Tag Archives: real life

The lay of the land, 6 December 2019

Seven years ago today, I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At that point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

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Well, hi there. Another year gone by! The big news from this year is that Mel and I are engaged, with a date set for next September. I’m already looking forward to the day itself, and being surrounded by everyone who is closest to us. Tonight we’ve been talking about the most important thing: what music we’re going to have.

It’s a sign of my continuing good health that we’re doing this; I genuinely wouldn’t have asked her unless I was sure I’d be sticking around in the long term. As it is, I’m as likely to be here in 30, 40 or 50 years time as anyone else, and while I’ll probably always be a bit nervous every time I have an unexplained ache or pain anywhere in my upper body, I remain fit, healthy, happy and lucky to be under the watchful eye of a great team at St Thomas’s Hospital, who check me and my trusty pacemaker out a couple of times a year.

Looking ahead to next year, I’m not planning to wind the blog down yet. Some of you may have noticed I’ve picked up the pace in terms of posts. That was part of a conscious strategy to try to attract more readers as bBack in April, kind of out of blue, I lost around 45% of my numbers, more or less overnight, and have spent all year trying to figure out why, claw them back and/or attract new ones. Posting more frequently was part of that effort. I’ll continue to post more frequently if I can. December is a busy time, but I’ll pick it up again in January if I continue to struggle time-wise, as I have for the last week. I like doing this too much to stop, although I did consider it when I found that suddenly I’d lost nearly half of my readers. Would it be crass to ask you to follow me on Twitter if you enjoy reading my blatherings, and maybe retweet any posts you particularly like?

I’ll be back in a day or two, with another of those lost 4AD albums posts. In the meantime, my very best to you. Have a great holiday season, vote wisely (if you’re in the UK) and wash your hands often; it’s germy out there! Speak soon.

The lay of the land, 6 December 2017

Five years ago today, I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At that point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

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Time moves faster than I ever could have imagined as a child, 25 or 30 years ago. I’m nearly 36 now, closer to 40 than 30, and finally doing the adult stuff that for the longest time I didn’t think I ever would – buying a house, getting a mortgage, making plans not just for retirement but for death (by making a will, you understand.  I’m not planning on hastening the end).

Most of the time when you’re doing this stuff, the process itself just sweeps you along with it and doesn’t leave much time for reflection. But every now and again, it occurs to me how unlikely this all is, and the fact that Mel and I have a financial commitment that’s going to last till more or less the end of our working lives in 30 years’ time is in many ways the biggest symbol of my recovery yet: inconceivable six years ago, massively unlikely five years ago, but now a reality. We move in next Tuesday. It’s daunting as we’ve still got so much to do, but it’s also hugely exciting.

Many of my friends are in similar positions and it’s nice to look around and see how many of them are happy and settled: buying houses, getting married and having children. I wonder, though, if any of them feel the same way I do: that they’ve been enjoying an elongated adolescence that is only now coming to an end.

I already have plans for next year. Setting up a studio den in our new house is first on the list. A new record with James McKean is in the works, and my own much-delayed album is finally – finally – recorded (I just plan to press an EP first as essentially a trial run, so I can make all my mistakes on a low-stakes release), but I’m not looking too far beyond those things at the moment. Compared to this year, next one should be quieter, and less stressful. There may even be more time for blogging! I doubt I’ll ever again get to the more-than-once-a-week schedule I maintained in 2013-2014, but at least once a week would be good.

I’ll be back later in the week if time permits, but you know, moving house and all. I’ve got a couple more drum posts planned, so if you’re into those, stay tuned.

The Lay of the Land, 6 December 2016

Four years ago today, I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At the point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

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I’ve done one of these each year on 6 December since I started my blog, and they’re shoot-from-the-hip affairs. They’re a snapshot of how I feel on this day when it rolls around. The 2013 and 2015 pieces were positive, contented pieces; the second one was probably the angriest thing I’ve ever written on this blog..

This year, it’s been hard not getting angry every time I read a newspaper. But we on the left must resist the temptation to wallow in anger, bitterness and resentment. Our world is being remade into something ugly, and it will take a long, long time to undo the damage that’s been done.

Yet we must believe it can be undone. The only alternative is despair, cynicism, nihilism: destructive emotions that help no one, change nothing and destroy a person from within.

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In the meantime, you have to live life, with all its ups and downs. This year, my father’s sister, Marion, died unexpectedly. She was only 72 and had not been ill. I’ve also seen more friends and relations get married and start families. Mel and I look to our future and make our own plans.

We’ve been fortunate enough this year to see Santorini, Tuscany, Madrid and Liverpool, and I’ve just got back from Biarritz, where my company had its conference. I’ve continued to make music, helping James, Mel and Yo with their releases, and planning for my own, which will definitely be happening in 2017. Enough waiting. Time to make it happen.

I began running again, after my mum remarked that I never mentioned going running any more. I started, on the hottest day of the the year, by seeing if I could do 2.5 kilometres. Two weeks later, I ran 5k for the first time since I was at school. Two months’ after that, I ran 10k to raise money for Southend Hospital (where I was an inpatient on the cardiac ward). Next spring, I plan to do a half marathon, possibly for Cardiomyopathy UK. Training begins in earnest after Christmas.

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Things are fine for me. But they are not fine looking at the wider picture. Far, far from it. In a year of remarkable, unpredictable political upheaval, it seems daft to try to second guess the future, but next year is likely to be another difficult one for too many of us. It may seem an ivory-tower kind of exercise, but I’ll still be here, looking for music that means something to me. It still feels like a job worth doing.

Back at the weekend with drums. Take care, y’all.

running

Nearing the finish line

 

The Ride – Joan as Police Woman

Joan as Police Woman’s first album came out in the summer of 2006, and was the last album I bought* while sharing a house with friends in Ladywell. A few weeks after it came out, I moved back to Southend.

Real Life is a record that’s appropriate to starting a new phase in your life; it seems to have come out of a new phase in Joan Wasser’s. The record’s key lyric (in the title track, which opens the record), “I’ve never included a name in a song/But I’m changing my ways for you Jonathan”, insists that the singer is in a new and better place.

Certain reviews of Real Life made an inevitably big deal of Wasser’s relationship with Jeff Buckley, but to view her through the prism of one relationship is reductive. Over a lifetime many things will happen to most people, and all leave their mark. Real Life is sometimes a serious listen, but it’s also cautiously joyful, playful, meditative, defiant, comforting and sexy. The world is not without  good singers, tight bands, stellar songwriters and (even now, albeit only occasionally) records that sound as good as this, but the range of emotions contained on Real Life’s songs is the album’s distinguishing feature. It’s what gives it an unmistakeable authority.

Much coverage was also dedicated to Wasser’s time playing with Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright. Both at the time were still pretty high-profile artists, so it was understandable, if lazy. But her own work was substantially different to both, although Antony Hegarty guests on I Defy, an album highlight. Instead, Real Life is essentially a soul record with an indie rock sensibility, and when the two strands of Wasser’s work are intertwined so completely as to be indivisible, that’s when the album is most itself. The straightforward rock songs, Eternal Flame (not the Bangles’ one) and Christobel, hint at Wasser’s past in the Dambuilders and her time backing Lou Reed and Tanya Donelly, but Feed the Light, with its uneasy vocal harmony and squealing noises, and Save Me, with its heavy groove and half-whispered, half-yelped interjections of “Save me!”, are where the Real Life is differs from the Norah Jones and Corinne Bailey Rae records that it may sometimes superficially resemble. And of course, both Jones and Bailey Rae have moved a long way from their starting points of MOR jazz and trad. soul revivalism respectively.

But for all this, my two favourites are the ones most obviously derived from 1970s soul: Anyone (“I’m ready to start to be ready…”) with its languorous 6/8 tempo and dominant horn chart, and The Ride, a beautiful, hushed ballad based on electric piano and the sympathetic playing of original bandmembers Rainy Orteca (bass) and Ben Perowsky (drums).

The Ride is one of those perfect songs you only get once every few years. When Wasser’s voice glides from a sleepy alto to its highest register to sing the final chorus, it’s the sound of someone throwing caution to the wind and declaring themselves. It’s exhilarating and moving and triumphant.

Real Life was a stunning record, beautifully recorded by Bryce Goggin: lush and spacious, deep and rich, competitively loud but with drums crystal clear and retaining their punch. It’s one of my favourite records of the last decade, and one I still listen to frequently now.

joan

*From Morps, the record stall in the now closed Lewisham model market
**A post about Bailey Rae’s alt. rock past and time signed to heavy-metal label Roadrunner may one day happen
***He’s played with a huge range of artists, from John Zorn and Joseph Arthur – who guests on Real Life – to Clem Snide and Charles and Eddie

A slow week?

My apologies for the lack of posts. It’s not because of a lack of things to say. For a couple of weeks I’ve been planning a special Bass Week, and a special Drum Week, and a few standard posts on songs and stuff, as well as a long post on a two-part episode of St Elsewhere called Time Heals, and oh, loads of other stuff.

But this week I find myself busy as a bee with a very long to-do list.

Last week I got a new job, and next week I start said job. I’m going to be working a few days a week – as a copy-editor still – in London for a multinational internet media company in the travel, leisure and entertainment fields. So the plan is to move to London in the near future. Which means that this week I’ve begun flat-hunting while trying to prepare for next week and clear up all my outstanding editing work so I don’t start this new job while mired in a backlog of old work. I’m pretty good at time-management and prioritising workloads and such, but some things had to give and this blog is one of them, unfortunately, as I still wanted to do some musical stuff in the evenings as time allows.

I’m hoping to post something tomorrow once I get back from my south-London flat-hunting adventures. In the meantime, take care y’all.