In: Uncategorized

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.

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!”.