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It is a wonderful little cinema. Last week we had a test screening, and I was knocked out at how great the cinema is technically – wonderful screen quality and surround sound. It is also a little symbol for me of the the best qualities of Berlin – bringing the professionalism and comfort of commercial cinema, but to the intimacy and locality of the neighbourhood.

For me personally, it is an important milestone – both in terms of the Journeys project, and in my own personal journey itself.

Everyone who knows me, knows that it was a tough period after losing the EMI deal. Once again, life has shown me that renewal is something gradual, and transformation something that you cannot rush.

The most important things for me professionally during this period has been to safe guard the continuation of my career. Up until my record deal, my solo career had a sense of momentum and trajectory which I had not experienced previously in my musical life.

Losing the deal ground many things to a halt for me – and it was out of this period of facing new realities that the Journeys project was born.

My meditation upon independence and DIY philosophy has been long brewed. Put simply, in starting the “Journeys” project I had no idea what I was setting out to do.

It has been necessary to crush certain fantasies, dreams and ambitions in order to arrive at a state of professional health and stability. My greatest lesson has been that if you let go of certain longings, you can make the space for deeper realities to set seed.

I will go deeper into these ideas in other posts. But for now, I am happy to be presenting the culmination of a curious sequence of events. Buying a camera, heading to the far East with the thought of making a music video while on tour, recording with joy & spontaneity the strangeness of the life unfolding before me, coming home, finding myself at a dead end, working on the footage in the silence, and at the end discovering I’d made a little film….which in turn has become a broader series, and an important part of the Journeys aesthetic.

Sometimes you find the best stuff when you scratch around for long enough in the darkness.

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East Africa is the second of my journeys. I am learning more about the characteristics of the “journeys” as I go. That is, my perspective and understanding of what I am doing is growing.

It has become apparent to me that though East Africa is as different to China as chalk is to cheese, there are underlying qualities which are shaping my experience. I am learning that “Journeys” has its own nature.

To the casual eye, there are the obvious things. Seeing beautiful places nourishes that human longing to take in the great vistas, to absorb space, to pull out thought from hidden stones in the subconscious, and to feel humbled by the vastness of the earth we inhabit.

Meeting people of every nation, color and creed expands us. It challenges our prejudices, educates our understanding, invites us into the brotherhood of man that is available to all of us, but which we, consistently, as a species fail to embrace.

Traveling shows us the qualities of motion; the buzz of a small plane swooping over Arusha channels our mind not into thought but a condition of being that is about flow and rhythm and feeling. Hiking on Mount Suswa, thirsty under the hot sun and your ill rationed water, reduces your complexity and conditions your consciousness to the the pounding of feet, the meditation of the next step, the simplicity of doing what needs to be done.

I am lucky to be within this project, this moment in my life. But I am also not particularly interested in the casual eye. I am interested in the nature of things under the surface, that´s where the good stuff lies, even when it is ugly, scary and we´d do anything in the world to avoid it.

“Journeys” has arisen out of a multiplicity of events in my life, and I can list them at a glance. My mothers death at 19 somehow leading me to the discovery of music, at first as catharsis, and then as a life partner.

Touring the UK in the back of a white van in the naughties, shivering trying to sleep in it in December from Aberdeen to Cornwall, getting back to London having not made a bean, and knowing there is no musical future for me in the UK.

Arriving in Berlin, crashing my van, getting put up next to the Tacheles in an abandoned building, pissing in bottles and playing night after night and learning that the road to nowhere does in fact lead somewhere.

Panic attacks in Bahnof Friedrichstrasse, knowing there is no past, there is only future, no one to help make it for you, no one to carry you, only just the brute strength we find when we finally learn we are truly alone and ready to rediscover the nature of prayer and to bend a knee and to ask for help.

Getting signed by EMI and making my way out of the underground, touring Europe, fulfilling some dreams, getting to the crest of a moment in which you feel all the yearning and hungering and wandering has finally led somewhere, just to lose the deal on the day of release and to find yourself back in that very same underground and joyous with your friends, drinking a hefeweisen and knowing that yes, this is your life, yes, this is where you belong, yes it is okay to be finally at one with it.

And then stopping because you have given everything, and the only thing to do is to stop. And learning that nature hates a void. Nature is inherently creative. Nature demands the expression of potential, because that is its very nature – the nature of nature.

Life happens. Dreams, shattered and lying disconsolate, slowly start reweaving their own patterns, colors, threads. The patchwork of your life has not unraveled, it has necessarily re-constituted itself.

We deconstruct to reform. We break down to rebuild. We fragment to become more whole than we had previously been.

And the journey continues.

The perspective the causal eyes sees a celebratory gig upon the rooftop of PAWA 254 in Nairobi. It does not witness the conditions needed to get there. It does not see an exhausted figure on the back of a 30 gig tour in 4 countries, on a foreign continent, feeling displaced and under slept and unsure if he can go on at 4pm under the burning sun. Or the moments you wake up in the middle of the night, deep in fragmentation, wondering where you are, what you are, you being for a time transmorgified into something young and afraid. Or the 40kg on your back you take from place to place on the buses, trains, ferries, trucks and taxis of the world to try and do you job.

Everything thing is pregnant with its contrary. The casual eye is the eye with least insight, but dammit, if it sees something pretty I hope it can enjoy it none the less.

But what comes back to me consistently as fundamental to the nature of “Journeys” is the need to say yes to life.

I have been more privileged than many people on this planet. But I´ve also been backed into a fair few corners in my time. And in every corner I´ve been in, especially the worst ones, when it feels like there is nothing left and no capacity to go on, I have discovered 2 things.

First is that we have a strength that we often lose sight of. Man, for all the evils he has committed, did not rise to be the top predator on this planet by giving in. I don´t like to put it in those terms because I feel deeply uncomfortable about how we treat nature. But when it comes to those moments, there is a power in us which we only conceive and intuit when we are really up against it. As Dostoevsky wrote in one of his novels “there is a capacity to endure anything”

Second, that when you are backed into a corner you get to a point that is beyond choice. There is no more time for thinking, there is no more time for analysing, dissecting, discussing, considering. There comes a point when you simply have to say yes to life.

You have to say “yes” to the acceptance that you are in that moment. And you have to say yes to making the tough choice to move forward. You have to embrace the conditions of reality, light and dark, and you have to crack on. One step at a time. And those feet always take you somewhere. And usually, when bound with a yes, to the place where you are meant to be.

I have moments when I cower before my life. I have days when I am exhausted and feel fragmented and I think to the future – of the future I am trying to build for my life through this project – and I would do anything to exchange the adventure and excitement for stability and security.

But in those moments I know that, simultaneously, life is asking me to say yes. To get to the next gig. To write the next song. To shoot the next movie. To take a leap of faith and trust it.

I know that I should have listened to the advice I got in my twenties:

“The music industry will never pick up, it is dead, dying, make a life for yourself while you still can”.

I could not accept that choice. There was a spiritual question at play. I just could not stop doing what I felt what I was meant to be doing, regardless of the consequences.

I gave up some time ago on some ultimate vindication, of some validation that would make it all okay, all worthwhile.

At some point I realized that, for better or worse, this is my life, these are my choices, and despite my failings, I do have the courage to stand by them.

I feel that life is an article of faith. I feel that sometimes being too fixed on where it is going, limits the capacity for life to take you where it wants you to go. I am not in control, and I never was. I am in life, not yet with total belief, understanding or flow, but with the knowledge that this is what is meant for me for now.

And in that way I believe in saying yes to life, in trusting her, in taking her hand and knowing that before my time is up, she will take me where I am meant to go.

So I have understood something of the nature of our journeys:

Say yes to life.

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Dar Es Salaam slowly unfurls itself. It has been for me so far a city of extremes – of the buzz and energy of the gigs, and some extreme bouts of loneliness.

One of the characteristics of Journeys is how to find balance within the twin extremes of the experience.

On the one hand there is the intensity and busyness. Travel requires energy and alertness. Self reliance requires a heightening of the senses. Doing the documentary work requires an eager eye and an intuition of the rhythms of a culture. Stepping on people´s sensitivities is not something Journeys is about – but equally the reinterpretation of a place through the vista of one individual´s mind is something it is about. So there is a weighing of how to conduct one´s self, say, if you are shooting in a predominantly Islamic City like Stone Town.

There are many people met along the way – sometimes strangers, sometimes hosts, sometimes guides, and sometimes someone just hustling you. It has been a privilege of my life to witness how people are curious about musicians – and sometimes this shatters one´s aloneness beautifully and sometimes it invades your needed moments of inner exile.

Another quality which is high in energy demand is the fact that the gigging terrain is very uncertain when playing somewhere in East Africa or China. First of all you never know what the venue is going to be like before you arrive. Yesterday there were serious power cuts in Dar Es Salaam and my host at Makuti, Mzungu Kichaa spent the day hunting a generator and patching up problems so we could all perform. Where as at another show there won´t be a P.A and you will strain your voice over tourists with little conception of the etiquettes of a concert. Or at another, like last night, you will arrive to a venue buzzing and dancing to a fantastic full band with a local singer giving Whitney Houston a run for her money, and then navigate entering the stage as an acoustic artist while simultaneously the Manchester United game starts in the background. Funnily enough – i enjoy all of these experiences – they provide the soul stuff of Journeys.

But then there is the other side. You get exhausted from the travel, the meeting people, the shows, drinking not a lot, but enough to accrue in your system.

The buzzy-ness of the one side of experience is suddenly met by its opposite. Extreme isolation, a mind unprepared to suddenly meet with negotiating itself. The subconscious is a busy place and is always revealing itself to us – sometimes through feelings of well being and flow. And at other times in revealing its amorphous content through its confusing imagery, dumped suddenly and randomly and without an apparent identifying characteristic. What is it bloody saying?!

I often find that my subconscious is suddenly awakened once I get back into isolation. Sometimes there is a simple of joy of having a day off – such as the day I enjoyed in Arusha. But other times, you spend a day in a hotel room on a foreign continent and you have to simply face what is coming up. Those demons who announce themselves and are not as polite as vampires – who at least have the courtesy of requiring an invitation before entering your house.

I had such a day the day before yesterday which inspired my article 10 Approaches to Depression

It was a day during which I felt like Harry Haller, the central character in Hermann Hesse´s Steppenwolf. Or even more so like Hesse himself, who wrote the book in great aloneness after being estranged from his second wife, wrestling with illness, drinking to much in the evening and living an isolated life in a rented flat in Zurich. For an interesting article on Hesse please check the link.

Anyway I will write more about these wrestlings at a later date. For now, it is helpful for me to express and write about my internal journey. For me, again, the concept of Journeys is not about travel, but about the exploration of how one´s mind, one´s creativity and one´s life is effected and shaped by the ongoing march of reality – in all its shapes, forms, and dimensions. Again, to use Hesse´s words:

“There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside of them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.” Hermann Hesse

For now, I am back in my Harry Haller space – writing after the adventure of a long and eventful evening. I played two shows in Dar last night – at Makuti and Q-Bar. It´s amazing how different 2 shows can be in the space of a few hours – but equally enjoyable in 2 very different ways.

Makuti was a very attentive, seated audience and the other musicians quite simply mind blowingly good. I greatly enjoyed seeing Mzungu Kichaa play. We had met while jamming on stage in Zanzibar and I quickly became aware of what a monster talent I was playing next to. Apart from that he is a man of great generosity and humility – one of those people that gives you great faith to know roams the planet.

The second show was at Q-Bar – filled with mania, buzz, dancing, drinking, howling, shrieking and characters from the underworld. It was a lot of fun.

Finally – a final word on extremity. My whole life i have wrestled with the extremes of life, and more so of mind. For whatever – probably foolish – reason, I chose a life which does not often provide me with the very thing that on some level I yearn for – stability. However, I have found one thing. I have found that by continually saying yes to the extremes of life – yes to the adventure, yes when I feel afraid, yes when I don´t feel like doing something – that life has created in some way, its own balance in me. It is not one I fully understand. But I knew right back since school days that I had an unpredictable mind, that at times I felt deeply afraid of. The idea of an office job terrified me – not because of boredom – but because I feared that other people would witness at too close a hand the insanity I felt. And with having mental illness in the family on both my mother and father´s side, I greatly feared being sectioned. This is something historic for me now – through the choices I have made, I feel a distance to these old, and extreme fears. But what has led to this evolution has been a willingness to say yes to life. And if there is one thing I would say when you feel in a deep hole, or an uncertain space. Say yes none the less. Your feet will lead you to the next place and space – if you let them.

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