2014: Overture

So that was 2014, almost. Very nearly all of it, though I can’t help but feeling that there’s still something lingering behind the curtain, waiting for us to declare our said-and-dones, so it can finally leap out and catch us unawares.
That in itself would hardly be a surprise, in such a strange and cacophonous year. With story edits, choir rehearsals, and half-marathon training, I figuratively and literally hit the ground running in January. Yet it would be Easter before any of these things began to resolve themselves into the strains that would come to define the year.
Eastercon: Satellite 4 was a con of firsts [Blog]. I made my first ever convention panel appearances, alongside folks such as Jacey Bedford, Tony Ballentyne and Gillian Redfearn. I had my first ever book launch for La Femme, the NewCon Press anthology, where I was delighted to find my story ‘The Honeytrap’ in the esteemed company of tales by Frances Hardinge, Maura McHugh, Storm Constantine, Jonathan Oliver and many more.
Then a late night chat with Hal Duncan about The Scruffians’ “aktchual original lyrics” for ‘An Unfortunate Rake’ led to me singing in public for the first time in fifteen years [Blog], as part of his own Eastercon reading. This set the pattern for 2014, a year where opportunities would suddenly emerge from chance conversations and unexpected coincidences, there to be leapt upon or chased, and damn my anxieties.
So when Worldcon hit London this year for Loncon 3 [Blog], I took a chance on last minute opening, and found myself on panels with the likes of Melinda Snodgrass, Jeremy Zerfoss, Bill Sutton and Nicholle Lamerichs. Once again, I gave a reading for the splendid folks at the Pirate Program fringe (for whom I’d given my debut reading at World Fantasycon the previous November). By the end of the year, I’d even given my first poetry reading, a medium I’ve rarely worked in – at least, before now.
In terms of the published fiction, more random chances: with La Femme I managed to cross appearing in an Ian Whates anthology off the Bucket List. I was chuffed to return to Fox Spirit, with ‘Blueprint for Red Wings’ appearing in the Girl At The End of the World anthology. Aside from that, this was a year of experimentation with both genre and form – not just poetry, but micro-fiction, pure fantasy, historical fiction, overtly experimental fiction, and so on. The greater part of the writing I did in 2014 won’t be appearing for a while yet (although, keep your eye on the January issue of Far Horizons), but there’s a giddy thrill in pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, out into areas where you’ve fuck all clue what you’re doing, and waking up to find you’re still there in the morning.
On the photography front, same melody – though a different key: Another chance exchange led to my first ever promo shoot. My shots of baroque folk band By Toutatis [Blog] would end up in the Evening Chronicle and being used as far away as the Middle East [More Blog]. I shot a bunch of local and not-so local bands [Many Blogs], and started working for Drowned In Sound too, shooting bands from RM Hubbert to Mastodon.

Elsewhere in rock journalism, while I continued to review for Thrash Hits, my Swedish Agent (Benny Bols, Death Folk pioneer) also wrote his first columns for Mass Movement Magazine.
There was more. At Fantasycon, I volunteered as a Redcloak [Blog], an experience that gave me a fresh insight into the reality of running a convention. In a personal triumph for someone who spent their teenage years suffering for their weight, I ran my first half-marathon [Blog] – and, thanks to the generosity of you lovely people, raised £340 for Mind. I started learning the ukulele (God help us all), and I started this blog, of course.
Most exhilarating has been rediscovering my love of musical performance. In April, I’d find myself performing in Durham Cathedral, as part of Durham County Youth Choir‘s 50th anniversary celebrations [Blog]. But this year was mostly about a capella song. After Eastercon, I sang folk tunes at parties and pubs, in hallways and late nights on bridges. While not everytime was a success, it felt good to be returning to something I hadn’t done in so long, and find my love for it was still as deep as ever.
As it stands, 2014 has opened up some unexpected opportunities. Some new and experimental, others as old and familiar as childhood ditties. There have been some successes, some failures – as they stand right now – and Lord knows all my anxieties are still firmly in place, but… Now I know they’re there. Some of these opportunities may find me in a very different place to where I am now, by the time I’ve wised where they’re leading me, pied piper-like. That could be six months from now; it could be six years. For now, 2015 will find me in the wings, waiting for the overture to finish, and just the right moment to step out onto the stage.

Photo by GJB Performance Photography
Photo by GJB Performance Photography

Thrash Hits Top Tens and My Favourite Musical Finds of 2014

So. Things have been happening, and it’s the end of the year, and I should really write a blog.

Really. Write. A Blog.

See, it’s not that I don’t want to, but this is the Hinterland of the year, that magical in-between time, when all the dutiful joy of Christmas is over and done with, and equally as dutiful, but somewhat more desperate celebrations of New Year begin. The time when we tick off the last days of this year’s timesheet, and are just starting to tear it away, tear it to shreds, burn the damn thing, before we face the clean white tyranny of a fresh, crisp, blank New Year. Watch your fingers for papercuts.

I like this time of year. No matter how many wonderful things I have planned for the next twelve months – how many terrifying and scary upheavals that could mean the start of a new and much more rewarding phase of my life… I like that sense of a project completed. I enjoy revelling in that satisfaction, before a new year begins. I like a breather. So understandably, I want to prolong it as much as possible.

I suppose that means I don’t want to write a blog after all.

So in spite of myself, here’s two.

Firstly, a little housekeeping. Thrash Hits have unveiled their annual round-up of the year’s best releases, voted for by their writers. Here’s the Thrash Hits Top 10 Albums of 2014. You can also check out songs from all those albums on the Sunday Slaylist: The Best of 2014, which you can also listen to on Spotify. The albums I voted for begin with track 33.

Talking of my personal Top Ten, here’s the Thrash Hits Staff Albums of 2014. No spoilers… except I am pretty well chuffed I got St Vincent on there this year.

You’ll also notice (okay, *some* spoilers, then) that it’s not been a particularly metal year for me, in terms of personal favourites. Frankly, folk-influenced and acoustic music has been doing it more for me, generally. Discovering RM Hubbert, Blue Rose Code (Honestly, The Ballads of Peckham Rye is no. 11 on my Top Records of 2014. Making this year’s list on two days notice killed me.), The Lake Poets, Sarah Jarosz, Trev Gibb (‘Old Wounds‘, trust me.), Hannah D’Arcy, MG Boulter, Nadine Shah, has been like finding precious lost items in cobwebbed attics, brushing the dust off, setting them down and watching them sparkle. Yes, I know I should really check out Richard Dawson. He’s next on my list. Honest.

Meanwhile, Les Claypool‘s Duo De Twang, and Devin Townsend and Ché Aimee Dorval‘s Casualties of Cool were both projects that elevated sides of these artists we’d long expected, but perhaps had never imagined would sound so sweet. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of sweets, that Primus cover of ‘The Candyman’ (from their Charlie and the Chocolate Factory album) is a fucking belter.

Told ya.

The other big influence on 2014 has been the theatrical. Or rather, the storytellers, I should say. Aidan Moffat‘s solo stuff, Shilpa Ray, St Vincent (still kicking myself for having flu the night she breezed through the North-East), Fair To Midland, General Sherman, By Toutatis and associated projects… When researching for a panel at Loncon 3, I also came across Darren Korb’s excellent soundtrack for Bastion – one hell of a case of first time lucky for the composer. New …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, and the follow-up to Devin Townsend‘s Ziltoid The Omniscient, Z2, scratched the same itch nicely. John Grant made a late grand entrance, courtesy of the livestream of his Sage Gateshead show with the Royal Northern Sinfonia; the night a friend and I confessed to each other that we were both, just a teensy bit, in love with him.

There are doubtless other names I’ve missed, but here are a few of my favourite discoveries of 2014.

Tissue Culture – Bleak Northern Beaches
One of my favourite discoveries through the Tiny Lights gig nights. Click here for some photos of them I took earlier this year.

John Grant – Where Dreams Go To Die
I had such trouble picking one of John Grant’s tracks for this. ‘Queen of Denmark’, or ‘Sigourney Weaver’ could have easier been here instead. You should look those out too. Or ‘That’s The Good News’. Really, just go, before I start naming more tracks.

Blue Rose Code (w/ Samantha Whates and MG Boulter) – True Ways of Knowing
Killing three birds with one stone, this also features the amazing double basswork of John Parker of Nizlopi, and Rachel Newton, whose sterling harp playing is also on the recent BRC album. I shot Ross and co. at The Cluny in Newcastle earlier this year. He’s touring in April.

Nadine Shah – Stealing Cars
Another late contender this year, I’m barely done with first listens to this.

Shilpa Ray (w/ Warren Ellis & Nick Cave) – Pirate Jenny
Now striking out from her Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers outfit, Shilpa Ray is a trailblazer. Pick up the EP ‘It’s All Self Fellatio…‘, it’s a blinder.

RM Hubbert w/ Aidan Moffat & Alex Kapranos – Car Song
An older track, but one I was so glad to finally hear live when Hubby hooked up with Aidan Moffat at the Sage in May (click here for my DiS photo gallery).

Shrine Black Peaks – Say You Will
One of the things that keeps me writing for Thrash Hits is the radar those boys have. This blindsided us all. Thankfully, their quiet since is largely down to their name change since they released their debut EP, Closer To The Sun.

Sarah Jarosz – I Can’t Love You Now
There’s something about Sarah Jarosz’s writing that suggests someone ten years older writing about how they feel in their early twenties. Here’s one example.

Casualties of Cool – Flight
Not so much a new discovery, but wonderful to hear a project with Ché Aimee Dorval front and centre.

The Lake Poets – Husks
To close, this track taken from the debut EP Honest Hearts. Martin’s show at the Mining Institute in Newcastle was a privilege to witness.


DiS In Photos: Mastodon & Thrash Hits reviews: Mike Patton

This week, a couple of new music things have appeared online. Firstly, my shots from Mastodon‘s thunderous pit stop in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne last week are up now on Drowned In Sound‘s In Photos section. Meanwhile, on Thrash Hits have another review from me. Geocidal is the debut of tētēma – that’s Mike Patton‘s intriguing new avant-garde collaboration with Anthony Pateras. Links and more below…

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