‘Rock n’ Reel’ magazine reviews ‘Dangerous Loving’ – 4 stars!

”Smoke-fuelled and chameleon-like, tortured and released, Faye Patton exudes forgotten Jazz. Articulating and punctuating her vocal authority with her independent piano playing, this is a supreme effort of both freeform and choreographed musicianship. Definitely in the jazz pigeonhole, there are elements of highbrow funk in ‘Ripped and Torn’, boogie woogie musical theatre throughout ‘Susan Says’ and lounge blues with ‘A Game'; and more in between.

The beauty with these overlapping and contrasting styles is that there is no great leap from one track to the next and she makes herself an effective gatekeeper to the concept of the album as a whole. With flute, cello, trumpet and even flugelhorn joining the tales of lost love and, well, more lost love, the songs manage to stay intimate and retain the emphasis on her boundless vocal.” (Gareth Hayes – Rock n’ Reel magazine May 2012)

 


 

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The Delicate Problem of Unsolicited Advice

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If you’re an artist, you may be familiar with this scenario. Sometimes friends, family members, partners or close associates offer us their well-intentioned tips and observations. They may be involved in the music business, but not at the vulnerable, volatile and often lonely coal face of songwriting and performance. It can be very uncomfortable when those who don’t walk in our shoes seem to think they know exactly what our next move should be, and what it is we are doing right and wrong. How do we let them know, with good grace and without causing offence – when we would like them to stop?

None of us wants to chew the heads off well-meaning, enthusiastic (and brave!) relatives or colleagues. They are doing us a favour by letting us know that our lives are of interest to them. They care enough to have an opinion and be passionate about it. They may view us as so formidable that it’s fun to push us a little, make us bristle. So what’s the problem? The trouble is with feedback and constructive criticism is that it takes a lot of energy to process – energy that’s already being deployed at full throttle. Trying to forge an artistic career is a start/stop, head-banging-against-brick-wall, relentless and already somewhat masochistic journey – even when things are going well…

Humour and levity are important. If we have gifts we should be humble and graceful about it, because… let’s face, it no-one likes a diva! Music is for sharing, healing and inspiring others, a service, a vocation, for sure. But I would guess that most artists are not, at their core, people pleasers. I’m certainly not! Principally, I create music for my own mental health – in order to give myself relief, healing and comfort – from the world and from myself. The knock-on benefits are wonderful, but they come second.

Here’s some tips for those moments when you are about to receive some advice that you did not ask for: 

•  Keep really still and notice where you feel the advice in your body. Does it activate panic and ego response? Does it throw you back into a family situation where you felt defensive and threatened? Can you challenge yourself to hear and accept the positive feedback? Saying a simple ‘thank you’ for a compliment is a vital social skill, as is letting negativity flow past you. Not complimentary? ‘thanks for your opinion’ is still a good phrase to practise.
•  Many people give advice that’s about them. I’ve done this myself, dispensing the supposed pearls of wisdom I wish I’d had. It can really get int the way of a person working out their own process in their own time and sometimes it’s best to shut up. Notice when you are doing this or when others are in this role with you. Let everyone own their own stuff. Try to speak to others in the way that you yourself would like to be spoken to. Think before you speak.
•  Experience has taught me the following. Professionally speaking, if you have already done, or are doing, (or have trained others how to do!) the advice you are being given – it’s a good idea to say so, pleasantly, but immediately. It saves everyone energy. But it also covers your back. You designed your journey – you don’t want others to take credit for teaching you what you already knew. Don’t stay silent if someone is trying to ‘take you under their wing’ in an inappropriate way.  Many people are into life coaching right now, so this especially relevant if someone is about to try to sell you advice that you don’t need and don’t want to buy.
• Is the advice giver a fledgling journalist, teacher or social commentator? If so, be kind. At this stage their ego is more fragile than yours. They may find it very exposing to express themselves and may need your support later. You are strong – can you afford to be big-hearted about it?
• Keep it clean. Keep it gracious. Be loving and accept love. It all come from and returns to love. Laugh at your own neurosis. Have the courage to expand and grow. Be grateful and mindful, bigger and stronger. But look ‘em dead in the eye and don’t be afraid to let them feel the boundaries that are necessary for you to function as a creator.

 

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Faye Patton Camden ‘mini-tour’… ‘Gilgalive’ 11th March

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Just a quick bulletin – I am really excited to be appearing at Gilgalive @ Camden’s sumptuous Gilgamesh club on March 11th.  I have dates at the Green Note on March 22nd and April 19th, so am going to be glad to warm up and gather a cool Camden crowd around me! Come on down – it’s free entry and if you haven’t visited Gilgamesh yet, it’s a beautiful venue and vibe.

GILGAMESH LIVE! is a regular Wednesday night showcase of some of the most talented acoustic musicians in the UK. Hosted by Rachel Rose in the Gilgamesh Lounge.

Come and enjoy 2-4-1 on selected drinks from 6pm, with performances kicking off from 8 ’till late.

Enjoy a mid-week beverage and some pan Asian aperitifs to the accompaniment of live music. To book a table, call 07534676008.

Gilgamesh, The Stables Market, Camden Market, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AH 020 7428 4922


 

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The Art Of Nunchaku

 

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This unique weapon, popularised by Bruce lee and Dan Inosanto, amongst others, originates in Okinawa, Japan, but variations on the flail-like implement are common throughout South East Asia. Some theories situate it as an adapted farm tool, but opinions differ, since historically, martial arts were often the preserve of the ruling classes. Spinning my ‘chucks everyday, in hot sun, freezing rain, mud, ice or high winds –  is keeping me sane. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to glamourise weapons, aggression or violence and the nunchuks have a bit of a bad rep. However, like all weapons and fighting arts, if you train with the correct attitude, the idea of using it to cause grief, starts to really fade into the distance. Instead, it becomes the most supreme meditational tool, teacher and ally. As in life, I lose the rhythm and have to stop and unwind my self-entanglements. As in life, I drop them, I pick them up. The key is not how many times you fail, but the manner in which you recover. I am used to wielding quite heavy white oak Japanese bokken and Jo. Also I practice Kung Fu and lift weights – so I have quite a lot of strength. But the real beauty is that for this, physical muscle isn’t necessary – only the weight of the wood itself and the exact momentum needed to deliver it to the hand. It’s about pure feeling and flow. Having faith in movement. Free fall and flight. Mental dialogue chatters away, but the only constant is the clanking and rattling of the chain, and the powerful ‘phoommm’ sound of displaced air. There is the lovely, fleeting sense of mastery. (I’m doing something REALLY clever!) Interspersed with moments of indignity, ecstasy and the humble nobility of being covered in mud from all the wipeouts and flowerbed retrievals. A bit like life. At every new level and new move, the Nunchuks teach me, painfully if necessary, what I need to know. For instance, you really don’t want to hit your funny bone at high speed, or at any speed – the hard whack I gave myself disabled me for 10 minutes, and my fingers were numb and buzzing a fortnight later. Not so funny. (My flatmate looking out of the window, spotted me, prostrate, clutching my arm, face screwed up and breathing raggedly, unable to move. She thought it was part of my ‘spiritual practice’…a prayer perhaps?)

I have also learned that hitting myself in the face, hard, is something I only want to experience the one time. Accidents with this light, but deadly force, really, really, really hurt. Therefore, best to approach the practice, being as present as possible, with respect and curiosity. I feel like I used the nunchaku in a previous life. Like music, and certain languages, it feels like something remembered, not learnt for the first time. Like music, it plays itself with only a little coaxing. I am loving it, the simplicity, the dexterity, the mental peace. It’s wonderful to discover (rediscover?) a new (old?) friend.

(Note: Best to study this with a proper teacher and within the context of a dedicated personal martial arts training framework. It’s not illegal to carry them if  they are concealed in a bag and are for obvious study purposes but questions may be asked if you brandish them in public. If you want to buy them, you may be asked for ID that proves you are over 18. )

Resources:

Agogi Wing Chung  (Streetwise Wing Chun Kung Fu for the 21st century. Developed by Founder, Sifu Eric Nicos. )

Tao Sport (London based boxing and martial arts equipment supplier to the combative sports and fight community in the UK since 1988.)

 


 

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Happy New Year 2015…

 

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Wishing everyone in or around my life, a wonderfully Happy New Year! Pals, fans, colleagues, extended family, connections and ‘all my relations’ in far-flung places, from Japan to the US – who are never far from my thoughts. Heartfelt good wishes, love and solidarity in all our endeavours, as we shine sanity, creativity and positive change into our various interconnected communities for 2015 and beyond.

2014 certainly seemed like a chaotic and worrying year. In the UK, the rise of UKIP, increasing economic squeeze of the poor by the rich, more corporate theft, greed and compulsory consumerism, government cuts and ‘austerity’ (never theirs, just ours) and a creative arts industry that values artists and musicians less and less – that now weighs our net worth, Facebook popularity and media stats, (not our talent) before booking or funding us. Meanwhile, shocking levels of racist and state/media backed police aggression in the USA and the usual global desecration of the sacred green/brown/blue, life-giving Earth and her creatures. Somewhat of an annus horribilis on a personal level, I’ve moved house again, lost 2 piano bar residencies (sacked?) without explanation and am watching the cost (in every sense) of living in London rise and rise in what seems to be a rat race – trying to outrun/outwit impending burnout.

In a system that we know is wrong, yet where we are kept too knackered to do anything about it – How is one to live ethically, creatively and healthfully? Where is the balance? At what point does ‘positive thinking’ start to look like denial? When defiance and disgust might be more appropriate? Those of us with a spiritual bent always knew that these times would bring vast contrast. I believe we are seeing the thrashing, struggling death throes of a paradigm that knows it’s on the out and is panicking. Truly, I’ve seen and am seeing some hopeful things. Unprecedented information/alternative news and media on everything from fracking to banking, crypto-currency, transition culture, urban regeneration and human rights. At the grassroots level, I’ve seen collective outrage over the murder of Michael Brown, deep unease over UKIP (how/why does this party even exist?) increased support for women’s empowerment, (anti-racist and anti-sexist movements growing and learning from each other) and the unlikely figure of UK entertainer Russell Brand stepping up and coming into his own as a campaigner whose words and work are well worth a look. We now know a lot about how things work – how corporations own governments, what banks really are, and why traditional politics and economics are over. We know that true ‘wealth’ is people – our energy, love, diverse talents and skills, and the natural world of which we are a part. This knowledge is a coin worth something.

I have friends on the far left (radical communists) who would probably argue there’s no such thing as a ‘bloodless revolution’, (!) but I have faith in the more compassionate and evolved ‘meltdown’ model whereby empires fall in isolation, ‘overnight’, (macrocosmically speaking) as their life cycle simply comes to an end. People stop believing in them, stop needing them, stop colluding with them. Sooner or later, both locally and globally, we are looking at an informed populace that might just reinvent the future.

Happy New Year 2015. Let’s make it count.

 


 

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Ways to get your ‘Groove’ back…

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A light-hearted blog post. Ever felt stuck in old, repeating loops and thought forms, despite being a disciplined professional with good habits, spiritual practices and healthy routines that others would envy? Periodically, we all need a tune-up, a tweaking of our reference points. Those of us who practise ‘positive thinking’ don’t  always realise that whilst the conscious mind is busy ‘looking on the bright side’, the underlying dialogue can get stuck in a sort of low-level funk.

Whatever your industry or lifestyle –  you might be a musician, or artist, idealist, activist or dreamer, a self-help guru, entrepreneur, writer or inventor, I assume that you are an intelligent, questioning being, interested in and seeking maximum human potential? Yet, do you sometimes struggle with your own limitations and know you could function more freely and more intelligently? Our get-ahead culture focuses on speed, ambition, efficiency, task and goal orientated solutions, but what about all the more subtle parts of the self? How about some creative ways to have fun with your own perceptions and assumptions about the reality that you have constructed for yourself?

When your groove has become a rut…I give you my Top Ten Tips to get it back. Written from the perspective of an artist/ musician. They are mental, perceptual, philosophical. Play with them, don’t turn them into  a military drill!

1. Take a risk. When times are tough, we get conservative, we like to feel safe. Instead, take a leap! remember that first tour or festival, first time abroad speaking a new language or first impromptu radio appearance? Or a combination of all these experiences? Remember times when you’d had no sleep, no rehearsal, and everything was improvised? Remember the ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ quality and the magic, lucky feeling that you could not fail or lose? This is the ancient concept of ‘beginners luck’ or ‘beginners mind’ at work. Trust it. Do the thing that makes you afraid or uncomfortable. Without being self-destructive, be as curious as you can be each day with things that are unexpected, and that expand your horizons and experience. Like a snake, bite off more than you can chew. Confront your own blocks and your will find that you become the boss of your own comfort zone. Facing fear head-on, creates an incredible release of energy. It’s only when we face ‘death’ that we feel fully alive. Death as a metaphor can mean death of an illusion, the ego, self-image, or a comforting phase. It means change, movement – which is the only certainty we have.

2. Remember you’re an alien. ‘Make strange’ your surroundings by imagining you are seeing it all from the viewpoint of a visiting galactic tourist, from your favourite planet, whose denizens, customs and standards you respect and admire. The things about life that really, justifiably, piss you off: London traffic, the current government, the economy, crappy aspects of the media and celebrity culture, environmental destruction, corporate greed, the pain of your ancestors – you may start to find is just something you are encountering in your temporary stay. All part of the character of Planet Earth in her current phase of evolution. I’m not saying to forget the iniquities and injustices of our social systems – it all needs an overhaul, as anyone with a social conscience can see and feel. But letting it all go for a while gives you your sense of humour back, which will make you stronger in order to fight the good fight. It’s all temporary, you see. (Soon you will be reunited with your true kin from the Pleiades, Orion, Venus or wherever…)

3. Play games with chance, co-incidence and free-association. I don’t believe in handing over your power to external forces like fate or superstition. However, daily life is an oracle, if we practise the undervalued and all but lost skill of paying attentionObserve and notice patterns. They reveal that energy is in motion. Embrace chance conversations, and synchronicities. Try to spot and identify the tracks of animals. Watch the behaviour of insects and birds. Play guessing games, test out your clairvoyance. Extra sensory ability is, I believe, a muscle that can be developed like any other.

4. Create your own entertainment. Today, with laptops, iPads, iPhones, YouTube and Google, the availability of just about any kind of entertainment at the press of a button is a bitter-sweet luxury. It has the capacity to make us very intelligent and pro-active or very stupid and extremely passive. What could and would you do to amuse yourself if your internet went down, also the phone, also the TV? What thoughts could you have? What things might you learn? What physical abilities might you have to remember? In the relative boredom, what might you discover or create? We are so beset with rich visual stimulation that many of us neglect to explore our own visualisation skills. Try spending the evening silently gazing at a blank wall – you’ll be amazed at the images and altered states that you go through, quite naturally.

5. Practice Verbal and Mental Hygiene. You may feel pleased with yourself if you are able to practice the following – not speaking ill of others or of yourself, thus limiting the repercussions that our words can create if we indulge in gossip or complaints. But at any given point, the mental dialogue we carry around can be truly debilitating, simultaneously just off the radar, yet taking our best attention. It creeps up on us quietly and slowly…needless worries about the future, finance, past conversations, injustices, fantasies, advertising jingles etc. Stay in the present. Spit out that bone and feel the relief. Warning signs that the inner voices have become too turbulent are random instances of shattered crockery, bumps, accidents, getting jostled in the street or finding you’ve pulled off a nail or torn out your own hair.

6. Throw away the clock. Focus on the thing you have to do, not the time you have to do it. Things done slowly reveal themselves to fit just perfectly. They find their own time frame, taking no more or less than is needful. Observe your house and garden plants. Meditate upon cooking and eating – everything has its own rhythm. Why on earth is there any need to hurry? Is time a thing we can actually run out of?

7. Practise distance games. Pretend that your life is someone else’s and that you are reading the obituary. Chances are you would be impressed, right? That’s a pretty good life and record of achievement, you might reckon. So why are we so hard on ourselves? In dialogue with others, enjoy the sensation that the words are a radio or film script. Is this a movie you’d watch? Do the characters dilemmas interest and move you? If not, maybe you can change yourself or your social circle. Do the same with your daily actions, ambitions and issues. Would you waste 2 hours of your life watching this narrative at the cinema? Is your life truly epic and legendary in its scope? No? Then it’s time to change the script and raise the standard. Aim to be the heroine or hero of your own life – why not?

8. Embrace failure. What??? I hear you say. Yes, if you surrender to the extremes, an odd thing happens. Perspective happens. Ever lose everything and know with clarifying desire and heart wrenching grief, the value of what you lost, and just exactly what work you have to do to recover it? Ever step off your path and make a bad decision (which usually leads to another bad decision)? Curious how being off track can give you the absolutely best view of where you are not and where you need to aim for. While those on it sometimes can’t see it. When the only way is up, sobriety is ever-present. In any case, your ‘failure’ is entirely relative – paradise for someone less fortunate.

9. Connect with the elements. Yes, spend time in natural world…we have heard it before. How many times do we need to hear this, before we realise that our disconnection from the organic world is harming us and making us forget our own phenomenal nature? The elements call to us on a primal, archetypal level. If you live in mechanised city surroundings, it is even more crucial to do this and even easier to forget to do it. Therefore, do it. Feel the magic of lighting a bonfire and sitting with it all night. Feel the simple but definite excitement of a single candle lit in darkness. Experience the rush of a cold swim in rough sea or tranquil mountain water. Go out in high winds, thunder and lightning and yell your head off. Get your hands in the soil and plant some vegetables. Give your senses a treat. Smell is one of the most evocative and least understood of our senses. The scent of soil, seaweed, burning timber, rain and snow, decay, greenery, sun-kissed skin – all have a healing effect.

10. Very Big. Very Small. A mental game. Meditate upon the dimensions of things. Consider that they only exist in relation to other things. So, all is relativity and relationship. In your mind’s eye, zoom out from planet Earth. Then, zoom beyond. If you can, visualise our central sun, (one of billions in the universe) which is about 1,300,000 times the size of Earth. Then visualise the milky way and so on. Eventually you’ll come to a conceptual boundary, since the mind can only hold so much. Then what – what’s beyond the gate? Go there, see what you find. Eventually, there’ll be another gate. What’s beyond it? Do this for as long as you can. Float in the quiet peaceful darkness of space. When I see film of the inside of a human body, I’m struck by how much like space it looks. Maybe the furthest reaches of our infinitude are just a gap in the cell structure of a much larger organism that our instruments cannot measure. When you are ready, zoom back down – this time down into the earth, into the world of the insects – magnify and magnify their world, right down to their skin and wings and even what their mental space might look like. (They may be meditating upon the void, just like you.) Then zoom in further, beyond the Planck scale, down to the subatomic level, the very pixels of existence. Compared to this, atoms are giants, and the smallest insect is a universe.

There’s nothing like a bit of perspective. Life is miraculous, no?

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ROOAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRHHHHHHH!

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It’s the fag end of August and I’m on the prowl, times are lean and my stomach is rumbling.

This is for my fellow lions and feline relations. Including leonine honorary citizens and ‘Leos rising’, of which I am one. For bob cats, tomcats, alley cats, kittens with mittens. Ancestral, trans-dimensional cats. Ultra, hyper and über cats. Space cats, fractal cats.  Camouflage or Kamikaze cats. Martial cats. Spotted and striped, bright burning cousins, Bengal tygers and Black Panthers. BIG CATS. Catwomen. Rhythm cats or solo cats. Cats who swing, blow croon or strum. Jazz cats and hip cats. It’s about art, pleasure music and self-expression, royalty, nobility and sovereignty. It’s for my fellow female artists of all persuasions, and for those whose art does not fit into a category, or who are inventing a new one and owning it. Anyone feeling like a total diva attack coming on? Anyone feeling severely underappreciated? I need to say the following. I always err on the positive (Of course! Don’t we live to entertain?) But …snarrrrrrl.

Don’t we all want and need some appreciation, some applause, some encouragement, some recognition, some praise, some (yes!) adoration, some reciprocation, some recognition, some acknowledgement? I have an appetite for a little more in return for my art and am considering (yes!) going to live in a different country very soon unless I get it. There is a difference between the genuine humility of being in service to ones art and being a servant. They are different things.

Audiences – I wrote my music with you in mind, to please you, uplift and nourish you. Therefore, please clap. Be bothered. Bear in mind that the music may be free. Therefore I need your applause to continue since it may be all I am getting. That’s the relationship. If you want it, show me that you like it. IF YOU WANT ME, SHOW ME THAT YOU WANT ME. Make some noise. Lifting your hands together to clap is the very least you could do. Can a performing seal not do as much? As a rhythmic, musical task I am actually doing something far more demanding – so could you at least make the effort. If you don’t applaud, at least don’t talk so loud over the music that actually you are drowning me out. If you must look at me like an unwelcome eyesore, rather than warmly into my eyes and soul as I want to do with you…at least don’t talk about me loudly, whilst I’m playing. Especially don’t turn to your neighbour and discuss loudly whether I am a guy or a woman, whilst looking displeased and miserable. (By the way, please cheer up!) Don’t you realise that I can hear and see everything? Whilst you’re watching me, I’m watching you.

Venues/venue managers/bookers/promoters/festivals/industry  - PAY THE PIPER. If you like it, if you love it, if you keep saying how much you like it and love it – FEEEEED MEEEEE. If I bring you the raw material of my soul, consistently, reliably, professionally, punctually…if I deal with your shoddy PA system, (even try to mend it and buy spare parts) lend your other performers my gear, if I am patient and humorous with your late or absent payments…if I bear with all this, at least don’t blank me. At least don’t ignore me. At least don’t ignore me and then hire someone else cheaper in my place without telling me. Do I need to teach you how to treat me, with each and every interaction? Do you forget, in-between?

Funding bodies/Government and Arts organisations –  I know you are trying and I haven’t given up on you. It’s so marvellous that  some of you have special awards for women and women’s art. I do hope your female staff are being paid a decent wage to administer them. Can I just say it…the amounts you offer are derisory. The requirements illogical, the forms incomprehensible. On my current lifestyle I can’t afford the calories spent going through the paperwork and the award, were I to get it, will just about pay for the hours of office work spent trying. And then you want some art on top of it? For me to hire studios/venues/session players…and eat? And also somehow prove (sometimes, in advance!) that I have indeed met the needs of new audiences and am viable as a financial unit? Is proof needed? Is it still about proof? Can we take a moment to appreciate the irony here?

Friends/colleagues/ punters, fans – I love you all. I know your intentions are the very best. But please stop asking me what I am doing lately to advance myself. Stop asking why haven’t I done or thought of such and such. Believe me, EVERYTHING  you can suggest, I have already thought of and done, or am doing. To be an artist is to be rejected and blanked repeatedly. Punters, I’m so happy that you enjoyed the music but please stop asking ME why you haven’t heard of me and advising me what to do. Instead write letters to radio/TV/festival/venues asking THEM to book me. If you are dying to see fresh talent, new voices, unusual voices, viewpoints, lyrics and styles break through, (and I know so many of you are hungry for this) then take hold of your power as a consumer and demand that the industry wake up. Then get yourself on my mailing list, and get your bum on the seat and create the demand, which these days I am required to prove, just to get a booking.

A note about wages - Everyone loves music. Everyone agrees that live music is lovely. It’s organic, immediate, irreplaceable, ephemeral, magical, of the moment, uplifting, catalysing and healing. Unforgettable. It gives ones a special feeling. Priceless, one might say. Therefore how ironic that the musicians wages are considered, last and least. Even the toilet cleaners at festivals get a wage, and so they should. Likewise, the toilet manufacturer, the sewage collectors, the electrician, the sales staff and of course the administrators. Never have a I met an administrator who didn’t get paid. Yet the musician comes in, does a skill that no-one else can do and is the thing upon which the whole event rests – and not only is expected to do it for free, but expected to pay for the privilege and do it in a hostile, or indifferent environment. For the joy of it! Did we mention irony yet?

Roar. Snore. Bore. Yawwwwwn…

Give me a reason to get out of bed, shake the cobwebs from my heart and head. In my world I am both King and Queen. I live in parallel, magical realms and dimensions where I am respected and even feted, fed and nourished, shined and polished. I walked the earth before, and am used to self-respect and mutual respect. I give and receive willingly, art with a big heart. I will sing the endless song of my soul, that tells of teeth sunk deep into life, and of pulsating vitality giving itself in sacred surrender to an act of love. But give me a reason. Give me a reason not to retreat into the secret invisible borders where the fairy folk go – unseen, unheard, unloved, disbelieved, uncelebrated. (They are fine. They play for their own amusement and pleasure. They understand themselves, they are not lonely.) But what have you shut yourself off from? I have something you want. I have medicine. I have something wild and golden and beyond riches. It’s worth far more than any coin you care you exchange. Yet I am willing to share my kill. Give me a reason.

 


 

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The Benefits of Running…

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Helping motivate a friend to run, as a skill swap for some motorcycle lessons, is for me, another great insight into the connection between physical exercise and musical expression – particularly singing and breathing. Breath is the key to our energy levels and brain, organ and muscle functions. As potential athletes, we have a huge advantage if we already study and train our breath through a parallel discipline. As singers who train our bodies, we naturally build up a lot of the physical support and lung power needed to sing. Running is also empowering, busts stress, aids mental capacity and floods the system with a cocktail of naturally occurring, feel-good, free drugs. It’s a wonderful resource which is just literally, a breath away.

If you’ve never run before, or want to return to running after years of absence, I would encourage anyone to just do it. I ran out of my house about 8 years ago, in a state of grief and confusion due to circumstances in my life involving a painful break up. The only thing that helped my mental condition, was hardcore, driving physical exertion. It became a habit, fitted well around existing martial arts studies – and I’ve never looked back – to the extent that I would now call my self a runner. Here’s my Top Ten Tips. I like to demystify disciplines which I think can be enjoyed and claimed by ordinary, non-expert people. Be sensible however, and work within your limits. The following is not a medically approved personal training plan. I have always been an autodidact, with some unorthodox ways of learning and of teaching, which not everyone has to agree with. This works for me and is for inspiration only.
*Be sensible and work within a framework that suits you and your current limits.

1. Shoes. Much is made of (and much is charged for) running shoes. What brand, what material, what sole etc. I don’t think anyone needs to spend vast amounts. I’m struck by kids in other parts of the world who learn to play football, in bare feet, starting from nothing, with nothing. If you are a human (or not!) and have legs and feet, (and even if you don’t, but that’s a different blog entry for another day) you are designed to run! Your trainers do not have to be used exclusively for your running, in fact it’s best if they are worn in other settings and are soft and springy, through wear. Make sure they feel supportive and comfortable and can last in wet weather, get them on – and run.

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2. Clothes. Again, no special, expensive garb necessary, in my opinion. Be cool enough and lightweight, but waterproof. Wear a hat if you know your ears are going to be sensitive to the elements (Mine are). Gloves always feel like a good idea at first, but usually end up too hot. Tuck keys, braids, laces, jewellery etc out of the way – you want to feel as light, relaxed and unencumbered as possible – especially if you hit psychological challenges.

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3. Where to run. Wherever you can. Make the most of your locality. Some people advise not to run too much on concrete, to minimise shocks through the heels. I’d advise more care over lumpy, country terrain where you have to take care of ankles. Uphill is challenging but worth it, and downhill likewise. Ideal route is a large green city or country park where you can stretch out  for distances but experience a variety of terrain and gradients underfoot. Logs to jump over, railings to vault, dogs to race, skateboard parks, benches, wall and level crossings can all enrich the experience. You want about 3-5 miles worth of ground to play with and the option to extend your route, mileage and duration in a loop.

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4. When to run. There are different benefits to different times. I love to run at dusk – especially when it’s an active release from what might have been a sedentary or ‘all-up-in-my-head’ kind of a work day. I can literally hear the mental dialogue and daily grind flowing out, and away. I love trying to beat the light, and love the company of bats, insects and sunsets. Noon, on an empty stomach is great. Early morning sets the day up, but is not my personal favourite – unless I can do it again in the evening. You can try running if you know you need to calm down, work off a bad mood, alter your perspective, release negative thoughts. (I ran, lifted weights and did martial arts right before my wisdom tooth extraction, as I knew I’d welcome the endorphin blanket.)

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5. How to run. There are many books and thoughts on technique, but I think each body shape finds a way to do what is actually a very normal thing to do. Two main things need your deep focus. Breathing and legs. Your legs need to be in good enough shape to carry you forth. I find it useful to think of running as just dancing, bouncing – then be carried forward and let your legs respond to save you from falling over. Momentum, not speed is the initial goal. Generally speaking, the emphasis should be on the ball of the foot. Keep light and springy. Start slowly and hold something in reserve, and try to distribute your energy evenly and smoothly without sudden, punishing spurts or grinding, stumbling halts. Think: legato. Focus initially on the road ahead and choose goals along the way. The next lamppost, the next bench, as far as the gate etc. When I began, I noticed a lot of tension and constriction across my sternum and shoulders and wondered what to do with why arms and hands. Now I know…let them move, let them swing and express. Bunch them into to pumping upper cuts, (useful if you want to look tough, no-one will mess with you!) or make swimming or flicking motions. Experiment and stay loose. As with so many things in life, small efficient steps strung together can really eat up the road and can be easier on the legs than massive galloping lunges. Only time yourself if it feels like a fun thing to do. I prefer to view the goal as ‘keeping in motion’ rather than ‘finishing’. Nothing every really begins or ends. Including you. All is flow. And anyway, who wants to race to the finish of a process that eventually, (believe me) will become pure fun?

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6. Tools for surviving the run. OK let’s say it again: BREATH and LEGS. You need to breathe. Initially, until it’s second nature (a point that does come and you will notice it) you will need to pay constant attention to your breathing. It’s your fuel upon which everything depends. Obvious, really. Get it in and get it out. The exhalation is where all your tension, lactic acid, and other waste products can travel swiftly out and away, freeing up more capacity. Everyone experiences a stitch at first. A side stitch can be painful and difficult to run through, but keep moving. It’s your body saying, ”lots more oxygen now please” – so listen and get more air in. The other thing that helps a stitch is to engage and support the natural abdominal corsetry in the surrounding area. Bear down, tense and pull in the muscles as you breathe. *Note, as with singing, the breath and the abdominal engagement are independent systems that help each other. Then your legs and feet need to be strong enough to enjoy constant motion. Visual images really help and can transcend and augment physical limits in a shamanistic way. The mind is powerful, and precedes all physical endeavour. When I began running, I envisaged myself as a wheel of fire, arms and legs pumping in circular motion. Do this often enough and the wheel will carry you. Find your own images/invocation and work them until they feel real. Discover the mystical depths of your own power. It’s your quest, your own mythic undertaking and your mental endurance will naturally rise to the occasion.
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7. Motivation.  This will take care of itself, if you give it a chance. The feel-good chemicals will hook you in fairly quickly and you’ll feel weird if you don’t honour your daily or weekly run. The way we build a new habit into our lives, is through repetition. I dislike the word ‘routine’ as it makes me feel numb. When we confront blocks, pain barriers, or inner resistance it can feel terrifying, and exciting. It can feel very uncomfortable and challenging and bring up emotions. But it shouldn’t be numbing or dulling. It should feel like expanding not contracting. Not surprisingly, as a musician, I prefer the concept of rhythm – there will be natural gaps in your week where a run can happen. Just allow it. Some like to run with a buddy. If so, make sure you harmonise in terms of speed, fitness, punctuality and commitment to the task. You don’t want really to be accommodating someone else’s needs or schedule. And in the early days, conversation is not really possible – you need all your breath and will to focus on the running. Don’t be surprised if thoughts such as ‘Please let this end’  or ‘I really hate this’ run through your head. You might want to encounter your demons in private, not in company. Get motivated by watching runners and athletes on TV, or talk to marathon runners – get the buzz by proxy, and let your inspiration bubble away. Imagine what it could be like to be fitter, faster, lighter, happier, stronger and more energised and know that each run takes you closer.

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8. Self-maintainance. Stretch or move before and after, whatever areas you think might be problematic for you. Hamstrings, Achilles tendon, quads, buttocks, hip sockets, are all areas that might speak to you loudly the next day, if they’ve not moved for a while. Pace yourself  as you build up strength. Good hot baths can help. As with music practice, sharp, sudden pains in joints mean stop immediately. Joints to watch out for are ankles and knees. Massage and move both just as a daily practice. Gradual, steady pain in muscle group means work through it. Any other parallel exercise you can do – yoga, martial arts, Pilates, dancing etc will help. Having strong abdominal support is vital and makes everything easier and safer – it’s a subject worthy of a separate article. I recommend Pilates. Get a book, read it, try it. What is Pilates? Briefly…Joseph Pilates  invented his own exercises to heal his own illness, during wartime  privation and (according to some accounts) captivity. From a place of extreme weakness he built himself back to health by training his body to lift its own weight. The appropriate muscle group to do this is the abdomen, the core, which contains many muscle groups and strands. It supports the organs and back. Many injuries and problems are to do with lack of  core support. It’s much easier to run, when you feel supported, contained and held in your torso area. Pilates exercises are done slowly, with focus and concentration, and even in small amounts, constitute a phenomenal workout. The principles are very practical and very simple, so don’t be mystified by the vast amount of info out there and don’t feel you have to shell out money for expensive classes. I recommend the training tips of athletes who have applied and interpreted Pilates in a way that shapes their own art in a relevant way, such as ballerina Darcey Bussell and tennis player Martina Navaratilova.

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9. ‘Don’t’s. Generally speaking, don’t eat before a run, not even a small amount. In fact it’s best if you have a slight appetite as long as your run is not likely to exceed an hour. You don’t want anything weighing you down, and even a snack will make its presence felt. You also want to give your body a chance to burn off existing calories. Likewise don’t go crazy on food immediately afterwards. Let the run ‘feed’ you for a while. Also, don’t worry, watch or compare too closely the speed or quality of others’ running. Your journey is your own.

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10. ‘Dos’. Do smile like a maniac at passers-by. Do show off by having subtle races with and overtaking other runners, especially by taking the inside of a curve. Play around with the mysteries of broken rhythm, pace and personal limits. Notice how it takes less energy to leap, not just avoid obstacles. Notice how much fun it feels to sprint the last 100 yards of the return journey, when logically you should be too tired? Listen to your instincts and discern your own energy levels. Feeling a bit reluctant or resistant? Run anyway. Feeling so exhausted by life that you are tripping over your own feet and need a nap instead? Leave it for another day.

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(Warning – like all physical exercise, running can be hypnotic and addictive. I use it as displacement activity and escapism. (What was once a block can become a safety net – interesting, no?) But as vices go, it’s not a bad one to have!)

 

Some inspiring resources:

Exorcising Ghosts A great website containing Haruki Murakami resources in English.

(As well as being a well-known author, Murakami is a serious runner, with a memoir entitled: ‘What I Talk About When I talk About Running.’)

Fast Girls – hip British film about running, with a line-up of fabulous female protagonists.

Kenichi Ito  – Japanese athlete – who runs on all fours. Maybe not quite my ambition, but points for dedication and self-mastery!

Official website of  400 meters champion Christine Ohuruogo.

 

(P.S. For those that don’t know me, I am a ‘Nu Jazz’ singer/songwriter, pianist and guitarist, based in London, UK. You can can check out my tunes and videos on my WEBSITE and come and like my Facebook Music page. Come and say hi…I would love to hear from you!)


 

 

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