Family Band @ 12 Points

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SUPER psyched that Family Band have been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of 12 Points this September. We’ll be heading to Amsterdam to play at the iconic BIMHUIS on 25th September then hanging out all weekend to check out the other artists because this line up is an absolute banger.

We squirrelled ourselves away in the practice room for a couple of days last month to devise some new material, breathe some new life into material we’re very familiar with and to start putting together some potential running orders for the next album. The engineer’s been selected and I think we’ve got a location sorted so as soon as we find that magic running order, we’re off.

It feels great to have some of our older material grow with us – I’ve always liked the idea of a group having a repertoire that looks back as well as forward.

Here’s a link to the full line-up and details on schedule etc. See you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Input/Output (August 2019)

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It is not the light we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind and the earthquake. – Frederick Douglass

Frederick’s words are ringing in my ears as I look around me at all that’s going on. I learnt many lessons during the 2014 referendum, not least of which was the importance of resilience and of hope in the face of seeming hopelessness. I have learned to protect my optimism and my hope like a tiny new-born baby, and hold it close inside at all times. Except, it’s not really a newborn baby, it’s more like a lioness – formidable and loud and strong and with a drive to protect those around her. (And really fucking massive claws and teeth.)

So, unlike 2014, I’m not letting despair in and I’m channelling this anger into something useful. Because we should be angry. Really, really angry about what’s going on around us.

Like Caitlin Moran says, the world’s a big patchwork quilt and if we all just work on our own little patch of pioneering and change, when we join them together we have something big and brilliant.

Family Band has been working on some new material for our shows at BIMHUIS, Amsterdam (September 25th) and Jazz Linard, Switzerland (November 15th) and we’re heading into the studio soon for album number 2. Our newest piece is called Brief Interviews With Hideous Politicians. It combines all my favourite things – improvised music, political activism and loads of shouting.

I’ve also got a few shows lined up for the solo project, We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live. I’m at Pizza Express Soho as part of Georgia Mancio’s HANG in an evening centred around belonging and a sense of home on October 9th, then at Creations in Camden on October 24th where my dear friend Bex Burch will join me. And finally, I’ll be in Leeds on December 1st and that show will also feature John Pope on bass and pedals and beeps and boops.

After those shows, I’ll be heading into the studio to record the album. (Thanks to my omni-patient label boss for allowing the slow burn of this recording coming to fruition)

Here are some things I’ve been listening to and reading and seeing recently and that are feeding my mind and spirit.

Music

  • Angelique Kidjo – Remain in Light and Celia (the former a reimagining of the Talking Heads album of the same name and the latter a celebration of Celia Cruz)
  • Punkt.Vrt.Plastik – Punkt.Vrt.Plastik (Intense triumvirate of Kaja Draksler, Petter Eldh and Christian Lillinger. I’ve booked them for the Vortex on October 2nd and it will be great.)
  • Karine Polwart – Scottish Songbook (As with everything she does, this is a gorgeous delight. Makes me happy for all sorts of layered reasons.)

Books

  • Basic Income: And How We Can Make It Happen – Guy Standing (My hope and dream and wish is that in my lifetime I see an independent Scotland with Basic Income for all residents. UBI is the answer to so many problems.)
  • Austerity – Yanis Vanoufakis (Revealing insight by former Greek finance minister on the economic clusterfuck in recent years and why bailouts and mirroring the Wall Street technique of repackaging bad debt and selling it as more bad debt is probably not a great idea.)
  • Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art & Made History – Bridget Quinn (Discovered so many incredible works of art reading this as well and my list of artists to do a deep-dive into grew substantially.)
  • Seven Days In The Art World – Sarah Thornton (Glimpse into the art world(s) through 7 entry points – ArtBasel art fair, the Turner Prize, a CalArts crit class, A Christie’s auction, a look at the studios of Takashi Murakami, the Venice Biennale and the offices of ArtForum magazine. Loved it.)

 

 

More soon. Now, time to go be a whirlwind.

The world needs idealists. (And lions.) (…And chocolate spread on toast.)

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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 – 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!