Doll's House EP launch September '16

I shall be performing with Sarah Wilcox on flute in the cosy and intimate setting of La Tour Cycle Cafe.  The details are all below.

It's really exciting to be performing these songs again in simple, acoustic arrangements, that I hope give listeners the space to drift off into their own worlds and come away feeling content and relaxed. Take a look at the official video on the video tab.

Come along and hear some music and poetry with tea and cake!

East Anglian Storytelling Festival 2016

A year ago this July I was at the 2015 festival meeting and listening to some amazing storytellers and just hoping that they'd let me interview them.  This July I have a completed Masters piece on the merging of storytelling with song writing.

I am honoured to be performing with Su Squire at the festival and am singing for Taffy Thomas, who was the teller I remember from my childhood.

I am thrilled and can only really show this in some pictures from the event.  Su and I will be performing 'The fool, the weaver and the heart of the labyrinth' in Ipswich in the Autumn and I will be getting 'Toad Woman' out there more widely very soon.

Toad Spawn

I am finally sitting down to write another blog post and I'm struggling to decide which project to write about.  As many of you know, my research into the traditional art of storytelling led to 'Toad Woman', a song story that follows the main character in her quest to follow her dreams.  We recorded 'Toad Woman' live and it's available on CD to buy.  This project was fantastic fun and I was lucky enough to meet and learn from some amazing storytellers as well as collaborate with Jonathan Coy.  Here's us mixing the live recording with Paul Nicholas.

Two main projects have spawned from 'Toad Woman'.  The first is that Jon and I have started a duo called 'Boathouse Keepers'.  We've been writing lots of weird and wonderful songs with strange titles and even stranger lyrics.  We've been recording a live, analogue 'Extended-extended Play' record of 6 tracks and we are hoping to launch this in Autumn.  You can find us on facebook in the mean time and I'll add a page on this site.  More Youtube videos to follow I promise!

The second project is a collaboration with Su Squire, a Norwich based storyteller who I love.  Her stories are funny and deeply moving at the same time and they have an element of magic to them.  I mentioned in my previous blog that we have been performing 'The Fool, the weaver and the heart of the Labyrinth'.  We will be showing it again at The East Anglian Storytelling festival in two weeks time and then in September at the Bards Aloud Storytelling night at the Thomas Wolsey in Ipswich.  It's well worth a watch, not only to experience some great storytelling, but also to see the cross over between storytelling and song writing that has come out of it.  This collaboration was an amazing bonus that came out of Toad Woman.  Thank you Su.

And I guess finally, I should mention my solo music - this is still happening!  The Dollshouse EP is going to be officially launched in September.  Many of you have had pre-hears of this.  I shall be launching a music video with this EP and a poetry book also.  Since I have written about Emily Dickinson's works in my song 'Emily', I am going to share some of my own poetry with this EP. The 3rd album is both very nearly and nowhere near finished.  That has become my Winter project for 2016 and one that can only be written and worked in in thick woolly jumpers and thermal underwear.  

This probably reads like a huge juggling act - it often feels like that too.  I just wanted to take the time to let you know the projects that are whiling their way to you.  I'll pop a bit more on facebook as I go, but I'd love to see you at some of the performances, launches, or even in comments online.  Thanks for all your support.  I shall leave you with another set of smiling faces. You get 10 points if you know who it is on the left ;-)

 Cheers x

The Fool, The Weaver and the Heart of the Labyrinth

 Over the past couple of months I have been working with a fantastic Storyteller from Norwich: Su Squire.  She tells stories that are both funny and capture your heart whether she is telling as Tilly the Tale Spinner or as her saucy alter ego Suki Silver Tongue.

But for this project Su is telling as herself and it is a deep, healing story of loss and grief and how this can impact each of us and change us.  'The Fool, the Weaver and the Heart of the Labyrinth' has already been told at storytelling events, but his time the tale has music and songs with me on guitar and backing vocals.

Su had never written songs before, but always willing to branch out and explore new ideas with the help of some guitar accompaniment and mood setting, she has added five songs to the world!  These will be performed as part of the piece this Saturday 11th June 7pm at Anteros Arts Foundation in Norwich.

Come and hear the tale and be lulled not only by Su Squires telling, but her wonderful songs too.  We'd love to see you there.

The Wisdom of Storytellers

'Toad Woman' was created after speaking with five fantastic storytellers about their way of telling stories.  I've looked at their interviews next to the academic books that on the shelves and here are some of the comparisons I've found.
All of the tellers I interviewed have very different styles of storytelling.  Some consider themselves to be ‘fireside’ tellers, whilst others draw on comic or educational factors as a big part of their storytelling practice. Here are some quotes from the participants that demonstrate some of their creative practices within their telling and align them to different academic writings.

Taffy Thomas (MBE) spoke with me at the East Anglian Storytelling Festival in 2015, and on receiving the interview transcript he sent me a card saying ‘you brought some of the best of me in that interview’.  Taffy talked about his place within a ‘living oral tradition’ one that he considers to be a folk art rather than a performance: ‘Do not underestimate the power of understatement!’ Taffy said that a storyteller needs to split their brain in half and on one side is the story in a sequence of pictures, on the other side is the language available to you to describe that story in the best way for that audience. 
Taffy has hundreds of stories in his head and the famous ‘Tale Coat’ from which his audience can choose a picture, leading him to tell them a tale.  He said that he most loves the inter-generational telling, where you have to speak to a 6 year old and their grandparent in the same sitting and they both need to be engaged in the story.  He emphasized that in storytelling every single performance of that story is different and that it is a two way process in which you engage the listener in a conversation and they take it home with them, where the story carries on working.  Taffy seemed to align his views with Kroeber (1992) in saying that the audience is as important in the telling of a tale as the teller and indeed the story.  He said that stories teach us so much and we grow with our stories.

Suzanne Arnold mirrored Taffy’s views on the power of story to carry on working for the listener long after its telling.  Suzanne talked about the healing power of story and of story medicine.  She said that she metamorphosed into a story teller ‘like wearing a skin that you one day can’t take off’.  Being a storyteller is a responsibility and one that she has come to understand more over the years.  For this reason Suzanne chooses stories with a positive outcome, not necessarily a happy ending.  She has characters in her stories that are brave or beautiful on the inside because you ‘can empower and help people believe in themselves through something like a story’. 
Suzanne has studied storytelling and said that there are many methods, some that she uses and others she just passes on to others.  Suzanne said she took a long time to be able to do ‘bare bones’ when learning a story – she felt so strongly that she wanted to be true to the text.  As she has developed as a teller she feels more able to change and adapt stories to tell her own truth.  She feels that if she looks back, she was often telling her own story and didn't always see it at the time.
I found Suzanne’s discussion of telling your own story very helpful when embarking on my own story telling.  It was Suzanne’s suggestion that I write my own story that led me to consider ‘Toad Woman’ as a character.  Suzanne described storytelling as creating a bubble that comes over the teller and the audience and when you say ‘they lived happily ever after’ the bubble pops! 

Dave Tonge came to storytelling from a history background and the power that story has to bring history to life.  Dave feels that an element of mystery and the unknown surrounding the storyteller helps in the telling of the story and as the ‘wandering yarn smith’ instead of selling pots and pans he is selling his tales.  Dave often tells at heritage sites where people have no idea what a storyteller is or what to expect.  He says he sometimes has to drum up an audience or encourage them into his tent, but in the end ‘I just tend to treat every audience as if its my audience regardless’. Dave said that storytelling is not acting, although he likes the ‘bigness of it’, ‘it’s a two way thing…a shared experience’.
Dave feels that you can go through a lot of stories before you find the right story.  He tends to get his tales from historical texts or court records and he has recently written a book of ‘Tudor Tales’.  Dave said that for him it is about getting ‘bigger, deeper stuff across’ and being relevant, even though its old tales in archaic language it can jolt people or allow them to escape the real world for a little while.  This suggests the ‘flow’ achieved through listening to stories (Wischner, 1991).

Gerry Donlan tells in a very conversational manner often ending with a punch-line.  He writes poems and funny limericks and leads groups in poetry walks in woodlands or toad patrols.  He said he started a storytelling group because it was too cold and wet in the winter to do the poetry walks.  Much of what Gerry does is about building community and bringing people together.  He said ‘I couldn’t be a script writer… I find it difficult to write things down, but I can tell standing up in the club or whatever and when I’ve finished it I’ve written a novel’.  
Gerry said that he gets inspired when he walks in the wood, or something might happen and he thinks ‘what if? Why was it there?’ and he makes it into a poem or a story: ‘I like real life stuff, I can get things out of it’.  Gerry emphasizes Rosen’s (1982) writings about storytelling being a social transaction and has the power to create change.  It is interesting that some of the tellers I spoke to will write their own stories while others see themselves solely as collectors and keepers of history.  Much of the literature focuses on tellers collecting tales, but does not emphasise the creation of a story to tell.

Justine De Mierre is a teller who collects or writes her own tales.  ‘Sometimes I write stories because I feel there’s something that needs to be said and there wasn’t a story that said it’ she states.  ‘Or sometimes you have to change a story so that it has the same impact it would have had on the original audience’.  Justine describes herself as a ‘story maker and a story listener’ as well as a teller.  She is passionate about bringing new audiences to storytelling and feels that this is needed if you want the tradition to live on.  She says that she always tries her new material out at open mic’s or pubs because she wants anyone to be able to find a way into it, even if they weren’t expecting it.
Justine also emphasized that moment in the telling of a tale when the listener may question some of their beliefs or stereotypes, she said that you sometimes get that magic moment where you can slip in an idea.  This very much mirrors the non-westernised ideas about story and its power to remake cultures and create a ‘free space’ (Turner, 1989).

After interviewing all five tellers I transcribed and absorbed what they had said.  I decided that I wanted to write my own story for my project, but that I wanted to base it loosely on the ugly duckling and a quest to find acceptance.  This is what led to the 'Toad Woman' tale and to the final performance that you can see performed live.
Thank you to Taffy, Suzanne, Dave, Gerry and Justine - For your generosity of your time, talent and wisdom!

Presenting 'Toad Woman'

The 'Toad Woman' Song Story is a 30 minute show that came out of arts based research for my Masters Degree.  I had a great time collaborating with a new guitarist Jon Coy, and working with the Toad Woman team for the first ever performance of this new piece.

We've put together a video to talk through how 'Toad Woman' came into being...