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It’s been a weird couple of days…
I was at the NSEAD conference on Friday and Saturday. It was great, as I came away feeling more optimistic about Art, Craft and Design education than I have since the election. People have got the bit between their teeth and are determined.

Sunday was planned as a day of rest, but I actually spent it doing a couple of batches of baking (flapjacks and brownies) for the open studio on Saturday 4th. Therapeutic domesticity.

So I started Monday feeling quite chipper… Into the studio to start hanging the work. I suspected there would be things I would want to change as the day wore on, and I was right. What I wasn’t prepared for was getting myself into a state of panic. Suddenly, the wires looked too wiry, too angular, the shapes looked too droopy, they weren’t holding shape. For some reason I had forgotten that “sag and crumple” (Sonia Boué’s words) were kind of the whole point. The absence of the woman meant of course the cups would not be filled! It was as if, during the process of the hang, I had completely forgotten what the work was all about! Madness! I even got as far as padding one of them to round out the cups, yet as soon as I had done it I knew it was wrong. Sonia and Marion Michell, on the end of an email which included a thirty second video of me stomping round the gallery, filming the work and having a tantrum, came to my rescue. They reminded me what I was doing. They told me the work looked exactly as it should… Exactly as I had talked about it being. FFS woman, get a grip, was basically the message, although of course, in a much nicer way!

I left the gallery feeling grumpy, hot and panicky still, grumbling that it was all shit, that I didn’t have enough time before Friday to put it right, and as always, it just wasn’t good enough and I was making an eejit of myself. As well as the install I have to clear the downstairs gallery/workshop as that is where the wine and nibbles will be, that’s where the performance will be. That in itself will be a full day’s work tomorrow. Rehearsal Thursday…. No time no time no time!

This morning, I had my hairdresser’s appointment. At the beginning I sat on the edge of the seat, waiting, literally and figuratively on edge. The appointment had been double booked, they were shuffling clients and I was cross. I would be delayed. After a few minutes, I sat back. There was nothing I could do about it, so I had a cup of tea and a hairdresser biscuit… You know the ones I mean… The individually wrapped ones with a five year shelf life. I read emails, looked at facebook, then before I knew it, it was my turn. My plan for the day had gone out of the window, but I was ok. The sky hadn’t fallen in. A really good head massage and a great haircut later, I felt more able to deal with the day. As I drove across Birmingham and over to Dudley to the studio, I listened to the rehearsal recordings and sang along, checking my memory. When I parked the car, the temperature read 32 degrees. My optimum operating temperature is between 16 and 22, so when I got out of the car I had to get into the shade as soon as possible… Luckily there is a huge canopy over the Artspace windows, so the studio is usually cool. The fates were conspiring against me and so as I walked up the stairs I tried to make myself think objectively… Don’t panic, just look slowly and carefully…

Fresh eyes. And a few hours away, sometimes that is all it takes.
I unlocked the door and walked in… As I looked I could see clearly that a few things needed changing… Hanging heights mainly, a little bit of wire tweaking. But mostly it was fine. Today’s task then was to stitch the elastic into the correct position… Remove the pins. Stand back. As I worked, I played the recordings into the space. The stories enveloped me. The women talked among themselves. Their relationships have developed since I’ve been away. They are talking to each other. Among them are sisters, friends, mothers and daughters. They are telling their tales to each other, and singing each other’s songs. I finished at 4pm. My car park ticket ran out at 4:39. I have about 30 minutes of songs. I made the tea, sat in an armchair, played the songs and watched my girls move in the air currents.

Apart from a frantic bit of vacuuming, the exhibition is installed.


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I creep gradually towards the 3rd July… A plethora of small tasks fill the days, and an occasional day of “proper work” at The New Art Gallery Walsall to root me in the real world, occasional communications with students, reminding me I’m still also an occasional teacher.

My list for tomorrow includes a little bit of accounting, which always looms large in my number phobic brain; a small amount of emulsion painting and filler sanding; a bit more bra sewing; some furniture moving; rejigging the studio including removing the bras from the walls and putting something else up; ordering borrowed wine glasses from Sainsbury’s…

But it’s getting closer… The ball is rolling… Can’t stop it now… It is going to happen.


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I suppose I take the nature of the visual artists I know for granted. They are supportive and encouraging… thank you all.

However, the visual art that I have made doesn’t require the trust of other artists. Or perhaps I should say the direct trust, for the quality of my own work. Work done for a collaborative project with Bo Jones of course required trust that we both provided what we said we would, to the required standard, and we supported each other in our endeavours. But when it came down to it, my work was my sole responsibility.

Music is different.

I think this is one of the reasons I have found this project so emotionally overwhelming.

For me to make music, I need other people, for most songs, at some point.

It is a completely different relationship to that between visual artists in my experience (yours may well be different, I can’t speak of that)

Over the last couple of years I have gone from being someone who can hold a tune, sing in the car or shower, hymns in church or songs at school, to a woman who can deliver a song, fairly confidently, in front of an audience, and it sounds mostly ok. As my good friend Dan has been heard to say “It’s on the threshold of in tune, E!” And, at this pronouncement, I am now able to laugh and give it another go, rather than shut myself in the cupboard under the stairs to cry. That’s quite a development.

That development is down to the nature of musicians… or at least the ones I have encountered.

Now, when I sing in public, with these people alongside me, I trust them implicitly. They are able to get me out of the shit if I sing the wrong words in the wrong place, or forget the words, or completely cock it up. The band mentality is a warm, fuzzy, snuggly thing. It’s like the third glass of wine… I love them all, they are my best mates. There is a communication that passes between musicians during performance that is a real true cooperative thing. The strength is in them working together in the service of the song. It is an addictive feeling.


I’m not heading for the X Factor. I’m not going to be doing any open mic nights in local pubs. I don’t crave that. I love my making too much, and I’m too old, and not inclined to give it the time it would deserve if I was to change tack completely. But I do love it. I try my best to learn the words and concentrate to sing in tune, and do so as consistently as possible. That is bloody hard! My new best mates deserve that I give it my best shot, because they are giving it theirs. But I will be carrying on. I will continue writing songs, combining them with the visuals, and I will carry on performing on a small scale.


Last night was the not-quite-end-of-term concert for The Songwriters’ Circle at mac Birmingham. I attach here a soundcloud link to the bit I was in. The first song “Always You” was a collaborative effort, between the people you hear: Me, Dave Sutherland, Andy Jenkins and Ian Sutherland. The second song “Someone” is one of the nine women songs… Dave on mandolin, Dan Whitehouse on bass. I’ve left in all the banter in between, because it’s fun.

The writing in a group thing was new to me this term, I’ve only written in pairs before. It was an amazing thing. This song appeared really quickly… I had a verse and a pre-chorus bit… and an hour later, thanks to those lovely men, we had a song. I think it’s a good one, and I can’t wait to do it again, or write more in this dream team.


Meanwhile, in the studio, Dan and I are rehearsing for the live bit of the nine women preview night. As I said a couple of posts ago, the live performance isn’t so much part of the installation, more of a celebration. A celebration in which I raise a glass to all those who have shared the trust, and got me this far.


You’re my best mates you are! *hic* I love you!

Soundcloud link – please click here 


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I don’t know if it just me, but it might be worth saying to other people embarking upon a big project, publicly or self funded: you will need extraordinary personal resources. There isn’t a box on the form for this as such, but maybe there should be.
Enthusiasm, determination, persistence, eternal optimism, energy and positivity are required in order to sustain momentum for the project to run smoothly. Motivation can wane under certain conditions, and then you have to find it from somewhere.
Last week, fuelled by exhaustion, lack of sleep and possibly a dip in iron levels (a recurring issue) my mood has been swinging all over the place from an unnatural squeaky high, involving skipping down half a flight of stairs (regretted later)… to yet another “I’m not worthy” crisis of confidence. Luckily I have people around me who help, whether they know it or not. There are a couple of people close, who know it as it is happening, because I tell them (or I live with them). With other people I fake it to make it, and tell them later. Then they might say “I thought you were being a bit weird!” Hopefully there are other people who don’t even notice. I’ve blown it now then by writing this haven’t I?

I’m writing it because I feel it is important to acknowledge it. No one can sustain the high level of sociable energy required. Studio alone time is a crucial ingredient. Proper home time is important too. Balance in all things.

This week, I’ve been reminded that the gods scoff at our feeble attempts to plan.
The last song should have been simple. We knew what we were doing, how we wanted it, didn’t allow too much time for it because it was simple. But it wasn’t. For some reason it just didn’t seem to go right. It used up an extra session which has subsequently eaten into rehearsal time, which has made me a little twitchy.

On the sewing front, I’ve had this idea sat in the back of my head for weeks, that I’ve avoided starting, because I just knew it was going to be a right pig to do. I’d got a variety of ideas that could work, but didn’t know which would be successful. I had three bras on stand by, a selection of threads, wires, needles, small pointy scissors, wire snips. I had put aside a whole day for experimentation, trial and error, and bad language. I sat down and started. Three hours later it was done. Idea number one worked a treat, all stress and hassle averted!

It’s good to plan, to make effective use of time, to prevent the weeks rushing past without producing anything, but you have to have a contingency, be aware that it can all go awry, and plot in a couple of extra dates just in case. Plan for the plan to fail… Or at least wobble a bit!



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As if to make up for the procrastination, today, before writing this blog, I have worked eleven hours. If any employer in my entire history had asked me to work an eleven hour day I would have told them to shove it somewhere dark and damp.

But I have.
I spent three hours writing personal invitation emails. I spent about two hours proof reading my catalogue and uploading to be printed. I am paranoid about spelling errors, so went through it a dozen times before letting go. You can bet your bottom dollar they arrive, I open the box, flip one open and spot a mistake straight away. Sometimes you have to let these things go. I suspect one of the photos that looked ok on screen, when viewing the PDF proofs, looks a bit dodgy… Oh well….

I spent another hour jotting down some notes about a follow-on piece of work. I was so joyful that this turned up out of the blue, that I had to give it some time. I got out my sketch book for the first time in months, and set to… A few drawings and a few words… Enough to prompt when I have time later.

The rest of the time I have been listening to the completed song recordings. I have a confession. There aren’t nine, there are eleven. I couldn’t decide about cutting two, as I loved all these stories. So they are staying. The nine has become more nominal as the project has gone on anyway. I will possibly have eleven bras…. But probably only nine will be installed in the gallery, but one may go downstairs in the window…
Anyway, no cuts. I have spent this afternoon and evening working out the sequence of them. Each song has some sort of lead in, or a tail end, and we have some incidental bits too. I love this bit, it has surprised me, because it is quite a detailed, particular and careful job. The songs should move from one to the other lyrically and conceptually. But they should also link in terms of the music, the mood… There shouldn’t be a jarring. I am keen that the final note or chord of one song is harmonious with the first of the next, especially if there are no other sounds between. There should be some silence, and also a little white noise maybe. I like to merge the street sounds with the domestic. The women talking in the street, the sound of a door shutting… All these details build a story around these women, connect them in unexpected ways. Musically, the song about my premature son drifts gently into the song about domestic violence. It is poignant, but harsh: love in dangerous places.

Having constructed a playlist of them all in order I now can listen to them as a complete piece. It works. I like it. There will be some tweaking to put them together, and the odd stray sound needs editing out… But it’s pretty much done.

I can’t believe how well I know these women, they are real to me. I love them in all their messed up, resentful, horny, snobbish, caring, carefree, beautiful, nurturing femininity. It’s me and my friends I think… And possibly every other woman I’ve ever met. Either that or they are all me. Nine was never enough. Nine was always too many.