Thursday, January 14, 2021


I forgot to check out the bread tin this week.

Recalling, a Ramble

 I have been laid low this week, and as always have been visited by memories from the past and had a lot of time to think them over. I can look at my life and say how wonderful and exciting it has been, or look at it from an entirely different perspective and say it has been utterly awful. 

I am certain that this is the same for everyone, and most people opt for the former of these two choices if they can.

Most of the punishing things in my own life have been the result of having an independent spirit, which is something I cannot help because it is the way I was born. Being born into a Presbyterian household, this was determinedly crushed whenever it raised its ugly head, but also because it is the way that I was born, it reared its ugly head again immediately. I became a secret artist, and hid behind a chair drawing and reading and speaking to the offending parent as infrequently as possible.

The internal world is a saviour. That's where creativity grows: you make a world that is your own and that can't be destroyed by anyone else. You reinforce your identity through the creation of this world and populate it with creatures that you can understand, and that understand you. Your drawings (or songs, or paintings, or poems, or writings) become your friends, your maps, your explorations, your justifications, the place where you tidy your scrambled mind and feelings. They give you a sense of peace and calm, a control over a tiny universe that can't be trampled on or invaded by other people's rules, anger, jealousy, violence or whatever it is you find disturbing in your life.

A piece of paper is a curiosity. I used to sit there with a pen or pencil on the page and the drawings seemed to just emerge on their own, pulled out by the touch of the nib or the lead on the surface of the paper. Now that I write songs, the songs appear to be floating in the air, always there, just waiting to be noticed and translated into words and sound. The world is therefore an endless set of possibilities. 

Yes I have to go to work, call the plumber, get dressed, eat... but it's all there, just waiting to be discovered. Knowing this has helped me to survive through some enormous crashes and made the good things in life massively better. This is why I have worked so much in a field where I can help other people to establish their right to exist as creative people, not to capitalise on their 'skills', but to actually live their lives as creative people. The imagination is freedom.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

January Afternoon Light


Brian Player's Acoustic Cafe Radio Show

 Thanks to Brian Player for playing A Good Life with a Bad Apple on his show last night! Listen again here:

Plectrum Problem

I've been recording a song for a compilation that's being put together by Bob Grover from The Piranhas. Every song needs it's own distinctive flavour, and to add spice to this one, I'd decided to do some lead guitar overdubs. In order to do that I needed a plectrum, but somehow in the lockdown/stand-down changes, my small bag of Dunlop Mediums has vanished from my bag. Although I live in a small house, the bag of plectrums is so titchy that there's no way I'd find it in time to remember the part and record it.

In my head I searched for spares. I've been so tidy recently that every time I came across a stray plectrum I sought out the bag and put it in there, which in retrospect was not wise. But I know myself. I have a container with old earrings, small toys and ancient make-up: sure enough, there were two Dunlop Lights floating around in there. Not ideal, but it was a much better solution than the small sliver of cardboard that I'd been using to make up the riff. Sometimes it's the small things in life that matter.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Refugee Benefit Compilation

 These events were set up by Liz Tainsh in Edinburgh at the Leith Depot to support refugee charities. You'll see by the track listing that the music was top notch and as well as supporting the charities, as a musician you got to see and hear some really good music. There are three CDs here that showcase a real variety of music and capture the spirit of those nights: well worth a travel to support!

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Upping the Engineering Game

Gradually, I'm upping my engineering game. I have worked out exactly how to get a good vocal sound- mostly by just relaxing and letting my ears do the work, but also partly by getting a good singing performance in the first place. I also have a 'trick of my trade' and it's really brilliant doing it. It makes a Logic recording sound just like a Protools one; there is probably a plug-in that does exactly the same thing, but it is fun putting it together in the first place.

There is so much still to learn- changing tempo within a track... that doesn't matter if you're playing without a click just for yourself, but if you're playing to pass a track on to someone to work on then you need to be really accurate with that. And compression, I need to learn more about that as well.

As I start to record the songs, I can hear what needs to be done to them. Songs I like playing or that I'm attached to because I've learned a new 'lick' are sometimes not the best songs. Then there's that odd thing of a song that you wrote quickly in passing suddenly sticking in your mind and you realise it's a good 'un. And sometimes the structure you thought was just right seems to flatten the whole thing out when its recorded, and you have to wield the editing shears. It's so absorbing, like eating the best food in the universe, and still having room for more.

Working with Robert Rotifer has given me a lot of confidence, because he isn't patronising. Nor is Ian Button, who I have done a lot of recording with, and who has mastered things I've recorded at home. Being patronising is a very clever way of putting people in their place and stopping them from making progress; I remember that from art college. 

Last year was a good year creatively, even when everything else was upside down: what a lucky gamble, making our record!

English Nationalism

Any sort of Nationalism. Like putting your hands over your ears and shouting "LA LA LA" as loud as you possibly can. 

Wobbly Timetables

It's an amazing feeling to wake up in the morning and not have to get up. Work begins again on Monday and I'm trying not to think about the awful predicament of the students, all isolating at a time when they should be at their most sociable. And imagine, that strategy of barricading them into their halls of residence in Manchester with the virus. Surely that is akin to a war crime? The worst feeling is powerlessness, hearing them speak in online sessions and not being able to fix the big picture, which is affecting everything they think and do.

This means that whenever possible, I'm embracing laziness. Sometimes I've made a timetable, but it's  quietly vanished, largely because quite a lot of it involves housework. I have managed to start recording, and the wobbly plan today is to do some more of that. There is more 'book' to do, but the sub-editor is on a break and I need to write to her with some questions, and also wait for a secondhand copy of Margot Shetterly's book Hidden Figures to arrive, having given away the first copy to someone and neglected to note down a page reference.

I think Offsprog Two is going to have the piano we had in our big old house. It will be sad in some ways to see it go- it was hugely important when I moved here to have a room big enough to put it in, and I've written some songs on it. But every plan I have to play it is in the future, and has been since I moved here eleven years ago. Maybe when arthritis takes my hands, I'll get another, smaller one, but for now it would be nice to fill the space with the guitars which are languishing upstairs in their cases. I might have a bit of a play on it before it goes, safe to do because my neighbour works for the NHS and normally I try not to make too much noise (the walls here are only one brick thick), but everyone is working flat-out, beyond their speciality, and she is not there much at the moment.

It's quiet out there, so quiet I can hear the birds in the back gardens. Cars have been roaring past the front door in recent weeks, trying to drive away from reality. No matter how enormous your car is and how offensive your driving, you're still in the same boat as the people you normally look down on. You can't drive out of this predicament in your Range Rover, and most people can't get to Antigua like Lady Haw-Haw of the Offensive Tweets. Maybe everyone's just having a lazy morning.

Friday, January 01, 2021

New Year Mudfest

I reckoned that going on the muddiest walk would provide the most solitude on New Year's Day. One of the routes that is most deserted in normal times was teeming with people the other day, all with new dogs. The dog walkers had not learned to be dog owners yet: the retractable leads weren't being retracted, and the weaving dogs wove their leads across the path and made the walk into an interesting obstacle course. Lots of the dogs were unsure yet who their owners were, too: they flirted with potential new walkers and looked hopeful.

So this afternoon, I plodged through fields of mud skimmed with broken, glassy ice, other people's deep boot-impressions filled with yellow muddy water. New streams had sprung up and were chuckling over the torn grass, and older ones that were supposed to obey specially-laid pipes had found their own routes over and around them. The little birds were delighted to welcome a new year: they skidded from tree to tree in little collections of twitterings, busy doing bird-things. Every walk has a different birdscape; the other day, I saw a flock of redwings on the walk through the park, and the next day on a a friend-walk, we heard a woodpecker's rapid chopping at trees up high in the distance.

My walking boots have layer upon layer of mud on them. There is no point in cleaning them; the dry mud falls off on the pavements and is replaced with wet mud as soon as you walk on the muddy grasslands. On these walks, muddy thought falls from my head and is replaced not by more mud, but by clarity. I think this may be called nature therapy: it definitely works as a way of weathering life's storms.