Category Archives: songs

Stay Young

primroses web

I’ve been having a mid-life crisis for about six years. Ever since I turned thirty and realised that the trail of loose ends and missed opportunities and messed-up relationships and recreational brain-damaging was irrevocable. I wasn’t in the foothills of life, getting acclimatised, finding my feet, which is what I’d thought. This was life. And I’d blown it.

There was a craze among some of my friends for getting married and having children. It was genuinely shocking. They had careers and mortgages. I still hadn’t decided what I was going to be when I grew up.

I worked on a building site for six months and bought a second-hand Citroen Berlingo. I put a bed in it and a cooker and headed for the Outer Hebrides. My brakes failed crossing the Cairngorms. I survived. I carried on.

My baby sister had a baby.

I flew to Panama and slept on the beach with the crabs because I couldn’t afford a hostel, let alone a hotel. I came back and moved Earth with a spade to pay off my credit card. I realised I’d been doing my temporary gardening job for ten years. Ten years.

Friends got ill. Friends died. Friends younger than me died.

I got older every day. Every day life got more mysterious. If there was a plot I’d lost it. My primary school God wasn’t making any sense.

Anne of Green Gables, Jilly Cooper and all films starring Julia Roberts, road maps for my subconscious expectations, morphed into Zen koans. Icelandic productions with names like Of Horses and Men, where people slit ponies open and sleep in their stomachs, became strangely comforting.

I’d been merrily climbing the hill of existence, waiting for my happy ending, waiting to peak, and now, suddenly, I was over the hill. And the view from the top was not triumphant. It was terrifying. I’d been sustained by the illusion that one day the mysterious mess of life would tidy itself up into a neat story like, well, Anne of Green Gables, and I’d go on as somebody else, somebody who got a house and a career and maybe, probably, got married and had kids. Whose normal, secure life was enriched by the bewildering chaos of her early years.

But it was all a lie. There is nothing but chaos. I am flickering on the edge of it like a tethered helium balloon and nothing can stop my string breaking. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in ten years, maybe in thirty, maybe in sixty. But it will break. And then who knows what will happen.

Nobody, that’s who. Nobody. Not even my old headmaster. Not even Jilly Cooper. Not even God.

‘You are young, you are on your way up, when you cannot imagine how you will save yourself from death by boredom until dinner….But momentum propels you over the crest. Imperceptibly, you start down. When do the days start to blur and then, breaking your heart, the seasons?….The blur of cards makes one long sound like a bomb’s whine, the whine of many bombs, and you know your course is fatal’ wrote Annie Dillard, about being thirty five.

I was thirty five when I read her. Thirty five and skint and single and living in a shed less than a mile from my primary school. The sheer unfathomable pointlessness of it all was truly breathtaking.

So breathtaking I had to surrender.

Surrender feels good. I feel ten years younger than I did ten years ago.

I feel like I’ve been sweeping a sandy beach, sweeping it for years and years, trying to tidy it up, and just recently it has become clear that the tide is coming in, and the tide is going to move the sand anyway, in whichever way the moon says, and it has nothing to do with me, and all I have to do is put the broom down and lie on the sand and soak it all in. And love, and laugh, and sing. And take pictures of primroses breaking through the darkness on the first day of spring.

And the beach is not tidy, and it does not have a beginning, or a middle, or an end. What it has is music. Imperfect, shining, inexplicable music.

Anyway I’m dying, like a burning star, and so are you. Which is why I’m swallowing my ego and sharing this rugged home recording of a song I sang at one of those perfect, destabilising weddings. It’s by Gallagher and Lyle, a pair of skirt-wearing Scots in their mid-sixties.

It’s called Stay Young.

Why I Write Songs

ribbons ep blog postIn the interests of living in time, rather than killing it, which is a sentiment I took from a recent blog post by the wonderful poet Claire Pollard, who was also on a train at the time of writing, I decided to use my recent long train journey back to Cornwall from London to try to express why I write songs. My desire to do this was inspired by the weird feeling I have when I look at my various social media selves, which don’t seem to bear that much relation to my actual self, the self that spent the best part of the last decade writing songs in secret, usually whilst crying/drunk/stoned etc, without feeling the slightest need to involve society or media.

However, at the ripe old age of thirty five, two things have finally sunk in (better late than never). One is that life is ridiculously short, and the less time I have left, the faster that time goes, which is unfair, but true. The other is that I have to spend most of that time making a living, unless I want to perch in a shed for the rest of my life, which I might, but equally might not, because hot showers are wondrous things. Having tried many jobs, from labouring on building sites to flower picking to teaching to gardening to busking, I have decided that the only way I can hope to be at peace is to work as hard as I possibly can to create opportunities to make my living doing the things I love. Such as writing and recording songs.

Social media is one way to create such opportunities, being a great place to share and sell these songs. However, in trying to sell my songs, I seem to end up also trying to sell myself, which in turn seems to result in the emergence of someone who doesn’t exist – someone a lot chirpier/more confident/more sorted/less baffled than I am. Which leaves me with the uncomfortable feeling that I don’t exist. It’s not false, it’s just not the whole story.

Because the selling part is not the main event. It’s a necessary evil, a by-product of the making part. The truth (and this is probably also the reason why people like me find it so hard to demand money for their efforts) is that I will keep writing songs (and books) whether or not anyone ever buys them, because I am one of those people who is constantly at risk from drowning in their own thoughts, and songs are my life raft. And since that kind of embarrassing truth just doesn’t come across very well on bubbly old social media, I decided to risk not looking very cool (again) and stick it up here, just for the record. I have no idea why it came out as a kind of poem. Blame Claire Pollard.

Why I Write Songs

I write songs because I’m not okay, and songs make not okay, okay.

I write songs for you who don’t have time to wonder at the morning,

And for you, carrying all that quiet heartache with such fortitude.

I want to make you cry.

I write songs because I’m lonely and songs are my reward for being free.

I write songs because our world is crumbling and the light is hard to see.

I write songs and now I sing them, too, because time is shorter than I thought

And this will all be over soon.

I write songs because I’m here again, and again and again and again.

And because I keep falling in love too fast, with unforgiving men.

I write songs because I happen to be there when they land on my desk

Tired out from flying.

I write songs because I’m lost, and the cost of living is too high

And songs are the only way that I can afford to fly.

I write songs to fill the gap between my longing and my dreams

Because happiness is not what it seems.

I will be launching the Ribbons EP on Saturday (5th April) 6pm at Newlyn Art Gallery, and on Sunday 13th April 3pm at Strong Adolfo’s, Wadebridge. When I have figured out the technology you will also be able to buy it from this website.