Monkey Swallows the Universe…again!

You asked for it. TWO more MSTU shows, this time marking the 10th anniversary of our second album, The Casket Letters, which was released on Loose Records in 2007.

We’ll be playing The Casket Letters in full on Friday 28th July at Sheffield City Hall Ballroom. Tickets will be on sale for this one from Friday 10th March.

We’ll also be playing a set of our favourites at Indietracks Festival on Sunday 30th July. Tickets are on sale NOW.

Pic above by Chris Saunders, taken on the Bole Hills in Sheffield.

The Fisherman

Music helps

Everything is upside down. Music helps. Come and see us at The Lamplight Club in Sheffield on Fri 3 March, along with The Gentle Good. Tickets here.

The last time Gareth Bonello (The Gentle Good) came to Sheffield was the day after the General Election. We weren’t feeling too good then either, but we sang to a similarly bruised audience and we all helped each other. Here’s a video of the two of us singing together that night, performing Gareth’s beautiful song ‘The Fisherman’ – you can hear the proper version on his latest album ‘Ruins/Adfeilion’, which is out now on Bubblewrap Records.

More gigs coming soon.

Bandcamp

Tomorrow, Fri 3 Feb, Bandcamp are donating 100% of their shares of any music purchases to the American Civil Liberties Union. So you can help protect human rights and support independent musicians (cough cough) and treat yourself all at the same time.

Be excellent to each other.

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!

The Liberty System – out today!

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Hand-numbered limited edition CDs with three covers to choose from, a tiny lyric booklet and magnifying glass to help you read it. > Get yours from Bandcamp <

The Liberty System is a Brontë sisters triptych full of classical elements and meteorology. The songs Anne, the Gardener, Emily, the Diver and Charlotte, the Levitator study the literary sisters’ creative approaches and their influence on one another’s writing and ambitions.

Each song sees a sister returning to the Parsonage dining room to write – bringing the room alive – before her work is released into the world. Each sister has been ascribed an element and each seeks a different kind of liberty.

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Anne, the Gardener 

Let out like a scream, you don’t fit with the scheme; an orange hawkweed
Among the blues and yellows, the bells and primrose that line the way home
Where you’re drawn, by-and-by, by invisible tie, a hand in the sky
You’ve been gritting your teeth until your release, and you stole truth like a thief

Sister, lay your burdens on the table
In a bundle of blooms let them grow
Twisting tendrils, oh tormentil your roots running over
To the edge; your wretched vetch stretching out, heading boldly
Down the table leg to flagstone bed – your honest seeds are sown

Now like your own self before watch them climbing the walls
Build your trellis according to new rules
Try to train them in lines, prune the faith-strangling vines
“Come forwards”

Sister, grow your garden
Though your soil is pure and giving, your work’s never done
Every harebell you get ringing they hide from the sun
Every yellow rattle shaken, selfheal nettle-stung
But wear your foxgloves with that perfect love, don’t hold your adders-tongue:

“You tell us curl up, ‘dear creatures‘, beside the fire at night
While you hedge this heaven’s pleasures to indulge your appetite
But here in the garden you must walk a straighter edge
You can really smell the roses if you cut back the excess
There’s an expansive future like the Scarborough sea
With all its hope and possibility
And dew from my sister gives my plants their Yorkshire tea
Untasted, unsalted, unkept, inspiring me
And the breath of my sister to spread my sprouting seeds

“Taking our plans
In our own hands
Working the land”

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Emily, the Diver

From depths returned, floated back to land
Face of fog and body of clay
Diamond dust, evaporee

A river cut deep, a path drawn straight
Seen from above, the line of fate
Face of fog and body of clay
The earth moves out of your way

Myth sees you ride a dark wave neath the moon
Dredging all worlds from the ancient salty blue
A bride-less train of eternity
Dragged in your wake across the cold country

But on a damp and still morning – ah!
Your shadow there cast crepuscular
And in the garden your rain falls far from the plain
Each mark met with arrow’s aim
Your current strong, your clouds right wrung
A bay where floats your galleon

Quencher, oh drencher, lifegiver, life taker
Feed these roots, fill these boots, blot and cross the wallpaper
With port-wrenching power and starboard compassion
Love finds a lover but a storm soon comes thrashing
Then with mingled affection your steam-devil of a sister
Drives you to advection, that oft-brewin’ half-twister
And comes a creeping fog from her petting conquistar
Downward and townward to menace the vista

A low-lying, eye-widening solitary cloud
A galaxy unfocused unsettles the crowd
But you’re far from there; you are diving again
For no soul can be loosed in this world of men

Closer to home is closer to you
Closer still is the infinitely starry salty blue
Diving and grasping for hands outstretched
Take your place in the chain reaching down to the depths

charlotte-cover
Charlotte, the Levitator

A stillness she can’t bear,
This curling, swirling air
But she holds her breath and, from right to left,
Patrols the perimeter

Oh, a breeze breathes relief
She comes in, then what’s in is released
Soars to ceiling height, then from left to right
Spreads her secrets to each dew-soaked leaf

Decanter, thought-planter
Blow through the grass and speak at last
Set em flyin, dandelion
Come sing out loud, don’t whisper now
Navigator, levitator
Over mist prevail to fill that sail
Before you turn again, weathervane

Weeds to tumble and stalks to bend
Soil to crumble and breath to lend
Prithee pepperpot-shaker
Show your power, sea-shaper
Take us up, take us out, sky’s friend

Hair-tangler, cloud-wrangler,
It’s up to you when the sun breaks through
Take us higher, spread this fire
Through the great outside, be satisfied
Fog-lifter, seed-drifter
Your own heart as proof, tell the truth
Before you circle back on your corkscrew track

And with this tidy turn the wallflowers wince and waver
Flickering the lamplight, dropping the temperature
Throwing back the bushes like a tossed head of hair
Right to left – so bereft – blowing a cold, cold air

Refuter, uprooter!
“I gift to thee a dormancy”
Chastiser, capsizer!
“And evaporate this sinful strait”
Oh banshee, how can she!
“Watch me dim the Northern Lights”
Turn again, hurricane

The wind can but grasp at the hands of time
Wise-turner, late learner, all liberty thine

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!