Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Big Cheese.

Today I played the worlds biggest Cheese-based festival, no less and the biggest one-day festival in the country, I'm told, The Nantwich Show.
It was lovely to see some familiar faces, especially some very special folk who I hadn't seen for several years but, well, we go wayyyy back. You know who you are!

Last night I had to fix this pickup housing (and clean the guitar),
The fix turned out to be easy enough once I tried holding the guitar
upside down!

Special thanks to all at the lovely Redshift team, and to those who bought CDs!
Many thanks to Jonathan White for this photo.

Redshift Radio ran the all the music & events in the Community Gardens.

Singer Molly Gibson takes to the stage.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Musician for Hire!

July 22nd 2017
Now that music forms the main part of my income, I have to get used to the idea of very short notice gigs from time to time, luckily my semi-acoustic and acoustic guitars were already packed following a more technically full-on rehearsal than usual with Rickety Wireless the night before. 

If it had been a gig with The BYs for example, I would've needed maybe an extra hour to get stuff unpacked from my strat/SG bags and into the acoustic/semi set up.

Here's what I said on my 
instagram account about this gig supporting the opening Mexon Street Market Thanks very much to the team there who rallied round for me and really looked after me, not something you take for granted in music!:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

All for Alsager!

July 16th 2017.

Packed out in front of the stage.
Thanks to Stath Kyrantonis, one of the hard-working Alsager Music Fest organisers,  for this photo.

Many thanks to Martin Butterworth for this photo.
art of my preparations for this gig was, I explained in this instagram post, was to stop my continual problem at gigs of the unscheduled 'moving of the dials' of my delay pedal, which is otherwise a beautiful sounding bit of kit. and it worked, no unexpected psychedelic moments!

I think I'm right in saying that I've been lucky enough to perform at every single Alsager Music Festival since it began a few years ago, but this was the best one yet personally as I got the excitement of playing with my mighty bandee-pals The Blue Yellows!

Introducing a song, or summit.
Many thanks to Ceri Bugg for the photo.
This is now one of the best music festivals you will find anywhere. Any fellow musos reading will know what an enormous physical, psychological and emotional burden is behind all the work that goes into every gig, especially at the gig itself, but events like this make it all worthwhile, the organisers work on this all the year round and it show, hats off to them! The crowds who came along to support us... many familiar faces and many new ones, you were incredible, thank you so much from all of us at BYs central.
We hope to see you again soon!

I'm always in a constant battle with my nerves before a show something I wrote of, recently; sometimes winning (successfully turning the nerves into a quietly focused excitement) sometimes not so much... it's especially hard sometimes when so many good friends turn up to see you and support you and you know you really ought to acknowledge them and chat with them and thank them for coming, but you also want to be locked away somewhere to work on blocking everything out and getting into the zone, and warming up on the guitar. So, I'm really delighted to see them, but end up feeling incredibly guilty that I hardly spoke to them! So, thank you, you know who you are, and sorry!

Something that did help me relax was finally getting to see the wonderfully talented Gary Wilcox and various different combinations of bands he is in. As a talented songsmith, radio show host and musician, Gary is one of those people who seem to be at the fulcrum of something of a scene; for one thing his radio show really helps a lot of under the radar talent out there and he also either fronts or is in the bands Wilcox-Hulse, Don't Call Me Ishmael some of whom stayed on with the rest of The Taskers who were also ace! All fabulous bands that all have something of a folk-rock element and great vocal harmonies or backing vocal combinations. I especially enjoyed DCMI who were sometimes lilting, sometimes stonking, but always drawing you into emotional musical stories. Great stuff!

Our own set was inspired and pushed on by the amazing crowds. Thank you Alsager Music Fest, thank you to your amazing team of organisers putting on this brilliant, brilliant event, to the lovely Lodge pub, thanks to those who came along, strangers and friends!
YOU make it all worthwhile!

Em from the BYs enjoys  Gary Wilcox with young Casper.

HUGE Thanks to David Barrs for all his hard work videoing and uploading!!

Friday, July 07, 2017

Cars in the Arts Lab (*and a sad discovery while writing this post).

Multi-Disciplinary artist Mark Sheeky has a regular arts show on Redshift Radio featuring all new, all never previously released work. It's a fantastic concept and to be honest with you, I'm amazed he manages to make a whole hour long show each week of the work submitted, given the context, but I guess it just goes to show how much is happening out there.

Mark requested submissions on the subject of 'Cars' and I couldn't resist. I wanted to make sure the dark side of car culture was included. After all, some 1.3 million people are killed on the roads each year worldwide and car use is a major contributing factor in global warming, which threatens much of life on Earth, particularly coral reefs at the moment and ultimately all life which depends on a diverse eco-system, like humans. *As Heathcote Williams put it, cars represent "a humdrum holocaust, the third world war nobody bothered to declare" (In Autogeddon, 1991). 
*See bottom of post.

I knocked this up in a few hours. You can hear the original version on the 'listen-again' mixcloud of Mark's show (this is the 1st track on the show). Today, I have also added drums.
There are no synths here, the whooshing sound representing cars racing about is actually slide guitar of sorts, actually an empty beer bottle on my Firebird and shed-loads of reverb!

The plan is to make this a temporary download, so if you like this dark soundscape, then download it quick. As Mark says in his show, wear headphones to make the most of it.

Listen again to Mark's show below:

*Heathcote Williams, particularly his piece 'Autogeddon', has been enormously influential and inspiring for me. In researching a link for this blog post, I have just found out that he died, just a few days ago on July 1st.
Please read his outstanding works Whale Nation and Autogeddon.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Social Anxiety and Performance.

July 2nd 2017

I am (very) often told that "You CAN'T be shy, the way you get up on stage and do what you do, I could NEVER do that". In fact it's very common indeed among performers.
I've always been what I once thought of as 'very shy', more recently came to think of as being 'introverted' and, having worked with youngsters in education and got used to the lingo, now realise is what's now known as having Social Anxiety.

It doesn't mean I don't like people or socialising by the way (these are among my very favourite things in fact!), it just means that socialising is often very draining for me, and can be exhausted by it and will need to re-charge. Alcohol can really help though!

I was going to have a stab at writing a long, eloquent piece on this but there are people much better at that kind of thing (google it, you'll find tonnes, no doubt) so I thought I would strip it right down to some key revelations, personal epiphanies no less. surrounding my own experience of social anxiety.

I get the feeling that performing your own songs is very different to say either acting, or playing in a tribute band for instance. I often hear that actors got into acting because they wanted to be someone else, or that in acting they are channeling/becoming possessed by the character of another, whereas as a performer of my own songs, I feel in a way the opposite to this, that I am emotionally very naked and raw, in fact that my emotions have to be raw and real for me to do this. But I might be wrong about actors and the like, I don't know..

Is it worth it? Well, in a facebook comment on a link to this post, Phil Gemmell put it better than I could:

I'd love to know what you think, or about your own experiences, whether you have similar issues or even very different ones, for instance; I think a significant number of performers have almost the opposite problem, that they are extroverts who therefore really rely heavily on the approval of others to cope. How is it for you? Anyway here goes..

My Top Ten  personal epiphanies surrounding my experience social anxiety (what are yours)?

1. As a kid, teen and so on. Social anxiety stopped me doing some things I really wanted to do. 'Small' examples include one of my all-time heroes Chris Packham (who has a lot of issues himself but... well,  read his book!) regularly coming to work at the same place as me for a time to discuss animals and their habitats to groups of children and families, so I could have had the chance to meet him regularly and even try to strike up some sort of working relationship, but did I even meet him once? No
I used to be a major petrol-head too (I know, I know...), and had a season pass to Oulton Park, I was once offered by a friend of my dad's a pit-pass so I could experience all the goings-on in the pits, with a specific team, during the races, but no, I said I'd be much happier out watching on a windswept embankment.

2. My 'stage fright' used to be so bad, I gave up live performances/'gigs' for what ended up being eleven years.

A person who ended up being a great personal friend told me that when she first started seeing me, with a group of mutual friends in the pub, she had thought I was very arrogant and aloof. I was utterly amazed by this mis-reading of my being too shy to talk to anyone and too worried about saying the wrong thing. I did find this hilarious though (we had already become really good friends by the time she told me this).

A(n ex) girlfriend of mine pointed out to me that I often walked about with my mouth/face covered by one hand (e.g. with one arm folded across my chest as a prop for my elbow, if that makes sense). I had no idea I was doing this until then, but started adopting a more 'confident-looking' type of walk.

5. This led to me adopting lots of other techniques to look and/or sound confident (some of which, later on,  I took from my own advice to students stressed about presentations, researching what you teach is important, folks!).

6. The realisation that the times when I am most anxious or nervous are often when others think I am most relaxed or 'chilled'. I suspect like a lot of other people with related issues, I keep my inner feelings inside and 'hidden' and often being really quiet is a defense mechanism (are you like this or do you do the opposite?) Think rabbit being eyed by a fox. If however, I am making very silly, surreal comments, I am probably OK, or pissed, or most likely, both! I am usually very happy when tipsy, as a lot of the anxiety filters crash away, though I have to be careful about this, obviously!

7. I accidentally (no, really.. but again it's another story) got into teaching and ended up being a lecturer in F.E. which is MUCH more stressful than getting on stage. I did bar work, even more stressful, at times, as you have to 'perform' but with little (and often extreme lack of..) respect. Though both can also be a lot of fun. I thought, if I can do THIS, I must be able to get back on stage!

8. The realisation that performing my music/songs is a vital part of who I am and the need to express my most inner-being or soul, for want of a better phrase.

9. The adoption of techniques that help me get into the relaxed/focused state I need to be in to be be able to perform. I use lots of techniques that help me get into the zone and ready to perform. These are mostly 'inner' techniques that might not be obvious, but they include breathing techniques, mindfulness, and lots of things that come from a book by the Dalai Lama no less, co-written with a psychiatrist called The Art of Happiness. I know, it sounds like a terrible self-help book and probably is. My mum had it and I started reading it a bit and then reading it all, and I found it really helpful!
I also use some opposite sort of techniques that involve kind of burning off excess nerves and anxious energy. In general though on a gig-day I try to psychologically/emotionally/spiritually slow myself right down so that I can release it all on stage that night. I realised at a recent gig that I am (sometimes) getting much better at this, I was surrounded by lovely people who are really nice and who I know quite well, but, well it was that 'loneliness in a crowded room' thing and my anxiety about what to say to them and/or how to join in was much worse than performing on stage, so I couldn't wait to get on stage to avoid the conversation-related stresses. Well, it's a victory of sorts!

10. Knowing that it's not something I 'suffer' from. It's just part of who I am, a big part. I won't answer the phone or invite you round, I might well not turn up to the party I really wanted to go to, but this is the other side of being the same person that writes songs, needs to be in nature and can happily fall asleep playing guitar having done nothing but play guitar, on my own, all day long (on the now very rare chances I get to do this!). That's time never wasted!

Update 3rd July 2017:
 I have made my facebook links to this article private for a few days due to the large number of responses. This is because lots of discussion about my private situation is something I find really stressful, so I don't want to have to be fielding loads of comments on this, though I appreciate this is done in a big-hearted way so I thank you for that.
*Just to reiterate - I am absolutely fine, I have had these 'issues' all my life, I don't even consider them issues, they are just a big part of who I am/my personality. I wrote this post as it is a missing piece about who I am as a musician so it's important to include it, I think.*
Please feel free to comment on your own experiences, but don't feel sorry for me, I'm fine.

Thank you. xx