I have Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes. Trying to manage this disease feels like a full time occupation, and it can be exceptionally difficult to try to keep my blood sugar levels stable enough to function properly sometimes. Simple things like making sure insulin dosage matches my food intake, how much to reduce insulin to compensate for the physical exertion of exercise or even the mental exertion of writing/lecturing etc., can become difficult calculations and when they go wrong, can have some significant effects. Too much insulin and I get hypoglycemic symptoms which can be anything from mild dizziness and confusion, to loss of consciousness and even seizures. Too little insulin and blood sugars rise, causing lethargy, unquenchable thirst (coupled with the constant need to run to the toilet), splitting headaches, and ultimately damage to internal organs and other parts of the body. I feel constantly as if I am performing a tightrope act and that any false steps have life-threatening consequences. All in all, it is not a great deal of fun to have a condition that can make you feel pretty rough a lot of the time. I should make it clear that I am very aware that many people are far worse off than I am and, in the grand scheme of things, I’m lucky that my condition is relatively easy to treat. I am not complaining – just setting the scene for the musical information that follows.
For the last few years, I have created a list of my top 5 records of that year. I do this for my own amusement, primarily, as it is nice to get to December and have an excuse to spend a while looking back over the year’s musical offerings and rediscovering things that may have slipped my mind. However, it seems to be a nice way to get people talking about music and sharing their favourites so I thought I’d do it again this year. I normally wait until later in the month to do this but I am currently incredibly busy and, naturally, looking for any procrastination opportunity I can find.
This year has been full of great music and the following is my list, in no particular order. Please do feel free to join in by posting yours in the comments section below!
I was becoming bored of (and spending a small fortune on) playing in the Toxic Twins Aerosmith tribute band, and wanted to make new music at the drums. I quit with the firm intention of not playing any more rock for a while, unless it was of the ‘feral pop’ variety discussed by Charlie Bramley (2017), or in projects with Stephen Wheel or the Eruptörs. I had also recently burnt all my bridges with the London musical theatre fringe circuit by fathering a child and therefore not being in a position to do gigs for free any more. I was still playing in pop-noir electro-swing band, Sweet Tooth, whose gigs and rehearsals were consistently beautiful, immersive quasi-cinematic experiences that kept me technologically on the edge of my seat, but I wanted to express myself a bit more on the drums – to breathe, move, listen, respond and emote. Jazz might have been the logical vehicle for such an endeavour, had I not long ago abandoned its oppressive subtleties and sophistication for a post-quiet performance aesthetic that allows me to play as loud as I feel I need.
At one of the monthly Cabaret Futura events hosted by legendary London musician and curator (and one-time olde-English executioner), Richard Strange, I absorbed the performance of spoken word artist and self-proclaimed “shouter of words”, Oh Standfast. Having seen him play at another event a few months prior, I was excited to be bombarded by his bombastic bardery for a full fifteen minutes and gave him a lift home after discovering we lived in neighbouring regions of north London. My rock covers holiday inspired me to contact him later by email, and he was curiously accepting of my invitation to meet in a rehearsal room to see what would happen. I confessed at our first session, I had been struck by a video that caught my attention on Facebook, of a drummer (and bassist and keyboard player, but I wasn’t at all interested in them) playing along to this advertisement for Jones’ Truck Rental and Storage.
In July of this year I was part of a team, along with Dr Haftor Medbøe and Prof Chris Atton, that organised and hosted the international conference ‘Continental Drift: 50 Years of Jazz from Europe‘, in association with the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.
We were delighted to welcome a broad range of delegates from around the world, including academics, musicians, industry representatives, and educators. Through a programme of panel discussions, research presentations, and discussion sessions, the conference was a wonderful weekend of informed and lively debate around the ontology of jazz in Europe, the nature of jazz in the region at present, and a look towards the future of the music in this area.
We now have video footage and audio recordings of the event, and I would like to share them in this post. For audio recordings, you can subscribe to the podcast using iTunes by clicking here, or visit the blog feed here. Please see below for a range of videos of the event.
We are looking forward to working in association with the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival again next year, and we will be distributing a call for papers in the next few weeks. If you are interested in participating, or even just attending, then please get in touch or comment below.
Enjoy the video content – we’d love to hear your thoughts!
In response to a recent post by Zack Moir, I thought I might wade in with some related musings and give offer suggestions to banish the ‘black dog’ that is writer’s block.
In common with Zack, I struggle to balance my musical practice with the teaching and administrative demands of academia, and the general push and pull of simply living life. I recognise all of the worries that he outlines – and, I dare say, that they are probably universally experienced by those who compose music. The act of committing musical ideas to paper (or hard-disc), for posterity is a daunting prospect. Improvisation, albeit differently challenging, doesn’t run the same risk of sustained critique – when it’s over, it’s over and quickly becomes just a vague memory (good or bad). Composing, however, exposes you to the judgement of fellow musicians, listeners and critics. And, most frighteningly, they have the ability to review your work over and over again, giving you never ending fresh insights into what’s wrong with your it (or, on a brighter day, what’s right about it).
Personally, I find the following strategies provide some motivation. And motivation is generally the first stumbling block over which to jump:
I have writers’ block, when it comes to composition. I have had it for nearly two years. I have not written a full piece of music that I have been happy with in a long time. It is starting to stress me out…
What is writers’ block, though? Many people say that it doesn’t even exist, and that it is just a combination of procrastination, trepidation, and fear of artistic commitment. That’s probably true , using the term ‘writer’s block’ as some sort of catch-all term for one all encompassing monolithic problem is probably not helpful or appropriate. Regardless, it feels like an appropriate term and the notion of ‘blockage’, is particularly apt in my case as many of my problems seem to stem from not being able to get close enough to this type of work to develop any ideas or to encourage any artistic ‘juices’ to flow.
When I sit and think about my dearth of ideas and what seems like a crippling lack of creativity, I feel like I can see a number of reasons why this may be the case. While this is, in some ways, useful as it helps me to see the potential causes, it also has a compounding effect as I know how difficult it will be to try to get past some of the hurdles. This leads to a spiral of worry about the potential of being in this position permanently and leads to bigger and more important questions such as: What effect might this have on my teaching? How might this impact on my musicianship? What on earth can I do to get over this?
The following is my explanation of what I think the main problems are:
Last year, having spent a bit of time thinking about the way that people like to make lists of ‘top 5 records’ (read the original post here) I decided to compile a list of my top 5 songs of 2014. At this time of year I get more of an opportunity to actually sit back and enjoy listening to music and it is nice to look back over the songs that were released in the previous 12 months. So, the following is a list of the 5 tracks that I have enjoyed most in 2015. I’m not trying to convince anyone or to campaign for these songs in any way – they’re just my personal favourites from this year.
What were your favourites? Please feel free to comment below with your own top 5 list or even just the odd link to music that you have enjoyed from this year.
Continue reading My Top 5 Songs of 2015:
Let there be rock
Really, let there be rock. I argue in this piece that too often we do not. Educational institutions frequently permit an unfulfilling simulacrum, but we fail all too often to grasp the core of rock music and allow it to happen, or to insist that it happens, in schools. I write a little about me in this post, because it is a first articugolation of an irritation that has been brewing inside me over 16 years of teaching in primary, secondary, tertiary and higher education.
I am a drummer, and I teach music at a school of contemporary (popular) music. This year I’m also studying there for a master’s degree in music performance. This combination of being the teacher and the taught has helped me see more clearly who I am as a musician. While I love playing drums, there are particular conditions that make the experience for me the fullest consummation of human experience. These are generally met when the following align:
- I am playing drums in an ensemble
- I can play what the music requires
- The band is comprised of competent players
- We’re all listening and feeling intently
- Our commitment to and immersion in the moment are complete
- I can move as large as I need
- The volume in the space is loud, and I am enveloped in sound
- We are playing rock music
In short, all is well with me when I rock.
My drum teacher and undergraduate mentor, Peter Fairclough, used to pose a question to his students. He would ask, “Who gives you permission?”[i] Pete’s idea was that a confident, successful musician enables (permits) her- or himself. I took from his advice that I should have enough ability in my wrists and fingers to do whatever I wanted on the instrument. But asking Pete’s question now, of myself and on behalf of students who I know love to rock, the answer, or part of it, lies below.
The other day I was playing a game with my three year old daughter in which we were making up funny songs, based on themes that we each took turns to suggest. So, I had to come up with songs about sheep, or busses, or cakes, for example. One song that she sang sounded particularly happy and upbeat – a fun kid’s song. Just out of curiosity, I then asked her to sing me a ‘sad song’, and what she did was (a) hilarious, and (b) really interesting. She basically just sung the same melody but slower, in a breathy, fragile voice, and did so while pretending to look ‘sad’ (in the same way that a mime-artist might do). This was wonderful as it linked directly to something that has been floating around in my head for the last few Christmases. Namely, the phenomenon of the ‘Christmas advert’ – typified by those for John Lewis(a UK department store), for example – which seem to have become (inter)national events, in recent years.
Most people reading this, certainly those from the UK will be familiar with the phenomenon that I am referring to. Essentially, these are adverts (commercials) that last for approximately 2 minutes in which a supposedly heartwarming, Christmas (or winter, at least) narrative is played out, often with an emotional message or display of seasonal good will. Importantly, however, the songs used in each of the adverts are cover versions of famous pop songs. If you are not sure what I am referring to then the following example is the most recent John Lewis advert (‘The Man on The Moon’) featuring a cover version of ‘Half the World Away’, by Oasis.