It is exactly 2 years today that I left a Belgian concert hall in the interval of my final gig of the final tour of the duo I’d worked in for almost a decade.
Why would I throw away a successful career? Why would I risk never playing to audiences of that size again? Why would I allow dark myth, rumour and gossip to surround it?
Why would I?
The ONLY reason it could possibly be: The secret hell I was enduring was worse than losing everything I had ever worked for. When I think back to that time and that person, she feels like someone else, someone I can reflect upon objectively. How could I ever feel anything but sympathy for a person so sad and so broken that she would abandon her entire life to be free of something?
But what is that something? A fair question but it’s hard to explain a decade’s worth of toxic, controlling, dysfunctional dynamic exerted silently and insidiously, without violence. A few paragraphs aren’t going to do that.
Let’s just say that I had to dismantle the entire framework of my career to rid my professional life of its malignance. There is not an agent, manager or label left standing.
The music business can be inherently sexist, in some small but fundamental ways. People often struggle with the idea that a woman was the songwriter, the ‘ideas man’, the project manager and the driving force behind everything we did. The myth exists that the male will be the dominant creative force and to dispel that what it requires is that male to speak it aloud, rebalance the message and overcome the perceived emasculation of that truth. I also played the guitar; I always played the guitar. I wasn’t as good as him, not virtuoso, but I was solid and wrote all the songs on it but my belief in my own playing dwindled day by day.
How did that happen?
My therapist has answers but that’s long and complicated and mostly about my relationship with my father, so instead here’s a really tangible case to illustrate what & how this happened:
We’re going to play spot the difference.
This is a recording of me playing ‘The Tangled Tree’ a song I wrote the words melody and guitar part for back in 2005 a full 4 years before I met BW,
Here is a video of us playing it in 2014, it is of course beautifully played, he’s a fantastic guitarist, this is not in question, but you will recognise every note of that guitar part from the previous recording.
We played that song for ten years, people complemented him on its guitar part all the time, not ONCE did he EVER say ‘Josienne wrote that’. Not once, he just took the compliment and the implied credit for its composition.
And there you have it, that’s my guitar composition in his pocket. It’s not criminal, he committed no crime, he’s not a terrible person. But he isn’t brave enough to give me my due and he let me suffer that myth…
It slowly became that I didn’t bring my guitar to gigs anymore. I played it less and less. I felt nervous of how bad I was at it, how I wasn’t really a guitarist, or a real musician and I became as far as many were concerned merely the singer and a lyricist, despite continuing to write all of all of the songs and giving huge input to how they ended up sounding. I was there when all ‘producing’ was happening, no decisions were made without me, I had to make concessions to someone else’s ego but there wasn’t any creative work done without me present. I didn’t have my hands on the buttons though and I didn’t own the equipment it was recorded on.
This happened in many small and subtle ways.
Here are two versions of ‘I Never Learned French’ a song I wrote, the first is the original that I demo’d up at home on my own when I first wrote it. With it’s hummed string parts and mouth trumpet they were used because its all I had to hand, and mouth! The second is the ‘BW arranged’ version from 2015’s duo release ‘Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour’, obviously it’s nicely smoothed and repackaged all shiny but have any new ideas been added? Do I not count as a composer and arranger because my arrangement was hummed in to Garageband rather than scored out on Sibelius?
Historical Record vs Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour
Why am I saying this now?
Certainly not to hurt or professionally damage anyone, but an uncorrected myth allowed me to be hurt and professionally damaged. I am interested only in the truth of things and the truth is complicated and it leaves no one blameless.
I’ve just returned from the studio where I recorded all the guitar for every track of my new album myself. It felt like a thing I might not be able to do but I did it, these are all guitar-led songs, and they are led by my guitar playing which, it turns out, isn’t terrible at all. So, my point is, he took stuff from me and I let him but I’m getting it back, I’m taking it back.
It’s all going to be alright; it already is, and it gets alrighter by the day! Hold on to that thought…
I want to tell you a story, it’s a true one, but it feels like a whole lifetime ago, because it sort of is. It ends with me on the phone to my manager in tears, the kind of tears where you are so upset you can’t catch your breath, saying “please just come and get me, I can’t do it anymore, I can’t get back in the car with him, nothing I ever say or do ever makes this better, he hates me, it’s just too hard, please I can’t do it, I’ll just wait here for however long, but please come and get me, I can’t do it.”
He didn’t come and get me.
I’m sat in a motorway services carpark, we’re on our way up north from London for a festival, ‘Seedlings All’ our last ever record is in the mixing stage. BW always insisted on doing the mixing himself but I’m unhappy with the mix of ‘Ghost Light’.
(That song, the irony, IKR!)
The previous evening, I had spoken with a friend of mine, a good engineer who offered to do a mix in his spare afternoon, the next day, for me, for free, he felt he understood what I was asking for and how BW wasn’t quite on the right track. He didn’t intend for that to be used as the final mix he was simply helping nudge it the direction I wanted it to go. I had emailed BW asking him to send the files and he had sent back a garbled response about being out, or going out, giving the impression he might just not send them. This is a classic way for him to avoid doing a thing that he’s uncomfortable about. I’d been desperately reading extensively about the kind of obstructive behaviour passive aggressive’s use to withhold, so I knew how to structure a reply to make him decide on an outcome. In my email I ask, “are you refusing to send the files?” it was fine for him to refuse; I wasn’t ‘in charge’ I never had been, I never tried to be. But what I didn’t want him to do was just not send them in time and then pretend that it was merely circumstance that prevented him and make it look like me being “paranoid” and “unreasonable” for suggesting that he didn’t want to.
So, we’re discussing this, and he refers to this engineer as “your new best friend…” (anyone new who I liked, respected &/or worked with was met with instant derision behind closed doors)
BW “you’re so clever with words aren’t you, writing it that way…”
JC “I just wanted you to choose, you can refuse to send them you have the power, but you have to own up to using it, you can’t have it both ways, that’s silent obstruction you’re extremely passive aggressive, I’ve been reading about it…”
BW “well you’re a narcissist…” he seethes at me, making that face, the face he only makes to me, the last face I ever saw of him when I left the concert hall in Belgium.
BW “you’re trying to push me out of the duo…”
How could I do that? By its very name and nature, it is a thing that contains two people. It belies the belief, in his head, that I am the one without which none of it exists. If that’s true, why not just take care of me?
But I didn’t push him out, I jumped.
Like one would from a car careering off a cliff, or a building on fire.
All good things must come to an end and all terrible things end too and this was both and it’s definitely over! Enjoy all the records, honestly do, but let me be free of him, the most painful episode in my life and let him have a thing he can own.
Finally to my point: I’m in the process of making a new album now, it comes out next year. I’ve written all the songs, I’ve played all the guitars, I’ve arranged them. There are a few other musicians but I will tell them what to and what not to play. I am the ONLY producer, I am producing it. I have organised the financing of it, it’s coming out on Corduroy Punk Records, a label that I created and run. So please, no more mention of people that weren’t involved. They’re doing their own things that have nothing to do with me. This is the line where it ends please, I just want to be credited with the thing that I did and experience has taught me this is the only way to ensure that.
I can’t wait to share it with you. It’s tense and angry and sad and resigned and resolved and jubilant and full of triumph and love and most of all it is ALL MINE. x
“Bright lights rise out, and over, the fire”*
*Lyrics from ‘The Tangled Tree’ written in its entirety by Josienne Clarke in 2005.
I’m excited for the birth of your new work and grateful for the passion you share.
Do you know of the great American Midwest poet Ted Kooser? I think his writing would resonate with your sensibility. This one is forever:
A Map Of The World
One of the ancient maps of the world is heart-shaped, carefully drawn and once washed with bright colors, though the colors have faded as you might expect feelings to fade from a fragile old heart, the brown map of a life. But feeling is indelible, and longing infinite, a starburst compass pouting in all the directions two lovers might go, a fresh breeze swelling their sails, the future uncharted, still far from the edge where the sea pours into the stars.
Love from Brooklyn and long may Corduroy Punk Records ride.
Sent from my iPhone
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Really looking forward to your new work – also really hoping I will see you live once all this covid nonsense is out of the way – all the very best.
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It’s unfortunate that you had to go through all that. Look forward to the new album
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Josie – brave, smart, strong and tender. Best wishes for the future.
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I think of you as an extremely talented individual Josienne and, not knowing the inside story, always hope that you would continue to perform and record as Josienne Clarke. So, although you’ve been on a painful journey, it’s great that you’re moving on and I’m really looking forward to sharing your new songs on Classic Folk.
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So talented, always was, always will be. Somebody tried to take credit for that. I’m so grateful that it was your voice (and Words) that brought me to your music, that will continue. Now I get to enjoy your guitar playing as well!
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