this year

I think this year has been kind of momentous for me in terms of my relationship with music and gigs. This year I stopped enjoying being on stage and I stopped playing shows but I watched a lot of bands I really enjoyed. Here are some small summaries of some good bands I saw and why I liked them.

Slum of Legs – The George Tavern

At the beginning of the year I was trying to do a solo project called furore which I feel kind of happy and kind of stressed about. I asked if I could play on this bill at The George Tavern for Night of the Triffids which was Slum of Legs, Soda Fountain Rag and Garden Centre. I don’t usually ask to be on bills and it made me feel very pushy and rude. But I am glad I was there because Slum of Legs, as always, played an unbelievable set. Every member of slum of legs is so in tune with the power they create, so enthralled by it that the audience has no choice but to be enthralled too. Tamsin stood on a table and I remember feeling completely amazed that these people could write such amazing songs AND perform them so well.

Pale Kids – West Hill Hall

This was a fun show. To begin with it was quite stressful because my newest band Top Knot opened the show and I had the experience I’ve been having all year where despite playing music in front of mostly nice DIY people for over 10 years I still find it very scary and can’t do it without making mistakes and feeling bad about the mistakes. Top Knot was all about that not mattering and it was super super fun but at this gig it was actually really scary opening the show and we all felt really nervous and weird. After we finished though we had a great time and Pale Kids were truly amazing. Their songs make me feel lots of things about being frustrated and sad but in kind of a fun melodic way which I think is a special and important niche. After the show we went to the pub and I was really hammered and it was a nice time.

Shirley Collins in a church in Lewes

This was extremely special. We saw that it was happening as part of lewes folk festival kind of accidentally and bought tickets. When we got there it was very crowded with lots of fun lewes folk festival types and we were all crammed into pews in an extremely intimate and uncomfortable fashion. But Shirley’s performance with just Ian Kearey accompanying her was so spellbinding that I didn’t care. She sings so perfectly, with such a grand and humble manner. Everything I’ve learnt about being a musician through DIY is cool – like doing what you want and not caring if its wrong is a magical code to live by. But I love dipping into the folk world where there is a combination of everyone being part of it but also a commitment to following rules and ideals – that songs work a certain way and should be sung a certain way. I find it very interesting. Anyway this gig was so powerful. Her album lodestar is really truly magical I recommend it.

Jenny Hval – Doune the Rabbit Hole

This festival was very stressful and the last live show I did this year, with my band Towel. It turns out I don’t really like camping or hippies or being cold/wet. But the line up was very very good. And Jenny Hval’s set was so inspiring. Her costumes got lost on the plane to Scotland but that kind of made it better. She was wearing a big Scandinavian style jumper and her dancer was just wearing all black. Jenny sang in the most understated, provoking way moving around the stage and audience gently, while her dancer bounced around her, again understated but full of joy. I can’t really explain how special it was. Sorry.

Jealous Girlfriend – someone’s garden

Oh wow. It seems like my whole year was special. This show was in someone’s back garden in the summertime. Eilidh played the most perfect set as the light was fading. They are such a talented and inspiring songwriter, funny and sad and angry all at the same time. At the end of the set Eilidh played the Breakfast Muff song R U A Feminist and I cried.

Torrey Pines – Duke of Yorks Cinema

I felt really sad when I came to this show and I can’t remember why. Lots of my friends were there but I went and hid in the balcony seats and I cried when the music started because it was so beautiful. But then I stopped crying because it was such an engrossing, magical film I stopped thinking about why I was sad or whatever and felt transported by the colours and story and the live soundtrack which was just perfect, especially the bit with Whitney Houston. Jimmy drove us home in the van because Clyde and the band were all staying with us and on the way he played Lucinda Williams and that made me feel even better.

The Softies – The Albert

Oh my. This was breathtaking. The Softies write such delicate, minimal songs with just the perfect amount of harmony in and watching them play together again after a long break was an honour. I loved every laugh and every mistake. I loved hearing them talk about how they met and what the songs were about. They are both such luminous people I am very glad I got to spend some time with them and Jon this year. But especially I love finding people (and I know so many) to look up to and aspire to, who make music and take breaks and come back and show you what it means to have a lifetime with music in it.

Days Fade, Nights Grow – Latest Music Bar

Another extremely special experience. I have known Camille for maybe 4 years?? They used to come to shows in Bristol and started staying over at my house and being my friend and I just remember that whole time being very exciting. I feel completely in awe of Camille and the creativity they possess and the authority they are demanding to express that creativity. Days Fade, Nights Grow is one of the most satisfying solo projects I’ve ever witnessed – seeing someone alone on stage be so confident and shout so loudly and be so sure of what they are doing and saying. Its thrilling and everyone should go watch them.

I don’t know if I have any conclusions to draw from my year. I know that not playing shows has really helped me in numerous ways. I feel less stressed and I have more time to think about things like my family and my cats. But I do feel like a large part of my social life has disappeared. Even though I feel less anxious and more able to talk to people at shows now I also feel that when I do talk to people, my connection to them is much less real. When you are in a band with someone, or you share a bill with someone, you have this very real, very reliable reason to be around them. By not playing shows any more I feel like I’ve lost a lot of those connections and I feel unsure how to bring them back or make new ones. But I am hoping that that is something I can work out in time. I feel very grateful for all the music I get to see and I value creativity so much. I am also grateful to myself for letting myself stop, for releasing the pressure I’ve put on myself for over a decade to be creative and I am excited by all the time that frees up to enjoy other peoples’ creativity. And I am excited for the creativity that will follow.

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conway court

This is just a quick note to say that I’ve decided to bring the Two White Cranes project to a close. I feel like most of the songs I’ve written as Two White Cranes, even the ones I wrote recently, seem to belong to a person I don’t wholly feel like anymore. I also feel really tired of trying to promote myself and my music. Not because that’s not a great thing to do, but because I’ve been doing that, and supporting other people to do that, for what feels like a long time. It seems like now is a good time to have a little pause.

I’m pretty sure I will keep writing songs as it’s one of the things I like doing the most but I’m not sure what I’ll do with the songs or what they’ll sound like so we’ll have to wait and see.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me and Two White Cranes; all the people who’ve played with me and recorded me and put me on and come to watch me and bought my music. Its incredibly nice to know that people find something to enjoy in the thoughts I have and I hope I can make something even more interesting in the future.

I will still be playing in two super cool bands TOWEL and TOP KNOT the band sometimes.

I have recorded a few last Two White Cranes songs in my living room which you can have for free here
https://twowhitecranes.bandcamp.com/album/conway-court

I will keep this blog open and probably I’ll keep using the name two white cranes for writing any further opinions I have on Bruce Springsteen in future so keep an eye out!

Thanks very much everyone xxxx

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miso

this song is about how, almost a year ago now, i moved from bristol where i have mostly always lived, to brighton where i was actually born but have mostly not lived.

moving city is a really hard thing to do, especially when you are sort of set in your places and people and surroundings. i am very glad i moved and i’m very happy to be living by the sea. my favourite thing is the way sometimes the sea seems to move itself into the streets of the city, wrapping all the cars and lamp posts with thick white sea fog. i also like the people here and the flat i live in and the cats i have.

i am glad i found a way to express how sad it feels to feel new and unsure of everyone and everything and how its weird that i often can’t remember the name of the street i live on because its a bit like the name of a street in bristol but not quite and i get confused.

i hope you like the song. i recorded it myself in my living room and eventually it will be part of my next album which might be called conway court.

 

i have some shows coming up:

Friday April 21st – Pop Recs Ltd, Sunderland
Monday April 24th – Mono, Glasgow
Thursday April 27th – Wharf Chambers, Leeds
Saturday May 6th – Deadpunk Alldayer, Bristol
Tuesday May 9th – Hoxton Bar, London
Saturday May 27th – Roll for the Soul, Bristol

 

 

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permissions

In making the songs on my new furore ep (which you can listen to here) I was attempting to give myself permission to do something new. To not worry about whether anyone liked it and to trust my own feelings and opinions about sounds and how they fit together. I also wanted to give myself permission to sing, without any other instruments distracting from my voice.

I don’t feel that I look the way I am supposed to onstage and often when I am playing solo or in bands I feel that I am doing something wrong or that I shouldn’t be there. Even though I’ve been playing in bands for over ten years now I still feel this way.

In furore I am giving myself permission to look and sound the way I do, without any guitar to hide my tummy, no frets to look at. At times I have thought about the lack of instrument giving me the opportunity to be more performative, to move and use my body as an instument. Its something I would like to do, but I am also being very gentle with myself. Above all I beleive in being comfortable on stage. There are so many reasons for us not to feel comfortable on stage and some people use that and react against it, moving themselves and thats great. But it is also great to be very still and do what you feel able to do on stage. Just the process of being there and making music is a performance. So I am giving myself permission to do what feels ok which at the moment is standing still with my eyes closed.

I hope that these permissions help me to make music and live performances that make other people feel that they can allow themsleves on stage, in whatever way they feel comfortable. If you are afraid that is ok because it is scary to make music you care about in front of other people. I think a lot of performers don’t really know what they are going to do or feel on stage until they get there. So many messages we receive tell us that we are not good enough to be on stage, to make music, to express what we are thinking. But we are good enough.

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the jelas

i wrote a review of the jelas ep Beetroot Yourself 3 years ago and facebook memories just reminded me, but also the original site it was on has gone! so here it is. I still 100% love the jelas

The Jelas/Lego

Today I did two things: I watched The Culture Show documentary about Lego and architecture, and listened to The Jelas’ new EP Beetroot Yourself.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03vkt8l/The_Culture_Show_2013_2014_Lego_The_Building_Blocks_of_Architecture

/
http://timeofasking.bandcamp.com/album/the-jelas-beetroot-yourself

I always think of The Jelas as smart and complicated. To me any song in anything other than 4/4 is complicated but I think by anyone’s standards The Jelas are pretty intricate. They are angular and fidgety and their lyrics are poetic and funny and it all fits together perfectly but only just. Listening to their new EP Beetroot Yourself makes me think about complexity in art. How its one of the best, most rewarding things a piece of art can be. But how it also can be terrible and off putting and self-indulgent and elitist. The Jelas are none of these things, but why?

I think the components of a Jelas song are really wonderfully accessible. The vocal melodies are really strong and simple and they carry the songs forward. The guitar and bass riffs are controlled and the drums are melodic to me, rather than repetitive. In fact there’s a complete lack of repetition, which is probably where the sense of complexity comes from, but familiar elements keep you listening. Furthermore the lyrics are totally and completely beautiful. They are poetic, filled with imagery and metaphor but Colin and Nat’s delivery is so unaffected they never come across as pretentious, only truthful. They do the things that the best of lyrics do which is talk about both the mundane and the profound in strange and exciting ways.

“The Italian coffee maker is tall and has got broad shoulders, he’s the definition of a tough barista”

In the documentary I watched this morning Tom Dychoff showed how the invention of Lego coincided with the epoch of post-war architectural ideals. Ethical and imaginative, modernist architecture put together simple, plain, unadorned spacial elements (so bricks) to create socially oriented buildings and cities. Dychoff draws a link between the simplicity of Lego with this focus on easily constructed egalitarian architecture. He also compares Lego builds to the post-modernist structures of the late twentieth century, brightly coloured shapes collected into fantastical towers.

I imagine this EP as like a city, built of so many little lego bricks of riffs, melodies and rhythms. Where The Jelas stand out is the freedom of imagination that goes into their songwriting process. What they create is an asymmetrical tower block, with square turrets and tiny triangular windows filled with pus but the elements are the same bricks anyone would use. Their subjects are universal concerns; long term relationships, illness, time.

The feeling of egalitarian, utopian concerns are not imagined. The Jelas are super DIY and unwavering members of the Bristol music community (I’ve borrowed their amps and drums loads of times). Their songs are generous and are created from the perspective of ardent listeners as well as talented musicians. This EP is powerful, beautiful and fun. An example of imaginative play enacted and formalised into a real life thing, like a lego pre-fab. True DIY.

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alexandra leaving

A death is a good time to remember a life; to reflect on how lives affect and interact with each other. Reflection goes on for years after a person is gone, forever shifting in the memories and realisations left behind.

I remember listening to Leonard Cohen in the dark of the wine shop I worked in, after hours, when we had locked the doors and turned the music up and opened a bottle. Jane told me to listen to this: her favourite Leonard Cohen song. Different to my favourite Leonard Cohen song, but in this time of his departure its this shared memory that comes back to me. I can see her clearly, sitting on a wine crate, cigarette in one hand, glass in the other, eyes closed.

“And you who had the honor of her evening,

And by the honor had your own restored –

Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving;

Alexandra leaving with her lord.”

It is remarkable that one person has written so many words, so perfectly poignant, so ready to be repeated to ourselves and to each other. But everyone, when they depart, leaves behind moments and words and memories and making sense of them takes forever. There is something very sweet in mourning someone collectively loved, collectively known. There is no need to explain this loss to someone.

When my dad passed away, almost two years ago now, I had so little understanding of death and grief. I had had no experience of loss like that. I didn’t know what to do or expect or feel even. And I had no way of explaining it to anyone else. I don’t think the process of mourning and remembering him will ever end, of making sense of our life together and our lives apart, before I arrived and after he was gone.

But I know that every time another person leaves us, especially these artists, who meant so much to him and to me, it is another chance to process, to reflect, to feel sad and happy and most of all grateful for the people who’ve shaped us. My dad loved Leonard Cohen, he loved all kinds of music and there is no question that this is what he gave me, and how he shaped me. And with every passing year and every passing inspiration I remember a childhood filled with music and think about how it led me to the life I live now. 

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Reasons to make an album

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about making a new album. I have made two under the name Two White Cranes and I’m very happy with them both – both seemed to be enjoyed by the people who heard them and both really accurately capture particular (and very connected) periods in my life.

The process of recording and releasing both was super interesting. The first one I recorded for free because of the very kind Matt Stevens who let me come to his place of work over two weekends and use a demo studio to make them, and he used his prodigious skills to make them sound good. I got very confused about how to release that album but eventually I put it online for pay what you want and a very surprising (to me) number of people bought it and I used that money to press some CDs with the help of Stitch Stitch records.

The second album was recorded at Sound Savers in London with the very nice Mark Jasper. I paid for this recording with my own money. This was partly because Trust Fund (a band I was in at the time) had been given some money by a record label and I got a bit of that money and decided to use it to make the Grubs and Two White Cranes albums. I guess at that point in time making music seemed like the most important thing to be doing so it seemed like a good thing to spend money on. I then split the cost of making CDs with Stitch Stitch again and Oddbox records made a tape version. Later on Happy Happy Birthday To Me also made a tape release in the US.

So basically that’s how I did it before. Once I did it for free and once I used my own money. But now I don’t know what to do. Although its amazing and liberating in many ways to make a record for free it relies on luck and it also means not paying someone to do it, which feels unfair as I know so many really brilliant and self employed record producers.

I’m not really in a position to pay to make a record again right now but if it was something I really wanted to do I could save up I’m sure, if I was determined. The truth is though making an album no longer feels like the most important thing in the world. I want to be able to live in the city I’ve just moved to (Brighton), which means having a job. And I guess I want to read books and swim and stuff like that. After I’ve paid for rent and chocolate and other important things I could definitely save up what’s left to make a record fund. But that takes time and there’s this weird thing I have with songs where I get very afraid they’ll get too old to record and then they’ll never be recorded, they’ll be forgotten. That’s a big fear I have. What if these songs stop seeming worth recording after a year or so of living only in my brain. The other thing is they tend to get bigger and more complex, the longer they stay in my brain. And when I eventually do record them they might not have the simplicity that is probably my favourite thing about my own music.

Another thought I’ve had is trying to get funding. I’ve looked in to some funding options and they sound good but the main problem I come up against is trying to convince myself, let alone someone else, why I should make an album. I guess I do know why I want to make an album – because its fun and meaningful and satisfying. And perhaps I feel like I need to quite a lot. And because it gives me such pleasure when people listen to my songs and tell me they like them and that they mean something to them. That feeling is just honestly the absolute best. Those reasons are all so selfish though. I have no idea how it would help the rest of the world if I made an album. I suppose I do know that I can inspire other people who feel they want to make music and that’s one of my favourite things about being in bands.  But I can do that by playing live and probably better because when I play live I make all my mistakes so everyone knows that anyone can be on stage if they want.

Camille said I should make some demos myself which I think is a good idea so I’ll try and do that for now, in my bedroom. I suppose the interesting thing to me is that the decision to make something and put it into the world sometimes seems so easy and sometimes seems so hard. But what I’m trying to think is that the difficulty and the indecision are not necessarily signs that something is not worthwhile or not good enough but more signs that I am understanding more about the process of creating something. Speed and simplicity are not the only valuable qualities in music (although for a long time I felt they really were!) and it is probably ok to take my time and let some songs fall away if they need to. 

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