When I decided to become a full time musician I knew it wouldn't be as simple as just turning up doing some gigs and selling some albums. But when I look back at 2018 I don't think I could have ever imagined the sheer variety of activities I'd be doing.
This year my work has took me thousands of miles around the UK and Europe meeting hundreds of wonderful and inspiring people. I've performed in a such a wide range of settings from the prestigious Barbican Arts centre in London to people's living rooms to prisons across the North of England. I've worked with babies and with young offenders. I've performed on festival stages indoors and outdoors and done a musical presentation to an academic conference. I've performed inside an ethical optician's shop in Sheffield and in the Welsh assembly in Cardiff.
Telling our stories
I love to work creatively with people and this year I did a big project with visual artist Lois Blackburn called Moving Panoramas. I collaborated and co-wrote songs with people who have been homeless and we performed them as part of Manchester Histories festival. My friend Steve Roberts helped me turn that into an album. I've also run sessions in different prisons with men and women who had a range of musical experience from none to genius. We've created new songs and learned how to perform them. I really believe that music and songwriting is a great way to connect with people and help them tell their truths and stories.
I've performed my own truths and stories many times this year. In April I did a 3 week tour with Kirsty McGee through Holland, Belgium and Germany and finished with a few dates in England (played in my hometown of Eastwood for the first time since the 1980s). In the Autumn I did some gigs called "A rattlebag of songwriters" and doing so formed a rewarding creative partnership with two of my favourite songwriters Emma Thorpe and Huw Costin. We hope to do more next year.
Working with others
As both a 'sole trader' and a 'quiet loner' I really relish the chance to work with other people and it's always inspiring to meet good people who are doing interesting things. In March I was thrilled to be part of Studio 3 Arts Working class cabaret. They're an inspiring grassroots led arts organisation in Barking and the event was top quality entertainment as it should be - riotous, funny, heartbreaking and thought provoking. Equally inspiring are the volunteers who run Our Chartist Heritage in Newport. I ran some songwriting workshops for them and took part in Newport Rising - an arts festival. They are inspiring people to be around - finding ways to make history engaging and relevant.
As a freelancer, regular work is like gold dust and I'm lucky to have a couple of things that I do regularly. There's 'My first protest song' - a quarterly session for babies and toddlers at The People's History Museum. I also have a role as a musicians visitor covering the North England, North Wales and East midlands for the charity Help Musicians UK.
In my spare time I've continued to curate and run the Defiance Sessions at Glossop Labour Club. This year I ran 9 gigs highlighting around 20 brilliant artists and raising some funds for foodbanks. I also run Platform - a regular monthly creative workshop at the Station pub in Ashton. Platform is a group for people who have been hit by austerity and is part of the We Shall Overcome movement, a cause I helped set up and continue to help with.
When the news and the state of the planet offer nothing but darkness and turmoil, it's heartening to have met so many wonderful people with good hearts - whether on the streets or in prison, keeping our foodbanks stocked, being activists and creating change, running charities or offering helping hands, running gigs and festivals and keeping the arts and music fires burning - people are simply awesome. Thanks so much for the time we've spent together this year. Here's to a happier new year and I'll see you in 2019.
Highlight - Regular songwriting sessions at the Booth Centre in Manchester as part of the Moving Panoramas project
Lowlight - Despite having finished an amazing new album in 2017, I've just sat on it all year. Just not had time to explore ways to get it released.
Festivals - May Day Solidarity Festival, With Banners Held High, Newport Rising, Music on the Marr Folk Festival, Manchester Histories Festival
Organisations I've worked with - Arthur + Martha, Studio 3 Arts, The Booth Centre, Theatre in Prisons (TiPP), Irene Taylor Trust Music in Prisons, Collaborative Poetics, Our Chartist Heritage, the People's History Museum, Eye Eye opticians, Help Musicians UK