Things I’ve learnt (or been reminded of) during my time in Barbados

So – Ive barely unpacked my bags, having arrived back home from my first ever trip to a Caribbean island. I’m halfway through writing a “seeing Bajanland on a budget”-type piece that will be up later. But for now, here’s a list of random things I either learnt or was reminded again of during my trip to sunny Barbados:

  • “In these harsh economic times.” How many times did I not hear that phrase during my time in Barbados? Thing is, the phrase “trouble in Paradise” is very much a reality for a lot of Bajan people. Kudos to them for their resilience in rising above it whilst acknowledging its existence – and for their humour in the face of it.
  • ‘Caribbean Time’ really is a thing. When you’re in the Caribbean, just go along with it. No point in making your time here a stressful one…
  • ‘I do not get lost’ is a worthy rule of life to live by. And there are ways of avoiding getting lost when in an strange land. Not being afraid to ask for help is a big one…
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things.
  • Free wifi is your friend (except, that is, if you’re an easily distracted writer with a deadline).
  • In many ways, Barbados is SO like Sierra Leone, it’s unbelievable.
  • Nothing is wasted.
  • The human body is a battery. And the sun is an ideal charger for it.
  • That ‘battery charger’ thing above also applies to the mind.
  • I can swim in just about any depth of water.
  • Perception is a funny thing.
  • Life – it really is an adventure.
  • Solar power and iPads don’t get on well together.
  • Age really ain’t nothing but a number. And sometimes your body and the years you’ve lived in it simply do not match.
  • Life is a gift. Enjoying it might not always be an option available to you, but making the most of it always is.
  • Anthony T. Barrow is an awesome poet.
  • It’s fun to explore.
  • People are great (when they’re not being complete poo-buckets, that is).
  • There are white people with Bajan accents. Don’t look so surprised…
And another thing: Everyone should see a Bajan sunset at least once in their lifetime.
And another thing: Everyone should see a Bajan sunset at least once in their lifetime.

 

Advertisements

Rules, resolutions and screwing up (aka “the blog post wot I’ve just wrote”)

There’s a poster stuck on the wardrobe in my bedroom; one of those ‘motivational’ things that do the rounds on TwitFace and other such places. I first came across it via our fundraising manager at work, who had it on the wall in front of her desk. It’s a list of 29 ways to stay creative.

29_ways_to_stay_creative_by_edhallNothing on the list is particularly new, but two things stuck out for me – so much so that they’ve formed the basis for the closest I’ll get to a New Year’s resolution for 2014. I say ‘resolution’; it’s not so much a resolution as a rule of life I intend to live by.

Along with tips such as “sing in the shower”, “dance” and “drink coffee” (no urging needed on that front!), the poster also urges you to “allow yourself to make mistakes” and to “quit beating yourself up”. It’s from these two that I’ve derived my rule of life for 2014. You could sum it up in three words: DEATH TO PERFECTIONISM.

We’re all our worst critics. As someone put it at a creative writing workshop I once attended, “We’ve all got that little demon sitting on our shoulders, telling us we’re crap”. Well, I’m done listening to mine. Done with expecting to get things right at my first attempt, and especially with getting frustrated and angry when I can’t pick something up. Of course I’m going to do my best and aim to do well at stuff, but no-one ever gets something completely right first time round (or second, or even third). Stressing yourself out over it helps nobody.

So, with that in mind, George Luke is hereby permitted:

  • to play as many bum notes as possible in piano class. In fact, invent a few new bum notes and play them too. Haruko and Sara won’t mind…
  • to be as ‘dos pies izquierdos’ as one can possibly get in salsa class. After all, as Etian says, “It’s just a move”. You will get that ‘setenta like an octopus’ right eventually…
  • and to get as many words wrong as possible when parleing Francais or hablando Espanol – or having a go at any other language I decide to learn (and anyway, no mistake I make could ever top “I had boobs for breakfast” or the infamous BSL ‘tent incident’).
  • As for writing – well, it goes without saying that it’s all about the rewriting, and that the first draft of anything is pants. So just get on with it.

typoDo feel free to adopt this as your New Year’s resolution, if need be. And remember – if at first you don’t succeed, breathe slowly and do it again.

Happy new year.

Life begins…

My home during Greenbelt. A man's got to camp in some style...
My home during Greenbelt. A man’s got to camp in some style…

This time last week, I was at Cheltenham Racecourse with a few thousand other folk, taking in (and contributing to) the 40th annual Greenbelt festival. The first one since 1995 or thereabouts that I haven’t attended as a member of the Press (although I was on reporter duty for Surefish and did do some festival coverage for them). This was my fourth year of being involved with Greenbelt as a volunteer, and I’m still learning a lot about the inner workings of this crazy festival I’ve been a devoted fan of since 1990 (as those who’ve seen the interview with me in this year’s festival programme will tell you).

In some ways, ‘#GB40’ (as it’s known on Twitter) was a smaller Greenbelt than usual. Cheltenham Racecourse is in the early stages of major renovation work and parts of it are yet to recover from the almighty flooding that made last year’s Greenbelt so ‘memorable’. As a result, the festival site was shrunk a bit. That, coupled with the fact that some of the regular traders had either gone out of business or stopped doing festivals, meant that a few regulars from previous years – Nuts Cafe, for example – weren’t around this year (it probably also explains why Higgledy Pies ran out of my favourite mash so quickly – but let’s not dwell on that).

Extra Curricular doing their 'thang' on Mainstage.
Extra Curricular doing their ‘thang’ on Mainstage.

But ‘smaller’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘of lesser quality’. And as far as the programme went, Greenbelt delivered goodies a-plenty. Both Extra Curricular and the London Community Gospel Choir were a joy to watch on Mainstage on Saturday (and as the DJ between the Mainstage bands that evening, I was privileged to see both gigs from side stage). Amadou & Miriam were great too – as were those mad folksters Folk On, the Austin Francis Connection (of whom, more later) and the ‘oldies’ who played each afternoon: the Fat Band, Fat & Frantic and Why? (I’m actually wearing my XL dark blue “Giggle, ‘cos it’s fun” T-shirt as I write this; a T-shirt that got completely soaked in cider on Sunday afternoon).

The LCGC 'bring it' on Mainstage, Saturday evening.
The LCGC ‘bring it’ on Mainstage, Saturday evening.

The line-up in the newly relocated Performance Cafe was just as great (not that I’m biased or anything) and included stellar sets from Eska, Eliza Carty, Jacob Lloyd, Daughters of Davis and a poetry showcase curated by Harry Baker.

As far as talks go, I found the short talks in GTV easier to get in to see than some of the others (I took one look at the queue for Vicky Beeching’s talk and knew I wasn’t getting in). I was able to see Sami Awad speak, and enjoyed a talk Catherine Fox gave offering an insight into the novelist’s craft – plus short talks from Andrew Howie, Sara Batts, Cieran O’Reilly, Steve Lawson, Vicky Walker, Jonty Langley and Jim Wallis.

I mentioned the AFC earlier. Their Sunday afternoon Mainstage gig was also their swansong, the band members having decided earlier in the year to disband. I interviewed founder and front man Edi Johnston for Surefish; you can hear an edited audio version of that interview – plus a few of their most popular songs – here.

The Austin Francis Connection: One Last Chat by George Luke on Mixcloud

My other jobs over the weekend included co-hosting a GTV talk show with Chine Mbubeagu, interviewing a few of the Israeli and Palestinian speakers at the festival. I also had another stint DJing at the silent disco in the Big Top on Monday night. I did record the set (mostly world music for the first two hours, plus some soul, some more Latin music, and a couple of what my rival DJ on the night described as “low blows”). The plan was to put that out on Mixcloud, but it appears that the audio file needs some work before I can do that.

Greenbelt, it was a pleasure celebrating your 40th. Life begins; let’s see what life has in store…

Tools of the DJ trade: my IDJ deck on the side of the Mainstage.
Tools of the DJ trade: my IDJ deck on the side of the Mainstage.
...and of course, one must always be prepared.
…and of course, one must always be prepared.

Checking in

I haven’t been here in a while…

It’s March. March, for [insert deity or rude word of choice here]’s sake, and this is my first blog post of the year. I didn’t do the customary “What I liked/hated about last year” blog post at the end of 2012. Nothing in January (I tell a lie; there’s a post waiting to be published, just as soon as I’ve finished the audio piece that goes with it). No reflections on growing older when my birthday rolled round in February. Nothing. For two whole months.

No, I haven’t given up on blogging (or writing, for that matter). I just haven’t been here. I guess this short post is my way of saying “Still breathing over here!” whilst waving my hands in the air like an apathetic person (I’ve always wondered if that line was one of hip hop’s earliest attempts at irony).

As it goes, I’ve been writing more than usual these past few weeks: ‘morning pages’ most days, beavering away at the novel I started last NaNoWriMo, plus whatever writing/editing the day job requires me to do (speaking of which, you really need to read this). I guess this must be the period of no apparent action between a seed being planted and a little shoot appearing above ground.

Anyway, I am still here. And I will be blogging this year. Thanks for caring; can I stop waving now?

PS. While I’ve got your attention, I’d just like to point it in the direction of a few things that deserve it. I’ve already kind of mentioned the Joint Public Issues Team‘s The Lies We Tell Ourselves report, debunking some of the popular received wisdom about poverty. Also well worth your time is Jendella‘s beautiful collection of photography and poetry, Deaths, Dreams and the Dull In-betweens. If you like Indian music, my friends Chris and Pete (aka Aradhna) have released a live album – the proceeds from which go towards helping women out of the sex trade. And if you do ‘do God’, why not try the God52 challenge?

Greenbelt 2012

Ten days.

It finished serving its actual purpose five days ago. But it’s still here, jostling with my watch for wrist space, now serving a higher purpose of reminding me how great the August Bank Holiday weekend was.

And it appears that I’m not the only Greenbelt punter who develops this weird emotional attachment to their festival wristband and can’t bring themselves to cut it off the moment they’re off the festival site. Friends and I have joked about it on Twitter, where some crazy “let’s see who can leave theirs on the longest” contest seems to have started. Ten days is the longest time mine’s been on for. It may come off tonight – but then again it might not. And why should it? As I said before, reminding me of how great Greenbelt was is as worthy a duty as getting me in to things on the festival site – especially now that I’ve washed away all traces of the mud I brought back…

At any minute, I expected Shrek to show up and yell at us to stay off his swamp…

Greenbelt 2012 was by far my muddiest Greenbelt. But unlike Greenbelt ’92 (which held the record until this year, and which I’ve declared my worst ever, after falling into some mud on my first night and not recovering), Greenbelt ’12 was truly awesome despite the mud. Infinitely muddier than ’92, but a much more joy-filled experience.

It was also my busiest Greenbelt. When I wasn’t interviewing performers and speakers for Surefish, I was either being filmed (for a promo video that should be out soon), DJing (which I did three times over the course of the weekend) or fretting over how well my short talk for GTV (on the topic “How to be a DJ”) would go.

The talk went well, thanks for asking. It would have gone even better from my point of view if I’d stuck to the script all throughout – but that’s me being my own harshest critic. The feedback I’ve had has all been good (especially the 12-year-old girl who found it “inspiring”; I do hope I’ve inspired a future Annie Nightingale!). The scariest part of it for me was doing the live beatmatching demo – but I nailed it first time, which was good.

Of all my DJing gigs over the course of the festival, the Friday night silent disco was by far the most surreal. For a start, you were DJing with two pairs of headphones on (you can’t do the “one ear on, one ear off” thing because there’s no sound from the speakers in the room). And of course, you immediately can’t tell who’s listening to you or to the other DJ – except for those odd occasions when the ones who are start singing along to what you’re playing. I now have a video clip on my mobile phone of a tent full of people singing “Where’s Your Head At?” after one such moment.
Silent DJs
Hard at work, Silent disco DJ-ing (Photo taken by Elaine Duigenan)

While I may not have seen all the speakers and gigs I’d wanted to (Frank Skinner and Bruce Cockburn being just two of the many I wanted to see but missed), I was able to chat to a good few of them in the Press room. It was nice meeting Richard Coles in person, having become Facebook friends with him earlier this year. Bruce Cockburn, Tony Campolo and Steve Taylor were all in fine form. Abigail Washburn offered to hold my mike for me when she noticed that my energy was beginning to sap – lovely woman she is.

Other memorable moments? Simon Parke’s talk on solitude; Hope & Social in their blue blazers, running around the Mainstage (“the Hope & Social Workout”, they called it); bumping into Chris Hale from Aradhna in the beer tent on the first night, and us subsequently chatting over pints of Crazy Goat until 1am; seeing the Proclaimers from both backstage and the front; Bobby Bovell introducing me to his dad after his gig on the Canopy Stage… and the blind guy I met at Cheltenham Spa train station on Tuesday morning, who overheard Simon Cross and I talking about the festival and joined in the convo to tell us how much he’d loved Sugarfoot’s Performance Cafe gig on Friday night.

I say it every year (well, apart from 1992): Greenbelt was excellent this year. And if a little strip of grey plastic evokes all those good memories a little longer, then that’s no bad thing. Maybe I could just leave this wristband on for another ten days…

Yeah, it’ll be fine for another 10 days, I reckon…

MIDEM Days 2 & 3: “just rambling…”

Easily the most random promo freebie I've ever been given at MIDEM - a little sachet of rice!

Day 3, Morning: I’m trying a couple of things differently today. First of all, I’ve decided to make the radical move of leaving my laptop at home – and so am depending entirely on my iPad for all my work today. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes…

I’ll be jotting things down more or less as they happen. First, though, a recap of yesterday…

The day went pretty well, for the most part. For some reason, all the people at this thing who are more interested in saving the planet (or just being normal) than in living the rock n roll dream seemed to gravitate towards me. I’m not complaining for one bit; it was great chatting with people who aren’t up themselves! I had a lovely lunch with Van Taylor (a jazz musician and cultural ambassador from the US; one of the Three 2 Go acts I interviewed the previous day). We talked about various humanitarian efforts we’d either been involved in or witnessed at work. Later, I caught up with Anthony Brightly again, who’s doing some big charity work in the Caribbean (more on that in future blog posts).

In fact, the closest I came to rock n roll excess yesterday was attending a press conference on board a luxury yacht (for the University of Reading’s MBA in Music course at Henley) – and the crappy weather here killed any mystique that would normally have had stone dead! Still, I got to chat to a high level banker from Coutt’s, who told me how they were giving bursaries to the most promising students on the course. 25 grand to learn how to be a manager. I’ll let those of you who are managers tell me whether that’s good value for money…

Wicked Aura, with Budi (centre) in the kilt): they hit drums, and they kick butt.

I finally got to see some live music last night. Earlier in the day, I’d interviewed a couple of acts from Singapore: singer and multi-instrumentalist Tei Kewei, and Budi, leader of the band Wicked Aura. Their showcase at Club Da Da Da – together with a few other artists from Singapore – was fantastic. Wicked Aura in particular are a spectacle to behold; ten guys playing just about every shape and size of drum imaginable, with a strong punk attitude and a charismatic front man. Bloody brilliant…

I haven’t got much on my schedule today, apart from going to hear what Mark Ronson has to say in his ‘Visionary Monday’ talk this afternoon – and of course to see how far I get using only my iPad to work today…

While I was going about my business yesterday, there was this one guy I kept bumping into outside the conference venue. He could easily have just been one of the many African guys hanging about outside, except that he wasn’t selling umbrellas. Instead, he was handing out flyers advertising his new album! His name was Prince Kestamg and he’s originally fom Cameroon. Strangely, he didn’t have a badge, and so couldn’t get in. But that didn’t stop him networking like mad outside…

Prince K: Cool character, isn't he?

The best track on his CD was a cover of San Fan Thomas’ song African Typic Collection – a classic that could be considered one of the forerunners of today’s ‘Afrobeats’ craze (I-bloody-HATE-that-word *deep breath*). When I finally did get to interview Prince this afternoon, what was supposed to be a simple mic level check turned into an acapella singing session. Have a listen… http://abfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/swf/fullsize_player.swf

Mark Ronson (left) talks Coca Cola Olympic stuff

Just after 3pm: Got mixed feelings about the ‘Visionary Monday’ session I was in. I guess I was expecting to hear Mark Ronson talk more about the creative process, rather than what was basically a long plug for Coca Cola’s involvement in the London Olympics. Even Ronson seemed to be taking his role as Coke spokesman to extremes, dressed in a red shirt with matching belt and socks. Still, the short time he spent explaining how me produced his Olympics tune (using sound samples from athletes around the world) was quite inspiring. i must admit I lost interest after that with all the marketing speak. I guess this was just another reminder that MIDEM is primarily about business, rather than music.

Just after 5pm: Just did another impromptu interview with another African artist – a Zambian singer based in Germany, who goes by the name of Mister Kibs. He has a showcase at 10pm tonight; I’m torn between staying in Cannes to see it, or going home early and spending the rest of the evening editing audio.

And how has my “leave the laptop at home and just use the iPad” experiment gone? Well, I’ve certainly had less of a load to carry about, and more space in my bag for freebies! I have had to resort to using the press room’s computers for uploading pics from my camera (and eventually for posting this blog, as it failed when I tried to do it via the WordPress iPad app). On the whole, it hasn’t been a bad experience but I think I’m still too attached to my lappy to abandon it completely!

PS. The experiment kinda went awry when the WordPress iPad app wouldn’t let me access what I’d written. Thankfully, I also had it on Evernote…

Mally & Me

I’ve heard stories in the past of some hip hop superstar or other who started their climb to the top by selling copies of their debut recording out of the boot of their car. But until Christmas Eve, I’d never actually seen it happen in real life (and anyway, after so many years as a music journo, you tend to dismiss those stories as something the artists’ publicists made up).

I had just landed in Atlanta an hour or two earlier, and hopped on the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transport Authority (or MARTA  for short) train to Indian Creek station, where my cousin was going to pick me up. I was sitting in the station’s passenger pick-up/set-down area, minding my own business and enjoying the rare spectacle (for a Brit) of warm sunshine in December (they don’t call this place “Hotlanta” for nothing) when young a man came walking by, carrying a stack of CDs in clear plastic wallets.

He stopped, introduced himself as Jamal – aka “Mally G” – and offered me a copy of his debut CD for whatever amount I was prepared to pay for it. I offered him $5; he gave me a CD, thanked me and wished me well and then went over to where a handful of cab drivers were waiting for fares and did his sales pitch again.

And that was when I had a crazy idea: why not interview the guy?

And why not? After all, I had my recording machine with me and I wasn’t going anywhere! And so I called him over after he’d sold a few copies to the cabbies. He came over; I explained what I wanted to do; we sat down and I got him to, as we say, tell me about himself. “That was a very nice thing you did,” said the lady who was sitting nearby waiting for her ride (and who took this photo of the two of us).

Here, for your listening pleasure, is that interview, packaged nicely with a selection of tracks from Mally G’s album. Think of this as a random snapshot; that was what I had in mind when I put it together…