A Toad in the Telling

December this year was a whirlwind of song writing, storytelling and planning a really important show for me.  As many of you know, I moved to Scotland in 2014 to study for a Masters in Songwriting and Performance.  Well December 2015 my Final Masters piece is performed and the piece of research I undertook to get me to this point gets shared.

This final piece came about after interviewing 5 wonderful storytellers about their creativity and their love for story.  This was then thrown into the mixing pot with years of songwriting and singing, and all of the imagination my work with kids has sparked and out the other end popped 'Toad Woman'.

On December 6th, 60 people came to watch the Toad Woman Song Story upstairs at McGinty's in Ipswich.  It was a real honour to sing and story tell to such an attentive and varied audience and to get their feedback at the end.  It was great to be able to share my research and creative journey over tea and cakes after the show and to have pre-Christmas celebrations with fantastic, warm people.

Here are some photos of 'Toad Woman'.  Watch this space for interviews and clips of the show and of upcoming performances.

Autumn Words in Mardles

I was so amazed by the talented Tellers at the East Anglian Storytelling Festival 2015, that I wrote to Mardles.  Here's the article.

Story told in Song

So October is well and truly underway and tomorrow I leave for a weekend of story listening towards my Masters.  I think it's about time I share a bit about my performance plans.  I've been interviewing some of East Anglia's very talented storytellers to get an idea of their creative ways and compare them a bit with my own style as a songwriter.  So far so good; the interviews are transcribed and I have begun brewing some ideas for my performance.

I am very excited to have started working with Jonathon Coy, who is an amazing guitarist and all round creative.  We are crafting some songs to help tell the tale of Toad Woman - a toad who, whilst she's very good at 'toading' has other ideas in mind for her future.  With help from a whiley Jenny Wren she sets out to find her dream.

The show will be happening in the lead up to Christmas to an invited audience of all ages.  It will be filmed and recorded live and will form my final submission for my Masters in Songwriting and performance.  It feels like a turn full circle for me, because as a child I dreamed of becoming a storyteller and in some elements this show will draw on that dream.

Here is a pic of some of the great and true tellers of East Anglia at FolkEast 2015.

Singing the Summer Away

 Now that I've returned from Brittany to add another quilt to my bed, here's my sages of the summer. Three highlights that I can say I will remember for a long time. The East Anglian Storytelling Festival at the Baxhall ship was fantastic - the stories and atmosphere were enchanting and I can honestly say I'll be attending this event for as long as they put it on.  See www.eastanglianstorytellingfestival.co.uk

FolkEast 2015 had been bubbling in my diary for a while and, with the help of Sarah, James and Steve I was keen that my 40 minute slot was as melodious as I could make it. Thanks to Folkbluesnbeyond for the edited video of a couple of the songs included here. I hope those of you who got lavender and a poem at the end of the show have found somewhere nice to hang it. For those that inquired about whether my poetry is published anywhere; I've popped three poems on the website and we're planning a little booklet to sell alongside the third album so watch this space!

Brittany with my love was the final act of the summer and we evenually allayed on English soil at 4am this morning after the ramp got wedged on the ferry and we were stranded aboard for an extra 4 hours. Brittany was beautiful and you can expect many songs of the sea, probably some poems too.

Above is the video from FolkEast.  Thanks to those who came along and I hope to see others soon.  Now to snuggle in for the autumn.

A little bit of Poetry

So I'm off to play folkeast tomorrow and am taking along a fab band in the form of Sarah on flute, Steve on bass and James on cajon and acoustic.  I'm looking forward to this!
This is the first time I've used my poetry with the band and also the first time they've heard it.  I'm really pleased to say that they love the poetry and I have a little idea to put out a poetry book along with the next CD release.  This is in the early stages of thought, but woohoo for new ideas.
Here's a taster...

Introducing 'Go Bellatrix'

I have had the great honour of working with a truly talented photographer both for the EP artwork and for the upcoming album artwork.  Sarah Burrows and I actually went to primary school together, but we haven't seen each other since we were 11 years old.  On meeting her again I was fascinated to find she had just completed a photography course and was looking for opportunities and direction for this.

Role on an evening walking through Ipswich while she found interesting and unusual ways of photographing me for the album.  Sarah was wonderful to work with because at no point did I feel either pressured or silly, meaning that she got some really natural shots that I love and just keep using.

The artwork for 'The Doll's House' EP was quite specific.  In my head it was blues and indigos with some kind of reference to the night sky.  The CD explores themes of 'hidden' and 'secret' and this needed to be expressed in the artwork, but I had no idea how.  Sarah solved this.  We already had some 8mm film footage of my playing guitar in the garden at the studio.  Sarah projected this onto a wall in its negative form and took photographs of the moving images.  The results were just what I wanted but couldn't describe and are now proudly shown on the EP sleeve.

You can see more of Sarah Burrows work at https://instagram.com/gobellatrix/

This is the EP picture that I love!

'The Doll's House' EP Release

Today is the day! Here is the new EP ready for download from bandcamp.  If you signed up to the mailing list and were chosen, then a free download is making its way to you as we speak.  If not, you can have a listen below and the tracks are available on bandcamp.  
Happy listening.

Count Down: 48 Hours!

Just two more days and the free downloads of the new EP 'The Doll's House' will be wheeling their way through cyber space.  There's still time to sign up to the mailing list and be in with a chance to win.

It has been a very busy few weeks of recording, mixing mastering and then choreographing, dancing and filming.  I look forward to sharing the new video with you, for now, here's a pic of myself and Liina Turtonen dancing for the new video.

Emily you're hiding ...

So... why 31?
I have been reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson lately and have become fascinated by the few facts known about her.  She wore white lace gowns throughout the year, rarely left the house unless to use her brother's piano next door, opened envelopes out fully before reading the letter inside.

There is only one photograph in existence of her, because she was photographed once, hated both the picture and the process and refused ever to be photographed again.  Emily Dickenson was published after her lifetime, but at the age of 31 she sent some of her writings to a man who had written an editorial she liked.  What followed was a committed correspondence between the two, discussing poetry, publishing and whether Emily Dickenson's writings merited either the label or the platform.

It is believed that Emily Dickenson did not want to be published.  She valued closed doors and speaking through key holes.  She is a mystery, partly due to the amount of writings that provide a smoke-screen to her actual being.  She is hidden by her worlds.

The new EP, due to be released very shortly, has 3 songs on it.  The second song is called 'Emily' and was written in search of Emily Dickenson.  I came back to Suffolk on Easter weekend and Steve Mann of Backwater Records worked diligently to capture the essence of the song.  I had the honour of working with Hattie Bennett (below), a wonderful cellist from Felixstowe who layered luscious cello on the track.  I look forward to sharing the music with you and to revealing another surprise that I have up my sleeve!  Counting down 1 week to the EP release...

Hattie Bennett - Cello

Why the coloured lenses?

Take a look at this 13 minute documentary about Irlens.  It's designed to raise awareness for those who, like me had never heard of it.  See if it rings any bells for you.

Thirty-one..... a number of Significance

I have just flown back to the North from Suffolk where I have very nearly finished Album number three.  My whirlwind trip to Suffolk consisted of a sing-a-long folk club gig (very tuneful) and a very intense day in the recording studio with the venerable Steve Mann.

Since landing in Scotland I have been plunged into very cold water in the form of much work and many deadlines.  The result: I shall be writing, making and releasing my third EP in April 2015 before the album launches into your ear space.

The EP will consist of three new songs, released on CD and digital download.  My blog will keep you abreast of the developments for this as well as giving you the opportunity to win one of 'Thirty-one' free downloads of the EP.  To be in with a chance to win a digital copy of the new EP simply sign up to the mailing list on the blog and I will consider your name to be in the hat.

So... sign up. And as for the number 'Thirty-one', well I shall explain that later.  Good luck!

'Dancing Around' - Kaleidoscope

I thought since my Irlens has come up on radio interviews, on videos and more recently at a production course I was on, that I might write a bit about it here.  I was only screened for Irlens 2 or 3 years ago.  It came about after a friend watched me walk into door frames, frequently miss the desk with my elbow at work and finally, when I talked about seeing numbers and music as colours.  She suggested I get screened.  At my screening I discovered for the first time that for most people, words do not move on the page as you tried to read them.

It had never occurred to me that what I see when I look at writing on a page is different from other people.  I have always had to chase the words around, try to track them onto the following line, watch them fall into a kind of whirlpool and try to read them as they disappear.   I thought this was perfectly acceptable type-face behaviour.  Apparently not, but why would you question this as a child when everybody else is reading quite happily and they don't seem to panic at reading comprehension.

I was diagnosed after I had completed my Degree with the Open University and worked for 5 years reading text books and writing essays, whilst working full time.  I scored as having quite severe Irlens, I have four colours in my glasses and they are rather dark.  I recently came off stage wearing my Irlens glasses and someone said to me "you play pretty well for a blind person".  Well firstly, a person with a vision impairment can play music well, but secondly, why would anybody say that?

I get looks and comments about my glasses every now and again.  I got less looks when they were a lilac purple colour, but now I get that look that says "you diva, why are you wearing sunglasses inside?" I wore my Irlens glasses on stage for my album launch and hated the photos as a result - vain, vain, vain!  I don't wear my glasses very often now and take the view, well I didn't have them for most of my life, what difference does it make now?

The truth for me is that the glasses actually make a huge difference.  I can study longer and without straining my eyes so much.  The lenses slow the words down on the page and cut out the 'glare' that makes me squint.  I react really badly to blue lights.  This is now the most fashionable lighting to put in venues - it leads me to forget my lyrics, chords, song order and generally flusters me! For my album launch I requested that there be no blue lights in the rig.  I however, forgot to mention that I would be wearing a green dress.  The lighting guys took out all of the blue lights and replaced them with green - I looked like an alien!

I understand that the earlier children are screened for Irlens, the more likely it is that their lenses can correct the way their brains react to light.  I think its a bit late for me - especially since I do not religiously wear my glasses.  But every now and then I have a revelation.  I think to myself - 'Oh, so that's why I do that!'  I'm not sure if my seeing music has any link to me having Irlens.  The two things might be entirely unrelated, but I wrote 'dancing around' about how I see the world and about the big void that I sometimes feel when I realise how different this is to everyone else.  The song was used by Irlen East last year as part of Irlens awareness week.  I also got interviewed about my experiences of Irlens.

The truth is, I'm not a very good role model for people with Irlens as I am not very sympathetic with myself and definitely make things harder for myself. But maybe someone will read this and think, 'maybe I should get screened?' Maybe their whole perspective will change, and maybe, that's something that I can do.

"Hey Little Sister!"

So our second songwriting brief was set by Gary Clark who has written very successfully in the pop arena, providing hit songs for artists.  We had to choose an artist from a list of 5 and pitch a title and concept idea for the song.  I started by researching each artist/ group.  I watched two videos on youtube and read the Wikipedia for each, then having decided on Demi Lovato I did a lot more research on her.  I looked more into her interviews and where she planned to go, than into her historic songs as I thought this would give me more of an idea what she would connect with.  My research took me to her interview in the Daily Mail, cosmopolitan magazine, Seventeen Magazine (for which she is an editor) and Fault Magazine.  I watched some of her interviews on Youtube and tried to get a sense of who she is and where she hopes to go.

This was my pitch:

'Demi Lovato has grown up and developed in the public eye.  She has openly struggled with issues of bipolar, addiction, self harm and eating disorders and repeatedly released work in the face of these to critical and commercial success.  Now an ambassador for child mental health charities, LGBT, anti-bullying, conservation and more, she says that she wants to be a ‘beacon of hope for the next generation’.  She has written about being a warrior and a survivor, I would argue that her next step is to be a pioneer and continued role model for her younger fans.
‘Hey Little sister’ will be an upbeat ballad that will act as a mantra for girls following in her footsteps.  Lovato’s mantra is “You are beautifully and wonderfully made” and this song will be an opportunity to get that message across to her fans, her own sister and to her younger self.'

So far so good.  The pitch was accepted and so to write the song.  Interesting that I have never written a song for anyone other than myself.  Part of my reason for choosing Demi Lovato (aside from that from my reading she seemed relevant and genuine), was that in trying to write for somebody else for the first time I had no intention of trying to write for a boy band in the process.  That may be my next leap, but one step at a time.

I will try to outline how I wrote the song in a moment, but maybe you should hear the track first...

The How....
Now for the tricky bit.  How did I actually go about writing the song?
I have been trying to work that out for the whole semester.  During collaborative songwriting week I wrote 4 songs with 4 different people and I really enjoyed trying out new approaches to writing.  Some people like to write melody up, meaning that the lyrics came after the chord structure and approximate melody was in place.  Others start with the lyrics and then create a melody to complement the words and a backing to convey the right mood.  I enjoyed trying both of these styles with my writer colleagues.

When I write on my own I start with an idea.  It could be an interaction I've seen between two people on the street, maybe something has caught my eye or a story has moved me.  So starting with a songwriting brief doesn't really disrupt my writing approach.  The idea then marinades in my head for a while, a bit like forming links between images or sorting through other things that come to mind.  At some point I will then get the urge to sit at the piano or the guitar and it all comes out in free flow: lyrics, melody and chords all together.  Hence struggling to dissect the process.

I think that this fluid way of writing must stem from the way I developed my writing.  My mum laughed recently when she saw my niece singing along to a game, making up the words as she went.  This tickled my mum because she had watched me sing my world since I could speak.  Mum was a music teacher and dad was a multi-instrumentalist.   I carried around my brown fisher price tape recorder, sang and slept in my dad's guitar case.  Songs were improvised and instantaneous.  The words were never really written down, so they were never worked and reworked.  The song that instinctively came out of my mouth when I sang was the right word because that was the song of the moment.  As I got older, whilst words might have been altered along the way, the songs still emerged relatively fully formed.

When writing 'Hey Little Sister' I came to the piano with slightly more format than to see what I would instinctively write.  Firstly, this was to be a pop song and it had to meet the pitch that I had so optimistically written.  I knew that the melody needed to be simple enough to be catchy, the chords needed to be relatively open and the overall feeling of the song needed to be that of 'hope'.  The kind of song that girls on a night out would sing to each other at the top of their voices because it made them feel good.

Logically I felt that 'hey little sister' was a verse line and not a chorus, because the chorus needed to contain a direct mantra - no fuss or frills.  I knew that the second line to my chorus would finish with the word fate and that I wanted a buzz word within the first line that everyone would instantly understand without it having been used so many times that it has become cliche.  Elevate!

And now to disappoint.... after mechanically reaching all of these decisions about the song and setting out my boundaries, the song just flowed out fully formed.  I had to then put my craftsman hat back on to edit the song down from over 4 minutes down to its current 2:14.  The bridge/ refrain also didn't come until the day before I recorded the song, but again, it just emerged.  Sorry!

We had great fun in the studio.  I had Kev Abbott on drums, Steve Mann on bass,  James Morgan on electric guitar and me on keys and vocal.  Four jams through the song and a second take recording of keys, drums and bass.  Electric guitar was then overdubbed and vocals recorded the next day.  And all of this from my meager beginnings with a fisher price tape player.  My hunt for exactly how I write songs continues, but its good fun working it out.

Some of the sites I looked at for Demi Lovato's interviews: