Musical Therapy – P-E #Trump and Pre #Brexit

This is Musical Therapy 101.

First, we take a moment to go ‘What The Fuck?’

Then we mourn.

Then? We get angry.

We get up. And get moving.

Then we Get Shit Done.

For anyone who needs a little musical shot-in-the-arm after recent events.

I respond to music with a visceral, almost physical reaction. These songs mirror my emotions over the last few days. Many of them are purloined from TV shows that you guys should watch, including The West Wing, The Newsroom and Sens8. They are all resonating like clear sounding bells right now.

It’s alright to feel sad. And angry. And let down. Many of us expected a different world to the one we find ourselves marooned in. On both sides of the pond, many of us feel rudderless, without direction, at the mercy of currents, appetites and desires that we do not share and are powerless to affect.

But we are NOT powerless.

We are stronger when we are united. Our voices are louder in a chant. And our feet can shake the earth when we march in step.

Our politicians might not be the ones we chose, but THEY STILL WORK FOR US.

They need reminding of this. Constantly. Consistently. They need holding to account. To be pushed and persuaded. To be told what we want, what we expect and what we request, nay DEMAND, that they do for us, as our employees.

They have a responsibility to listen to us, so we must not stop shouting.

We also have a responsibility to each other. We are in this together, so we need to weather the next four years and survive together. Even those of you who got the outcomes that you wanted should watch out for stormy seas and beware of the “I’m Alright Jack” mentality. We are entering into an unprecedented period of change, and therefore we need to hang on tight to each other. No activist left behind. No citizen left behind. We must ensure that no human being left behind.

We can look out for each other, as well as pressing our government to do what they can for us, as well as taking care of each other – emotionally, practically and socially, and politically.

Don’t forget this. Don’t ever let them make you feel powerless. It’s what we do next which counts.

I am going to take a few concrete actions, and I am looking for more to add to the list.

Starting in January, I will be making donations to Amnesty International and The Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Both sound, tried and tested, practically orientated charities with strong mandates to help protect people, regardless of race, creed, colour, nationality or gender.

I already offer as much tuition as I can, but I will be branching out into teaching IELTS and preparing people for the Life In The UK Citizenship Test.

I’m going to try to do at least one kind act for someone every week. I will try to perform these acts without hope-of-return or agenda, with no strings attached. The world needs to become a little kinder, so I am going to inject some kindness into it.

In the past I have given help to friends who are seeking jobs, looking for work, aiming to better themselves, wanting to pass exams, develop their skills and learn new things. Those offers remain on the table. If you need help with a CV, letter of application, interview preparation or upskilling yourself in an area of English, Maths or ICT, please ask.

I am lucky enough to be a car driver. If you need a lift to somewhere important – a medical appointment, job interview, study interview – please ask and if I can, I will help you. If I can help you to move house, or clear things out of your house, I will. All you have to do is ask.

If the big people won’t change this world for the better, it’s up to the little people to do what we can.

I know that we might be little, but we are mighty. We are legion; we are an army. And we can still change this world.

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David Bowie : There’s a Starman waiting in the sky…

I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of David Bowie as a person, but I absolutely remember the first time I heard his voice.

My Dad was a huge Queen fan. The second Greatest Hits album was one of the first CDs that was purchased for our household collection, and it featured ‘Under Pressure’. I knew that there was a different voice in the mix, which didn’t feature in any of the other songs, and I had to know where it came from.

Dad put that familiar name and distinctive voice together for me.  And my eyes took quite a while to adjust to what I saw.

David Bowie, as well as being a talented singer, was an assault on the visual senses to a conventional teenage girl in the 90s. Being gay was still controversial and nowhere near as accepted in general society as it is today. Challenging fashion and gender norms was even rarer. My early to mid 90s were very conventional, I was raised on a cultural diet of teenage girl mags, top of the pops, boy bands and Tammy Girl fashion.

Suddenly seeing pictures of a British white man, caked in makeup, wearing leotards and jewellry, with dyed hair in lurid colours… my brain didn’t quite know how to deal with that. But during my subsequent exposure to my Dad’s collection of glam metal music including T-Rex, Kiss, the earlier parts of the Queen catalogue… I began to realise that doing things people regarded as ‘weird’ could be ‘cool’ if you carried it off with a sufficient amount of ‘I don’t give a shit and am so much better than you’.

Bowie was everything that was disregarded by my conventional surroundings. Tall, gangly, seemingly gender fluid, fashion challenging, avant garde, a poet, an actor, an artist in the biggest sense of the word. He treated his body, his mind and his existence as a canvas, and he was never frightened of changing direction. He was a revelation.

By the time I was getting to know him as an artist, he had moved away from the lurid colours and costumes and personas, and was balanced on such a sharp edge of chic that it was almost painful to anyone else to come near it.  He seemed to walk in black and white through the lurid coloured 90s and 00s and practically parted the seas. His cameos raised the cool value of anything he appeared in, the single line he contributed to the Perfect Day was just that – perfect. His live performances were spectacular and he never seemed to age a day.

He was the first artist who, deep down, I thought would live forever.

All of that ended this morning at 7.15am when my radio alarm clicked on and the first words I heard were ‘…by David Bowie, who we just heard this morning has died after a long battle with cancer.”

It felt like a reality had ended.

Or was it a dream?

I’m not sure, and it will take me a while to process it. I have always know that I will outlive my heroes, because many of them belong to the generation that preceded mine, and even the one above that. My parent’s tastes in music, TV and film were classic and timeless and I adopted them almost without question. I’ve inherited a lot of old heroes. Sometimes that frightens me, more than a little.

I knew that I was going to lose people. But I wasn’t prepared for one of them to be Bowie. Not with that impact. Not now, not so soon. Not ever, really.

I hadn’t figured out how important he was. How valuable he was. How influential it was. How unique he was. Hindsight is, cursedly, 20/20.

And now he’s gone.  And though I hadn’t expected to, I’ve spend much of this day feeling bereft. Lost. Like I lost something valuable before I’d had chance to figure out how much I wanted it to be part of my life.

Right now I am thankful for the legacy he left behind, which I can now explore at leisure, although with that bitter edge which comes from knowing it will never grow any larger.

As of today, there’s a starman waiting in the sky…

He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie



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Song Of The Year 2015: Let In The Sun by Take That

Well hello there…

I know I disappeared for several months, but I assure you all I am still alive. My family just had some major stuff to get through, including a severely injured cat, sick husband and job upheaval for myself. But – with the help of various doctors, managers, vets and medicines, we are all still here and looking forward to seeing the back of this year!

There were some good bits. Like going to see Queen, and Jools Holland. Like going back to LARP for the first time in over 5 years. Like getting into some new TV shows, most notably Downton Abbey, Sens8, Castle and Gok Wan’s How To Look Good Naked. Like getting shortlisted for the Jeremy Mogford Prize and publishing two more poems in collections from Lost Tower Publications. Like writing the first 20,000 words of a novel and also writing 71,000+ words of fan fiction to many reviews and general acclaim and support. Like seeing hope of a revival in British politics with the election of Jeremy Corbyn to becoming Labour leader. Like finally winning my PPI claim after 7 years of trying. Like running the first ever themed call for submissions on Project Shandy for mental health awareness week and receiving some stunning pieces of writing.

But on the whole, this year was not a success. Or at least, here at the end of all things, it doesn’t feel like one. Too many heroes died, including (but not limited to) Christopher Lee, Terry Pratchett and Leonard Nimoy. Too many horrors dominated the news, such as the attacks on Paris and the flooding in the North of England (not to mention the election of a Tory majority government…) Too many things conspired against me, like the threat of redundancy and a stupid NHS professional who would not listen to my wishes/reasons regarding my health care choices.

This year saw concern for my own health (although I now have a therapist and some working drugs again), worry over my beloved husband (who has now accessed the specialist help he needs to work on improving his mental health) and worry about my darling pet cat (she’s fine, although three legged these days). It felt like the reasons to worry never let up, throughout the good times and victories, and that has left this year with something of a sour taste overall.

I am hopeful that things will improve from this point forwards.

As is the case every year, I’ve spent the last few weeks mulling over my choice for Song Of The Year 2016, and there were several strong contenders. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark‘ had already been highlighted as my ‘song of the week’ earlier this year. Rachel Platten’s ‘My Fight Song‘ saw me through some rough times.  I was even tempted by The 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Goin On‘ after a particularly poignant scene in Sens8.

But eventually, it all came back to me and my boys – good old Take That.

I first heard ‘Let In The Sun’ on the radio when I was driving back from… I don’t know, somewhere. My working area has been so large this year I’ve lost track. I had to pull off the road and cry. Things had been starting to go downhill and this song just managed to capture everything, how it felt, how things were slipping away and how I felt like I was losing sight of the things that were most important to me.

“You found yourself alone in a room
Total devastation
In the darkness you must enter the code
Crack the combination all on your own”

That was around the time I finally admitted I was losing track of my life and I wasn’t coping very well with everything that was going on. It was time to go back down to the core, admit to my doctor that I needed some help and support and start digging my heels in until I got some.

“Pick yourself up and search for the light
Hungry for a new start
It’s your chance now to stand up and fight
Take the next step now a day at a time”

I have been down this road through the National Health Service a few times now. I pity anyone who has to navigate it for the first time on their own without experienced guidance. It’s not easy to articulate what you need/want in a way that will hit the right notes and get results in this system.

However, by the end of this year, I feel like we’re getting somewhere now. Not just stuck in the same old spiral of ‘try this… try it again… try it for a bit longer…’ No, you know what? Can we skip the basics and assume that we have tried, and indeed that we are persevering, with all the level 1 steps and methods? It’s time to bring out some big guns and not just hope that this goes away.

“Good to see you with your feet on the track
Waiting for a restart
Leaving all that once what was holding you back
Want you to see the sun rise as fast as you can”

So come on then 2016. What you got for us? I won’t say it can’t be worse than 2015, because I know it could be. But if you even TRY that 2016, I am going to shake you by the neck. Play nice now. Let’s see how this new and clean slate pans out.

It’s time to Let In The Sun. And here is this year’s Song Of The Year 2015.

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Music Memories

Isn’t it funny how music can bring back memories with a stunning sharpness?

I don’t think about my sixth form years very often (Junior and Senior years, for American equivalents). In some ways they were very happy times. I’d left the high school that I hated and started somewhere new, made new friends, I was studying new subjects and doing new stuff. The first term of my junior year, in particular, was an extremely happy time. I was flying high academically, I had new friends, a new BEST friend, and they were such creative people. Singers, writers, musicians, performers, actors, directors, designers… I remember performing in the choir and doing readings at the Christmas concert with a bunch of incredibly talented people, and then walking to the pub afterwards in the crisp cold air and feeling like life was finally going right.

I remember the music of that time very vividly. Sam, my best friend for a brief but incredibly precious six months, started me off listening to Welsh music. Ben, who did Theatre Studies with me and Lee, who was starring in and helping to organise the big school musical, were both passionate about music, talented singers and musicians, with interests in stuff that I hadn’t heard before. Within months my CD collection sprouted and been yanked away from the grip of the boy bands and pop that had dominated my high school years. Suddenly I was listening to the Stereophonics, The Manic Street Preachers, the SuperFurryAnimals, Catatonia and the LostProphets. Other newer and edgier pop stuff too, like Savage Garden, whose first album Lee loved.

Listening to those songs now, I can remember how those times felt. If I listen to the ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’ or ‘She Takes Her Clothes Off’ by the Stereophonics, or Kelly’s cover of ‘Summertime’, then I’m back in Sam’s house on Christmas Eve, watching Lee make bread-slice pizzas, drinking lager for the first time and trying to put mascara on before going to the pub. If I listen to ‘International Velvet’ by Catatonia, I’m back at that gig watching Cerys rip bits off her dress and swig Lambrini from the bottle on stage. If I listen to ‘I want you’ by Savage Garden, I’m back in Lee’s car on our way to go ten pin bowling in Chester, trying to see how many harmonies we can squeeze out of the song.

I went to sixth form in a tiny village school. There was an average of 6 people per class in our sixth form, so the tuition was great and everyone knew each other. I felt like I had this protective cloud around me, it felt like being part of a family.

Of course … that can be a bad thing too.

Most of my junior year friends were in their senior year, and the following year they went off to college and I was stuck in a nightmare. The difference, for me, between the year above me and the year below me was as different as the contrast between Emma Thompson and Kenneth Brannagh, and Katie Price and Peter Andre. My second year was, in some ways, incredibly unhappy, I was socially out of my depth. I lost my Grandad after a long illness during the summer before the school year started and that October, during the half term break, my Nana died too. My family was suddenly ripped to shreds and I was lost. I was trapped in hell, sixth form was suddenly hard work and stressful, I didn’t click with the people around me, I missed my friends dreadfully and I had to start all over again without the charm or novelty of anything being fresh or new. I was run down after working full time during the summer and I hadn’t had a proper break since forever.

There was someone who saved me.

I had to get to know new people, which was hard for me at the time. Especially since, as happens in a small environment, everyone had paired off and clubbed up. I met Liam through one of my other friends, James. What I didn’t know for a long time was that Liam liked me. And I liked him. It was that sort of feeling that came from nowhere. Not a long secret crush or anything. Just … as soon as I knew he was an option, I fell head over feet. I think, looking back now, I needed someone in my life who was there for *me* specifically and he was willing to do that.

We had the classic teenage love. He shared all my tastes in music, we went to the same pubs. I got to know his sister and his other friends, who all lived and worked in Llangollen, and were all well known in the village. We went on holidays together and to rock concerts together. That sense of life being something new and fresh came back that Christmas, just when I needed to feel that way most of all. I felt like I had something holding me together instead of tearing me to bits.

We were together for nearly three years. We were planning to get married at one point, although we hadn’t announced any such plans to our families. It didn’t work out past that point because I went away to university, and I was changing and growing up and meeting new people and finally getting out from my family’s cloud of sadness, whereas he wanted to go to the same places, listen to the same things, hang out with the same people and he called me and my new friends some pretty horrible names, all because I wasn’t content to do that any more.

I’ve just been listening to the Stereophonics album ‘Word Gets Around’, and all of this is suddenly there and fresh in my head. It’s winter time here now. It’s dark, and cold, and the air’s blowing sharp. And I can remember everything. Catching the bus for the hour long ride to Llangollen to go meet Liam after work, sitting in the pub and filling the jukebox up. The taste of Bacardi Breezers and Smirnoff Ice. And the knock off version I used to drink when I went out with Sam, called Castaway. I remember laughing, walking through town across the bridge over the massive river that runs through the village. I remember we used to go out on Sunday nights to the main town because it was quiet, wandering around the Irish bars because they served Guinness, which Liam drank, and they had decent music on the juke boxes.

And it’s a nice feeling. Liam and I did not end well, sadly. It was messy, and we didn’t part on good terms and we now haven’t seen each other in ten years. He  was a huge part of my life, and while I don’t actively miss him, I do wonder where he is sometimes and what he’s doing. I wonder if he’s still listening to the ‘Phonics, whether he finished his degree at the local college. I wonder if he still drinks Guinness. I wonder if his sister and her boyfriend worked out their on-off relationship. I wonder if his pal from work still goes by the nickname Spanky (no I don’t know why, and neither did the rest of the village, but it stuck…)

My parents don’t really like discussing those times, because Mum was so unhappy. My sister and I were so distant, we may as well not have lived in the same house, despite attending the same school. And I have nobody left from those times now. Sometimes when something like this crops up, reminds me of it, I feel so glad that it’s all still there. Clear and sharp like a set of framed photographs. Those memories haven’t died because at least I can always share them with my music. And that is a comforting thought.

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