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It’s arrived.
The post-christmas slump.
Possibly it is caused in part by a horrible cold, and in part by poor diet rather than alcohol, as I don’t drink much. I feel sluggish and cold and sad. I won’t use the term depressed, as that is something different. What I feel is a reaction to what is going on around me, rather than a clinical, untraceable thing.

At best, in the past I’ve been “not bothered” by the New Year and its associated celebrations and rituals. At worst, I hate it. So much is invested in turning a page on a calendar, that it can’t fail to disappoint. The Enforced Jollity that goes on is a farce… Happiness isn’t compulsory. Happiness isn’t a right. Not everyone gets to feel happy. So I’ve always had this feeling of vague guilt around this time of the year, that by me being ostentatiously celebratory, I am rubbing salt into the wounds of those less fortunate. I’ll be content with a mild contentment. So I suppose what I am is generally, mildly content, with waves of sadness.

But that condition doesn’t really motivate. I am sluggish. Sluggish is the word. Once my diet gets back to normal that will help. Increased movement and fresh air will help. Routine will help. I think, despite not teaching on a regular basis now for a couple of years, I still fall into the school holiday thing. I shouldn’t.

Just reading this back and it all sounds very grim. I apologise. That isn’t my intention. I’m scene setting I suppose… out of this comes something else, something better.

I am aware that 2017 could be a very busy year. I’ve got a few things bubbling away on the back burner. I am aware I should rest and build energy for the onslaught… but here I am pacing, on the track behind the blocks, waiting to get going. No one does anything from December 20th to January 5th it seems. So I will have to wait won’t I? But I’m impatient. Not good at waiting.


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I find myself in a small and rare bubble of time, between the shopping and the preparing for Christmas, and the time when I have to start doing things with food and people and presents…

So, adhering to custom, and basic personality traits, at the end of the year I find myself looking back. The looking forward bit will undoubtedly follow later. This is for my own benefit, please don’t feel obliged to read it all. Hindsight and perspective are useful tools…

In January I found myself surrounded by boxes in my dining room again, having successfully thrown myself out of my studio in a bit of a strop. Justifiable, but still an example of my impatience and lack of tact. I began looking at other places. It was grim, but kind of exciting. I had thought-we had thought- Dan and I, that a joint studio somewhere central was the way to go. So I applied successfully for an a-n bursary to help us look. We exhausted the money and the energy within a couple of months and couldn’t find anything that would suit both sets of circumstances, that we could afford at least! But it sowed seeds, helped us fine tune what we actually needed and wanted.

Meanwhile, following on from the previous term at Songwriting Circle, Andy Jenkins, Ian Sutherland, Dave Sutherland and myself started writing more songs together. We crammed ourselves in amongst the packing cases and wrote our socks off! And at the end of January The Sitting Room had their first gig! We had about six group songs.

February pages in my diary read like one great big tour of gigs and gallery visits, rehearsals, writing…

March continued in a similar vein, including I think the first proper outing with Sonia Boué that turned into a series of meetings about a real time real life version of The Museum for Object Research. It’s at this point in my review I realise how much unpaid speculative work goes into a project before even getting to the point where you are able to apply for funding!

More gigs to go to in April, more writing, more very slow making, distracted by sporadic bursts of studio viewing…

May got to me a bit, I remember, still no studio, but meeting up with other artists, talking about work, pending projects, shelved projects. I also started introducing people to each other… particularly Dr Jacqueline Taylor to Sonia… Jacqueline is going to be our artist researcher… An exciting development on the slow-burn MfOR…

June looks frantic! A bit of work for New Art Gallery Walsall, and three meetings about a studio that subsequently came to nothing – more wasted, unpaid time! About five gigs, several songwriting sessions, and a couple of PVs… And a suggestion of a different studio arrangement… Exciting!

July sees me wasting more time on the Jerwood Drawing Prize, traipsing to London twice, one lot of boredom relieved by Mike, the return journey by the delightful Jill Hedges. We sat in an unremarkable cafe on Baker St, for about four hours. (A pattern I repeated with Sonia)
The weeks in July, along with my son’s graduation, and a chunk of work for the Artist Teacher Scheme with BCU, see me preparing to move into my new studio, sharing with the wonderful Sarah Goudie.
I also have a songwriting day with Michael Clarke – how that happened I’ll never quite figure out, but we write three songs in the day, all very different from each other, from anything either of us has written previously, we like them, have no idea what we will do with them, but trust the process, and decide we will do it again!

So on August 1st I move into the new studio. It takes me ages to shuffle around with my work until I am comfortable with it again, and although a little chilly now the winter is here, those summer rehearsals and songwriting sessions were terrific too. Dave Sutherland has moved on to great things with his duo Ashland, and other performances with other bands, especially the wonderful Kim Lowings and The Greenwood, so he’s not with us three any more, but the songs are still coming thick and fast, this creative relationship is highly productive and very inspiring! The days not working at NAGW are spent in the studio… And my thoughts are starting to gel again… Sense returns… And another trip to meet Sonia… We are starting to really see this project working now…

September sees a new songwriting circle term start…. And I’m still a member… An addict… More singing, more writing, more of everything… My visual work is nudging along… I feel on the edge of something… Keep stitching…

October sees me performing more, I’m getting better at it I think… And I’m just settling into a routine of days in the studio, evening rehearsals… Writing more… And getting involved properly with Nicki Kelly whose ACE funded VIP Project gets off the ground too! I had a bit of an epiphany regarding the nature of my stitching…

November sees The Sitting Room do their first open mic night, I’m nervous, but I do it, and loved it!
Agnes Obel gig at Birmingham Town Hall is magical! A few more band rehearsals ready for December, including the very exciting introduction of Lloyd McKenzie, percussionist extraordinaire!At the end of the month I had another writing day with Michael Clarke who has, since the last session, gained superstar status as the keyboard player in (Ricky Gervais’) David Brent’s band Foregone Conclusion in “David Brent: Life on the Road” – Astonishing! We write two and a half more songs, and have a tweak at the ones we wrote last time. The day zooms past, funny, inspiring, hugely creative and productive.

This month started with my first Open Studio event at The Old Library Studios in Stourbridge… And sadly it might be the last, as it looks like this glorious Victorian building, built for the benefit of the people of Stourbridge may be sold off for some nightmare developer to convert into apartments with mezzanine floors breaking into the spaces and the flooding light… More news to follow I expect. But the open weekend was fabulous, I sold two pieces of work, The Sitting Room rehearsals paid off as we performed a live set each day. A really useful exercise on home ground, and Lloyd’s first outing with us was fantastic, the songs have more space to grow into now we have a percussionist with us!

Dan Whitehouse held a pre-Christmas gig at St Paul’s church in the Jewellery quarter, and it has set me right up for the festive season. Beautiful music in beautiful surroundings.

I’m gathering info and ideas and logistical notions for the Museum for Object Research too… The website and new blog is now live! I have a spreadsheet.

So, I head into Christmas, looking back over a bumpy year, but appreciative of personal and professional growth, and with joy at the prospect of more to come!

Merry Christmas, readers and listeners, and a Happy New Year!


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I’ve disconnected a little… From the world…
This is a self preservation mode I enter occasionally.
The fact that this has coincided with Christmas makes it simultaneously sharper, because of the contrast and unfairness, and yet easier to hide, pretending I’m part of the preparations.
I have found over the years that I am less able to be in the place where I can be angry, active and effective. I am not as emotionally strong as I once was. So I retreat. Images in the media render me frozen. Incapable. I assuage guilt by donating to a friend who is active, practical and useful at the sharp end.

So yet again my world becomes smaller. I gather my family around me if I can. I make my home warm and comfortable, I feed anyone who steps over the threshold. I offer small kindnesses within the small view of the world I allow myself.
As a part of this withdrawal, I look to my work, as I’m sure other artists do.
I have found that as my thinking gets deeper, and the work becomes more abstracted, it becomes more real to me, and closer to the thing. You know, The Thing. THE THING.

I’ve also found that lyrics I have written change meanings with passing months. I wrote a lyric about a small, personal and private occurrence… Upon revisiting, I discover it is also, at the very same time, about something so very much bigger. And that’s a scary thing… I start to wonder if my mind is playing tricks on me, and it was always about this other thing?

My stitching becomes relentless… Obsessive again.

And I wrote a Christmas song… It’s not really about Christmas, but that’s the motif used to express those feelings of uselessness I write about. There might be jingle bells in it. But they’ll be ironic.

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It’s been ages it seems… My feet haven’t touched the ground!

I’m sat with a piece of warm raspberry crumble-cake and a mug of Lady Grey tea, mulling over the events of my first open studio even at The Old Library Studios…
As always, I probably took on too much, and in addition to the already stressful prospect of opening my studio space, I also felt it necessary to arrange for the band to play… Originally just on the Saturday, but through a series of misprints (not Simon’s fault), shoddy proofreading, misunderstandings and what-the-hells, we ended up playing on the Sunday afternoon too. We had a good time. It was our first outing with Lloyd the percussionist, and it was great to have him there… I can really feel the difference in the dynamic opportunities these songs now have, with him sat to my right. It was an exercise in winging it too. We decided, with a percussionist, that now I would definitely need to be amplified, as my vocal is ok, but I don’t exactly belt it out! This was fine, except that ten minutes before the guys arrive, the power goes out! This has several implications in this building… Not just the fact that my voice won’t be as loud.

It’s December, it’ll be dark around 3:30, but even by 2:30, you can’t really see the art properly unless you happen to be carrying a decent torch.

We are at the top of a Victorian building, that is never really warm from about the middle of September. As soon as all forms of heating went off, the temperature plummeted within minutes and people were huddling into their coats and hats and scarves.

It’s really hard to sing when you’re shivering.

It’s really hard to play guitar when you’re cold. Lloyd kept his gloves and jumper on. Advantages of being percussionist over guitarist…

But… What it did was show us that we can adapt our line up and performance to a variety of circumstances: I pulled my chair forward about three feet, Lloyd held back on his noisier excesses, and strumming was gentler. The natural acoustics of the building helped, and we managed an unplugged set that sounded ok, even if looking at us was a little odd!

On the Sunday, power was restored, and the adaptations were different, a single mic, just for my vocals was set up and the balance seemed good… Except I had to pull back from the mic when Andy or Ian took the lead vocal on a couple of songs (Their more experienced deeper and stronger male voices coped better without a mic).
Every single performance so far has been different. Just when I think I have a handle on it, I’m thrown by something new. Every single microphone is different, every single room is different. Some of the variables I can control, or be advised by my band mates how to cope, but mostly, every gig is completely new. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have them with me. The band relationship is also new to me, but I like it. I grew up with two older brothers looking after me… In some ways this is very similar, and I love it! There are rude jokes, teasing, people have slotted into their own predictable roles comfortably. It is like having an extra family in a way.

The new year brings new challenges. We are arranging more live performances and more rehearsal nights. We are being self critical, which is excellent. Some things work, some don’t, we know what they are and can put them right with practice. The songs, bless them, are starting to gel together… The dodgy endings have become smoother, and the transitions that at first seemed clumsy are settling down and feeling right. This is a stage of the process I am so far unfamiliar with… Fine tuning… Moulding… Development… All in a completely different order to any visual work I have done. The processes and differences fascinate me…. But I am aware that I can get a bit boring on the matter, so I’ll stop now….

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