Both Sides Now: Episode 3

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Both Sides Now is a series that charts my findings as an arts (benevolent) double agent, working both on and off stage. There will be tips and tricks for all, the development of a meandering manifesto and plenty of ridiculous emails, interactions and situations. Names have been omitted to protect the foolish.

TL;DR – Us and Them doesn’t help anything. We can’t exist in silos; open dialogue across all parts of the arts world is the only way things improve.

The jazz and improvised music world is fully of lazy ‘us and them’ tropes –

  • Why does [insert artist here] get lots of gigs/funding/awards? They’re not very good.
  • Artists don’t help us promote their gigs at our venue
  • Promoters don’t push our gigs at their venues enough
  • It’s not our responsibility to address diversity in our art-form, it needs to start with [insert name of other bit of the arts world that isn’t the one talking]
  • Why does opera get more funding than jazz?

I can’t write any more because I’ll wither and die. Do you recognise any of these?

What do the statements above have in common?

Well, for a start they are all negative. Secondly, they all position the speaker and the subject in direct opposition to one another. Thirdly, they are problem focused, not solution focused. Lastly, they all attribute some sort of blame upon another party.

We need to talk to each other more and we need to get better at talking and at taking responsibility. There are formal networks focused on promoters and people in the industry, there are formal networks focused on artists and there’s the myriad informal networks between colleagues and friends in all areas. They all have their uses and their benefits but we need something else, too. Something that transcends these groupings.

Artists, programmers, journalists and audiences need to talk to each other more. I’m just going to keep repeating myself because this is really, really important.

Here are some things I really, really, absolutely believe are true and important:

The overwhelming majority of people involved in the arts in any way, shape or form are involved because they believe in art and its power. 

People working in arts funding WANT TO GIVE MONEY TO THE ARTS. They don’t get to take it home at the end of the week if they don’t allocate it.

Programmers take no pleasure in saying no. It’s the worst bit of the job.

We are all running as fast as we can, trying to make things happen and are doing it the best way we know how. We could all improve.  

Artists truly and with all of their being believe in their art and that’s their primary focus.

It’s easy for us to stay in our groups and talk amongst ourselves but in order to really make things happen, we need to step out of that for a moment, and talk to some new people. 

 

So here’s my challenge to you –

Some time in the next week, have a discussion with someone who works in a different bit of the arts to you. Artists, talk to a promoter or a journalist. Programmers, chat to an artist or a funder. You get the idea.

This conversation is not about pitching yourself or getting a foot in the door. This is about genuine human interest and connection. Ask about their job, why they do it, ask what makes them excited, ask them how people who do the job do could make things easier for people that do the job they do. Ask them what piece of art they really love.

No mutual moaning allowed. No grumbling, No being mean. Keep it positive and open and warm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 2019: Input & Output

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We’re halfway through the month and already my cup runneth over in terms of input and output. I’m currently in the middle of a Family Band tour which is just a glory – it’s a chance for us to bed in a whole load of new material ahead of going into the studio to record our second album. We’ve had some really wonderful audiences and a few gigs in particular have felt like a profound shared experience between musician and audience.

What’s been very useful is the chance to build different set lists each night, experimenting with what flows well together and how to balance each set and the gig as a whole. Also, supreme thanks to the Manchester audience member who provided us with the best description of the band we’ve had to date –

Post-Apocalypse Anarcho-Bop

Here’s a video that Kyran Matthews took during our Manchester gig – it begins with the second half of Tom’s tune Life’s Work and then morphs into my newest piece, We May As Well Be Brilliant – https://www.facebook.com/kyran.matthews.9/videos/10161381825190005/

 

**********************LIVE**********************

It’s been a good month for attending arts events. Last week started with a trip to the theatre to see Home, I’m Darling. Featuring two of my favourites, Katherine Parkinson and Richard Harrington, the play was salve for the soul – nothing too taxing and not one to leave you emotionally bereft, there was a lot of really wonderful attention to detail and the set design was beautiful. (Bonus – a giant goblet of gin which was almost as big as my head and the company of my best friend in the whole world. )

I closed that week with a trip to the RA to see the Bill Viola/Michelangelo exhibition – Birth. Death. Rebirth. It was one of the most striking, immersive and intense exhibitions I’ve attended in a long time. It felt almost like an audience-specific theatre piece; with enormous scenes and more or less pitch-black rooms, there was no talking and there was a sense of intense focus and presence.

Bill Viola’s attraction to water and to the fluidity of fire meant I left the space feeling completely serene but inspired. I’d recommend a visit – it has 10 days left.

If I had to pick a favourite, it would be a tie-breaker between Fire Woman and The Messenger.

After leaving the RA, we popped down the street to see Christan Marclay’s new solo show at the White Cube Gallery and I fell deeply in love with his piece Subtitled. Exquisitely, painstakingly crafted it invites almost infinite re-watching, with each viewing a chase to catch new detail and to appreciate both the micro and the macro impact.

 

**********************BOOKS**********************

I finally finished Michael Peppiatt’s Francis Bacon In Your Blood. I say finally not because it was an arduous read but because I loved it so much I’d read it in little snippets to prolong the experience and because I didn’t want it to end. It’s a beautiful read, a snapshot into an amazing time in the art world and of the vibrancy and debauchery of both London and Paris. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into a complex and enduring friendship between Bacon and Peppiatt and that friendship is a truly authentic lens through which to view the two men and their lives.

I picked up the beautifully illustrated How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation the other day and it’s just full of energy and fire and determination and joy and optimism. It’s a large collection of writings, poetry, song and comic strips from people who resist and are activists in myriad ways. It’s completely empowering and a real call to use one’s voice and whatever resources and platforms we have to make the world a better place. Jonny Sun’s essay on the use of media is totally on-point and relevant to us all.

This morning I started Dana Thomas’s Gods and Kings, a book about John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. I adore McQueen beyond words and I was drawn to this book in particular because it examines a period in fashion and in the world of UK culture that is endlessly interesting to me.

It took me a long time to get into punk; as I grew more politically aware and grew into the activist I am now, punk made sense and I adore it and its culture impact. Falling in love with Vivienne Westwood also helped in that sense. But what came after punk is something I’ve held dear since I was very young. The New Romantic period feels inextricably linked to my life; my mum was a huge fan of the music and I grew up adoring the sound and the look and the attitude of people like Boy George, Soft Cell, Adam and the Ants, Spandau Ballet, all of those seminal bands. What I loved but was unable to vocalise was the bold and brazen self-expression through clothes and the rejection of gender roles. So I was delighted to find Gods and Kings delving into that period, and into things like the Blitz Club and Taboo and Steve Strange.

I think there’s a bit of controversy surrounding this book in particular and I anticipate that’s connected to the coverage of Galliano and McQueen’s ‘fall from grace’; people always love to see successful people fail and break down. But that kind of thing isn’t what I’m interested in and I’m hoping there’s enough else in the book to wipe that ‘disaster porn’ element away.

Both Sides Now: Episode 2

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Both Sides Now is a series that charts my findings as an arts (benevolent) double agent, working both on and off stage. There will be tips and tricks for all, the development of a meandering manifesto and plenty of ridiculous emails, interactions and situations. Names have been omitted to protect the foolish.

TL;DR – Timing is everything. Don’t let your hustling become hassling.

Let’s talk about hustling. It’s an integral part to the life of the artist and I don’t think it’s anyone’s favourite part. It’s a necessary evil. Like freelances in every field, we dream of the day when offers for wonderful work land on our doorstep and sometimes they do, but more often that not, we have to go out into the world and be pro-active and seek it out.

Some people are really, very good at this. Others are not.

Here are some of the more nefarious breeds of hustler we see out in the wild…

  1. The Relentless – This type of hustler relies on exhaustion through bombardment. If I send enough emails, calls and take every face to face opportunity to pitch myself, the programmer will be so worn down as to offer a gig just to make it stop. I’ve seen it work on many occasions but it doesn’t tend to work more than once per person.
  2. The Entitled – This hustler adopts a demanding/reprimanding tone in their communications, simply affronted that you haven’t yet offered them a gig and don’t you know how much they deserve it? They tend to like listing their accolades and refuse to engage with any normal process as they are far too important and it is beneath them. They also tend to avoid promoting the gigs they do have, seemingly at all costs.
  3. The Last-Minute – This kind of hustler may also be hybridised with the others – you may encounter a Last Minute Entitled, for example. They may have an otherwise fantastic pitch but they send it in 3 weeks before the gig date.
  4. The Ninja – This one may have a cool name, but their methods are as questionable as the others. These hustlers avoid working with the normal protocol of contacting a programmer, instead opting to hustle where and when you least expect it – on your personal facebook page, through a friend or family member or when you’re in the queue at the pharmacy. They rely on the ambush effect.

 

In the last month or two, here are some encounters I’ve had with some of these creatures  –

  • Someone asking to discuss dates for a gig when I had literally just stepped off-stage from a gig, still with trumpet in hand.
  • Someone who, in a single day, called my personal mobile, the office, left a voicemail and sent two texts regarding a gig.
  • Someone who explained in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t be requesting a gig in the normal way because they were too important and should be given the respect they deserve then came to the venue to ask a colleague ‘Who is she anyway?’ (I was in ear-shot…)

 

It’s really, very vitally important to realise that people who work in the arts aren’t all on-call 24/7 and that the smart ones keep strict office hours because they want to do other things with their lives too.

So when you see a programmer or a festival director out in the world, try talking to them about ANYTHING OTHER THAN YOUR GIG. It’s a great and under-rated technique to foster lasting relationships with people professionally. And it’s way more enjoyable than the cold, hard sell.

And remember, don’t let your hustling become hassling or else you may end up as an anecdote.

Both Sides Now: Episode 1

theatre-happy-sad-masks-3d-model-low-poly-max-obj-fbx-ma-mb-mtl

 

Both Sides Now is a series that charts my findings as an arts (benevolent) double agent, working both on and off stage. There will be tips and tricks for all, the development of a meandering manifesto and plenty of ridiculous emails, interactions and situations. Names have been omitted to protect the foolish.

TL;DR – Don’t send rude emails. It means your online legacy is that you’re a fanny.

Let’s talk about emails. I, like so many of us, spend a long time in my inbox each day. It’s the primary means of communication for my entire professional life. And although they aren’t perfect as we’re about to see, give me an email over a phone call ANY DAY. I think phones are rude and intrusive – it’s like a demand for attention immediately, regardless of what the recipient is doing. I’d say I screen 97% of calls I receive. Don’t call me. I won’t answer. And don’t leave me a voice mail either. I won’t listen to it. Send me a text or email me. That may sound unreasonable, but we all have our foibles and I am sticking to this one.

I have a couple of email rules that I follow, built up over a number of years, to protect my sanity and improve my efficiency.

 

  1. Don’t read emails in bed. Checking emails should never be the first thing you do.
  2. Turn off notifications for emails. Check emails at a time that suits you.
  3. When writing an email with multiple questions to someone, list them clearly and set a time timeline for response.

Numbers 4 and 5 are the ones that are most important. These nuggets of wisdom were given to me by very smart people and they have saved me countless times. I’ve never encountered a situation when they haven’t worked.

4. If you receive an email that provokes any kind of emotional response within you, do not reply for 12 hours.

5. Treat every email you send like it may end up on the front page of tomorrow’s newspapers. Would you stand by what you wrote and importantly how you wrote it if it was published for the whole world to see?

 

The problem with email is there is no space for tone and nuance. When you compose an email and read it back to yourself, of course it contains all of the implication, the nuance and the clarity you want to include but when you hit send, that all disappears. At least when you write a letter by hand, the pace is slow enough to consider and redraft. The pace of typed communication is so fast that it flies by and before you know it, it’s sent.

The worst emails I receive in terms of rudeness and ill-advised intention are in my capacity as programmer. Here are some crackers from the last few months –

 

  1. The musician who sends a VERY LONG email littered with shouty CAPITAL LETTERS to explain why I am clearly wrong to not offer a gig and to explain at great length why they don’t feel they are entitled to a gig but are, in fact, entitled to a gig.
  2. Being called an Anti-Semite.
  3. Being gently reminded that the person asking for a gig had written a nice review about an album I played on.

 

So enjoy your day and remember, don’t be a dick via email. Otherwise, you may end up as an anecdote.

 

 

Feature on London Jazz News for #IWD2019

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I was interviewed by Gail Tasker for a feature on London Jazz News as part of their International Womens Day coverage last week. I think it’s one of my favourite interviews I’ve done so far; Gail was great to talk to, posed interesting questions and took what must’ve been a lot of tangential rambling from me and shaped it into a really nice piece.

I like being called a Jazz Activist.

 

Click the photo above to read the full piece!

 

 

 

February 2019: Input & Output

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For reasons that appear ridiculous to me now, at the end of last year I envisioned the first few months of 2019 as a gradual build from January until the end of April which would give me ample time for clearing the 2,000+ unread emails from my inbox and doing the other necessary drudgery that makes life better but is very dull.

Wrong.

Somehow we’re in the second half of February already and I have a  UK tour and four international trips in the diary between now and end of April. This is very brilliant. But it does remind how necessary time management is to make sure there isn’t a burn-out on the horizon.

The best way I can combat being busy is to feed my soul up to the brim with inspiring things and these are some highlights from February…

************Books************

The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon is an absolutely mesmerising read. Conversations with David Sylvester (whose books on art and artists are some of the best around, in my opinion) conducted over years come together in six long-form interviews. Often David will pose similar or in some cases identical questions to Bacon and for me that’s one of the fascinating things – to read how his answers differ and how they remain constant as years go by. Bacon is one of my favourite artists and reading discussions about creative process is a passion of mine, so this book ticks many boxes. It’s also listed on David Bowie’s Top 100 Books which is a fabulously diverse list. There’s little better way to get inside a person’s mind than to read their favourite books.

Revolting Prostitutes by Molly Smith and Juno Mac is a book that if I had limitless funds I would buy copies of for everyone on earth. If there’s a topic that is deemed ‘inappropriate’ to talk about in society or causes people to feel uncomfortable, you can bet that it’s also a topic that it is IMPERATIVE we talk about. Mac and Smith are sex workers and are the voices so often ignored as people discuss sex workers rights. They don’t go down the well-trodden paths of hand-wringing or cheerleading, they present balanced and factual information that is clear and compelling. I cant recommend it highly enough.

************Music************

There are two albums I can’t get enough of this month, both new releases.

Lau’s new album, Midnight and Closedown, has been the soundtrack to my life this month. I can’t tell you how it makes my heart sing.  In particular, Toy Tigers and Dark Secret are completely sublime. The whole album is receiving HEAVY airplay in my house.

Ralph Alessi’s new ECM release Imaginary Friends has also stolen my heart. In my life as a double agent, I’ve developed a very complicated relationship with listening to jazz and improvised music. As a programmer or in other industry capacities, I have to listen to music with a specific agenda – I find myself defaulting to thinking things like how many seats would they fill? Or ‘Is this a £10 gig or a £15 gig?’ Or ‘Hmm, this intro is a bit long – that wouldn’t work well in a funding application’ – even when I’m not working, it’s hard to switch off that bit of my brain. As a result, I’ve tended not to listen to a whole lot of jazz and improvised music for pleasure in the past year or two.

But when I sat down to listen to Imaginary Friends, I was completely compelled and that inner monologue died away. What an utterly beautiful artistic statement this album is. It’s one of the most honest and pure ECM recordings I’ve heard for a long time. I had a lesson with Ralph Alessi a few years ago at his home in NYC and as we talked about recording, I remember him saying that he didn’t get nervous before recording ‘because all of my energy and focus is outward, to the music. There’s no ego.’ That statement has sat in my thoughts for years now and it came into sharp focus when I listened to the album – that’s exactly how the music sounds; as the band are ego-less, their decision-making driven only by what’s best for the music.

And Karine Polwart has dropped a few little morsels ahead of her new album which I’m so happy about as she explores in her own beautiful way some of her favourite songs from Scottish pop history. Deacon Blue’s Dignity and CHVRCHES’ Mother We Share have both be released as singles and they are auditory delights.

(When I saw her at Cadogan Hall recently they played Frightened Rabbit’s Swim Until You Can’t See Land and The Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star which is isn’t strictly Scottish but rules are made to be broken – and it was glorious. Especially hearing Swim Until…in light of Scott Hutchison’s death which was beautiful and painful all at once.)

************Fashion************

Sunday 17th February was a day of highs and lows – I got hit hard by a gluten contamination which meant I had to pull out of my scheduled duo gig with Charlotte Keefe at Hundred Years Gallery for Raw Tonk Records (sorry to everyone involved but especially to Charlotte who had an impromptu solo set which I’m sure she smashed.) We’ll reschedule it for sometime in the not too distant future I hope.

But the high…oh what a high it was. Vivienne Westwood’s Homo Loquax show at London Fashion Week took place in the afternoon and was astonishing. This is the first time in a few years that Vivienne’s presented on site at LFW, the past few years having been digital presentations.

The whole thing was a sublime example of artists using their platform to raise their voice about what matters. This was part-fashion show, part-theatre, part-protest, ALL Westwood. As I listed on facebook, my highlights were –

– The models were among the most diverse group I’ve ever seen at a Catwalk show. I loved the blurring of gender lines by using paint on models faces, prosthetics and switching up the use of trousers and skirts.

– Fred Harrison and John Sauven’s appearances were great – just the right level of slightly awkward but poignant. How often do you see economists, socialist activists and the director of Greenpeace in a fashion show?

– The theatre of the whole thing was amazing. I’m always interested in the way shows like this use music but this time she basically eschewed that tradition and staged a play/protest, giving most of the models microphones and lines. Rose McGowan also totally nailed it.

– The clothes themselves were just peak Westwood – like a complete distillation of her punk roots with references to all sorts of pop culture and my most favourite tweeds and tartans throughout.

With Alexander McQueen gone, the use of catwalk shows to stun, shock, empower and raise one’s voice is down to Viv alone and she completely smashed it out of the park.

NEWS: Family Band’s Family Holiday Tour – March/April 2019

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We’re fortunate enough to have received Arts Council England support for the upcoming Family Band tour and one of the brilliant things that allows us to do is to pay one of my favourite designers/illustrators Molly Lester to produce a tour poster and some other things that are currently under wraps. Check out some of her other work on her website. 

It’s also the first time I get to bring Family Band to Scotland which will be a particular treat. We’re up as far as Glasgow and down as far as St Ives (so many art galleries, so little time…) so we’re covering a whole lot of ground and the 10 dates will allow us to develop some new music for our second album which is in the works for later this year.