Win or Lose, and naming the muses

I've had a bit of an idea... 

When I was thinking about posting today's video I found myself wandering down a story-path that took me back to where it was written, the various parks that supplied the imagery and the people who influenced the lyrics and the atmosphere. And here I hit the usual difficulty - because I want very much to go into detail about the circumstances and the influences and the people I'm grateful to for being so powerfully present in my life and harbouring my art, but it seems dramatically unwise to call these people out by name or to go into too much real-life detail - songwriting is so personal and subjective and I don't believe any of the people I've written songs about know for sure that the songs are about them (not to assume that everyone would care, but I would if it were me!) 

SO I've thought about using code words to build up pictures of the personae that have been formative for me and would help give some more context to the songs, and at first I thought about stealing some names randomly from some established pantheon - Greek, Turkish, Japanese perhaps - but then I thought, what do I actually care about? Trees! Why not use species of trees? This would let me build up pictures and interlink songs that relate to the same people, and maybe sneak some things into the Language of Trees and Sky blog too. My knowledge not being that distinct maybe we'll all learn a little something too hah. Perhaps I've been over-indulging lately in Robert MacFarlane's nature lexica. Personally, I love the idea of an imagined Forest of formative influences - it reminds me a little bit of Judy Dench's Love of Trees and this quote from her interview in the Guardian: 'Many of Dench’s friends are remembered in trees. “It’s something living that goes on,” she explains. “You don’t remember them and stop; you remember them and the memory goes on and gets more wonderful.”' And of course Tori Amos talks at length about her muses who seem to be very well-defined as individual characters. 

I would love to know what you guys think of this. In the meantime here's the band version of Win or Lose, which appropriately has my favourite ever tree-themed bridge lyric as well as an appropriate dose of light imagery (it is a Beacon song after all): 

Rob Anderson and I used to sing this song a bit although we never recorded it (the rest of the SumnerAnderson collection is here) - the last line of the last verse "I'll be your side-kick, if we ever get that far" always reminds me of singing this with him and of some hilarious side-kick-themed joke poster artwork he did for us - happy times. 

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I've been up in your branches, hanging down
I've been planting the magic in your ground
I've been the voice of illusion in your ear
I'll be the light that guides you
as you go on from here

Video flurry

We're having a video editing day here at ASM HQ (heavily interspersed with coffee and naps!) - I've got a new lyric video in progress and have managed to get hold of some close-up footage from the Croydon Folk & Blues Club gig a couple of weeks ago, thanks to the very patient Colin who videoed practically the whole set on his phone! It's great to have the atmosphere with the band captured, lots of giggles and everyone looking relaxed at Ruskin. If you can make it there tomorrow night you can catch the Dave King Band - Dave King was at Ruskin the first time I ever went there and I've never forgotten his song People My Age. Also there that night was the wonderful Christine Halpin and someone I've still yet to identify who gave a most beautiful rendition of Richard Thompson's Beeswing, a song which has never left my heart as a result. 

Anyway I digress. In summary, we hopefully have live band videos coming down the pipeline of about half of Beacon, not to mention Go Out Of Tune's Half-Light special that gets released next Friday. In the meantime here a couple of oldies from a wonderful gig two years ago in Wandle Park  (not the one with the Beacon tower but another great and much-loved central Croydon park!) - the first live version of Swim Any Sea and the time Renegades got invaded by a helicopter and then a tram. 

Solid Ground - Go Out Of Tune live session video

Here is the first of the videos from the Go Out Of Tune live session last weekend (I'm not sure Max ever sleeps??!) at St. John's Hoxton. There are plenty of reasons why I went with Solid Ground - it just feeling right for the setting being the main one (I made the decision when I got there) and also being the first chance I've had to do a video in this kind of setting I wanted to choose something that was comfortable and that people will know and hopefully enjoy. We made two videos; the other one will be revealed on the GOOT channel next week - it's one of the new album songs but I'll leave you to find out which one when the time comes...

Along the Tracks feature

Neil King featured Beacon and Half-light as albums of the week for this Along The Tracks episode back in February - it's now here on Mixcloud to enjoy in full. It starts with Behind The Lines and ends with Fire on the Mountain and has the Half-light version of Daughters of Mercy in the middle, which seems logical to me as Tide Will Turn was Neil's pick from These Hours if I remember rightly - to me there's a correlation between the two. Many thanks to Neil and to FATEA for their support as always! 

Ruskin House -

Sunday night we had a band gig for Croydon Folk & Blues Club at Ruskin House - our second outing as a band and a great night it was too! I went to the Ruskin Folk & Blues club a lot when I first started playing and a lot of the regulars there supported, encouraged and mentored me as I was learning how to perform - not to mention that it was the testing ground for most of my songs! So it's lovely to play there and we had a great crowd who were familiar with some of the songs. Thanks to the hard work and attentiveness of friends in the audience we've managed to snag some quite good bits of video - the first is here, which is Last Summerand there'll be some more to come. 

 Packed night at the cosiest of venues!

Packed night at the cosiest of venues!

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 Dan and a happy Maggie with her Shruti box

Dan and a happy Maggie with her Shruti box

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St. John's Hoxton

I had a great afternoon filming live song videos with Go Out Of Tune at St. John's in Hoxton today. We did a version of All These Little Things which will show up on the GOOT channel and a super long take of Solid Ground which will go out on mine. The acoustics at St. John's are just incredible and it's quite a setting as you can see from the pictures. It's been a while since I've done any serious video work and and having that quiet space just for those songs, an hour of calm in amidst the bustle of gigs and travelling and everything else that's been going on, was just wonderful. I'll be back with the video links once they're posted!

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...and other things...

So I had the day off after Eastbourne (day off regular work that is!) - which is just as well as I was on such a high it took almost an hour of post-gig debriefing over coffee and another hour and a bit of a drive home to come off it - and spent some of the afternoon jamming some new ideas with the awesome Daniel Fitzgibbon. Daniel is a top guy but a multi-instrumentalist, he played percussion on Beacon and bass on Reckless Heart (more of which soon!) and played both together on Daughters of Mercy at the Beacon launch night. He has super ideas and his knowledge of chords far surpasses mine I'm always learning something from him. 

Then in the evening we tried some stuff out at the Project B open mic. I probably get to an open mic about once a week these days, mostly to try out new material or meet up with friends, as there are some that only happen once or twice a month and it's the only way to catch up with some people! This was nice and chilled with bass and guitar, we look pretty engrossed(!); I think Renegades was probably the song that worked best in retrospect. 

Today I've been at rehearsals with Sarabande Stone who I'm pleased to say have recording dates coming up! Most of what we do is improvised so it'll be great to capture it in its current format. And tomorrow I'm shooting videos at St John's in Hoxton with the lovely people at Go Out Of Tune - so some miscellaneous non-gig stuff is going on behind the scenes this week. I think about all the people I've met and the experiences I've had in just this one week and it blows my mind!

 Photo by Mike Bale

Photo by Mike Bale

The Lamb Folk Club, Eastbourne

I had a really lovely evening at the Lamb Folk Club last night - first gig in Eastbourne for me and the first chance to hear the lovely Rowan Godel, who sang a mixture of her own originals and traditional songs, some unaccompanied - her voice is just divine. You can check out her latest EP September Skies on Bandcamp here. It was a fantastic venue with really great sound and one of the most attentive audiences I've ever played to - I think we both made the most of the opportunity to indulge in every note and as you can see, we had a great time!

Many thanks to Nick and everyone for having us, and to John for all these photos. 

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A little waffle on songwriting, among other things

 Image from Instagram

Image from Instagram

Well... I have been writing, and it's been nice - no expectations at this stage, just sifting through the dross of my post-album mind and seeing whether anything sticks, it looks like one or two of them might; the simplest ones to write can be the most effective after all. (The quickest songs I've ever written aside from Dry-Eyed were Swim Any Sea and Wish These Years Away which are both live-set go-to staples now.) There was a time deep in the autumn last year buried in studio work on all those projects when I felt like I might never write again! but I expect that feeling is common enough. 

Creating the right time and atmosphere for writing is an art in itself. So many people say you should (though there is no should when it comes to creativity!) write first thing in the morning and capture those wisps of creative ideas that abound in your head as its in the process of waking... morning being a bit adventurous for my current schedule, I did at least sit down and write first thing yesterday and had a couple of good, workable ideas. 

Things have to change, writing-wise as with everything else. I realise now how much These Hours represents a very specific moment in my life, and as with Beacon revolves around two or three characters who were big influences on me at the time - it secretly amuses me to recall that all those different facets of emotion relate to only a couple of different people. Each album spans a period of about two years where songwriting was so heavily driven by my inability to communicate in real life - I have often feared that learning to open up too much might cause the song stream to run dry, but that seems not to be the case - though the songs are different. My life has taken several surprising turns, and yet most surprising of all is how settled it can feel amidst the changes, how bewilderment and wellbeing can both be so high at the same time, and how often I find myself looking about me with a fresh lens of gratitude. 

Recent gigs & gigs this week

 Current gig listing

Current gig listing

I'm in the middle of a really delightful string of gigs - had a lovely night at the Ightham Club on Saturday for the Lamplight Sessions and also at the Running Well Acoustic Music Club in Wickford the Friday before - both incredibly welcoming and attentive crowds for a newcomer like me. The weather has made things interesting and it's become a little routine now of me rocking up back in Croydon at 1am slightly relieved to have made it unscathed! But in reality the journeys home are always quicker - coming back over the Dartford Bridge after the Wickford night brought back memories of childhood trips to see my cousins. 

The night at Revelation Ashford opening for Knight and Spiers was definitely a career-to-date highlight - there are some photos below (those of me are by Mark Flanagan) and some more on the Revelation Tumblr page here

I've got a couple of really great gigs coming up this week: 
- on Wednesday (21st March) I'm at the Lamb Folk Club in Eastbourne on a double billing with the wonderful Rowan Godel - I have been looking forward to this for SO long that I can't believe it's only a couple of days away!

- on Sunday (25th March) I'm going to be at Ruskin House in Croydon for the Folk & Blues Club along with some of the band from the launch night - I absolutely love playing here and always have done, it's as close to home as gigs come and I expect several old friends will be floor-spotting so this should be a fanstastic night. 

If you can make it to either of these it would be great to see you! 

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Readifolk Radio Show - 16th March

The Readifolk Radio Show included Daughters of Mercy in this week's show and made some very kind comments on the Beacon - Half-light double release. I get a secret thrill anytime someone seems to really understand why I released both together and "I can't make up my mind which versions I prefer" is the kind of feedback it's massively rewarding to hear, so thank you! 

Personally I'm glad they picked the Beacon version for the show, as that layered vocal coda after the last verse was one of my favourite studio moments - as much as I like to keep things live, sections like this are where the beauty (and freedom) of production really comes into its own for me. I think I have a blog post on favourite moments from the album coming up soon, if you've got any favourites so far let me know and I'll add them in... 

Interview & Live Session with Doug Welch for BBC Radio Kent

Sunday's interview and live session for Doug Welch at the newly refurbished BBC Radio Kent studio is up on the iPlayer - this includes live versions of Some Kind of Comfort, All These Little Things, and Swim Any Sea also features one herculean task of a gig listing if you're looking for something to do in Kent this weekend (the Ightham Social Club Lamplight Session has sold out I've heard). Always lovely catching up with Doug - hope to see you soon and that the Orpington night went off OK! 

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Roots & Fusion Beacon feature

Rick Stuart's Roots & Fusion picks from Beacon and Half-Light went out on Valentine's day (all I had to do was persuade the Other Half to cook and that was date night sorted!!) 

I am still full of happy memories of hanging out with Rick at the Beacon launch night - and full of gratitude to everyone who has supported the new album. Catch up on the show on Mixcloud here - and the session I did for Roots & Fusion is available here too

"It's a bit Rapunzel, isn't it?" - an interview with Roger Williams

I've had the very great pleasure of being interviewed again by the ever-eloquent Roger Williams, for A World of Difference on Blues & Roots Radio. Roger always asks the best questions and in the course of this interview it dawned on me that the water tower up at Park Hill (which appears on the artwork on the Beacon CD tray) has probably subconsciously influenced at least half the lyrics of Fire on the Mountain - "and all they say here in his tower of stone..." etc. This came as quite a revelation to me but makes perfect sense now I think about it! Someone asked me recently how I can write the songs I do living in the centre of town and there are two answers to this - one is that I have a top floor flat that has very high windows that only look out onto rooftops, clouds, and birds flying through the sky; the other is the amount of time I spend in this particular park!

Anyway here is the complete show on Mixcloud - Roger very kindly managed to pick up all my favourite songs from both albums on this one and it was a delight to talk to him as ever: 

A World of Difference interview

Roger Williams has very kindly had me back on A World of Difference to talk about the release of Beacon and Half-light - it'll be broadcast on Tuesday evening from 8pm UK time on Blues and Roots radio. The previous interview we did is below - the musical segment of this is a great summary of everything I'd done pre-Beacon so if you have time to catch up here it is: 

Sarabande Stone at the Icarus Club

 Photo: Phil Dearing

Photo: Phil Dearing

As you may know if you've already got a copy, I play a bit of viola on Beacon (I took it up last year after playing the violin at school what seems a very long time ago). 

I also play with these guys - currently known as Sarabande Stone but in search of a new name I believe - and it's become a little musical solace for me, away from the hubbub of playing solo and promoting my own songs. We jam, we riff occasionally, there's no lead and no front-person. It's just meditative, and completely different, and truly ours rather than mine

We were playing at the Oval in Croydon tonight and the Icarus Club's Phil Dearing got this great shot of us - thanks Phil!