2015 is a year I will remember for it’s action and activism. The election result in May seemed to initiate a seismic shift in UK politics – from the SNP landslide to the Corbyn mandate, there’s something in the air that is questioning the status quo. There’s been a similar frenzy of musical activity with a focus on trying to make things change, and I’m proud to have been part of that. I played 33 gigs in 2015 and quite a few of those were about action and activism.
It’s also been a year I will remember for many “firsts” – my first Fringe Festival stage show, my harmony singing debut, my first live TV appearance and the first time in my life without a salaried day job. Here are my top ten Quiet Loner moments from 2015 :
1. Starting up a regular live music night -The Defiance Sessions
Launched in January 2015 The Defiance Sessions is a live music night that showcases songwriting with a conscience. (I explain more here and here) I’ve hosted six Defiance gigs this year and almost all of 2016 is already booked up including Chris TT, Steve White & the Protest Family and Efa Supertramp. I still need a bigger audience so if you’ve not been yet please come along and support it.
2. Helping organise the UK’s biggest ever festival of solidarity – We Shall Overcome
In the aftermath of the May election I became involved in an idea cooked up by Ste Goodhall and Joe Solo. What began as a plan to have 10-12 gigs, soon exceeded our expectations and took over our lives! By October we had 250 gigs in 123 towns across 8 countries on 3 continents, and we raised an estimated £125,000 of cash, food, clothing and bedding for those hardest hit by austerity. It’s something I’m massively proud of and not just for the cash and food but for the spirit that drove it. We’re doing it again in 2016. Be part of it. We Shall Overcome.
3. Singing in harmony -Hot Glossop
One evening a week for the last year, me and some mates have met up and tried to learn how to sing harmony. I sing bass, pushing my voice into it’s lowest reaches. I’m not a natural singer and harmony is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Our debut performance at the Glossop We Shall Overcome was one of my year highlights. Here we are singing Parting Glass.
4. Writing and performing a stage show at a Fringe Festival – 2084
I like to try new things so when Steve Roberts suggested a collaboration I was really keen. We pooled songs on a theme of surveillance and wrote a script that linked the songs. We got some actor mates to perform it as a radio play (Thanks Dawn and Simon) and our friend Rae filmed some visuals. Next thing I know, we’re wearing boiler suits and performing ‘2084 – songs of surveillance‘ at The Buxton Fringe Festival.
Audience reaction was generally very positive although the show was very intense. Looking back, perhaps it was too dark and heavy, but I’m still very proud of it. (You can read a review of it here) As a show finale me and Steve learned to sing ‘Sound of Silence’ – it fitted the show themes very well.
5. Performing on live TV
I’ve done plenty of live radio, both as a musician and when I used to be Communications Manager for Carers UK. But until this year I’d never done any live TV. Huge thanks to Huw Costin and Nicola Beswick for this chance to appear on the 630 Show on Notts TV. Nervous as hell but really enjoyed it.You can find me on this link at 18 mins 30 secs
6. I’ve loved all 33 gigs but especially…….
There have been so many gig highlights this year – The Greystones in Sheffield with Joe Solo, The Dixies in Bagthorpe during We Shall Overcome, playing on the streets outside the Tory Party Conference, the Tolpuddle unplugged stage, the Americana Festival in a church in Todmodern and a very special Nottingham gig at the Guitar Bar to a packed room including lots of old friends as well as my mum, sister, nephews, aunties and cousins. But one of the most special nights was at the Station Hotel in Ashton-Under-Lyne playing with Headjammers. They are a group of people who are facing the hardest and cruellest edge of the austerity cuts. Yet they continue to play music and to thrive despite everything thrown at them.
7. Resigning from my day job to write more songs.
I really thought 2015 would be the year I made a new album but it wasn’t to be. My day job, the Defiance Sessions, 2084 and We Shall Overcome all conspired to take up my time. So in October I took a leap of faith and resigned my day job to become a freelance er… creative something. Songwriter, performer, who knows what? It’s the first time in my life I’ve not had a salaried day job to help subsidise my music. It’s scary but it means I can concentrate on songwriting and performing and give that my full focus in 2016. Here’s a song I wrote this year performed with my mates Mike & Dave from Hired Gun.
8. Attending a songwriters workshop – The Bluebird at The Bluecoat
I was a finalist in a song writing competition run by MonkeyMind Productions. The ideas was to bring the Bluebird Cafe from Nashville and recreate it in the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool. As a finalist I got to attend a songwriting workshop alongside 20 others. We played our songs for a panel that included Jim Lauderdale, Kim Richey and Whispering Bob Harris. I was blown away at how good the other finalists were. There are some remarkable talents out there.
9. Doing a studio video shoot
I’ve made a few videos before but this was the first time I’d been in a proper big studio with lights. In retrospect maybe I shouldn’t have worn all black to sit in front of a black curtain but actually I quite like the effect. I shot 4 songs, all performed live in front of a couple of microphones. No studio trickery just me playing live. I really enjoyed it and it was great to meet studio owner Buzz Hawkins and see where he creates his hit radio show The Bradshaws.
Here’s the first video from that session –
10. Beginning pre-production on the next QL album
Pre-production means that I’ve recorded demos of 17 songs. I’m listening to them, refining the songs, working on my performances of them and thinking hard about how I want to present them. I’m asking questions like, what musicians will I need to hire? where might I record the album? and most importantly of all – how am I going to pay for it? I’m expecting the next record to feature older songs such as ‘If love should rise on the winter tide’, ‘Bendigo’, and ‘Get me Johnny cash on the phone’ alongside newer ones like ‘Save your pity’, ‘Stone and Bone’, ‘Roll me out in the middle of the night’ and ‘The exile of DH Lawrence’.
So roll on 2016…
It’s been a great year, full of new and interesting challenges and now I can’t wait for 2016 to get underway. I’ve a full year of Defiance Sessions already booked, the return of We Shall Overcome, more collaborations with Steve Roberts, a new album to make and an exciting songwriting project in the pipeline that should get announced early in 2016.
Thank you to everyone that supported me this year – the promoters who booked me to play and the people who came to see me play. And especially to all the many friends, family, comrades and colleagues who help make all this happen.