Tag Archives: EP

Panamania – Gnarly Goggles

This footage was shot by Becky after a day surfing on the Isla Burica, a desert island in the far north of Panama. It comes with a song from the Ribbons EP about the upside of heartbreak, and it comes with a story about fear.

Stumbling through the jungle looking for a place to sleep, we find a chicken hanging upside down off a makeshift clothesline, squawking. The chicken seems to belong to a couple of grass-roofed huts. I’m guessing it’s dinner. A couple of horses are tethered nearby. The whole thing is like something out of Tribe – apart from the surfboards.

The surfboards, which are newer than ours, belong to a pair of sexy, dark-skinned brothers. They tell us about the mythical wave we’ve come to surf – a fast right that breaks over rocks on the far side of an uninhabited island that sits half a mile offshore, guarding the unmanned coastal border between Panama and Costa Rica. Meeting the brothers is a stroke of luck. We expected to have to paddle across the channel, but they offer us a ride in their inflatable canoe. We arrange to meet them at dawn.

It’s dawn. I feel sick. This might be because all I’ve consumed is very strong black coffee, brewed like porridge over a driftwood fire. Or it might be exhaustion due to the massively effortful journey to get here. A two-day hike from the Caribbean to the Pacific involving several boats, four increasingly decrepit collectivos, one night in the Pension Balboa (named after the local beer) overlooking an all-night bar specializing in ear-splitting Reggaeton (I spent most of the sleepless hours watching staggering drunks try to mount their long-suffering horses), another collectivo (zero suspension), a very painful two-hour walk in the midday heat through the jungle with boards, backpacks and enough food to last a week, the chance encounter with the brothers, a sleepless night in a hammock wondering if those very strange lights out at sea are drug boats (apparently we are camping in a clearing recently vacated by police looking to catch human mules heading north on foot), and the twenty minute trip across the channel in the squashy inflatable, our four surfboards floating behind us, chained together by their leashes.

I am scared before I even see the wave. This is partly because of its mystery – it’s not on Magic Seaweed or in the Stormrider – and partly because of the hyped-up way the brothers are talking about it. They’re saying it’s a big day, although the channel itself is sheltered from swell, which is why we have to go to the island. I am convinced I won’t be able to handle it. Sure enough, when we finally get close enough I see exactly what I was expecting to see – a hideously hollow wave, full of rocks, and closing out on the bigger sets, which are too big for me. The brothers are amped. They slip and slide over the rocks, wait for a gap between sets long enough to allow them to jump in and paddle maniacally out of the danger zone.

‘Nice little right’ says Becky.

Becky’s brain is wired up differently to mine. This is why surfing with her is so much fun. It’s also why it’s frequently so terrifying.

Panic-stricken, I search for a place to paddle out that does not involve rocks and danger zones.  I don’t see any. This island is made of rocks. Nothing but rocks. And dense coconut forest, and crabs. Not friendly hermit crabs dressed in bottle tops, either, but weird black jumping crabs that hurl themselves through the air like batman, clearing distances upwards of two feet in a nanosecond. I don’t like these crabs. They’re inhuman. I don’t like this island. I don’t like this trip. Life is shit. I want to go home. I want to go home and sit in my shed and watch TV and be safe. But I can’t. It’s too late. I’ve come too far.

I look around for Becky. I’m going to suggest we walk a bit, look for a nicer wave, sack it off. But she’s already gone, slipping and sliding over the rocks like the brothers, falling, dropping her board, picking herself up. One of the brothers manages a very steep take-off and gets a  long ride back to the rocks. He waves at Becky, who is already paddling out. I am still standing rooted to the spot, feeling sick.

These days my life seems to be full of moments like this. Moments where I find myself in a situation so far out of my comfort zone it’s almost funny. Posting things I’ve written, standing up in front of people and singing songs I’ve made, reading from my book in public, dealing with the rejection and failure that comes with being alive and not hiding in my shed watching TV.

Often I’m a pussy. I duck out of waves, miss opportunities, don’t make phone calls. But sometimes I’m not a pussy, and that’s how I’ve finally learned something big and slightly embarrassing.

It’s not life. It’s ME. I’m wearing GNARLY GOGGLES.

I did paddle out that day, and I didn’t die. In fact, as soon as I started focusing on the task in hand rather than the monsters in my mind, I started enjoying myself.

‘Nice little right’ I shouted over to Becky.

I will be singing at the Shine On festival in Totnes on Sunday. A nice little festival. I plan to leave the gnarly goggles at home and enjoy myself. Watch this space.

Brave Imperfect World

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For much of last year I was busy recording an EP of six songs to go with my book. I loved the process. I loved going to the studio (an imperfect old pigshed). I loved sharing ideas with Richard, who honed his brilliant ears as the front man of cult indie band BOB. I loved the way the songs took on a life of their own and began to dictate what they needed – a piano line here, a vocal harmony there. We were playing, literally, recording the songs again and again, trying to iron out the mistakes and get the perfect take. But as time went on and the takes stacked up I began to notice something – In spite of their imperfections, I preferred some of the earlier, less perfect takes. I even began to listen to some of them forensically, like a scientist, trying to figure out what I did that I liked so much. I wanted to recreate the magic, only without the imperfections. Was it the timing, or was it that woody sound the cello had because the microphone was too close? Was it the phrasing or was it the croak in my voice because I had stayed up too late drinking and smoking? After weeks of trying, I realised that my efforts were futile. Like low-fat margarine, or fake fires. No mess, no magic. This was music, not science.

Chronic remorse’ wrote Aldous Huxley in a 1946 foreword to Brave New World, published in 1932, ‘is a most undesirable sentiment.’

Speaking of his own (brilliant) book, he says:

‘Its defects as a work of art are considerable; but in order to correct them I should have to re-write the book – and in the process of rewriting as an older, other person I should probably get rid not only of some of the faults of the story, but also of such merits as it originally possessed.’

The other day my own book arrived in the post. It was exciting to hold a book in my hands that I had written. To think of all those weeks and months and years of work. I began to read. My excitement turned to horror. There were mistakes in it. There were bad sentences. There were cliches!

My ego is full of remorse. My ego wants to jump on a plane, assume a new identity and do my whole life all over again but better. Only I can’t. Because I am human, and being human means being imperfect. Making mistakes. Which is fortunate, because in life as well as in books and music, mistakes are where the magic is buried.

‘You’ve got to be hurt and upset, otherwise you can’t think of the really good, penetrating X-rayish phrases.’

Huxley’s Helmholtz knew that in a perfect world the only art is shit art.

My book is not perfect, and neither is the EP, but I’ve decided I’m going to muster up the courage to love them anyway, for the moments of magic they both contain. Just as I love my imperfect friends and family for the beauties they are, and just as I will keep on trying to love my imperfect self.

picture: my beautiful, imperfect friends and family listening to me read from my imperfect book and sing my imperfect songs imperfectly. #magiclife.