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We Could Be Heroes

Ordinarily, I’d have posted yesterday, this being the New Year and the time of Remembering to Post Weekly On a Monday (TM) but I made a conscious decision not to. I was feeling a little too dumbstruck at the news that David Bowie has left the planet.

Clearly if you ask me what I remember about Bowie, I’ll have nothing in the realm of personal anecdotes. I did not know the man. Like so many of us, I only know the face he presented to us through his musical and theatrical creativity. I remember hearing China Girl on the radio when I was 6 or 7 perhaps? I remember being spellbound, seeing David playing Jareth in Labyrinth (and thinking if that’s what the Goblin King looked like, he wasn’t so bad after all!) He’s just always been there, in the backdrop of my life, and like others have said, I always just assumed he was immortal.

Yesterday was a stark reminder that he wasn’t, that none of us are.

But yesterday was also a reminder of another thing. In all the sadness around his passing, in the loss his family are experiencing, in the gut-wrenching grief of his loss, we have been reminded of the potential within us all. The news is full of how he wrote the last album as a parting gift for his fans. Of how, faced with the end, he continued to create, to express and to communicate through music, so that we’d have one last album, the swan song of an extraordinary life.

If he can do it, any of us can. David was human, like the rest of us. He struggled, and failed, and lost, probably thousands more times than he won, we just never saw it. He kept on persevering, that weird little London kid, embracing his own oddity and daring the rest of us to say anything about it. And in the end, he emerged a hero.

So that is the lesson I’m taking from this. The bright spark in the world’s loss. If he could do it, so can I. So can you. And you. And you. We can all find our passion and make it shine. We can all stand up, embracing ourselves, refusing to conform and be loved for who we are.

We can be heroes.

Bowie

 

 

It’s a little late, being already the 4th January, but to try to make up for a rather lackluster year in blogging, I thought I’d take this opportunity to whiffle on about what I managed to do in 2015 that meant I was too busy/lazy to blog!

On a personal front, it was a pretty quiet year. I mooched from one short term dayjob role to another, ending up somewhere where hopefully I shall now be staying, I achieved my coaching level 1 in Aikido, I celebrated my 5 year wedding anniversary, built a lot of Lego,  watched a lot of Netflix and generally did Stuff. Oh, and I took up archery. That one definitely merits a mention. My inner Hawkeye/Katniss/Legolas* (delete as applicable) is definitely having a whale of a time going “pew! pew!”. I recommend it. Especially if you’d like one arm to become noticeably bigger than the other in a short space of time… Erm…

OK. Well. moving on.

Musically it was a crazy, busy year.

In February, I did my usual romp through 14 new songs that we call FAWM. I didn’t blog about it much at the time, mostly because I was busy doing it. It went well, I dinged 14 without too much trauma, and ended up with several songs I could basically gig with immediately. I made a vague promise to myself to put out another album before the end of the year, and to include some of the songs written as part of FAWM, then shoved it on a back burner and forgot about it.

Spring and early summer saw a lot of gigging, including a fabulous slot supporting Everlate at their album launch at the Basement, City Screen (review here). Really enjoyed that – I think this has been the year I’ve finally started to feel like I have a handle on playing live, rather than just feeling like a random imposter who gets away with it because I smile a lot, or something…

In July I started 50/90, and made it to 5 songs, (so a tenth of the way, which isn’t to be sniffed at!) and suddenly realised I actually had a whole album ready to go. By the end of August, I had decided I was going to crowdfund the album, and in the space of an afternoon, I had set up the crowdfunding page on Kickstarter.

When I launched it, the day before going to Alnwick for a long weekend, I thought “well, I have a month to get to £800, there’s pretty good odds on that”. But, by the time I had returned from Alnwick, 5 days after launch, the campaign target had been reached, and I was looking at stretch goals. It was incredible. It totally made my birthday too, which was not long after!

And so, Here At A Distance came to life. I asked Ros Dando, a local artist, to do the artwork, and amazingly, she said yes, and did a beautiful, beautiful album cover. I mixed and mastered everything, and nearly gave myself a nervous breakdown trying to get it all to the pressing house in plenty of time. Launch night was 30th October, and we booked out the Bay Horse in York, and got Flora Greysteel, Bleeding Hearts and Artists, and Helen Robertson to come and play.

album cover

It’s done well since release. FATEA Magazine reviewed it, as did Soundsphere and Planet London.  It’s certainly my biggest achievement in 2015, and I’m immensely pleased that I got it out there. I couldn’t have done it without my supporters on Kickstarter though, and for me one of the biggest things about achieving it was the reminder that people DO believe in me, and they DO support what I do, and even when it feels like I’m throwing music into the void, someone, somewhere has noticed. That’s been a massive thing for me to bring into 2016.

So what’s next for 2016?

At the moment, I’m undecided. Obviously I’ll do FAWM, although I’d like to get back into the more electronica side of things. I have a gig in April at the Duchess, York, which I’m really excited about, I’m playing at Coventry Pride in June, and I’m also going to be on the Fox’s Den Show on the 29th January, playing live and talking about the album. I’m at one of those quiet points just now, where I’m waiting to see where the tide pulls me..

Meanwhile, if you aren’t bored of Christmas songs, I finished up the year by recording a silly cover of Fairytale of New York, with Jon from The Bleeding Hearts and Artists. 

And if you feel like you want to hear my dulcet tones talking nonsense about music and other things, check out these:

Appearance on FAB Folk and Blues with Tony Haynes on Vale Radio

Interview on The Cultural Review with Tom Mallow

Happy New Year!

 

Good afternoon strangers..

Yes, I know it’s been months since I last posted. Yes, I know I’m a terrible blogger, and no, I won’t be offended if y’all buggered off and found a younger, prettier, more regular blog than mine…

For those of you still left, this is me returning to Monday blogging. My current time management situation allows for it, which is awesome 🙂

On to today’s point of interest. I’ve been hanging out on a couple of Facebook groups where people discuss their releases, and one of the questions which seems to pop up pretty regularly is how to organise distribution of a release so that it ends up on iTunes, Spotify, and other cool places like that.

Here’s my guide to distribution. I’m going to assume that the album is written, recorded, mixed and mastered, and essentially ready to go.

The first step is to acquire an ISRC. Many mainstream distributors will not process your release without one, and although for some you can bypass the process entirely, it’s recommended to bite the bullet and get it done, because at some point, it will allow your track to be identified, and may result in some royalties heading your way.

The easiest way to get an ISRC code if you are in the UK is to contact PPL and register with them.  You’ll be given a unique 5 character/digit code which always starts off your ISRC code, and from this you can generate all the ISRCs you’ll ever need for the remainder of your career. If you aren’t in the UK, your local music licencing body can assist you in this process.

Next up, decide on a distributor. I have personal experience with three, Emubands, CD Baby and Ditto. I ended up pulling my release from Ditto after technical problems and release delays but your mileage may vary – some people have had good experiences with them. My experiences with CD Baby and Emubands have been nothing short of excellent.

 DISTRIBUTOR  COST

 

 FEES  ONCE OFF/YEARLY?  Other Information
 Emubands £24.95 Single
£34.95 EP
£49.95 Album
 0%  Once off  Digital only
 CD Baby $9.95 Single
$49 Album
Option to go Pro for additional features
 0%  Once off  Digital and physical
 AWAL £0 unlimited  15% of sales  n/a  Digital only
 Distrokid $19.99 unlimited  0%  Yearly  Digital only
 Ditto £6 single
£20 Album
£49 unlimited
extra cost for add-ons
 0%  Yearly  Digital and physical
 Tunecore $9.99 single
$29.99 album (first year)
£49.99 album (following years)
 0%  yearly  Digital only

It’s also worth considering whether there are any particular relationships you’d like to exploit. For example, CD Baby work in partnership with Rumblefish, meaning that you can opt in for YouTube monetization if anyone wants to use a track of yours in their wedding video.

My advice is to work out what you want to achieve with your release, do your reading, and choose a distributor based on the one which most suits your needs. Contact your chosen distributor, pay your monies, upload your tracks and artwork, and let them do the rest 🙂 Always allow plenty of time between submitting your release and the release date, and you should be golden. Most importantly, enjoy it!

 

You know how sometimes you fail to reply to an email, or a letter, and then time passes, with you meaning to respond, and then more time, and more time, until suddenly you realise that it’ll now be weird when you reply, and you’ve left it way too long and don’t even know where to start?

That.

I didn’t mean for four months to fly by with nary a post from me to let you all know I still had a pulse, I really didn’t. But one thing led to another and as the days crept guiltily by I just couldn’t think of what to write.

So what has kept me from you all this time?

My writer’s block hasn’t extended to music, not one bit. I completed FAWM comfortably with 14 solid songs, many of which are keepers. I’ve continued writing since the end of February, and even have a crazy plan to attempt 50/90 – another songwriting challenge. Where FAWM is a sprint, this one is a marathon. 50 songs in 90 days, or an ambitious 16.333333333 (recurring ad nauseum) songs per month (ish). It starts on the 4th July, and promises to be an interesting diversion. Or obsession. Tomato, tomato.

You know, I’ve only just realised this: “Tomato, tomato.” That’s one of the few phrases that simply doesn’t work in text. Crazy. Anyway, I digress.

What else have I been up to?

Well, amongst the writing, I created a brand new song in an afternoon, along with a video. The demo was basically recorded while I filmed, which was interesting, and the most complex thing I’ve attempted so far.

Videos have always seemed to me to be a dark art, and the one aspect of musical creativity I really don’t understand how to do. I go on Youtube, and I see these amazing videos, done by up and coming artists, who all seem to have tame camera operators and film editors to call on. They are also invariably gorgeous, own long flowing dresses and at least one grand piano, and live near a mystical forest, or a scenic beach, or an empty church… I try to do the same thing, and it looks like the cat got hold of the video camera, dragged it around a bit and accidentally turned it on. Given that an untrained chimp could produce a better video than me without really trying, I was actually pretty thrilled with this attempt:

It was both harder and easier than I expected. I’d like to try the picture in picture thing again, this time for something like Scarlet Casanova, because the harmonies kick in from the beginning. At this rate of video creation, I expect to be halfway competent before I’m sixty!

Anyway, sarcasm aside, if anyone out there feels like it would be fun to make a video for any of my songs, shout out. I have zero budget, but I do a good line in cake and gratitude, and perhaps worldwide fame one day! I’d love to collaborate!

What else? Well, I’ve been working part time at the University in a continued, misguided attempt to make my millions (aka pay the rent). It’s been hard this year, work seems to be thin on the ground, but I do have a good number of singing students, which is helping, and also I enjoy teaching. It’s hard to have a bad time singing duets or showing people how to stretch range and build power in their voices, it’s a learning process I’m immensely proud to be part of.

Musically, I have a few other bits and bats in the pipeline. I’ve started the process of editing and mixing the tracks for the new album. I don’t yet have a title, but I do know that it’s being released in September, and I also have an artist lined up who I’m thrilled to have on board for the artwork. I am so lucky to have the friends I do – I am surrounded by a very multitalented and generous group of individuals and I’m grateful every day for them.

York has a new radio station starting, 2 Rivers Radio, and I’m pleased to say that Vinnie Whitehead is going to be interviewing me and playing some songs from the new album for it. We’re doing a live In Session recording next Tuesday and I’m very excited about it.

To my abject astonishment and without any bribery on my part (either financial or in the form of baked goods) I have also been nominated, for the second year running, for a Yorkshire Gig Guide Grassroots Award, in the category of Outstanding Band/Artist. This is amazing and I’m thrilled to bits! This is where some audience participation can occur, if you feel so inclined, you can vote for me to reach the next stage.

So, I could say at this stage that I promise not to leave it so long before writing again. But you know, and I know, that that is simply a challenge to my subconscious to really fall off the wagon and not write another word until 2016, so let’s not, eh?

Until next time.

x

*insert obligatory apology for my crapness here*

Just pretend it’s there. That’s right. I did apologise. Honest.

I know it’s actually been months since I blogged, and believe me, I feel very guilty about it. I’ve been up all night every night flogging myself with soggy lengths of year-old spaghetti and kneeling on Lego. However, there’s only so much of that anyone can do, and besides, exciting things have been afoot, so I am now back in the blogging game.

What news, I hear you cry? Well, I completed FAWM with 14 brand-spanking-new songs, many of which will be coming to an album near you this summer 🙂 Watch this space for an album title announcement just as soon as I’ve figured it out!

I supported the marvellous Everlate at a gig at City Screen’s Basement, and got reviewed! Kindly too, which was a relief!

But most recently, and it’s the thing I really want to talk about today, I played at a most fun gig at the weekend, and I’d like to take a moment to write about the superb bands that I had the immense privilege of sharing the stage with…

Picture the scene. A balmy Saturday evening in York. The temperature has crept above 10 degrees so people are out in their finest summer gear, there’s a frisson of warm(ish) weather excitement in the air. An old, wonky pub with questionable decorative accoutrements and the friendliest landlord in the world. And a lot of musicians packed into a tiny, hot room, sound-checking songs about creepy hotels and how their “friend”, “Kip”, can bugger off. No audience yet but we could already tell something special was brewing…

There was a queue when the door was opened, people took their places, and the mayhem and merriment began.

The first act, Tang, a solo singer-songwriter with bagloads of talent, treated us to thoughtful acoustical musings about getting over love gone wrong and one that really struck me about risks, life and death, and the thrill so many of us seek that is ultimately self destructive. Clearly an accomplished musician, he had both an unassuming air and bags of stage presence, (and the best story behind his stage name that I’ve heard in a long time – if you happen to see him play live sometime, I urge you to ask him!) I really enjoyed his set, and felt that he set the tone for the musical excellence that earmarked the evening.

The second act was me. I never really review me, so suffice it to say, no rotten vegetables were flung, people applauded, and I wasn’t flung from an upper floor window with vigour, to be followed by my keyboard, in a crashing mess of blood and despair. And thus, it was a good night. Special mention does have to go the the audience however – the first audience in the history of the song “Feelings” to sing the missing expletive, and with such gusto, that I feared I might fall off my stool with laughing and could barely play the song. Well done, you all rocked totally!

The third act was We Are Ship. I love these guys. Aaron and Steve pretend to be a bit crap, but the reality is a polished, intelligently hysterical double act who harmonise beautifully and produce songs that make me think of Tom Lehrer or Flanders and Swann. Very smart humour and very tight delivery. I urge you to see them live at once. And if they have no gigs scheduled that you can see, well, pester them on Facebook and offer them gigs. You won’t regret it.

Headlining the night was five piece The Savoy Ballroom. I had no idea what to expect before arriving at the venue, but the soundcheck gave me an inkling. And what an inkling. Macabre, cheery songs about the devil, circus fires, dastardly hotels and sinful men, delivered with panache, expert musicality and infectious exhuberance. I’m given to understand that their last gig, like, EVER, is on the 16th May (Basement, City Screen) and frankly, I’m gutted. To quote Alanis Morrisette: “It’s like meeting the band of my dreams, and finding out they don’t plan to continue because they all have, like, lives and shit”. Or something.

Special mention must as always go to our sound engineer, Dave, without whom nothing would have been able to happen, let alone sound so lush, and One for the Road’s Craig who organised the whole fantabulous evening. Ok, I’m gushing now. It’s time to stop writing!

So yes. That was my Saturday night. It rocked. It rocked so hard, the woman in black got scared.

Next week: How I spent my weekend, the perils of goths, and why cats are awesome. Catch you later!

Wow, time flies when you’re having fun.

Or working like a dog.

Whichever.

In any case, something more like normal service should be resumed now. After a crazy January of working 10 hour days between the university job and singing tuition, things have now settled down slightly with a reduction in hours to four days a week instead of five. I’m still busy, but I can now enjoy luxuries like eating and sleeping.

Oh, and taking part in the yearly write-fest that is February Album Writing Month. That too. 😉

So far, progress has been good, I think. A week in, I’m bang on target with four songs recorded and up on the site and several on the go. My biggest challenge is keeping up with the listening and commenting – the site is so much bigger this year than previous ones, so it can feel pretty overwhelming staying on top of everything. As always though it’s a fantastic experience and a strong and positive community.

I usually like to blog about FAWM and put up posts highlighting some of my favourite listens. I’m going to open with a post about what I’ve been doing, and then post again later in the week when I’ve narrowed down five or so recommendations – the quality this year is outstanding, which is great but makes finding five or so favourites actually pretty hard!

So my four so far (in order of posting and with the disclaimer that these are rough demos with some errors and glitches!):

Shadows on the Run

January was a horrible struggle this year, as it is for many of us, which is what inspired this one.

I know it’s not always easy
Life can leave you hollow inside
Striped down and defenceless
On a hellish ride

Too many corners and angles
The path ahead obscure and unknown
But nothing is forever
And you’re not alone

CHORUS
See the shadows on the run
In the path of something better coming true
Winter’s time is almost done
And the light is pushing through
See the shadows on the run
See the future stretching out before you
In the golden summer sun
There’ll be nothing you can’t do

I know you’ve been cold in the darkness
Chilled by every little mistake
Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing
More you can take

The wind is so bitter, the land is so hard
Stagnation feels so easy to do
But nothing is forever
And we’ll see it through

CHORUS
See the shadows on the run
In the path of something better coming true
Winter’s time is almost done
And the light is pushing through
See the shadows on the run
See the future stretching out before you
In the golden summer sun
There’ll be nothing you can’t do

Rubbish Fairy Tale

A favourite of mine and one that will be on set lists for live gigs from now on, this is a song about expectations and how reality so rarely matches up.

 

I was looking for a pot of gold
Had to settle for a pin
I dreamt of a knight in armour bold
Got a boy made out of tin

Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale

This “happy-ever-after” thing
Is so last hundred years
The poisoned apple book of lies
Makes a mockery of tears

Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale

I won’t guess your name
And I won’t let down my hair
I’ve kissed a thousand frogs and they’re all still there
You can keep your slipper
You can keep your throne
All I want is a good book and a night at home

Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale

Battlefield

This was written as part of a song skirmish. Song skirmishes are one of my favourite things about FAWM. Someone picks a title, and everyone who takes part has one hour to write a song with that title. Then they’re shared. It consistently amazes me how differently people interpret the titles. This was my offering.

Here on the battlefield we will take a stand
In the killing fields our test is close at hand
We won’t be bound, we won’t fear death
We’ll hold our ground until the final breath

Those who went before us
Stained the good earth with their blood
And we who follow after
Feel their heartbeats in the mud
The hounds of war are coming
Howling death, despair and rage
But our courage will sustain us as we meet them

Here on the battlefield we will take a stand
In the killing fields our test is close at hand
We won’t be bound, we won’t fear death
We’ll hold our ground until the final breath

There’s no honour in this bloodshed
But some things must be done
As we tumble rank and file
To never see the sun
Some may call us martyrs
And some may call us fools
But to bow before the enemy is foolish too

Here on the battlefield we will take a stand
In the killing fields our test is close at hand
We won’t be bound, we won’t fear death
We’ll hold our ground until the final breath

Impossible Windmills

This is the saddest one this year and carries a trigger warning because of the content of the lyrics (mental health/depression). I’d like to re-record the vocals at some point. Gemma helped out with the lyrics on the last verse 🙂

A note on the mirror, written in steam
I can see clearly, through the glass nearly
A chink in your armour, patched up with glue
A smile sad as oceans, as you go through the motions

You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night

A page in your diary, a hole in your heart
I understand partly, through the glass darkly
A word left unspoken, a thorn in your mind
You’re turning away now, you’ve nothing to say

You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night

You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night
You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night

A note on the mirror
Written in steam

 So there you are, February so far. I have several gigs coming up in March and April which I’ll be writing about soon, and at least two of these stand a very good chance of being added to my live repertoire.
If you want to follow my progress on FAWM, head to the FAWM website  🙂 Or you could sign up and take part if you feel so inclined, it’s not too late!

Bandcamp are my new best friends.

This is the update they rolled out tonight:

“If you’ve seen the recent news of changes to EU tax law, you may be wondering how this affects you as an artist or label selling on Bandcamp. The good news is that for digital sales, there is no need for you to register for VAT, submit quarterly reports, and so on. We will take care of all of that for you.

If you happened to see our earlier help item about this, we planned to roll out a temporary solution where artists submitted the tax themselves. We’ve decided to accelerate the changes to our system such that the interim step is unnecessary.”

(http://blog.bandcamp.com/2014/12/30/eu-digital-vat-changes-and-bandcamp/)

So. What does this mean?

This goes an incredible distance toward meaning that the small independent musicians can keep trucking. At least for now. The fight is not over yet – with proposals looming to extend the new VAT laws across sales of physical goods from 2016, and with traders on Etsy and other third party platforms still fighting for solutions, we have a long way to go. The ideal would still be for the EU to drop this craziness, or at least reform it drastically. But for now, I and many of my peers in the grassroots music industry can keep selling our music and can keep reaching out to potential new listeners across the globe. This is a fantastic step forward.

Thank you Bandcamp!