I’ve written about visiting Haworth back in May as part of my research for the Brontë project – have a read over on the Ilkley Festival website.
Here are a few pics I took on the day:
See more on Facebook.
My Brontë Sisters triptych will be available on limited edition CD next month.
The Liberty System is a study of the three sisters, using classical elements and meteorology. You’ll be able to choose from three different covers with artwork by Oliver Allchin (there are just 100 of each cover). Each hand-numbered CD also comes with a tiny lyric booklet and magnifying glass, inspired by the tiny books the Brontës made as children.
The first chance to get yours will be at the ‘New Responses to the Brontës‘ events:
Then on Friday 21st October I’ll put all the remaining copies up for sale on Bandcamp. The songs will be available digitally then too. The songs/covers are:
Last Sunday, I was in the garden reading A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros. There was a bit about how books shouldn’t tell us how to live, but make us want to live, and perhaps to live differently. Suddenly, I pictured myself as an old lady, being asked if there was anything I regretted. Old lady me said “I wish had seen more sunrises.”
Day 1: Monday 12 Sept. 6:10 am – 6:35
Pigeons and planes. Rose petals on the lawn. One huge cloud in the west, grey at the bottom, white on top. Feathery whale-shaped clouds in the East, where the sky is a soft peach. Thinking about peaches. The clouds closest to the sun starting to burn pink. Birds waking up, distant cars hum. My pen on the paper the loudest sound. The pink in the sky is spreading, matching the roses in my neighbour’s gardens. A plane streaks across the sky and leaves a fluffy pink trail, but there’s a gap in the trail, as though the plane jumped forward. Some low clouds are moving fast. The clouds in the east are all pink now, the sky like a childhood fantasy, reminding me of strawberry-scented pencil erasers.
Day 2: Tuesday 13 Sept. 6:05 – 6:40
Awake from dreams of a snake and a leopard in my garden, but all that’s out here is a cat on a neighbour’s shed roof, slinking in the half light. I’m trying not to wake up too much, but I can feel it happening anyway. A daddy longlegs on the outside of the window. Twittering or silence. A twinkling light in the hills. Thinking about an old friend who turned up in the dream too. Straight ahead, mist obscures the furthest hills. Empty gardens, a sea of dark greens. I slip across to the front of the house to take a peek out that side, and the first line of a Delgado’s song comes to my mind – creeping round my house at dawn… At the front I see a man walking dog, and then go back to the other side of the house. At 6:22 a small squirrel charges from left to right along all the fences, goes up into a tree, then turns and goes back the way he came. Must have forgotten something. Fluff caught in a spider’s web. A bird I can never identify with this descending ‘peeeeew’ call. Gnats. Tired and uneasy this morning. Crows call. A ghostly squid cloud. A magpie, then another. The sky is softening, the twinkle in the hills grows dimmer. Thin, streaky clouds like pencil marks on the sky. Parallel lines. So precise. The drawing is complete.
Day 3: Wednesday 14 Sept. 6:15 – 6:40
The night after the lightning storm. Thick fog and cloud. Hungry. The sky is grey, smoke grey. Hair grey. Ghost grey. A breeze genty ruffles the trees, like an absent-minded owner stroking a dog’s head. Thinking about the term ‘absent-minded’. Neat gardens. A single red wildflower that was in the garden yesterday has not survived the storm. Nothing is changing this morning. But I still showed up. Awareness in the feet. ‘The foot listens’. Cupping my face in my hands, both warm. Blackbird on the grass.
Day 4: Thursday 15 Sept. 6:27 – 6:45
Even foggier than yesterday. Worrying about hedgehogs. Haven’t seen one for years. Remembering my first hedgehog; being woken up by mum to see it. A good memory. Stomach gurgling. Mist drifting past the window. No breeze today, the trees still again. Pegs on a line. Stones that look like a duck, swimming in concrete. Skipping rope. The squirrel on the fence again. As I go back to bed, a Kyllie Minogue song from my childhood is in my head – “Je ne sais pas pourquoi”.
Day 5: Friday 16 Sept. 6:28 – 6:48
Cloudy, but not foggy. So tired. Wind in the trees. So quiet. Someone leaving for work, their headlights shining on the garage door the only sign. A dark wall of trees in the West. Thinking about the berries on the trees. I dreamed I was drawing a forest scene and that I wanted to watch all of Seinfeld from the beginning. The sky is lightening, but the birds are still quiet. Inner stereo playing ‘Roses in the Hospital‘. Subtle pink in the East. Inner stereo playing ‘My Best Friend’s Girl‘ now. Narwhal cloud. Soft, peachy-pink sky under the grey. Thinking of the sea. I open the window to breathe in the cool air, hear the sound of the wind. The birds start to sing. The clouds are burning. Spooky, swirly clouds in the West remind me of Fright Night. Branches sway. Drying shirts and the curtains sway.
Day 6: Saturday 17 Sept. 6:32 – 6:57
The sky is lighter in the North and West than in the East, has the sun moved in the night? Gentle breeze in the trees. Have been hoping these mornings to see the local fox, but he’s a no show. Thinking about The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes. Purple hills in the distance. Squirrel on a neighbour’s tin garage roof. Feels like the sunrise is broken today. So grey in the East. Going to a wedding today. Illuminated white cross of the church straight ahead, I wonder how far from me it is. The sky is pink everywhere except for where it’s supposed to be. 6:49 Birds starting to twitter but it’s still grey in the East. 6:57 Fuck it.
Day 7: Sunday 18 Sept. 6:36 – 6:50
Perched on a chair by the window of my hotel room in Todmorden. The window looks out onto the illuminated clock tower and across to the hills, except…fog again. I was hoping to see the sun rise over those hills. Different bird calls here. I can see the windows along the side of the Town Hall, where I spent yesterday eating and drinking and dancing. Slight headache. A squawking bird sits on the weathervane cock’s back. Cool air coming through the open window. Six birds on the weathervane. I dreamed of prison, my captors volatile and untrustworthy, including those who were meant to be on my side, my fellow inmates too curious, trying to know my secrets. Thinking of how I took my shoes off and danced last night. Headache growing. Dry mouth. I did it.
Overall, this week of sunrises has had the effect of slowing down time. September had been racing away, but getting up for a little bit every morning then going back to bed for a hour or so has made the week seem to last much longer, as in more than a few hours longer. Like I’ve lived more this last seven days. The weather was largely against me, but it was the getting up that mattered, showing up for this extra bit of time to sit and do nothing but look at the world in front me. I’m a bit sad that it’s over, and thinking that I’ll do it again before too long. I wish I was naturally an early riser, I know some people reading this might be thinking ‘you got up – so what?’, but at the start this really did seem like a challenge to me, though it was a lot easier than I expected. Rise well, friends.
I’m very excited to finally tell you what I’ve been working on the last few months. Early this year I was commissioned by Off the Shelf Festival of Words to write new music inspired by the Brontës, as part of the Brontë bicentenary celebrations.
I’ll be performing my piece – a musical triptych called ‘The Liberty System’ – alongside poet Andrew McMillan and playwright Zodwa Nyoni at Off the Shelf, Ilkley Literature Festival and Beverley Literature Festival this October.
AND I’ll also be releasing a limited edition CD as part of the project.
AND AND AND…the Sheffield date will also feature a projection onto the Upper Chapel of a film that’s being made to go with one of my songs, which is pretty special. I’ll share more about the Brontë project soon.
Before all that you can see me supporting Alasdair Roberts and James Green at the Lamplight Club in Sheffield on 27 September. Tickets here.
Yesterday, accompanied by the sound of the water wheel and visited by herons(!) we played at Shepherd Wheel in Whiteley Woods.
We themed the set to nature/landscape-inspired songs…
1 – The Pie Bird – from I’m Across, I’m Ashore. Set on a farm backdrop, among ‘the drama of hens and of foxes’.
2 – Talkin’ Like You – one of our Connie Converse covers, full of natural imagery. We didn’t have Oliver with us yesterday, who normally represents the tall trees in this song on the musical saw, so I sent Katherine off to find something else she could use to fill in for him. She came back with two broad beans, given to her by Hangingwater Allotments. Unsurprisingly, they proved to be somewhat unmelodic. You can download our version here.
3 – DOG – about walking and presence. This was dedicated to Amy the dog who had come to watch us. She wagged her tail in approval. Download it here.
4 – Formicarium – a new song about the challenges of switching from ‘doing’ to ‘being’, including references to my own experiences of trying to learn meditation, a splash of existential crisis, that kind of thing, all set to a background of local scenery including the Porter Valley, Rivelin Valley and Chatsworth Gardens. (Will get this recorded eventually!)
5 – The Magpie’s Campaign – inspired by the behaviour of the birds in my garden, this one is about inequality and demonisation of certain groups in our society by our sick government – written ahead of the last general election, it is still exactly as relevant. It was during this song that a couple of herons flew about above us, obviously in approval of the sentiment. Read more and download it for free here.
6 – Condor – sticking with birds, the lighter side of this song is about a sort of natural reincarnation. You can download it here
Thanks to Steve Vickers for the pic, to Scott and the Folk Forest for having us, and to everyone who came to listen!
I wasn’t planning on performing at Tramlines this year (or anywhere this summer – I’m busy working on a project at the moment that I’m hoping to be able to share with you soon!), but when I was asked to play a short set on the Water Wheel Stage at Shepherd Wheel, I changed my mind.
It’s a spot I’m fond of anyway, but it’s a great idea for a stage, with music, drama, poetry and local history. For the music element they have chosen artists who are particularly inspired by nature and landscapes.
More info on the Facebook page. I’ll be on at 3.
Gideon Coe’s Sheffield special on BBC 6 Music the other night featured three helpings of me – two Nat Johnson & the Figureheads session tracks from 2010 (Book Club and Wasted) plus Sheffield Shanty II. You can listen back to the whole show over here.
One of those Figureheads tracks, Book Club, was given away as a free download back in 2009 – you can still get it here.
If you want something else fun to listen to, my friend Johny Row over in Australia is keeping up his great little show over there. Here’s his recent covers show.