I’ve torn off the Band-Aid. I was sceptical about performing live via webcams and such – is it real enough? Thanks to the Disability Rights Utah for the opportunity! Mission accomplished.
So what was it like? Well… as most of you know, I’m primarily a live performer these days. I’ve played A LOT of shows, done a lot of performances, for literally thousands of people all over the world.
I’m also reasonably comfortable in front of the camera, having been able to work with amazing directors like Lee Cogswell & Josefa Torres. On the night my partner-in-crime and actual partner Nicci Craig handled the live shooting – no mean feat. We broadcast live via a GoPro, connected via the new GoPro Webcam feature. I was really keen to have a handheld look, and I think it turned out great.
But… it’s still a bit weird. It’s no substitute. I thought it would be like making a music video, but it isn’t really at all. There’s all the pressure of trying to get it right in one take, without the connection of an audience. The audience energy is half the show; I’m bringing just half of what happened, if that. Trying to nail a performance, in my garage, with my kids upstairs in bed… it’s a long way from the Kennedy Center.
I’m not complaining, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s weird, but for now, it’s the best we have.
This is a copy of a Twitter thread that I posted yesterday which is going to bit of traction.
Of course, the problem with the social media is that none of us own the space, so in the interest of taking ownership of my stuff, here it is. Please consider sharing this; I’d really like it to escape the echo chamber of disabled people agreeing with me. We need people who don’t understand to get on board. We desperately need new allies x
The lack of acknowledgement of Disability as a Diversity issue in society stems, in some part I believe, due to a lack of understanding of the Social Model of Disability.
People will often say “I don’t think of you as disabled” – that I’m a “normal” person who just has something “wrong” with me. Being disabled is seen exclusively as a medical issue, not a social one. Something that, on a long enough timeline, can be fixed.
I *still* get comments like “why don’t you go to the doctors?” “Haven’t they fixed that yet?” as if disability will at some point go away
This is part of a wider problem: most people don’t know what disability is.
The Social Model is a really useful tool to articulate to non-disabled people especially what disability is.
I was raised within the Medical Model of Disability ie – Disability is something “wrong” with me that needs to be “fixed”
The Social Model points the issue outwards: I have a neurological condition yes, but I’m disabled by a society that doesn’t accommodate that. I’m not “broken” – society is.
Being spat at. Called a “spakka” by complete strangers. Being stranded on planes/trains. Strangers decided to take charge and move me out of the way. All while being told “I don’t think of you as disabled.” These aren’t my problems; they’re yours.
Society upholds the framework that disables me. Like many, I’m Disabled. With a capital D. It’s a social/political identity. I’m oppressed by society, and I have to stand up to that. This isn’t just a health issue.
Understanding the Social Model (the Disabled person is disabled by society, not their diagnosis) is a first BIG step to creating a more inclusive society. Disability is a vital component in the conversation about Diversity, but is rarely acknowledged.
The Social Model isn’t perfect: there are aspects of some people’s lives for whom it doesn’t resonate (chronic pain will always be present, regardless of access barriers) but it’s the best we have *so far*
Disabled people aren’t just “normal” people who have something “wrong” with them. We’re a vital and inevitable part of a diverse society, and deserve to be recognised as something other than “broken”
“Ablesplaining” is an almost daily occurrence for me on social media and IRL. Listen to Disabled people. Don’t try to “correct” their position on ableism. You don’t get to decide. Apply the Social Model to everything you think you know about Disabled people.
Besides selling music, trying to chip away at Disability discrimination is about the only useful thing I can see for my social media presence.
And I get criticised a lot for pointing out inequality. This is an inconvenient truth for a society that doesn’t want to see it’s inherent ableism. Again; don’t frame this solely as a medical issue. It’s an identity issue.
Thanks for reading. I hope you can become an ally x
Long overdue, but I had a day off yesterday, so I thought I’d cut this together. In my last blog post I talked about the influence of Buddhism on my music making. That led to some really interesting conversations, so I thought today I would go deep and share this quite personal story of what Buddhism and Japan means to me.
My old chum Ronan – *very* keen fans will remember him opening for me on The Gloves Are On tour in Coventry – has an awesome blog about recording and music making. It’s an interesting space to occupy; in my news feed dominated by Waves Plugins and CLA tutorials, Ronan pops up with a refreshingly fuss free approach. Low cost, guerrilla studio sessions in public spaces; it’s very welcome. And very useful. Anything that makes music making easier for people is a good thing in my book.
We chatted recently about gloves, disability and my early influences. There’s some great questions – head to Light Audio Recording now!
I’m always looking toward the next thing. A new way to do things. A new place to play in. Thanks to my recent Developing Your Creative Practice award from Arts Council England (Yay!) I’m about to start my next big creative adventure. No time to sit still.
Under the working title Zanshin, this new work explores a few ideas, mostly through threads that have been asking me to tug them for a while. One of the most common questions I get asked is about composition; what is it like to compose music with the gloves? Quite honestly, I’m still learning. The amount of gigs I’ve played in the last 3 years has meant largely being a slave to my back cat – there’s been little time to compose. So that I knew had to be explored.
I’ve also become increasingly aware of the physicality of my work. It’s super-ironic; I’ve been held back most of my life by my impaired movement. I never did sports. I couldn’t run around as a kid. And here I am, making a living making a kind of music where my body is very much part of the instrument. Glove shows are very physical, and I want to dig deeper into that. And the way to do that, I figured, is through discipline in the physical movement. Specifically, choreography.
So that’s in the budget too. The choreography is where I saw a neat opportunity to tie this project into my interests in Japan.
As I think most people who know me know, I recently worked in Japan with Drake Music. It was a trip of a lifetime, with years worth of inspiration. Over lunch in Kawasaki I was discussing my ambitions to work with a choreographer with our friends British Council Japan. We chatted about Japanese dance, particularly the influence of traditional Japanese dance on J-Pop. It was a real light bulb moment, and the conversation turned to the idea of me working with a choreographer in Japan. The delicateness, the discipline; the more I learned about Japanese dance the more it made sense.
Back home, reflected on this, I reached out to a Japanese choreographer friend-of-friends, Ayaka Takai. Ayaka is based in Tokyo; although we didn’t meet in Japan, our mutual friends brought her to my attention. Ayaka studied in London, and as well as being a successful contemporary dancer, she also worked in the space between dance and disability. I introduced myself; she’d already seen me in action thanks to the British Council. She totally got it. We talked a lot. We had ideas exploding from all angles. We hatched a plan, and wrote a funding bid. We’d like to once again thank Arts Council England.
But the working title. Maybe the title. What is it?
Zanshin is one of many Japanese ideas I’ve fallen in love with of late. Along with Koi No Yokan and Ikagi, it’s one of those Japanese that occupies a subtle space that is difficult to translate into Western language. Zanshin can be described as a state of relaxed awareness, a focused alertness. The term originates from Japanese martial arts, and naturally appeals to my Buddhist sensibilities. In particular, the idea relates to a “combative awareness” of the body. This is a good word to describe the state I’ve been trying to achieve whilst performing. I’m trying to bring a relaxed awareness to my presence in my body on stage when performing with the gloves. My earliest performances were very much of the head; internally trying to remember the next movement. That state was complex and stressful.
Practicing mindfulness taught me how to be present in my body, and I soon learned that my body knew better than my head where the next movement was to. I came to realise that performance was way less about trying to remember what to do, and much more about being in a state of focus where the performance can unfold itself. So this idea has become really central to working in this new space. I want it to start with this awareness, this presence, in the body. I want to inform composition ideas – and ultimately songwriting – in the sense of my body. In that sense that I’m here, alive.
This might sound strange, but I have a weird relationship with my body. It doesn’t work well, and it’s kind of been my nemesis. The clue is in the language there; it’s not me. I’m up here, in my head; the wonky bag of meat and bones is just the thing that carries my brain to where I need it to be.
That’s not a very healthy way to see yourself, is it?
So, goal number one: maybe this project, through the movement and music connecting, maybe it will help me build a better relationship with my body. Myself, even. Whatever else, that would make it a pretty life changing piece of art.
Patrons will know this one. I was making a collection of new songs (“album” doesn’t quite sound right), which there was a series of behind the scenes webisodes made for. I’ll add those here soon, but this is Chapter 2 of that making of.
I put the idea to bed for a bit, partly because I was busy with live stuff, partly because I’d lost connection with it. But, it would be a great thing to finish off, so I’m picking it up. Dusting it off. It sounds awkward, and a little ugly. It lacks focus. But the stories it tells are worth telling.
So this is the Captain’s Log. Written word this time around. I’m not sure how useful all that footage of me sitting in a room is. Log II is this, me picking it back up. Log I as it’s now referred to is the series of videos in the Patreon. I will try and ship often, as the modern way. Snapshots of audio, images. It’s an open, unfinished book.
It’s fair to say, l’ve had a muddled career. 3 years ago, I thought it was over before it had really started. It sounds awfully dramatic, but I was fully expecting to have called time by now. I couldn’t move forward as a live performer. At least not in the model I was working in.
The solo acoustic troubadour model never really suited me, in retrospect. I play guitar, I’m solo, that’s just where I landed. I was never particularly good at it. My teenage obsession with Nick Drake was fully revived in 2015. I had a body of songs indebted to Pink Moon, called Flesh + Dust. It’s complex finger picking and open tuning felt authentic-I’d arrived at my place with the acoustic guitar. I’d finally found myself on this instrument.And then my hands really started to fuck up.
I was pushing myself HARD. And I guess, looking back, it was too far. My trands would tighten up, then shake, even after a few minutes playing. It got worse. I could barely get to the end of a song. It was no better in the studio. Comping takes piece-by-piece was a sin to me, and I couldn’t even do that.
So I figured, I was done.
If you’d told me then I was month’s away from Imogen Heap handing me a pair of A. I. Cyborg gloves that would mean I could play music in thin air, I’d be wondering what the hell you’d taken…