Sunday, 29th November 2015
Regular readers of this blog (if such creatures do exist) will know that it’s a bit, well, irregular. I could just use everyone else’s excuse that I’m incredibly busy, but actually, it’s also that I pretty much decided at the get go that I would only put something up when I felt I had something to say. And, as I gaze out on an increasingly soggy Fife landscape this morning (later: snowy), I reflect that I have quite a bit to say at the moment, actually.
The last five years have been a bit up and down for me on a personal basis: a brief tickle from the Grim Reaper (I had a melanoma successfully removed from my arm in 2011) and losing both my parents, my Mum in 2011 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s, and my Dad, much more unexpectedly, in January last year. At the same time, I’ve seen Daughter and Heiress grow up, and I thank my lucky stars I’ve been in a job that entails me being around most of the time to see her do it.
The latest D & H news, in case there’s anyone on the planet who doesn’t know, is that she’s had an unconditional acceptance for Napier University to do English – her second choice, but a strong one, I think. She seems to want to do journalism: the little blighter can write, certainly. No idea who she gets that from. Actually, I do – her grandfathers, both of whom have published books. And her uncle, for that matter.
As anyone who’s lost their parents will know, your world changes afterwards: celebrating big moments like Heather’s exam successes and her uni acceptance, as well as the excitement of buying and doing up a run down flat in Edinburgh (of which more in a separate blog) will always have the sepia edge of regret that you can’t share the news with the ones who’ve gone. I miss them more than I can put into words, as I do friends and colleagues like my buddy Stuart Crosbie, taken far too early by that modern epidemic (so it seems) of cancer.
What I hadn’t expected was the effect all of this would have on my creative life. Back in 2010, I would have called myself a writer, first and foremost: around this time that year, I had finished the first draft of my novel, Buddha Belly (which may now be published as The Wrong Box – you’ll be hearing from me on that presently, too) and Writers’ Bloc was still going full steam. If my memory serves me well, our Unbound appearance at the Book Festival that year had been one featuring words and music. Andrew J Wilson’s contribution featured one Kenny Mackay on guitar, and Charlotte Halton on sax, whilst my own had Mark Allan and myself on guitar, Charlotte on sax, and Kelly Brooks singing.
Looking back, that now feels like a turning point. Kelly and I had started working together on the Venus Carmichael material in 2008, but that feeling of being in a bigger band – however briefly for one night only – reminded me even more forcefully what a blast making music with others was.
How things have changed in those five years. As I explained recently, I’m now in two bands – Tribute to Venus Carmichael and Isaac Brutal and the Trailer Trash Express; my output this year has consisted exclusively of songwriting: my last gig had me impersonating Leonard Cohen, backed by the Brutal Acoustic Division, and my next one will be another musical one, Tribute to Venus Carmichael sharing a bill with Norman Lamont and the Heaven Sent!
It is strange how the loss of my parents seems to have coincided with this. After my Mum went, I stopped writing short stories almost completely, and turned to poetry – for the first time since I was a teenager, more or less. When my Dad died, all desire to write went altogether, for months. My traditional solace of trying to make sense of the world through writing things down just didn’t seem to work any more. What came back, gradually, was music.
I’ve been exceptionally lucky in acquiring, along the way, some really talented people to help and encourage me in a musical direction. Gavin Inglis has always been a close collaborator from the inception of Writers’ Bloc and before: but he was the one that introduced me to the idea that, with a couple of extra bits of kit and some software, you could become your own record producer. His introducing me to Kelly was critical to the existence of Venus Carmichael – a great singer who enunciates every word of my precious lyrics perfectly, she’s also a tough critic of the new material, which ensures you only get to hear the good stuff, once it’s shaped into transmissible form.
Similarly Craig Harkness, known almost universally as Harky, has helped me a huge deal with music production, sound engineering, and just about everything else as I’ve gone on this journey (to use the dreaded phrase). Mark and Kenny are always a pleasure to work with on musical projects involving Brutal and beyond, and now people like Graham Crawford, Norman Lamont, and Martin McGroarty fill out my musical family of fellow travellers, collaborators, and general good chaps with a good ear.
I’ve not given up on writing completely. Writing friends like Gav, Halsted Bernard, Bram Gieben, Jane Mckie, and Kirsti Wishart stay in touch. The aforementioned novel is due out next year. Besides, this blog doesn’t write itself. Another post coming up arises out of a talk I did recently to some poor souls at Liberton High about songwriting: I did a slide which kind of sums up what I’ve learned about writing generally, and I thought I might work that up.
And so, as I clatter towards Christmas like a carthorse carrying a load of donkey jackets on an untreated surface, I have plans. Before the Venus gig on the 17th, more blog entries, and more solo-project music and spoken word. In the meantime, I suppose all of the above goes some way to explaining why the first of the new Soundcloud tracks below is pretty dark, and the other one a bit slushy and sentimental (well, as sentimental as I get these days). I have something else up my sleeve which might be ready in a week or so if I get the time. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these. As ever, any feedback gratefully received.