How to have a great day

I remember a few years ago I saw the photograph 'A great day in Harlem' hanging on my friend Adam Phillips wall.  I remember us joking that we should do our own version of the photograph with the musicians of Warwick and Leamington Spa.  I recall us setting up a Facebook group but doing no more about it, it got forgotten about and we all moved on.  

Jumping forward a few years and I find myself feeling very nostalgic.  I'm not sure if it is as a result of becoming a mother, or getting older or because I am spending so much of my time lately listening to people reminisce as part of my songwriting projects.  I suspect it's combination of all three.  

I believe that friends, family and community are the most important thing we have in this world.  I also believe that spending as much time with them as possible is the most important thing anyone can do. Time is something we all have and add to that a little imagination and a bit of effort and we all reap the rewards.  

Being a musician means working evenings and weekends and this can often mean missing out on social engagements unless they are booked into the diary a year in advance.  This could very easily lead to a solitarty existence whereby I just get to watch other people have a good time with their friends whilst standing behind a microphone and instrument entertaining them.   Equally having small children has its limits as far as socialising goes, for on the odd night I'm not gigging, I have small people to manage and they sap energy so I don't feel like going out even if we could find a babysitter.  

This is where thinking outside the box proves useful - I started to look around and found others in the same boat.  Most of my friends are musicians and they keep the same hours as me.   I decided that if we couldn't socialise at 'normal' times, then what was stopping us creating our own social events.  At first this started off as a few midweek lunches here and there but, with not much effort, and just a little organising, it's grown and grown into a full weeks itinerary.  We have our 'slackers badminton club' who meet every Wednesday lunchtime, we have had 12+ musicians / self employed people all battling it out on the court.  Badminton is great fun, but it represents more than that, for I'm now seeing people on a regular basis that I have not seen in years.  Similarly I found out about a new yoga class starting in Leamington on Tueadays with my favourite teacher.  I decided to go and messaged the other 'slackers' asking them if they'd like to join me.  This has become yet another regular meet up with people I haven't seen for years.  The National Trust has become another activity - when you ask about, its surprising how many musicians are members of the National Trust - the new rock and roll!

I love our new social calender, it's brought us back together and made me feel a part of the scene again and best of all I still have the rest of the week to spend with my family and the weekend to gig. 

I have always enjoyed doing things differently to the norm, my husband and I live on a boat, we are musicians, we don't have a TV (we do watch Iplayer and Netflix) , I have a juicer that gets regular use, we home ed our kids.   I am happy, very very happy with our lives and I feel so blessed to have all of this.  However it's not all luck,  I have worked hard to get to what I want.

It takes equal measures of confidence and stupidity to go your own way.  I'm not always right but I'm comfortable with who I am and I love to try.  In today's society we are constantly saying things like 'yeah let's meet up' and it never happens. Or 'I'd love to do [insert idea]' and nothing gets done about it.  Over  the last few years I've really grown into my own skin and I've realised what's important in life.  This has caused me to make a conscious effort to action things.  If a friend says 'let's meet up' I get the diary out and try and make it happen.  We have lots of people coming round for lunch (another social activity that works with our lives) and this is because instead of just saying 'you should come round for lunch one day' I have followed it up with an email with a lists of dates. 

Not so long ago the Facebook group 'A great day in Leamington' that Adam and I set up all those years ago popped back into my conscious and it came at just the right time.  I decided to make it happen and felt confident I could do so as this was really just an extension of my new love for getting people together.  

I've always loved organising little events and actioning my own crazy ideas, I've been doing it within our family for years.   What I love most is seeing people happy and enjoying themselves and I also enjoy surprising people with something out of the ordinary (plus I'm very good at being bossy 🙂)

The reality is that it didn't take that much work to organise 'A great day in Leamington Spa' - a few hours on Facebook, a few phone calls to the council, a day of walking around leamington with Tom scoping out venues.  A few messages back and forth to Duncan.  The hardest part was making the leap and setting a date and also the final decision on venue but that was only hard as I had 'options' to choose from and cared so much that I didn't want to get it wrong.  I also had to fend off irrational thoughts and I had several nightmares in the days leading up to it -  I dreamt that we arrived on the morning and the clock tower had been removed.  I dreamt that the park ranger wouldn't let us take the photo and ushered us from the park whilst waving his shot gun, I dreamt that there was a dance troop set up exactly where we wanted to be.  I dreamt that Duncan forget his camera and was using one of those disposable cameras you get from Boots.  But I have learnt to recognise irrationality and treat it for what it is and I even enjoy and laugh at how it tries to distract me and tries to stop me from doing things I want to do. 

The point is that there is nothing special about me, everything I do or achieve can easily be done by anyone.  In the end 'a great day in Leamington spa' became everyone's project.  That's what is so nice about putting into action an idea and getting others involved, for in the end everyone takes ownership and it grows into a lovely community project.  

Everyone has ideas that can be turned into something very real and you don't need to do it alone if you need help people will often give you their time in exchange for being a part of something original and joyous. Sometimes you just need to be the spark.

This is nothing new, everyone knows this so I guess the point of this blog is to remind you that acting on your ideas can result in a beautiful thing.  We had such a wonderful day yesterday in Leamington, there was over 100 musicians all coming together, some of whom hadn't seen each other for years. It was a moment we will all remember forever.  And all it took was a small spark and not listening to the voices in my head that stopped me the first time round.

My parents always told me that they don't  care what I choose to do in life as long as I'm happy.  That has stayed with me and is essentially my mantra. 

So now you've finished reading this go and act on those little things that you've always thought about doing.  It's not as hard as you might first think.  It just takes a bit of thought, a little leap, a little organisation and with a bit of help, it can snowball into something truly memorable.  

Happiness and love are not just for hippies they are for anyone who want them.

Image courteously of CWR. 

Image courteously of CWR. 

The art of being yourself

Kelvin forwarded me an email, it was from the BBC inviting us to perform a 25min set on the BBC introducing stage at The Cheltenham Jazz Festival on the 27th of this month.  Although we have been aware that some of our tracks have been played on BBC introducing locally, this email came out of the blue.  Reading on, 'you have been especially selected by our Radio 2 presenters Jo Whiley and Jamie Cullum, after your local BBC Introducing show put you forward for this opportunity' - wow.  Not only that but the show is hosted by Jo Whiley and 'the performance will be recorded for later broadcast on Radio 2 as well as the local BBC Introducing show network'.  

Several things started to go through my mind mainly - they must have us confused with someone else and sent us this by mistake. Do they know we play our own stuff which is sometimes vastly removed from what I'd call Jazz, what is jazz anyway? I suppose we can play jazz. People have definitely called us jazz in the past.  We just write songs and don't ever try to fit into a genre so we don't really know what genre we are.  

Then a week later, a surreal moment, Jo Whiley announced the line up live on her show and played a clip from our song 'secret door'.  Panic set in again - Secret Door is a track that we have never played live, we only wrote it as an album filler so I hope they aren't expecting a full set like that.  We don't even sound like that anymore, that was four years ago and our style and line up has changed drastically since then, arrggghhhh! Oh and Adam is away on tour in Norwich that week. What do we do? Right first things first - breathe, then accept the gig before they change their minds. Next contact Adam - he is able to dep out his RSC gig so that's a big relief. 

The thing is, I don't doubt my ability to perform, the band and I have been touring and selling out our shows and getting fantastic feedback but now here I am with doubt - I hope the BBC realise that the tracks they know us for are four years old and we have moved on.  They must do, surely they have researched us, they needed to know we can perform live for a start and not just in the studio.  No, they will have definitely check us out.  Maybe we should revert back to an older version of ourselves just to be safe, learn secret door, choose our jazziest numbers, we can't play our current set, no not for this gig.

Right stop right there.  This is so unlike me, I am comfortable with who I am and fiercely proud of what I do so why am I doubting myself now?

I remind myself of a famous saying along the lines of 'you only get one chance to make a first impression' and so the only real question is what do we want that first impression of us to be.  The answer is simple, we want Jo Whiley and the rest of the BBC Introducing lot to see what we can do, we want to showcase the songs that we are most proud of and no matter the reaction, we will come off stage with our heads held high.  We want them to see the performance that we want to give and not one that we think they want us to give - we are good enough and we deserve to be there.

That is settled then.

We will take to the stage next week armed with a double bass, piano, susaphone, trumpet, saxophone, guitar, accordion some cymbals, a bass drum and toy piano and we will hammer out our finest songs about murder, owning Shakespeare and despising Simon Cowell, I will chat my normal level of nonsense and we will come off stage knowing that, love or hate us, what we have presented is our true selves. 

I'll report back after the gig...

Writing for Chedhams

Kelvin and I have a lot of work to do over the next few months.  We are involved in a project called 'Discover – Chedham’s Stories' the press release for this describes it as

'a pilot project for Discover -Warwickshire’s Story Trail, a mobile application which offers a new insight into heritage sites in Warwickshire through stories, songs and reminiscences. Chedham’s Yard, the pilot site for the project, will partner with Live & Local to bring this idea to life

Over the next nine months local musicians Kel Elliott & Her Three Man Orchestra will collect stories from volunteers and local residents.

Project curators Live & Local will develop these stories, songs and reminiscences into an innovative guide for visitors to use on their smart phones whilst visiting Chedham’s Yard.

The project is funded by Warwickshire County Council’s Tourism Event Funding scheme'

Kelvin and I have spent the last few months talking to as many of the volunteers and people connected with Chedhams yard as possible, and we have recorded these conversations.  That was the easy bit - sitting with a nice cup of tea on a comfy sofa and listening.  Now the real work begins.  

For me songwriting and lyric writing in particular, has always been a labour of love.  I am proud of everything I have ever written and not in a big headed 'I'm great' sense but because I feel connected to each piece of work, like a piece of myself has been given to each of them.  I'm there from conception to birth and beyond, the whole process is a journey that is equally frustrating and satisfying.  I love having a blank piece of paper in front of me and seeing the paper slowly fill with words, then the crossings out appear, more words are added, and subsequently more crossings out.  Then the bits I like are copied out onto another piece of paper, more words are added and more crossings out, this can go on for several weeks, months or just a few hours, and then finally, there it is staring back at me, a new born baby song.  This is the start of its little song life, it may alter a little in the first few performances, a few words change, the way a phrase is sung, the melody may alter, often without me realising, for the song settles down naturally.  

And so the song starts to grow up.  It gets performed and people hear it.  People respond to it, they may laugh or cry or nod with a smirk of approval at a clever line that took me ages and I am therefore proud and pleased with this knowing look.  To connect a song with the audience is a beautiful thing for once the song is born I am really just the messenger and that song could go off and be sung by another messenger and have its own adventure - this is ultimately the goal of any parent to nurture and then see their baby flee the nest.  None of my songs have flown yet but I'm hoping that one day they will go off and have adventures without me.  

I once watched a documentary about Mark Knofler, who described the songs he was working on as baby plants and he would check on them each day to see how they were getting on, do a bit of work on them and then put them back in the draw.  This image struck me and has helped with my own writing, for once you start seeing yourself as being just 'part' of the process it takes the pressure off a bit.  There is a fabulous TED talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert 'your elusive creative genius' which is along the same lines.  I recommend it to any writer struggling with a block of any kind as you will see your role in a different way.

So here I am once again with a blank piece of paper, but this time there is an added pressure - to do the yard and everyone we have spoken to justice.  I want to capture the love and warmth that they show for the place and that the place shows for them.  I would challenge anyone to spend time at Chedhams Yard and talk to the volunteers and not fall in love with the place - there is something truly magical about it.  And although I have feelings of anxiety and doubt and worry and excitement and all the other feelings that go with the Unknown this is what I love doing most in the world, writing songs, and so whatever the outcome, I am going to enjoy the journey and the process -for here starts my new labour of love. 

Chedhams Yard, Wellsboune     

Chedhams Yard, Wellsboune  


New website new beginnings

With the help of my IT brilliant cousin I have revamped our website and it feels like a new start.  I have always found it hard to keep on top of website content, social media and the likes but this new website has given me POWER mhwhahahaaaaaaaa.  I have this lovely new blog section and so I can blog away until my hearts content.  This is my first ever blog and I'm writing it to ensure there is something on this blog page to read and will most likely delete it when i start blogging properly.  So for now I'll continue with a - mini website behind the scenes tour.  

Our latest promo picture forms the background for each page.  I say latest but this photo is over a year old and was taken when I was heavily pregnant and huge.  I don't look like this anymore so we need an update.  It's not that I'm not proud of it, it's just I think we were limited with what we could do back then and I want to capture something even more dramatic. However Adam is currently away on tour with the RSC so we will have to wait until his return in June.

I've written a new band biography and I'm quite pleased with it.  We've tried to describe ourselves in many different ways in the past and have never really managed to capture our show, I think this new write up is pretty close.  At the last gig a gentleman came and told me that our publicity doesn't do us justice so with that in mind I've tried again.

Our gig list is pretty empty at the moment as we are waiting for rural touring dates to be confirmed, these should come out in May so until then we look like we are sat at home twiddling our thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring...

The gallery has shots from various gigs over the years and one from around 2009, I don't look like that anymore either :) that's the thing about photos, they are a snapshot in time.  

Anyway that's it for this first blog.  It was thrilling I know but at least it's a start and fills a hole on an otherwise empty page. So until next time...