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
So I’ve got together 13.5 songs for a new album, I’ve demo’d them up on Garageband, I think they’re pretty darn great and I’m almost ready to think about recording them properly. Having made tonnes of albums over the years, in loads of different ways, I know how this is done and as always, I’ve got the songs.
But it’s also different this time. I’ve made many mistakes in the past and I’m simply not making them again. I’d say the biggest one was undervaluing my work (or rather allowing others to undervalue it) This time I know, I’ve got the only bit that matters.
In the creative industries, ideas are the real currency and people with none can steal them, buy them or licence them. They cannot manufacture them. For that they need the people who make things out of nothing. So what shall I do with this something of nothing?
Well, currently it belongs 100% to me, I used to be tied, it used to belong to someone else before it was made, before it was even conceived of.
I had to work to get to this point, to sever the ties and release myself from the many binds you find yourself in when you’re the one that has the only bit that matters. I lost things in that process but what I retained I get to keep and I need to be more careful with it.
I’m not going to give it to Rough Trade Records again for all the zeros they wouldn’t offer, I’d sooner bin it. I want it to be treated with care like I would myself or a person I cared about. My creativity is not a bottomless well of expendable ideas people can sift through and take for nothing.
I know I’m going to produce it myself, partly because I’m tired of being called ‘aggressive’ for insisting “my guitar tone is exactly how I want it, I know because I made it that way and please don’t make me tell you these are my songs, this is my album, I’m paying you and I’m in charge” a bit that, but mostly because I can, I know what I want and I know now that I’ve always been making those key decisions. My ears are clever, my taste is discerning and I know how to use music to make a song speak to you.
So I’m going to make it and I’m going to make it good. But this time I’m going to treat it with care and respect and demand others do too, like a thing that matters. I’ll put it on Bandcamp and you can buy it and listen to it and I’ll come and play some of it to you. To me, as always, that’s the only bit that matters
Just a couple of quick things before I go, 1) it’s not a ‘Lockdown’ album this is me guys and 2) bet you can’t guess what it’s called… no it’s not that, that would be too obvious, once again, it’s me, you won’t work it out!
Several people have asked me about it and frankly ive fobbed you off a bit, sorry about that but no is currently where I’m at.
Obviously no offence to anyone who is, these are difficult times for the industry and people must do what they must do, it just feels unlikely to be the fix for me.
First and foremost – it’s nothing like a gig, sorry but it isn’t, I’ve always been of the opinion that good gigs are testiment to the quality of the audience rather than performer. There’s a specific alchemy that can only happen in that room together. As the audience you’ve got a job to do, you’re not passive, you’re not watching telly. The performer offers you something and unless you take it up, it falls, the songs have to land somewhere, you have to catch them. Like a weird emotion tennis! It isn’t possible to do that on screen even live so it may as well be, rehearsed, recorded and edited, a one sided offering.
I need to see you, I need to feel your presence in the room, no amount of encouraging facebook comments will be the same, they’ll simply be distracting. So for the foreseeable future I have no plans to stream you things, but that is not to say that I’ve forgotten you, I’ve thought about it and come up with something I can stand by, something more me, my own unique solution.
I always feel a pressure to say something at this time of year, I spend all year using words in a particular order to sum it all up and come to conclusions. This is harder than other years as we approach an entire new decade, we need to put the last one finally to rest.
Well for the good and the bad, I do feel like I’m ready to say to goodbye to it.
Goodbye to a decade long career in one seemingly inalterable duo form, to its beauty, to the success of it, to the power it had, to the dissonance of that and his resentment, to his thanklessness, to its positivity vacuum, its growing toxicity, to how painful it had become to sustain. It will never be undone. That work is there forever. A testament to talent and hard work, to my strength and endurance; and proof that however hard the lesson I can learn it. Sometimes the winning move is to give up playing entirely and leave the table with your head held high, in the knowledge you did all you could with what you had.
And so let it be buried at Sea
This year I began my new decade early by recording and releasing ‘In All Weather’ as a solo artist again. Brave and true as I have always been, prepared for failure but pleased to fly. That is how I intend to continue.
You know me, always got plenty of ideas, always planning a few moves ahead. So I have some small and some big plans ready for next year, professionally and personally, I’m excited to try them all out…
From now on it’s nothing but Poise, Poetry & Pride for me
Anything else can do one. Be nice or be gone, art is not a competitive sport, my love is not finite but it is precious and you can’t have it if you don’t acknowledge its value.
And finally… my Resolution with the poise of poetry and the pride to share it with you even though it’s rubbish
#Poem 9 I do not speak subtext anymore No longer do I wrangle with the entangled communication If you have something to say, just say it
However unkind. I promise not to mind more for your honesty
But don’t try to blind me with your offensive defensibility The trick you stick with is the cruelest of slights The slow trickle of truth from a sewn mouth The barbed knife, Insidious insinuation device
Regardless the work is all mine, to refuse to find the hidden messages To change my ears and the way that I hear things And what I take to heart.
A place of limited space must not have an open gate policy
I must finally learn that all must earn their time For a kingdom of carefully crafted kindness
I spent the afternoon rescuing these rare Formication Cd’s. Some of which is here on Spotify the red ‘Icons for a New Religion’ jewel case you can see isn’t on there so it was worth saving. Once these are gone it could all but disappear. Formication is the electronic industrial noise duo of my Alec Bowman and Kingsley Ravenscroft formed in 2003
I had to individually wipe the dust and mud!?! off between 50-100 copies. They had been shoved in an attic or garage, some dank corner somewhere. Hidden away like a guilty or inconvenient truth. Alec had let them be and he needs to change that.
If you love someone you should take care of the things they care about. Artistic endeavour is so often a difficult one for those that do not make things to appreciate and handle with care. But your dreams are your dreams and you’re entitled to them however unprofitable and time consuming they may be.
These creations are no less a documentation of your life and times than a collection of photographs would be.
You get what you’re willing to accept in life, some people always seem come out of things on top, none of their dreams ever end up in the garage, and that’s because they will not accept less than that. They’ve got an idea of what they’re worth. So if you allow your dreams to be consigned to the basement you carry some responsibility for whether or not they ever happen.
If you neglect things they will perish and may leave you forever.
If you’re the kind of person that just likes to listen and decide for yourself what a song is about, or you don’t care about lyrics and you don’t care to know, then I suggest you don’t read on. This is for those of you who pour over lyric books and have questions about “why this line says this”.
My intention here is to provide a bit of wider context for this song but it’s not for the faint hearted…
Lyrics: You’ve got your problems But I’m the one that needs to change You’re so angry But I’m the one that’s acting strangely You don’t speak clearly But I’m not hearing you right And I’m the only person fighting in this fight It would all be fine If I didn’t mind Everything would be alright If I didn’t mind If I just didn’t mind
You say you’ve got feelings But you don’t want to talk You’ll only concede When you know I’m gonna walk I’ve never known frustration like this in my life Cos only you use silence like others use a knife
It would all be fine If I didn’t mind Everything would be alright If I didn’t mind If I just didn’t mind
You won’t give me words that I could use to feel ok You’d rather swallow them all than give any away I know you’re going to starve me until I waste away You’ve always pushed me further to try to make me stay
It would all be fine If I didn’t mind Everything would be alright If I didn’t mind If I just didn’t mind
This song is about emotional and psychological abuse by gaslighting and passive aggression. It’s about the distortion of reality and how the blame is shifted on to the victim silently and seemingly imperceptibly. Realising this is key to escaping it and being able to articulate clearly what it is that’s happening goes some way to resolving it internally.
nature of passive aggression is such that its difficulty to pinpoint gives it a
deniability. Complaining about the virtually imperceptible micro-aggressions
makes you look crazy, as each one taken on their own looks innocuous. And you
cannot prove the absence of something, the absence of kindness, approval or
is a slow death by a thousand slights, a crushing, cloying, cold and suffocating
strangling in silence.
led to believe that your response to this behaviour is the issue, that your
reaction comes from nowhere, an anger with no basis in the other persons
I thought for a good few years that I must be negative, paranoid, too highly strung and with an anger management problem. It turned out as soon as I ceased interacting with this person my anger and confusion receded and has all but disappeared now he isn’t in my life.
This song is my documentation of a toxic and dysfunctional dynamic. To redefine the hijacked narrative because its power is its silence.
Lyrically it started life as a poem I began to write as an attempt to explain what was happening to me, the first line I had for this song came from this section of the poem
I have tried to leave this house So many times I have nudged every window Climbed down the drainpipe Only to find you in the garden brandishing a silent knife Ready to twist my words to mince
The image of the ‘silent knife’ became – ‘Only you use silence like others use a knife’ . The rest grew out from there. The title/chorus ‘If I Didn’t Mind’ hinges on the idea that it is my reaction being characterised as the only problem. My attempt to refute muttered slights, or confront disparaging subtext was seen as confrontational, combative trouble making. Many times being accused of making something out of nothing but it didn’t feel like nothing to me, it wasn’t nothing to me, it wasn’t meant to be nothing to me, it was specifically intended to hurt me. To wound me and erode my confidence so I wouldn’t be strong enough to leave. The verse is made up of pairs of conflicting statements which encapsulates the psychological technique of gaslighting, where the antagonist projects their bad behaviour, anger and deception onto the protagonist invisibly.
‘You don’t speak clearly but I’m not hearing you right…’
My hope in writing this song was that I could define what was happening to me. I could give a concrete reality to myself amidst all the mythology I was being made complicit in. To take a mirror to my gaslighter and say “this is what you’re doing to me, it’s real, I can see it, I can explain it, so now it exists and you cannot convince me that it doesn’t anymore, fuck you, goodbye.”
So I did warn you! Thanks for making it this far, sorry it’s been a bit heavy but you know, it was. Don’t worry about me though I’m ok now, I lived to tell the tale and that’s what I’m doing.
If you’ve enjoyed this wider context I’ll be releasing a lyric book with extra info for each song (not all as dark as this one) with the ‘In All Weather’ album. It will be available to preorder on Bandcamp soon. Preorder the album here
As an artist you
HAVE to believe that your body of work has an Intrinsic value in the face of
figures and paperwork to the contrary. It is so hard to approach meetings,
offers and negotiations knowing that nothing on paper apparently supports this
It’s a struggle and I struggle with it but if you yourself can’t retain the notion that your entire life’s work has a value and potential to grow beyond its humble position it will simply be impossible to convince a prospective investor that it does.
Remember that YOU have been investing in it for years and at the point you wish to decline an offer in the hope of better you will almost certainly be told by someone that this is risky. It is risky but so is ploughing every ounce of your time, energy and available funds into it. You’ve already done that bit, the hard bit, this is simply holding your nerve.
Half the industry runs on that fear, that this is the best you can expect out of it, so stick, don’t twist and don’t shout. Not everyone is trying to drive down price in concern of nothing but the bottom line. But EVERYONE will tell you they are in it for the music, this will only be true in certain cases and you have to get good at spotting bullshit when you see it.
I’ve never believed
in the elusive and intangible “x-factor” nor do I believe that you
get your “one moment”. This is the weaponisation of fear, if you’re
talented and worked hard enough to earn an opportunity the chances are that isn’t
the only opportunity you’ll ever be offered, it doesn’t work like that. If you
haven’t had any yet well then there are likely to be a few around the corner or
down the line or along the road or whatever your favourite analogy is.
People in this industry predominantly back a winning horse, most wait for it to be within a hair’s breadth of the finish line before lending their support to it. This is the most infuriating bind of the whole thing in my opinion. That the universal perception of your imminent winning then makes it all the more inevitable and conversely the widespread perception that you are still many yards from the line makes it all the more so.
You kind of need
that one influential person to inadvertently misread the figures and correctly
or incorrectly (not a distinction worth making) identify you as this year’s
grand national favourite to win and thus it may well be so.
The only winning
tactics are perseverance and self belief as I can see it. The rest is time and
luck, neither of which can be controlled or circumvented. So you can go to a
million masterclasses on social media strategy and all the workshops on
co-writing, collaboration and creative collectives but it’s a waiting game.
Like most things in life what you really need is confidence, hope and patience.
So it’s a thanks but
no thanks this time from me, I’m waiting for a better offer than that…