I’ve been having a clear out, literally and generally and I found two old songs i’d completely forgotten about on my computer. I’ve linked to them here. They’re not great songs, one isn’t even finished, the ones that get forgotten usually aren’t for some reason.
They were recorded in 2009 which makes them over a decade old & hearing them was a strange experience, somewhat excruciating as listening to old material can be (I’ve learned a lot since then).
But mainly it’s bittersweet because I realise just how competent the guitaring is, potentially more competent than today. It’s hard to realise that over the last decade my guitar playing got worse, not because I stopped practicing but because I stopped believing it was a thing I could do.
Psychology and emotional frame of mind have so much impact on how well we sing and play technically. (I’ve been thinking to write a whole piece about this concept at some point soon, probably entitled- ‘You’re Not Shit At Singing You’re Just Afraid’)
I stopped being able to hear my own guitar playing as it actually was, a murky fog descended and I heard nothing but incompetence and inability, this changed the way I approached it and made me worse at it. I’m only now emerging out the other side of that and my guitaring is better, I can hear that it is most days, it’s not as good as it will be one day but it’s not an abomination like I once thought!
I’m never gonna teach guitar or hold a fancy masterclass about it but I am able to play my songs on it in public, I can accompany myself, I always could. I just lost my belief in it and my professional structure didn’t encourage me, a woman, to play my guitar.
Encourage your friends, especially women, especially women in male dominated enviroments, they need that, They need you to believe that they can do it, it will help them believe that they can do it.
I lost it but I’ve found it again and my commitment to myself and my own playing is renewed and it will be all the harder to undo in the future.
As with most things right now the pandemic has altered the course and trajectory of my latest album. At the end of 2020 I went up to Watercolour studios in Fort William to put down the first bits of the record, my guitar and vocal tracks. We were then due to go again in January to record Drums, keyboards, bass etc and return with the finished article, however a change of restrictions led to a necessary change of plans.
Instead I zoomed into a session Mike Hillier, (a sound professional in all the senses) hosted, closer to home, in which Dave Hamblett and Matt Robinson (world class jazzers and friends) placed their parts upon my original tracks. All the while I barked orders from a small screen on the mixing desk, which Mike relayed over the talkback into the studio. Strange times require strange solutions and as artists we adapt, as we have always adapted, to our ever-evolving industry.
I return to Watercolour soon to record my saxophone parts and where Mary Ann Kennedy will grace my record with her ever classy harp. ( I may also coax a few free double bass notes out of my Alec Bowman_Clarke, he’s got to use that fancy bass for something!) These will all be dumped on the metaphorical internet doorstep of Mike Hillier. He will then be tasked with piecing it all together and eagerly awaiting a thousand neurotic mix notes from me…
Is this protracted patchwork the way I’d have chosen to undergo the making of this album in an ideal world? Fuck no, but am I a) fortunate enough to get to do it anyway b) dextrous enough to work in whatever way the work requires of me? Fuck yes!! I have a small and extremely carefully selected team of people involved who have also made the process as painless and pleasurable as possible.
Now, I know what you’re thinking and what you want to ask “yes but when is it coming out?” The truth is currently it’s hard to say, there is potential delay at every stage and in every aspect of the album making/releasing process at the moment. The thing I can say is I’m doing it, it’s being done now and as soon as I know, so will you. I won’t be quiet about it and there’s little chance of it passing you by…
2020 has sucked balls big time, globally, politically and personally for me in some ways I haven’t mentioned publicly. However there are a few things I’m extremely thankful for.
This August, in the midsummer lull of the pandemic, I married Alec Bowman, I became Josienne Bowman-Clarke, a double-barrelled shotgun of renewed vigour. It was a seriously weird day with NO MUSIC at all because of a bizarre series of restrictions. Hardly any guests could come and I had to wear a mask down the aisle! But it was still a glorious day, idiot-syncratic and sincere as fuck. Just like we are, he and I, for all the best and worst that that entails.
These last few years we’ve both been through a process of huge change, laying waste to a load of tired old shit and rancid ghosts from the past. We’ve begun to build new things in their place. Good things, strong things, truthful things. I’ve learned some hard lessons about myself, my family, my body, my career and my place in the world as it is for the foreseeable future.
I’m thankful for such hard truths and hard lessons for out of those we make the most growth.
I’m very hopeful for next year not because I believe the massive problems we all face will magically go away but because big change ALWAYS has positives, it shakes the dust and complacency out of us. It draws focus to what’s truly important in life and it makes us count our blessings and I am counting mine.
Next year you’ll be better, get better or you’ll learn to cope better because that’s how it works.
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?
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’ve had a few gig offers come in now and obviously these aren’t quite how they used to be. They are 200 seater venues limited to 40 tickets or 70 if you hold it outside in October, with free streaming or ticketed streaming which has problems or streaming with donations which is hard to budget for etc all with a take home pay way below what it used to be. But what they all are is good people doing their best to keep an industry afloat. Trying exhaustively to get events on for people who need that connection to music to lift their understandably ailing spirits and help back to performing the people whose raison d’etre has been all but obliterated. Not to mention keep venues from shutting and staff who relied on furlough something to exist on at all.
So should I do them? If we’re all brutally honest, despite all these best intentions none of this quite works well enough for anyone. Some venues have opened with limited ticketing but many tickets bought were not redeemed on the night. Those audience members are judged a little for not turning up but those who did are judged a bit for fraternising during a pandemic, the venue is judged for holding events but judged for not holding them as artists, crew and the industry need them. Artists are judged for ‘going about like everything’s normal’ or judged for not supporting themselves, each other and the industry etc etc. “where is all this judgement coming from?” you ask and well, let’s face it, from ourselves mainly. We are all questioning whether or not the thing we are doing is proactive enough, supportive enough, safe enough, advisable, sensible.. the list of worries goes on and on doesn’t it. None of it makes enough money for anyone involved so what’s the point in it all? But hang on thats an awfully pessimistic sentence and I don’t mean that as a conclusion.
There are a few examples of how this has been made to work lucratively in a few exceptional cases (so don’t @ me about those) I’m not criticising anyone and yes I know that Folk on Foot raised 50k but there is a finite appetite for streaming so it’s not an option for every single venue or festival that would manage in ‘normal’ times gone by.
My intention here is not run down any of the efforts people are making, I mean the opposite really. I mean it’s hard to know how to be a force for good at the moment, how to be sensible AND supportive. How to make the right decisions and what I want to say to you (and myself) is. You already are. You’re asking yourself the questions, you’re trying and thinking, taking an action and correcting it when it doesn’t yield the right result. Navigating a constantly changing terrain, and existing optimistically within it, as best you can. That’s enough. Thank you for caring to consider it all and try.
So I didn’t fly to Germany to record a radio show, that didn’t feel right and maybe I’ll go next month or next year, I’ll see. Maybe I will play a socially distanced gig to 40 people at some point, I’m just weighing it up. Attempting to balance the risk and benefit as best I can. Consider each decision with its own unique context is all you can do in the circumstance.
So try to be easier on yourself. I hope to see you all soon, however soon that will be, we’ll get there x