I’ve re-cycled some of my favourite Instagram snaps from last year and so – here are ten things I loved about you, 2015.
Whether doing the work thing, doing the touristy thing, noticing the small things or hanging out with dear dear friends; safe to say, I had a blast in the USA in January / Feb. I wrote a lot about it – you couldn’t stop me. The images, the people, the places catalogued in the head-loft are still cropping up in songs and writings a year since. Now all we need is a justifiable reason to haul-ass back to New York in 2016… where did I put that thinking cap…
2. Making more art.
Technically… I’ve got a degree in this stuff, but like any subject I suppose – study it, labour over it, jump though ridiculous hoops over it when young, dumb and routinely hungover for too long – and the fun kind of gets lost. I’ve really enjoyed finding my way back to it this year – making props, drawing with pencils and paper, drawing with an i-pad and even some large scale scratching, spraying and layering up of the pain on good old board. I visited a timber merchants for the first time, did a bit of soldering, drew my first storyboard and spent a lovely day looking at viaducts in Derbyshire with the wonderfully arty Elly Lucas.
We had a taste of a bit of star treatment at Folk By The Oak (yes that is the performer standard issue cool bag in the background and hand-sewn bunting,) and the delightufully communal backstage set-up and hanging with the other luvvies (The Willows and Hannah Sanders) at Ely Folk Fest. A winning streak of good weather and sunshine all around too.
4. These guys.
If you haven’t met them yet – Jose McGill and Noel Dashwood make up 2/3 of the newly formed Jess Morgan Trio – a real triumph of 2015. I was on a bus in Berlin when Noel sent me a demo of him playing dobro over a couple of my tracks and suggesting maybe we have a jam when I was home. 12 months later and we’re a functioning outfit with a few gigs and festivals under our collective belt and big plans for 2016. Both Noel and Jose feature heavily on The Bournemouth EP – which is now shortlisted for FATEA magazine’s EP/Short of the year – and was Tin Can Reviews top EPs of 2015. A massive shoutout too to my pal Brad Blackwell – awesome bassist and our number one dep.
5. Marker pens.
Anyone who follows me on instagram will be well aware that when I’m carrying a half-decent marker and not driving, any thing that can be drawn on, will be drawn on. Food stuffs and newspapers – no exception. Opportunities for silliness with markers proved fruitful on days off at home with Omar and even on tour. I wonder if those Paper Aeroplanes fans – queuing up in the cold to see us in Dresden – drawn to the beacons of intense, dark-dreamy electro folk, would have ever imagined we’d been giggling like school-girls and drawing faces on the grapes in the dressing room backstage. Btw. Rich – you pinched my Sharpie. not cool. ;-)
6. The Dragons.
I said it today during something of a New Years Day walk through the city and why I was prompted to I don’t quiet remember – but I can’t laugh at Alan Partridge anymore. Its tainted for me – by the the way that wherever I travel people will always link my beloved home city of Norwich with git of a made-up character – Alan Partridge and all the thoughts of beige-ness, awkwardness, falsetto voices, gillet jackets, bad sex and nineties designed Citroens that he commands.
It’s such a shame. It’s a shame because Norwich is actually seriously cool. Where in previous years I’ve cursed Norwich for its out-of-the-wayedness and sworn I’d move out West and central. 2015 was really the year for me to admit defeat on that front. I love Norwich. Everyday it gets better – cooler – more comfortable – there’s more art than ever – more stuff for the kids – more music – (bizarrely) more barbers shops. We have green space and cobbled streets as well and new buildings and old glory. By the time the Dragon Trail landed planting over a hundred effigies of bright colour and delicious glaze, I had decided firmly – to stay put, love my city…and start planning my tours better.
7. Days off.
Its amazing what there is to see when you get your head out of the sand isn’t it? I think I really ‘got’ that last year. From free art on the streets, to the joyfully curated (Michael Craig-Martin) RA Summer Exhibition – I feel like I used my days pretty well last year. By the end of the year, even when things were busy I dabbled with a little mindfulness meditation to make the most of the quiet times – which proved a positive start to what I think is a fairly long haul. A new things for me was to have some company on one of my stints away. Taking 3 days off in between 2 tours in Germany I learned that you can mix work with play so long as you have the right mindset.
I got some new specs. And I won’t lie – it’s been a bit of a boozy year. It needed to be – its been a year of learning how to celebrate again and shaking off that misconception that celebration gets in the way of hard-work and focus. What dross. New mantra: when things go right – even small things, pour yourself a glass of your home-made gin or OJ or some fancy water or whatever, find someone to clink your glass with and say “well done me” because life is much to short not to.
One of the things that surprised me about 2015 was how much I bloody loved the Women’s World Cup. There was heart and soul about that tournament that hadn’t ever shone through enough in the men’s game to convince me I was into football all that much. It was so inspiring to watch and even when I’m standing on my very own sidelines – waiting in the wings I’ll see if I can’t channel my inner Jill Scott and quietly utter the words “no tomorrow game.”
October – My first Scottish tour. I packed my running shoes not only to even out the pastry-calories accrued but to cram in as much Scottishness as possible by doing it it double-time. It was so worth it. There were too many beautiful sights to begin to name – and then there were the sounds… singing Freckles In The Sun in three-part harmony with Ruth and Claire at the Dundee Acoustic Club was a real treat for me and a highlight.
Ruth made me some compilation CDs for the long drive home to Norwich, which I interspersed with saved episodes of my favourite podcast of the year ‘My Dad Wrote A Porno.’ I howled quite madly with laughter all the way down the A1, I’m surprised I didn’t lose my voice! If you haven’t listened to that yet – I really would recommend it, though it’s not one for all the family!
The tail end of the year posed some of its biggest challenges. Of the skill sets I inadvertently had the chance to hone, keeping a chin up admit what felt like disaster after disaster (only in the very small musician-y kind of world, I mean) was a memorable silver-lining.
I’ve always remembered to be generous with the knowing smile when people talk about playing shows to fewer people than you could count on a hand. Jamie Lawson has a good story, if I remember it rightly, about playing shows to just 2 people and one of them was the barman – who then left the venue. Some would say it’s even rite of passage – for anyone whoever held a guitar in his or her hand and tried to do this. Somehow, despite the commonness of the empty room anecdote, I’d escaped the it’s cold, cold grip. Maybe I’d just got lucky? For some reason, although having played a few doozies – shows with low attendances, never so few people as two paying guests. Cue – Braunschweig, November 26th 2015: I played the piano on stage for the very first time. Yep, played the gig, joined the club. And if you’re wondering what happens next – here’s the science part… You get up the next day – you still love what you do and you keep doing it.