Most of the time I find it pretty hard to have an open heart and recently I found myself wondering if it’s really such a good idea. I see people with layers of protective armour and I see them finding ways to avoid feeling the sadness of the world; I see them moving on quickly from relationships that take my heart sometimes years to heal from. I can’t do the armouring thing so I wonder if I am at a disadvantage. Maybe humans were right to find all these ways to escape from reality because it’s so painful. But then I hear something like this and I am so grateful for my feeling bleeding heart because it allows me to taste this exquisite sound right to the core of my being and in some way begin to heal me from the inside.
We are not so different, you and I. Whatever wrongs you have done, I have probably done too. However you squirm and struggle to get things to go your way, I am likely doing the same. I wonder if as a species we will ever stop projecting our aggression outwards and realise that we are all simply trying to get by, to love and be loved, to make the best of this unfathomable existence. If we can forgive our own confusion about how best to do this, perhaps we could begin to forgive others’ too? It’s not easy when the confusion of others causes us pain. But perhaps one way to try is by feeling more connected to each other rather than separate. I find it hard to hold on to my anger, my rage, my disappointment, my loneliness and my fear when I hear music like this. I find it hard to hold onto anything.
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.
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:
Happy new year everyone
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?
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.
Snow has been the major topic of conversation this week as it’s quite rare in these parts. Consequently it tends to bring with it various degrees of excitement, panic and chaos.
Snow muffles everything. The silence affords a sense of seclusion. At the weekend much snow fell, and from that stillness arose in me an inspiration. On Sunday I sat down at the piano and found a new song.
Now I need your help for a creative experiment – I’m going to make a community music video for my new song and I need footage! Please send any videos you made in the snow that you would like to share and don’t mind being online to: email@example.com
And invite your friends to do the same!
Sometimes songs just come out, fully formed, as if they were coming from somewhere else, there’s really no effort at all. Other times you sweat for months and months over troubling chord sequences and niggling lyrics – it’s not always a happy ending. Some of them never get finished, they simply lie there on the factory floor, waiting for their carcasses to be stripped of good ideas that are plundered for newer songs with more chance of completion.
I know of few things more satisfying than that moment when a real tricksy bastard of a song finally gets finished. So I was thinking to myself while cycling home this evening, having just experienced this very moment of the final pieces of a puzzle slotting into place – the idea I’d been forming over the last few weeks or so had come together at last in the middle of Waterloo Bridge.
I’d been struggling over this song since last Summer and had performed it several times but something wasn’t quite right. If I was honest, I wasn’t really happy with the lyrics for the whole of the first verse. But I just wanted to get it out there so hoped I’d sort of get away with it.
‘Getting away with it’ lyrics are not really the kind I want to be writing. The kind of lyrics I aspire to are those where the juice could be sucked from each well-chosen word by every new listener and never run dry. I kept thinking of “One” by U2.
“One love, but we’re not the same
Well we hurt each other
Then we do it again”
Lyrics that are at once simple and profound, they make my heart turn over. So I was rejoicing on my bicycle that I had at least found a way to shift the block obstructing this song from being truly born. The new words seemed to fit better with the whole thing, as if they would help the song to know itself better.
I arrived home and picked up my guitar to seal the deal. The relief I felt was more like the feeling you have after painting a room that took a lot longer than you expected – there is a sense of weariness and resignation rather than outright celebration.
As I struck the final chord I made a mistake, but I liked it. So I kept playing, and another song began. And as I played, this new song just arose, fully formed, simple and profound, from the other, like an appendix to a long and gruelling novel. That’s what it feels like, an afterthought, or a second orgasm. Weirdly enough, the song appears to be about contentment.
I can’t remember whether I’ve seen Looking for Richard or not. I know what it’s about, I’ve seen posters, life-size cardboard cutouts, had conversations about it, but I don’t know whether I’ve seen it or not. It’s quite possible that over time I have constructed a plausible memory of the movie from the snippets of information I’ve collected. In my head it’s quite a good film. It’s also somewhat confused with The Fisher King, which I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen, but have an even clearer memory of, based on a few very vivid descriptions.
Nor is this syndrome limited to films. I have countless childhood and more recent memories which may or may not be based on real life, dreams, or fantasies. All of which points loosely to the possibility that what we tend to think are solid events are in fact our own interpretations of experiences, filtered through myriad layers of history, genetic programming and emotional baggage.
In which case, it could be argued that my forthcoming film, a much-anticipated sequel to Looking for Richard, entitled Looking for Steinway, is destined to be a huge hit.
In this witty and unexpected follow-up, young singer songwriter Annalie Wilson (played by herself) is desperately searching for a grand piano to record the finishing touches to her second album, when whom should she meet but Al Pacino (played by himself.) Pacino, who is getting a bit bored with Richard, having found him ages ago, takes a shine to the young musician, and agrees to help her in her quest.
Meanwhile Kevin Spacey (played by himself) is starring in his own spin-off series, Looking for Annalie, a hilarious comedy drama in which Spacey is desperately searching for the young pianist who used to play in the Pit Bar at the Old Vic Theatre, to star in his new film, Pianowoman, a bittersweet romcom about a superhero who uses music to matchmake shy couples but is hopeless when it comes to her own lovelife.
When Spacey and Wilson are finally reunited it transpires that he had Steinway in his totally sound-proof London apartment with excellent acoustics all along, and is happy to let Wilson tinker away indefinitely. A tearful finale is then in order as Pacino and Wilson perform a touching duet of You can call me Al, with Spacey accompanying on tea-chest bass.
I am depressed. I am depressed because I went shopping for clothes, and a song came on – by Bruno Mars, as I later discovered. It’s called “The Lazy Song.” It didn’t make me lazy though, it made me want to punch someone. No not someone, him.
On reflection, it’s actually a rather accurate title. He was obviously feeling so lazy that he didn’t bother to write a decent melody, interesting chords or lyrics that made sense or had any meaning. I feel for him, because sometimes I also experience laziness. What I don’t understand is why he felt the need to inflict this particularly uncreative mood on the rest of us.
If you have hitherto been spared the joy of this song, the premise of it is that he doesn’t feel like doing anything. He then goes on to list all the things that ‘not feeling like doing anything’ is going to make him do. Wild isn’t it? Perhaps this irony is part of his genius. Perhaps it was a mistake. Who knows?
The lyrics themselves are equally blinding.
Today I don’t feel like doing anything
I just wanna lay in my bed
Don’t feel like picking up my phone, so leave a message at the tone
It’s a classic rhyme (phone/tone). Let’s face it, we’ve all thought about using it in a song, but something has always held us back. Well it didn’t hold him back. He’s obviously got a lot of balls. In fact we know he has. Because he tells us about them:
I’m gonna kick my feet up then stare at the fan
Turn the TV on, throw my hand in my pants
Nobody’s gon’ tell me I can’t
This is in the early part of the song, when he’s still wearing his pants. Later he expresses his intention to
…just strut in my birthday suit
And let everything hang loose
I don’t have a problem with this. I also enjoy walking around naked. Great. Pro-nudity. It’s just… well so what?
I’ll be lounging on the couch just chilling in my Snuggie
Click to MTV so they can teach me how to dougie
‘Cause in my castle I’m the freaking man
But what’s this? A rare moment of psychological insight? Mars lets the heavy veil of ‘inarticulate moron’ lift for a second to show us the hideous insecurity lurking beneath. In his castle he’s the freaking man. But what about outside on the street? A helpless bag of nerves? A blubbering emotional wreck? Is he being bullied? Does he use MTV to numb the pain of his freakiness?
Sadly, we never get to find out because he reverts to fantasy land.
Tomorrow I’ll wake up, do some P90X
Find a really nice girl, have some really nice sex
And she’s gonna scream out
This is great
Really nice? Is that the best you’ve got Bruno? No freakiness? No manliness? No balls-out strutting-ness? Just ‘really nice’? And twice in one line??? True laziness. I am beginning to alter my opinion of this man. He is a master of the genre.
I hope I have whetted your appetite sufficiently, because to properly revel in the glory of this musical travesty you really have to hear the song. And thanks to youtube, you can even gaze in horror at the appalling video.
I’ve remembered why I was supposed to be starting a blog. All this talk of trees and dogs and parks is all very well, but my original aim was to chart the progress of recording Album Number 2. Several people have been kind enough to inquire about the progress of Album Number 2, ever since I mentioned its being on the cards. So when it started to look like happening, I set up a blog on Facebook, and wrote my first (and only) post.
I thought it would be a great way of documenting the trials and tribulations of building a studio in a damp, cold cellar in the middle of Somerset, commuting back and forth with a budget of zero, and working 15 hour days in the studio trying to get as much done as possible before racing back to London to earn some real money. Well, what I discovered quite quickly was, the above trials and tribulations are actually quite trialling and tribulating. To the point where the last thing I felt like doing was blogging about it.
I am not talking incidentally about drudgery or choredom, but good old-fashioned concentrated creative slog. A satisfying and all-consuming fatigue naturally ensues. A fatigue that responds very well to rich home-made cooking and an assortment of berry-infused spirits, all of which were provided lovingly by our in-house chef extraordinaire, Janet W.
Another factor in this story is laziness and the inevitable passing of time that makes things that seemed exciting last week into pulpy old news. The building process was epic and we all learned a lot about sawing, drilling, and fixing our inevitable mistakes from the legendary Colin W.
Colin is a master of trouble-shooting. A not uncommon experience would be for us to spend the best part of a day building an entire structure, only to discover that we had made a fatal error and would need to dismantle the whole thing and start again. In such situations, I found myself seething with impatient anxiety, but Colin’s attitude was always one of curiosity about how to move forward.
The final weekend of building saw the whole band gathered together screwing and sticking and sweeping and eventually setting up to record. It was a wonderful example of team-building. Burying the ego in pursuit of the common goal of getting things done so we could record the bloody album. It was also a lot of fun.
However once it was complete (ish) I no longer felt the urge to post photos of us all in appalling clothes and sweaty masks, posing with powertools and impressive pieces of plywood. I do now though. Once we started recording, it became even more tricky to document because I was somewhat pre-occupied on the musical front. At this point Colin W once again stepped into the breech. I am now going to sift through the 400 or so pictures and upload the highlights, of which there are many.
Our most triumphant moment on the documentation front was whilst recording “Moths,” late one evening in semi-darkness with candles everywhere for ambience. I have failed so far to mention our impressive two-way video link to the drum booth, built from a couple of security cameras and two very old TVs. The purpose of this was so that Robin could take visual cues from Ben, as he was locked away in the air-tight drum booth. Admittedly the video link was the vehicle of much juvenile hilarity, whilst also fulfilling its purpose admirably.
During the recording of “Moths,” it really came into its own, as one of the TVs had a VHS player, which we were able to record onto. The result was an eerie black and white fuzz, reminiscent of something out of “The Ring,” in which I appeared to be levitating in the vocal booth.
Excitingly the take we recorded at that moment is the take we are going to use on the album, so we have our very own ready-made music video. Well, ready-made apart from the hours of pain-staking editing and production that is.
Since then, there have followed many sessions of overdubs and reworkings and other wonderful processes which would have been well worth documenting, had I at that point had my spangly iPhone 4. Not only did I not have that, I had no real working phone, having thrown a succession of Sony Ericssons at the wall in various fits of pique. (I am not proud of this.)
So it seems in some ways this piece is also becoming something of a disclaimer. Or rather an excuse as to why I didn’t pull my finger out and get on with blogging at the time. To whom I am justifying myself is questionable – as this endeavour was entirely self-motivated. Anyway I’m glad I got it off my chest. Next time I will post some real news.