Erland Cooper – Arnolfini, Bristol

Thursday 21st November, 2019

From the moment I first heard Maalie on Mary Ann Hobbs’ recommends show (where would I be without her and BBC6 Music?) I fell in love with Erland Cooper’s music. Anytime I need to step away from the business of the world I put my headphones on and escape with Solan Goose.

I saw Erland live in May and when this tour was announced, with a date in Bristol on a night I could go, well I snapped up a ticket as soon as I could. There was no way I was going to miss seeing Erland live again. None.

The Arnolfini is a modern art gallery with an events room that is occasionally used for gigs and was being borrowed this evening under the Colston Hall Presents banner. Given that Arnolfini isn’t a full time gig venue I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of sound quality and atmosphere, but it delivered on both fronts. In fact I’d go as far as to say it was better than some dedicated venues (02 I’m looking firmly at you here). The stark white gallery spaces and sci fi vibe architecture give way to a dark and intimate live space which I think should be utilised more, CH take note please!

I was told that AVA, who were supporting, were excellent and to make sure I was there early enough for them. Well, I am almost always early anyway and enjoy taking in the warm up acts, so there was no danger I would miss them. However, Kev, you were right, they were fantastic. One of the best supports I’ve ever seen, perhaps even the best. Anna on violin and Aisling on keys, both dynamic and physical players, I would have happily paid the ticket price just to have seen them. There was a wonderful lyricism to their music, a sparseness of notes that was very moving. I even cried. They are contemporary and very cool classical. Anna is magnetic to watch play, sensuous and charismatic. Some musicians seem bonded to their instrument, as if they don’t really exist without, and Anna is one of those. She uses her whole body to play as if the music is being drawn out of her by some magical, unknown force. Aisling too, I feared for her core muscles, the way she was contorting to play the keys! Music is a physical force, it moves all of our senses and emotions and as someone who cannot sit still to music I love it when the musicians are built the same way.

I needed the interval to stretch (my only complaint about Arnolfini was lack of leg room and comfort) and to buy a copy of AVA’s album, Waves. I had exactly £10 in my purse, just enough to cover getting a copy. Yes.

Erland. Now what can I say about Erland? Whatever I write will not really capture the magic and a part of me wants to stop writing here and simply say thank you for a magical evening of music. Yet I cannot. I feel compelled to write and attempt to do justice to how I was made to feel by the wonderful music I heard.

From the opening piano notes of Flattie I was in tears. It took about three notes for the tears to spring forth and the all over body shivers to begin. Such beauty, sheer and innocent beauty in music. I usually write listening to the artists music, and I am doing so now, but have had to stop because Haar is moving me to tears and I cannot see the screen to type.

Erland Cooper wrote his Orcadian triptic to calm his own busy mind, never intending the music to be shared or to resonate in the way it has. It is music for soothing souls, for moving hearts and for calming troubled minds. It is music that in a time when we are so far disconnected from nature and each other, that grounds and connects us back. Back to mystical and magical places that we may have never been, to pasts, presents and futures. To lives lived and to come. To memory and place and time, while remaining free of all of them. It is music rooted so deeply in the Orcadian landscape, yet also speaks of all nature’s beauty. It takes me to the Isle of Staffa, to the Kintyre peninsular, to the peak of Nevis and the sheer awe of Loch Ness. It takes me to the Scotland of my childhood, of my adult escapes, and it takes me home too.

My foremothers are Scottish. My short stature, sturdy hill walking legs, pale skin and freckles show the Scots heritage and for reasons I have never understood one of the only places I have ever truly felt at home is in the Scottish wilderness. It has called me my whole life and I ache to get back to it; it has been far too long since I stood on an empty Scottish beach and breathed in clean air. There is a stark beauty in the Scottish landscape that is stunning in both sunshine and rain. My Mum, I know, felt the same and the day we went to Staffa was among the happiest of her life. Sat up on the rocks, watching puffins diving, she illegally and very carefully dug up alpine plants from the cliffops to transport home to her beloved garden. I will never forget the wind in my hair, or the sound of the crashing of the waves. I get profoundly seasick and vomitted over the side of the boat the whole way there, yet I would gladly board that boat again in a heartbeat. To have stood inside Fingal’s Cave and heard the mighty roar and crash of the waves, to taste the salt in my skin and watch wild seabirds fish, was an all senses, all encompassing sensation. I was ten years old. We also climbed Ben Nevis on that trip. And walked the circumference of Loch Ness. It was an exhausting holiday! We lived on a grey, concrete council estate in east London. To escape to all of that; to uninhabited islands, to vast empty landscapes, to high peaks, it was magical and spectacular and hearing Erland Cooper play live takes me back to all of it. To a place I’ve never lived, but still feel like home. It takes me back to my Mum and all the women who came before her that I never met. It connects me and makes me feel part of something bigger than myself.

The warmth of the resonance of the viola, violin and cello combined with the harvested sounds of nature, piano and tape loops are what make Erland’s music so very special and what moves me so profoundly. I am completely and utterly transported, perhaps not to Orkney as I’ve sadly never been there, but certainly away from the hard and difficult parts of my life and back to times when I sat watching sunsets on remote Scottish beaches, or boats floating in harbours, or drinking damn fine scotch straight from the barrel, I am taken to places in my head that I thought were buried. Memories flood back and are relived. Of my Mum’s smile. Of holding her hand. Of her passing me sweets to keep my energy up as I flagged nearing the top of Nevis. Of stopping and standing still, just to breathe in and feel present in the moment. Of lighthouses on clifftops, of solitude and quietness and stillness that I’ve never found anywhere outside of Scotland. Of peace.

Erland Cooper’s music is for anyone who is lost, longing or homesick. For all those who have lost and who mourn. It is music for troubled times to soothe and to heal. It is music that is profoundly moving and utterly transportive.

I didn’t think Erland Cooper could move me more than he had in May, but I was wrong. This was such a special evening. One of the very best, not just of this year, but of any. It was the 96th gig of 2019 and I have yet to be moved quite as much. Thank you for sharing your wonderful music, it is a gift. To each of the players on the stage, you are wonderful humans, please keep making music and thank you for making me feel so much and so deeply.

Erland, we shared a moment, a very special moment. I will never forget your kindness and the gift hasn’t left my sight yet. My Mum would collect feathers and so it not only reminds me of you conducting, but of the love she had for me. At some point I will stop crying and smile, but for now, know that you touched my soul deeply. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I walked home last night in a sort of daze, the sort of fugue or fog I only feel when I’ve experienced something truly spectacular. As soon as got in, I booked a ticket to see Erland play live again next June at the Barbican. Then I went to bed, with the Cattie Face feather next to my pillow, sleeping soundly and deeply.

Please buy Erland’s albums and get yourself a ticket to see him play live, it is a magical and wonderful thing to experience.

 

 

Sofar Sounds – a house in St Andrews, Bristol

Saturday 16th November, 2019

Instead of rushing home to write this, I’m not sure I can be bothered to write about this gig at all!

Sofar is a concept, whereby house parties and other unique venues are used to put on a range of acts. You apply to go not knowing who will be playing or where and if selected (about 2 weeks beforehand) you can buy tickets for about £12. This goes on all over the world.

I was dubious but had friends who had been to ones in Bristol and said they were good. I don’t mind the not knowing who is playing, I go to random gigs all the time, but not knowing the venue was kinda anxiety inducing. Especially as someone who does not drive as Bristol’s public transport isn’t exactly great and I cannot afford taxis. Knowing the rough area isn’t really enough to be able to plan.

This Sofar was in a house and I was sat on a table, although there were a few chairs available, the majority of the 60 odd strong audience were sat on the floor. That is not something my back or joints could have managed.

The rest of the crowd were a lot younger than me and way hipper. I would not have managed to be there alone, it was only because Tom was with me that I could deal with feeling quite so out of place. The vibe was young, hip and Saturday night party. None of things that fit me. I’m more comfortable in a concert hall or folk club!

The music acts themselves weren’t bad. They just weren’t good either. Other than the middle act (Austel) I was pretty underwhelmed. Jonny Morgan seemed like a perfectly nice white, middle class boy with a guitar, but the music industry isn’t exactly short of those is it? His voice was good enough, but neither that or his songs had anything special that marked them out. I can’t remember a single one now, only a few days later.

Austel – the only female musician of the night – played synth pop with a dark edge and her voice was clear as crystal and showed her classical training background. I quite liked her stuff and she was by far the best of the bunch.

Elephant Radio, the last group. Well, they were introduced by the host with an anecdote about how they got thrown out of a strip club in Amsterdam. Not cool. On any level. Of all the things we could have been told about this group of 4 lads, this was the story you chose to go with? I was annoyed at the level of casual sexism, that this sort of “banter” from, about and for the “lads” was considered acceptable. It isn’t. As if I couldn’t have felt any less comfortable, I pretty much now wanted to leave. The music Elephant Radio made was pretty standard, generic indie rock, with synths, drums, guitar and bass. Again, four white lads making music you’ve heard in a million iterations before.

There was nothing fresh or exciting about this gig and we did actually leave before the end to make sure we got the train home.

I would like to say that this was my first and last Sofar sounds gig, but I had stupidly bought a ticket for one in December before going to this. I may just lose my money and not go. An evening on my actual sofa is considerably more appealing!

Essentially I am not the target market for Sofar. Which, given how much I love and support live music is a real shame. Like so many cultural events, they are dreamed up by white middle class people of relative privlege, wealth and health who pay no attention whatsoever to making themselves welcoming and inclusive of anything that is not exactly like them. I am never going to feel comfortable in those situations.

I am sure there are people for whom Sofar is an amazing experience and musicians for whom it gives valuable exposure. For me, it was a waste of an evening and I honestly wish I’d not gone.

Barb Jungr – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 14th November, 2019

I used to do this, rush home from a gig and type. I rarely do thesedays partly because I go to so damn many gigs and partly because through the discipline of regular writing I don’t feel the need to. Yet, tonight, I want to get down how I felt about this gig as soon as possible.

I’ve just got home. It is cold. The temperature is barely above freezing. My feet don’t seem to belong to my body. Yet I feel a warm glow inside my heart. The music I’ve heard tonight has made me feel all aglow.

Shame on me, but I had never heard of Barb Jungr until I saw this gig in the St George’s programme but anyone who could be described as the love child of Edith Piaf & Nick Cave deserved to be seen I thought. Besides anyone eccentric enough to declare that they will only sing songs written by composers whose names begin with B is my kind. Hence Bob, Brel and Me as the subtitle of this show. Only songs written by Jacque Brel, Bob Dylan and Barb herself were included. They were all ones she hadn’t covered before and in new translations to boot.

As soon as Barb walked onstage, resplendent and beaming I liked her and felt immediately at ease. She sings with her heart on her sleeve, with all the emotions beautifully controlled, but nonetheless poured into the interpretation of the song. There was her beautiful smile, warmth, playfulness and wit through most of the brilliant first half which included Jacky and Tambourine Man, but her own works were the best.  Cathedral (A Brel song) was incredibly moving, the words given meaning and life by the tone, timbre and colours in Barb’s voice. Later there was anguish and pain;  we ran the gamut of what it means to love. If We Only Had Love was a masterclass in how to deliver the emotional sucker punch of a song without ever losing control, it was close to being too powerful. What a jazz chanteuse she is.

Barb is a great storyteller, both in words and song. I will not forget the tiger tamer’s white leather in a hurry is all I can say! I think I could listen to her spin me a yarn about almost anything. She was more than ably supported by Jenny and Jamie on piano and organ – I hope Jamie enjoyed spending his birthday playing for us.

This was a wonderful gig and I am very, very glad that I bought a ticket. Thank you, Barb, your warmth and kindness shone through.

 

Ezra Furman – O2 Academy, Bristol

Wednesday 13th November, 2019

I’ve seen Ezra before and loved his energy and verve, but it came at the end of a relentless week in May when I was too tired to really take it in, so I’ve been wanting to see him live again since and despite misgivings about the venue I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Having been tempted back into the 02 earlier this year and having had a good time that night (Lucinda Williams) I thought I would chance seeing Ezra there. Besides, he had only 3 UK dates and I couldn’t get to either of the others.

Things I still dislike about the 02; odd shaped size and shape room with bar located too close making it noisy and almost inescapable, £3 for the cloakroom which is up a weird windy staircase, security that is over the top (hello metal detectors), the sound which is adequate at best and the total lack of atmosphere. The one thing, the one thing, I want a gig venue to get right is the sound. The 02 clearly has all the right equipment and simply can’t be arsed to use it properly. That is just inexcusable in my book. All of it adds to a venue with about much life and soul as a dead duck – the vibe in there is always flat – even for performers as good as Ezra.

Things I now like about the 02; the attempt to make viewing possible for short people with multi levels (even if it still fails, at least they are trying), aircon and abundant women’s loos.

We missed most of the support act, which was a shame as they were energetic and fun. I would like to try to hear Pom Poko again.

Ezra and his band looked great, but nowhere near as resplendent as they had before. Red boiler suits were no match for the white, winged angel look and Ezra wasn’t as glamourous this time either. The smaller stage perhaps didn’t help, but it was all a lot less of a performance than when I saw him last.

He opened with Suck The Blood From My Wound which was a bold choice, given that it one of his better known tracks, and as great a song as it is, the sound wasn’t quite right and Ezra’s voice wasn’t either. Maybe tiredness, overuse or jetlag, but he wasn’t in the best form last night is all I can say. There were a fair few tracks from the newest album, which I like, it is punkier and harder sounding than the previous one. There were tracks I wanted to hear that weren’t played and ones that sounded nowhere near as urgently demanding of my attention as they should have.

My joints were hurting and I had to go sit down a few times (thankfully there was space where I could do this on the balcony) and my view wasn’t the best from right up at the top, all factors that contributed to me not having a vintage night.

When I saw Ezra at Colston Hall last May he shone like a jewel from the stage, he gave such a great performance that it reached me sat in the stalls. The atmosphere passed back from the front of the hall to reach me too and it was a great gig because of it. Tonight, without the ooommmppphhh of Ezra of the crowd it felt disappointing.

I still really love Ezra Furman’s music; he is bold, brave and unashamedly himself which is fucking wonderful to see. We need more outsiders and freaks showing us their beautiful selves. I am not the same sort of outsider as him, but I recognise the way it feels to be on the margins. When you see and feel that being reflected by someone on the stage, being adored for who they are, it is really powerful. To bear witness to that with others, to share it with those who have also been on the fringes, can be a beautiful thing. Ezra is capable of delivering that; I’ve seen him do it. The theatricality and cinematic sweep of his last album did it in spades. This current show not so much. Now that’s cool, he moves in whatever direction he wants as an artist, but it wasn’t what I expected or needed this gig to be.

The venue wasn’t right, I will pick who I see there carefully and where there is a choice between any other venue and the 02 I will still take the former. I would like to see Ezra in full flow again one day.

Overall, I am sad to report that this was a disappointing gig on many levels. I guess they can’t all be transcendental experiences can they?

 

Sebastian Plano – Colston Hall, Bristol

Saturday 9th November, 2019

Mary Anne Hobbs played Purples by Sebastian Plano on her BBC6 Music Recommends show and I was struck by its haunting beauty and knew I had to hear him play live one day. When this gig was announced I jumped at the chance to get a ticket, even though it was on a weekend I knew I would have my boy. Tom would be over, so I told him he would have to keep an eye on my boy for the evening as I was not going to miss this gig! The only other time I’ve left my lad with anyone for a gig was Nils Frahm, usually I don’t bother allowing myself to think about what could be, but I knew I had to do whatever it took to be there to hear them play.

I am getting used to Colston Hall Foyer being used for performances and the sound and lighting team did a great job with this gig, stark and subtle, the lighting throwing shadows and shafts of light through Sebastian’s hair, giving him a golden glow.

There was one little Emma shaped gap in the front row (going alone to gigs does sometimes have advantages) and I heard a “hello Emma” from behind me and discovered that Jeff was sat right there. It was lovely to see him again, every gig I have shared in his company has been a good one.

Support was from John Metcalfe, who we could barely see in the darkness but that we could certainly hear. A polymath of a musician he played synth, effects, guitar and violin to mix together some really lovely stuff, including a couple of long pieces that swerved direction a few times and were a very good start point to the evening. I would very happily hear him play again.

I was expecting Sebastian to be playing piano so I was confused to not see one on the stage. There was, however, a cello and sound board and effects peddles so I was reasonably intrigued as to what sounds we were about to hear.

Oh my gosh. What sounds they were. I did not know you could play a cello like that, nor that it could make such incredible sounds. The inventiveness, creativity and mastery were superb. The cello is a gorgeous instrument, with deep resonance, but when you put it in the hands of Sebastian Plano, magic happens. Pure magic. It was beautiful, haunting and emotional. Almost every piece made me gasp and the sheer magnetic beauty made me weep as my senses became overwhelmed. I wanted to close my eyes to drink in the notes and sounds my ears and heart were so full and when I did beautiful fractal shapes in intense colours burned into my consciousness and I felt my heart and soul soar. It was less flying and more gentle floating, but the music certainly took me out of my body and into some higher plain or realm. It was astonishing.

I could barely speak at the end of the concert. All I could manage to Sebastian was a gestured thank you, and he read that with the obvious emotion on my face and gave me a hug ” I can barely speak” I squeaked, “that is why we have music” he said. Such purity of music, of emotion and of human connection in that moment, it was wonderful. The whole evening had been. Thank you Sebastian, thank you.

 

Michael Kiwanuka – Rough Trade at SWX, Bristol

Thursday 7th November, 2019

I was supposed to be at a pair of keyboard festival event gigs at St George’s but you do not miss the opportunity to see and hear Michael Kiwanuka, you just don’t. Especially when it is at the, for him, small venue of SWX. His new album has just been released (buy it, it is superb) and this was a stripped back show to support that. Anyone else would have played in the Rough Trade live room, but Michael could have sold that out 5 times over, so SWX stepped in.

I saw Michael two years ago as part of 40 gigs, on his 30th birthday, and it was one of the highlights of the year; it was a special night. I was there then with Janine, who I was also with tonight. We quickly made some new friends who had travelled up from Exeter and found a spot near the front.

There was no support, just Michael, two backing vocalists and acoustic guitar/bass. When you have a voice as great at Michael that really is all you need. I don’t believe in any God, but when he sings, I can almost feel myself being converted; there has to be some higher power responsible!

There were goosebumps, there were tears, I was mesmerised and in awe of his talent. There were tracks from the new album, but also ones from his first and second too, it felt less like an album launch and more like a fan thank you show. When the opening chords of Rule The World kicked in I couldn’t help myself from gasping in delight; it is one of my absolute favs and the sort of track that worms its way inside you with its brilliance until you cannot get it out of your heart. It simply does things to me. He followed it with Solid Ground and that was it, I was a goner, the tears came and I was well and truly captured. Music is my solid ground.

By the time we were all singing along to Cold Little Heart and Love and Hate I was properly in love with this gig. I wish it had been over an hour long, I wish it could have gone on forever. This is one very special talent. One we should nurture, cherish and hold dear. Michael Kiwanuka is the 21st century soul man, an inheritor of Marvin Gaye and Al Green.

Despite the coldness of the night I had a while to wait for the next bus and so decided to wait to see if I could meet Michael and get him to sign my copy of the album. I was intending to stay maybe 20 minutes, but I got chatting to Alex and Martin and the next thing I knew it had been over an hour and by that point I was unable to feel my feet it was so cold! It was worth the wait as Michael was humble, sweet, gentle and really lovely. My album is signed twice over and I have the thrill of knowing I met an artist I really admire. Being able to give thanks for the music that means so very much to me is one of the reasons I keep writing. Thank you, Michael for taking the time to talk to us four who had braved the cold and for your music. It touches and moves me deeply. I hope I get to see you play live again one day, that voice is truly a special one to hear live.

Beverly Glenn-Copeland – Colston Hall presents at St George’s, Bristol

Wednesday 6th November, 2019

This was another ticket picked up in the Bristol culture flash sale, and I knew nothing of Glenn’s music when I booked the ticket. Then I read a really lovely profile piece in the Guardian, discovered Glenn was classically trained, had written music for Sesame Street and was only now, in his 70’s, getting recognition for his music and feeling comfortable being himself, and I thought “I did good with getting that ticket, this is going to be a good gig.”

Whilst it continues to undergo refurbishment, Colston Hall is borrowing other venues across the city so that the music doesn’t stop. For me, them putting on gigs in St George’s is like having a night out with two of my besties, I love both venues very much.

When I arrived and saw Jeff was in attendance I was further reassured I would enjoy this gig; he is the only person in Bristol more committed to live music than me! I took my front row seat for the support act, Sarah Louise. A softly spoken North Carolina native who samples nature and electronics with her guitar and gentle voice, I liked her. It was like listening to a live version of Late Junction (late night Radio 3 show full of avant guard music that I love).

I moved further back during the interval, only because the sound was a little too loud in the front row and the woman sat next to me was coughing and I was wary of picking up another chest infection from her (dangerous for an asthmatic). It meant being nearer Jeff, or Bobbing Bob Ross as he’s been dubbed, and being able to talk to him about his art (he paints the artists during the gig) and music. We became friends during 40 gigs and also discovered we are neighbours; it is always good to find your tribe.

Glenn and his band of three were excellent. It was one of the most joyous and happy gatherings of music I’ve ever been to. There was warmth, humanity and love flowing from the stage as Glenn told stories and sang about the environment, buddhism, the power of persistence, inspiration and his wife. The birthday gift love song to his wife was so beautiful, gentle and understated; you could feel their love story in every note, it was gorgeous. We should all get to experience love like that in our lives. The negro spiritual, sung solo, was a history lesson and piece of art all at once. The power of music to save lives, be vital, political and transcendental was all there.

The rapt crowd were enthusiastically clapping every song; I spotted plenty of muso’s I’ve met along the way in the crowd, it felt like Glenn was one of those musicians musicians you hear about and I felt very lucky to be in the crowd with them. When someone is admired by other creatives it means so much more than commercial success; the respect of peers was very much in evidence tonight.

Jeff showed Glenn his artwork after the gig, “I look like my Mother!” was Glenn’s surprised reaction and it was glorious to be stood next to them both and able to say thank you for the wonderful sense of warmth and joy I felt listening to the music. It is inspiring to hear someone, at an older age, being creative, exciting and dynamic with their music and so full of enthusiasm. I told Glenn about feeling as if I was almost reborn at 40 with a new purpose and creative drive and that reading about how he was so positive had resonated with me. Thank you, Glenn for taking that time and for sharing that moment. This is what music does, it draws us together and it shelters us in times of trouble and gives us hope.

 

Remember, remember the 5th of November – a story of sepsis survival

Tuesday 5th November, 2019

Remember, remember, the 5th of November. A peculiar day in British history where we set fire to piles of wood and set off explosions to celebrate that our parliament was not blown up (it is a really, really weird set of traditions if you think about it). Four years ago it became an important date for me, for very different reasons. It is my sepsis survival day. The lead up is usually harder than the day itself, the anxiety with which I anticipate the day tying me up in confusing emotional knots.

I had a hysterectomy for adenomyosis. An elective operation that had taken many years of careful thought and consideration to have. That would cure me of the chronic and debilitating pain I’d endured for decades. Something I needed and wanted. The surgery itself was uneventful and successful, my damaged uterus and cervix were gone. All I had to do was heal and then I would have a brand new, pain free life to look forward to. The vault hematoma and my immune response had other ideas! They ganged up to create a post operative infection and sepsis. I had no idea this was going on. I had never heard of sepsis. I knew I was in pain, but I’d just had fairly major surgery, that was normal wasn’t it? I also knew I felt a little warm, but it was mild that autumn. I had no idea I had a raging fever and an infection, that if left untreated, could kill.

My then partner dragged me to A&E. I could barely walk due to the pain and was asking to be left alone to sleep (not an uncommon response with sepsis as I discovered much later, much like how an animal takes itself off to die). Without him being even more stubborn than I and making me go in, I dread to think what would have happened.

The triage nurse saw me quickly and recognised something serious was going on; I was taken immediately to resus. a place I thought only existed in medical dramas on TV! I was hooked up to painkillers and IV antibiotics straight away – an action that quite possibly saved my life. There is what is called the golden hour in sepsis treatment, and I was lucky, the nurse who triaged me and the Dr’s they called upon thought sepsis and began my treatment promptly. Otherwise. Well, I possibly wouldn’t be here.

I was sent for a CT scan and that was scary as I was left alone in a weird side room unable to get up of the gurney with no-one in sight. From there I was sent back to resus and then on to the gyane ward by ambulance. I found it all rather unnecessary to be moved in an ambulance up the hill from one hospital to another, as if I was wasting the crew’s precious time, but there was no other safe way to transport me and the gynae post op ward was the most sensible place to put me. I was wheeled into the hospital on a gurney and taken to the ward, handover sorted and left in the care of a Spanish nurse called Pilar. I am hopeless with names usually but I remember hers. She was calm and gentle and made me feel safe. I was placed in a bay next to the window and I remember asking to open the window as I was hot. I remember standing by the window, looking out at the fireworks in the distance and hearing them explode. That used to be a noise I longed for on firework night. Now it takes me back to standing by that window and makes me afraid.

My fever got worse during the night. I have flashback memories of the nurses huddled round the Sister at the end of my bed, checking the blue folder in front of her, in the moonlight and lamplight like a beautiful Rembrandt. I think they were reviewing my vitals against the sepsis chart and deciding if I needed to be transferred to intensive care. My belief is that I was only spared that ordeal as there were no onsite ICU beds and that it was more dangerous to transfer me back to the main hospital than leave me where I was for monitoring. Pilar took my vitals every 15 minutes through the night, I started to stick my left arm out in my half sleep, half delirium state on autopilot for her. She startled me awake with a loud cry of “YES! It has come down!” at one point. She was so excited because my temperature was now only 38.5 degrees (101.3F). That this was cause for celebration is both funny and shocking. I’ve no idea how hot I was before it came down as the nurses wouldn’t tell me, but to cheer 38.5, I must have been properly burning up. I also know my blood pressure had been dangerously low and the two things in combination are classic signs of sepsis. I spent the night drifting in and out fevered dreams without knowledge of how ill I was.

When she started her shift the next day, Pilar was so pleased to see me, she must have thought I was going to be taken to ICU or worse, that I wasn’t going to make it. I will never forget her smile and pleasure in seeing me again that day. I will never forget the kindness of the one nurse who held my hand for the 20 minutes it took to push one of the antibiotics into my vein, nor the one who apolgised for the terrible bruising she knew she was inflicting with the canula, nor the brisk ward orderly who ensured I was up and clean each morning, nor the other orderly who moved me to a side room for some sleep one night, each of them gave their time and concern. One was Sri Lankan, another Polish, another Jamaican. The NHS has always been run on the dedication of those who come from overseas to serve and help. Without international cooperation and skills the NHS would die on its arse.

Thankfully the antibiotics were starting to work and slowly, slowly, I began to recover. My temperature and blood pressure stabilised and I was out of immediate danger. I was lucky, purely and simply put, I was lucky. The right drugs given at the right time and a body that responded in the right way. Which isn’t to say that I felt better. Oh no. The triple combination of strong, powerful antibiotics came with pretty hefty side effects. Dizziness, nausea, diarrehea, a feeling like I had electricity crawling through my veins, itching skin inside and out; I had them all. I couldn’t concentrate on anything as it made me feel sick, so reading or using my phone were out, ditto colouring books or TV. I could just about listen to music. In very short bursts. I had no visitors other than my boyfriend, who diligently came every evening after work. I wasn’t allowed to see my boy as he was too young to come onto the ward and he was scared as hell to come see me anyway. He was 9 years old and thought his Mum was going to die. I was torn between desperately wanting to see his face and not wanting to terrify him; I was very thin and pale and had a drip stand in each arm, probably quite a frightening sight to a child.

I’ve written before about how the music I was able to listen to helped to save me. Spotify shuffle chose for me (how did it know?) Presuming Ed (Rest Easy) by Elbow and Good Souls by Starsailor. One helped me to breathe and becalm, the other to remember so many wonderful memories. They gave me hope and light in the darkness and a reason to continue fighting. The treatment was saving me, but it felt like a punishment; I think that will only make sense to other sepsis survivors.

There are moments in those days I spent on the ward that are as real and as vivid to me now as they were four years ago and yet other whole days I cannot recall at all. Flashbacks are really odd things and they come at such strange times and can be triggered by odd moments that I have had no choice but to come to terms with them being part of my life now.

When the Dr came to tell me I could go home on oral antibiotics I cried with relief. I had begun to feel I would never leave the ward again! I had not felt the sun on my face, nor the cold chill of autumnal air, for nearly a week. I walked out of the hospital unaided. I had been taken in by ambulance and now I was walking out. I was extremely lucky. I am, of course, immensely grateful to all the staff who took care of me. Every member of that ward played their part, from the Junior Doctors who seemed to never go home, to the cleaner who snuck me an extra desert, they were all part of the team who gave me care and saved my life.

Little did I know that although the physical battle had been won, that I would now face a psychological one, that would be ongoing. The discharge summary said sepsis, and I still had no idea what that meant. It was some time later, when I googled sepsis, that I discovered just how ill I had been and how lucky I was to have survived. The thing with sepsis is that it is pretty random. Some people seem to be more prone than others. Some survive against all odds and others, who would seem to have a decent prognosis, don’t make it. There appears to be no reason why I got to be a lucky one and someone else didn’t. That in itself is quite a difficult thing to face. And although I am well equipped to deal with many aspects of illness (I’ve a dozen chronic illnesses) this was a potentially life threatening illness and that takes different processing. There is an element of PTSD that is common among sepsis survivors, along with survivors guilt along and sepsis syndrome. The long term effects of the systemic damage caused by sepsis and the antibiotic treatments aren’t known or studied; I’ve no idea what the trauma did to my body and how many of the symptoms I still live with are down to that or something else. The only people who have been able to help me with my sepsis survival have been other survivors, people I have met through the Sepsis Trust, who campaign tirelessly to raise awareness. I owe them a huge debt of thanks too.

Today has been a tough day for other reasons, but I will always remember the 5th of November as my sepsis survival day. I am grateful to be here, but that doesn’t mean I am full of joy all the time. Life is hard. Emotions are difficult and very mixed. It is confusing and conflicting to feel sadness and happiness mixed together. I have been wanting to write these words all day, I need the release of them. Yet they also seem circular, as if I have written or spoken them before, and that they have nor freed me from the pain and grief. The passage of time seems to make the healing all the harder, not easier as commonly held wisdom dictates.

Four years ago I could have died of a treatable disease at the age of 38. Sepsis kills. I am glad I am not one of the statistics, too many others are. We have to change that. If I had known about sepsis before my operation, the risk factors and symptoms, I may not have become so ill. Surgery is a major risk, temperature and pain increases post operatively are warning signs.

The antibiotics that saved me may not work in another 5 years as antibiotic resistance becomes an ever more frightening and real prospect. That frightens me almost as much.

Please learn about sepsis and also please be responsible with antibiotics. We need all of us to be mindful of both to save lives in the future.

Remember, remember the 5th of November, the day I survived sepsis.

Andrea Belfi – Southbank Centre, London

Sunday 3rd November, 2019

As if three gigs in one weekend wasn’t enough…

I was already going to be in London for most of the weekend and when I saw this gig announced I thought, well, I could stay another night. So I did. Andrea last played in London two years ago (I was lucky enough to also be at that one) and he is brilliant so I wasn’t going to miss the chance to hear him play again. It fitted with the minimalist theme, too, as Andrea plays drums and electronics.

Sitting proudly in the middle of the otherwise pitch black stage, beautifully lit, like a Caravaggio painting, were Andrea’s drums. There he sat, bringing forth rhythms and textures like no-one else you will hear. He played for about an hour. It felt like 10 minutes; each piece bleeding into the next, so that the layers of one ending became the next ones beginning. It felt more urgent and industrial than when I saw him last. How much of that was due to the differing acoustics of a purpose built, large and airy concert hall, compared to the intimacy of a small chapel, I cannot say, but I liked it. The lighting was superb; it was like watching a moving piece of Renaissance art. The sheer speed of Andrea’s playing is astonishing, watching him keep multiple rhythms going was something else. I sat in the front row and gazed up in awe.

I have been spoilt musically in the past week, Colin Stetson, a minimalist experience that changed the way I listen and then Andrea as the cherry on the top. What a week of live music it has been!

Deep Minimalism – Southbank Centre, London

Saturday 2nd November, 2019

As if two hours of music wasn’t already enough for the day, I headed off to the Southbank centre for another four. Heaven.

I am pleased to report that the Southbank Centre have improved their foyer since I was last there, with a portable information desk to help you find your way, and neon lighting that gave a Blade Runner sort of vibe, the pinks warming up the concrete.

40 gigs changed my life, of that there is no doubt or argument. Today proved how much and how far it changed and shaped my taste in music. I spent three hours sat in the dark, among total strangers, listening to analogue synth music that had already been recorded and was being played via a state of the art sound system and an Ipad. No, really I did. The music was composed by Eliane Radigue and was in three parts, each an hour long, but played continuously. A part of me considered running for the door, I will admit, as sitting still in a dark room for three hours seemed quite intimidating. I was hesitant and nervous, but took some deep breathes and decided to feel the fear and do it anyway.

As an exercise in deep listening, concentration and stamina, it was certainly interesting. I was expecting trance like bliss, but it was considerably more intense that that, and that came as a surprise. The guy sat next to me had told me he was here as this was the music his daughter was born to, which intrigued me. Musings on death, inspired by the Tibeten book of the dead aren’t the usual choices for birthing music! However, it began to make sense as I let go of thoughts of time and space and allowed myself to simply exist. We are rarely closer to death than at the moment of birth, and they are the only other two states of existence for when time has no real meaning. Labour is a process that runs to its own schedule, as does death. Anyone who has birthed or watched someone die will attest to that. I resisted the temptation to look at my watch, knowing whatever it said would prove irrelevant anyway and although I had to fight that urge initially, once I surrendered and let go it felt very freeing to float free of time in space for a while. Sometimes I closed my eyes, but mostly they were open, staring out into the darkness. I moved my neck gently to change the position of my head and partook of some foot rolls every now and then to stop my joints seizing completely, but was otherwise still and calm. Every so often another person in the room would move, stretch or even leave (lightweights) which disturbed the flow, but also became part of the flow of the music in a way.

There was a sense of transcendence and of calmness for most of it, as time went on, I began to feel my body unclench and release tension until I felt as if I and the chair were as one; a very deep sense of relaxation overcame me. Until some point late in the third piece, when the sound became loud, intense and overwhelming, tone on tone, notch on notch, until it was almost too much. This was very much the point of death I thought, the raging against the dying of the light, and the sheer intensity of will it takes to fight for every last breath. There were shivery tones to the music, not pleasant ones, like insects crawling through your skin, burrowing into your veins and slithering around inside you. This was a feeling all too familiar, and then it struck me and I struggled for breathe for real as tears sprang forth and rolled down my cheeks. This is what it felt like four years ago when the life saving antibiotics coursed through my veins destroying the bacteria that was trying to kill me. This was the aural expression of surviving sepsis. It was very intense and when the sounds finally began to ebb back down to a slow stop it was a blessed relief. There was a lovely moment of stillness at the end, leaving us hanging somewhere between worlds, between states, between being born and death.

After an extended break, there was another hour of music to come, with Kathryn Williams playing 40+ pieces for flute. I thought, well, it cannot get any weirder than what has already happened, except that it did! Created as a response to her asthma, as a sort of macabre challenge on what you can do with one breathe, each short piece was a playful exploration on that theme. There was jumping up and down, sit ups, playing in a swimming pool and in a bowl of water as well as teeth rattling and singing through the flute. It was brave, bold and bizarre.

Something had compelled me to buy a ticket to Deep Minimalism and further still embrace the strangeness of it all. It felt important and oddly healing. It was an experience I will not forget.