By: Mara

February 19, 2020

Dusk in Aro Valley

I’m breaking into Hannah’s house to play the piano. The birds are my cover- singing over the sound of scrabbling locks and creaking doors. Aro Valley is bathed in dusk light. It’s summer in New Zealand. I’m hungry for music and solitude, and here they both are. And by chance, poised on the piano, is the perfect book- the very same Chopin Valses that I inherited from my Nanna. Just like hers’ it’s almost falling apart, beautiful lines on fragile pages, just about hanging together.

Don’t worry, I’m not really breaking in. My dear friend Hannah told me to help myself to the spare keys “somewhere outside”. Back in December I took some time out to travel to New Zealand with my little family. It was time to slow down, to spend time with our family here, for Joy to play with her cousins, pick up a cracking kiwi accent, and get to know her Great-Grandpa. Just to be and to live. But as wonderful as anyone’s in-laws can be, I was hungry for solitude and a piano.

The next morning I return and Hannah’s back in town. We catch up over black coffee then I continue to practice while she takes a bath. She tells me that Liszt stole all the girls, leaving Chopin devastated. Party after party he’d return home, rejected by a new love once again, to write these Walzes to which he’d have no dance partner for. Poor Chopin!

I collect Joy from her Grandma and Great-Grandpa Bernard. Four generations report on their morning; general temperament, snacks had, I hum the piece I’ve been learning and Bernard sings the next line, he knows it well. The threads converge across generations and continents; between my Nanna learning this piece in Nairobi, to our piano in Brighton, to the great grandfather of my daughter.

November 21, 2019

My New Guitar

There she was, where she’d always been- hanging above the piano at my parent’s house. Forgotten, yet poised proudly, on the wall of a family home. Year after year waiting patiently as classical books were packed away and new guitars were dreamed of and scrimped and saved for. No longer relevant to the fierce trajectory of youth.

Up and away we grow. Only from that vantage point do we hear where we’ve come from and see ourselves in reference to our ancestors and to our own short histories. 22 years on and I’ve taken her off the wall- the guitar I was given when I was 10 years old, my ‘new’ guitar.

I started Spanish guitar under the instruction of Patrick Gibson. Patrick had lost a finger in World War Two but that hadn’t stopped his career. Around his music room were photographs of him in his heyday performing in exquisite flamenco shirts, as well as handwritten practice mantras, carefully framed to preserve their wisdom. His wife Jean, shadowed by their Corgi, Muffin, would bring me a buttered crumpet then I’d wash my hands and begin the serious business of learning the guitar. Performance was an integral part of Patrick’s teaching and he’d take all his students to perform in local old people’s homes. I wasn’t a serious child but remember taking these concerts very seriously, knowing that performing music was something of great importance.

I don’t have many regrets (yet!) but not taking the time to pop in to thank Patrick, to tell him I was playing guitar on stages around the world, that it was something that had opened doors to adventures I couldn’t have dreamt of, and that he had really been a great teacher, is one of them. I’d drive past his house every time I was visiting my parents, yet I was always too busy to stop. He’d been as old as god when he was teaching and now my mum had seen an ambulance in the drive way, now the house was for sale. I followed whatever threads I could find but to no avail.

I’ve now had a pick-up put into my old guitar (she needs a name- any suggestions? Patricia?!), I’m writing new songs on her and she’s become a firm addition to my live set and to the next album. And I’ll try harder to remember to stop and pull over, to have a cup of tea with a buttered crumpet and say thanks.

I love Brighton. The September mornings when the sea is completely flat and so crystal clear that you could be in Greece. The bank of sand that appears in spring tides like a secret pathway. The train station. The seafront arcades in winter- all baggy and boarded up. Walking through the south lanes at closing time when the jewellers pack away diamond rings from shop windows.

I’m not from here. A friend from school had a flat here and somehow I ended up spending a University summer holiday living in her spare room, working at a bar (Pitcher and Piano!!) and playing singer-songwriter nights. This was the first place I’d been that playing other people’s songs was not cool. You were meant to play your own songs. You were meant to be yourself. I played all sorts of nooks and crannies- the Joogleberry, the Sanctuary… I started listening to Emilíana Torrini, wore pink sunglasses and met lots of strangers who became friends. I went from Brighton to Nottingham, to Asia, Australia, South America, New Zealand and Berlin. 8 years later, one dark winter night in our flat in Neukoelln, Ali and I decided to give the UK a go and came to this seaside townin the spring, as newly-weds.

This month I release ‘285 Days – RETOLD’ a collection of remixes created by some of my favourite composers and producers, plus one track that I’ve remixed myself. I love the idea that the stories behind my songs have been re-told through the minds of these artists; that we’ve all taken the threads from each song and re-woven them. When it came to creating a video for Poppy’s ‘retelling’ of my track, ‘Keep You in Light’, I was thrilled to work with Georgie d’Albiac Brewin whose created this beautiful film of our city. We all call Brighton home. Poppy and Georgie are two people who, aside from me admiring their work, are very much part of our family here. I hope you enjoy this collaboration! You can pre-order your digital or hard copy via the link below, I can’t wait for you to hear what we’ve all done!

I’ve played some weird gigs. Who hasn’t?

This week I’m releasing a live album! It’s drawn my mind back to some of the weirdest and most wonderful stages I’ve graced. There was one show, alongside world class pianist Martyna Jatkauskaite where we ate caviar under a chandelier in a mansion on a lake. Then there was a festival in a zoo, as in in an actual zoo- that was pretty surreal. But perhaps one of the strangest and most touching shows I played yet was in the small seaside town of Sankt Peter-Ording…

I was touring Germany with my band by train. We were a sight to behold- Alex wielding a double bass, Rene with his enormous suitcase of drums and Susy and I lugging an assortment of guitars and banjos as we bundled in and out of train carriages. We arrived in Sankt Peter-Ording, not a common stop for bands, and faithfully followed directions from the train station to the address given. Things started to get stranger and stranger. German addresses tend to be very accurate and very difficult to get wrong, yet we had most definitely arrived in a hospital carpark. I rang the promoter, Thomas. He was delighted that we’d arrived and instructed that we sign in at the Reha-Klinik and follow signs to Café Instinkt where the stage was set for sound-check. OK. My German isn’t great and I had failed to realise that we were actually booked to play a show in a hospital.

We had no idea what to expect. The audience poured in, non-alcoholic cocktails flowed from the bar and a full house awaited our set. It ended up being one of those shows where you truly feel like people get what you’re doing- that you’re playing music and it’s meaning something. I think I can speak for us all that we felt incredibly privileged to play that room. What an amazing thing for a hospital to do- to host live music for your patients? Funnily enough Thomas didn’t seem to think that what he was doing was in any way admirable. As I chatted to him about what a beautiful experience it had been he sort of just replied with technical questions- Had the PA been adequate? Did we love Rammstein? (I’d never heard of them to his despair!) His attitude seemed to be that he was simply running a music venue that happened to be inside a hospital. I couldn’t help but find this even more heartening.

Due to the extortionate hotel rates of this seaside town, we’d brought tents with us (as if we didn’t have enough to carry!) but as the weather packed in we found ourselves camping out in one of the hospital conference rooms through a maze of sliding doors and whiteboards. We showered and brushed our teeth where the hospital staff get into their scrubs. The next morning we trundled off to catch our train, feasting on bad coffee and chocolate croissants from the dining cart.

We weave stories
like pieces of clothing
we wear them
Through the dance
they move with us.

My sewing shears belonged to my Great-Granny, Dorothy. These days I don’t do so much sewing (as in zero), instead I find myself meditating rather than doing, being drawn to the stories that are handed down from each generation and to the objects which tell those stories.

I’m working on my ‘285 Days- Retold’ EP. It’s a collection of 5 remixes of songs from my album, created by 5 different producers who all happen to be all women which I’m told is pretty unusual for a remix EP. It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this with my music and it’s sounding really exciting! I love how the songs are being ‘retold’ through each producer’s ears, including my own as I’m remixing one of the tracks myself.

Ideas of retelling, of passing on stories, of the mother-line, the thread from where we come, where we’re going to and the stories that make sense of those journeys, have all been swirling around my head.

My great granny Dorothy emigrated to Kenya in 1910, seeking promise of a bright new future. It would be a decade before she was able to go back home to visit her family in England, making the long journey by boat with my Grandad and his two older brothers. Sitting on the beach at Walton-on-the-Naze she opened a letter. It was from my great-grandfather, still in Kenya, telling her that he would be divorcing her to remarry someone else. She was to remain in England with my Grandad, the littlest, the older boys would be returning to Kenya when their father travelled over to collect them.

My Mum tells me that she was known to the family as Dolly- small and lots of fun – and I think of the incredible strength and grace she must have had. I think of it when I wear my red coat, made using her sewing shears.

I’m explaining the new EP to my Mum, shouting from the kitchen as she plays with my daughter in the room next door. For the last 2 days I’ve been taking the stems from a song and reworking them into a new track. “It’s like taking apart a dress and creating something new with the pieces of fabric and threads”. “Ahhh” yells Mum back, “I get it! Cool!”.

Pianos are like anchors,
Heavy, hard to move,
They hold us in spaces
And we sound our stories though them.
The lid of our piano stayed shut for a long time. It reminded me of exams and how bad I was at sight-reading.
It had been the first thing I’d used to tell stories with, as a small child, legs dangling from the piano stool. Entire worlds of adventure were to be discovered through the keys laid out before me, their infinite combinations the gateway to characters and places, to love and tragedy.
Fast forward several years of falling in and out of love with studying music to 2015 where I play support for Robyn Hitchcock at the Unitarian Church, Brighton. I see a grand piano to the side of stage and something makes me ask the caretaker, Peter, if I can come back and practice on it during the day. There began a ritual of unravelling. Not of sight-reading, or dusting off exam pieces I’d once played, but of actually playing, like kids do. Without trying to accomplish anything ‘correctly’ I wrote Don’t Know Much. I reckon that sums it up.

Open the lid of things you once loved and see what happens…

October 9, 2018

Baby You’re the One…

Joy loves funk. Do all babies love funk? Surely.

Right now ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’ is a pretty big hit.

Hello from the window of our local coffee shop! Like the golden leaves on the pavement outside, my new single has DROPPED. Bang! Boom! Caplonk! Splat!

After a year of mailing handmade packages to my favourite record labels, hearing exciting words and deafening radio silences and spending 2 months chained to a desk solidly working on funding applications, I’m beyond delighted to have now begun releasing new music with a brilliant team behind me.

‘Baby You’re the One’, featuring string arrangement by my wonderful friend Poppy Ackroyd, was recorded on Goldsmid road, Brighton, in the pouring rain as the number 7 bus roared past, drenching passers-by. A love song dedicated to those who stick around when at times “We all come undone”. The artwork, by illustrator Becky Lu, tells the story through it’s intricate depiction of the night sky’s constellation. It’s part of a series of 4 prints belonging to each single I’ll be releasing from my forthcoming album ‘285 Days’.

Listen on Spotify!

Hoping this finds your fine souls well! With love, M.

June 6, 2018


Apparently when people sing together, their heartbeats synchronise.

I can’t remember where I heard this. I guess it stands to reason that the length of a musical phrase would dictate at what point you took a breath, and that if everyone is breathing together in time, that their heartrates would then be affected. Then what would that do to blood pressure? Could you treat a room full of people with high blood pressure by getting them to sing along with a load of people with low blood pressure?! Could this save the NHS money?!

Emphasis on apparently. But isn’t it rather lovely?

Sound-check on my recent tour. I’m always tense until everything is working. Awkward stop-starts and fretful exchanges eventually give way to head-bobs and smiles. We run behind schedule, then in they come. Someone straight from work, trying not to feel like a trespasser, looking for any familiar faces other than my preoccupied mug. Another few people trickle in and mid-song and I squawk a ‘hello choir!’ trying to make them feel welcome whilst fighting my nerves. The choir arrive. This will be the first time the band and I have sung with them. We’ll perform tonight. The scores I wrote and sent to the choir leader all those months ago are now living, breathing. We all assemble, in new positions, standing tentatively. Our soundperson is ready and we begin. And the strangers’ heartbeats synchronise.

(Apparently).Heartfelt thanks to Soul of the City, Glorious Chorus and Victoria Park Singers! My next show will be at historic Butley Priory, Suffolk. Details of that and other concerts coming soon…

Photo by Matt Monfredi (using a camera that once captured Bowie!)

September 21, 2017

Studio Diary Part 3

The story behind a song

I’m in London working with Tobin Jones on more mixes. I’ve mentioned before that, unlike many mixing engineers who ask for references to other music you want your songs to sound like, Tobin wants to know about the song itself. It’s story, the characters involved, smells, tastes, where the song is. So in this episode I thought I’d share a little about what I’ve been telling him….

The story of Ranginui and Papatuanuku

This is how I was told the Maori creation myth, while living in New Zealand, by Bushka band founding member, dear friend and drumming bad-ass, Jean Pompey. Before the world began there was ‘Rangi’ the father and ‘Papa’ the mother. They were having a good time and kept producing more and more children. But the world wasn’t created yet and there was no space for all the children they kept producing. Rangi and Papa didn’t care, they kept having a good time. The children did however and, as conditions got more and more cramped and uncomfortable, they set about devising a way to separate their parents. One of the children, Tu, god of war, suggests killing them but the other siblings agree this is a step too far. Tane, god of the trees, suggests that instead, they push them apart. Only Tawhiri, god of wind, is against this idea and doesn’t believe in separating the parents. Nevertheless, Tane goes ahead and with all his might pushes and pushes, his whole body become taut.. With an almighty crash of light, Rangi and Papa are separated and the earth is created! Ranginui, the father, becomes the sky, Papatuanuku, the mother, becomes the earth. The children discover that while they’d been living in such cramped conditions, they’d become infested with tiny human beings who were now running around everywhere. Tawhiri, the sibling who’d been against the plan, is the only one of the children not to stay on the earth with their mother, and instead remains with his father, raging around the sky, berating his siblings for the magnitude of what they’d naively done. Rangi and Papa are heartbroken to be separated and according to this Maori myth, each night Rangi weeps for Papa, leaving dew drops on her skin, and Papa consoles him by sending rising mist up from the ground to the skies. See you for the next instalment when I’ll be sharing sessions with trumpets, strings and Indian bells gifted in Swiss mountains!

September 21, 2017

Studio Diary Part 2

Introducing artist Becky Lu, the best little coffee shop in Brighton and the Devonian Glorious Chorus.

A call from Hannah… I’m sheltering from the rain, on the phone to BBC Unsung Hero award winner, Hannah Brine. A bizarre series of events have perpetuated in Hannah and her London choir performing with me next year as part of my album release tour. Over the noise of the squall we talk logistics, four part harmonies, and the power of music- ever more poignant in these present times, in bringing Londoners from all walks of life, together to sing. We’ll need that bigger venue. I’ll call the promoter. And now jump in the sea for a morning swim as the rain pours.

Drawing a song…Illustrator Becky Lu is drawing my songs. Each single released from the new album will have it’s own piece of artwork. Back from an artists residency in Canada, Becky tells me that it was on the ferry to Vancouver Island, listening to ‘Don’t Know Much’, that she began to see the song in waves. And here’s a little secret, to the song which is a letter to our unborn child, the pattern within the waves are actually umbilical cords. The best little coffee shop in Brighton… Recording, mixing, mastering, pressing, rendering, printing, scoring, confirming, parking… and everything in between. It’s all in a day for any of the working musicians you see and hear doing their thing. On these admin days, Stoney Point, the cafe downstairs, provide consistently excellent coffee and company. I’m a huge fan of Patti Smith’s last book ‘M Train’, and I think she’d like it here. From a sea of budgets, and to-do lists, I bob up and talk to owner Jesse about Banjos, Existentialism and Banana bread. This is barista Hannah and an enormous dog.

South West show announced… To Totnes! The first tour date to be confirmed for next year’s Arts Council tour will be May 5th in Totnes, with non other than Devon’s ‘Glorious Chorus’ choir! Having just sung with Willy Mason at Roundhouse, force-to-be-reckoned-with choir leader Helen Yeomans and her choir will be joining me and the band. More UK dates to be announced soon! Until the next instalment; sing, dance, wave your hands up in the air… Just go get ’em.