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The only other time I can remember having this much money in my bank account was after my father died. In fact, it was a very similar amount. Then, I remember thinking it was a useful amount, but not exactly life changing. We paid a little bit off the mortgage, we bought a new old car, and had a holiday and possibly a new bed. It was nice to use his hard-earned to make our life a little easier.

This time, this amount is doing things to my brain. I suspect it has already been life-changing. A couple of people who know about these things have said my application must have been outstanding. My project must be brilliant!

Though I say so myself, I was proud of my application, it was a good one!
The project in my head is brilliant, but it hasn’t been done yet, so how do people know?
The answer lies, in part, that ACE have funded it, so it must be! Right?
I bloody well hope so!

It is in my power to make it so.

I feel the weight of expectations.

It is my responsibility to make it as good as I possibly can, as this cash has come out of lots of people’s pockets. I owe them their money’s worth.

My practice seems to have moved up a gear, I can feel it.
I’m having some printing done. By a printer. I’m not photocopying onto crappy paper, I’m having postcards done for my open studio launch event thingy. I shall hand them around to the great and good. The theory being that people keep postcards, but throw away bits of paper. They particularly keep postcards with nice images and text on. I’m getting new boards put up and painted in the gallery space next to my studio. I’m going to get the vacuum cleaner out.

But the biggest thing is something I wasn’t expecting.
Today I have opened up a new bank account, and deposited the grant. I have made a couple of payments immediately. It feels great to be able to pay people. The barter system is all very well, and we artists are expert at skill swapping, materials exchanges, time swapping… But… Today I have paid people what they are worth, in proper, real, actual money. I feel at last, I am paying these people professional respect for their work and talent and skills. With a big thank you to them for still supporting me when I couldn’t.
It is weird being on the giving end. It is great to be on the receiving end of a fair rate of pay. To hand it out is absolutely fantastic!

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I wrote my first song at the end of 2010, with a lot of help from Dan Whitehouse. Songwriting is still a fresh and new thing for me.

If any of you have read my other blog, Threads, you might have read about how I work… Fairly instinctively, stitching obsessively and slowly, waiting for the thought to catch up with the deed. A conversation occurs between me, the materials, the ideas, and the collaborators, and it slowly unfurls while I stitch. It has taken me about ten years to trust that this will happen. I don’t need to over-theorise before making, I just get on with it, and the connections turn up during the conversations.

The songs have been trickier. For a while they sat on the edge of the conversation… At the corner table in a noisy pub on a Friday night. I kept telling myself to keep going, that all would be well and the link would happen naturally. At some point between finding that first bra in Cambridge, and writing a song about a train to Crewe, the songs joined in. Gradually I realised they were no longer at the table in the corner, but we’re talking to each other, talking to the bras, talking to me, and now to other people. This is where the really clever bit happened…..

It dawned on me over the space of a day spent with Dan and Nicki Kelly at her flat, recording, just three days ago. Actually it dawned on me in the length of time it took Dan to get a music stand from his car, and for me to give Nicki a hug. It must have been a mutual pivotal moment, because she mentioned the hug in her blog too.  You can find Effing and Blinding here…..
Nicki was feeling overwhelmed by it, and stressed by it all… Felt responsible for it going wrong. It wasn’t going wrong at all, it just wasn’t going how she had expected it to. I remembered that feeling I had had four years previously, hence the hug. She said she wouldn’t be offended if I just paid a better pianist to come in and get it right first time. That simple sentence slapped me round the face and made me realise that the people were as much part of the work as the recycled fabrics and threads I use. The same reason I use old bras. It’s all about the story and the conversation. Dan and Nicki are as woven in as those threads…. A new pianist would not be right at all, and the so called better pianist would oh most definitely be worse! My entanglement with Nicki has been brilliant fun, put the two of us in a room with a piano, and something to record on, and we sparked off each other from the start… Instant involvement! And you think I can cast that aside for a “better” pianist? No chance! My learning, Nicki’s learning, the new ideas, all are part of it. I don’t write songs like other people, for the same reasons as other people or in the same way as other people.

A new pianist would be about as useful to me as a new bra.

Did you read that article the professor of Art History at Oxford University wrote about Tracey Emin’s bed not being authentic, as in, he could tell by the creases in the sheets? Hang on… I’ll find a link….

Most of the contemporary conceptual artists I know just shrugged, said “so?” Called him a bit of a twat, and dismissed him. The authenticity lies not in the bed, but the idea and where in the artists head it was sat, waiting for her to articulate it. Whether you like the work or not, I don’t think there is any doubt that is an authentic piece of Emin’s work is there?

So… Back to me if you don’t mind….
If I had booted Nicki out, and got in some virtuoso usurper, THAT would not be authentic.

In a few years’ time, when Nicki is “better” at playing the piano, and we write another song and the improvement shows in both of us, it authenticates and validates the new as well as the old, and those nine women? We’re in with them too



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Having said all I need is a mic and a macbook, Dan arrived on the first recording day with what seemed like a truck-load of stuff crammed tetris-style into the back of a Nissan Micra. One electric guitar, one acoustic guitar, one bass, mics, reflector, three stands, various apple products. Things with knobs, switches, lights, sockets and plugs that I have no idea what they are called or what they do, monitor speakers, leads, plugs, extension leads… and brightly coloured electrical tape to sort out your cables.

(At Nicki’s house on the second day, there was also her full sized keyboard.)

We went through the diary and revised and confirmed our dates for recording sessions.

We made some coffee.

We challenged the national grid and turned on all the heaters.

We went through the notes I had written for the two songs we were going to tackle: Wake Up and The Gate. Both of these songs were written in collaboration with Nicki Kelly who is also in the Songwriters’ Circle, and both have very strong piano content, so I wanted her to play the pieces she had written. I suspect she is going to write about it from her perspective in her blog too.
(Nicki’s blog, “Effing and Blinding” can be found HERE)

The first day then, we recorded all the vocals for The Gate, and decided much of what we wanted the piano to be like. We also chopped up the arrangement of Wake Up and made a sort of guide recording to remind us of our decisions.


I think it is worth explaining my approach to the putting together of these songs. Each song, each woman (or women) they represent has a character. The musical decisions I make are directly related to these characters, and in adding extra ingredients, I refer to these characteristics. I feel it is important these decisions are more about the feeling than whether the songs are liked, or whether they are suitable for radio play (something with very strict criteria). (Radio play is not on my agenda, I hasten to add.)

For example, Wake Up is a conversation, between a woman and a sleeping man. I see the piano as the sleeping man, so they take it in turns to speak. There are no other instruments, no additional sound effects. Just the two of them. Nicki and I pretty much did this in one live take, after much rehearsing. Occasional mistakes and bum notes were patched in after, and to be honest, there weren’t that many… and I do believe they were mostly mine… a late start here, a flat note there, or a couple of words said the wrong way round.

The Gate is a bigger song in many ways… there’s a lot more going on. This woman is trying to uplift, encourage, instil hope and faith. This is a song that builds. It has multi-layered vocals, piano, bass guitar, effects, electronic manipulation of sounds and vocals, kitchen sink percussion, and will eventually have strings too.

Now that is all very wonderful. But weird things happen when you are shut in the same room with one person for eight hours doing the same thing over and over again.

  • You drink far too much tea and coffee.
  • small things become hysterically funny.
  • rudeness and bad language proliferate.
  • for some inexplicable reason, the singing of two ordinary words becomes impossible… I must have sung them 100 times, wrongly, in many different ways, until they didn’t sound or feel like real words in my mouth any more. (So we stopped, did something else, came back to it two hours later and did it in one take)
  • you lose all sense of time and reality. When you work on a five second piece of sound for an hour, time and space become a little bit surreal.
  • you lose the power to make simple decisions …which is better? this chord? that chord? The answer is neither, they are just different, so just decide which you like and stick with it!


The day after, this morning, my body feels broken.

I am exhausted.

Fortunately I have the house to myself for the day, so I can sit quietly and reflect, I can play back what we worked on, with a little bit of distance, and listen to the whole songs, over and over, not just short phrases or bursts…. look at the big picture. Are they saying what I want them to say?

I am setting my phone alarm for the painkillers. My knee is killing me today. I think the combination of carting stuff up and down the stairs, and then sitting in the same position for hours has me in agony, I must remember to do things differently next time, remember good posture, and move around more. Maybe if I invest in some wireless headphones so I can walk about a bit more? If I intend to work in this way, I need to find a sustainable way to do it. Over the last couple of days fuelled by excitement, adrenaline, creative energy and caffeine, I felt I was about 35… today, I’m paying for it, and feel about 85.


Other news… the Arts Council have approved my publicity materials, so I can now publish and get printed, the invitations/flyers for my open studio event at the end of January. Before then, I would really like to freshen up the exhibition space next to my studio, and spread the work out a bit, the drawings, a couple of the bras, the work in progress…

I need to get it all up, and get some fresh eyes and ears on it. The songs we recorded will be available then too. I would so love it if a few of my blogging friends turned up. There will be cake.


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It’s happening fast, now we’ve started, so it is hard to know where to start!

Two days of recording then…

I want to try to get down what I’ve learned as I go along. This funding is to enable me to learn, so, it is important after such an intense couple of days, before any more time goes on, I should try to itemise it in a proper list… ish…

You only need a decent mic for your macbook… is almost true… in fact, I have got a new mic, and a little red box, and these things, hooked up to GarageBand, will give me enough capacity to do what I need to do, in terms of creativity, but when it comes to production for either publication or exhibition, I will need something more.

I know what a midi file is. A midi file stores the music as the raw data, so it can be more easily manipulated, note by note…

The software to do this, is, at the moment, mostly incomprehensible to me, and possibly always will be. At some point I will make the decision whether I need to learn this. At the moment, I am too far away from it to even think about it

I now know the difference between the speakers we have with our home stereo and monitor speakers. Home speakers boost various aspects of the recording, and make it sound fuller, warmer, whatever. Monitor speakers tell it how it is… flat notes and all… every little murmur…


The list above is a list of “things”…. facts…. there will I’m sure be a longer list of learning that is more difficult to itemise in such a way… for instance….

Much of this weekend has been a discovery of my voice. I’m under no illusions that it is a great voice, but I can do the things with it that I want to. And I’m writing to my own range, so that shouldn’t be the problem. This project is about ordinary women’s lives, and I’m an ordinary woman, so it’ll do the job required. I want to get it as good as it can be for the recordings, but I’m not going to be too precious about it. I’m going to try hard and do my best, but not beat myself up about not being Aretha Franklin. At the moment, my aim isn’t true. I oversteer it, which is the best analogy I can come up with… Dan says “stronger!” and I go too strong, “softer!” and I go too soft. Subtlety therefore, is not my middle name! I am hoping that over the length of the project I can become more accurate, know where and how to get it to behave itself. Occasionally this weird squeaky thing happens, and occasionally I sound a bit nasal… which I hate! Part of this process are the practical issues: do I wear my headphones over both ears, or have one “in the room”? How loud do I want the monitor to be? Do I do better sitting or standing? I need to expand my vocabulary to include the technical terms, the technology aspects, and some musical terms too. Waving my arms about or drawing pictures won’t cut it much longer. I also need to learn the bloody words! I wrote them for goodness sake, so why don’t they stay in my head?

Today, in addition to listening back to the work we have done, I am attempting to learn the words for a song I’m thinking of singing unaccompanied. It is the first session of the Songwriting Circle tonight, and I’d like to be able to do it without my security blanket lyric sheet (Bo Jones would be proud!)


My hair is a mess, she’s said it before
It’s like a bird’s nest by the end of the fall
It always needs combing but that makes it worse
I’m not a winner, I’ll never come first.

But I’ll not get drunk, and lose my composure
Because I never had any to start

The mascara will be down my cheeks by ten
I’m not coming out with her again
I always feel lesser, never the star
I’ll sit in the corner, adjusting my bra

I’m not well groomed
I can’t hold the pose
My make-up’s not smooth
and nor are my clothes

But I’ll not get drunk, and lose my composure
Because I never had any to start
I’ll not get drunk, and lose my composure
Because I never had any to start