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.
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…
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.
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.)
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.