At the moment, available on CD Baby. Soon coming to Spotify, iTunes, Google Music, and every other music programme you could possibly think of. I will post links as soon as they are ready. But you might want to buy it right now from CD Baby and support independent artists.
Give yourself a break from politics and have a listen!
Half the profits from sale of this album will go to the Bairro Pite health clinic, who are doing amazing things in Timor Leste. https://bairopiteclinic.org/
Please share the shit out of this post! Let’s send me platinum!!!!!
Returning to Portugal, Where Fears we Leave Behind was made. Where I gained a second home and a reverence for Irish traditional music steeped in Guinness. Over to one of my favourite men on the planet, Mr. Billy Corcoran, who, between destroying Irish Music every Friday and Saturday night and riding the high stool, has managed to expand and expound in honour of all things Lusitano.
I came to Portugal for four months almost eighteen years ago. That’s pretty much how it works here. One day you’re sitting on a cliff, pondering the sea with a bottle of Sagres, and the next thing you’re sitting on a cliff pondering the sea with a bottle of Sagres and half your adult life has passed you by.
This is no bad thing, by the way. It’s just that your life becomes more whimsical here. That wonderful word amanha (tomorrow) applies to almost all things here. It reminds me a little of how Ireland used to be. Never put off for tomorrow what you can do the next day. For a serial procrastinator such as myself, this is the best of all possible worlds.
It’s the same with coffee. Who knew there was so many ways to have a humble espresso? Normal, full, short, just over half ,almost full, in a hot cup, in a cold cup, with hot milk, with cold milk, weak, or my personal favourite, almost Italian (quase Italiano). And that’s before we even move on to long coffee!
But having drunk coffee in the main coffee countries of Europe I think Portugal wins hands down. It’s the kind of languid café culture where caffeine has absolutely no effect. Which brings me nicely on to those who are serving the aforementioned coffee: the waiters. My, but they surely are a breed apart. In France it’s almost expected to have rude waiters; it’s de rigeur, but here it’s a joy to behold. A class of men whose grumpiness pales to insignificance when compared to their abject contempt for humanity.
It seems to me (now I know I’m wandering, but that’s how this is going to be so try and stay with me) that ‘the momentum’ is with Portugal now; ‘The Momentum’ being a strange invisible force that affects countries from time to time. Ireland had it in the early 90’s, for example. Things are looking up here. Portugal won the Euro soccer championships last year (soccer being one of only two occasions where Portuguese people can lose all rationality). The economy is steadying. Lisbon is one of the hippest cities in the world at the moment. There is a bit of a spring in people’s step. Cautious optimism is flourishing. I mean, they even won the Eurovision song contest last week for the first time ever. The centre left coalition government seem to be making all the right noises. All of this combined with the mysterious ‘momentum’ and Portugal is a pretty interesting place to be right now.
That other occasion where rationality takes a hike is in the realms of driving. Now at the outset I have to say things have improved here over the years, but Mother of God, when I landed here first it was lunacy. It seemed so contrary to the normally mild, laid back ‘amanha’ Portuguese attitude. If there was a gap in the traffic it was essential that everyone went for it as fast as possible. Equally important was driving bumper to bumper at insane speeds in the driving rain. One of the main roads between Lisbon and Cascais, the ‘Marginal’, at one time was considered the most dangerous road, not in Portugal, not in Europe, nay,nay and thrice nay, in the world I tells ya. I used to sit on my balcony and watch the crashes. Outside my apartment alone I was taking in about three per week.
Anyway, I’ve meandered enough for one evening. If Emma ever asks me to write anything for her again I might muse on the bougainvillea, the jacaranda,the night blooming jasmin, ginjinha and the peculiar affinity between Ireland and Portugal regarding ‘Saudades’.
So despite being in penury, I do believe I am one of the richest men in the world.
The upcoming album Fears We Leave Behind was written over the space of about two weeks. My friend Tiago and I then spent about a month recording the tracks, including one particularly fraught day recording Six Vials, when I drank way too much coffee and we both went slightly mad.
Then, I moved to Timor Leste, leaving the rest of the production to Tiago. There followed an erratic yet productive chain of emails, as each track took shape, in spite of dodgy internet connections, hectic work schedules and random bicycle accidents. We are almost finished.
Tiago’s dedication to this project has been overwhelming. I’m indescribably grateful for the time he has put into making sure the songs sound exactly how I envisioned they would, and sometimes, providing that vision when it wasn’t there.
I’ve got a few weeks off from teaching soldiers how to sing speak English…
I’m staring out across the Lombok Strait and listening to the final master of Fears We Leave Behind. Despite the haste with which it was created, this album is a patchwork depiction of all the ways I’ve travelled over the last few years. It is an infusion I didn’t know I was concocting. It is everything I was unable to describe.
If you listen carefully, you can hear Portugal and Panama in the songs. Invisible markings of movement and sound left in the darkest reaches of the soul, only to be brought forth as some sort of subconscious musical alchemy.
A Portuguese friend in Timor Leste listened to the songs. What he could hear was England. I listened again, and then I could hear it too. Of course I could! A strong English weft, around which the colourful warps of venture and voyage wrap themselves.
What better way to pay homage to that weft than with this poem I wrote, while ensconced in my mother’s house last Christmas. If you don’t like poems, you can stop reading here, and just look at this beautiful picture of my mum instead.
At My Mother’s
At my mother’s, I resign,
rather than decide,
to enjoy myself.
It isn’t like it used to be.
In a good way.
On the television, a man drives his truck into shoppers
Just like the ones we have here.
They urinate on the homeless, now
(not the shoppers).
On the bus, a frantic, careworn woman hoists a flat screen TV.
Casually, she cannot find her son.
But the child at the back knows where he is.
Or where he was.
A sensitive boy sits with his grandma.
She struggles to understand him,
but she would hate him to think she didn’t care.
She asks him to bring it, show her.
He promises he will.
Earnest, blue eyes.
I see into his future,
that sensitivity broken and splintered
into a not-belonging.
I see his power broken,
because I am
(though I try not to be)
By the lake mallards,
with shining green heads,
waddle towards us.
Their hope is menacing.
Who told me
you aren’t allowed to feed the ducks anymore?
We imagined a false flag.
Someone, somewhere, getting rich.
On the television,
a wise man tells us that lightning
leaves patterns on human skin,
like translucent tattoos of intricate fern leaves,
spreading out over someone’s heart.
Perhaps the heart of that sensitive boy?
his skin like this.
All the while the wind chimes in the backyard remind me to be melancholy…
lest I forget.
A whole day in bed,
twisting in the warm folds of the duvet.
Occasionally swapping hands,
one clasps the book in a crooked urchin,
the other slipped
between deliciously warm thighs.
On the television,
a woman in a van speaks of musical keys
I want to write music, now.
Music that moves, just because it can.
I know those rooms, I think.
The clouds lie heavy, with a new lightness.
The warm dry air.
A hundred pillows and a thousand adverts and a million useless words.
After several months of mostly sea-based nomadism, I find myself a fully-fledged tropics-dweller. This is something which feels as if it happened by accident. Which, perhaps, is a good thing.
Land crabs scuttle around your room at night, occasionally dying inconsiderately in a corner and leaving a foul stench. Toads hop about nonchalantly in the hallway. Monkeys dance in the trees and the sky dances with lightning. Geckos wage wars for prime spots around lightbulbs. Fire ants bite your feet while you gaze up at the scarlet macaws; flashes of colour high in the almond trees. Fireflies drift and bob through heavy, thundering nights.
I stepped in a small pool of toad wee on the way to the bathroom the other night. The following day, a scorpion stung me while I was washing up; it was hiding under a plate. Hurt like buggery. I hear the words of my best friend’s legendary mother ringing in my ears…. “Ooh, Emma, is it worth it?”
Funny how quickly it all becomes normal.
How did an Ashton girl, raised on meat and potato pies, come to be living here? I am ashamed to admit it, but I’ve come to take it for granted. It’s only now I’ve found myself in one place, with a real job, without the distraction of travel, that my incongruity here is thrown into relief. In particular, there was one night a few months back, when I thought I’d treat myself to a veggie burger at the hostel down the road. Having forgotten my torch, I strayed off the path and found myself stuck, in pitch darkness, in the middle of a grassy hillock. “What the bloody hell am I doing ‘ere?” I heard myself shout into the darkness. I hope no-one else heard me. And even if they did, they probably didn’t understand the broad Lancashire twang I’d lapsed into during that stressful moment.*
You’ll be glad to know I escaped from the hillock unscathed. But it got me thinking.
We humans (particularly the ones from Lancashire) are such avid seekers of routine. We like to know what time we get up, and what time we go to bed. We like to have a nice place to keep our toothbrush. Even on the road, travellers huddle together in attentive groups, sharing precious local knowledge, which they gather in order to feel more at home. We are creatures of habit. Even in moments of transience we call ourselves back to a centre point: who we are, what we like, what we don’t like.
“It’s the way a man chooses to limit himself that determines his character. A man without habits, consistency, redundancy – and hence boredom – is not human. He’s insane.”
A friend in Bocas told me that after living with her husband and two daughters on their boat for almost six years, she was concerned about her daughters losing their ability to be in one place. I can definitely empathise with that, and I know several gypsy-like friends who can too. For those accustomed to travel, is staying in one place a skill to be developed? Is it wrong to feel itchy feet after being in one place for a while? Or is the key to be able to enjoy both sedentary and nomadic lifestyles without becoming too entrenched in any one way of life?
What do you think, gypsy friends?
Nomad or no, I think it most definitely is worth it. Being aware of what keeps your inner fires burning. Embracing the in-between places: that’s what keeps you alive, whether in the heart of the jungle or by a roaring fire on t’moors with a nice cup of tea.
I’m on the road again. After an amazing first term at Azuero School during which a bunch of crazy children undoubtedly taught me more than I taught them, I find myself in Pavones, Costa Rica, enjoying epic waves, overpriced papayas, and a renewed love affair with the tropics.
On the way we stayed at the brilliant Bambu Hostel in David, which has a pool, and a presumptuous possum.
in Pavones we have rented a lovely room at Patrick and Susan’s lovely hostel Clear River, right on the beach.
Here are some photos from the trip.
P.S. I deliberately didn’t mention where the quote was from so you’d read my next article out of curiosity.
*During a slightly hairy moment on a paddle board recently I found myself once again regressing to a broad Lancashire accent, stronger even than my real one, whilst trying to get in past some big waves: “bloody throw me t’paddle yer basterd, or I’ll bloody do yer one” I hollered to skipper over the din of the waves. Why do I regress into the accent of my youth during moments of stress?
This song was actually written by a cave woman, many millenia ago, and sent to me, through the ages, on a lunar wind.
She watches her family, and learns from them. She burns with the fire of discovery and hears echoes from her own future.
Her heart cries for glory and for things she doesn’t understand…just like mine does.
She has an acute awareness of her own impermanence, and wonders, as she sees the face of her children in the moonlight, what will become of her, and whether her suffering has a purpose.
I imagine this woman, staring up at an infinite sky, her mind filled with the same questions, the same desires, the same concerns and the same emotions as I have, right now, thousands of years later. I was filled with a sense of timelessness I will never forget.
And if that doesn’t float your boat, check out the video. It’s got some nice arty shots of seagulls. Featuring guest vocals from Tomer and Yahel Allouche and perhaps the most underestimated musical instrument ever: the recorder.
Photo of Venao by Rodrigo Suriani, at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rodrigo_suriani/
After a blissful few weeks in England and Portugal, it’s time to sit down with a nice cuppa and reflect on the trip.
I ate pies in their hundreds. I shopped for life changing pants with my best friend, who is starting her own furniture upcycling business. I gazed in awe at my wonderful mum’s new artwork.
I made weird videos whilst waiting for delayed Ryanair flights.
In Portugal, I ate pastel de natas with proper coffee in great company. I drank one too many at O’Luain’s Bar and Sometime Eatery (first mentioned here) and participated in the much missed Sunday night music session. I was reminded of the stunning beauty of the Cascais coast, and of just how enormous a Portuguese toastie can be.
Back in England I was lucky enough to join in the singaround at the Cross Keys Folk Club. What a wonderful night. Secreted away in the tiny back room of this 200-year old pub (not a smartphone in sight), we shared folk songs from all over the world. This was my favourite (extract from lyrics below):
“Oh, roll up, roll up, come and see the fat girl, Forty stone o’ loveliness and evr’y bit’s her own.” Ee she were a big ‘un, Wi’t accent on the big, And all the fellas wi’ walking sticks kept giving her a dig.
All in all a very special trip. I returned to Panama full up with love. And pies.
Below are a few photos from my current location. Bloodshot is out of the water having a well-earned rest in Bocas del Toro
…and I am getting to know my new home: Playa Venao.
It feels great to be teaching again. I had forgotten how challenging and hectic and hilarious working with children is. This is our school and it’s growing. I feel priviliged to be a part of it all.
I’m saying this now. Just wait until the novelty of actually having to work wears off.
School on a quiet Sunday
Skipper gets roped into building a mini skate ramp