I feel like I’m slowly nibbling my way out.

A cup of tea and cake in a real cafe…

Friends round for lunch…

Real shops…

Socially distanced rehearsals…

And now we have gigs booked, and an exhibition that’s taking the online into the real world.

I am still feeling cautious, and I’m glad our gigs are small, and a couple outdoors… but the thought gives me strange feelings… I am still a little fearful, but also I am so tired of not being able to be the person I am.

Everyone has a sense of missed time, and have come to realise how precious it is. Each generation/age group has the thing they have missed. Each as important as the rest. We have been fortunate in the fact we no longer have either parents or small children to cope with personally, but I see the struggles around me and my heart goes out.

I just had my 60th birthday, and like many, I wanted a party. I’m not usually a party person, but I really felt this one. I think I feel a sense of urgency about things. I want to do stuff. Time is pressing. I want to get stuff done while I can. While I am able. I know to some 60 seems young, and for them the issue is even more pressing. We need to get out there, see people, do our thing, because time is precious and we won’t get it back.

There is someone in my sphere who occasionally comments how great it is for us to be retired. Every time I remind them that I am definitely NOT retired. I have work to do! I can honestly say that I work really hard these days. At times of my own choosing, yes, but I work at it. I have ideas that need seeing to. At 60, I now have ambition and a work ethic. I could probably have done with those when I was 30, but hey ho… we play the hand we are dealt.

So now, as restrictions slowly lift, and by this I mean my own, as well as the government’s, I find myself really busy, planning exhibitions, performances, projects within the project…

I want to write more, sing more, draw faster, and bigger and more noisily.

And for all those things I want and need an audience. In the room.

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This week I seem to have been talking about myself a lot. Hopefully not in a trumpet-blowing way though.

I have been asked to record two podcasts. It’s a coincidence in terms of recording, that they both happened this week. The first one to go out, probably in the next week or so, is for Polly Orton, who is doing a series of podcasts for MA students at Birmingham City University. It’s ten years since we did our MA together, and ten years is an interesting amount of time to revisit people I think. Much has happened, things have been shaken up and settled down. Coincidentally I am also in the midst of writing a sort of Q/A (with Stuart Mayes and Kate Murdoch) about the habit of long-form blogging… also at it’s tenth anniversary. So much reviewing and reflection happening.

The second podcast is for local radio online, this time with sound artist Bill Laybourne. The focus here is definitely on my current practice and the use of sound. I haven’t known Bill for long but we always have really good conversations about the work, our studio practices, life, the universe and everything. He always has lots of gear for me to admire, be confused by, and envious of too. 

There will naturally be overlaps on all these things, but with a different focus for each it has been really interesting to revisit work, decisions made, paths taken, coincidences and the life circumstances that push you this way and that.

I have discovered that working for a particular target, whether that’s an exhibition, or a funded project, requires one to go through a cycle of mad frantic making, admin, mad frantic making, reflection, admin… and hopefully also periods of relaxed play and discovery… after which another period of reflection can lead to real strides forward with the work. What works for me is that combination of being obliged to produce something for other people to see and comment upon, alongside not having to worry so much about money, so I can sink into things.

I’ve done some mad frantic making, a lot of admin, and some reflection through the eyes and ears of other people as above. I’m heading into a period of overlapping exhibiting, which is very exciting. And then as I slide into August I’m up for some serious playing. 

I’m hoping by the end of the funded period of Drawing Songs, by Christmas, I will be able to see the next stage clearly, take my foot off the pedal for a while, and just steadily carry on working at my own pace.

Until I get the next Big Idea.


Last night I had a couple of hours drawing with my friend, mentor and erstwhile studio-mate Sarah Goudie. We have done lots of drawing with each other over the last few years, usually in workshops and with other students. Last night she took me in hand though, and I relinquished control. I am up to my ears in the project, exhibitions, and the admin that sits alongside, and the songwriting, and the recording… and the… and the… and the……

I had no choice of paper, or what I was going to make marks with, they were given, along with a few guiding words, and the time-keeping was all Sarah’s. It felt great to just draw whatever, with whatever, for however long – usually five or ten minutes then turn the paper around, have a different colour, make a different sort of mark.

Two hours just disappeared and at the end of it I felt simultaneously exhausted and refreshed. 

The photo I post here is the only record. The paper is scrunched up in the recycling. It’s not about the product, but the joy of process. There is no “result” other than the change in my headspace and mood. A much needed retreat from the hurly-burly… thank you so much Sarah! 


At the moment, and at least until the second week in August, this is the busiest I have been probably for two or maybe even three years. I feel I am approaching a point of balance. I’m inching forward… my toes are reaching for the edge… 

The work I am doing for Drawing Songs is for the moment set, I have tasks on a list to finish. Things to record, and things to finish writing, and also drawings in my head – some of which have been started – some not yet. These are tasks already decided. So I just have to plough on and do them. There are a couple of deadlines looming, but that’s ok. By the time I get to August I will have a different sort of freedom and will be able to play again, start new ideas, test new combinations of materials and so on. 

In August I have booked a week in the gallery to explore. My original thoughts were that I would just draw big, on the wall (well, paper on the wall) and see where it took me. Then I thought I would probably don my bluetooth headphones and listen to the songs. And then, after listening to a musician improvising at a live (online) gig, I had the idea that that would be the next logical step, for the live drawing and live, improvised music to happen at the same time. For the one to be influenced and inspired by the other, a two way observing, and connecting, and looping back in… in real time. 

So that will happen… I am currently approaching a few musicians to have a go at this with me. We shall see if it works…

In the meantime… let’s get the deadlines met, and the admin done!

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I’m doing a lot of forward planning at the moment and it is great! I’m pretty much occupied with Drawing Songs at least until the end of January 2022 officially, but of course just because the funding period of the project is at an end it doesn’t mean the thinking and working is… there will be more!

Among all the planning and looking forward sit the memories of another life. What seems like another life.

Facebook has the habit of showing you what you were doing in Junes gone by. My Junes were always really busy in my former life when I was employed. June is the month of Arts Weeks. I would plan, timetable and book other artists in in the preceding months, then the week itself would be incredibly busy and absolutely wonderful… For me, and most of the children and some of the staff I worked with. (Some years I would plan -but not deliver- Arts weeks for other educational settings. Nightmare!)

I would make activity kits for other staff, deliver at least one activity myself to each year group throughout the week, coordinate volunteers, and make sure everyone had enough coffee and cake to keep them going. I coordinated the budget and ordering for all the visiting artists (usually six to ten of them) It was bloody hard work, but I loved it. I loved watching the children bloom and grow in the space of that week. For some (mostly adults) it was not a good time and they made sure I knew it, however hard I tried to support them. Such is life. 

June and July for many years were always the months of the Shed. I would dismantle the floral fabric covered shed in my garden, transport it to an arts venue, where the sun (hopefully) would shine on it and its musical occupants. Another time of stress and logistical headaches. But again I loved it and it in many respects got me where I am now. 

Facebook then, shows me this love, but it also shows me the frustrations I used to feel working with others who were not so enthusiastic, or not so completely engaged in it all… or even those downright hostile to the whole event! I think those Junes are a big part of what did for me really. I am no longer employable. In many respects I do not play nicely any more. I want to be in control, and I want things done my way. I no longer want to do things for the community. I want to do things for myself. I have paid my dues and now believe that I owe time to myself. I used to feel guilty about this, but now I don’t. Fuck that!


As I listen to the developing songs, sometimes as I draw, and sometimes as I write, they seep into my mind and body. Then they seep back out again.

The songs are mostly about people and their circumstances, their relationships and their places. They have been inspired and influenced by real people and places, and observations. They go through my filter of experiences, then come back out as new people. I know them really well. They have personalities and backstories now.

When I draw I have one-sided conversations with them… well… I say one-sided… the seeping back and forth happens. My lines and marks are blown about by melody and rhythm.

Occasionally a real person is overheard, a phrase sticks in my head: “Who on earth would want to move from here?” and it contains its own rhythm. I ask “Where is this place? Who is this person?” “Does she want to move or does she want to stay?”

As I write this I realise it hadn’t occurred to me that it wouldn’t be a woman. 

Last year I made a small drawing/collage and I extracted the following words from a collection of old book pages, torn out for the purpose. The words were “Eighty seven steps to the top floor”.

As I draw, this word soup swims about and things find connections. The woman who didn’t want to move lived on the top floor. Of course. Obvious now. “Oh the view!”

A year later it is a fully formed song. One of my favourites, because having written the lyrics, with the rhythm of the words clear, I hand it over to MC, who writes the perfect melody for it. It sort of halts and limps along as a waltz time stumble… pizzicato… scratchy noises, walking stick on wooden steps noises… but with a smooth top line floating over it, with odd peaks and troughs. Distant clangs that might be church bells… or not… the personality and the place are all there…

As I write this I realise that many of my songs start out in a bad place, but hope lands… this one tells of a wonderful life… with a sad ending. I love it.

Eighty Seven

She counted every one every day
Eighty seven steps to the top floor
Every day she climbed them
Every day she wondered “Is it worth it?”

The smallest room in the world
Every corner cramped and
Every book a treasure kept
But the view, “oh the view!”

She could see so far
She could see where
One day met the next

A tangible sense of time here
As a living moving thing
Who on earth would want
To move from here?

Eighty seven stairs to the ground
But no one bothered to count them
On the day that one day
Didn’t meet the next

Lyrics by Elena Thomas 2020