop worrying about how to describe your music to people at parties
  7. stop lamenting the fact that you are a crazy perfectionist and find a manager who is able to handle your turbulent genius
  8. love and be loved, make love, give love
  9. dance more
  10. expect less

Happy new year everyone

X

Snow

I am up to something in Poland, it’s true. Things are going on there. I can’t say what yet exactly, but I can share this – a new song and a video, called ‘Snow.’ The song was recorded partly in London and partly in Psychosound Studios, Krakow. It’s not for release, it’s still an early version of the song, and I love it for its energy and freshness. The best time to record a song is always now, and both the piano and vocals and the drums in this version were recorded at the moment of their conception.

The video was made later, on a trip to Jaworze, a village in the Beskida mountains of Southern Poland. We were somewhat exhausted after a week in the studio and had no intention of shooting a music video – but then we were not expecting the impressive snowfall that Jaworze had in store for us. It was too good to resist! So here it is – written in London in snowy January – filmed in Poland in snowy April – enjoy!

Snow

Little signs of life come from the ground
It’s so peaceful and calm
Weatherman says it’s gonna be a cold front
We should stay home till it’s done

But it only snows in January now
Long time ago it used to snow
All year round

Little birds shiver on bare trees
They don’t sing they just hold their sad hearts
Another year begins and we are in the dark
What do we bring, where do we start?

And it only snows in January now
Long time ago it used to snow
All year round

In a little time it’s all going
With a little faith it’s all growing
In a little time it’s all growing

Little rays of light come from the clouds
We just stand outside and open our mouths
You and I are all it takes
It’s the best time to make new mistakes

Cause it only snows in January now
And snow will come and white the darkness out
White the darkness out
WHite the darkness out
White the darkness out
White the darkness out
White the darkness out

Perfect Love

 

Last night, as I prepared to launch my new music video for ‘Perfect Love,’ I discovered something rather curious, and wonderful. Chögyam Trungpa, Buddhist meditation master, teacher, poet, artist – the list continues – and perhaps the most important person in my life that I never met, also wrote a poem entitled ‘Perfect Love.’ It’s published by Shambhala Publications, in a volume called ‘Mudra,’ including poems that he wrote between 1959 and 1971, described as ‘spontaneous and celebratory.’

Whilst I am in no way comparing myself to this great teacher, I can’t help but be excited by the coincidence, especially since the manner in which I came up with my song could also be described as spontaneous and celebratory. I was actually rehearsing another song at the time, and as I struck the last chord, I made a mistake. However in stead of stopping to correct myself, I simply kept playing, and the new song just kind of rolled on out.

A frequently quoted phrase of Chögyam Trungpa’s is ‘first thought, best thought.’ As I understand it, this doesn’t exactly mean that the first thought you have is necessarily the best, but rather the unedited version, the spontaneous one, the one that just comes out when you are totally on the spot – the one it can be hard to trust because you didn’t exactly ‘do’ it.

When I was writing the song I didn’t fully know what it was about, it was more like uncovering a code than constructing something new. Then when I realised what it meant, I decided to dedicate it to a couple of friends that were getting married and had asked me to sing at their wedding. A nice kind of synchronicity.

In Trungpa’s poem, which you can read in full on the Chronicles website, he says:

‘What is going to be is what is,

That is love”

Some kind of acceptance of things as they are? When I played my song to my best friend she asked me if my boyfriend was upset, because the song suggested things weren’t perfect. Firstly I said, ‘well you know, it’s not exactly just about me…’ and then I explained that I don’t see it as a negative thing to accept what is – rather it’s an aspiration for me.

That’s not to say that you should just make do and never try to improve a situation that’s not working. But that you can’t even begin to improve things if you don’t accept how they are now… And in any case, striving for absolute perfection – does that ever bring about happiness?

There is much more to his poem, and I hope that I will continue to understand it more and more. But for the moment, until the next craving seizes me, I am content in the knowledge that our creative paths crossed for a moment, his and mine.

And to complete the circle, another song on the Water Snakes EP, ‘Save Me,’ is dedicated to him.

You can stream and/or purchase the full EP on Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Gogoyoko; it’s also available on iTunes.

Snakes and spiders

A spider crawled out of my bag this morning. I let out the kind of involuntary girlish yelp that I reserve for spiders and mice. It was the same spider that I had seen on the ceiling two days prior while vacuuming.

I remember observing at the time, that whilst it might have been highly convenient to hoover the spider up, thus removing any real or imagined threat, I wasn’t able to do it. This evoked a feeling of curiosity with a tinge of self-satisfaction. Had the Buddhist teachings started to penetrate at last? Had I finally begun to feel compassion for all living things?

Another thought accompanied these musings: hoovering it up wouldn’t actually get rid of it. It would still be there, inside the hoover bag. Dead or alive, it would sit there, in the bottom of that bag, as a consequence of my action.

Perhaps this was about responsibility. When I throw something away, I want to imagine that the responsibility for that rubbish leaves me the moment the rubbish leaves my hand. But somehow these days that story doesn’t sit quite so comfortably with me.

Every thing we throw away goes somewhere. Nothing is completely eradicated out of existence – it just changes into something else. This is the case with things, but also thoughts, emotions, they’re all energies – they have to go somewhere. I wonder if in some way this is what karma is all about.

The next day I saw the spider again in a different corner. A shorthand version of the previous days musings played over in my mind, along with the thought: ‘ah, there’s that spider again. still there. hmmm.’

This spider gave me two warnings that an intimate invasion might be forthcoming, and yet I did nothing.

I wonder how this translates to my behaviour in other areas of my life. Do I push away unwanted thoughts like unwanted rubbish, only to find them manifesting later more vividly in physical or emotional ways that I can’t control?

Quite possibly.

I think about Robert the Bruce, who also famously learnt something from a spider. The moral of that story was, we were taught, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ You can’t really argue with that. How many people succeed by giving up first time?

It inspired me to construct my own proverb:

‘Ignore a spider on your ceiling and the next day you’ll find it climbing behind your eyeball.’

OK I dressed it up a bit for the sake of the drama, but you get the idea. I wonder if it’ll catch on.

On a related topic, I released an EP this week. Not about spiders, but snakes. Water Snakes, to be precise. It’s about not ignoring what’s there – rather embracing it. It’s about a journey – the kind of journey that starts by letting go of your baggage. If you’ve ever travelled with Ryanair you’ll probably have experienced this kind of thing already.

Looking at what’s actually there is really, really uncomfortable a lot of the time. But in my humble experience, ignoring what’s there and trying to work with something that’s not there, only to find the taut facade of your own fantasy come crashing down at the most inopportune moment, usually in public, is marginally worse.

If that doesn’t tempt you to have a listen to the EP, I don’t know what will.

I could also add that it’s got some nice songs on it, possibly some of my best work so far. And there’s more to come.

Incidentally there are a few particular doses of inspiration to which I am indebted, and which I shall note here, for those who may be interested: The teachings of Chögyam Trungpa, Coleridge’s The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, and TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, in particular, Little Gidding. I’ll end with a quote from that as it says it all as eloquently and succinctly as I could ever wish to do.

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.’

And now the music.