Posts Tagged ‘music’

In addition to doing live gigs, I have been playing on the streets of towns and cities for years, and I have had some interesting experiences and opportunities come my way as a result.

Recently I was approached to contribute a track to an album featuring music by some of the world’s finest buskers. The Busking Project is an initiative set up with the aim of giving buskers the chance to sell their original music online in a similar way to how they earn a living on the street.

TBP release one ten-track album a month on their website, featuring music of many styles.  They currently have four albums available, all of which you can freely download once you donate $5 to the project.

How You Contribute and What You Get – The public are invited to donate an amount as little as $1 to the project and 60% of this goes directly to the artists featured on the site; the other 40% going to maintaining the project. This 60% is a vastly better deal for the artists than any conventional record deal, so you can be sure that you are supporting the producers of the music.

For a $1 donation you are kept informed of the progress of the project, $3 gives you access to videos and blogs but it all gets more exiting if  you donate $5, which gives you a downloads of this month’s album ‘Keep Streets Live’ – FEATURING ME!

VISIT to get involved.

If you don’t want to be kept informed about the project, you can simply sign up for one month and download all the albums (for $5, come on!) then delete your subscription.

This seems like a pretty good deal for the artists and you. How’s that possible? There is no record company involved.

But in case you need further convincing to support my involvement in this project, have a listen here to the track I have contributed, ‘Love’s on Fire’:



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New old song…!!

This is a pop/punk track that I’d completely forgotten about. I used to play it with a band called Mind of a Toy in about 2007..? It’s a decent recording and as I could use it on my upcoming album (might have to re-record the vocals though). I don’t play this kind of stuff much anymore….but I think this song is too good to languish in the shadows unheard…

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At a time so much in flux, who better to speak to us about the challenges we all face than trans musician Anhoni. Previously known as Antony Hegarty, this artist always used his/her experience of transgender identity to offer fresh perspectives on how we might all live together on this planet. Whether you call that political, social or spiritual barely matters. Now, with a new album environmental-themed album, s/he invites us to confront our own eco-hypocrisy.

Throughout this interview, which I’ve transcribed from Radio 4’s Loose Ends programme last week, Anhoni is breathlessly articulate, the words coming out so clearly articulated and so rapidly that it seems rehearsed. If so, I have no problem with that. S/he has powerful things to say, not just in the promotion of an album. I look forward to a book from this gentle messenger.

The last time you were on the programme I remember you saying that the world needs more female leaders, and as it happens we do seem to getting more. We’re going to have a new prime minister who’s going to be a woman, there may be a woman president in America, there are three women leaders in Scotland…is this the sort of thing you had in mind? Do you think it’s going to improve the world?

When I say we need more feminine governance its that we need a collective representation of femininity, which of course is a massive array of points of view. It’s not that any one female leader is going to burst the bubble, its more that if there more than 30% women at the table, the culture changes…what would it look like if we had 70% of women at the table? What kinds of untapped wisdom and unique perspectives, born of the specific experiences of womanhood might we capitalise upon, in order that a less heirarchical conversation can happen?

Do you think though, that in 50 or 100 years’ time in our queer/trans utopia that we’ll still be talking about these gender binaries? Will there still be such a thing as womanness or maleness?

Honestly I think in 50 or 100 yeas time we’re gonna be so preocupied with catastrophic environmental changes that I can’t imagine we’ll have much time to dally in identity politics. Right now is the time we have deal with this wall of impending and imprecendented events that are on the horizon…massive chunks of the biosphere are collapsing and the conversaton about identity politics is really important but its not the endgame. The reason to do it is because unrepresented voices might offer a new pearl of wisdom that might spark a new trajectory.
Hearing you sing, there seems to be this emotion there at the forefront. Would you say you’re upset or angry about these things?
I’m a singer so my currency is my emotion and intuition – that’s my medium in a way. And I’m a human being so i’m a feeling creature. But to me emotion, thinking, intuition, intellect – to me they’re much more intergrated process than they might generally be identified as.

You’ve called your album ‘Hopelessness’. Are you feeling hopeless?

Yes, I’ve felt a lot of that under the current state of affairs, but also I’m not alone in that. I think a lot of people are feeling very hopeless but it was on the basis of that that I’ve sought to address and excavate that emotional place.

Essentially what you’ve made is a protest album. Is there a record company executive in your mind saying ‘No, we want songs about love and loss and human emotion’?

To go back to your question about why I named the album ‘Hopelessness’, how are we going to take effective action when we’re not even allowed to acknowledge the place of despair that most people are sitting in today. I think there’s actually something quite productive about processing hopelessness in the same way that it’s productive to process grief and that if you process the feeling you reach a clearer vista to reach clearer decisions.
In fact, not processing hopelessness might be stilting us; I mean we all come from 2000 years of sky-God religions prophesising apocalypse as a climax to our experience here on earth. We were born into hopelessness. A lot of the mythology that’s at the root of our cultures looked forward to this day and has insidiously collaborated with neo-liberal capitalism to create a perfect storm of conditions, that will finally realise a transcendental apocalypse, so that we can all piss off to heaven, do you know what I mean?

I’m thinking of the potential of dreaming that we can move beyond those models of thinking, to concieve of entirely new ways of walking upon the earth. At this point we’ve got nothing to lose! Now every greengrocer knows…that the world as we know it is coming to an end, the question now is about what kind of radical thought we can engage that’s actually useful.

What’s happened to Antony and The Johnsons?

I feel like I’d exhausted this pastoral aesthetic and it was beginning to feel a bit toothless, to be honest, that’s why I reached for a harder, more euphoric, galvanising sound because I wanted to express the affairs of my heart very plainly, and to mark the time, and I didn’t really want to hide behind some gossamer curtain of ornamental violin twiddles. I just wanted it to be very direct.

Why the change of name?

“I’ve always talked about being transgender in the media, but I was beginning to feel it was time for me to take a feminine name just to honour my specific experience, and also because I’m getting older and I feel like I’ve got nothing to lose. It’s one thing to tell people that you’re transgender, but then why humour them with the idea that you’re comfortable with a male pronoun or a male name?
Was it difficult to make that transition because you’re known as Anthony with a male pronoun?

It’s like a tipping point. You get to a point where it’s like there’s no going back and you’re ready for the next thing. It’s developmental; you get to a point where its like: ‘This is who I am and this is how I want to move through the world today and you dont really care about the consequences.

In the song “4 Degrees” (about the projected rise of 4 degrees in the earth’s temperature) you take the guise of someone who says ‘Never mind’.

My intention with the record was not just an exercise in finger pointing but to start to examine my complicity in these virulent systems and to give voice not to my intention but to the reality of my footprint. It’s all very well for me to say I want the best for the world but flying here to do this concert, the narrative of the song was sublimated in the reality of my action, my behaviour.

I’ve become very interested in this giant disparity between my sense of myself and the reality of who I am. I feel like somehwere in that massive system of denial is the potential for change. Like, if I could learn to be honest about who I am so that I really understood the effect of my footprint and I could stop living in this delusional, half-sleeping state of virulence, all the while thinking I’m doing the best that I can and justifying myself…

It’s a given that I’m a hypocrite, in the same way that it’s a given that I’m a mysogenist, it’s a given that I’m a racist, it’s a given that I’m homophobic, do you what what I mean? All of those things are enmbedded in me, in many ways I think of my body as a microcosm of the brokenness of the world. It’s not like I’m immune. I’m a porous creature. I’m a part of this world and so the things that are wrong inside me are very likely a tiny photograph of the things that are wrong in the world.

The programme on which this is based can be found at

(UK only)

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I remember when I set up my facebook account in 2009. I uploaded some photos to my profile, as you do, and sent out some friend requests. And then I saw a status update that has always stuck in my mind. It was by a female musician who was in a prominent band at the time; a very cool, cutting-edge type band. She was a cool, cutting-edge-type girl – someone I respected. And this is what she had decided to tell the world:

“I’ve just done a poo”

I don’t normally take much interest in other peoples’ bowel movements, but if this was what facebook was all about I figured I had to get with the program. So like several other of her friends (or sycophants) I approved of this earth-shattering revelation by clicking the ‘like’ button.

There was no going back. I had joined the facebook community – a transnational network devoted to the momentary study of slightly interesting things. Millions of people vaguely curious about the minutiae of each others’ lives; briefly intrigued by dancing parrots, and mildly outraged by political issues – just enough to click on an internet petition. I was destined to become a soulless scroller, lost in the flashing lights of competing content.

Now I don’t deny the value of social media for organising events, staying in touch with loved ones, and the sharing of thought-provoking content. And I like my funnies too; cats in boxes should be prescribed on the NHS as a stress-buster. The problem with facebook is that it all happens in the same place; this has become the platform through which many of us work and play, organise and socialise. For the home-working facebook addict, finding a period of focus is like grasping a bar of soap in the bath, their newsfeed crowded with infinite distractions that would destroy the attention span of the Buddha.

I hadn’t felt the need of a digital detox before. I don’t have a clever phone, so when I leave the house I re-enter the 1990s. It’s a simpler place. Snapchat has yet to suffer any of my bus stop selfies and when I need to find my way around an unfamiliar part of the city I just…fail.

But a recent period of hermithood made me feel that I was on a slippery slope. Staying at home most days meant that my intervals between logging on shrank dramatically. The first thing I would do when I got out of the shower was check for notifications, and I would regularly stop a film or video to look for those little red numbers.

I started to worry that I would never again be fully engaged in a piece of culture or an object of study because I would be forever picking at the facebook buffet; constantly grazing but never digesting. So, one Sunday I decided that the following week would be facebook-free.

What was it like, you ask? What happens to a moderately reclusive cultural activist when he avoids a certain blue-coloured website for seven days? Well, I read a whole lot more, finished a song I was stuck on, and discovered something called housework. I also played a strange gig in a deserted library and discussed naturism in a Wine Bar.

But the most interesting thing? BOREDOM

Remember boredom? It’s what used to happen occasionally when we had gaps between things.  There used to be special places designed to nurture it, like dentists’ waiting rooms and churches; but nowadays as soon as someone is required to sit down and do nothing, the phone is whipped out.

We are encouraged to think that what benefits us most is a life of interrupted mental stimulus, but it’s not true. Our feelings of boredom are just withdrawal symptoms from the addictive stimuli of modern life, which are largely marketing. Gaps between stimulus are actually vital for our wellbeing. Don’t ask me for the medical studies to back this up, leafing through back issues of the Lancet is just so tedious.

But really – boredom leads to daydreams; and studies have recently shown that it is vital for childrens’ development. It’s a launchpad to fantasy, dressing up and games. And boredom is also a key driver of much youthful creativity; Iggy Pop and The Buzzcocks both wrote songs about it. Without boredom there would be no punk rock!

The mid-70s were rich in boredom. Groups like Pink Floyd and The Carpenters played a vital part in giving the kids the urge to create something more exiting. Sure, the unemployment, power cuts and grey concrete tower blocks also helped, but popular culture needs periods of stagnant tedium in order for new generations to burst through and rejuvenate artforms – I’m serious, I think!

Getting lost is another aspect of life that is becoming eliminated by smartphones; and its extinction could prove disastrous for cultureFrom Homer’s Odyssey to Finding Nemo, struggling to find your way home is one of the eternal themes. These days Odysseus would be onto google maps in seconds, then easyjet’s site, and have a pizza ordered for when he got home; it would all be far too easy.

Boredom and being lost (in whatever sense) are part of the texture of human experience, and they can ultimately lead to growth, but they are getting squeezed out by the idea that we can never have enough convenience or entertainment. “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death” was the satirical title of a Dead Kennedys album from 1987; but in our modern scenario, we may ultimately find that unlimited convenience is in fact spiritual death.

Of course I missed facebook. As the weekend loomed I felt I’d run out of productive things to do. I didn’t want to be productive any more, I was curious to find out what everyone was up to. But I held out for the full week, and aim to repeat the experience regularly – who knows, it may even make feel like going out and being sociable in the ‘real’ world again.

Or I could just stay home and tell you about my poos.



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It was Christmas Day and my step-mum had just given me a present – a DVD of the Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth. As I studied the cover she told me:
“They were talking about him on Radio 4. They’ve reassessed his life and career…you like him don’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve heard about this film. it’s supposed to be quite good”
“it’s thirty years since he died…”


“Er, Nick Cave’s not dead as far as I know” I said “He released an album just last year I think…”
“No” she said indignantly “they interviewed his sister…”
“Nick Cave is definately alive” a family member asserted.
Then the penny dropped.

“Do you mean Nick Drake?”

She didn’t seem sure, muttering something that was lost in the present-opening kerfuffle around us. But I wasn’t about to dwell on the mistake.
“…it looks really good anyway!” I shouted reassuringly.

I’m not into Nick Cave. I respect him but I’ve rarely managed to enjoy any of the pieces of his work that I’ve been exposed to. I’m slightly frustated by that. He’s one of the people I should like. The lyricism, the careful crafting and the mysterious image all put him in the category of bona fide legend. But Nick Cave has a similar effect on me to Leonard Cohen. There’s something about the way he puts chords and melodies together that I find kind of suffocating. There’s hardly any harmonic colour in there.

On Boxing Day my actual mum asked me what presents I’d recieved at my Dad’s house the day before. I mentioned various books and wooly items then:
“Christine gave me this DVD. It’s the Nick Cave film…we can watch it if you want”
“Ok, maybe…” she said “…what else has he been in?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think he does much acting, not that I know of…”
“Leaving Las Vegas. I saw him in that”
“You’re thinking of Nick Cage, mum”

I put the film on and I liked it. We follow Cave through a series of presumably average days – rehearsing with his band, looking through photos with the staff at his archive (everyone has an archive, right?…) and driving around Brighton, where he lives. In these sections Cave randomly picks up a series of famous friends, incuding Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue, for chats about life, art and celebrity.
The whole thing is linked by Cave’s lugubrious voiceovers, discussing his life and work. Here he is on the recording process:

“I love the feeling of a song before you understand it. When we’re all playing deep inside the moment. The song feels wild and unbroken. Soon it will become domesticated, and we will drag it back to something familiar and compliant, and we’ll put it in the stable with all the other songs. But there is a moment when the song is still in charge and you’re just clinging on for dear life, and you’re hoping you don’t fall off an break your neck or something. It is that fleeting moment that we chase in the studio.”

Wise words, Nick. It’s nice when you’re in the studio with people who understand what you’re chasing – that razors edge between spontaneity and finesse. By the way, I always liked “Into My Arms” and “Where The Wild Roses Grow” – the one you did with Kylie. A few more like that and I’ll probably give in and like you.

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Cultural end-of-year lists are so fucking smug. They’ve already started appearing, and I’m having to avoid the Sunday papers where cultural hacks declare which books, films and albums were the most essential. What a lot of great shit I’ve missed (as usual).
There’s nothing wrong in theory with writers looking back at their personal highlights, but in practice looking over these lists always makes me feel lazy, un-cultural and basically skint. I’m usually lucky if I’ve heard a couple of the year’s “best albums” or seen many of the films. The year’s best music gig? I was probably busking outside.
It’s all very well for Mark Kermode to appraise the hundred or so films he’s seen in the year and boil them down the ten best; he doesn’t have to shell out a penny. Cinema tickets are nudging ten quid these days, and that’s before you’ve made it past the popcorn and Ben and Jerry’s without hemmoraging another fiver. I don’t need to be reminded of all the arthouse classics I can’t talk about.
The best-of-year book lists give me a similar feeling of cultural failure. If only I had the time and application to keep abreast of the latest literary sensations. I’m a slow reader and the lack of anything I recognise on the lists just makes me feel distinctly low-brow. If I didn’t get around to them when they were the ‘hot new read’ I probably never will.
But these lists are not just there to make us feel like philistines; they also have a commercial function. A decent ranking in the end-of-year lists can turn an overlooked book or album into a must-buy christmas gift.
Let’s face it, though nominally independent, arts journalists are as much a part of the marketing machine as the billboard poster. Critics, who get sent pre-release albums and concert tickets, are just the unofficial wing of the advertising campaign.

Often it doesn’t matter if reviews are positive, all the industry cares about is pushing the product into the public conciousness. However, writing favourably about an author, singer and actor means that agents are more likely to grant a journalist inteviews with said star. Meanwhile, with their end of year lists, critics get to bolster their position as cultural connoisseurs, compiling the canons of our times.

The arts pages that specialise in this vanity are really for a small section of metropolitan luvvies with the means to hoover up whatever cultural product they fancy, whether it’s HBO box sets or tickets for the royal opera house. For those of us in the zero-hours trap or the boho bum category, there is much more adventure. Old stuff. Second-hand stuff.
My year’s cultural highlights included reading Herman Hesse’s Siddharta (1922), as well as downloads of BB King’s Live at The Regal (1964) and Mike Leigh’s film Naked (1993).
The arts press has nothing to say about the pleasures of exploring a second hand bookshop or dancing to your mate’s band in a sweaty basement. My idea of a cultural life isn’t just being a recipient for the never-ending stream of over-hyped new content being funnelled at us.

Despite this, I have managed to think of a few things that came out this year that I liked, so I can flag them up and feel like an arts journalist.
Album of the Year: Kurt Vile – Walkin on a Pretty Daze*
The American songwriter dashes off a folk-rock classic with his trademark stoned nonchalance. It’s got the attitude of Lou Reed and the sensitivity of Neil Young.


















Book of The Year: Sylvain Tesson – Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in The Middle Taiga
The journal of a Frenchman who retreated to the Siberian forest for six months to read and contemplate the wilderness. Full of philosophy and love for nature.
















Film of the year: Pride

Based on a true story, a group of gay Londoners raise money for striking miners in 1984, go to visit their Northern pit village and forge an unlikely bond. Flawlessly done, feel-good, moving and inspiring.



Gig of the year: Me, doing poetry at a night called the Secret Cabaret in Liverpool. I performed “Checkout Girl” and “Careless Wispa”, and according to someone who was there, I absolutely smashed it. I agree.

TV moment of the year: Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s interview with Richard Ayoade on Channel 4 News. A hilarious five minutes as he deconstructs the arts interview.

Theatre event of the year: I didn’t go to see any plays, sorry.
*ok, I’ve just found out this was actually released in 2013, but that’s still pretty current for me!

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Things you find by chance are often more precious than things you find by looking. I spend a lot of time in cafes writing, reading and generally hanging out; and occasionally a piece of music comes on the establishment’s stereo that I have to know more about. If I’m feeling sufficiently self-confident (it’s somehow daunting to reveal what a secretly obsessive culture-stalker you are) I go over to the counter and ask what it is.

Here are some tunes I have discovered whilst lounging with a coffee in Liverpool.

Iron and Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days (album)
Discovered at: The Egg Cafe

I was sitting in the Egg when they were playing a gorgeous album by someone I’d never heard before. They told me it was Iron and Wine, I’m not sure which album, but it may well have been this one. Samuel Beam a.k.a. Iron and Wine writes gentle, hypnotic songs and his soothing voice seeps into you by stealth.

Camera Obscura – If Looks Could Kill
Discovered at: Mello Mello

My ears pricked up when I heard this scuzzed-up combination of Motown and Scottish indie-pop wafting from behind the counter at this now sadly-defunct establishment. I’m so glad I asked about it because the album from which it comes, ‘Let’s Get Out of This Country’ is now one of my favourite albums.

Andrew Bird – Hole in The Ocean Floor
Discovered at: FACT cafe

I was transfixed and transported when I heard this semi-classical track floating through the air at FACT. Particularly the hauntingly beautifully end section.

Tiny Dancers – Hannah We Know
Discovered at: Keith’s Wine Bar

This is a tune I had heard on the radio years ago but I didn’t hear who the artist was. It had been going round my head intermittently ever since and I was grief-stricken that I would never hear its blissfully repetitious chorus ever again. Then last week, it was playing in Keith’s and I finally got the chance to identify it.

Remember, if you hear a tune you like, don’t be shy. Ask what it is!

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