Certain Death

OUT TODAY

Digital only single available on Bandcamp
Coming soon to iTunes (vid coming soon too!)

You are a singularity
Vote on June 8th
Vote for kindness
Vote for empathy
Please don’t vote Tory

50% of all sales to the People’s Assembly

STEALTH EMBROIDERY

Do you know any floating voters / Tory voters in marginal seats? Do you have a Conservative-voting Grandma who likes her grandchildren and embroidery but for some reason thinks Theresa May is great? Perhaps you know a floating voter who is so twee they might actually be swayed by a small piece of embroidery?
Email me their address and I will anonymously post one of these to their house.

NB this isn’t a ‘merch’ thing so please don’t ask for one for yourself. I’m asking for people’s help with this as we’re safe from Tories here in Sheffield (hurray!) so it would be great to hear from people in marginal seats. I am a total amateur embroiderist embroiderer whatever so if my sub-par stitching upsets your gran don’t say I didn’t warn you.

‘Certain Death’ recorded by Alan Smyth at 2fly Studios, Sheffield, mastered by Dean Honer
Nat Johnson – vocals, guitar; Oliver Allchin – saw, percussion; Hannah Cartledge – vocals, flute, accordion; Katherine Jackson – vocals; Chris Loftus – bass; Neil Piper – drums

Emily Brontë projection & guest post from Al Reffell

A video of Al Reffell‘s beautiful film projection to accompany my song ‘Emily, the Diver‘ is now available to watch! Read on below the video to hear from Al about her approach to it. I loved working with Al, she really got what the song was about and brought it to life in such a gorgeous way, as you can see…

Thanks to Joe Kriss and Jake Barrett.

Al Reffell on Emily, the Diver:

“I was delighted to be offered the commission to create a large-scale projection for singer/songwriter Nat Johnson’s ‘Emily, the Diver’; one of three songs celebrating the Brontë sisters, written for the bicentennial celebration of their lives and commissioned by Wordlife for Off the Shelf Festival.

There were three songs representing the three sisters to choose from. The songs explore aspects of the sisters’ lives and personalities using elemental symbolism and ideas of liberties expressed through each sister.   It was great to receive these contemporary interpretations – compelling narratives, each with its distinct individual tone, both musically and lyrically – laden with rich visual imagery.

Which to choose?

I am familiar with some Brontë literature and had been particularly drawn to Wuthering Heights many years ago, reinforced by my love of walking the open moorland areas of Yorkshire – but more distinctly I have carried with me a quote from Emily Brontë, made art inspired by it and it resonated with my connection with the element of water.:

“I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.”

I am a swimmer. I have a friend who is a dedicated swimmer and artist who was happy for me to photograph her ‘swimming’ on her living room floor! for the video with patience and understanding of the process.  So I had my Emily…swimming and diving through the piece in stop motion.. drawing a parallel between immersion underwater as immersion in the creative process of writing.

So we see Emily as misunderstood – obscured to the public with her ‘face of fog’ and ‘body of clay’ (connected to the earth? brittle/fragile?) – this invoked for me a strongly mysterious image.  Along with her ambivalent presentation to the world, there is also her ambivalence towards her work being published. She disappears from public view – preferring to dive down into her hidden creative place…

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I wanted to bring in more traditional Brontë imagery, including the Haworth parsonage and classic Top Withens moorland scenery from Wuthering Heights – but on investigating Emily’s life and looking through archive material from the Parsonage Museum collection I learned that Emily also drew and painted – one of these paintings being of a pet hawk she owned called Hero.  This captured my imagination along with a delicate pencil drawing of a moorland bird  – the two seemed to perfectly represent the duality here – ‘life giver, life taker,’ ‘port-wrenching power and starboard compassion’ – seemingly opposing energies emerging from the same source and drawn together (in love?)

I also wanted to bring the viewer into the room in the Parsonage where the writing happened but to represent this obliquely.  The lyrics offered this opportunity directly with reference to the wallpaper and I was delighted to discover has a floral pattern winding through trellis – so it became animated in to life as both the dining room and (Anne’s) garden.

And in the growing and disappearing of the flowers her element represents an essential life giving force to the sisters’ creativity, but again there is ambivalence in this ebb and flow and a difficult relationship with Charlotte creating tumultuous weather as elemental forces collide – with a lot of sheets of paper flying about as a result!

The paper sheets found their way into the piece initially as Emily’s galleon – I bought a copy of Wuthering Heights as I knew I wanted the text represented somewhere and this paper ship seemed an obvious place, but then I started playing with cutting the pages and placing them on a lightbox – they started to follow Emily around as she was swimming – ‘brideless train of eternity’ – an idea that she and her work were bound together in this element which represents total immersion…from which she emerges at the opening of our song – and to which she returns – ‘taking her place’ once more in her natural environment.

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Emily’s immersion was mine also – a lovely piece to work on.”

Thanks, Al!

Literature Fests – pics

Thanks to all who came along to Off the Shelf, Ilkley Literature Festival and Beverley Literature Festival over the last few days. I’ve loved every minute of being involved in this project and working alongside Andrew McMillan and Zodwa Nyoni. We’re hoping to take it to the Brontë Parsonage itself in 2017, keep an eye out.

Off the Shelf Festival – Upper Chapel
As well as being the first of our ‘New Responses to the Brontës’ events, Friday also saw the premiere of a film by Al Reffell which she had made to accompany my song Emily, the Diver. The film was projected onto the outside of the building, whilst me, Zodwa and Andrew were performing and discussing our work inside. Thanks to Wordlife and Arts Council England for supporting the film projection. It’s going to be projected twice more – onto CAST in Doncaster on Sat 29th October, and onto the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield on Fri 25th November. Available to watch online soon too.

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Ilkley Literature Festival – Ilkley Playhouse
Another great night followed on Saturday in Ilkley:

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L-R Andrew McMillan, Zodwa Nyoni, festival director Rachel Feldberg and me

Beverley Literature Festival – Beverley Minster
A stunning place to play!

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Here’s my view from the ‘stage’:14695469_10154272520793705_969849062773389628_n
We were interviewed here by John Wedgewood Clarke, lecturer in Creative Writing from the University of Hull. Going back to Beverley also gave me the chance to revisit one of my favourite pubs – Nellie’s. If you’re ever in Beverley, these are my tips – the Minster and Nellie’s!

Again a big, big thanks to the teams at Off the Shelf, Beverley and Ilkley festivals!

The Liberty System – out 21.10.16

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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:

  1. Anne, the Gardener             2. Emily, the Diver                 3. Charlotte, the Levitator
    anne-cover    emily-cover     charlotte-cover

Limited edition CD available for pre-order

EP news! You can now pre-order the Lonesome Lake limited edition CD from Bandcamp:
CLICK ME CLICK ME

Each one is uniquely hand-designed by moi. Only 100 available.
EP smallMore info on the EP over here.

There’s a video coming soon too – last weekend, Neil and I went out to Padley Gorge in the Peak District to make it:

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NJ Padley Gorge

Also this week I’ve been doing my bit to help the refugees in Calais. There’s some advice here on ways you can help.

 

The Listening Body

I spent yesterday at a conference on ‘The Listening Body’, at Site Gallery and the Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery. I went along for a couple of reasons; firstly because I really enjoyed and strongly recommend the Listening exhibition currently at both of these sites (a touring exhibition, next stop Norwich). But also because I’m becoming more and more interested in the impact of my immediate environment on my songwriting.

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I think I’ve touched on this before (and I’m pretty sure I talked about it for the songwriting course – roll up roll up) but not in detail. I can remember where I was when writing every single one of my songs – the room I was in, which way I was facing, whether it was day or night etc, which tells me that those rooms were perhaps as important in shaping those songs as the original inspiration itself, and I was conscious of how this element affected the songwriting for my Neighbour of the Year album. Whereas songs like Not Now, Horse were written whilst looking out at a vast sky and over treetops, I’ve Been Shot was written in a darkened room with the curtains closed, and I think – I hope – that you the listener can hear that difference. Then there’s DOG of course, in which I tried whilst in the studio to inject as much of the outside as I could, putting the original inspiration directly into the music, as described previously here.

So I’m really aware of this, and yet – I continue to write indoors, in my house, in the same rooms, developing songs in the studio, also indoors. I find inspiration outside but write inside. And it has occurred to me that I’m cutting off one of my own songwriting limbs here. So, whilst I continue to work on some new songs indoors (at the minute every time I pick up my guitar to practice something new comes out, it’s just one of those times) when it comes to writing a whole new set of songs for an album, I’m planning to approach it differently next time. Like George Michael said, though with different activities in mind, Let’s Go Outside.

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I’m not starting this process yet, but I’m doing a lot of thinking about it. And that’s why I went to the conference yesterday, to hear more about the role of listening in contemporary art, about the differences between hearing and listening, about how we can listen with our whole bodies and translate what we discover.

The exhibition curator, Sam Belinfante, talked about how, though we rely most heavily on the visual, it’s our hearing that comes first; our ears develop in the womb and we are born already listening. And it’s our hearing that gives us information first, in a fraction of a second, before our eyes confirm what our ears have already told us. I learned a bit more about binaural recording which is something I’d quite like to investigate (if you go to the Listening exhibition, see Cabin Fever). I loved hearing from Ed McKeon about Pauline Oliveros’ ‘tuning meditation’: in a group, the participants sing any note to begin with – all making different notes – but on the next one, they tune to someone else’s note in the group; a kind of “listening out loud”, said Oliveros. There’s an example of this on youtube here. We also heard a rowing song, sung by the subjects of Mikhail Karikis’ Soundwomen – a song where the vocals reflected the motion of the waves, with different groups overlapping each other.

We thought about the difference between an audience watching a musical performance or looking at visual art – how a musical audience is still, almost trapped in the moment, whereas viewers of visual art are more free to roam. There was much, much more, but I won’t go on, suffice to say the exhibition and conference were certainly timely and relevant for me, given my current train of thought. I’m still thinking.