New creative paths.

I’ve made 5 studio albums and I’m proud to say that each one of them is unique and different.

There are processes I repeat on a routine basis but there are other things I’ve moved away from, be it because my tastes have changed or what I did before was naive.

I’m working on my 6th album and I’m adopting new things I’ve never done before and it’s exciting. One thing I’m working with a lot more is synthesis and it’s uncomfortable because I’m working in an area where I’m not entirely sure what the creative outcome is. But that is part of the fun.

With each new project is an opportunity to try something different, follow a new path and evolve.

The live experience

Playing live is something I sorely miss.

Getting together with my band the Kinky Wizzards has been tough and the times where easing of lockdown restrictions have been precious.

The moments where we have been in a room together have seen us play with absolute joy and an untempered level of focus and energy.

In absence of something, the heart can grow fonder and there is most definitely a yearning for concerts and live music to happen once again. When it does, there will be an extraordinary level of appreciation and elation. We must not forget that a lot of live music can blossom from underground scenes and grass roots venues in the U.K. should be receiving more support.

In the meantime, we do what we can and are planning a livestream event in the Spring. We also managed to record a live video which you can view below. The track is called ‘Sur La Dordogne’ and was inspired by our annual trips to France and the river that we have a tradition of going on a canoe trip.

Our latest album ‘The Effervescent Travellers’ is available on Bandcamp where you can either buy a digital copy or order a CD.

Sur La Dordogne – Live at Music Box, Cardiff

Judging creative productivity

There are several traps that cause creatives to feel anxiety.

One is writer’s block or more specifically a fear of bad writing. The other is getting the most out of a day and feeling that you have done a substantial amount of work.

There are four stages of creativity:

  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Illumination
  4. Verification

All four of these happen interchangeably and I know that I can spend ages on the fourth one where I am listening back to work I have done and trying to find ways to either develop it or affirm that it is finished. My first solo album took 6 months of post-production before I could say it was ready to release.

I remember hearing acclaimed singer songwriter Diane Warren talk about how she spent an entire day working on a couple of lyric lines because they were important.

That statement itself reveals the importance of revision, rewriting and giving time and effort to a small amount of quality material.

There is also some reassurance in that statement. Especially if you feel you aren’t producing enough. Giving time to intricate details can allow them to blossom with profoundly rewarding results.

Informative

I was walking with my friend today and we were discussing the Pandemic. A topic of conversation that is difficult to avoid and one that has dominated so much of our lives for nearly an entire year.

We exchanged thoughts, opinions and ideas and concluded that you could write a book that was well over a 1000 pages that would attempt to examine, anlalyse and synthesise the events that have taken place.

We discussed the situation with asymptomatic cases, holistic approaches that encourages healthier lifestyles, placebos and their role in health and wellbeing and how lockdown has given us an opportunity to reflect on what it is that is important to us.

One rant we shared was on the notion that the media has a lot to answer for. So much of the news consumed is now through social media, headlines or clickbait and the design of it is to excite you as opposed to inform you.

It would be better to have had the mainstream media give much more airtime to the people working tirelessly behind the scenes who are fighting this virus, be it researchers or doctors. Instead what has dominated a lot of the headlines are politicians who are untrustworthy and celebrities who have been humbled by their lack of awareness of what everyone else is going through. The language has been fear driven and uncertain with words like ‘could’ and ‘might’ appearing very often in headlines. It is easy to respond to these with very set assertions that are based on stress and or anxiety.

Yet you have a conversation like the one I had today and you quickly realise how there are so many ways to look at what has unfolded. We do not know everything and through exchanging ideas, is an opportunity to learn a new way of looking at things.

This is why I prefer podcasts as a medium, because it gives a platform to which conversations can happen in so much more depth and you can get deeper into things.

Being informed takes the courage to admit that what you believe right now may be contradictory to other sources but it is worth taking the time to think and listen in further depth before making an assertion as it is then easier to empathise with others and approach the situation we find ourselves in, in a calm manner.

It was a rare snow day in South Wales after many grey days of perpetual rain. Many people were out enjoying the weather (socially distanced of course) and one positive is that this pandemic has perhaps allowed us to re-engage with nature and appreciate it more than we may have done previously. Perhaps as we go forward, this will play a key role in how we ensure that we allow our environment to thrive.

Wishing everyone peace of mind.

Onwards.

Non-falsifiable

It was only inevitable that the pandemic would bring a wave of conspiracy theories.

They’ve come in quick and whilst some have whittled away, some continue to stick and here is why.

Human nature requires explanation for big things that happen because it’s more satisfying to know there’s agency in the way things have panned out. There’s a refusal to accept that things may have or continue to happen at random.

The way a conspiracy works is that it is self-concealed, so picking an argument with a person who believes one is problematic because if something disproves the theory, then the theory changes. Facts are fungible.

Many countries have not helped themselves by adopting a populist approach that weaponises truth. Falsehoods are everywhere and lying is commonplace. Responsibility needs to be taken and accountability needs to be upheld. Too often, people are learning the hard way.

There’s ignorance, but then there’s the illusion that the knowledge we possess is incontrovertibly true.

It’s worth reminding ourselves to thoroughly investigate that which we believe, engage in open discussions that offer alternative views and assume that we may at any point, be wrong.

SRV by Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson is one of my favourite guitar players of all time.

I decided to cover ‘SRV’ from his album ‘Venus Isle’.

The track title is the initials of the person it is dedicated to, the legendary blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and it features a guitar solo from his older brother Jimmy.

It is a demanding but beautiful piece of guitar music.

Getting through the slump

I’m a lifelong supporter of Liverpool FC.

The success that the team has enjoyed over the last couple of years has been unprecedented compared to the last thirty and it’s quite simply been a joy to watch a team play so well and so much positivity surround the club.

Although, last night’s game was a frustrating watch against Burnley where we lost 1-0 and saw the end of a four year long run unbeaten at the home ground of Anfield.

The team have not scored a goal in the last 4 games either.

The reaction on social media is as expected. Impatient, angry fans are usually the loudest and insist on money being spent or typing ‘insert name of person they think of responsible out’.

Despite the press talk and media response, knee jerk reactions rarely work.

It’s part of the game for a team to go through a slump, not have that much luck particularly on their side and the mentality and approach not quite clicking.

And part of what makes the sport so interesting is what teams choose to do when things are going against them.

There’s the disappointment, the knock in confidence and the criticism, but beyond that is reflection, introspection, analysis and a evaluative plan to move forward.

Setbacks will happen and it’s the manner in which we respond that counts.

Leading by virtue

I recently listened to a podcast that featured the blues songwriter Dion. He has had a tremendous career and has recently released a new album at the age of 81.

One of the key things he said when being interviewed that one of the biggest lessons he learnt was told by a priest when he was 15 years of age; that the key to happiness is to be a virtuous man and do good.

Aldous Huxley admitted that it was embarrassing that the best advice he could give after 45 years of research, was for people to be kinder to each other.

Over two thousand years ago, Plato made the philosophical argument that those who are just will be happier.

It is so simple yet so elusive, because the so much of the culture today is designed to make us feel inadequate, protect our own interests and be fearful of anything different. Social Media has given everyone a megaphone and it so happens that the loudest voices, which are the ones fuelled by hatred are the ones that garner most attention. It is only recently that they are acknowledging the fact that action needs to be taken to quash this, but then there is the fact that so much money is involved in it, which leads us on to another point, that greed for the last four decades has been far too legitimised.

I have interacted with people of all sorts of backgrounds and I know that wealth does not make people happier, on the contrary, it can make them significantly more miserable.

The most happiness I have seen is when people lead by building connections, lifting others not putting them down and being generous in a variety of ways.

We all have the opportunity to make a positive contribution each and every day.

What will you choose to do?

The Ravel Affair

I am currently attempting to write my first string quartet. It is a significantly new creative path for me and very challenging but nevertheless rewarding.

Upon my research of different quartets, Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major is one of my favourites. I consider it to be a beautiful piece with extraordinary passages and details typical of Ravel’s musical personality that would continue to evolve later on in his career.

What I find remarkable about the story of this piece is that it was his final submission to the conservatoire de Paris and Prix de Rome competitions to which both rejected the piece. Aside from having mixed reviews from the Parisian press, his teacher, Gabriel Faure, to whom the piece is dedicated to, dismissed the last movement as ‘stunted and in fact a failure’. Ravel himself believed that the quartet was an inadequate realisation.

Thankfully Debussy, whose own string quartet piece, which was written ten years previously and most likely had some influence on Ravel, wrote to him a letter with some words of encouragement and insisted he did not touch a single note of the piece he had written.

From what I’ve read, the truth appears that Ravel was an unconventional character with unconventional approaches to musical composition that was difficult for the conservatoire’s ultra conservative director to accept. He had enough resilience, or indifference to any other criticism than his own to keep going on his own path and it just so happens that the frustrations and failure he dealt with led him to propelling forward in his career and eventually being revered as one of the greatest French composers of all time.

Sometimes, art and the work created just so happens to be received in a time where the culture is not ready to accept its value. Some works find that appreciation is manifested at a later date, in some cases even beyond the life of the artist. Ravel’s String Quartet is now one of the most played chamber pieces.

The reason I like stories like this is that it reaffirms that steering your own creative path and focusing on what it is you want to achieve is better than changing what you do and who you are merely to fit in.

More often than not, innovation comes from the outside.

Looking out of the plane

Flying is a strange experience and when I was working internationally, I flew more in the last 4 years than I had in my entire life.

There are parts of the experience I like. I usually like the packing side, the excitement of going somewhere different and I even like sitting with a coffee in the departure lounge as I can usually relax with a book or some music, I also like watching movies on the plane.

There are parts of the experience I thoroughly dislike. The long process of getting through security, endless queueing, lack of leg room, and the way my ears suffer from the air pressure when the plane is descending. One of the most excruciating things I have ever been through was an hour long descent whilst a poor baby cries relentlessly.

One of the more profound experiences I have is when I am looking out the window. Besides the amazing aerial views on offer, I sometimes will see a town or a city and all of a sudden, I see more than buildings.

I see people, cars along the roads and then start wondering about all the lives being lived. What people are doing with their time, what are they going through, what are their dreams or desires and in what way are they suffering?

The word for this experience is ‘sonder’. For some reason, when I am flying, I get a more concrete understanding of the fact that every life is as vivid and as complex as our own.

When we adopt this view, it becomes easier to employ empathy and whilst it may be a particularly visceral experience for me when I am on the plane, I will try to keep it in mind when I am on the ground.