Between a tour and a farm


11th November 2020

There is a familiar feeling which happens, even in normal (i.e. non-Covid) life, after a tour ends, a big concert is over, something is finished.  It is a dip.  A relaxation.  A sinking into.  A rekindling of normal.  A reconnecting with whoever is closest to you, your friends.  And an emptiness.  The audience has gone.  The Producer isn’t any more working on that project with you.  The team and the energy and the spotlight falls away because that’s it, the work has ended.  That’s fine, that’s how it’s meant to be, the audience are meant to leave the concert hall (digital or otherwise), the tour has an end, the applause signals when we leave and return to just being another person standing at the school gate.

But for the artist, this is a fragile and strange time.  What should I do now?  Where is my creativity given purpose now?  What is the plan? 

It’s hard to go to the piano but my good friend reminded me that that is actually what I should do.  “Music feeds your life, your life feeds your music” she said.  So I tidy up, get myself sat down, even plugged in to record.  And what comes out is searching.  Totally lost.  Completely unsure of the way forward.  A harmonic exercise in seeking. 

I find it curious and try to poke at how I naturally gravitate towards minor yet in my head want major to be the goal.  What is that about?  You can’t just shove ‘Tierce de Picardie’s (when a minor piece suddenly ends on a major chord) everywhere and hope that’ll work.  Happiness stuck on for a good ending.  Like a book with a really annoying conclusion. 

I’ve been reading The Starless Sea.  I’m 30 pages from the end.  I’m actually quite loathe to finish it because I’m worried the end is going to be disappointing.  An epic adventure of being stuck in a game full of symbols and magic and strange, underground, book-laden worlds.  But what if the ending is a neat sewing up of things?  How will I feel?  Satisfied and pleased or unconvinced?  I’d like the ‘hero’ to be ‘saved’ but is that really realistic?

And how should one’s philosophy burn into one’s music?  If I’m an optimist, shouldn’t I be making much cheerier music?  Why am I rhythmically so basic when I can even do 5 against 4 with my eyebrows (that was a weird fact to share with you)?  Why does my intense classical training belie a liking for the totally simple?  Is that a failure?  Or just my ‘true/authentic voice’?  Does simple music go with intellectual complication?

Belie, that’s a good word.

  1. (of an appearance) fail to give a true impression of (something).

“his lively, alert manner belied his years”

  • fail to fulfil or justify (a claim or expectation).

“the quality of the music seems to belie the criticism”

Interesting that the dictionary definition includes music!  And its opposite is ‘reveal’.  And I definitely want my music to reveal.  Emotional resonance.  The seeking.  In ‘The Starless Sea’ there is a toast repeated throughout: “To seeking!”, and its answer: “To finding!”. 

I guess that’s what it’s all about.  (I walked past a pub sign recently which said “Imagine if the hokey-cokey really was what it’s all about).  Yesterday I stood in our ‘wild field’ and I saw for the very first time that there is a power line coming off the pylon, perpendicular to the main power line journey, which goes across the brook.  I don’t know how I didn’t notice it before.  We’ve been on a 2-month permaculture journey of observation.  It’s troubling to me how my eyes didn’t witness this blatantly obvious feature on the living map of the land. 

The last 2 months have been a total whirlwind, actually.

In September I was gearing up for the ’12 years’ digital tour.  Re-writing ’12 Years’ for the third time (I started it in November 2018, inspired by the IPCC report, an article about luxury bunkers, the appearance of XR, Greta, the Camp Fire in California).  Then I came to re-write it for the 2020 tour (due to launch March 2020).  I had to change California for Australia.  The storm names were updated.  The fictional characters were a bit more environmentally aware now, in no small part due to Greta and Extinction Rebellion. 

Then COVID and lockdown hit.  I even got the dreaded thing.  It was horrible.  The night time fever was the worst bit.  Whilst reading headlines on the phone about people dying all over the world from this new disease which had sprung from some sort of human-to- wildlife inappropriate intervention.  What got me through was the hilarious memes coming mainly out of Italy.  The man who made himself a treadmill by throwing some liquid soap on his tile floor was a favourite… 

The tour went digital but in May we sort of lost momentum – everywhere was shutting up shop, venues were putting staff on furlough, shutters were coming down.  My amazing producers and I dreamed a new tour, totally digital, venue-supported, local yet global, still with amazing expert speakers joining the audience and I for post-show zoom discussions which were often disarmingly moving.  The moment Sarah Mander from the Tyndall Centre and the RNCM student kindled the idea of hyper-local institutional fossil fuel divestment.  The moment the 80-year-old XR arrestee exchanged perspectives with Richard Betts MBE from the MET Office about climate activists’ court cases and expert witness statements.  He’d had to answer “How many lives are saved by the action of the activist?” which presumably if the overall actions lead to the government declaring a climate emergency and setting net zero targets, could run into the billions.  The collision of the on-the-street direct action with the perspective of one of the most senior climate scientists in the UK was alive with the energy of possibilities unfolding.

For me, these moments were what made the tour incredible.  By opening up an audience with a pretty intense musical journey and then just letting them speak, share ideas, ask questions of experts, I felt we added stitches to the quilt of commonly-held and commonly-understood knowledge.  These people might then go on to chat to a friend, or a family member.  Someone even bought 9 tickets for friends and family to watch the next show. 

The climate situation does seem to be one which needs itself to spread its truth like wildfire, tree to tree, person to person.  (Which maybe makes the deniers like unsuccessful waterways, running between and beneath the inferno).

So, back to this moment.  I should hold in my heart the strength and the extraordinarily moving moments from the tour.  I should feed my creative core by not turning off the tap of making but perhaps by letting it drip its way back towards a running flow.

These moments where I’m not sure where I’m headed are probably like the green compost – plants grown not to eat or for their beauty but simply (and importantly) to give, or lock in, nutrition to the ground. 

And this is indeed my next chapter.  Because we’ve bought some land.  This is my next big story.  I’m becoming a farmer (and I say that with total humility and self-awareness of my amateurishness).

This is all related.  The more I learnt about climate change in creating and re-creating ’12 Years’, the more it seemed to me that I should live what we were being told were the solutions. 

Regenerative agriculture – looking after the soil, as with current industrial farming practices we apparently only have 40-50 years left of harvests (and that top figure is the ‘best’ places).

  • a technique that rebuilds the quantity and quality of topsoil, while also restoring local biodiversity
  • a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more

Local food production – organic, carbon un-intensive, most nutritious, seasonal

‘Wilding’ – restoring natural processes, so the land becomes as diverse as it can potentially be (see Isabella Tree’s really astounding book ‘Wilding’)

And my husband and I have always wanted to buy a rubbish building and make it amazing.  Breathe life into something.  One of the early places we looked at was in Liverpool.  A warehouse.  The estate agent said ‘you can just show yourselves around’ which I thought was a shame until we got there.  It was too dangerous to enter the building said the signs, so we walked around the outside.  There was a hole in one wall, a bit too high up to see but conveniently there was an old dining chair nearby.  Rich put the chair by the hole and stood up to look in.  “What can you see?” I asked him, my face full of hope and wonder – we could afford this and it was big!  “The sky”, came his reply. 

We are extraordinarily lucky to have found our spot, to nestle and rest.  But this is not about retiring at all.  This is about creating some kind of microcosm of how things could be.  This is about feeding with brilliant minds, watering with creative processes, planting in music, using the seeds from scientists, the sun and shade from a vibrant community.  We want to create a place where music is created next to food growing.  Where we mix together the short-lived moment in time of a talk, a gathering, a salon concert with the slowness of the growing of an oak tree.  Where we consider microbes on sound walks.  Did you know that “there are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on the earth”? Where the vastly different experiences and perspectives from people from different walks of life teach each other and learn from each other. 

It is a huge challenge.  Sharing space.  Being generous.  Planning.  Getting it all done.  We have to start from this moment, where metaphorically we can see the sky through our future home to actually understanding our place properly beneath the sky, between the soil and the canopy. 

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