Loneliness

I had some bad health news today. I need to talk to someone about it. Someone who really knows me, who loves me, who understands, who has all the history at their fingertips. Such a person doesn’t exist in my world. They just don’t. Family? I have none, not really. My Mum died 4 years ago and my Dad and I speak sporadically. and see each other even less. Besides he knows nowt about my real life, I’ve been playing pretend perfect daughter my whole life. My brothers, estranged and hundreds of miles away. Again, they know a version of me in their memories, the little sister needing protection and annoying them. Not who I am now and how I got to be here. Childhood friends? Nope. I keep in very loose touch with one or two, but it has been a long time since we actually met and I have not very much in common with them anymore. I’m not a middle class, respectable, home owner who cares about gardens and having a nice glass of wine. Work colleagues? Well yes, thankfully, I am still employed and I do get to have meaningless chit chat conversations about their families and pets, but none of it is real, deep or meaningful. They are just wallpaper. I am to them too, if they pay me any mind other than “Emma the weirdo” I’d be surprised. Let’s put it this way, one of them got married last year and didn’t tell me. Friends? Well I do have a couple of those, one of them is celebrating her birthday this weekend, one works shifts and the other is a sort of buck yourself up type. Not really what I need right now, if I’m honest. Two of them have moved away. I’ve seen each of them once or twice this year.

I am not very good at maintaining these relationships, I simply don’t know how. When you aren’t built with the innate social skills required to get on in life it is really hard. When it feels like flim flam and all you really want to talk about is whatever is on your mind and that’s it, when you forget how to play pretend and put your mask on and you cannot be your really weird self, it is quite hard to make friends. When your communication style does not match the socially acceptable one it is even harder to keep them. A partner? Well, yes, I do have one, but he lives thousands of miles away and there is a five hour time difference between us. So where do I turn? Who do I talk to? All that well meaning mental health advice about “talk to someone” doesn’t mean very much when you are alone.

I can go for weeks without spending time in the company of another adult, other than work. Imagine that, just imagine night after night of coming home to an empty house or one shared only with a 12 year old. Where you get an adult hug, or any kind of physical contact with another adult, every few weeks. That can be pretty lonely even on your best days, but ones where things aren’t so great. What then?

Loneliness isn’t just about old people. It is about all those of us who are different, odd, strange, who don’t fit in. Those with disabilities, low incomes, chronic illnesses. It is hard for us to get out and make friends too. And Lord it isn’t like I haven’t tried. I did the baby groups, I talked to Mum’s at school gates, I joined a political party ffs, I went to a book group, I joined meetup, I chat to strangers all the bloody time, I’m on social media, I have used online support groups. I am kind and good and care enormously about other people. The trouble is, I am not like other people. They don’t want to be friends with me. Even if they do, at first, when they get to know me, or whenever my mask slips, and they see my true self, they disappear. It has happened so often, that much like bullying in the workplace, I just expect it now. I begin every relationship expecting it to turn out badly, to be let down, because that is all the life experience I have. Five years is about how long people usually last. In jobs it is about a year, eighteen months if I’m lucky. I’ve had more jobs than you’ve had hot dinners. My personal best is being fired twice in six months!

I miss companionship. I miss having someone to make me a cup of tea. I miss someone to sit with on the sofa and watch TV with in silence sometimes. I miss hugs. You can’t provide those from the other side of the Atlantic, which is where my boyfriend lives. I miss having a history with someone. I miss laughter and in jokes. I miss being part of a family. I miss knowing someone will always have my back. I miss hearing and saying the words I love you to anyone other than my son. We all need to know we are loved. And we all need to give love, too.

Today I had some bad health news and I need to talk to someone about it. I need a hug. I need to cry and get angry with the world about it for a bit. Then I need a cup of tea and to research the hell out of my options and to make a plan. I can’t do all of that alone.

I don’t even know why I am writing this, sometimes words help me to process. I used to be a talker, but when there is no-one to listen to you speak, you have to type instead and hope that ears are found somewhere I guess. Thank you for listening if you did.

 

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Marika Hackman – Rough Trade, Bristol

Sunday 11th August, 2019

Another day, another gig. This week has been a very busy one, which is unusual for August. I had heard Marika on BBC6 Music, went to see her live at the end of 2017 and loved her attitude, sass and music in equal measure so when this intimate show to help launch her new album was announced I was on it.

The live room at Rough Trade is way better than the back of a shop needs to be, and that is why I love it. Holding a couple of hundred when full it can be a bit packed, but it is also a real treat to get to see artists in such an intimate space up close and often acoustic.

The tracks from the new album sounded great. Marika’s husky vocal taking centre stage with her on acoustic guitar with only another guitar for support. As much as I like the sound of her full band, it was also great to hear the songs stripped back like this. I think she played Wanderlust, All Night, I’m Not Where You Are, Hand Solo and Any Human Friend from the new album with a couple from her earlier works chucked in for good measure. I had only heard the album through once before hearing it live, so it mostly sounded very fresh, filthy and fucking ace to me. Hand Solo has to be a standout, a song about masturbation that was *ahem* thoroughly researched apparently! This is why I love Marika’s music. She is feminist, sexual and brimming with confidence. It is so wonderful to see and hear women making music that they control, talking about their desires, wants and needs and not being the playthings of men and boys. It is really liberating for me, as a middle aged woman, I wish there had been a Markia Hackman when I was younger. The crowd was way more female and that was also great to see, and be part of. Knowing that Marika, Christine and the Queens and Anna Calvi are all out there making great music is such a thrill.

Get the album. Get a ticket to see her on her autumn tour. Support women making music this good. Please.

Book Review – The Electricity of Every Living Thing by Katherine May

This is new territory for me, I’ve not written a book review before. I follow Katherine on twitter and she was looking for people to review her book, so I said, I have a blog, mostly about music, would that count? She graciously said yes and sent me a copy. I had been wanting to read The Electricity of Every Living Thing ever since I heard about Katherine’s story. We seemed to share so much, I wondered if I would recognise myself in her words.

As a child I devoured books like some children breathe. I was taught to read at 3 by my patient mother because I keep asking and she taught me to shut me up! I practically lived in our local library. I even won an award for being one of Barking & Dagenham’s brightest young readers; a book token, presented by the Mayor. I wore a new dress Mum made for me, dusky pink with a white cowl collar and a huge red bow. Pigtails and a toothy grin completed the look. Wonderful archivists at Barking Library helped me find an article from the Barking Post to confirm the accuracy of my memories.  I wish my Mum was here to reminisce.

I am not a huge reader anymore. Being forced to read at University quelled my love of the written word. It almost ended my love of film and TV too – when you are trained in how to pull apart things to find their meaning forensically and without any joy it tends to kill the sense of wonder and astonishment you once found. Nowadays I am happiest reading non-fiction, although Marian Keyes is a rare exception. I adore her writing, her warmth, wit and ability to tackle difficult subjects are second to none.

I digress. The point was to say that I am not a big reader anymore, but I do have an underlying love of words, nurtured in childhood and that this was a book I was dying to read.

I read at two speeds. Either slowly, savouring every word, or rabidly as I try to absorb everything at speed. With Electricity I did both. Spurts of “Oh My God!” speed reading interspersed with languid spells of I don’t want this to end.

It tells of Katherine’s journey, metaphoric and real, around the South West Coastal Path. At the beginning it is all planning and dogged determination. It becomes less a physical journey and more of one to the heart of oneself. An examination of, among other things, motherhood, friendship, coping strategies and self realisation. You can see why I wanted to read it. The parallels with my own story are all there. I nodded so hard reading sections of this book that I hurt my neck! I could see myself in the awkward outsider on a seemingly pointless quest that ended up being a journey to yourself and finding out who you really are.  There were entire paragraphs I wanted to highlight and send as quotes to those who love me to say “look, here I am!” as I felt so understood and seen by them. I read through the first couple of hundred pages quite quickly, then stopped. I do this, feeling as if I stop reading them they will somehow go on forever, willing the story to not have an end point. I forced myself to pick it back up and to keep going, I owed Katherine this review. I also owed myself the luxury of the time to savour what I had read. I still do.

I have a feeling that this will be a book I return to, over and over again, as a source of quiet acceptance and reflection. Thank you Katherine for being generous enough to let me have a review copy, and for the honesty with which you write. I will not be the only woman who reads it and sees herself reflected, perhaps for the first time.

The Electricity of Every Living Thing is a book of one woman’s walk away from and yet ultimately towards herself. If you have ever felt lost, confused or lonely, you will find acceptance in it as I did.

 

 

 

Old Man Luedecke – The Folk House, Bristol

Saturday 10th August, 2019

I spend a fair amount of time looking at venues’s websites, cross referencing dates with my diary, looking for gigs to attend. One of the venues I always check is the Folk House. They put on fewer gigs that many other places, but the ones they have tend to be very good quality and it is a great, quirky place that I enjoy visiting. That was how I found this gig. Canadian banjo folk. Not tried that before. Old Man Luedecke sounded off centre enough to be the sort of thing I would like.

At the time I booked it I had known that I would be quite tired, having been away with my boy for a few days and then working. I hadn’t factored in any other events. Then I went and added Session and Sam Fender and I was a lot more tired than I thought I would be! The problem with that is that fatigue is both a symptom of and a trigger for a lot of chronic health problems. My joints were complaining and something weird was going on with my cervical spine nerves again, the result of which was pain in my right elbow and hand. It is much harder to relax and enjoy yourself when you are in pain. A certain portion of your brain and energy are required to deal with pain and so you have less to deal with everything else. It also meant I couldn’t clap – for which I had to apologise to Old Man Lueedecke. I did my best my tapping on the table, or my leg, but I was unable to clap enthusiastically with the rest of the intimate crowd. I had consoled myself with a decaf tea and a small slice of gluten free cake and found a seat near the front (can you see why I like the Folk House so much now?!)

I liked Old Man Luedecke as soon as he came out, wearing a purple check sports coat with buttons of co-ordinating but not matching colours. He was charming and funny and ever so polite, in the way only Canadians are. I felt I was in safe hands and his warmth and humour were peppered throughout his songs. Some of them were sweet, some funny and others touching. Weaving lyrics about losing his father with the state of democracy was sad and dark, but still a loving tribute to the bond they shared. There was a lot of love and warmth; for his children, his wife, local pirate myths, sardines, friendship, hula hoops and much more. Wistful, surreal and self deprecating, despite the challenges of nerve pain, I enjoyed the gentleness and deapan wit of Old Man Luedecke. It may be a while before he gets back here to play again, but in the meantime his latest album Easy Money will tide me over.

 

Sam Fender – SWX, Bristol

Friday 9th August, 2019

August is usually a quiet month for gigs, it’s festival and holiday season and so not much is on. I was scoping out venue listings, planning for autumn, when I found this rescheduled date of Sam’s at SWX for only £12.50. Excellent I thought, I’ve heard him on Chris Hawkins’ early breakfast show on BBC6 Music, he’s good. I clicked for tickets. Sold out. Crap. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to get a spare ticket and in desperation I posted in the event Facebook group on Friday morning. Lo and behold, someone with a spare ticket popped up and I arranged to meet them outside the venue that night. I’ve just had a few days away with my boy and as a result I have £20 to last me til Monday. The ticket was going to be £15. I have food in the cupboard and bus tickets on my phone app – fuck it, music feeds my soul more than anything.

Sometimes I get a gut feeling that a gig is going to be special, worthwhile and that I just NEED  to be there. I cannot explain it better than that, I just get a feeling sometimes. Sam Fender was one of those. It has nothing to do with knowing the artist, I’ve had this sensation about people I’ve never heard of to. And the musical sixth sense has, so far, steered me in the right direction. I’ve not yet been proved wrong. Would Sam be worth blowing almost my last £ on? Would my instinct be correct?

SWX is a funny old place. Known and loved in the memories of multi generations of Bristolian’s as a nightclub where they pulled as youngsters (they still operate as a club as well as a venue, some traditions never die) I have seen Ride, Anna Calvi and Sharon Van Etten there. When it is full it can be a really uncomfortable place for me. I found a little spot on the balcony, towards the back, and hoped for the best. Thankfully it worked out. I had a barrier to lean on and a post to lean back against (my joints decided to play up again so this was blessed relief) and only a few people came to stand behind me. I had picked well as the rest of the place looked heaving. And very, very lively! The crowd was a pleasing age mix, Sam is only 23 and so attracts his own generation as well as older musos like me. There were a worrying number of ‘lads’ but even they were ok – the bunch of blokes in front of me respectful of space and not too much chatting. Phew.

Support came from Hector Gannet who were alright. A loud guitar-based band from the North East. The final two tracks they played were the better ones of their short set. A sensible choice of support for Sam, a solid warm up.

Sam was a warm and likeable presence from the moment he slunk onstage “we are finally fucking here!” (the gig had been much postponed, due to illness) and with his band they pumped out loud guitar indie rock that has left my ears ringing today (and I was towards the back of the venue!) Mostly I am not into white boys playing guitars anymore. So if I say one is good, they must be. And Sam is very good indeed. That gig instinct of mine had steered me right. The crowd were well up for it, singing along, arms aloft, moshing like good ‘uns. I had forgotten how wonderful a sight that is, as long as I am safely not in it of course, the musical ties that bind people together in those moments are special and meaningful. We live in times that are divisive and abusive, music brings us together, even if only for a little while.

When Sam thanked us all for coming out, in the rain, he really meant it, it was heartfelt and lovely to see a young working-class lad making good. With that sort of humility and genuineness I hope he goes far. I expect he will. He has something special about him. I usually watch the crowd, the rest of the band, as well as the singer, but I couldn’t take my eyes of him. He has it, whatever it is. Coupled with great song writing ability and a cracking indie voice he has talent beyond his age. The yearning, plaintive cries in Dead Boys (easily his best track) were chilling. Hairs stood up in slow motion down the back of my neck. Yes, it is jangly indie guitar music, but the lyrics speak of more than just trying to pull birds down the local. They are articulate and clever and packed full of meaning if you want to find it. A better picture of what it means to be a young, white, straight, working class man today I don’t think you’ll find musically. I was seriously impressed. Not all of it landed, or was intended for me. I’m a 42-year-old woman, not a 23-year-old boy. I more want to nurture and parent him than take him out for a pint, but Sam Fender is a talent and talent speaks across all sorts.

I was disappointed in the final song, a cover of Oasis. The only one in the audience who was I think, it went down very well indeed! However, Sam, if you read this, you are better than that. Seriously. The Gallagher’s write generic music that speaks to and of a narrow set of perspectives. Their lyrics aren’t clever or articulate like yours are.  They are base music for boys. You, Sam, are more than that. You could be so much more than that. Maybe you won’t sell millions like Oasis did, or hoover up industrial quantities of cocaine, or marry a model, but you will have integrity and the soul of a decent human being. You will be a better man for it. And your music will carry and reach beyond the narrowing confines of straight, white men. To the rest of us who love music to and want to hear emotionally open men singing about their lives. Then perhaps we will see fewer dead boys in all our home towns.

Sam Fender has real potential to become a huge star. I hope he does and I hope he maintains the humility and decency he seems to have now. When he gets it right, which he did frequently at this gig, he gets it very right indeed.

Was it worth blowing £15 of my last £20 on? Yes, wholeheartedly. Were those musical divining rods in my soul correct again? Yes, they were. Sam Fender was excellent.

 

 

Session:Still House, Empire Sounds & Steppaz – The Station, Bristol

I heard rave reviews on social media and so I thought why not take a chance on street dance? Dance party, gig and social they promised. I’m in for the dance and the gig parts of that.

The Station is a youth project/cafe/arts space/event hire venue right in the middle of town. I’ve been there once for some training so had no idea what to expect. Besides this was to be outdoors. Even in the forecast rain.

Sitting on a camping stool wearing a cagoule helped to lend the evening a festival vibe and the crowd appeared to be up for some fun. We got bags of that. The dancers were dynamic and fast. A troop of 10 in every combination you can imagine – solos, duos. formation, weaving in and out of themselves and us, it was high energy hip hop/afrobeat/street dance to get your blood pumping and a place a smile on your face. The dancers energy was infectious and I was fighting the urge to get up and join in for a lot of it! Embarrassing chair dancing may have occurred. The band were excellent, providing the right beat dropping back drop and some nice harmonising drum solos with the movement. It all worked together seemlessly to create a great atmosphere.

A second troupe of dancers, fronted by a wickedly bendy small girl (she only looked about 7) with attitude to die for.  These girls and young women were awesome, full of spirit and power. On the strength of tonight, the future is female and the future is black. It was wonderful to see young women, brimming with confidence, taking up space and being themselves. It was almost like being in a Rhythm Nation era Janet Jackson video (or something more contemporary, I’m old, that’s my cultural reference point!)

Right at the end I got my chance to get up and join in, as we were all encouraged to dance like no-one was watching. I couldn’t even begin to tell you the last time I danced in the rain, but it felt really, really good. My joints started to give up so sadly I had to stop dancing and become an observer. What I saw was a lot of smiling faces and what I felt was a lot of collective happiness.

All the reviews I read were right, this was a joyful event, bringing people together to enjoy dance and music and have a good time. What’s not to love about that?

Lucinda Williams – O2 Academy, Bristol

My third and final Colston Hall presents at as part of River Town festival gig. In a venue I’ve not set in for a long time.

The last time I was at the 02 was probably 10 years ago. I have a deep dislike of all the 02 chain venues. They are generally overcrowded, overpriced and with terrible sound. The latter of which bugs the hell outta me as the main freaking thing I want a venue to get right is the sound! I have turned down amazing gigs at the 02 Academy in Bristol on this basis (Mercury Rev with an orchestra, Kamasi Washington etc) and will, wherever possible catch an artist in another city rather than set foot in the 02. However, Lucinda wasn’t playing another date I could make and so I had to put on my big girls pants and woman up. And I am glad I did. The layout is still awful and the overcrowding (even for this, a not sold out show) in evidence BUT they have sorted out the sound. The sound and lighting were no better or worse than anywhere else I have been. Hooray! I might, just might, be able to see gigs there again.

I was lucky enough to find a little space up on the balcony at the front so that I had clear view of the stage. How much I would have enjoyed that experience if it were crowded up there and people were jostling behind me I cannot say but for this gig it was a great spot.

There was no support act. Lucinda and her band were playing the whole of the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album in full as the first set, and then some other choice tracks for the shorter second set. I confess it is not an album I am familiar with, Sweet Old World is more the one I know, but Lucinda is a legend in country music circles and I knew whatever she sang it would be worth hearing. One of country blues musics’ grand dames, with Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams has been around the block more time than most and you will know her music even if you think you don’t. She was attracted to music through poetry, and it shows in the stories she tells in her songs.

As this was a full album retrospective we were treated to long, sometimes scripted and other times wandering, tales of the songs as well as a top notch slide show of photographs and handwritten lyric sheets in the background. Some of the stories were touching, others funny, hearing her bashfully talk about the men who she foolishly fell for (she has a reputation for having a thing for bass players. I hear you, Lucinda, I hear you) was very endearing. The tracks about him were among my favourites, they were far too relatable, so many of us women have been turned over by a shitty man, that any woman singing about it (and coming out of it triumphantly) is bound to hit a nerve.

Of the songs in the second set I really liked the new one, Bone of Contention, which was full of fury at the current US President; the drummer got so passionate in his playing he lost a stick. “I know you all got troubles of your own over here” made it highly, if sadly relatable .”In radicalised times, you gotta be radical you know” amen, Lucinda.

The encore was almost the best part, a wonderous cover of Should I Go Or Should I Stay by the Clash and a snippet of Walk on the Wild Side in Righteously were ace. Yes, the voice has aged, but given that it is singing country and blues, genres where you want to hear the experience in the voice, it only adds to the songs. Gravely, deep and not at all pretty it suits the down and dirty music perfectly. For too many years I dismissed country as hokey and boring, it is not. It is white working class soul, blues and folk. It is music about things that matter; love, hope and redemption. Universal themes and ones we need now more than ever.

Lucinda Williams was excellent and I am very, very glad that I took the chance and ventured back into the 02 Academy. If I hadn’t I would have missed one of country blues finest.

Robyn Hitchcock -Folk House, Bristol

Friday 26th July, 2019

A Colston Hall presents show as part of River Town festival.

I had a blast last year at the three River Town shows I went to and was a bit gutted to not be able to make a lot of this years one. They seemed to be predominately on Mondays and Tuesdays, which are nights I am unable to get out, or on the weekends I had my son. Still, it is an ace annual festival. The brief is wide open enough to allow for a broad canon of artists, from the weird and wonderful to the more straight down the line Americana you would expect.

I sort of vaguely knew the name Robyn Hitchcock in the back of my musical head as someone who is widely respected and nodded to as an influence, even if I did not know his music. It is also July and there are fewer gigs at this time of year as festivals dominate. Plus the Folk House is lovely so I bagged myself a ticket and thought let’s give this a go.

We were downstairs at the Folk House, which I love, as it has a school hall vibe about it. Low key and low tech, it is a place that feels very welcoming and friendly. You can get a cup of tea and an excellent slice of gluten free cake too for goodness sake.

Support was from “Davey from Melbourne” whose shambolic stage act was part of his charm. He can write a good tune and play a decent bit of guitar but I found him hard to work out. Right at the end he did a Spinal Tap cover and I figured he must be in that vein of comedy songwriters. Which only work if the audience are in on the joke, and I wasn’t until then. I find that sort of humour to be quite excluding, you have to be able to understand the references, and it is altogether too blokey for me. What do we gain by taking the mick out of other, usually very talented, songwriters? Does it move us on? If you are puncturing the egos and absurdity of excess (as Spinal Tap did) then I am with you. If you are running away from writing about real feelings by burying them in humour then I understand but I wish you would try therapy instead! It seems to be a lot easier to stand and laugh at someone than to put yourself in the same position of vulnerability. Overall I was confused by Davey, he was a talented singer/songwriter but I didn’t know what he was trying to say with his music, or how I was supposed to feel. He also did stand out enough, men with guitars is a crowded field!

Robyn Hitchcock is another man with a guitar. An old, white dude at that, and to boot, received a private education. He could only have been a product of that sort of background. He did a wonderful line in absurdist, surrealist storytelling and I enjoyed the show, as rambling and as odd as it was. In the audience were many other old white men, the sort who I imagine like real beer and are a bit bemused by lone women like me. The sort who sit in the front row, taking up two seats and lean back so far as to practically be in your lap. The types who have no clue how privileged their lives have been and how much space they take up.

As good as Robyn was, and he was, the hour and half in his company flew past, he was witty and has a unique voice, I have to place this all in context. White, straight, able bodied men of means still dominate the music industry. They still dominate everything else too. Bar Public Service Broadcasting (who may be male but always champion and celebrate women) and Robyn all the artists I have seen in July have been women. Mostly lesbian women. And they have an awful lot more to say to me, to society and about politics than any man I’ve ever heard. They are more relevant, fresh and exciting. They need to be given more space, their music amplified and heard more widely. And that can only happen with the acknowledgment that men have taken up more than their fair share of space thus far. Dudes, you need to share.

 

 

k.d Lang – The Forum, Bath

Wednesday 17th July, 2019

A Colston Hall presents show, part of River Town, part of k.d’s 25th+ Ingenue anniversary tour, at the beautiful Forum in Bath, it is fair to say this gig was covering a lot of bases at once. It was an expensive one, even the cheapest seats towards the back of the balcony were almost £30, but k.d is a rare talent and one that tours the UK infrequently so I decided it would be worth it.

I was 15 when Ingenue was released. At that time, living in a rural village in the days of 3 TV channels and before the invention of the internet, I wouldn’t have even known what a lesbian was, let alone have been able to name any! Representation matters. Things have improved somewhat in the intervening 27 years, but we still have a long way to go to reach full equality. Although I could name you a dozen famous lesbians now, few to none of them would be black or disabled – the intersections of prejudice still oppress. I would have written this without reference to k.d’s sexuality, but that would be to deny an enormous part of who k.d Lang is as an artist and it would also deny what her music has meant to so many. The audience was filled with women. Filled with gay women. Proudly there in couples, with wives, girlfriends and friends. The warmth and affection that k.d is held in evident in the deafening applause and laughter. Talking about the age of the album, k.d “you know what that means? We are gay elders. Do we have any in the house tonight?” met with applause, hoots and cries of yes.

Reflecting now, there are facets to Ingenue that bypassed me completely at the time, but that add layers and depth to the music for me now. That is where and how these whole album shows can be so good. They provide a way to relive music we loved in the past, hear it again anew perhaps, but they also serve purpose for those too young to have heard it live at the time. They can be a nostalgia trip and a money making scheme for the artists, but they can also provide opportunity to revive songs they have cherished too.

Ingenue is a much more varied album than I remember, and k.d a whole lot more than she is given credit for. It is a gentle, introspective and at times sad album about love and repression. There are country tinges, sure, but there are also bosa nova beats and lots of other layers. I’ve listened to it, in full, twice over today and I think I’ll be replaying it a whole lot more in the coming weeks.

The lighting and set design were superb, changing for every song. The backdrop, all swirling curtaining, spiralling like thick paint on a Van Gogh canvas, with circular lights that were the night sky, then sunflowers, then glowing suns. The rich colour palette and tones were also reminiscent of Van Gogh, rich, deep emerald green, vivid blues and yellows, strong reds. They added hugely to the show and the interpretations of every song.

k.d’s voice. Well. She has a beautiful voice. A soulful voice. An understated voice. A treacly smooth voice that drips warmth like honey. A voice that never falters and sails the musical ship with a steady hand. Part chanteuse, part crooner, partly from another time, yet timeless and modern too. Jazz, country, soul all rolled into one peerless package. The yearning and pain so cleanly felt and expressed. Every song sounded amazing, exquisitely delivered by a woman who knows her instrument and uses it so wisely to convey and share buried emotions. I was expecting Constant Craving to be the highlight, it is the best known and closes the album, but Outside Myself moved me a great deal more. Perhaps I could find parallels between k.d’s attempts at understanding and connecting herself to my own life. Whichever song you picked as a favourite, they all melted time. This was one of those gigs were I felt no time at all had passed, that we had simply drifted away on the pillowy cloud that is k.d Lang’s voice.

Now that the album was done, k.d allowed herself to open up and chat – she had refrained from interrupting the flow before. What a wonderfully funny, warm human she is! I could have happily listened to her tell stories for hours. The band were given full, loving, introductions, with bon mots and hugs. They were all excellent, providing the perfect backdrop to hang k.d’s voice from.

We were treated to a trio of covers, and when you can do Joni Mitchell and Neil Young justice, you know you can arrange and sing. Then. Then k.d performed Hallelujah. Stripped right back to a piano, a tiny portion of double bass and k.d’s incredible voice, it reclaimed the song from the X Factor and Shrek hell it has been languishing in and showcased what a songwriter Cohen was and what an amazing interpreter of song k.d is. Gentle, understated, plaintive and slowed down it knocked the breath right out of me. By the end you felt k.d was singing out her very soul. For me. For you. For us all. She ended with a plea for love, for kindness, dedicating it to Greta Thunberg and the young women of Florida taking on the NRA. I am not entirely sure how I didn’t cry.

I almost didn’t want there to be an encore, I didn’t feel you could find anything more fitting and perfect to end on than she had closed the set with. Yet, although different, she did, finding another tool in the armoury and concluding with another couple of wonderful songs that left us with hope in our hearts and a warm glow.

I had taken a bet that k.d Lang live would be worth it, and the gamble paid off. I would love to see her again. The love, warmth and humanity in her songs and voice are a much-needed tonic and balm for these troubled times.

 

 

Public Transport, food & Bury Transport Museum – Greater Manchester I thank you for all 3

This was not my first time in Manchester. Or Salford. Or Altringham. Or Bury. But it was the first time I saw all those places in one weekend. All made possible by an excellent public transport network. Trams that ran regularly, reliably and at an affordable price. Well done Greater Manchester for co-ordinating the works required across what I would guess is a number of local authorities over the past 25 years to ensure that the tram network works. Living, as I do, in a City without either an underground or overground light rail network, tram system or even bus network that makes any sense at all, I am super jealous of the ease and speed with which you can move about Lancashire. I don’t drive. I have never driven. It makes living in Bristol quite a challenge as we have an antiquated, expensive and unreliable bus system run with a stranglehold by First Bus. What I wouldn’t give for a MerseyRail or MCR Metrolink, or even Sheffield or Oxford’s buses. There are also some ruddy excellent place names Besses O’ Th’ Barn an obvious one, but I had soft spot for Pomona too.

What public transport does for a City is incalculable. Not just in environmental impact. Not just for the lack of pollution. Not just for the way people can live lives unhindered by not being able to access places if they don’t have or can’t afford a car. What good public transport systems do is level a place. We all have to travel. To school, work, to visit friends, for leisure. When we travel in shared spaces, in shared ways, we learn to mix and share as people. A mix of human life is on a tram, train, tube or bus. Young, old, racially diverse, those with and without disabilities (there remain barriers that should be being removed but aren’t), high- and low-income earners all commute to work the same way when the public transport is good. We learn to stand to allow others to sit when they are old, infirm or pregnant. We learn to share space. There are fewer and fewer places where we share space with each other. Public libraries are closing, museums and galleries reduce their opening hours, children do not play outside as we did. Public transport remains a realm in which we share. When a place has no functioning form of shared transportation, people travel in selfish ways. In cars, on bicycles, on foot with headphones firmly jammed on. We don’t relate to each other. It breeds a selfishness. And it changes the dynamics and culture of a City.

Manchester is known for being open and friendly. The towns around the edges aren’t fringe parts forgotten about, the names are known almost as widely as Manchester’s is. Greater Manchester as a region is powerful economically and culturally. Much creativity and great art has come from this region. Partly that is because people can move around it easily. Ideas can cross fertilise, people can explore and meet each other away from cliquey silos. Contrast that with the place I’ve called home for the past decade. Even the City itself is a series of villages, vaguely strung together, with no coherent soul or narrative. As for the edges, they may as well be on Mars if you haven’t a car. Portishead and Clevedon aren’t on the railway! Buses take quite a while to get there and you have to travel into the city to come back out. Bristol is a creative City, but in very specific ways and styles and if you don’t fit the clique you won’t get on here. There has never been a social levelling of the wealth here. There has never been a way to move people from their silos into other areas to allow for the mingling, mixing and essential opening up required for change to take place.

Ensuring that transportation is reliable, goes where people need it to, and affordable has to be an aim, living as we do in a climate emergency, that every political party should be pledging to. We need bold, unilateral planning that crosses local authority boundaries. We need to spend billions on new rail and tram networks. And we need to do it now. If Greater Manchester could do it in 1992 when Metrolink opened, why can’t we do it in the 21st Century?

As we were staying in Salford and had met, in part, thanks to BBC6 Music I suggested we pop into Media City to see the studio and give Chris Hawkins a wave through the glass. He was covering for RadMac and though I’ve been on his show, I’ve not met him before. This also gave me an excuse to visit the Blue Peter garden which is just opposite and have an 8-year-old girl geek out at being there. It was quite an exciting morning!

I was very glad of the tram to Altringham as it allowed me to visit Off The Wheaten Track, a new entirely gluten free cafe. AN ENTIRELY GLUTEN FREE CAFE. This is a very rare thing for a coeliac to encounter. No risk of cross contamination. No separate menu. Being able to order ANYTHING and EVERYTHING I liked. This happens very rarely indeed. The homemade beans on toast were pretty good. The pancakes, however, were superb. The peanut butter frosting on the cupcake a lovely surprise treat and the jaffa cake cake was the right combo of dark chocolate and orange. I went in hungry and came out very full. With extra cake to take home. If I was local it would have been pies, cheese and even more cakes I can tell you.

Full and happy we went over to the market to find Vinyl Therapy to do some crate digging. It is fitting and appropriate that the record I purchased was Colin Stetson’s as it was at his gig at MIF two years ago, to the very day, that Tom, Kev, Mikey, Mark, Paul, Scott and I had met Morv (who runs Vinyl Therapy) along with our shared shero Mary Anne Hobbs. Music brings people together.

The trip to Bury the next day wasn’t for food. Or to meet any more musical friends. It was to see the Bury Transport Museum. Now I love me a museum. Odd collections, strange themes, I’m up for them all. The Broseley Clay Pipe Museum is an underrated gem and I will get to the Bakelite museum in Somerset someday. Tom love steam trains and I like small museums so we were both very happy in a place full of old buses, trams, vans and railway memorabilia. There was a simple, moving and poignant tribute to the men of the area who were lost in the First World War. It showed the scale of how many men died; how many lives changed as the result of the conflict. There was amazing attention to detail in all the restorations and volunteers happy to chat. That is why I love these sorts of place. They are run by volunteers, who give their time for the love of what they do. When it comes from the heart, it shows. I flashed a defiant ankle at the horse drawn tram, which came from a time when women had no legal rights and had to sit back to back with men on the top deck due to the immodesty if a man were to accidentally see such flesh as flash of ankle! It felt like the right thing to do, to roll down my sock, roll up the leg of my jumpsuit and wave my ankle at the tram. I may be able to vote, own property and even divorce now but my status as equal to that of a man has yet to be reached. I will keep fighting, my sisters, as we all should, until that day comes.

Quite aside from music, I had a really great time, in Manchester. Thank you for making me welcome again in your fine City. Whatever the Mancunian version of the Trevi fountain is, I have thrown my coins in, vowing to return. A little piece of my heart resides up North, that’s for sure.