Wednesday, 23 February 2011


I remember once, I was sat in some airport. I think it was Amsterdam. For some reason the plane was fully booked. I dunno, maybe it was Easter or half term or some notable holiday. Things like that generally pass me by, bank holidays and the like. Anyway, the plane being fully booked spelled DOOM. I don’t always travel with the love of my life but for emotional reasons I didn’t want to do that tour without my Martin guitar.

Somehow I’d managed to smuggle it past the check in people and gotten it to the gate. They looked at me like I was taking the proverbial. They told that I wouldn’t be able to take it on board. Now, I have a slight chip on my shoulder about this. There were fussing mothers with bags and bags of things that I’m sure they didn’t need for the flight. There were business men in awful shiny shoes with brief cases and things on wheels which I’m certain only contained paper work or something that would not cause complete emotional meltdown if it were to get thrown around by the heavy handed cargo handling men. Why can't they be persecuted!?

When the airport people saw me with the guitar, I was asked to wait at the door like a naughty school child. I sat and I sweated. My heart was beating very fast. I bit all my fingernails off. When the woman who was to decide the fate of my guitar came to speak to me, I literally knelt on the floor and pleaded with her. I expressed the following…

Some people wait an entire lifetime to find the person of their dreams. When they meet that person, they can’t imagine what life would ever be like without them. This is usually when people get married. About 5 years ago, I didn’t know the meaning of this until I visited a guitar shop in Runcorn called ‘Frailers’ (note to all guitarists… you MUST go there). Up until that point I’d been having a fling of an affair with a cheap acoustic that had an unnecessary cut away and intonation that didn’t fit so well with my ears. That day at frailers, everything I’d ever experienced before was overwritten. The Spanish nylon that lilted me through my late teens, the steel stringed thing that lifted me into my early twenties became obsolete at that moment. I found my Martin.

In all honesty I didn’t mean to acquire a guitar that day in Runcorn, but I knew that the world would be out of balance forever if me and Martin were to be apart for a day longer. I brought him home with me and I have loved him ever since.

I don’t have him insured. One might think this foolish, but my rational on the matter is beyond reason, into realms of the existential. If something bad happened to him, my life would end at that very moment. You wouldn’t insure your husband who you love more than anything, so that you could buy a new one if he died, would you? That would undermine everything.

I never leave him in a car alone. He has accompanied me into many a service station toilet and he has sat with me while I’ve drank numerous cappuccinos next to some motorway or other. He knows me better than anyone and I could still tune him perfectly even if I were to become deaf. I know exactly how much the machine heads need to be turned to create a certain note, and I know when a string is about to snap just by touching him. This is awful when it happens half way through a gig but I never blame him. Sometimes he speaks to me in the night, I hear a string slip slightly as my house becomes cool after the heating has gone off.  Sometimes the wood just creaks a little. I accept that I may never meet a person whom I will spend my whole life with, but I know that I will never be alone because I have already found my soul mate.

Anyhow, I regaled the lady at the airport in this kind of vein. There was sweat pouring off my forehead and I was slightly shaking. In the end, she let me take it on board. Love, it seems, does conquer all. 

Stalactites and Stalagmites.

My nose was well and truly stuck into a book. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. Reading in cars makes me feel sick but I couldn’t stop. I felt sick for the whole journey around Italy but I couldn’t put it down.

My alarm beeped at an unholy hour and woke me in Bologna. I had to heed its noise because I had a plane to catch. It would have been too far to drive from to Bari in a day so my booking agent had got me booked on one of those bright yellow flying machines, a ryan air aeroplane. This made me happy because it meant that I could read some more and not feel sick. When I arrived in Bari I tried to sleep for a few hours before the gig. I didn’t sleep, I just read. By the time gig o’clock arrived I was shattered and emotionally wrecked by the goings on on the Western Front.

Turned out the gig was in a cave. I was expecting a little cavern with a few tea lights dotted around. Instead, I had to get into a lift that took me far underground and spat me out in a GIANT cave that was possibly the most amazing place I’ve ever seen. It was cold and damp and really echoey. As I walked up to what you might refer to as the stage area, but was actually just a little bit of rock, I spied a grand piano. My knees nearly buckled beneath me in excitement. “How did they get that thing down here?” I thought. I then realised it was a mock grand piano. It looked like a grand piano, but inside the keyboard area was a digital thing. I imagine this is the kind of affair that Elton John might play. I was a bit disappointed about that. There were all manner of stalactites and stalagmites pointing around the place and they were all lit up by different coloured lights. My facts might be wrong and I can’t be bothered googling it, but I think that cave might be the biggest underground cave in Europe or something.

The sound was magnificent. Speakers and microphones were really quite useless in such a cavernous space. My voice sounded like it was a billion times bigger than I. It felt like it was infinite. Why, I could almost see the vibrations of my voice bouncing around and soaring upwards and downwards and all around. I worried that my voice might disturb a stalactite and it might fall from the roof and skewer some innocent audience member while I was in the middle of ‘Canopy’ of some other song with high bits.

The next day my alarm beeped at an unholy hour once again. Another airport. This time I was heading back home. Sleep had been thin on the ground for days, but I still couldn’t put the book down. I ordered a coffee from a terribly unfriendly woman and started to cry. I sat on an airport sofa and wept. The woman’s unfriendliness had pushed me over the edge. I carried on reading my book through my tears. I can’t give away the ending, but it’s pretty sad. The final words passed by my tear filled eyes as I sat on the airport sofa and I started to heave with heartache. That book is the saddest tale I’ve ever known and I was inconsolable all the way home.

As soon as I got back I had to head straight off for a gig in Manchester. I love Manchester but it’s a hard place to return to sometimes.  

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Bell That Wakes Me Every Sunday.

When I moved into my current abode I was in the middle of a phase where I was obsessed by bells. My second album had not long been finished and released, and it contained many metallic noises. Vibraphone, dulcitone, glockenspiel, hand bells and the like. Bells are just the sounds of metal aren’t they. My second album in entitled “Wrought Iron”. I was into metal noises at the time. I’ve moved on to drones and pitch shifting now. 

The place where I live is pretty nice, if a little damp. My kitchen and my bathroom are without heating, which makes for interesting winters. I do believe that it’s not right to expect to be constantly warm even in January and I practice what I preach. This has lead to me to a situation where I never play my guitar in the winter months. My hands get too cold. It takes them about a month of springtime to warm to guitar playing temperature. It’s ok though because winter gives room for me to play piano. My hands don’t need to be as warm to play piano.

As for the harp, well that is another story. It seems that I can only play that instrument with my window wide open. I like the idea that there might be some handsom prince riding past on a horse, and the harp might drift into his ears and he might be unable to resist following the sound until he sees me… a round woman from Wigan. He might be momentarily disappointed but I’ll promise to play wonderful music to him for the rest of his life and he will agree to marry me and all my problems would be solved and I’d never have to use my brain again. (N.B this isn’t true at all, but I do play my harp with the window open sometimes) 

Anyhow, it is the view out of my window that is the best bit about where I live. When I found this adobe I was INCREDIBLY worried that it is north facing. South facing abodes offer more vitamin D, you see. The view from the window makes up for the lack of direct sunlight. It looks out over a large churchyard, framed by three trees that mark out the seasons with their green leafy, red leafy and completely leafless dances.

The first Sunday I woke here, I was woken up by the sound of bells ringing. I have been woken up by the same sound every Sunday since. Not one bell, but many different tones. To this day I haven’t worked out if they’re real or recorded. I’ve investigated length by traipsing around the churchyard to see if I can find the source of the noise. I’ve never had the nerve to ask the priest because he is catholic and I fear he might not appreciate my bell fascination, but merely tell me that I’m destined for hell.

I might say…

“Well well well well well
Mr priest. I want to enquire about that bell.
I might be going straight to hell
but I wanna know about that bell.
It wakes me every Sunday, oh priest will you please tell,
I don’t care about my afterlife I wanna know about that bell”

It is driving me mad. For sure, I am gonna get my microphone out of that window when it gets a bit warmer and record the thing.

I love where I live. I’m recording my third album here, in the main. I don’t feel at home anywhere else, literally. I can spend hours and hours with my headphones on, might as well be on another planet. If the church outside my window was to explode or set on fire, I wouldn’t notice if I was in the middle of recording some idea or other. I hope that doesn’t happen. I’m about as far away from being a Christian as a person could be, but I do love looking out upon that churchyard. 

Parcel Envy.

I’m jealous of ‘Miss Bell’, who lives upstairs from me.
She’s always getting packets, parcels and postcards, you see.
Does she spend her days online, buying things she doesn’t need?
Or has she friends that love her so much, they send presents constantly?
While I open up my gas bill from the energy company,
She’s receiving flowers, boxes and colourful letters to read,
I’m jealous of ‘Miss Bell’, who lives upstairs from me,
So I’ll send myself a golden hat and a tonne of lapsang tea.
She’ll see my parcels in the hall way, her eyes will turn all green,
Oh, I’m jealous of ‘Miss Bell’, who lives upstairs from me. 

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Red Wine Risotto At Dusk.

The last of the evening sun arched with an aching beauty over the silhouetted mountains. Light that was strong enough to see by was long gone, just a glow from beyond the horizon. Down by the campsite, the lake was catching the reflection of the moon. It looked like a shoal of iridescent fish darting around on top of the water. I’m sure I even heard a bat squeaking, although I've been reliably informed that this is not possible for a pair of human ears.

I was in one of my favourite places. I spent the evening making red wine risotto down at the foot of the very mountains I had climbed that day. That evening’s beauty will never be matched.

I don’t want to carry on with this story. I don’t know where I’m going with it. I still haven’t cleaned the olive oil off my gas camping stove or rectified the whole affair with myself. 

It is hard not to become embittered isn't it? When you possess a romantic view of the world, one finds that reality rarely lives up to it. There are bills to pay. There are dentist appointments to make. You can’t go around lighting sparklers when it isn’t bonfire night. I am very aware of the holes in my ability to accept reality.  

As I reach my late twenties, I’m more confused about everything that I’ve ever been before.  Last year I realized that there is only one thing that I’m certain of - that my life is certainly not going to pan out in any way I can possibly imagine right now.

I thought that by my age I might have just started to settle into some kind of proper career, with prospects and direction. I though I might have met some level headed man who might want to purchase a washing machine with me. I though I’d have a ginger coloured cat and a piano that I only played on Sundays. I’ve learned that none of these things are to be the case. Apart from the piano – I do have a piano but I play it all the time, not just on Sundays. I nearly got a cat but it turns out I’m allergic to them.

Life is not all red wine risotto at dusk. Sometimes it is more like butter-less mashed potato at midday. It is very potato like at the moment. So today I went to see a film at the cinema on my own. It wasn’t the most moving story I’ve ever come across but the way it was shot, the soundtrack, the colours and the movement – It made my heart glow and a few tears crept down my face. 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Tell Me, What Is True Love?.

Last summer brought with it a lot of free time for me. I didn’t tour or play festivals, I just stayed in Manchester and wrote a lot of music. It was the happiest summer I’ve experienced so far, even though I was nursing a bit of heartache. I’m always nursing some kind of heartache though - I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Many a day saw me sat on my front doors step in the sunshine. There is a primary 
school across the road from my home and you can hear the little people running about and shouting in their break times. Often I’d read a book or I’d sit there gazing up at the tops of the trees. Sometimes I'd just write or daydream. 

There isn't really a garden where I live, but there are some shrubs and a path that leads down to the road. One day I bobbed out to the record shop down the road. It’s a great record shop and I’d often meet with my record collecting friend for a coffee whilst I was out. There is a place that sells plants opposite the record shop. Gardening is something I know little about, but as I passed the plant shop, I came across this rhododendron tree type thing. I was beguiled. It wasn’t a normal kind of love. I didn’t feel that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with it, or that we could make beautiful children together, but nevertheless I think it’s safe to say that I loved it. It had tiny little pink flowers all over it and it was the perfect size and shape. It was for sale at the price of £4.50. I had a fiver in my purse so I bought it and brought it home with me.  

For only two days did the little tree accompany me on the door step in the sunshine. It made a wonderful addition to my afternoons and I watered it and found it a lovely pot to sit it.  I came down one morning to find it gone. One of two things had obviously happened. Either it had felt emotionally trapped by my affection and decided to run away, or else it had been nicked.  I suppose that the latter is the more likely of the two.  Maybe someone had seen me with it, smiling and whiling away the hours, become jealous and decided that they wanted it for themselves.

Doubt began to occur in my heart. Was it all for nothing? How can such beauty just
disappear in the blink of an eye? All I’d wanted was to brighten up the doorstep, not just for me, but for everyone who passed by. Some crooked person had ruined all of that. Where was my tree now? In a skip somewhere? On someone else’s doorstep? £4.50 is a price to high for broken hope.

Nevertheless, I became philosophical about the matter. It was the only way. Maybe someone else was spending time with my tree now, but they would never love it in the same way I did. My love was a pure love, not shaken the vicissitudes of life. Even though the tree was gone, my doorstep was all the more lovely for having once housed it. Even though the leaves and the petals were now not visible to me, and I could no longer smell the pink flowers, the memory it made me feely happy. It was never going to stay forever anyway. Maybe, even, I might have become complacent and forgotten to admire it after a while. I would have seen it become old, bitter and withered. In my mind it will forever be young and full of flowers. 

Message to the thief. - You might think you’ve got yourself a nice Rhododendron tree for free but you’ll never truly enjoy its beauty. 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Yorkshire Man Abroad.

My first trip to France was pretty weird. I played in Brittany mostly. It was hot, as I recall. It’s hard to remember all the places I went to and in what order, but I remember my trip to Le Château-Gontier like one might remember a strange and fantastical dream from one’s childhood.

I was moving around by train, usually Id be met at the platform by someone who’d take me to the venue. It might have been Angers train station, or Laval, or some station with a wonderful, round sounding name. In any case, I was met there by a man called George, who did not speak a word of English. I’d go so far as to say he did not speak at all. I don’t speak French but I tried to on the hour long drive from the train station to the venue, and he just smiled. Maybe the French don’t notice awkward silences but I certainly did.

We finally arrived in the little village of Le Château-Gontier. The venue was a small bar with an old knackered piano in the corner. I set my stuff up. There were quite a few people milling around, they all seemed like nice folk but I wasn’t sure because they were all speaking, impenetrably, in French. I was completely in the dark as to what was going on.

Through complicated charades, I explained that I wished to know where I was going to be sleeping. They showed me up some stairs and into a room directly above the bar. The room had nothing in it but a bed and a pair of giant gollywogs. I know that is not a politically correct term. They were two statues, like the badges you used to get with jam, a woman and a man, and they were life size.  Suppose all I can say about that is that I wouldn’t have them in my house.

I had some time to kill before the show so I went for a wander into the village. I bought myself a range of croissants from a most darling little Patisserie, and meandered into a church. It was all white, inside and out, and it was cool and quiet. It was completely empty of human life. Many candles burned silently at the alter. I sat in there for quite some time, listening to echo of nothing and enjoying a rest from the heat of the day. 

After a while I moved on, and I think I must have ended up in the centre of the village. There were many people gathered, watching something, I picked my way through them and saw that there was some kind of outdoor theatre going on. There were three adults dressed as school children on the stage, the “boys” seemed to be picking on the “girl” who’s hair was in pig tails. She had freckles drawn on her cheeks and she was crying and shouting and throwing her arms around.

There I was, standing in the dazzling French heat amongst loads of very Frenchy French people, in a tiny French village full of French things, when I heard the voice of a Yorkshire man. Granted, his Yorkshire was a little bit Frenchy, but he was, unmistakably, from Yorkshire. I ran up to him and shouted “are you from Yorkshire!?” He answered in the affirmative.

When I was born I had to go in an incubator for a few days because I was early. I sometimes wonder if the nurses put a hint of a hallucinogenic drug cloud into my breathing apparatus because wherever I go I always come across weird scenes like this one.  It doesn’t seem to happen like that for some people.

On walking back to the venue, unexpectedly, the Tour De France rode past me. LOADS of men on bicycles, dressed in lycra. Police cars, motorbikes with loud speakers, ambulances, the whole thing. I had to wait for ages to get across the little street. It’s not often that I feel like I might faint in disbelief, but I certainly felt it at that moment. I’m honestly not making it up.

After I’d played the show, I spent the whole evening talking to the Yorkshire man. He’d lived in Le Château-Gontier for many years. It had been love had led him there and he had two French daughters. I found out everything about the local people and he acted as an interpreter and helped me order my favourite drinks from the bar. I ended up pretty tipsy, and I fell to sleep in the strange room above the empty bar as the glass washing machine hummed and swished into the early hours.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Pau and the Penguin.

On arrival at Challes de Gaulle airport and I'd instantly wanted to give up on life. No offence to Parisians, but that airport is truly awful. Paris was really cold but I was just passing through on my way south. I imagined that my world would soon be warming up in accord with the direction I was going, so I didn’t worry too much that I hadn’t brought any winter wear.

When I was asked to play in Pau, I’d gotten excited because it is alleged to have one of the most beautiful views of the Pyranees going. I imagined I might stay an extra day and hang out, wearing a beret. It didn’t work that way due to my relentless travel schedule. Gutted though I was at the fact I would not get chance to stare at the mountains, I still had hope. My hope was for warm weather. England was bleak and dark. I was certain that France would provide me with some heat. I was headed for southern France and it was nearly springtime.

But it was snowing. I hadn’t packed the right clothing at all. I spent the whole tour shivering. Rail was my chosen method of transport due to the fact I had to cover masses of miles in a short space of time. I was sat on a train for about 8 hours each day. It was exhausting and I didn’t thaw out completely at any point.  Tiredness makes you cold.  It was already pretty cold, and I got more tired as the week went on.

The coldness had really gotten inside in Lyon. I went out to buy myself a sweater before the gig. A distraction came in the form of a piano workshop that I happened upon. There were a million broken pianos in all stages of disrepair, as well as harpsichords and other variations on the theme. I gazed in through the window for a long time, which meant I only had time to find myself an awful hoody which was not a flattering colour on me. I’d wanted to find a woolen thing with patterns on.

The gig was on a boat with no heating. My hands could hardly press the piano keys down, let alone strum the guitar efficiently. I wore every item of clothing that I had with me, caring little for how I looked - I looked pretty bad. My stage outfit included a pair of fingerless mittens and the unflattering hoody. My nose was bright red and running profusely.  Everything - my mittens, my top, my nose - clashed with each other in a horrid amalgamation of red and pink. 

From Lyon I travelled to Pau as I watched snow covered olive trees pass me by. There was a woman sat in the next seat who spent the whole of the journey putting make up on, and a man opposite me who got off at every station to have a cigarette, then hurriedly got back on as the doors beeped their way to closure.

My friend was playing the same gig as me in Pau. I didn’t know him that well at the time, but from the moment I met him I couldn’t help but act like a child. I don’t know why - some people have that effect on me. 

Sometimes I think that I subconsciously try and sabotage my own gigs. I came across a large stuffed penguin in the backstage room. The gig was about to take place in a fancy theatre. The audience were seated and waiting in hushed anticipation. I goaded my friend until he agreed to walk onto the stage with the giant penguin under his arm, prop the penguin up at the piano and then walk off again. My memory of Pau has nothing to do with the Pyranees, but everything to do with the giant stuffed penguin.

The next day I got up before the crack of dawn and set off to Brittany. Rennes is a university town. That was my second trip to the town. I always feel a little bit uneasy in university towns. I feel that, on first glance, I could well be taken to be a student, but put me in a university town and I am out of my element.

After that I had to get on a few more trains. The railway system in France seems a little austere to my eyes. There are all different kinds of tickets, and there will often be two trains that look the same, smell the same and sound the same - they might be leaving at the same time, going to the same place, but if you get on the wrong one then you’ll be ejected at the first possible moment. Even those who speak French seem to be utterly confused by this. Quite often I’d be stood on a platform, feeling secure in the understanding that I was waiting for the right train in the right place. Then a bell would sound and everyone else would start sprinting around. When this happened I wasn’t sure if I should also start sprinting around. As I didn’t know where to sprint too I would generally just walk around in a circle and return to where I started. My usual way of guessing which train to get on would be to find someone who looked like they might, by chance, be going where I was going, and just follow them. By the end of it, my sleep had become pervaded by rail-related dreams, and I had imaginary trains circulating around my cranium like cartoon birds.

The tour ended up back in the grimness of Challes de Gaulle airport – my flight home was severely delayed. I waited it out. Alone, I sat next to a big, squeaking, 80’s style, space station, lunar inspiration, 'stand and stare in incredulous ovation' -esque escalator for six hours. Oh how gay it was in Paris that day.