FESTIVE GREETINGS, BITCHES!
SO, 2014 has been and nearly gone, and what have you got to show for it? Me – I’ve managed to get through another year without a major episode of Depression thanks to the inventors of Quetiapine/Seroquel, but also thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read and reflect on my writing, to all of you who have commented on chapters and posts and quips, to all of you who through your own individual uniqueness and brilliance have pointed me in the direction of great writing and philosophy, and to all of you who in the real world have shared your hearts, humour and trust with me. I’M HUMBLED AND HONOURED TO HAVE ALL OF YOU IN MY LIFE/LIVES.
Christmas is a confusing time for all of us. We’re torn between finding within us the spiritual elements of Yule and/or the birth of Christ, between giving into the rampant consumerist pressure, the familial pressure and the desire to just say “fuck it, I can’t be doing with this anymore”. We’re also faced with the memory of those we’ve lost, with the despair at all the destruction going on around the world, all the suffering. Perhaps that is why we try to recreate the magic of our childhood and why we give ourselves permission to start drinking well before lunch time. All we can do is embrace all of it and resolve to make the next year count even more than the previous one.
Speaking of resolutions, I don’t like them. Who does? I try not to indulge in them at New Year, but I do see some worth in making them on our birthdays. In that case they really can be about making plans for your life rather than just making a list of things to do in conjunction with a calendar. Conveniently, however, my birthday falls on January 6th, so I guess I can count any resolutions I make as pertaining to both. So here goes:
Resolution(s): I’m going to do my best in everything as much as I can, whether it’s art, work, relationships, lifestyle and/or enjoying the world.
Is that good enough? It’s the best I’ve got.
However, 2015 promises to be an exciting year. In January I’ll be recording the the audio version of my upcoming collection of poetry, FRAKKNUCKLE, both of which will be available online shortly thereafter. In the New Year I’ll also be making a pilgrimage to the home town of my Welsh childhood idyll – Aberystwyth, with my best friends and my gorgeous husband. There’s a trip to Australia on the cards, also a Canary Islands jaunt, and possibly even a backpacking adventure around the fjords, hot springs, volcanoes and lava fields of my belovèd Iceland. I’m going to be collaborating with some wonderful artists to bring you new graphics for this site and my other ones in the works, as well as for FRAKKNUCKLE. I may also begin preparing to return into the firm embrace of the tertiary education system and to make my way back to the city I’ve always loved, London.
Well, because I’m so excited about the year ahead, both creatively and personally, now seems the perfect moment to start to leak some of the work that makes up FRAKKNUCKLE. Consider it a Yuletide gift, and a taster of what’s to come. Please visit the FRAKKNUCKLE section of the website for two pieces of work I’m honoured to share with you: The Hong Lim Suite and The Sun Rising.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND JOY IN THE NEW YEAR, BITCHES!
The second fully English-language album from this Icelandic superstar, its luscious mixture of Reykjavik kaffihús style folk and Folk Rock arrangements creates one of the most intimate listens you’re going to find in contemporary music, just has her previous, exceptional albums have done. With a voice that evokes the ancient song traditions of her Viking past and also as confrontationally post-modern as early Björk, Arnalds is perhaps the world’s least known yet most captivating artists.
When you think that Indila was 30 years old before she became well-known, you wonder what the hell you were listening to for the last three decades. Mini World tells the story of modern France – one of lost glory, despair and retrospection, in the guise of impeccably crafted love songs that both lull and bang. Boasting heritage from Egypt, Camodia, India and Algeria, Indila fuses the many musical traditions of her lineage in a way that gives hope for a multi-cultural France in the 21st century. If you can think of any fusions of Pop and ‘World’ music to sell over 500,000 copies in the English-speaking world this year, let me know. When it comes to the face of ethnic diversity in mainstream music, France is still leading the way, and Indila is the queen.
When Lee Ann Womack releases an album you don’t always know what you’re going to get, but you know it’s going to be real. The Way I’m Livin’ is the album Womack always wanted to make, so it’s telling that so much of it deals with loss, being lost and losing your way. With this album though, you get the sense of an artist that has finally found herself. The arrangements are crisp, tender and in ‘Tomorrow Night In Baltimore’ quite simply kick-ass, but the theme throughout is the passionate, intensely authentic delivery of Lee Ann Womack’s vocals. Hailed by many as the best singer in Country music, lets hope that her new record deal with Sugar Hill will see her gain greater exposure outside of North America just as fellow label-mate Sara Jarosz has through the same outfit. If this album does one thing, it proves that Lee Ann Womack deserves it.
No, not a group, just one visionary singer-songwriter with an imaginery back up band that acts like both the devil and the angel on her shoulders. With themes covering gender-reassignment, escaping a crumbling town and the warmth of the human spirit, this half-English, half-French offering is one of the most intellectually and spiritually rewarding listens for many, many years.
If you look for insight, humour and unforgettable melodies in your music purchases then Presley’s debut solo album has them all and knocks them out of the park. Channeling Loretta Lynn, George Strait and Rickie Lee Jones in equal measure, the songs here have textures, they have colours and they have soul. And if it’s a slice of human truth you’re after then be prepared to be upset, because the cutting realism in Presley’s set might give you more of those than you’re ready for.
Whereas Revolution was Miranda Lambert’s torch song album, Platinum is the collection where this artist realises she’s got what she was looking for. You can tell this is an album by someone who has recently turned thirty, because gone are those angsty offerings like ‘Kerosene’ or ‘Only Prettier’, in favour of the re-assuredness of ‘All That’s Left (for you to do is leave)’ and the title track ‘Platinum’ (‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you blonder/and my heels and my hotels they just got taller/the thing about platinum irrefutably/ is it looks as good on records as it does on me.’) That pretty much says it all.
1. If there’s a future in Europe, it’s probably in Scandinavia
Free health care, comparatively generous pensions, care for the elderly, affordable housing – four things I’ll bet you a MILLION POUNDS we won’t have in the UK when I reach retirement age in 35 or so years time. So, if my husband and I can batter down the language barriers and learn to live in the cold(er than Britain), I think that Scandinavia is our destination. Particularly Norway. It’s the only solvent place in Europe, with a massive trust fund from its oil revenues, or Sweden with its megabucks. With low populations and high GDP per capita, these are the economies that can keep investing in human services, whereas the UK government is stripping them to a bare minimum. I know which one looks like a secure prospect for my old age.
2. I am a writer
I never would have thought it, but I really am. Whether I’m a good writer or a talented writer is up for debate, but I know I’m a writer because when I don’t write, I get depressed and panicky. I also know I’m a writer more now than ever because of the sense I get that there’s not enough time to do all the work I want to do. And beyond all that, as Joni Mitchell said: “the best of my mind goes down [on] the page”, I make a lot more sense written down than in real life.
3. I was a traumatised child
I was traumatised when we left Wales and moved to England. We left behind mountains, rocks, deep cut valleys, rugged coastline, rain, heather, bogs, and the Welsh language. I spoke Welsh with my friends, so when we moved to England and I had to make new friends, it was a massive culture shock to be in a mono-lingual English environment. It was like another world. I became interested in maps, mostly to see how far away my real home, Wales, was from where we now were. Hundreds of miles seemed like the distance to the moon. It seemed insurmountable. The old life was so far away it was as good as dead. And as a result, I truly grieved. Truly. And it changed me. Trauma in a young child can affect them for the rest of their lives.
4. You can’t change the past, but you can build a future for yourself
The Tristan that went looking for sex and love on the internet, the 14 year old Tristan that felt so ugly and unlovable that he thought he had to exploit the sexual desires of pederasts in order to get laid, the Tristan that put himself in such danger, that didn’t value his own life, who was raped, who was abused, who wound up wanting to kill himself, who was traumatised again and again… I wish there was something I could do to stop him. I wish I could protect him. I wish I could save him, but I can’t. I CANNOT change the past. The Tristan that was so sweet, so loving, so positive, so ambitious, that was a dreamer, a charmer, a friend, a little chubby bundle of joy – well, he did what he did. I went through what he went through. For such a long time I thought he was dead. By being dead it meant that all the things he went through were dead and gone as well. But they’re not, and he is not. And he deserves to be alive. The only way that Tristan can live is by giving him a future.
5. The only way I can honour, or save that Tristan is to give him back his imagination
There were no limits to his imagination, and using his imagination in play, in writing stories, in music was what gave him life and what made him unique. My imagination got buried under sexual desire and sexual trauma aged 14, and it barely saw the light of day again. The only way I can save the child that washed his body only to have it abused is to re-connect with his imagination and his dreams. I can’t change the past, but in re-connecting with the imagination I can give him back his strength, and his spark. My spark. Maybe finally appreciating him and appreciating what made him, me, unique is the lesson I was meant to learn. Maybe it’s the light that emerges from the abyss. I know that it’s the only way I can go on, and I owe it to that Tristan to do it.
6. In the Anglo-Saxon world we limit ourselves to our own language, to our detriment
Most of the world speaks a language that isn’t English, and all over the world people are making amazing music, art, film, TV and literature in tongues we can’t understand. I say GET OVER IT. Get a dictionary or switch on the subtitles and get involved with what the rest of the world has to say about what it means to be human. The most inspiring music I’ve discovered this year has all been in other languages: Christine and the Queens (French), Chyi Yu (Mandarin), La Lupe (Spanish), Indila (French), Ólöf Arnalds (Icelandic), Chisu (Finnish), Cristina Donà (Italian) and 9 Bach (Welsh). My enjoyment of them has only been enhanced by looking for translations of their lyrics and learning to understand at least some of the language they’re singing in. Stop being lazy and try it!
7. I can go all over the world but nowhere will feel more like home than the Rheidol and Elan valleys
You have to go there to understand. If I had to I’d go there and never leave again.
7. New Year’s resolutions mean shit, birthday resolutions are much better, but if you’re living your life and are attentive to your thoughts, desires, impulses then you achieve much more than any stupid resolution.
The British people have been fooled by our government and by the right wing media, into thinking that our benefit system is the province only of the laziest and most selfish in society: we’ve been tricked into thinking that we could never need the benefit system to support us because we are not like the slobs that use and abuse it and choose to lie in that system rather than go out for work. We’re not like that. We work damn hard for a living, we want to work and would never dream of sponging off the state. SO we need to get those people get off benefits and the only way to do it is by cutting benefits. It doesn’t matter to me, I’m never going to need them because I’m not afraid of work.
WRONG! Those of us at the lowest end of the wage scale are the ones most likely to need benefits, whether it is to supplement the poor wage we receive, or because our jobs are the most vulnerable to market changes, or because we have the weakest collective bargaining power. By arguing for or allowing unchallenged the stripping of out-of-work benefits we champion the destruction of a safety net. You may not want to need benefits, but at some point in your life, you may in fact need them. Governments also have a duty to lead people, particularly children, out of poverty, and a more generous welfare system was one of the key strategies for achieving this under Labour. Tax credits as well. This was a substitute for pushing for a living wage in this country, or regulating house prices or investing in childcare and public transport – key issues for the lowest paid people in society.
Our current government and its media arm want us to think that the majority of people on benefits are scroungers and that system is corrupt. This gives them the platform to strip it bare; and by doing so the security of all of us at the bottom of the pile is made more precarious. Raising the minimum wage helps and raising the tax threshold helps us keep money in our pockets, but there’s danger on the horizon.
If the goal of the Conservative government is to take the poorest people out of paying any tax then they are also planning to take our political legs out from under us. If we pay nothing into the system then what credibility does our voice have when we speak out against public policy? We’re not paying anything so why should we be given a say? Isn’t that exactly what they say about people on benefits? If they’re not paying anything into the NHS through taxation then why should they benefit from using it at other people’s expense? Isn’t that what they say about people on benefits?? If we earn the least, contribute the least tax yet are most dependent on government funded/government subsidised public services, won’t we, THE WORKING POOR, be the next scroungers in society? And if people are paying less tax then how will services be funded. Won’t it just justify more and more cuts and greater privatisation? And who will be most vulnerable to the effects of this? People on benefits and THE WORKING POOR, and the stretched people in the middle who thought they could just about ‘have it all’, as promised in the middle class dream.
1. Music is joyous… The very act of singing, whether it’s a sad song, an ecstatic one, a prosaic one, a pious one, it doesn’t matter. Singing is a joy. Music is exquisite.
2. I wanted to jump from bench to bench in a pink chiffon dress… Don’t we all? And with Rolf there to catch us with his thick fingers, curly blond hair and California tan, who’s the mad crazy bitch not to give it a try?
3. The best part of religion is the choir… Verdi, Mozart, Arvo Part, John Rutter – if this stuff doesn’t make you feel close to God then a cold wooden pew or a damp stained Bible won’t either. So go with the music (message me for recommendations).
4. A hot single father with a big pile is all we really need… No need to work, no need for agonising labour, and kids old enough not to need their orifices cleaned. I wish it for all of you.
5. The Baroness (played by the heavenly Eleanor Parker), was the real heroine and moral authority of the film… She knew what she wanted, she fought for it mercilessly, she let nobody else touch it, but when she knew it was lost she let it go and vowed to start anew. We could all take a lesson.
I was wrong when I wrote the song from my album with Wired, “A New Hope”.
“If I was free to live, to love, to wrap my arms around you then maybe I could breathe…”
Back in 2003, aged 19, it was the first time I’d really thought about gay marriage and so I began to process what it felt like to know that the possibility of it was so unlikely. The song was about many such frustrations – the frustration of the betrayal of my generation by my parents’ generation who had removed free tertiary education in the UK, frustration in the struggle to get anyone to take you seriously as an emerging artist, the frustration at being told what kind of artist to be in order to be marketable, the frustration inherent in low paid work, but it was the desperation I felt at the thought of any relationships I would have being barred from legal protection. It was a reality back then as it still is for so many in the world. Then in 2006, civil partnerships came into existence in the UK. I had been so tied up in the quagmire of the times that I lost faith it would ever change, but it did. I was wrong.
There would never be any gay characters to play if I became an actor
At my school, going to university was expected of you, and getting into the top universities was essential. I started worrying about university at the age of 15. Why? I wanted to be a singer and an actor, but I was losing my voice to mental and physical illness. I knew that I wasn’t photogenic or sexy enough to be a singer that couldn’t really sing – I wasn’t a Backstreet Boy, so with a failing voice I knew I had to look at other options. Truth is, I couldn’t pick one. I went to see our career officer Sheila every week with a different idea, and I oscillated from one extreme plan to another, never able to settle on one. My English and Drama teacher, Mr Bush, whom I adored was the first person to say that “obviously [you’ll] be applying to Drama school”, and I told him no. Why? Because I didn’t want to spend a career – if I could even meet the luck to be able to develop one – playing some camp artistocrat in a bad Restoration comedy. There would never be any good gay parts, particularly on TV, the medium I’ve adored above all others since I was a little boy; not for a camp, ginger-haired Brit. I’d have to be slim, tall, sexy and Northern since then the only example we had to go by was Queer as Folk or Will & Grace. Well, now there are gay characters EVERYWHERE (Thank God!) And if there’s anyone I would like to thank for changing what gay characters had to look like it would be Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and the amazing people behind Modern Family. It’s just the beginning of normalising gay characters and showing diversity. Maybe now would be the time to re-evaluate becoming an actor?
Country Music is shit
Oh God, where do I begin? But I WAS WRONG! Country Music is a crucible of some incredible writing, singing and artistry and it is sadly over-looked and under-appreciated in the UK. As usual, women have been the trail blazers in their genre: Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, kd lang, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Lee Ann Womack, Angaleena Presley, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Aimee Mann, Wynonna Judd. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!!