photo by Adam Dickens
Just want to express my gratitude to The People’s Republic of Nizlopi for letting me be part of their special shows in London this week. Two extraordinary people making extraordinary music, it really was a privilege to be one of their support acts along with the brilliant Antonio Lulic.
Who else makes music like them? They really are like nothing I’ve ever seen before and the love in the room is testament to their impact on people’s lives. Thank you also to everyone who listened so carefully to my set too.
As many of you know, John Parker (pictured above, stage diving last night) has been the only bass player I’ve ever played with. We’ve shared so many wonderful gigs together from the outer islands of Scotland down to mainland Europe and everywhere in between. This history, tied in with a little piece of Nizlopi history, meant last night was all the more meaningful to me.
More gig and album news on the way in the next few days….
Much love x
One Run For Boston is a non-stop relay race spanning the width of the United States to raise money for The One Fund, a charity set up to provide assistance to victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Over 1000 runners are taking part, passing on the baton to a new runner every couple of hours for 3 weeks night and day, and due to cross the finishing line of the Boston Marathon on June 30th. So far they’ve managed to raise over $50,000, with more coming in every day.
Danny Bent, one of the organisers, asked if Feet Don’t Fail Me Now could be their official theme song, and of course I didn’t have to think very hard before saying yes. Best wishes to all the runners involved, they’re part of something very special and it’s a fitting response to a terrible tragedy.
I was also approached recently by Bon Collins, remarkable founder of The Little Bird Foundation, whose response to being diagnosed with a serious bone condition was to set up a charity to help others in a similar position. Despite living with a highly debilitating illness, Bon has been working hard to raise funds for others who may not be able to afford the essential equipment they need.
Spending a lot of time in a wheelchair or with restricted movement might explain why Feet Don’t Fail Me Now became an important song for her too, and I’m delighted for it to be the charity’s official theme. I find Bon’s reaction so inspiring and I was honoured to accept her offer of being The Little Bird Foundation’s first patron.
Photo by Beccy Strong
After a couple of very special gigs in Totnes over the last year, I was asked to play the opening night at the new South Devon Arts Centre, hosted by one of its patrons ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris. What a space, I bloody love it. There’ll be some great nights here in years to come.
Totnes is up there with Hebden Bridge for beautiful places people dream of moving to when they’re fed up with living wherever they currently live. I can’t say I blame them. I met so many excellent friendly people.
Also, it’s utterly gorgeous. I went for a run the following morning in the sunshine by a river through a wood and felt totally peaceful and happy.
Just in case you were wondering – I’m not one of those people who run 7 miles every day before breakfast. I was just inspired by the chap who put me up for the night. On hearing about the Boston bombings recently, Danny Bent did more than read about it, he got off his arse and put together One Run For Boston - a non-stop 3000 mile relay race across the United States to raise cash for those most affected. Best wishes with your endeavours Danny! Wish I could be joining in.
Well add to nice scenery and good people a major new music venue in the South Devon Arts Centre, and I think we opened it in style.
Yes Sir Boss, Mae & The Midnight Fairground and Rebecca Maze also played, all presided over by Bob Harris, who I’ve watched on telly and listened to on the radio in the past and who turns out to be a charming and interesting guy. Thank you Bob.
The gig was a sell out, alive with excitement about the place. I hope it translates into regular quality music for the area and some appreciative audiences. I’ll be back for sure.
Thanks to David and all who’ve made the SDAC possible. These things are properly stressful to put together, with more than a few late nights, so credit to them for making it happen.
More recording news coming up soon, gonna carry on with a song I’m writing now
Where should my personal life end and my music begin? The best music draws upon our experiences, and I often love music precisely because it is so personal.
Some artists like Daft Punk play down their humanity, enabling them to transcend it and become post-human pop mega-beings. They present us with a vision equally unfamiliar to us all, so we all feel equal before it which can be an epic unifying experience. Good old Daft Punk you’ve smashed it again. Their gig in Hyde Park a few years back is in my top 5 gigs ever. It was like aliens had come to earth to show us how to do music properly, and I wasn’t even on drugs. Lots of people were, what must it have been like for them?!
In contrast, ‘personal’ things tend to divide everyone into two groups: ‘people who feel like me’ and ‘people who don’t feel like me’. Impersonal things don’t discriminate. But how to be impersonal and still make a connection? Muse manage it because the lyrics are so primal, and cos they rock so hard. Maybe Chris Martin strayed the wrong side of the line on some of Coldplay’s ‘X and Y’ album:
“When you try your best but you don’t succeed…”
“When you lose something you can’t replace…”
“Lights will guide you home / And ignite your bones / And I will try to fix you”
I actually really like Coldplay, they’re a fucking great band who I respect enormously. I even feel the pull of that song, but he sounds so eager for me to be tearful without actually sharing anything of himself I wonder if he’s also a trained therapist.
I looked it up and the song is about the loss of a loved one, quite powerful, but does keeping everything so vague make it more universal or just rob the songs of their flavour? The album title says a lot – here lies music full of generic symbols you have to add your own meanings to.
Daft Punk lyrics aren’t exactly poetry, but I still love them. I think it’s partly because their robotically precise music strips the emotional content of its dramatics, so it is less desperate for attention and acknowledgement, and more just a stating of a digital fact. “Robot 001 feels joy”. That appeals to me because the emotion is recognised as being important, but also transient, the ripple of a deeper self. I don’t want to be a robot, I just want to be aware of my emotions without them defining me. ‘Wooaah-o! Emotions are defining me!’
I was feeling a bit emotional as I left for this Cardiff gig. To me a gig is like mirror asking “who are you and what are you made of?” I see it as a challenge to be the best I can be, and I hate letting myself down.
I also didn’t want to let down The Full Moon, as it’s run by such incredible people, music geeks who do a lot to support new music and their community. My last gig here with John Parker in the bar downstairs seems to have gone down in venue folklore now, so I’ve graduated to the main room for this solo gig.
After soundchecking and shooting a little video I had a wander around town. Cardiff may have a lot of crappy drunken fights and Stag and Hen parties – I should know cos I’ve been on one myself – but there’s a lot more to it than that, and good people to meet.
Two more great supports tonight, both making big steps towards their different goals. Luke Bennett as a very accomplished guitar player, and Dan Bettridge as an exceptional singer-songwriter with a stunning voice.
As the room filled up a bit we got a really wonderful atmosphere and I was reminded of why I love doing this so much. Plus I really love this room. A lot! Thank you to everyone who came to listen. I’d love to come back again.
I don’t think I’ll ever be like Daft Punk, for a start I’ve already revealed way too much about myself. So screw that for now. Keep it personal – drop me an email or something – it’d be good to hear from you…
I’ve been in the grip of a bread making obsession recently. Taking a step closer to the sandwich shop perhaps?
There always was a bit of the ‘never a truer word than spoken in jest’ to that lyric, but I bet I’d get bored of being a baker. I’d soon be craving learning something new.
Before the gig I went to Wagamama’s in Bath with some old friends, and was telling them about my idea to get a job in the kitchens until I’ve learned how to cook the entire wagamama menu. Then I’d quit and do the same at an Indian restaurant, an Italian restaurant and so on. Then you could just keep going – be a builder, a plumber, an electrician, a gardener, a barman, a sailor, a cabbie, each year of your life a new job, like childhood curiosity for adults. You wouldn’t earn a lot, but you’d learn a lot.
It’s partly why I love being a musician – you’re never done learning. It’s like a restaurant with a never-ending menu. I had a beer after the gig with some music students and they were asking me for advice about life as a musician. Ha! I did my best and I know a fair bit, but if you know anything you know you’ve barely scratched the surface of how to write a great song, play it to it’s fullest potential, make musical moments meaningful.
Having said that there are some great little tricks. I used one of my favourites at this Bath gig – the quieter you play, the more aware the audience are of their own noise. Playing two quiet ones first set the tone for a really wonderful gig. It was also fun to experiment a bit, I tried one song in a sort of a capella / spoken word way which was interesting.
Some great other people played this gig too. Hayley Collins and Foreign Affairs both played their hearts out. It was great to share a stage with them… well one at a time I mean, we didn’t all stand there at once singing Band Aid or anything.
I don’t have the most fans of anyone, but I’m often overwhelmed by their enthusiasm. Thanks especially to them, they know who they are. The promoter even spent the day drawing me a picture:
Thank you to you all for being so supportive. No cheffing or plumbing for me, I’ve got work to do to record these songs. Smashing gig Bath, see you in October I hope…
There are three main reasons I chose Nottingham for my university:
- It was suitably far away from home to experience the thrill of moving out, but not so far when it came to that cliché about the washing.
- Me and my friend jack visited the campus on an open day. It was gloriously sunny so all the girls looked gorgeous. We sat on the grass next to the lake and the student union served us beer, even though it was an open day so we were quite obviously under 18. Jack found a fiver on the floor.
- It was meant to be good for law, which is what I’d applied for.
For the next three years we all played at being adults, doing things we thought adults did like stay out late in clubs drinking VKs and dancing to awful music. It was a playground of boys who’d discovered they had a man’s body, a bit like Tom Hanks in Big, and girls who’d discovered they had a woman’s body, a bit like Jennifer Garner in 13 Going On 30.
I love that one of the words for getting drunk is to get wasted. What a perfect description! A night wasted is a night wasted. I had a lot of fun and managed to leave with a good degree, but I pretty much spent three wasted years here. At least I have some great friends to show for it…
Hmm I wonder if me from a few years back would be pleased with the person I am now? He probably wouldn’t have come out to see me at the Guitar Bar that’s for sure. After all it doesn’t look like much on the outside, an unassuming old building on the edge of the city centre, not as cool as The Bodega Social or The Rescue Rooms.
But what did that little punk know? Not a lot I think. The Guitar Bar is a great place for a gig, full of heart and soul and great people. Pat Cunningham and Josh Kemp were great support acts and it was a really successful night. The new songs feel great, and I feel great too.
It took a while, but I’m finally getting the best out of my time in Nottingham, and it’s finally delivering on the promise it once revealed to me and Jack. Why didn’t I realise it sooner? The honour of playing music to a venue full of people in an old building on the edge of the city centre has all the magic and glamour of sunshine over a lake and grass and pretty girls and fivers on the floor.
Massive thanks to Rob Gibson and Brian Heason for organising this gig. Thanks also to Alan Clifford from BBC Nottingham for inviting me in for a chat in the afternoon.
Biggest thanks to everyone who came along, from Derbyshire, Solihull and even Philadelphia (sort of), everyone was brilliant and made it what it was.
Writing a new song is a bit like getting to know someone new. You start with only little superficial details and gradually get to cut the crap and find out what they’re like deep down. What are their true motivations? Where have they come from? Are we going to get on?
For example I’ve got a new song called Falter. For months the music evoked something in me, a sort of sadness, but I ignored that and wrote the lyrics about other things like the joy of repetition or people who don’t stop to think before they act.
Eventually as I got to know the song more, I realised all this was like putting a suit on a surfer dude, or a hippy tie-dye t-shirt on a goth – it just didn’t fit the personality right. I stopped fighting it and let it be who it wanted to be, which was a song about insecurity and loss of confidence. Now it’s one of my favourites.
Touring together has been a great chance to get to know some of these new characters better. I’ve been surprised how different they feel on a stage. For example I’ve got a song called The Floods which sounds epic as a demo but hasn’t sounded right live so far. That’s fine though – I want to be like a scientist – all results are important, even the ones that aren’t what you hoped for.
Right then – onto the next gig… a lovely venue in Leeds called Oporto.
People sometimes ask me if I ever get nervous. The answer is no, unless I think my gear might break, which kinda happened last night. So my guitar might not have sounded its best, sorry about that. But we made up for it with a lot of love instead right? Love and magic tricks.
I get plenty of messages about Ghostess, one recently from a magician in Leeds who wanted to learn how to play it on guitar. I said I’d teach him if he taught me a magic trick in return, and last night we completed our trade. It was only this old classic, but I like that kind of thing.
Also playing were Broken Fences…
and Tom Morris, both excellent. Thanks also to host Gary Stewart, who looks and sings so much like Paul Simon he’s even got a gig this Saturday fronting a 10-piece band that re-creates the Graceland album. As well as playing in Ellen & The Escapades and Hope and Social he’s working on his second solo album. He’s a great songwriter and a top bloke. Thanks for putting me up mate.
Biggest thank yous go to everyone who came to Oporto. There were some very familiar faces from previous gigs there, you know who you are and you’re the best.
Next up is Nottingham at the Guitar Bar. I hope some of you can make that
For you or me it might be unusual to stand on top of a woman lying on a bed of nails whilst you play the saxophone. Well, not if you’re part of Slamboree, the raucous DJ/live band/circus party band. At one point backstage a juggler was teaching me to throw a hat correctly to land on my head whilst a rip-to-remove velcro dress was being tested out 2 feet away. I needed all my concentration skills for that one.
That’s right, to quote a line on the new Paper Aeroplanes album (out this week – double underline), I might run away with the circus. Really I might. Ever wondered why running away with the circus is such a cliche? (God what is it with quoting paper aeroplanes songs today…) It’s because they know how to have a good time.
We’re at Bucks New Uni’s end of the year Festiball. For the uninitiated, University May Balls involve showering students with as much entertainment as possible, in as many spaces as possible, and as much booze as possible, then letting nature take its course. Bucks do it particularly well, and all their events are free to students.
I have the pleasure of playing right before Everything Everything – an impossibily interesting band, and fully deserving of their huge popularity right now. They’re taking interesting to a fine art. Love the lyrics, melodies, rhythms, everything everything (sorry). Check them out if you can – they’re on tour in October. Their songs sound like this and this and this. Good guys too.
Slamboree finish the night as only they can – with stilt walkers banging nails up their nostrils and Batman’s Joker playing dubstep trombone.
Thanks so much to everyone who listened to my set. So many people stopped me to say how much they enjoyed it. You guys were amazing. Compared with some my stage show is little, only a guitar and a mic. All I have is songs and words, and new ones at that, still shifting and settling. But I hope there were some good connections made. I loved it.
I ain’t gonna lie, there have been times over the winter where I’ve thought “Is this really worth it? These new songs are rubbish.” Ah hello self-doubt! It’s like the friend who just puts you down and you wonder why you’re still friends with, but sometimes pushes you on to work harder and be better.
This past winter, when wrestling with a particularly difficult song, I would sometimes imagine packed-out, storming, successful nights like this one in Woodbridge just to taunt myself about how far away from all that I was. “Ooh these new songs are your best” people would be saying at my imagination gig while I looked down at yet another page of rejected lyrics.
Oh, if only old me could have seen new me at this gig! It was such a banger! And the new songs were at the heart of it. What a relief.
Looking back, those voices in my head weren’t always a great help, but at least they helped to inspire new material like Watch Yourself – a duet between my conscious and unconscious minds that drove me to the edge of insanity but I’m now quite happy with. It was a big deal for so many people to say it was their favourite.
First thanks go to the live music community of Woodbridge. There was not a single scrap of space in The Angel not filled with a music fan listening intently. Many had seen me play twice there before, so it was the perfect opportunity to try out a set of new songs, and it was only with their help that it was such a success, so thank you. The names are too many to mention, but particular thanks go to Chris and Sarah Mapey for running such a supportive venue, Peter Hepworth for booking and promoting artists there with so much passion and Richard for all his tech help. Rhiannon Mair played a great support set and can look forward to her own gig there soon.
Finally, thanks to 8-year-old Charlie for drawing me this picture. I do hope my next one isn’t quite as violent (does the robot dinosaur really need to have thorns dripping with blood??!). Also to Bonnie, who despite being wheelchair-bound with a rare bone disease, still manages to run a charity to help others less able or headstrong as her. Feet Don’t Fail Me Now is their new theme song :) Rock on Bon.
Tonight I’m off to support one of my favourite bands around right now – Everything Everything. Next stop after that – Leeds.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, the night I first met John Parker and Luke Concannon from Nizlopi in 2010 became quite a significant one where every act on the bill split up and started playing music with each other.
Since then I’ve been lucky enough to share a stage with John regularly as he brought his double bass to life on my songs. The end of Nizlopi was very hard for him, but over time he’s developed into an irreplaceable session musician for lots of great artists.
Moving on was hard for Luke too, but he’s managed to record an exceptional solo album, and now they’ve agreed to their first set of dates back together since the split:
Sunday 16th June – support from Paper Aeroplanes and Rob Bearsby
Monday 17th June – support from me and Antonio Lulic
Both nights will be at The Borderline, London and sold out in a few hours. If you got a ticket for the Monday, I look forward to seeing you there.