Four Days in the Centre of the World

Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. We’re all going to die. Come watch TV.

That show, Rick & Morty, is so much better than it seems. Morty is usually right, but Rick always gets his own way because he’s arrogant & intelligent, but is he happy? Is he fuck. Morty, always the pathetic, protesting victim, the small, quiet, stupid man, at least has things in perspective. Morty is a hero to anyone lacking that, & Rick, a man with far too much.

So, that show has taught me a thing or two about perspective & about how to keep things in it. So, with that in mind, Josienne & I rented a big truck from Enterprise (the only rental company who will rent to me because of my record…thanks!) and drove up to Watercolour Music near Fort William early last week with nearly all we own bungee-corded in the back of this huge Ford Transit. It was a dark & rainy drive, full of jack-knifing lorries & cars in ditches, but we walked in a straight line through all the chaos outside the window, helping where we could and arrived on time & safe as sheds.

I was nervous about this trip. Nervous about playing. Nervous about not playing. Nervous about being trapped outside closing doors. Nervous about not being good enough to play with the big kids if they let me in. Nervous about a thing that I’m inside of, close to, intimately familiar with, but can’t do myself. It’s both partly mine & nothing to do with me at all.

Thing is, others that have been close to this hypnotic, addictive magic and have fallen for the poison, swallowed the illusion that because they were in the room when it emerged from it’s chrysalis, this invisible, valuable collection of vibrations somehow belonged to them too, so they try to keep it close, chain it to their wrist so it won’t fly away. Only one thing ever happens when you do that. ‘If you’re free to leave, it’s easy to stay…’ I once said in a song, and I meant it. I understand the attraction, the appeal, the pull, why a person would want to be a part of something bigger than they think they are, but you can’t take what isn’t yours. You can’t hold too tightly. You can’t cloy, or you’ll choke the life out of the thing that you want. Don’t suffocate – nurture. Don’t overwhelm – facilitate. Don’t control – contribute. You can see how badly I overthink all this stuff, get it wrapped round my neck like a kettle cord, gasp for breath under the weight of the importance.

But in the end, it was quite transcendental. I got to do it. I lived the thing I always said I wanted. I figured out how much food to bring. Carried bags. Loaded in, set up, plugged in, made shit work, sat back, made tea, made coffee, lunch, dinner & tea, let the thing happen. Immersed myself in it, played along, observed, and got to do it myself. Gave it space to breath & breathed it in. Anyone who’s been a reader here for a while will understand just how much it means to me, that picture of me playing a note on tape. If you’re new, then you should know that it means more than the world. I’m just Morty, handed a little chance to join Rick on an adventure in his spaceship and it’s terrifying & intimidating & I’ll fail, over & again, in the most public way, feel tiny & shit & alive & enormous & proud, all at the same time. I will never regret trying and I will do it over & over, forever, or as long as I can. It was a dream come true, I am grown-up multiverse Morty, now.

This is what Rick’s counsellor said to him after he turned himself into a pickle:

The thing about repairing, maintaining, and cleaning is it’s not an adventure. There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die. It’s just work. And the bottom line is, some people are okay going to work, and some people … well, some people would rather die. Each of us gets to choose.”

& I choose this. With all it’s rough edges, risky moves, gambles that pay off and the ones that don’t. All the winning & the losing, with you, here. Thanks for inviting me along & trusting me to be in the room, Josienne. You’re making a beautiful, unique, powerful & meaningful thing & I appreciate you letting me be near it. Let’s do it over & over again until we can’t.

Here’s my photo diary of those few days. Thanks for coming along, everyone.

That’s the music covered. Thing about Watercolour is, it’s right at the base of Ben Nevis. So you get some spectacular landscapes, too. Here’s a few from when I went wandering.

And that’s all. An awkward Rick & Morty analogy & a handful of decent photographs. I’ll take it. Stand by for more, we’re not finished, so we’ll do it again soon xx

The Scalpel of Studio Lights

I reckon it would’ve been January 2019 when I joined Josienne Clarke for a week at Watercolour Music near Fort William. That was when Josienne was recording of her ‘In All Weather’ album, where I made the video for ‘If I Didn’t Mind’. Some of you will remember my tweets from that week. What a mad rush of blood to the head it was, an emotional avalanche, working in a recording studio can be. I don’t have the words for how torn & broken I felt at points, and how exhilarated I felt at others. The scalpel of studio lights will do that to a person.

Well, next week, we’re off north again to do it all over again.

I won’t say what, why or how because it’s not my place, but suffice it to say, this has been a difficult call to make. We are in Scotland anyway, and we are taking every step to ensure we adhere to all social distancing guidelines. No stone is unturned and nobody is travelling from or to a place that is not allowed. We won’t be mixing except outside acceptable bubbles & we have put the needs of the local community and the studio owners above our own. Everyone is safe, legal & protected.

All I have to do is keep my shit together. Tune in on twitter next week to find out how I do, and anyone fancies telling me that I have a right to live & work, to express myself, to experience love & sadness, well, I might just need to hear it.

Here’s a little gallery from last time, from when I went for a little lonely wander while the grownups did their thing. This time, I get to play, just a little. But, I’ll try to take some photographs next week to show you a little behind the scenes of how it’s going.

Follow Josienne on twitter for the real story. And don’t forget, if you get a moment, wish me luck.

Get Me A Glass Of Water

I’m going to tell you what happened to me last night, a strange counterpoint to supporting Robert Plant & getting posh gin hand delivered!

I went to the MacDonalds near me, it’s good there because it stays open 24 hours and you can get a decent cup of tea for a quid, it’s bad because its MacDonalds and you don’t really want to be in that part of that, do you?

Now, there’s this horsey thing in town, so the place is filled with those travelling folk who do travelling horsey shows, you know the kind, ‘glamourous’ ladies wearing more make up than clothes, scally lads in polo shirts strutting around with their chicken selects. I’m not judging, Grandad used to make his best money doing flowers for traveller funerals & I always enjoyed when they came to see us.

It’s midnight and packed. It’s a venue, now, this MacDonalds, some a guy is playing trance on his bluetooth speaker and these kids are drunk. I say kids, there must be 150 23 year olds in this place. It’s more like a really shit version of what I imagine ibiza is like. I sat there with tea, chatting about stuff. And it starts to kick off around me. One lad lands a bad punch on another’s jaw. Gets pushed to the ground and kicked in the face. Blood splatters across the illuminated happy meal menu. There’s a baying circle of hangers on, some trying to part them, some pushing them together. Some bloke comes up to me as I try to look calm & bemused at the table and yells phone Joe, phone Joe. I don’t know Joe, I protest, sorry mate. But Joe must be phoned, so he throws his phone into my lap and goes and gets the youngest in a headlock, only to be kicked in the groin and fall to the floor then have his head stood on.

I don’t phone Joe, I phone the police. The manager of the establishment is out front now, standing around ineffectually saying, stop it, please, but by now, there are more people involved, this one girl is yelling ‘he’s a soft bully, kick his face off’ over and over, and a bunch of older dudes show up, baying and laughing, the manager yells at them that they went the wrong way round the drive thru.

It’s getting crazier, the police want the postcode, are there weapons. I tell them to google it, I don’t have the postcode. I don’t see weapons, but there better not be because this is getting very messy, and one knife in here would be bad. I’m worried about this one kid so I go and stands over him, he’s not getting up, just writhing and groaning, and I get off the phone to the po-po and the other phone rings and it’s Joe and I can’t help but answer, much as my gut says get out of here, something makes me pick up, and Joe wants to know who the fuck has his brothers phone and I tell him, big fight in macdonalds, police on their way and he’s furious – he yells who the fuck fights in macdonalds, get them out of there, we fight in the streets, he explains, so I yell – joe says take the fight outside, and they weirdly kind of do, but now there are sirens and like 5 huge vans full of police and the manager has asked the cooking staff to come out front and help get fighting men outside so I tell them all to go back behind the counter and tell the manager he’s an idiot and he needs to protect his staff and let the police worry about the fighters and he disappears and they start kicking each other in the car park, 50 people with their shirts off punching each other, so many near-naked braying onlookers filming on their mobiles, I find the guy whose phone I have and give it back to him and you know what he says? GET ME A GLASS OF WATER and I laugh and say fuck off, get it yourself and he laughs, pats me on the back and heads out into the fray which the police and doing a pretty effective job of breaking up.

I spent the next couple of hours in a lockin in the closed 24 hour macdonalds with the fuzz giving a hilarious statement a bit like this one but more serious and I’m still laughing about Joe’s brother asking me to get him a glass of water.

What The Hell Am I Doing (Part ∞)

Lots going on with me, and sometimes, it’s confusing, trying to work out who on earth I am supposed to be.

So, allow me to explain, who I am, what I do & what I want & why; in the interests of transparency, truth & also, a sales pitch…

One of the things I am doing is taking portrait photographs. I love this. It’s a brilliant discipline. I’ve recently done a big (socially distanced) shoot with a star in an infinity curve with make-up & hair artists & a lighting technician at Broadscope in Glasgow. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a good while. The results will take your head clean off, but I can’t share any details yet. My best work & it has to stay secret for a while, ah cruel industry. This was digital, 35mm film & some movie for a behind the scenes documentary, too. If you’re after some edgy portraits, then I’m your man – ask me about a booking!

My Portrait of The Ashen from a few years ago.

Which is another thing I’m doing – making music videos. I’ve made a few that will be released soon, and I’ve got more in the pipeline that are shaping up to various stages. These are great fun to do. Josienne & I work together on these, so if anyone fancies it, get in touch and we’ll make some visuals to fit your music.

Josienne Clarke from the ‘Slender, Sad & Sentimental’ video shoot.

I started a film production company with Andrew Leach called Massive Overheads Productions. We made ‘Overheads‘, a film Andy wrote and we made together. It’s currently gaining good reviews & knocking the doors of various fancy film festivals all over the world. I’m 3/4 of the way through another short film, I’ll release it when I’m done, and Andy writes one a week, so expect a steady stream of movies from us over the rest of all time. Hopefully, that’s a good thing.

Madison Leach as Ada in ‘Overheads’

Josienne Clarke founded her own record label, Corduroy Punk Records, and I help with that. Our side project, 2PrivateMatters, releases stuff through that label. Who knows what it will do next? I made the graphics for those sites. I’m not great at photoshop & stuff but I’m learning.

I made a solo album – available still at bandcamp – that I’m very proud of, that people seemed to like, and I always expected I might go out and play a show to sell some copies of it, but look how that went. It’s kind of done, that one. The record will always be there, and maybe when the world recovers, out I’ll go out and play some of those old songs, but I feel like I lost any momentum I made with that. Along with every other artist & musician, I guess.

I’m playing lots of electric & double bass lately. I used to do that lots, when I was 15 and I’m 44 now, so it’s been a while but it’s satisfying to be playing again. I bought an upright bass from Roberto Cassini that Danny Thompson has played. A beautiful instrument and I’m taking lessons from Lukas Drinkwater, so that’s a dreamy situation. Learned more in 1 hour with him than I worked out on my own in 25 years. I hope I can do it justice. I could play bass for you or your band, if you like. Though, I appreciate that we aren’t really allowed to do that at the moment.

Which I guess brings me to the next bit. Does any of this pay the rent? Like fuck it does. So, how do I do live now, then?

I’ve been doing day rate consultancy for a few companies who I know through linkedin for the last 3 or 4 months. It pays really well, it’s how I afforded to buy this double bass. I’m not hard up, because I’m lucky enough to have this experience, so folks pay me to help them do what I’ve done a thousand times. It’s part-time, so I can concentrate on doing more of the creative stuff. I like working that way. Josienne helps. Her career is kind of on hold, so she’s been working with me and then I help her in return. Imagine, a supportive, mutually beneficial life partner, a relationship as a collaboration based on respect, trust, kindness & love. It can be done, and it’s not straightforward or without challenges, but we’re both dedicated, hardworking and diligent people, focussed on our mutual goals.

My work page is at www.darlingsolutions.co.uk. It’s a bit odd, because the two things seem contradictory – artistic & business things, all at the same time? But you know, there’s more overlap in the skills needed than you’d think & this keeps the lights on. Gives me the time & resources to learn how to shoot & edit film and take better photographs, furthering my other interests.

I hate the perpetuated romantic myth that musician are somehow earning enough to carry on living in places where the rent is a grand a month without having to do a normal job too, when they ride around in dirty clothes, drive a shit car & live in Dalston. Nah, mate, you live in your family mansion, or your dad pays the rent, and the only thing wrong with that is when you pretend like life is hard for you, too.

Seems to me all artists retrained as waiters & IT support people or chefs or retail workers years ago anyway, or it’s a bunch of trust fund lies & you don’t need to pay to live, which is fine but be honest about it. Don’t pretend to slum it if you’re not because that makes it harder for everyone. We all have to pay the rent somehow unless you own a house outright or with a mortgage and if either of those things are true, then you’re financially securer than most people, for sure than me. And I am aiming for more financial security than I have now by working as many days as I can for folks who I’ve come across in the strange little world of WFO, playing bass, making films & taking photos along the way. That’s what I’m doing.

All of these words, and I’ve still not come to the point. These jobs & activities, they’re not who I am. I AM a photographer, filmmaker, musician & WFO consultant, but the main thing I’m doing these days is living honestly, saying what I see & what I want and building a life for myself that works for the kind of person I am. I don’t feel guilty or afraid. Nobody knocks on my door and tells me I’m going to hell anymore. I’m hoping to be debt free in a year. Hoping to find a place to call home for me and my family. Grateful that anyone cares enough about me to read this. Hopeful that I can continue on this journey of truth in life with my best friend by my side. I’m pointing in the right direction & I’m just going to keep walking straight forward.

my 35mm portrait of Josienne Clarke on a train.

So, who are you & what do you want?

Shooting #Overheads

It was pretty easy, to begin with. Andrew Leach came to me & said hey, man, we’ve twitter-known each other for a while, you shoot film & I write stories, why don’t we crash those things together?

We laughed at the name MASSIVE OVERHEADS PRODUCTIONS and then made it come to life.

Josienne helped. Andy’s family helped. Together, we all worked out how to record location dialogue (nightmarishly hard!) and how to clap scenes, so I can edit them together, how to use all the hardware & software & stay focussed on the creation, the telling of a story, when there are so many shadowy codecs & redundant formats hanging over you, when every shriek of a gull renders another wav unusable.

We did a casting call & were swamped. We said we had no budget, all the gear & no idea, it was our first time. But so many people wanted to be in it. They were all superb & I hope we get to work with them all in future projects.

Andrew MacIntosh, Andrew Leach’s artist friend, painted the caravan from the poster. Go check out his other stuff, he’a an actual magician.

Josienne had a song in her head since the start of the project. She recorded it at home, and you can hear traffic & trains in the background. It’s a lovely piece. The sentiment is perfect. Then her & I worked together on the theme tune, the debut of our new project. No vocals. We bring some of our other musical influences into play & made a dirty, noisy, distorted, foreboding drum-led piece. Familiar to fans of Formication, perhaps, but not a sound I’ve explored in a while. It’ll be on bandcamp, soon, so you can listen whenever you like. More details coming soon.

Andi Ashen swooped in, an un-caped hero and helped us rescue some of the location dialogue. it’s hard to get right, and I know more for next time. I think it sounds perfect, now, but it wouldn’t, without The Ashen’s ears.

In the end, Tina Harris, Claire Lebowitz King & Madison Leach are the stars of the show. Shooting & editing them was pure pleasure. I could’ve used any scene I shot. I learned lots about how to put it all together, about the best way to shoot to tell the story. How to direct them to get what I need. I felt their trust & it felt unearned, but I think I can do it. It’s a huge thrill, the power of pen to screen. I feel kind of manipulative, though, too. I can make a person sinister or serene, just by setting the words they say like this or like that. By cutting away too early or too late. By using sound or shadow to hint at things, or not hint at them.

It’s easy to get hamstrung, making things, isn’t it? Weighed down by the possibilities of what you COULD do. Is this film I’m making as good as Kubrick? As Coppola? Is the music as good as Pantha Du Prince, as musical & obtuse & meaningful as Stockhausen, as artfully abstract as Eno, as creative as Derbyshire, as leftfield & focussed as Weatherall, does it have a point, a use, a direction like Flylo or Fourtet? But, no fuck that. It’s none of those things & I’m none of those people. I’m just a random nobody who thought maybe he could, and if it’s shite and you all stand around and laugh, well, so be it. I’ve been there before & I’ll be there again, I expect. But as always, my scars on my sleeve & everything you see & hear, I did that and not one of you can take that away from me, hashtag smiley face.

So, I’ll learn from my mistakes & go make them all again, bigger & better & right before your eyes, this time. The real magic here is believing you can, and then doing, whatever it’s in the face of. I’m already nearly finished our second film project & there are two more about to appear. We made them with no production money using kit I bought off ebay, paid for by doing shift work in a bookshop & day rate computer support stuff. We paid for people’s help where it was appropriate and relied on goodwill & favours were we could. It’ll grow or it won’t & I don’t care either way. Andy’s got some beautiful stories to tell & it’s a thrill & privilege to help bring them to life.

Here’s #Overheads. Enjoy.

Learning To Sail Cover Art & Other Things I Made

Josienne Clarke just announced her latest record, the second part in her archive collection. It’s called ‘Historical Record vol. 3&4 Learning To Sail’. It features studio demos, some solo & some full band alternative versions of songs that either made it or didn’t onto her last album, ‘In All Weather’. These recordings are insights into how those songs grew. She puts it best over at www.josienneclarke.com where you can read her press release.

I wanted to show you some of the artwork I made for this release. The front & back cover sees the artist at the Port Bannatyne location of the Cat Stevens ‘In All Weather’ album cover shoot, testing light & angles ahead of time. This reccy shoot informed Cat’s work. I’ve used Lightroom here to reduce Josienne to an almost ghost. The light blue an inversion of the eventual album cover. A fitting way to represent the music inside, formative, embryonic, older, more tentative than it eventually became.

Here are two promo shots I made of Josienne. I shot these in a studio in Nottingham and lightly treated them with a hex editor & Lightroom. She seems lighter than air & she kind of was. It was hundreds of degrees in that room, that day. Some shots from that day found their way onto posters but these two were never used and I always thought that was a shame. So, here they are now. Oddly nostalgic, aren’t they? Confrontationally demure, just like the artist herself, I like to think.

The album is out on Corduroy Punk Records on Friday 4th September, only on bandcamp. No pre-orders. Buy it on the day. Thanks!

After The Lights Go Down

WARNING: this page features an extensive gallery of photos, so might take a while to load…

Yesterday, we walked to St. Peters Seminary, a ‘modern building of world architectural significance’ on the world monument funds 100 most endangered important buildings list. It’s easy to see why. This post is a love letter to this magical place.

It began life as a place to teach student Roman Catholic priests in the 60s, & failed when less & less people wanted to do that. It’s been a drug rehabilitation centre & arts venue. All manner of artistic funding fires have plagued this place, it’s remote, has drainage problems & nobody seems to be able to make it make sense but man alive, what a spectacle it is. It does make no sense, a sensual clash of a building, angles that don’t line up, broken things lie side by side with rot in this beautiful vision of a place. It feels neglected & precious all at once. It’s A listed & decrepit, wrenches the minds eye in all directions. Isi Metzstein, who designed it, was sent to Clydebank by his mother after his school was destroyed at Kristallnacht. St. Peter’s Seminary is cognitive dissonance that you can walk around inside, weighty with age & heavy with history, but you can’t help but look every direction at once, open mouthed, afraid to miss anything.

Today, it’s full of beautiful graffiti. An artist was painting while I was there. No pictures yet, because graffiti artists never appreciate that, but I intend to document new works as they appear. You have to be a little careful. It’s not exactly safe. It’s full of folks who maybe aren’t there to take photos and document the stunning architecture & artwork. I came out covered in anti-vandal paint from the fences. Watch your back.

It seems to buzz with potential. A new company, the Kilmahew Education Trust, was handed the keys to the place by the archdiocese in July 2020. I hope they can do something with it, give it the status it deserves, this unique & important place.

The Price of Reckless Candour

So here’s what happened. I made the record. Cost around £5k, all in.

I paid Distrokid $30 to put ‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’ on as many digital platforms as they could find. That included Spotify, also, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc.

I had PR help from AtTheHelm PR, he did so much for me & working with him was a joy & pleasure, he sent out physical things, promo / review CDs, press releases, advised on timing, helped make a plan, which worked better than I ever expected.

I had thousands of streams on Spotify in the first week. Then I got an email from a company called www.StreamingFamous.com who said that they were affiliated with Distrokid and if I paid them a small amount, they could get me on playlists.

This is the dream, a spot on Indie Folk or something. That’s how it works. Spotify teach me to want that. I was hungry. So I paid $30 one off for playlist consideration. I figured, that’s what a label would do. Pay a PR company to get their artists exposure. I was no different, apart from I didn’t know where to go, who to ask, how to get that. I wasn’t a label. I don’t have one of those. So I used the thing in front of me. All of a sudden, I got tons of Spotify followers (all fakes, I guess) and some listens but no playlist placement for my money. I asked why. They said they could get me on a genre specific playlist, but I had to pay more. So I paid another $30 and they put me on a non-genre specific playlist next to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then they charged me $30 again 3 times, weekly. I wrote and asked them to take me off their shitty playlist, that wasn’t what I wanted. They did, after a week, then refunded me the recurring money I paid. Not the original two amounts.

Then yesterday, I got an email from distrokid that said had breached the Spotify streaming terms & my album would be deleted from that platform. They said that I was unable to use distrokid to redistribute it, again, ever. It is unclear if the other platforms they sent it to would still be supported by them.

Spotify replied with a vague ‘we detected suspicious activity’ and yeah, I can see that. It was obviously a stupid thing for me to do.

What is clear is that I won’t get any of that money back & that none of the legitimate streams from Spotify will earn any money, now. Also, all the legitimate stream counts are gone. I’m back to less than zero.

I contacted StreamingFamous who declined to comment. I raised support tickets with Spotify & Distrokid who said, what’s done is done, we won’t supply any details, please go away.

So, I will pay a different digital distributor to put my album back on Spotify like a good little boy. Lots of folks saying lots of sensible things about either not doing, or just giving them a single & stuff. The reason I feel the need to be there is that it’s the only way it feels real. I’m not a musician if my record isn’t there. Thousands of real people really streamed it and that feels worth another $30, even if it isn’t.

So yeah, I’m a little upset. I knew what I was doing, but this is a blow. It felt like I was trying to understand a game much bigger than me, where all the rules are secret and the people that run it have an interest in keeping it that way and I had found a little back door, a tiny leg up over the fence because tickets are too expensive for someone on my salary. But there’s none of those, I was a naive idiot, thinking I could get anywhere as an independent artist, the dice are loaded, the score is rigged, the outcome is already decided and the people who own it don’t want council house scum like me coming along and getting ahead. Labels can buy plays, followers, playlist placement, adverts, etc. But not me. What bullshit.

I’m better than this. I’ve been hit harder and been down for longer. I’m just gonna get back on my feet and try again, resubmit & see how it goes a second time round. Everyone of you, reading this, is a supporter and you know the journey I’ve been on. Your support means the world to me. I notice everything, I’m cursed with a detail eye so I can’t miss any of it.

I’ll share the Spotify link, when it’s back, and you can playlist me again and see if we can’t get back to the same streaming numbers then see what they do about that! That is all I need you to help me with.

Thanks for caring & in the meantime, my record is still here 🙂