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
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
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.
September 21, 2017
Part 1: The Recipe for a Record
In which we send two producers to Moscow, two tracks to London, and eat the finest Arancini this side of Palermo.
Record… I’ve teamed up with producers Chris Boot and Ben Daniel to bring you this record, created in a living room on Goldsmid Road, Brighton. Don’t tell anyone, but if you listen hard enough, you may just hear the number 7 bus pass by. But anyone who knows Chris and Ben knows these songs are in seriously safe hands. We finish our first stint of recording, (where drummer Chris plays the banjo for the first time!) just in time for the guys to jump on a plane to Russia and perform with Lucy Rose. Weather in Moscow- a balmy 24C. Lucky, Ben lost his shorts in India.
Mix… Tobin Jones doesn’t want to know about the records that you want your’s to sound like. He wants to know the stories behind the songs, the colours, where you were. We meet in London at my Green Note show and talk about baby names and vintage tape delays. 4 mix revisions later and ‘Don’t Know Much’ and ‘Keep You in Light’ are ready to be mastered.
Master… (Arancini) Total superstar Poppy Ackroyd is arranging and performing strings. Please listen to her music and see her live, I believe there’s a Berlin show soon. We listen to Tobin’s mixes in her studio, just so happening to coincide this with the end of ‘Italian month’ where Poppy and her boyfriend Joe have been perfecting Italian recipes. The finale; ‘Sicilian Night!’ We feast on the best food I’ve had since the ferry from Catania. A return to Italy is definitely on the cards for 2018’s tour!
February 5, 2017
We are on tour… 12.11.16
Back in March this year I received a message from Lobello Records, Would I play a month long tour Italy for a month with my band? Brighton to Sicily and back. Sussex to 150 miles shy of Africa. I was never going to say no. Here’s how week one’s been going…
‘We are in Milan’
Jamie’s flown from London, Freddie and I have driven from Zurich, crossing it’s glossy Lake by ferry, and disappeared into the Gotthard tunnel. We emerge from car doors and foreign apartment foyers with arms open. Tour car BeeGee’s hazards blink, double parked in the concrete city with a pink sky.
‘The Lion and the Nomad’
Utterly elegant, in the mountains of Lombardy, sits Breganze. Toothless men send us down lanes clinging to hills and beautiful women give us wine. We’re told they make special wine here. We drink it.
‘Say it with Cappuccini’
Refugees welcome, reads the poster on the wall in Arci Chinaski, Sermide. We arrive to a bar full of bearded men with stern faces, there’s a referendum tomorrow. We’re embraced and treated like royalty. We’re told they make special wine here. We drink it.
‘Pictures of pictures etc’
A big part of tour is having little to no idea what the next venue’s going to be like. We couldn’t have ever anticipated Ex Cinema Aurora. A cave-like movie theatre of hidden treasures . It was nearly turned into a Chinese Supermarket had it not been for proprietor Jacco. The Chinese supermarket moved in next door instead.
‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’
Today we journeyed down the shin of the boot. As the rain poured, darkness fell, and drivers casually drifted across the road at 90mph, I reminded myself how beautiful the wine and aubergine was last night. I can forgive anything of the land that brought forth that aubergine. We arrive to Paestum, are greeted by ancient Greek ruins and a Taverna, Casa Rubbini.
‘These arms of mine’
We’re told there are bandits in the southern mountains and we are absolutely crazy to drive from Puglia to Calabria. That we’ve lost our minds and our booking agents are insane. Of course we do it anyway and arrive into the arms of the Ferlaino family. We all shout and kiss in excess. We’re told they make special wine here, we… yup there’s a pattern.
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We are on tour… 20.11.16
We’ve hit half way. I’m sitting on a floral bedspread at the Lobello Records house in Lecce. Sweet Baby James is playing in the kitchen downstairs. Here’s how week 2 of our trans-Italia voyage went…
‘Banquets & Blonde Bombshells’
This is Gabriella. Chef to the band, the venues many staff and a small film crew, most of whom seem to be related. Clad in exquisite red suede, silk ruffled blouse, and stilettos, she feeds an army and sips on margaritas. We’re starting to understand that everything that happens in Italy involves the help (and intervention) of everyone. That no man is an island here.
‘The Breeze and the Bromads’
Ferry number 2. Aranchinos in one hand, espresso in the other. The Southern most point of the tour awaits us. If you’ve ever uttered the words “wow, I’d have never found this place” (had it not been for the help of someone)…Well, that’s us, minus that someone. Eventually we wind our way up the correct vertical hillside in the darkness and find Villa Ricca, Patti.
‘Brothers in Arms’
William and Franscesco, the Sicilian/Glaswegian brothers are our hosts at Villa Ricca. Situated on the top of the hill, over looking the sea, this place is magic. Closed for November, we are their sole guests and are made to feel at home in our very own Sicilian mansion. We eat wild mushrooms that Fransceso picked and talk at length about our grandparents. We’re told the wine here is special… yeah yeah you go it.
‘When Doves Cry’
I haven’t really talked about the shows. From ancient crypts to suave winebar music venues, old cinemas to dingy clubs, myself, Jamie and Freddie have been belting out ‘Our Good Sides’ night after night. We’ve learned a Prince cover in the car that we never quite have the guts to play. We’ve had our first tears as I got electrocuted, twice, during one soundcheck. But every night our audience have sung along to ‘What I Would Give’. And these two guys are golden.
‘Once upon a time’
I’m walking through the streets of Catania with radio presenter Renalto as he regales fairy tales of his city. He begins each story the same way and I’m reminded what a thoroughly good opening ‘Once upon a time’ is. It gradually makes me slightly less thoroughly pissed off that, after a nightmare of a journey, BeeGee’s wing mirror has been smashed into a thousand pieces. As walks back from mechanics go, this is a pretty good one.
‘‘Rescue Me’ (x3)
Matteo Renzi is visiting Palermo. The roads are closed. We plunge into a sea of police cars and scooters. As sirens crescendo, our will to be here dramatically diminishes. Jamie talks to cops. We pray to the satnav. Hazards on, half way up the pavement in a sea of mayhem, we’re out. I call the promoter for tonight’s show. Roberto arrives on his motorbike, a Sicilian, leather clad Viking of a figure, and leads our convoy through the insanity of Palermo in what feels like a Royal escort/ action movie. T.I.S- this is Sicilia.
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We are on tour… 27.11.16
We’ve just eaten beans in tea cups. The guys are napping before we go to soundcheck, and someone is playing ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ on a beaten up Spanish guitar outside my window. Here are the tour tales from our penultimate week on the road…
We play our last show in Cosenza with Jamie before he has to fly back to the UK. Things we will miss about this guy: His Mrs Doubtfire voice impersonations. Having him as our awesome sound tech. His Italian language skills. His bear hugs and enthusiastic congratulations on anything from a good belch (sorry Mums) to a touching moment in a song that we all nailed.
‘At home with the Todiscos’
2 hours sleep. 1 mad pyjama dash in freezing fog to let Freddie in through our accommodation’s compound gates after he went to a party in an underground car park and got locked out. 6 hours of driving across the bad lands of bandits. We make it to Lecce and into the arms of the Todisco family and their 2 new rescue puppies- ‘Luna’ and ‘Elton John’.
‘Martyna in concert’
Second tears of tour. A rare night off coincides with my dear friend Martyna Jatkauskaite coming from Berlin to give a concert in Lecce. Some things are meant to be. I’ve seen Martyna play before but tonight was something special. And as she played her encore (which I later found out was written by Mihali, her husband) the tears were streaming down my cheeks.
‘Singing on Water’
Cecilia cooks for 200 people and Lobello Records host our house concert. The Masseria is full of Salento’s beautiful people, including some familiar faces from the ‘Singing on Water’ artist residency I did there 2 years ago. Our rooms are directly above a disco ball which we are performing beneath, and I drink Limoncello made by someone’s 90 year old Grandmother.
Once this was the hotel of Salima’s Grandmother. Returning to Soar, her home town, after a jet-setting career in fashion, Salima re-opened the boarded up hotel and turned it into a music venue. We drink passion fruit from pewter chalices and learn Italian tongue twisters. I especially like everyone’s hands in this photo.
‘We are in Rome’
Alex join us from Germany to play bass for the last leg of the tour! I learn that tomorrow’s venue has just lost it’s licence. That means no show, no accommodation and that we won’t be getting paid. 100 phone calls are placed, all to no avail. But Rome makes up for it. We stroll past the Coliseum and play a sold out show. Everything is totally surreal. I utter 3 little words to myself “We’re. So. Cool.”
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We are home!… 7.12.16
It’s Sunday morning. I’m listening to Cerys Matthews on 6music, chugging ginger tea and working my way through a box of tissues. I managed to learn an astonishingly small amount of Italian on tour, but I did learn a new English word- Apricity. And that’s what I’m doing right now, basking in the winter sun. Sitting in my window, looking out to sea, I thank this stonking head-cold for waiting until the tour had finished. Even if did missing last night’s party. (I’m so pissed of I missed last night’s party. I’m no at all thankful to this stonking head-cold.) So! Here’s how our homeward chapter unfurled…
‘All roads lead to Rome’
Alex wasn’t the only international arrival to our show in Rome. Rikki-Lee and Nat, being the intrepid kiwis that they are, jumped on a flight from London and rocked up, just before we went onstage, to sip Gin cocktails at our show. First girlfriend hang out in 25 days. The next day we strolled around the Pantheon and ordered Aperol Spritzs the size of our heads before I joined the guys to drive to get on the road, and Rikki-Lee and Nat spontaneously joined a demonstration for gender equality. All in a day.
‘The kindness of strangers’
What do you do when a show cancels and one of you goes down with tonsillitis? Find kind people. Eat good food with them. We’re out of pocket for the most expensive leg of the tour and Alex has a fever. We’re taken in by utterly kind friends of friends and we eat Bolognese in Bologna (except, news flash-‘Bolognese’ is actually ‘Ragù’). Restored, we make it to play our last show in Italy and eat the best pizza we’ve ever had, washed down with Grapa that tastes like Whisky.
‘How do you say goodbye in a photo?’
We drive 638km from Trebaseleghe to Grenoble. We crawl around Milan, skies grey, trees bare. Stopping at a service station for a quick coffee, we check where we’ve reached on the map and realise that, all of a sudden, we’re about to leave Italy. We crack out the camera and Freddie asks “How do you say goodbye in a photograph?”. It hasn’t yet sunk in quite yet, what all those places and people have meant to me. We leave through doorways in mountains.
‘We are in France’
We emerge. The light at the end of the tunnel approaches and we enter France. We pass new faces, new architecture, new words, and arrive to play a house concert in Grenoble. Welcomed into the beautiful loft home of Gregory, Isa and their family, we are held in the heart of the city. Positioned in the centre of town, up on the rooftops, towered over by the mountains, we play an unplugged show. We’re told they make special wine here…
‘Once, my arm was swallowed by a Giraffe’
When you can play a show in Paris, you play a show in Paris. I knew coming here, at the very end of an enormous tour, would be both stressful and exhausting. It was. The major cities of the world aren’t impressed by what you’ve achieved, they’re busy. They’re excellent. So what, you just played the biggest tour of your life? This is Paris and you’re certainly not special. Paris, however, is. Everything about our show is difficult and everything about being here is fabulous. And I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
‘If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.’
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