Last week saw the one year anniversary of my last gig - the longest I have gone without a gig since I was eight years old. Not a live gig in sight, and yet there's still so much admin!
I think we have all had to reckon with a new sense of identity, away from the people we would normally spend time with and perhaps away from the work that has until now consumed a huge amount of our time.
Thankfully at the end of 2020 I started on the Abram Wilson Foundation Professional Development Programme, which means I meet with my mentor every month and with my strategist every two months. It's an intense process but one I'm getting a huge amount from. It is allowing me to look at what has been lost in the last year - both positive and negative - and also what has been gained, which is a lot of rest and a more fun, explorative approach to composing, demons be damned.
I can't wait to share what I'm working on, so I'm really having to resist the urge to sling it all on Bandcamp before it's ready.
I've been completely stuck recently. It's like writer's block, but more than that. It's a curious sense of futility that somehow carries a sense of liberation, and it's a sense of freedom that carries with it a huge sense of loss.
Since lockdown began, seeing all our gigs get cancelled, followed by music festivals, flights, and ultimately the disintegration of the music scene all over the world, I have found it impossible to make a sound. I'm finding this hard to write, not because it is an emotional subject - which it is, but because I really don't know what to say and that is unusual for me. Maybe that's not it, maybe it's more that I don't know who I'm saying it to, or why I'm raising my voice at all. On one hand I'm enjoying the time to let my mind wander, and on the other I'm worried about my focus giving way, atrophying.
Gigs will come back, festivals will come back. And won't we all be gloriously rusty, weeping with sorrow and relief and completely, beautifully vulnerable.
It has been a few months now since the last Bitches Brew, but fear not: we are working hard behind the scenes with some news to follow in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime I have been connecting with like-minded people doing incredible work towards a more balanced music scene. With that in mind, here is the first blog in a series which focusses on women who are part of the same international movement as Bitches Brew.
First up: Women Warriors: The Voices of Change - Friday, September 20, 2019 at 8:00 pm Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Centre, NYC
'Women Warriors: The Voices of Change multimedia concert performed by Orchestra Moderne NYC, under the direction of Amy Andersson, features the music of eight renowned female film composers and presents 800 years of women fighting for human rights and equality. This 80-minute interactive experience is a socially and culturally relevant world premiere concert which includes historical visuals from the past to present day. Women Warriors: The Voices of Change celebrates the strength and heroism of female global activists fighting for human, civil, and minority rights, environmental causes, and gender equality.'
Amazing music performed by amazing musicians, that 'celebrates the strength and heroism of female global activists.' What a brilliant project. Follow this link to their website, check out the podcast and if you're in the area go and support them.
I spoke in my last post about juggling many strands of work and sometimes, inevitably, it all gets a bit overwhelming. At those times I seem to sit staring at my laptop or my bass or my sofa, not knowing where to start and when I do get started I can't concentrate because my mind keeps fretting about all the other things that I'm not doing whilst doing this thing. Totally unproductive, exhausting and stressful. I have developed a method for dealing with this which I shared with a few friends and they found it useful, so I thought I'd share it here in the hope that you find it useful too.
The photo shows twelve slips of paper that I keep in a jar. Importantly, it includes things that are part of looking after myself: tidying, cleaning (clear physical space = clear headspace), walking, meditating, working out and resting. You can't work well over long periods of time without these things so I put them in here as a reminder that they are not optional. Reading fiction is a workout for your imagination, and the rest are self explanatory. These are my directions, which of course you are free to use or you can design your own.
Pull a slip out of the jar, set a timer for 15 minutes and get going. After 15 minutes move on to the next thing. Don't argue with it, just do it.
Clearly there are things that take longer than 15 minutes, and they can be done after this three-hour session, but by following this concise method I find that there is a huge amount that I can achieve in quarter of an hour that before I would have procrastinated over and possibly stretched out over an hour. This method focusses your mind as it gives you a deadline, and is based on the fact that peak concentration lasts 15 minutes. (Classical musicians have used the 15-on/15-off method for years. This is an adaptation of that.) It also works because it takes away the need to make a decision about what to do - as creative people/freelancers we make decisions all the time, which in itself can get tiring - and takes away the stress about all the other things you're not doing because you can give your full attention to this (it's only 15 minutes) and then get on to that other thing.
Right, hope it helps! Let me know what other ideas you put in the jar.
It has been a whirlwind of a year so far. I don't make New Year's Resolutions, but I do sometimes pick a theme for the year - or more accurately a theme emerges some time in December that feels like the right way forward. A few years ago it was If It's Not Scary It's Not Worth It, which was in reference to my work (and only my work!) and was a way to push myself out of my comfort zone. This year's theme has been Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is and was a response to a growing feeling that I was talking a good game but where was the action? With that in mind I put out a funding call to spend a month with MWB's sister project Sounds of Palestine, responded to a nomination to apply for Serious/Cryptic's AirTime Artist Development scheme and did my bit to support the incredible Canadian violinist Aline Homzy in her application to bring Bitches Brew to Toronto. I then settled down for a freezing cold but lovely Christmas in Hamilton, Ontario with family and wondered what 2018 would bring. (Did you know that at -10˚C the hairs in your nose freeze while you breathe?! You can feel them breaking... it's a bizarre sensation.)
Fast forward seven months a this is what the year brought:
Four weeks in Palestine including teaching at Sounds of Palestine, a project based on the El Sistema model from Venezuela in Beit Sahour, West Bank, that takes children from the al-Azzeh, Ayda and Dheisheh refugee camps in Bethlehem and teaches them music and provides social support for the children and their families. The MWB team there also provides weekly workshops in schools in the area and I was lucky enough to join in a couple of those and also a few music workshops in a school for deaf children. (Think about the main components of music and translate them into a non-sound-based experience - I was blown away by our deaf MWB Workshop Leader, Halimeh.)
Bitches Brew Toronto Launch curated this time by Aline Homzy and supported by Toronto Jazz Festival, the roots and themes of BB are just as pertinent in Canada as they are here. It was a chance to connect with some outstanding musicians and to introduce the eclecticism that is at the heart of Bitches Brew.
Bitches Brew Traverse Launch, #9, #10 and Glasgow Jazz Festival a tremendous array of musicians and including the incredible storyteller Marion Kenny who improvised a live soundtrack to a long and intriguing Japanese folk tale.
MWB Welcome Notes a project that started in Holland and is extending across other parts of Europe to provide relief for refugees in reception centres. This is an extremely fragile time, and music can provide support and relief from the stress of continued uncertainty. WN is also extending it's reach to look at Inclusion once people have been settled.
AirTime Artist development programme run by Serious and Cryptic - seminars and ongoing support for Bitches Brew.
MWB: CONTACT Seminar for Peace-building (Vermont) a seminar aimed at people engaged in peace-building activities, we ran a course to introduce MWB's principles and to show the role that music making can play in creating empathy, which is vital in rebuilding communities after conflict.
MWB Introductory Course (Edinburgh) Running over three weekends in June and July this pilot course was designed to cover designing music workshops for vulnerable people, working with trauma and developing feedback and reflection methods - placing our work within the wider context and brought three members of the team, Amanda Koser, Darren Abrahams and Chris Nicholson, to Edinburgh.
Glasgow Jazz Festival Bitches Brew almost didn't happen because of the tragic fire at Glasgow School of Art. Thankfully it got the go-ahead and a few days later I joined Raymond MacDonald and friends to perform some of his original pieces. That was a stunning gig.
Pilot project with refugee children in north-east Scotland I was really delighted to find that most of the children that have been settled in this part of the country are being really well looked after by teachers and head teachers. It's going to be great cultivating an ongoing project to see how they fare over the next few years.
BOOM Artist Residency I am currently looking at how trauma affects our sense of identity, how we relate to our surroundings, and how this is expressed through music. This is just the start though...
Workshops with SCO VIBE a week in Glasgow and another in Edinburgh for SCO Vibe - a tremendous project for teenagers aged 12 - 17 that have been playing for at least a year on any instrument at all. We write music together, learn to improvise and generally have a great time.
Music and Visuals workshop with SCO at WHALE Arts in Wester Hailes using music and visuals to explore how we relate to our environment.
Boomtown Festival with Yola Carter great to be doing backing vocals again.
Edinburgh Fringe playing with Ron Davis, Aline Homzy, Kevin Barrett from Toronto, and Alyn Cosker, Chris Grieve, Aisling O'Dea, Clea Friend and Seonaid Aitken.
Teaching double bass and bass guitar at Broughton High School in Edinburgh and at the University of Aberdeen. I love this work, my students mean the world to me. Teachers are not given the respect they deserve.
This is a lot more than I bargained for. I have been out of my comfort zone for most of the year, sometimes way out, and the schedule has left little room to 'rest and digest' - a term used by Darren Abrahams, our MWB trauma specialist. The opposite of Rest and Digest is 'Run and Fun' and Darren shows a normal life cycle as a sine wave: run and fun on the way up, rest and digest on the way down. In addition to this, most experiences - at least the ones we plan for - have three stages: preparation/anticipation, action and integration. We plan the thing, we do the thing and then we think/talk about the thing. Our body is designed with mechanisms for dealing with this, such as yawning and crying (both of which culturally we're supposed to suppress) and when stronger emotions are involved - could be intense excitement, stress or trauma - time to let this cycle complete its course through to the integration stage is even more vital. Darren calls it Letting it Land.
The intensity of my schedule this year has allowed no time for integration, no time to Let it Land, until now. It has been exciting, exhilarating and at times extremely tough, and I wouldn't change any of it. So get out there and explore. Push yourself, let yourself fail, find new bits of yourself and throw out the old bits that you no longer need. And once you've done that, stop. Let it Land.
There are many strands to my work and sometimes it's hard to find a balance, but they all feed each other and each part would be weaker without the others. Here are some insights I have picked up along the way.