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Bloggers United
(From Arlanda Airport)

I know I’ve said before that meeting people you’ve met online is a joy!
When you’ve had meaningful exchanges about life, art, and so on, you get to know someone’s view of life.
I’ve met Franny Swann, Wendy Williams, Julie Dodd, Sophie Cullinan, David Minton, Kate Murdoch, Marion Michell, soon Sophie Boue I’m sure…..Ermmm…. who else? Wow! Loads!

This weekend I met Stuart Mayes, an English artist living in Stockholm. Stuart and I have been conversing over our blogs for a few years now. We have established some common ground and some interesting differences. When I decided I was coming over to Sweden I got in touch, just to see if it was at all possible to meet up after all this time. It seemed too great a coincidence to not make it happen. Stuart felt the same. After a variety of texts and phone calls, the timing worked perfectly, and we arranged to meet in the square in Stockholm old town. There we were, in a conspicuous bunch, waiting and looking out for a man I thought I would probably recognise from a photo I once saw….

And there he was!
Big hugs!

It was like meeting an old friend. The rest of the bunch went to look around, while Stuart and I found a bar, drank tea and ate enormous cinnamon rolls. Delicious.

And oh my goodness we talked each other’s ears off! We chattered and nattered like we had known each other for years. It was just one of those things… I’m sure you know what I mean. We talked about the Louise Bourgeois show, trying to make a living, studio practice, the importance of the support of other artists….. And weirdly, people we knew in common! Small world! We laughed and we talked with an earnest seriousness about our work, the absurdity of performance and the different ways we felt about it.
All too soon it was time for us to catch our train. I don’t know about Stuart, but I feel we have unfinished business, and I’m sure we will do it again, as soon as either of us can manage it!

You’re not getting away that lightly Mr Mayes!

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We didn’t know what to expect.
We flew all that way, clutching our work for what was variously described as group show, party, event, and actually, more accurately, a “happening”.

People turned up throughout the evening and hung their own work, uncurated, other than “where will this fit or look best?” Nails were banged into the wall… Occasionally screws were banged into the wall… And also banged THROUGH work. My two bras were hung from the ceiling. I had said I would also sing. The rule was each artist could hang one piece of work, up until 9pm, when they could hang more if there was space. Everyone wrote their own labels and slapped them up on the wall. At various points during this evening of fun and hilarity I was pushed beyond my comfort barrier. Anyone who has shown work with or for me will know I am rather obsessive about how things are hung and labelled. For this event that was impossible, so I had to let it go.
What was fascinating was how the exhibition evolved throughout the evening. At various points it looked amazing, I’d go away for a glass of wine or a crisp, turn my back for five minutes then someone else had arrived and hung their work which would wreck my own personal aesthetic. But then after the next person arrived and hung theirs, curiously it would be restored and make a sort of sense again. It wasn’t finished until the minute when the lights were switched off and the door was locked by the last person left. Then it stayed up for the weekend.

Late in the evening, performances started… A couple of sound pieces, a performance involving a lace tablecloth cape, a couple of oranges and a tub of something that may have been nuts, shaken not stirred… Some things maybe lost in translation? Then it was my turn. You can find a video of my performance on Instagram and facebook. (As I post I am unable to link to this… I’ll have another go later, but wanted to post as soon as possible)
This is the first performance I have done live in a gallery. My first audience not made up of members of the songwriters’ circle, or the poetry group, but an art audience… I braced myself and dived in. I’m not totally happy with what I see. But I am also accepting of the fact that I am unlikely to be happy with the first time. I’m probably never going to be happy. Me, songwriting, exhibiting and performance is an evolving thing, much like the “happening” itself. So I let it go and put it out there.

Discussions were had about connections between bras and songs, and members of my generous Swedish audience expressed very positive ideas about me being the connection, that the performing me being the connection between song and bra. Having mostly recorded and played back in the gallery space previously, this requires some thought…
We talked of costume and props, both of which make me feel excruciatingly embarrassed and self conscious. More so than just sitting amongst the party detritus that was there before I was.

I’m not that bothered if you don’t like it, or don’t see the point of me doing it. It’s my own work and I’m following my nose… It’ll make sense at some point. Maybe.



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I’ve compared my current state of mind to that of air traffic control. The items in my head are the planes. Some can circle the airport for a week or two, plenty of fuel, all the passengers asleep, no cause for concern, but they are there, on the edge, emitting the occasional beep. The rest are in a holding pattern, waiting their turn, but being attended to, all in good time.

Some, however, require an emergency landing.

I’m off to Sweden with fellow blogger Wendy Williams on Thursday, along with other SCI artists. I’m not going to go into the ways it came about… Wendy has done that in her blog:


But anyway… I sent ALL my bras to Debra in Jamestown for the exhibition with Jodi Hopper she is curating. This was a mistake, in hindsight, because it has meant I have put myself under unnecessary pressure to work faster to make sure I have at least one bra to take to Stockholm. Oh well… Too late now! I have one bra finished, but not yet wired for display. I abandoned it because I had another idea I wanted to start. The second idea is more suitable for ArtMobile, but the chances of me finishing it and getting it wired are slim. The sensible path would be to wire up bra no1, then finish bra no2 if I have time left, or even take it with me unfinished!

I’m really looking forward to going, but with some trepidation. I have said I will perform one of my songs, unaccompanied, for the event. This is akin to cliff jumping without a parachute. I’ve never performed like this before. I’m half hoping none of the audience speak English at all, so that I can make it all up if I go wrong. We have also been asked to talk on film about our work.

I’m trying not to think about it too much, but the dodgy knee could be a hindrance to touristy proceedings. It’s doing really well, thanks to intense physio, but I need to rest for a couple of days before I go. Hmmmm…. Looks like Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent leg up, sewing then!

The day after I get back, Franny Swann is coming to stay. She’s bringing my greatcoat back, and I shall be giving her a whistle stop tour of Art Birmingham.

I’m really looking forward to this, I don’t often get the chance to show off the city that I love. I might have to invite her back to do the bits we don’t have time for!

Then I have about a week of undecided days… I have things to do, but can pick at them in a leisurely fashion… The emergency planes will have been landed safely, I will have started picking my way through those in the holding pattern, and I’ll be able to breathe a while.

Then it all starts all over again…. But that will do for now!


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Another studio session… doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?

A bar has opened at the other end of Birdcage Walk. It is very busy, good for them! Although I am rather disturbed by the sign in pretend Gaelic script (you know, the As and Ts are a bit wonky, and there are shamrocks sprinkled liberally about the signage) declaring “Bus Workers 10% Discount!”

It hadn’t occurred to me when it was being refurbished that this may have an impact on recording, or how we felt about being there late at night.

Sunday night is Karaoke Night!

I was convinced it was an Elton only affair, but Dan assured me he had during the evening, tuned into the inevitable murdering of Robbie’s Angels. The confident but drunkenly off key renditions increased in volume, as the door opened to let more singers in, and more smokers out.

As you may be aware, for some of my recordings, this is like gold! I love to hear the sounds of the town around me as I sing. Sometimes these are exaggerated, and sometimes they are cut, minimised, or digitally altered and used. Sometimes they are a pain in the bum and we have to keep rolling and do it again!


Sunday night we revisited “The Gate” – a song we recorded right at the beginning of January. Strangely, I can sing better now, my delivery is more nuanced, I can get to places I couldn’t before, so we are going to re-record my vocal. We have also got into the swing of things now, so we know how these songs should feel, so we are going to alter a few things, strip a few things out, and add in some strings.

We also recorded “Distracted” – a song about sex. It was originally an exercise set by Dan in the Songwriting Circle. My friend Nicki Kelly and I decided, as the only women, we should definitely write sex songs from the woman’s point of view. Nicki’s song was brilliant, a definite celebration of the joy of sex. Mine was more a serial killer/obsessive stalker sort of take on the whole thing – rather worrying really –  but there you go. I decided though, in this project, a song about sex was a definite necessity, so I dusted off the original Garageband file this weekend, for us to have a go at doing properly, as this had only taken me a couple of hours to put together for a laugh.

I handed the file to Dan, and toddled off to go to the loo, put the kettle on, open the biscuits, that sort of thing. When I got back, Dan had stripped the file down to see what it was made of. He was listening to my track of rather blatant heavy breathing… looked up at me and said “You’re a fucking weirdo, e!”

From that point on, the evening went swimmingly, and the new recording sounds brilliant. But I think you can tell, on the recording, there are a couple of moments when I am on the edge of losing it and starting to laugh.


I am fascinated by the different ways people write songs, and being in the Circle gives me a chance to see this in action. I sometimes am astonished by the methods people use to get from A to B, from verse to chorus, totally bamboozled by their path!

Have just listened to “Same Tune, Different Song” on BBC R4 here’s the link, I don’t know how long it will be available for:


I can’t conceive of being given a fully formed tune to shoehorn the words into. For me, it is always the words that come first. There isn’t usually a chorus, and sometimes it doesn’t even rhyme. Then a bit of a phrase of melody will be forced from me after much groaning and experimentation. Once I have a few words attached to a melody, I’m on a roll then, and the rest generally flows. Once I have my words to a tune of sorts, I then get someone – at this point generally Dan or Dave Sutherland to take it and sort it out… then it will be assigned a key, chords, and from that point it becomes a more structured thing. This is my process. I am becoming more able, more confident in many of these stages, but at the age of 54 I will never be able to afford the time to learn fast enough to play an instrument well enough to do the crucial bit in the middle on my own. I am resigned, even happy about this now I have decided NOT to learn an instrument. My thing is making sounds, recording sounds, manipulating sounds so that I can pretend they are music. I can sing layers of vocals and manipulate them digitally. A few of these songs rely totally on my voice. Some on my voice and built loops from recorded sounds… that’s my thing… besides which, guitars never seem to come in the right cup size.


It’s more that half way to the date when I should have a finished installation, and we are more than half way through the songs, so I’ve decided to unleash another recording on the world, another sneak preview. This isn’t a finished recording, but that sketch/plan/design we take into the studio to work from.

This is how it got to this point… I wrote the words, there aren’t many. I had a melody in my head* for the first couple of lines, then sang them to Dan, who played them on the guitar, then we built it from that, recording each bit as we went. When it was a complete song, short, but complete, I decided to send it to Dave, as it would sound great with mandolin instead of guitar. For me this is a cheery song – I don’t write many of those. After a bit of sound file emailing, Dave came up the goods… the really goods!

So, yesterday, we recorded my vocal (bit dodgy) over the mandolin, small issues of delivery were discussed, a little bit of mandolin was snipped from the middle and copied as an intro, and Dan played a little bass over the bridge. This is the perfect recipe now, all the ingredients are there… I’ll book Dave in for a studio session and we will iron out the lumps and bumps and then this one will be my favourite….

Lyrics: Elena Thomas
Music: Elena Thomas and Dan Whitehouse

*I’ve come back in to edit this, on listening to bits and pieces of old recordings, I discover the bit of melody in my head had been put there during a session with Nicki Kelly, who deserves a credit for it!


Vocal: Elena Thomas
Mandolin: Dave Sutherland
Bass: Dan Whitehouse




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The effects of the contents in the previous two posts will undoubtedly rumble on… in and out of consciousness as and when required, and occasionally and uncomfortably when not. So I’ll let it lie…


A more frequent visitor to my real art world life is indecision. What should I do “for the best”?
Make decisions, that is what is best. I know it’s only April, and the exhibition is July, but that really isn’t very far off…


Should a PV be on a Friday or a Saturday night?

Wine or tea?

Nuts or cake?

Is my home made cake a bigger draw than a free glass of plonk?

There are those among prospective visitors who would, if it was polite, demand my cake.

There are those for whom wine at a PV is a tongue-loosening essential ingredient.

Shall I perform? (yes, one decision made)

How many songs?

Who with?

Do I need a bass player?

Does it have to be Dave?

So do I move the date in order to get Dave?

(Dave “Ubiquitous” Sutherland, so named because he is able to take up a variety of instruments and figure out what the hell I am singing, and add so much to a melody I have just hummed to him. He is so far, on three of the recordings, and now I know he also has a mandolin, there will be at least one more)

Can I be bothered rehearsing with a new bass player, among the inevitable feelings of disloyalty? (no, another decision made)

What time should I start?

What time should I finish?

Dan will be there, so will it be ok just with Dan, and pick a set accordingly? (yes… maybe…. decision nearly made)

How shall I hang the work? How should I organise the downstairs gallery? Whose work can I hang there and how?

Should it be only my work? The drawings? (yes, probably… another thing nearly decided)

How will I play the recordings?

Should I have headphones set up at the PV? Just speakers?

Should I get someone downstairs to do refreshments, while I ponse about upstairs?

Should there be comfy seats? (because I have a bad knee, I’m always on the lookout for a comfy seat at a PV)

Should I cover the window?

Move the paper chest?

What shall I wear?

What should I do with my fucking bird’s nest hair? (sing the song written for it and pretend it looks like this on purpose) (another decision made)

Which image should I use for the postcards and posters?

Should I just go for pink?

Should I avoid pink like the plague?

What font should I use? (American Typewriter as always? Probably yes… another decision made)


So these, and believe me, dozens more questions mill about my head.

In delicate moments, I am convinced that a half hour difference in opening time, a choice between peanuts or cashews, cake or wine, this song or that song… that these things will prevent the perfect combination of people from attending.


This is not the case is it?

I just need to decide.

The people that want to come will come if they can.

I shall tell as many people as possible, in as many ways as I can think of. The rest is up to them.

Some decisions I have to make quickly, in order to get the printing done (pink/not pink… time…date)

Others can wait.

Other decisions have to be made before the next decisions can be made.


At the moment I’m thinking:

Friday night PV. (With wine, because that’s so other people…and honey roast peanuts, because it gives me an excuse to buy them, but not eat the whole big bag myself.)

Followed by Saturday Open Studio (with tea and cake, because it is so very me)

Maybe three songs, so I don’t get too stressed.

Just Dan, because he stops me feeling stressed, knows me well, and is able to musically pick me up if it all goes horribly wrong, and lead me back to the right place…and probably even sing it all for me if I pass out, or my lips stick to my teeth and my tongue to the roof of my mouth.


Actually… writing these lists has helped.

Blog = comfort blanket.

Bloody Bo Jones… right again dammit!