Happy husk (husky?)

Dolly Parton is on the One Show giggling like an infant and dancing like a nana at a wedding whilst some hapless civilians sing Islands in the Stream wearing pink glitter stetsons and Dolly bullyies Sebastian Coe into the jiggly equation.  I can barely move.

It’s not Parton’s poise, or her southern twang, or her carefully constructed panto-glamour that’s gluing me to the screen and the soft furnishings (although I’m a massive fan off every aspect of the woman – ‘Jolene’ is the one of three songs that I wish I’d written. It’s completely remarkable to me, to be able to write a song addressed to the person who has taken away the person you love, and to do so from the phenomenon of being the betrayed one who can speak without anger, but with a pleading sadness and twisted, gracious eloquence that’s transcended pathos and found some new, sublime pain in the romance of tragedy, incredible writing…I also love her total ownership and sense of awareness around the particular choices that she’s made about her body and image “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” I also have the following quote on my wall: “When I wake up, I expect things to be good. If they’re not, then I try to set about trying to make them as good as I can ’cause I know I’m gonna have to live that day anyway. So why not try to make the most of it if you can? Some days, they pan out a little better than others, but you still gotta always just try.”  That was a massive aside. Apologies.)

So despite my endless admiration, my catatonic state isn’t because of Dolly. It’s lassitude, plain and simple.

I’m fine really. I am just a bit of a husk after what amounts to two months of constant moving around. I’ve just mentally calculated that I have slept in my own home in Baildon nine times since I came back from a month in Nepal (which warrants a separate blog post), over a month ago.

Time has been spent working on the music and devising for two theatre shows – Lands of Glass which will be at the Edinburgh Festival in August (http://wefund.com/project/lands-of-glass/p59900/) and We’re Not Going Back (http://www.redladder.co.uk/whatson/going-back/) a three-woman show about the coal miner’s strike in the 1980’s.

So: rehearsing, arranging, writing and then partying in Gran Canaria with my lovely family, making new friends in Pembrokeshire with the most wonderful, loving and generous people, flitting between Yorkshire and Newcastle to work and spend time with my closest friends and musical collaborators, and then delivering vocal/repertoire training to teachers and musicians in Bradford, whilst also trying to find somewhere new to live and writing new songs with Sharks Took The Rest, has left me feeling a little…..fucked! And also quite displaced.

PHOOPH. It’s been a precious epoch, but PHOOPH. Bit tired now. Own bed tonight. YESSSS.

It doesn’t escape my attention throughout all this that I am well. The difference in my energy levels since the start of the year is startling when I think about it. In january I really was a husk. Since then, daily yoga and meditation, losing a stone and a half, trying to drink less along with a continuation of the Sertraline seems to be helping to reign in the out-of-control train of brainnoise. I don’t feel numb, I don’t feel slow. And gladly, I don’t feel low either. But I feel. I do. Good and bad. And I’m grateful for that.

I enjoy being a hobo, it brings me joy and a sense of rootlessness which amounts to freedom for me. People tell me to stop renting, that’s it’s been years of throwing away money, but I really can’t conceive of having a mortgage. Mort is ‘death’ in french, and I can’t be tied to a place in such a fixed way. Not right now. Maybe not ever.

Not having a car (and choosing not to have one back right now, has been surprisingly liberating as well. I am early and on time more often than not, and my journeys – on my folding bike and on trains – are more peaceful and productive than they could ever be in a car.

I’m also ready to move on from IMAGO. Rather backwardly, I’m releasing You Keep Flooding In as a single (along with a fantastic remix by Dom P and a video by www.pinkybinks.com) later next month, but that will effectively be the bubbly breaking against the bow of the boat as she sails off out of view. After that, it’s time to make some new music.

I’ll be doing a month of songwriting – a songathon – whilst I’m in Edinburgh in August (get in touch if you’re going to be up there and can spare an hour or so to collaborate)

I’ve been reading this book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Joy-Living-Unlocking-Happiness/dp/0553824430 (kack title, great content – am becoming more intrigued by neuroscience)

And I’ve been using this app: http://www.getsomeheadspace.com

I switched channels half way through writing this to a programme about John Ogdon, the British pianist. What an awesome musician. What a poorly human.

Now listening to Peter Donohoe play a tribute concert to the late Mr Ogdon and it’s really wonderful, so if you have access to BBC Four or can watch again, I recommend having it on – even in the background – because it’s sublime. Sleep is coming.

I can feel my eyes getting into their eyelids and my breath getting into it’s pj’s and my wandering focus is silently ushering in an early slumber party. Will write again soon.

Thanks for reading, friends, and thanks for the messages of love for the IMAGO – six months old now! http://beccyowen.bandcamp.com/album/imago  – and compassion in finding and expressing resonance with the last few blogs.

 

Night y’all Dolly I LOVE YOU

 

B x

 

Down here I’d like to ramble on a little longer and thank Rupesh and Pranamaya yoga, Nepal, and Fran and Mike Gaunt and their beautiful girls, and all of my friends and family for being for me and with me over the last six months and for eating my constant batches of Dal. It’s not just the pills and the yoga: I AM WELL TODAY BECAUSE YOU EXIST. THANK YOU. x

Welcome to the Underground Collective of Wonky Bonces

I’m writing this from bed, wearing a white balaclava that my mum sent me as part of a ‘cwtch* parcel’ that she posted after reading my last blog (*http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=cwtch).

It came with a note that said ‘needs washing, smells of sweat and eternity’. I think it’s her perfume, but I like to think she meant unending time.

This makes me laugh.

Laughter has been coming much easier to me in the last week or so. A sense of humour is how I know I’m alright again. The pills are kicking in, and despite STILL having this bloody cold (the ‘hundred day cough’ as it’s been recently coined) I am generally feeling more sturdy and balanced. Thank you for all of your comments and messages of love and support.

I like to think that there is is a kind of underground collective of wonky bonces who can share and speak and seek each other out and strive for balance and kick against stigma together, even in our loneliness. We’re like butterflies in the heat, who can only fly if their body temperature is above 86 degrees.

ImageThe last blog provoked a discussion on Facebook about where depression comes from, in a clinical sense. I’ve also been talking to friends about the difference between depression and anxiety disorders, which has been interesting. Personally, whilst I do believe both things are an illness, I don’t think that means we are powerless within them. Neuroplasticity is real. I’ve experienced it most acutely having had therapy for post-traumatic stress (I had EMDR)

Whilst I mean this to be empowering, for those of us who find ourselves wanting to climb out of our own brains because of depression or anxiety I know that is can also be bewildering when you’re actually in it. Ruby Wax described as being like a block of concrete in that moment: immovable and grey. But either side of it there’s a lot we can do, and I’ve been finding that meditation helps me to build my ‘focus muscles’, so that when the memlins strike I have some reserves and can help reduce the noise.

There’s a Tori Amos lyric in ‘Hey Jupiter’ that goes like this:

“Thought I knew myself so well
All the dolls I had
Took my leather off the shelf
Your apocalypse was fab
For a girl who couldn’t choose between
The shower or the bath”

That feeling – of not trusting yourself enough to choose the most simple of things – let alone how to choose a healthy lifestyle, a partner, to have children, how to parent the children we have, whether to go to uni, whether to quit/take the job, etc. – is one I know very well. Fear of making the ‘wrong choice’ and the consequences that might come.

Fear has been something I’ve written about in songs since the beginning. The first song I ever wrote started with the lyrics:

‘Have to come away from the window, before I become part of the rain,
Want to be a part of the rain, falling down but making a noise.
Want to tell you my darkest dreams before I become part of the rain
Whilst I’m unoccupied by fear, I want you near to me’

I’ve spent a long time and energy on fear, it’s part of our primal fight or flight makeup. I don’t even especially care what other people think about me any more, not like I used to, but here I am, giving the fear and guilt more airtime because it’s a constant challenge to be mindful of it and the self-flagellation, which is born out of a suspicion that we are not good enough somehow.

I’ve banished guilt as much as possibly can, through mindfulness and checking in with others about what’s normal and healthy and what’s excessive. And I’ve started to wonder if guilt is another way of feeling like I’m in control, because it corrals all of my other emotions into one handy tank – but guilt is the big predator that ends up eating all of the smaller, colourful, exotic little fish.

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I’d go as far as to say that there’s almost an arrogance to feeling guilty all the time, about everything. It’s a way of making yourself feel more important somehow. So it’s no surprise that in getting used to my new way of being – of holding things back for me and seeking more solitude and pleasure for myself before others – the guilt has returned, and the memlins say ‘you’re being selfish’. This is based on all the ‘shoulds’. It’s a pendulum.

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I am very grateful for the childhood my family gave me. It was full of joy and adventure and discovery and unbridled encouragement to be creative and as honest as possible. There was also a heavy influence from growing up in a pretty intense church environment. For a long time I went along with things to please others. It’s impossible to like yourself if you feel like you’re lying all the time.

I went to church from the age of 4, and whilst I’m grateful to my parents and my church family for the love and the security this gave me, I think this it was too young to be exposed to ideology and be expected to fully comprehend it (NB: I’m not saying that young people should be brought up rudderless, without any value system at all, but I think freedom of choice and expression, to change one’s mind and not have all the answers to life are all imperative when we’re children.)

As a teenager I started to develop an understanding of my personal politics, which was based on the fundamental principle that everyone is equal. This became  problematic for me when I realised that sexism was endemic. Women couldn’t be elders. And I was told that if I wanted to keep singing in the worship band, I would have to wear a skirt. At the time (early-90’s, massive tomboy) this was tantamount to identify theft. I refused to do it and was slowly but surely no longer in the band. The prevailing signal I kept receiving from that environment was ‘be perfect’. I knew that I definitely wasn’t, and hostility – towards myself and towards others – was the only way forward from this starting point.

I was angry with the church for a while. I felt like the feeling of being part of someone else’s game and the subsequent untangling lay at the heart (If something has to lie at the heart of it) of my mental health stuff. I wanted to be part of a people who based thinking and behaviour on equality, honesty, intimacy, acceptance and the healing power of love, but I didn’t know how to say it, and I don’t think it’s easy for anyone, so I just kept going and raising my arms. 

For someone as sensitive to the will and influence of others, and as analytical around language as I was, let alone the will and influence of an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God, church became an overwhelming and dilemmatic place to be, and when I got to university at aged 18, I made the decision to stop going. I guess my spiritual life was front-loaded and I drowned under the weight of it.

I now know that church is a milieu that suits some people and not others, and that it doesn’t necessarily have a huge amount to do with real spirituality. I can choose to either be part of or step outside of. Perhaps church, like any institution, is an elaborate, language-centred invitation to a drama-game that positions adults as children in a ranked room full of flawed people who are often trying their best to apply imperfect doctrine to their fallible lives. If you’re in a place of analysing things at that kind of level whilst everyone around you seems to be finding peace, joy, love, and other fruits, you quickly feel like you don’t belong.

To me, God and religion are not the same thing. God is non-hierarchical, and is way more advanced than we can possibly comprehend (because we are more advanced than we can possibly comprehend, and we are all made from the same stuff.) It’s like trying to understanding the vastness of space or Bruce Springsteen’s back catalogue. Our minds just can’t do it.

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But God is also the God of small things. Good snogging and laughing until you cry. Vinyl and log fires. Lie-ins and smile lines, and the guitar part in Some Girls are Bigger Than Others,. Hilarious taxidermy-gone-wrong, and the first time you spoke or heard your child giggle, and the last time you realised how incredible Romanesco brocolli is, and God is in the poems by Dylan Thomas and the smoothest skimming stone you ever threw, and all the ripples on the surface and all the leagues underneath.

And maybe, just maybe, God is also the darkness in us. Our flaws and shortcomings as well as the weakening of the rot and the raising up of new growth inside each of us each day. The learning.

God is in the underground collective of wonky bonces.

God is my depression and my delight.

Done (in)

happy beccy face on way to wales

The IMAGO launch week is over and I am writing this from bed with a well-earned cold-sore on my fizog and a warm cup-of-tea. Two house gigs, two launch gigs down, then another house gig on Sunday in Leeds and then I am DONE until after Christmas (with the exception of a few bits and bobs…)

Over the past few days it’s slowly started to sink in how amazing the last few months – indeed the last year – has been, and how generous people are. I have some amazing people in my life who help me all the time, and who have really ‘fannied up’ for me over the last few weeks in terms of emotional and practical support. I also have some wonderful fans who support me and my music with  a beautiful enthusiasm and an emotional intelligence that I couldn’t ask more of. It makes me feel extremely fortunate and like I am ‘got’.

I want to thank each of you for supporting me, and thank you so much for coming to the launch gig on Saturday, for laughing with me, and crying with me, and for allowing me to share my heart and my music.

My favourite part of Saturday night was walking in at the start, sitting at the piano and looking out at a room full of gorgeous, grinning folk – some of whom I knew well (hello, mum!), some of whom I’d ever met – and feeling like you were all with me for one big happening that we were all about to share. Whether you were there or not, if you’ve been to shows before, if you’ve bought my albums or donated to the crowdfunding, then I felt you with us too. To be listened to and feel understood is all any of us really wants, from the earliest of life’s moments, and I feel like you lot really get me and it feels incredible. Thank you.

Before all this, I really didn’t know if anyone would care/notice that I was making a new record. A five-year break between releases has been a long time, and a lot has gone on to knock my confidence and make me question myself. Making IMAGO has been a reclamation project, in so much as I’ve had to learn how to trust myself again. And whilst I am still very fallible and prone to self-doubt, all in all I’d say that it’s worked…I do feel like I’ve got my wings back. And that’s partly down to me, and partly down to all the awesome people in my life.

Bill Murray agrees.

bill murray

I’ve been building my own machine outside the big labels and the fat cat industry for almost 15 years now, and the last few months has felt like a validation and a culmination of this approach – releasing the new record is the apogee of what it means to me to be an independent artist/woman (cue soundtrack) putting out records and shows (ooh, and before I forget, I also have a new website: – thanks Ki Media!)

It’s not easy. It’s still difficult to reach an audience outside of the North East (so spread the word! And if you want me to come and do a house gig at your place, get in touch), it’s a slog (almost impossible) to get national press interested and radio play without a label and without pluggers, and it’s a stretch to fund touring and generally keep people abreast of what’s going on with what I’m making because there’s a time cost to everything that’s always greater than you imagine when you first set out on any given task. And I’m knackered. But I am also incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved – what we’ve achieved together – and I honestly have no complaints.

I have also forgotten how to relax. The cogs of my to-do list that takes over my mind. This is inevitable when you’re doing so much yourself, when you’re asking so much of colleagues and friends and family who are also part of the beautiful ‘outsider machine’. The cogs have been spinning almost out of control. I need a Tramadol. But nothing can compare to the feeling of satisfaction or joy that comes with being on this side of a self-release.

The crowdfunding campaign has been unprecedented – I can’t believe how well it’s gone and how much we’ve raised. (There’s still 3 more days to go, and we’re on just over £3.5K. Go to: http://www.sponsume.com/project/beccy-owen-new-solo-album-imago-released-2013 if you’d like to donate)

I’m so grateful. Not only has this money meant mastering at Abbey Road, the production of a CD and someway towards covering the cost of the imminent vinyl (along with the cost of all the crowfunding rewards themselves!), it’s also  generated a lot of work which has become part of the feedback loop of goodness – 44 personalised poems – some of which are becoming new songs –  sending the stuff out to people and getting lovely feedback, making the thank you videos, thanking each person individually for their donation – all of it has been one giant elongated effort to build a community of people who would help to get this album – my beautiful baby! – finished and presented to the world in such a way that we could all feel like we had a stake in it, like we were part of something. I hope that’s how you feel.

I got a little feedback loop/infinity symbol tattooed in white on my sternum earlier in the year (by Ferank Manseed – check out his work), to remind me that you get what you ask for (so be careful what you ask for!), and that you get what you give. I know that life can be unfair, and that this doesn’t always ring true, but I’m basically saying: intention is everything. I’ve been looking at it recently and nodding, all knowing and arch and glad.

afterlight (1)

So now my main job is to dismantle my mental machine for a little bit over Christmas and try to unwind. Or maybe it’s to build a new machine that is based on letting go. Not necessarily not working as hard – I have an album to share, and more gigs to find (get in touch!), but emotionally, it’s about letting go now. The album is about that for me – about some of the things I’ve been through and moving forward with strength and vulnerability in equal measure, both of which provide their own little feedback loop i.e there’s strength in vulnerability.

I had a few little panic attacks in the week leading up to the launch (which was also the week I got banned from driving for speeding, so a mixed bag!), and they were a little warning sign – I am aware that I need to stay on top of my health – both mental and physical – if 2014 is going to be all that it promises to be. There are a number of ‘mantras’ that have emerged over the last few months, i.e. ‘hold on to everything lightly’, ‘chew your food’ and ‘no matter what happens, you look great in a pirate hat’.

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The big one that’s helped sustain my energy and focus came in the aftermath of my housemate, Owen, being taken very ill, and in the build up to launching the record – it’s the one that I put inside the album sleeve, the one that helps me to keep going, and it’s this:

COURAGE ONLY COUNTS WHEN YOU’RE TERRIFIED.

It’s okay to be shitting yourself most of the time (not literally, you might want that sorted). And it’s okay to have a mantra. It’s okay to have panic attacks when you’re really stressed, and it’s okay to ask for help and tell people about that. It’s okay to be proud of the things that you’ve achieved. It’s okay to be scared of them too. The main this is to keep going and breathing and making and asking and seeking and listening and singing and sleeping and laughing.

And when I think about it all, as proud as I am of the new record, my main achievement this year has been keeping an even keel. I said it at the launch on Saturday (did I over-share? Always hard to gauge!) and I’ll say it again – as someone who suffers from intermittent bouts of crippling depression, I’ve learned that empathy is the antidote to shame. For me, making music and listening to music is one of the most therapeutic things I can do (along with making Daal and going to the gym). The idea that other people connect to my music I make feels quite miraculous and ace, and is part of the empathy-making-machine that helps me stay okay. So thank you, and thank God for music.

There are many other wonderful people to thank, – my incredible producers Alex Ross and Jonathan Bidgood (IMAGO BUNKER 4 EVA!), Sean Keeble at Bishop Auckland College and  Pinky Binks who gave of their time and expertise to get all of the IMAGO emblazoned chopping board, bibs, high vis vests, mugs, oven gloves, door hangers, etc. etc. etc. made up (could NOT have done it without you and your cupboard of joy), the incredibly generous and visionary Jo and Carl and the Cumberland Arms, all at St Luke’s who allowed us to create a very special gig, those who played on Saturday at the Cumberland in support of the launch – Matt Stalker (who has been a total rock to me throughout the making, along with Alex and Jon, and whom also plays guitar on the album and has his own album coming out next year), Ditte Elly (who also created the Ink Drawing for the front cover), Nev Clay (genius), Adam Kent (creative brother and fellow Shark), Dave Haley and family for the first IMAGO house gig, Clymene and Graham for the second…Tommy Anderson for designing the sleeve….Brendan Murphy for brass percussion on the record, James Lewis for cello…Joe Haydon for filming the launch, Phil Punton for photographing it…and everyone who came to the shows and continues to come to them….erm…Alfie the dog…my P.E. teacher in high school…..to be honest, right now, you are all whirring around in my head and my heart like beautiful-but-frantic moths, and I am afraid that if I begin a proper thank you list I would miss somebody out, so I might save the proper gushing for Christmas Day, which feels like a good day to give thanks, and make it more poetic, along with publishing every one of the personalised poems that I have written for Crowdfunders (I’ll publish them here i think, so watch out for that!)

For now, I’m going to put some ice on my face, watch cartoons and allow the warm glow of IMAGO to spread as it continues to emerge like the beautiful gift it’s turning out to be.

Much love and thanks, here’s a random selection of images (the really pro ones are by Phil Punton from the past few weeks, and whatever it is you need to do or to get through – KEEP GOING> EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE AND YOU AINT ON YER TOD.  Love,  Beccy x
IMAGO GREEN IMAGO image boxes personalised poems 2 image crowdfunding rewards laid out haleys and beccy geoff at post office dave h at post office alarm clock house gig clymene and graham aimee and beccy house gig house gig clymene and graham _DSC9288 _DSC9212 _DSC9198 _DSC9209   ximage image_2 image_1 image_3

SUCCESS.

Recently I was asked what success would look like regarding the new album I’m making.

My answer is that people accept it’s beauty and imperfections in equal measure and like both these things. Most of the music that I love listening to on record  has the immediacy and the dynamism of a live performance. We’ve tried to capture and create this on IMAGO (full article in VARSITY: http://www.varsity.co.uk/culture/6318)

Success also looks and feels like togetherness. I write music to connect with my own head and heart. I record and perform music to connect with other peoples. It’s an intangible feeling most of the time, but recently I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a palpable manifestation of the sense of community, empathy and sharing that music invites. Just over six weeks ago I set up a Crowdfunding website to help finish making IMAGO. Rewards included IMAGO oven gloves, bibs, CDs, high-vis vests, chopping boards, ceramic tiles, personalised poems, etc.

I’m amazed to be able to report. We’ve now raised over £3k through crowdfunding for the new album, IMAGO, thanks to the generosity of folk and some unique rewards. Chuffed!

So it’s happening. A CD and (eventually) vinyl, mastered at Abbey road, and I get misty-eyed just thinking about how many people are now involved in this project and billowing its sails.

The album launch is on December 14th in Newcastle upon Tyne (more details here:

LAUNCH TICKETS: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/244775

You can still sponsor the record online by going here, every penny goes back into the rewards and the making of the record:

CROWDFUNDING SITE: http://www.sponsume.com/project/beccy-owen-new-solo-album-imago-released-2013

In celebration of the success of the crowdfunding project, I thought I’d make most of the songs from the song blog I did at the start of the year available for public consumption again.

SOUNDCLOUD WITH SONG BLOG:

I’ve left out the songs that are going on IMAGO or the ones I released on the E.P. Drink

Both are available for pre-order/instant download respectively at

BANDCAMP:  www.beccyowen.bancamp.com

along with my very first album (The Sweetest of Tales…)

When this is all over I’ll be resuming normal service on the blog, but for now, the IMAGO bunker calls…

BIG LOVE AND THANKS,

Beccy x

WAW Inspiring

I’m in a place of little blog time. This dismays me but needs must. IMAGO is getting there. This won’t only be a record of music, it’ll be a record of the incredible generosity and talents of people. 

Almost 100 hundred backers in less than a week. I want to build an ark and put all of us in it and party and read and make things and snog and swap clothes and tell stories forever more. 

COME CLOSER, YOU ARE QUITE THE BEAUTY: http://www.sponsume.com/project/beccy-owen-new-solo-album-imago-released-2013

Do this with the next 2 minutes 57 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJxsTq0ReKM

 

and then this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qDtHdloK44

A New Feeling

Any minute the mouth might rob the nose from a passing face, snatch it with it’s bare teeth, and LO! a new feeling that isn’t the feeling of this congealed, lolloping tongue.

The thought of that! Of a nose inside a mouth! It tickles, hacks into the back of the gums.

I’ve been to Eyemouth. A drink of beer, a game of pool, on the border. I’ve never been to Nosemouth.

Mouth is thinking about a drink of beer in a pub and how much it needs that.

Mouth is thinking. Heavy with tongue, dry in it’s gum and thinking with a dry, shallow breath.

Maybe the gulp of a woman’s thirst is different to the gulp of a man’s. His: tiger. Hot blood jerking, blinkless gulp of feathers and crunch, biting into his burden. Hers: wolf. Knowing everything, knowing too much, breathing into her burden, muted in it’s ‘ung ung ung’ as she breaks for short howls and bubbles get caught in the under throat.

Teeth open wide like yellow flower petals.

No more thinking.

The Prayers

The prayers lip forward, thrum, drum;
Seconds tick around like nods.
Robbed of sleep the loving sods
Sit and wait for news to come.

Crucial information clogs
Beyond a door of experts,
They didn’t get their chance to blurt
Their love for him, keep up the slog.

Buttocks keep their chairs,
Tongues lie flat in mouths,
Eyes close and brains drowse.
It’s knackering: despair.