The reason I started writing this blog was a way of documenting #40gigs and I’ve continued it as a music blog. Lately I’ve been feeling as if I want to write about other things that interest me; art, architecture, culture, working class life and politics, or anything else that takes my fancy. I’ll clearly continue with the gig reviews as well, but the adage of write what you know encompasses more than music.
Last week was a big week for me. I’ve written most of it in the 5 music blog entries that preceded this one, but somehow that didn’t feel enough.
In the space of 7 days I traveled to Birmingham, Reading, Bath and Oxford, had 3 job interviews, waved my baby off to school camp and left my job. I photographed Gaz Coombes twice, went to 2 other gigs, met my heroine Marian Keyes and attended a day festival in the sunshine. All while builders re-rendered my house (not the best timing but I’ve waited a long time for my landlord to do anything so I can hardly complain).
My son has never been apart from me or his Dad for longer than 1 night, and always calls when he is with the other parent. Lugging all his gear up the hill to school last Monday morning to say goodbye and not even be able to talk to him until Friday was difficult for us both. Made worse by having to leave him in the hall to dash off to an interview. It is fair to say he coped far better than I did! And my quiet word in the teachers ear about him possibly needing to call me worked as she let him use her mobile to call me before he went to bed that night, which is how I missed Gaz’s last song in Birmingham! At least I was at the back that night and could nip into the foyer of the venue to talk to him. The reassurance of hearing my voice, and me hearing his, was enough. He had a great time, scoring amazingly high in the shooting, taking part in nearly all the activities and even winning an award for being tidy (anyone who has witnessed my Lego strewn house will understand my astonishment at that). He has coped with SAT’s and camp so well, much better than I thought he would, and I am very proud of him for doing his best in all aspects. If he grows up a kind person I’ll be happy, I keep telling him the exam results don’t mean shit, that being a decent human being who tries their best is what is important, but that message is drowned out by the relentless pressure of the other kids, their parents and a school system dominated by results. Children are good at different things I tell him, so what if you can’t spell, neither could Eninstein! You are funny and caring, those things matter a whole heap more. I want to be proud of the person he is, not his academic or work achievements. I wish society shared those aims, and not just for our kids. Our worth as humans shouldn’t be in financial units or levels of productivity, but in how we treat each other. Warmth, kindness, compassion and understanding are better measures and they don’t exclude either.
When I’ve meet people who’s art I admire, those are the qualities I look for. And the art is tarnished, for me, if they turn out to be an asshole! I guess I’m lucky, or I pick good people to admire, but it is rare that I run into a total tosser. Gaz Coombes, all his band and management have been lovely, allowing me, as a fan, access to them photographically. I have always thought that the words “thank you” are a bit useless in that they don’t really capture gratitude properly. I am so grateful for the photo passes. I am largely self taught, have little experience or expertise and not a terrific amount of confidence in my abilities. Last week was the first time I’ve photographed a band in 8 months. Bristol was a nightmare, the lighting could not have been worse and I had to work hard to get any useable shots, but I managed it. Birmingham had been a treat of another order, having permission to shoot from the crowd and there being balconies and steps allowing me to do so. The results are ok. I did ok photos here Thank you Mick, Gaz, Piney et all for the opportunity. Let me know if you like them. Or if you don’t. We all need feedback on our creative endeavours.
Silly late nights and ridiculous travel on coaches is clearly good interview preparation as I was offered all 3 jobs I interviewed for. I’ve accepted one and so hopefully my financial picture will perk up soon. It is still a job I am massively over qualified for, but part time and flexible work (essential when you are a single parent and your child isn’t entirely ‘standard’) tend to be on the lower rungs. Without the help of state assistance in tax credits, DLA and housing benefit, we wouldn’t survive. I shouldn’t feel the need to justify that, nor explain, nor feel ashamed for being “on benefits” but the reality of our society is that I am and do. I wish I could earn enough on my own, but the reality is that I can’t. The reality of caring and working, when you aren’t always well yourself, is that you need help. Financial help from the state, emotional help from a counsellor and support groups, societal help in terms of understanding. None of us can survive alone, and some face greater challenges and barriers than others in accessing that help. Many of them hidden. We circle back to displaying kindness again don’t we?
That kindness is how I can afford to be at so many gigs. Again, I shouldn’t need to explain, but I feel I do. Most of the gigs I go to are not paid for by me. Tom paid for all the tickets last week, and the travel. Apart from the coach to and from Birmingham which was a promotional birthday gift from National Express (yes, really) as well as 80% of the food/other expenses. He does this out of kindness, because he loves me. Photo passes mean free gig entry so those were gifts of a kind from the band. The camera I was using had been saved up for over the space of 18 months. The laptop I edit and type on was a gift from my ex boyfriend about 4 years ago. I get given money and venue vouchers as birthday/christmas/Mother’s Day gifts so that is how I afford others. Occasionally a venue or artist or promoter sees how much this all means to be and offers me a guest list. Last year a chunk of #40gigs was paid for by total strangers via gofundme. Kindness again, always kindness. Without it I would not be able to pursue my passion for live music. And as regular readers will know live music is my everything. I remain full of gratitude and thankfulness.
One day I may be in a position to repay, and if I am I will do so gladly. In the same way as I was ever to climb the financial ladder I would consider it a privilege to be able to pay higher rate tax. I guess that is how you feel when you have been in receipt of help yourself, when you have benefitted from kindness you are more likely to spread more kindness. It makes you wonder how cold, hard and cruel the upbringings of the people who govern us must have been for them to be enacting such cold, hard and cruel policies on us all. How blinkered and small their worlds must have been and remain to have never seen nor understand kindness.
This week also saw an historical vote in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the 8th amendment and pave the way for legal abortion in the country. Reading the stories of all those traveling home to vote and then the result, by such a huge margin in almost every area and among all age groups (bar the over 65’s) moved me to tears repeatedly. The pace of change in Ireland is astonishing. The Magdalene laundries and their ferocious legacy of abuse only fully closed a generation ago. The scandal of what was done by the Church to thousands of women only just beginning to be uncovered. The mass graves, the beatings, the forced removal of babies from mothers, the cruelty, all of it only just starting to be known about.
Divorce was still illegal in Ireland the first time I visited Dublin as a teenager and the thought that gay marriage would be legalised was laughable (sadly). Yet I have lived to see all of it. I’m not Irish and it has been an emotional journey to watch, so to begin to understand what this must mean to the women of Ireland, well it’s incredibly moving. It is also so hopeful, that in a time when both the UK and US seem hellbent on moving backwards to a mythical time of ‘control’, that our near neighbour has run towards a more accepting and liberal future is beautiful. I wish, especially in the light of Brexit, that my Irish ancestry was a little closer than Great Grandparents.
That I was to be seeing Marian Keyes and Louise O’Neill talk the day after the vote was the icing on the cake. Two brilliant Irish women, who had campaigned for repeal, talking about feminism, writing, make up, the responsibility of being a writer, Aldi ice cream and so much more, was an amazing way to spend a Saturday morning in Bath. We started with a spontaneous round of heartfelt applause for the repeal vote and it carried on being emotional from there on in. There was also a lot of laughter, warmth and kindness. I am not a huge reader of fiction, but Marian Keyes is an author I adore. She writes with such warmth, humour and love about all of life. Domestic abuse, addiction, death, mental illness, families (no-one writes family dynamics as well as she does), shoes, relationships, it is all there in her novels. I managed to read the Walsh family novels in the wrong order by mistake (I know, hilarious) reading Rachel’s Holiday last of all.
The day after my Mum’s funeral I was in a charity shop (something she and I used to love doing together) and I picked up Anybody Out There, a Marian Keyes Walsh family novel I hadn’t read. I thought, brilliant, this will be a good distraction and bought it. My Mum loved reading, so a book bought in a charity shop was a good connection back to her. I hadn’t banked on the subject of the book, which I shan’t spoil in case this moves you to seek it out, but it unlocked a wave of grief. Tears flooded out of me. The pages of my already quite battered copy were now covered in snot and sobs. I tweeted Marian to say I’d picked up the book not knowing what it was about and that it had this effect on me. She replied with a sweet and honest reply that she was sorry to hear about my Mum and that her book had moved me to much. It was unexpected to say the least, but indicative of the humanity and love Marian displays as a person and writer. So to her speak, in person, was such a thrill.
I apologised to Louise O’Neill afterwards for not knowing her work before today, she was as funny and engaging as Marian so I suspect her books are also ruddy brilliant. I almost ran out of the queue to get Marian to sign my ticket (I was too embarrassed to take my old and well worn copies of her books and until I start my new job can’t afford to buy her latest) as I was so nervous about meeting her. My heart was hammering. My mouth was dry. I almost couldn’t speak. Yet I did. I croaked some embarrassing words about how much I loved her books and how when she followed me on twitter I nearly died, to which she immediately asked my name and said “oh yes I know you!” and signed my ticket with 3 kisses. I nearly fainted. This meant more to me than meeting Nils Frahm or the time Guy Garvey hugged me!
You simply have to follow Marian on twitter, she is hilarious and regales stories of her nearest and dearest with such love and wit it is impossible not to feel that you know them. As someone without a family of their own any more, it makes me feel connected and part of something. That is is the beauty and joy of social media in the hands of those who use it for kind purposes (and I have to say those are usually women).
When I was a child I really loved Cynthia Voight’s novels, Tell Me If The Lovers Are Losers in particular and I wrote to her saying so. After many weeks (oh the days of international snail mail!) I received a reply saying thank you, but that a book needed a willing reader. It took me until last year to understand what she meant and to accept my part in the process. The best artists are ones who give, who share, who use their platform with kindness.
The last full week of May 2018 was a very busy one, I traveled many miles and had very little sleep. I met artists I admire and got to be creative around their work. My boy took a huge step towards his eventual independence. Writing helps me process, hence this long and rambling summation. Thank you for reading, whoever and wherever you are.