Upgrades…like before, but with lasers!

New Orleans is honey in the coffee, busking in the Quarter, sleeping through the morning, brass bands in the ghetto; it is music on the streets, at midnight and at midday and right the way through from one to the other. Plans for a summer of music throughout Europe with Rising Appalachia, public rehearsals for same (also known as busking), going over the same few tunes on a borrowed double bass til my blisters are back. Today I converted fingertip skin into bass notes, bass notes into cash, cash into roasted fig and beetroot salad, and – with any luck – at some point tonight my body will convert the salad back into skin for my fingertips. The street names are romantic; I am in Satsuma cafe on Dauphine, close to Piety and Desire, near Port and Burgundy, Alvar, Royal, and Chartres where we pick up the bass from a helpful friend every day on the way to the French Quarter. Last night we ate amazing food and drank wine in a secret venue, a speakeasy with a sign over the exit which said:

so I can’t give you any details. This month has had things in it which are good and wondrous but come with tag attached saying that I may not tell details of them; some tags are to be respected and others not so much. I went for eye surgery as a way of taking my grandparents’ legacy to be a lasting gift; the clinic felt that I might go to another company to have the surgery done and so knocked about two thirds off the price. If you divide the amount (one thousand pounds per eye) by the number of pairs of glasses I will buy before I die, it is likely that I have overspent. If you factor in the feeling of waking up in the morning *every single day* and not having to put glasses on, after having spent 27 years having to put them on *every single day* and keep them on, keep them clean, keep aware of them at night for the next morning…no comparison…in terms of quality of life, the difference is already worth the money. So thank you yet again, grandparents, for this. On to the surgery.

I go in for the consultation. I have booked two of these, one at the Ultralase clinic who have an office in Edinburgh and one at Optimax whose nearest clinic is in Glasgow. A deal of internet research on both companies reveals that Ultralase is considered to offer the high-end treatment; they have the most expensive machines and most recent technology and offer the highest quality of aftercare. Optimax, on the other hand, have a two-for-one offer this month and the lasers can’t be *that* different, can they? This is a field which has been around for a good few years now, and each of the surgeons in each of the many clinics around the country have performed between ten and thirty thousand procedures identical to the one I am considering undergoing. Ultralase’ consultation comes first by about ten days, so I go, thinking that they can answer my questions and do the bedside-manner thing and I can probably jump ship to the Glasgow clinic for the much-cheaper procedure after I know my suitability for the treatment or otherwise. The difference here is that Ultralase quote £2400 per eye for the Elite treatment and Optimax, given their two for one, would cost me half that. Anyway, it becomes academic when, a couple of days before I am due to go to Glasgow, Ultralase call me – my name has surfaced from the belly of their computer – and offer the Elite treatment at one thousand per eye, beating their own initial offer and now Optimax’s twofer by a country mile, so I gleefully book the next available slot which is a week later. Sweet.

The consultation is an extended, in-depth prescription test where I am set before an array of machines which test my eyes in a variety of ways. The first is an updated version of the optician’s routine which I have taken part in every few years since the age of six. You wear a pair of frames with multiple lens-holders where one eye is blanked off while a selection of lenses of various power and orientation are systematically substituted in the holders. After each substitution, you read the chart to the last unfuzzy line, or compare the green dot with the red, or the upper or lower concentric circle-dot, and based on which one jumps out of the fog you move to the next lens. The tech is more efficient now, with an automated carousel of lenses for each eye which the optician controls; it seems to cut the required time for this bit down to a couple of minutes at most instead of the ten or fifteen it used to be. Then a puff of air into each eye, an automated prescription-measurer which neither of the two opticians present are able to adequately explain, and (after a couple of anaesthetic drops) an ultrasound probe which looks like a ballpoint pen and is prodded disconcertingly straight in to the middle of the eye. Imagine looking through a sheet of clear rubber while somebody pokes a stick through it from the other side – the visual distortion is like that, and would hurt like eye-stabbing hell but for the eye drops. Some of the drops have the effect of fully dilating the pupils, so when I am released from the consultation – despite it being a typical not-too-sunny Edinburgh day – the daylight is really rather painful and I have to stagger up the road with my eyes nearly closed, shaded by my hands, until I can pick out a taxi-shaped blob to get me home with my eyes stinging like buggery. The two opticians I meet during the consultation are like a kind of highbrow/lowbrow good cop/bad cop routine, one reassuringly articulate and professional, one prone to showing me vague statistics and saying things like ’so as you can see, it’s really good, really really good’.

About twelve days later I go in for the actual procedure. I am to have LASIK – laser assisted in-situ keratectomy – which entails not one, ladies and ginnelmin, but two yes TWO LASERS in my eyes. I have read and signed all of the forms. The surgeon sits with me and goes through, in remarkable detail, all of the potential failure mechanisms of the procedure I am about to undergo; I am grateful for the clarity of this. There are small-fractions-of-one-percent-chances that it will go wrong in one of maybe three or four ways. My corneas, true to form, are thicker than most folks, so they have plenty of leeway within which to reshape them. The reason for the surgery in the first place is that since the age of about six, I have been highly myopic; short-sighted. This means that when light entered my eyes, my lenses focused it in front of the retina, rather than at the retina, meaning that everything further away than about half a meter (on good days) was irredeemably blurry. I’d be able to see a bus coming if I wanted to cross the street without glasses, but maybe not a cyclist, and I definitely wouldn’t know what bus number it was until it had run me over. Minus 6 in one eye, minus 6.25 in the other, and rather astigmatic (meaning that circles came through looking ovoid, and even more blurry). So, what they are going to do is cut a small flap on the surface of each eye, lift it away, and reshape the cornea underneath until it focuses light right on the retina giving me clear sight.

I am shown into the treatment room and asked to lie down on the couch and shuffle up so that my head is in place under laser number one. The surgeon’s assistant administered the first set of eyedrops a minute ago in the pre-treatment room; the surgeon now gives me another set. The first laser scans my eye – if I remember this right – and I am told which bit of light to look at. There is a flashing red dot there which I will need to focus on when I come back under this laser in a few minutes. The couch is swivelled so that I am between the two laser heads, and the surgeon fits on a plastic jig to hold my eyelids open. At this point I realise that I am jittery as anything; excited, sure, but my face is terrified and all of my facial muscles start doing everything they can to push my eyes shut. I ask for a hiatus and am wondering how I’ll get through this at all, and then remember some breathing techniques and start breathing in a very fast, controlled way. I’m not sure of the mechanism here, but it seems to work to put me back in control of my own face; the back of my neck and head vibrate like a bell for a second or two and then my eyes allow themselves to be opened again, feeling genuinely relaxed now. This sense of panic comes and goes several times during the next ten minutes, and each time I breathe through it, the breath serving to reconnect me with my body, stopping me from disappearing away from the fear into an abstract space within my mind and leaving the muscles to push the surgeon as far away as possible.

Back in the land of voluntary muscle movement, the surgeon tells me I am going to feel pressure on my eyeball. He puts a suction cup onto my right eye, which presses inwards a fair bit, feeling like it’s squashing my eye a little, and preventing me from seeing anything out of that eye. Visual field goes a sort of brown colour and the first laser starts a circular journey around at nearly the outer diameter of my iris, cutting a very thin flap, less than a millimetre thick, which takes about 45 seconds. I again am grateful to the staff because somebody is counting down the number of seconds until the laser has finished the cut, and there’s nothing which alleviates discomfort quite like knowing it’ll be over soon. Then the surgeon lifts the newly-made flap away from my eyeball – the pressure is eased now, so I can see the tiny needle-like tool he uses for this as it lifts something, and then everything is even more blurry than before. I’m swivelled back under the first laser and the light show starts. I can see a pulsing red cloud with that weird precision about it that you only get from laser light; it’s not a dot but then probably nothing could be as all of the focusing equipment I have has been moved out of the way or anaesthetised or otherwise disturbed. There is a bigger field of light, also with the laser-light quality about it, which has some coloured dots in it and which covers quite a bit of the visual field. It blinks on and off at a stuttering high speed, with a buzzing sound, in short bursts which the staff again have the grace to count down: two of five, three of five… until it’s finished, and I am aware of the smell of my cornea being gently, precisely vaporised, and the feeling of relief. The surgeon has removed up to around two millimetres from parts of my eye, giving the lens the correct shape. I see the little needle-thing come sideways on again as it places what looks like a bit of cling-film over my eye; this is the flap being replaced. At this point I think the speculum was removed and I was free to close my right eyelid again. The whole procedure then happened again on the left eye. They warn me that the second side is often experienced as more traumatic because you know what’s coming, and this is borne out – no matter how fast I breathe I can’t quite get the left orbit muscles to relax, and although the whole thing is over in under fifteen minutes I feel quite battered when I come out. The lasers are on for a total of maybe three minutes – 45 seconds to cut the flap, 45 to reshape, same again for the other eye – and the moment I sit up from between the two laser heads I can see, I can SEE! The back of the treatment room is in focus! Holy shit! It’s like there’s a heavy mist around everything, but I can see straight away that things are in focus. Wow.

I am led to a very dark room and brought a hot chocolate; I forgot to bring shades again (because I’m an idiot) but the receptionist had a pair that I could borrow. They order me a taxi home which gets me to my front door about twenty minutes before the stinging starts; the anaesthetic drops have worn off and I have to spend the next six hours in my room with the shutters closed and sometimes with shades on as well, or with my eyes screwed shut against the more-or-less intense stinging sensations in each. I take photos in the mirror of the neat circles bloodshot on my eyes, not the edges of the flap but the marks made by the suction cups that kept my eyes still while the flap were cut.

Later the same evening – after about six hours – my friend Cammy comes over having just been to the osteopath. He can turn his head without his neck clicking, for first time in seven years. I can see him, in focus, by turning my head only a little, without the frames of my glasses obscuring his face because I no longer have to wear them and likely won’t have to again, until maybe I’m in my mid-fifties and begin to go long-sighted like everyone else. We have a moment of nonsense joy – we’ve had upgrades! – and my eyes have stopped stinging. The next day, after the first of several followup appointments, the clinic confirm that my eyes are healing well, there is no sign of infection, and I walk home in the (narratively convenient) beautiful sunshine, able to see more detail and more colour on distant Arthur’s Seat than I ever have before even with my glasses on. The sight test showed that I can see up to two lines better than 20/20 on the chart; that is an American system where the UK equivalent is 6/6 and means that you can see letters 6mm high, 6m away. I can read 4mm letters at that distance – I have actually come out better than expected. I’m overjoyed, and the next couple of weeks are full of slightly psychedelic moments as I get absorbed in the fine details of my environment which I’ve never seen before. So: painful and intense for about 15 minutes, and afterwards, amazing. As I write this, in the spirit of atemporality, I’m still in New Orleans scouting for a sousaphone for the Horndog Brass Band (I call one shop and the guy says ‘you have to wait until someone dies and wills you one, in this town) and might have to wait a couple of weeks until I can write about it. Now we’re off to busk…

love from the French Quarter,

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From Montreal, backwards to Bath, forwards to the present.

(I started this post two and a half months ago, at which point this next sentence was true). Now we are in Montreal. It’s been quite a while since my last post here, the gap being mainly due to having had loads to do. I’m sitting in a generically boring coffeehouse just around the corner from the music shop; in half an hour I’m due to pick up my trumpet from the repairman. It only has a soft case, and I accidentally sat on the edge of it while riding to a promo session in the back of the van in Bath. Also the tuning slides haven’t moved in years, which isn’t ideal. Bath was really lovely; our site was in the middle of the Royal Victoria Park, just next to the Botanical Gardens, and just right on the bit where the hot-air balloonists take off from at the weekends. At 7am. Using very, very loud gas burners to inflate the balloons…never mind, they look very pretty when they’re half a mile away, narrowly avoiding the trees…a small niggle in an otherwise beautiful site. The only stand of the tour where we were all on grass, the part of the park we were on was quite a slope which meant that the tent was canted over a little and the floor sloped. The German Wheel guy had to choose between completely changing his routine for one with less travelling in it, or travelling the width of the tent, angling down the slope, and killing audience members. The floor in Montreal is flat, his routine is back to normal, and nobody was injured.

We must be doing something right. There was a man who came to see us five times in Bath, paying full price every time, bringing his son several times and his whole family at least once, and buying a CD. It’s a pretty sincere compliment, that; short of actually buying out the show and having it turn up in your back garden, coming back again and again is a fine way to make a company feel appreciated. We were there as part of the Bath Fringe Festival and managed to make it out to see some good stuff. I drove to Bath from Toulouse with the drummer and discovered a nice way to make a playlist: put everything in the same folder, files numbered for their album order, so you get track one of twenty different artists, then track two of the same twenty, then track three etc. This plus (at last) decent speakers in the van made the drive easy, and we made it from Toulouse to Bath with only a 5-hr break for sleep, leaving with the second crew and arriving with the first. Getting there a day early meant that I had a very pleasant surprise: I found Orkestra Del Sol playing in a pub as part of the Fringe, having forgotten that they would be there because I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch them. This meant that my first night back in the UK was spend catching up with friends I hadn’t expected to see, which was lovely. Spiegeltent was there, where we went for promo, caught the Blockheads and the fantastic Besh O Drom – Hungarian mentalists with an amazing sax/windsynth player, a kind of music it’s very hard not to dance to. Also in Spiegeltent: happy lock-in people, good strong cider, three brass tent poles, two chinese pole performers, and a couple of enthusiastic chinese pole attempters. Again, nobody was injured.

Two weeks’ break following the Bath stand, during which I saw one celebrity every two days, played at the Insider Festival up near Aviemore, which involved beautiful woodlands, amazing food, glorious weather and a whole bunch of fine music, and all-too-brief catchups with friends. I’m fast forwarding now, to catch up with the months which have passed since I finished the last paragraph. All in all, travelling with Tabu was such an intense time that there was only time to do it, and be in it, not really any to set aside to write about it, so my blogging lapsed as most blogs do. The last month of the tour, August, took us to my home town of Edinburgh where I had the joy and privilege of seeing many friends in the audience, being able to say to the people who have been my friends and friends-of-friends for so many years: look at this! this amazing show…and to have them say how at home I looked there…great and hectic end to an amazing six months. Ended up doing something like 45 gigs in August, 30-odd Tabu shows, plus assorted Horndogs gigs and one guest slot each with the fantastic Sxip Shirey and the otherworldly Rising Appalachia (RISE). I’m writing this instead of packing to go to New Orleans to join RISE, with my good friend Phyllis, where we shall brainstorm and dream and condense the results into a tour plan for next year. Making music with circus, touring by means of small residences, a week or two at a time, all across Europe; this is the intention as I understand it now, and we’ll see where that goes. I think perhaps the best thing for this blog is if it’s understood to be atemporal; I don’t stand a chance of updating everything in time. I intend to write a description of laser eye surgery, having had my own myopia gloriously burned away two weeks, six hours and seven minutes ago…very few things I recall to the minute, but it’s been amazing to have detailed and unassisted sight after 27 years of wearing glasses all day, every day. Right, I’m out of time for procrastination and so will head off and maybe even write in a slightly more timely fashion, but you know, no way :-)
love, post-circus, pre-circus, always.

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Toulouse en Piste

Toulouse has been lovely, even if mostly it’s been busy enough that you forget about the lovely most of the time. Talk about the weather, but it did rain pretty solidly for most of the first two weeks. Tent-up had its moments, I got absolutely drenched, and the tent master had to borrow a couple of people to help him dig a trench a few meters long in order to drain the small lake that formed beside the tech tower. The tech tower is the place where all of the cables either go to or come from, including the beefy power cables. Lake + beefy power cables = not good. Thankfully Toulouse remembered summer, and nobody was electrocuted by rogue water in the distros.

It was the last day of April on one of the tent-up nights, on which day (since about 1999) I’ve celebrated Beltane in grand Edinburgh style along with hundreds of performers and thousands of spectators. Beltane as in Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society annual fire festival, is somewhat unique: a re-imagining of old celtic spring festivities and rituals which was started up by a handful of individuals about 23 years ago and is continued now by a great big messy pile of individuals who enjoy making free with the body paint and drums and so on. Best advice I remember on understanding what Beltane means: ‘If you want to understand, ask a participant. If you want a different opinion, ask a different one. If you want to be thoroughly confused and have no idea what it’s about, ask all of them.’ It’s a different beast to everyone involved. The drum group I was in (and was sometimes leader of) provided the rhythms that drove the procession around the hill from the arrival of the May Queen, via the Fire-Arch (gateway to the underworld) and the elemental points (Air, Earth, Water, Fire), past the Red charge (you’ll just have to google ‘Beltane Red Men’) and on to the eventual death and rebirth of the Green Man (symbolising the end of the old year and the birth of the new year). For me (as I understand it now) it was a way to explore altered states of awareness in a public context using drumming as the awareness-alterer; we rehearsed for up to 3 months beforehand and spent a deal of time drumming ourselves into a trance state of some sort, building up familiarity with that state so that we could generate it in public and so invite the public to participate. People do get carried away by the sound of drums, and although the rehearsal and leading process was difficult (now I’m learning about leadership and making enemies) the state of mind that we got into on the night lasted for hours and hours and hours and was always worth the cost. When it’s the middle of the next afternoon and you’ve been awake for over 36 hours and drumming for maybe 14 hours and you’re still covered in body paint and you can’t speak in sentences or remember your own name or stand upright…but you can still drum…and you are still drumming…it’s good. Due to being many miles from Edinburgh this time around, instead of all of that drumming I laid in the ingredients for White Russians, fed them to several cast & crew, and we ended up running naked around the tent (and, briefly, on top of a kingpole which I’m promised will get me the sack if I do it again, and fair enough) which I think was entirely in the spirit of the thing. Happy Beltane :-)

Since about the middle of the month, it’s been glorious and sunny in an entirely South-of-France way. We’ve been doing lots of promo sessions, and although I usually have a big problem with promotion (I don’t like being flyered and I really don’t like flyering others) there is something different about doing promo with NFS that makes it actually enjoyable. Partly it’s because there are usually a fair few of us; partly it’s that the band don’t actually have to speak to lots of people (in nearly non-existent French) or smile all the time, because we’re playing. We go out in costume and in character, and because of the way the director works, our characters are close to ourselves, more or less, so what little acting there is feels natural. We put on our costumes (suits and dresses with a really particular style that I love but completely lack the vocabulary to describe) and there are a couple of props and there’s music and suddenly we are a thing which is happening and draws crowds. We wander around the squares and shopping streets of Toulouse, people smile and take flyers and after a while they begin to turn up to the show. Audience turnouts were low in Brussels, but in Toulouse there’s been a sense of build-up – a bit frustrating because the second last show sold out, the last one (this afternoon) looks to be a full house, and then, having built up the buzz necessary to sell tickets here, we leave for Bath.

All that said, yesterday we did something completely different; the city (I guess, or the promoters of Caravane du Cirque which is the circus festival that we’re here as part of) bought us out for two shows’ worth of time, so instead of matinee and evening shows on a Saturday, we did our thing out in the streets as part of the Toulouse en Piste circus parade, involving around 600 circus performers from various schools and companies. Departed site at ten, and driven to a warehouse on an island in the middle of the river, where a flatbed truck has been rigged with some staging, a drumkit, sound desk and big PA with a large generator on board powering it all. We spend a while working out where the hell we’re all going to stand and where our instruments will go, and then start plugging in mics and gaffer-taping mic- and instrument- stands to the floor and soundchecking. The truck and staging are about the usual 8ft wide, and the stage is about 8ft off the ground, with no guard rail or anything, so we’re perched and precarious. The truck moves very slowly at first on its way to the start of the parade, then picks up a bit of speed on the way so that we have to tie cables around the cymbal stands and mic stands to stop them falling off, and sit fairly carefully on the back of the truck as it heads through the Toulouse traffic. At our third set of traffic lights a guy leans over and shouts ‘NoFitState are the best!’ out of his window, which is amazingly gratifying since there’s no branding on the truck (apart from the sound engineer’s t-shirt) and he must have come to the show and loved it.

The day is grand. We get no chance for breakfast or coffee until about 2pm, when there’s a quick window to nip off to a kebab shop and a supermarket and buy some food and drink for the parade. I like that you can buy gazpacho soup in cartons here, next to the orange juice on the shelf, and drink it like juice; it feels nice and healthy to drink veg as well. There is a green room, allegedly, but it’s probably miles away and there’s enough kerfuffle around that we all just get changed in the street, standing by our float. Eventually we move off, and spend 2 hours playing the show music on the back of the float, while the whole company keep pace, walking, running, cartwheeling – at one point the assistant producer overtakes us with her head in a pram and her feet in the air – and they’re all over the truck and the truck in front, standing on the generator, standing on the truck cab, hulahooping, singing, dancing. Two trucks behind us, lots of students from the Lido circus school are wearing black suits, painted green, and doing their thing with a float that’s got up to look like a crazy armoured car with a big floating eyeball on the top. The performance they do in the street later seems intense and high-concept but by then it’s too warm for that and we’re having too much fun being Macondo.

The parade enters an open square by the Jean Jaures Metro station and dissolves a little; there are performances going on all over the place and we stop playing for a wee while as the float parks up a short distance from the main crowd. I head over towards the Metro, passing the Lido lot, and there’s a strangely familiar sound blasting out of a PA truck which I realise is the soundtrack we recorded in Brussels, playing for our swinging trapeze lady who is doing her thing in the air over the heads of what looks like a couple of thousand people. There is organised chaos during which we return to the float. The parade reforms and moves towards the bridge where we stop for a while, slightly uphill, at the head of the parade, looking off the back of the truck along the street where the same two thousand people are mostly grinning in the sunshine. Slowly across the bridge leaving the crowd behind, then to an open square behind the Mediatheque where our sound system is plugged in to a bigger rig next to a small stage. There are flying rigs dotted around the square, and after a samba band (all in whiteface clown costume) leads the crowd into the square, we start playing again as the cast do some of their acts from the show; strops, chinese pole, static trapeze, and some ensemble stuff. It’s lovely to see the whole thing translated from the set in the tent (which is very much our home ground) to a different context, and to see that it works outdoors as well. The crowd are attentive during, and appreciative after, and everyone seems satisfied. This bodes well for our trip to Montreal where we will not have our tent or our set, the familiar things will be absent and we will remake the show again.

There’s an afterparty with homeopathic quantities of food and champagne (two cubic centimetres of bread and cheese on a toothpick) where people are mostly warming down and babbling a bit and getting hungry. We wait for a while until they call dinner, which is tasty and served in a room with a balcony with a properly stunning view out over Toulouse. Security, who have been on the jumpy side of efficient all day (they tried to stop me climbing back onto the truck to play after a break in the parade, til someone else told them it was ok) are not happy about people on the balcony but eventually too many of us have found the open door, so they give up and we get to enjoy the view properly without being told it’s bad and wrong to do so. We finish winding down as the sun sets, back into the van and back to site and fall over and sleep, ready for the last show and the fast get-out and the drive to Bath. Toulouse en Piste rocked.

love from the circus,

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on love: when they don’t love you back

My heart is broken. Understand that this is not meant as a plea, I’m not begging for sympathy beyond what I might feel simply from being invited over for a cup of tea and a chat; what I mean is, that’s the only sensible conclusion given the evidence. It doesn’t work properly. I’m not some dry materialist, and despite being the son of an anatomy lecturer I don’t mean that the blood-pumping muscle is failing; as far as I can tell it’s doing its job well enough – blood flows round, and occasionally out, as can be expected.

I mean that the perception of others’ feelings and how they dovetail with my own has lost its director. That is what a heart is for, no? That’s how you navigate the landscape of emotions, your own and others, you listen to your heart and know where it pulls you – it doesn’t speak, it lives beneath words, prior to them and also far beyond them, which is why words often seem so totally inadequate when expressing heartfelt things. Of course I am using words just now, and choose them in the knowledge that they are so limited; sometimes songs are best for this kind of exchange but no songs have been coming out lately.

I was once completely melted into love, awash, prone to falling adrift in my partner’s eyes. I could see in them the same recognition i felt looking at her – a kind of cosmic-scale ‘Oh, it’s YOU’, shouted silently at full volume and felt without boundaries and with abandon; for a while we were home and sanctuary to each other.

When that passed, violently and painfully, most of my being felt broken although the lasting damage was only to my heart; my mind was shaky for a bad few months but minds do heal, as mine did. It’s only years and years later that I’m beginning to understand that hearts heal far, far more slowly; I suppose this makes sense given that the body is prior to the heart and the body heals even more slowly if the wound is deep enough.

Every now and again – once a year or so – I meet someone and my heart wakes up to her presence, with the feeling of being called home, that there is something about this person that is to do with belonging. The landscape seems familiar, there’s a part that looks like there might be rainbows and flowers and butterflies and possibly bunnies, one to give to and receive from: home. There’s that strong pull towards her, near constant desire for her company, when she fills your mind, when she colours so many thoughts that she is more like the context for them than the content of them. Then the discovery, sooner or later, that she is more or less indifferent to your presence or your company…it’s as if there are shards of the heart that are still stuck in place where the whole belongs, and being broken they are in the wrong relation to each other and reflect the light askew like circus mirrors, offering illusions for the unwary, showing the wrong person reflecting back towards you.

I don’t know if this is related, but feel that it is: this appears to work in the opposite direction as well. One whose heart is broken can be fallen in love with by others and have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, experience a total failure to recognise the essence of them. This can mean disdain for them, or confusion – they must have made some sort of mistake, surely? It can’t be me you’re falling in love with, I’m not here, my heart is not here, it’s over there, broken and pulling in several different directions though each is towards a dead end. What are you, stupid, to be here telling me this? I mean the heart only, here. You can see perfectly well that someone is lovely and wonderful and so on, and if it were only about the mind and thoughts then love would be straightforward, but it’s obvious (to everything except the mind) that a) it’s not that easy and b) it’s really, really not that easy. Maybe the difficulty is that the heart is supposed to be certain, that a change of heart is so very much slower than a change of mind that, to the mind, the heart can appear frustratingly unchangeable. Certainly the idea of holding on to a hope that someone’s heart might change is a mistake and can easily lead to madness.

I’ve been wrong every time since the first break. Had the feeling of home and recognition, and of most of my mind shouting YES! HER! at me about one person, when every new thing you learn about her you can’t help but like. It’s a hard thing for the ego to take, this, since the ego’s job is to keep body and mind and soul together as one identity, finding the proper way to esteem the self, giving it enough priority and importance within its own boundaries that it is well fed and watered and kept alive and healthy. For the self to feel that it has been recognised that way by someone else, and to find that it’s not real, that all of that shouting and hoping was a mistake, is hard. Then maybe you see that it was not your whole heart that was calling, it was only a few fragments of it, enough for your mind to wake up and remember what it was like when those shards were part of a whole heart and the song it made was a duet. The love song can be so transcendently beautiful that an off-key version of it is just painfully absurd. Desafinado. Slightly out of tune. Really must learn to sing that one at some point. How to move on, when the heart must be followed, but keeps leading to the wrong place? Keep going wrong until you go right? That’s not a saying I know from anywhere…

It’s a little bit comical even writing about this, although I am perfectly serious. I suppose it’s such a mess because of the way we are stacked in interconnected layers, body, heart, mind, soul, spirit, each one dependent for its existence on the previous one, but each one working by its own set of rules, several utterly different creatures which all share a postal address and which all wear the same pants. In bodhisattva moments the comedy of it all shines through and the whole mess is just ecstatically funny. I could do with one of those just now. Actually there’s a lovely video on youtube somewhere called ‘bodhisattva on train’ which cheered me right up last time I saw it…have a look…

In actual circus news, Toulouse is warm, sunny, and rains a lot. The audiences we’re getting are very appreciative, and approaching the kind of numbers we need, apparently as a result of the promo sessions we’ve been doing where we head out to crowded public spaces (or the space agency offices as we did last week) and mill around in costume and in character, playing some of our music and doing bits of acrobatics and circus tricks and generally bringing Macondo to the world. I hope more of them come and see it, the ones who do turn up all leave happy.

love, of some kind, from the circus

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Busy week #478

That one was a bit mental. Got a few hours in London catching up with Than, whose soul suit project continues along educational and artistic lines that I would link to if I could get online just now. This is a little bit frustrating, and refreshing at the same time; I’m used to being online many hours a day and having several thought processes which will only work if I can get the references that are their substance. Offline, many of the things I’m into are hard to explain to anyone unless they already have some idea what I’m on about; the riches of the web sometimes mean that you can think in structures and references, or collections of search terms, so that the narrative line is there in your head only as an abstract. From this perspective, building the robot last year was an exercise in fleshing out an idea – taking a bunch of things I’d read about on the web and putting them together in the physical world to play with them some more. The meta-fun of that was in the fact that the robot was a tool for doing the same thing as brought it into existence, taking streams of data and converting them into physical objects. I’m looking forward to having time to play with this again, and hope to get to the point where I have a workflow that makes the transition from structure-in-my-head to structure-in-the-world manageable. The next step is probably a few months’ worth of spare time spent learning a CAD package, but that’s a way off in the future. For the moment it has to stay in the back of my mind because the front is still full of circus and associated things.

En route to see Than, I got a picture of a very rare sight which I’ve wanted to capture for years and never actually seen, a bit of an idealistic image that I thought I’d never get: a public space (a connecting passage in the London Underground) with advertising hoardings that had absolutely nothing on them. Freshly built, open to the public, a clear white and grey space that wasn’t trying to sell me anything. There’s a lovely bit of writing at the start of a short Banksy book (Existencilism) that’s on the toilet-reading shelf at home, where he rants about disgraceful disfiguring of public space that we shouldn’t tolerate any longer. It’s the standard rhetoric used against graffiti, but he’s referring to advertising. Sometimes, walking down the street in any city anywhere is just kind of mentally exhausting because there are so many logos and texts which are not there to service the public space in any way. They are there to service a private interest, to sell you something, to grab your attention and then use it for the good of the attention-grabber, not the attention-giver. I found the Campaign for a Steady State Economy (via Ed Dowding’s blog), a fantastic chunk of sense which points out that we know that the physical resources of the planet are finite, and we’re beginning to see just how catastrophic are the effects of pretending this isn’t so. I guess the two big indicators are the global financial collapse and the global environmental problems, but I never learned the details of those things, just some of the vague shapes – good examples of thought processes that I can only inhabit when online. CASSE argue that given finite resources, basing the world’s economies on continual growth will necessarily fail as long as that growth includes consumption of those resources. Seems fair…anyway, I can’t help but wonder about how much quieter the advertising hoardings would be if we could change the economy to something which acts to supply each of us with what we actually need, rather than something which drives us to build up debt in the pursuit of anything, anything at all that looks shiny and makes us feel part of the world. I think it’s the idea of a public commons that appeals so much, that we could have protected public space which was there for everyone just to be allowed to be, and couldn’t be hijacked by private interests. I appear to be a utopian today.

Post-London, 3.5hrs sleep, then busy week takes me back to the circus in Brussels just in time to meet the band at Dada Recording Studios, a huge and wonderful place we were recommended via a successful facebook shout-out. Fb appear to be becoming steadily more evil in terms of privacy, but it’s still bloody useful at times. The band were mostly already set up, miked up and warmed up when I got there at about 2pm, just in time for lunch. The live space was lively and spacious, full of all the glee-inducing signs of music being made, mics, cables, stands, boxes, effects units, recording booths, sound baffles (the ceiling space was a bit of a work of art in itself) and instruments and so on. We shared the space with some electroacoustic instruments made by … – MIDI-controlled church organ pipes in separate trolleys, and a really beautiful accordion with an air hose and a MIDI control rig added to it so it was playable by computer. Apparently the guy who made them was in there recording before and after our session, but they weren’t set up to play when we were there so we never heard them, unfortunately. They looked amazing though…just looked at the photo closely and they’re made by DECAP – Automatic Musical Instruments.

(studio day start – coffee, fruit juice, smoothie, chocolate)

The recording day was something of an epic and lasted through to the wee small hours of the morning, between 4 and 5am, as we only had the one day to record the whole show soundtrack. I’m amazed at how focused everybody managed to stay; at one point I had to rerecord a bassline for one whole track with another band member miming half the chords at me. I could play it fine but couldn’t remember which order everything came in and had to use someone else’s brain as a crutch. Some of the show cast came along to record vocal parts, looking much more like rock stars than the rest of us, but none of what they were to do was ready so they did overdubs the next day. The studio guys, Peter and Jules, were fantastic and had put themselves on shifts so that we could keep going for as long as we needed to; somewhere around 16 to 18 hours from start of setup to ‘ok, let’s go sleep’.

(studio day end – energy drink, wine, beer, darkness)

3.5 hours of sleep (again) later, we’re up again to carry on with tent-down, 9 to 5 of mainly repositioning Heras fencing, replacing any last trace of brain activity with the moving of concrete blocks. Plans keep changing throughout the day; I’m too tired to decide when to leave. Sleep first, drive to Toulouse later? Nope, too tired to go to sleep, so energy drinks and motorways is it until we get out the other side of Paris. In some crazy flyover-underpass-spaghetti junction business mid-Paris we see two others from the convoy doing some frantic manoeuvring past us and towards another junction and decide that we’re already quite happy with our own navigation, thanks very much, and carry on til we find a motel. Learning to reverse while towing a caravan at half 3am on no sleep in a small car park is actually rather fun, it turns out. Spend the whole journey talking with bandmate who’s accompanying me on my drive, nice to have an extended chat with him as there hasn’t really been a chance yet (despite him being one of the first circusists I met, during the audition). We make Toulouse, get lost in its ring-road and bypass system, land in town in the wrong place, get back on the road, overshoot the town entirely by 30km and have to pay the peage most of a fiver for our mistake.

(Last few folks on Brussels site as we leave)

Toulouse stays dry for the start of tent-up, and has rained without pause ever since, about four days now. Anyway. This post feels like I’m rambling, so I’ll leave the last few days’ things for later. Naked and sitting on top of a kingpole for Beltane night, though; it wouldn’t have been right to let that one pass without something silly happening.
Happy belated Beltane, oh painted ones, and happy bah-humbug to everyone who hates it.
Love from the circus,

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Train. No battery, you are now running on reserve power. Rhythm of the people in the queue, pulse every time two passports are checked. Rhythm of the dried raindrops on the train window, spattered at random but forming a regular pattern. Rhythm of metal in plastic, heavy cables hanging in perfect arcs carrying only their own weight between the telegraph poles. Train tracks aligned precisely to within millimetres over many many kilometres, so constant that they look as if they’ve been drawn on the inside of the train window. Channel tunnel now, slow pulse of safety lights, very slow pulse of air pressure rising once as we enter, dropping as we leave. Rhythm of my breath, opening up my head, easing tension around skull and shoulders and jaw, tensing from habit, easing when I breathe and remember. I am only breath, I am where it goes, and it goes anywhere I can imagine but only for as long as each one lasts. Inflate – build up emotion – deflate – let it out with a laugh, a technique from our director: look a member of the audience in the eye and say ‘I love you” or “Greetings!’ and hold the tension of the moment for a while – a breath – and then release it by looking at someone else and laughing with them as if they are a long time friend, a co-conspirator. Inflate, deflate. Lots of power in that motion, something I’m unused to inhabiting. Rhythm of breath again, always. Day starts, meanders, comes in to focus, meet, talk, play, warm up, exercise, eat, presets, coffee, abstraction, preshow, first cue, start music, then absorption until end of show. Talk drink laugh eat sleep. Early rise, passport, railways, family, funeral. Looking at the wooden box he is in and how it’s nothing to do with words, just that he is in there but he is not, and holding on with love and sadness and tenderness to the memory of the feeling of who he was. Holding and being held by my brother and sister and cousins, all of whom have children now, and remembering when we were children and all at Grandpa’s house for Christmas or sometime in summer, and the sound of his voice, and crying. It is good to see everyone all together again, and we deflate gradually around photos and stories and sandwiches and tea. After a while groups depart, everybody heads off to their separate destinations, back home, back to work. Goodbye Grampa.

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missing things

How do you write about absence? I nearly wrote about writing there, and that’s not going to work. The last few days have been somewhat full. Over a week ago, many of the circus went to see Cirque Electrique at Atelier 210 in Brussel, because their circus and ours are friends and they gave us a very generous guest list…note to self: never invite a whole circus to a gig if 30 non-paying guests will make a big dent in your door takings. The show was very atmospheric; sparingly lit, dark room, spotlight on a man in restraints having his head shaved by a man with a pig mask. One of the performers makes me a bet: five euros says that that guy will be naked by the end of the show. I agree – when did I last make a bet? Ever? – forgetting that she knows them and probably their show, until later in the act when he is up a rope or chinese pole wearing nothing but the mask and shoes. I argue that one is not naked if one is wearing a mask. She insists. So do I. The bet is never settled in either direction, though my right hand continues its lately-acquired habit of simply letting go of things I’m holding, and costs me about five euros in dropped beer. This, to add to the broken cup and plate from two weeks beforehand and the full glass of red wine that leapt spectacularly out of said hand about a week before that. I briefly wonder if it’s the very earliest stages of some neurological degeneration, but settle for the less morbid explanation that I’ve been playing an awful lot of double-bass recently and the hand is probably just tired.

The circus is missing acts. There’s usually a good balance between ensemble and solo pieces, but our soloists have been suffering: one sprained her ankle badly just before the show opened in Amiens, and had to be replaced at the last minute by someone who has worked with the circus before and happened to be close enough to jump seamlessly into the breach. Ankle now appears to be healed, and she’s flying again, grinning like a loon, very happy to be moving again. In the meantime another one has strained muscles in his back and has to limit his performance; still looks incredibly graceful in the show, but afterwards, strained. A few days ago another soloist pulled her shoulder out of whack and is out of the show for a few days more. Last night another one fell but wasn’t injured, and only missed a few seconds’ continuity in her routine, but there’s something about falling and getting back up again that people really love to watch. A couple of acts before that, something tripped site power so we did most of an act missing all of the sound and lights. Amazingly, this happened during the one song which is mostly vocal and has everyone singing in it, so we all just belted it a bit louder under the glow of the emergency lamps. By dint of the lighting engineer heroically sprinting across the site and underground through a series of dark basements in order to get to where the master switch was waiting to be reset, power, light, and sound returned just in time for the end of the piece. The body of the circus compensates for injury just like the bodies of the performers; the weight is shifted around, some acts are longer, some are cut, tasks are reassigned, the balance is kept and the show keeps moving whichever way it can.

There is a missing child – not really; just that one is waiting to be born and its mother is tired of the wait. Midnight last night, the tent’s alarm was set off by the expectant parents jumping in their van and bolting for the hospital; false alarm, no baby this morning. Any day now. There’s a sweepstake on the catering trailer where everyone has picked the day and hour they reckon the baby will turn up; the money will buy a present for the baby chosen by the person who guessed closest.

The whole lot of us upped sticks and spent Saturday in an open square in Brussels, being the final act in a day of taster events, a promo day for a circus festival. From back to front: a church which allegedly houses two separate denominations – Catholic on one side, Protestant on the other? – I’m not sure but it sounds wild. The story went that we might be able to rig off the church, but if the vicar of one side said yes, the vicar of the other would say no, so the rigging would be one sided. Happily when we got there they had made up, allowed the rigging to be level, and forgotten all about that God chap anyway. Next, the stage; truss and rigging points so the trapeze went up ok (if a little lower than usual). Seven tons of earth in front of that – one of the other circuses had horses. Then some very cheerful and highly supportive street drinkers had occupied a merch tent which they used as their own stage for not-the-world-premiere of a show called ‘Drunk Man Loves Shiny Things’ whose soundtrack occasionally clashed with ours. Long day, very warm, very sunny, meandering about the town bringing a small air of Macondo to unsuspecting places, occasionally sneaking off for possibly the best ice-cream in the world as sold by a shop that look like a church dedicated to chocolate complete with marble floors and pitted stone columns inside.

Today is our first two-show day; right now we’re between matinee and evening show, I’ve just been a little way up a couple of the kingpoles to help rig a trapeze – my first shot at rigging. Like it; think I’ll be doing that again. There is further wrangling about when and where we will be recording the show soundtrack. There is one day when everyone necessary might be in the same city, but we may not all be free. It is looking likely that the recording will be postponed another month; I’m returning to the UK for a funeral and would have to go and come back on the same day, possible but not desirable.

Grampa’s funeral. I couldn’t write this until after the rest, because I can’t write anything else after it: Goodbye, dear Grandpa, Bill Davies. You wanted to be with Granny since she died, and now you are both in our memories, together and happy.



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Tech rehearsals

Now we are in tech rehearsals. En route to Brussels, the stage manager described its colouring as grey and green: it rains a lot here. Putting up the catering tent in very high winds was fun and involved many metal stakes through the tarmac (we got one most of the way in without using a hammer – the tarmac’s quite thin and soft) and putting the walls on the right way round so that the tent didn’t become a big sail and create flyaway dining. A day or two later, at lunch, we sat gaping and giggling and swearing at each other under an almighty hailstorm which left joggers bruised and broken and had rivers running under the catering tent walls. Some days it’s been glorious, bright and sunny, even warm…my preoccupation with the weather today is because we are in tech rehearsals, and the call has just gone out that we are to be in costume for tech. I don’t get it; surely that’s a dress rehearsal, and surely that’s not for another few days yet? But it’s repeated so we all change – more or less reluctantly – into our costumes, which are thinner and colder than anyone would like, because we’re in the tent and it’s bloody freezing today. Never mind being from further north than most folk here, I left Scotland and came south at least partly for the weather. So I’m standing at my stage rig in a rather sharp suit with a NoFitState hoodie over the top and waiting for the Comas to begin.

And I take it all back. The Comas is one of the first scenes and involves several of the cast – lit to create silhouettes – lying suspended 15ft up in the air as if they are comatose and floating. They’re wearing fairly minimal costumes and harnesses, and must be nine times colder than me, so no more complaints on that score. By the time that scene is run, tech, lighting, and audio cues and all, they’ve been up there for about 45 minutes…then we’re on to the next scene.

Curtains drop, far too slowly. Stop to fully derig them. Aerialist is sitting 40ft up and seems to have been left there for almost half an hour. There are people at all heights at all times. Stop start stop start. Stop – missed cue. Rearrange piece of music; now I’m completely lost with that one…it used to have builds and drops and now it’s a featureless block…the bass clarinet is broken and was a big part of the shape of the piece. I’m to sing at the top of my voice for what seems like ages – I started too soon – I have to ask to have the piece explained again; the MD draws a map of it (with arrows and explosions) and I find my bearings in it again. It’ll be fine if we can run it…we can’t run it in full, we’re going from the very end. Next scene. Lunch will be an hour late. Stop start stop start stop. Start – a small herd of stewards has gathered in the far corner by what will be the bar when it’s stocked, and they’re watching the aerial crossings (in which there are people at all heights flying from all sides in all directions) and grinning to themselves and each other. Run the new piece – whole company sings like a russian choir, people surf big metal gates – missed something. All stop. Full company into the centre for an explanation; tech run, so precise timings don’t matter (eh?) but we’re finding out how long things take and whether folk can get to where they need to be…so precise timings matter (what?)…we run it again. It stops just before the end. Is it lunchtime yet? The stewards have wandered off somewhere else, I wonder who they were. The gates are gone…now they’re back…now they’re gone again. Five linked steel hoops about half a meter across each, are lowered slowly from the ceiling, containing one aerialist in varying orientations, singing as she descends, spinning faster and slower for the end of the piece. Are we still doing this in running order? Probably…ah, lunch.

Cheese and salad half-baguette and spicy tomato soup (lunch is almost always soup&sandwich), with a wee bit of sunshine. Lovely.

During lunch MD and Producer re-raise the question of recording the show’s score to produce a soundtrack CD. There are only two days free in which we could do that; both are designated days off at the moment and there are no days we could replace them with any time soon. I’m not sure what to say and retreat to my room to close my eyes and find a minute of isolation if I can, but my neighbour’s partner is visiting and they are talking in low voices through the wall – once again I am grateful that thin walls (I can hear almost every word without trying) are offset by language (I don’t know what any of the words actually mean). But what is it the NLP lot say, 80% of meaning is in tone of voice? I don’t recall, but I feel like I’m intruding anyway so head outside for a cup of coffee in the sunshine. I’m wondering if the company would consider offering the band a percentage of the income from the CD in lieu of having eaten up days off to record it, and to reflect the fact that some of the music is our own. Very little of it, to be sure; the songs are all written by the MD in skeleton form and then fleshed out by the band when we play them; lyrics and text – when there is any – are written by him, and so on. I am guessing that the band will not be offered a session fee, as would likely be the case if the recording were happening in a different context. I play with fictional numbers and percentages in my head for a wee while and then it’s time to head back into the tent for the afternoon.

The afternoon passes much as the morning; start stop start etc. and we make it through to the end of the first half of the show, give or take. Dinner is a bit late but is grand (not in scale, it just tastes really good) – pork slices with seasoned potatoes and steamed veg. I don’t know what the chef’s budget is like (it can’t be much) but I do like his cooking and that opinion seems to be shared by most of us. The company is broken for the evening…ah, no, not the band. We’re back in for an hour or so.

At this point I’m in a foul mood, tired, grumpy, unwilling to listen to suggestions or to be very flexible or accommodating while others sort their acoustic or arrangement problems out; I manage this by ignoring as much of it as I can get away with and eventually explaining to the rest of the band that I’m in a foul mood. They are amicable and my mood is not a problem, thankfully. Is that how you do it? I’ve had the privilege of an awful lot of time to keep myself to myself when I choose to, and working freelance means that jobs usually last between 2 and 5 days, enough to disguise most bad moods until they pass. It’s been fine for most of the time, this, but now it’s the same people every day, and it has been for 6 weeks, and it will be for another 5 months or so. Sometimes I think I have the emotional maturity of an 8-year-old, but hate to let it out in case people think I’m an 8-year-old…oh well. Weird. At any rate it’s going well enough.

Somewhere in there is a story involving jaywalking, drunkenness, cabaret, nudity, and a pig shaving a madman, but all that will have to wait.

Love from the circus

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walking and writing

Thought there would be much to do today but it turns out most stuff is rigged, so I’m sitting in a cafe by the canal drinking hot chocolate, eating a croque monsieur and waiting on the sound engineer (who had to have emergency dentistry yesterday) to connect the tech tower to the stage, so that we can soundcheck.

The set is even more stark in the tent; black plastic floor, shiny pink tent fabric stretching to the top of the cupola, and a silver-grey forest of aluminium truss occupying most of the airspace all around.

What was not so apparent in the Cirque Jules Verne, which we modified the show to fit, is that the truss forms a ring at various heights. Apart from a couple of dodgy-looking leaps, it looks possible to run right round the tent at about ten feet above the ground. The band stage is assorted steel deck; I borrowed spare truss, an old wooden sign and two large ratchet straps to make a table for my equipment and bolted it to the side of the stage. There’s a ramp that goes up onto the Ginger…backtrack…there are two huge aluminium-truss-and-steel-mesh platforms called Fred and Ginger (aww, cute) which sit opposite each other in the circle. Fred stays by the bar (aww) and Ginger stays by the band. There’s a ramp from the band stage to Ginger, then if you sprint across Ginger (30-35ft or so) and jump, you can reach the Bridge (another 30-odd ft), which raises and lowers and has rails on it for German Wheel and the clown’s horse act. There’s a ramp from the Bridge, across the front of the tech tower, to Fred. If you run across Fred, you pass over the merchandise stall, the bar, and the main entrance, and then if you do some really impressive monkeying you can get to the petit volaunt (not sure of the spelling there) – also known as the flying rig – home of the Comas, one trapeze act, one semi-serious, semi-comedy flying trapeze act, and some Chinese pole antics. If you make it off the end of the flying rig (you’d have to really go for it and let go just at the apex of the swing, and not care about where you landed) you would land smack bang in the middle of the drumkit, just next to me on the band stage.
You still wouldn’t have touched the floor or come close to the kingpoles, the four gigantic steel struts that hold the tent up via the steel cupola – the support structure weighs two to three tons, by rough working from having asked the guy who made most of the truss forest what it all weighs. About 400Kg per kingpole, and the cupola looks to have about 2.5 kingpoles-worth of steel in it… really heavy things, really high up in the air! There was an exciting few seconds last week when they were raising the kingpoles and the balance of weight shifted from one pair to the other. They are all very tightly attached to the ground (3ft steel tent pegs hammered into concrete, four per kingpole) and very well guy-roped, so there was minimal danger, but for a minute there the heavy things bluffed that they were coming out of the air. eek, and similar.
The whole thing is very elegant in its way. It sits together well and is built every time by the people who perform on it, under it, hanging from it and landing on it, marking a kind of coherence of the whole that has been lacking from most of the other work I’ve done. I’ve been on stage a lot, starting (as far as I remember) about age 6 as part of a school choir in Canada, windmilling my arms to motion the rest of the choir in (and having to tuck my shirt in between each windmill) and singing about something called Dominion Chataqua in a show-tune style, which I can remember absolutely nothing else about at this point except that the tune also fit the words ’spaghetti and meatballs’ which was highly amusing for 6-year-olds. I reckon somewhere between 500 and 1000 concerts, performances, gigs, since then; usually as part of some larger group whether it was orchestra or choir or jazz/concert/brass/rock/dub/blues/funk band, genre-bending band-experiment, or whatever. Took to playing solo or in small groups a couple of years ago, following on from the Ruffness which made me realise that I needed to know that I could be self-sufficient on stage, self-reliant anyway.
Playing solo was totally different, suddenly being responsible for the pulse, words, music, chords, meaning, feeling, and all while being present for the audience and able to communicate with them – no wonder singers can be flaky buggers, there’s a lot going on when you’re doing that. Because I never really earned any money doing that, I’ve also built quite a lot of stages, unloaded trucks full of them, along with the attendant lighting rigs and speaker systems and amps (heavy!) and cable trunks (really heavy!) and dimmer racks (ow. lots of copper). Built them, bolted them together, made them safe, plugged them in, set them up, soundchecked them, watched while someone else performed, taken it all down again and been paid for it. Stood on stages others had built, sang what I’d written and played my heart out and put it on the ground and in the air for everyone to see, while the money they’d paid to see me went mostly to the people who built the stage and set the sound and lights (and so on). The Circus has not stopped my existential doubts or given me much more of a sense of fitting in with the world – that will never come from outside myself – but it is the first place that I am doing all of the above, making music that I have had a part in creating, standing on a stage I’ve helped to build and playing through speakers that I helped to unload while acrobats I’ve borrowed mugs off fly through the air to the sound of a keyboard that I’ve repaired whilst being filmed by a technician I’ve made coffee for (on a portable stove that she lent me).
The whole is 35-50 people, self-contained and largely self-supporting; the village that is our mobile home is made of vans and caravans and trucks and will repeatedly dismantle and remove and reassemble itself several times between now and September, when it will bloom in Edinburgh and then disperse back across the ten countries it drew its performers and crew from. Of course we depend on being desirable and necessary in the eyes of the long-time residents of the places we stop. They have to be satisfied for food and hungry for the magic made by counterweighted ropes disappearing up into the blackness at the cupola making it possible for the flyers to fly around the space, to bounce sideways on trampolines thirty feet in the air, to create 3-dimensional mayhem with thirty actual feet in the air, telling stories with their bodies, inflating and deflating atmosphere and constantly taking the piss out of ourselves…cannae take it too seriously! That’d ruin it. Still…I hope they buy tickets, or we’ll be hungry magicians and our toilet block will get repossessed. So if you’re reading this and you have friends in Brussels, tell them to look out for NoFitState circus and come and see what we’ve made. I’m running out of battery now.
Love from the circus,

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Hello World

Dear you,

I have run away to join the circus.  This being 2010, I am many, many years late starting a blog, but might finally be doing something that warrants it.  Or not; we shall see.

We are now one month and one day into the tour, residing at the site Tour & Taxis, Brussels, in the back yard of L’Ecole De Cirque De Bruxelles.  The tent is up and the company has done perhaps two-thirds of the rigging and staging; halfway through tomorrow I will regret saying that because we’ll be nowhere near half-done.  More or less, everyone in the company does everything, there are no stars, there are some heads of department but they only exist when they need to and are usually either performers or crew or otherwise multifunction.  My contract (which I signed and instantly filed/forgot into a folder somewhere, and which says on it that it can change anyway) has me as the band’s bass player although I am also on trumpet, keyboard, laptop and voice. So far, access to the web has been intermittent or scarce or in a pub or cafe, and there has been very little time to use it, hence it has taken me over a month to start this blog.  I’m knackered and happy and still getting used to being – for the first time in my life – a musician with a salary.  I miss many of the people I left in Edinburgh although after 15 years of nearly uninterrupted residence there I am very happy to be living elsewhere.  I have left my flat, my room, my space, my decade-and-a-half of clutter behind me and now live in one of five spaces in a converted articulated lorry trailer.  My room is 8ft square and contains a bed, a cupboard with a worksurface on it, two shelves, a small table, a hanging wardrobe-thing and two hooks.  It feels cluttered despite containing near the minimum quantity of things I need with me to do the job I am here to do.  Today I started thinking about how I’d like the room to be, and now have some sort of vision for making it my habitat, although that will depend on time (limited), access to shops (limited) and transport (I have none).  No worries…

It’s been a long day and I’ve promised to watch a movie with a friend.  The ecole de cirque cafe (=internet access) is closing in 5 minutes and I need to take a shower.  I think I’ll have to write my blog entries in my room and then wander up here to upload them when they’re ready.  I hope to have more soon.

love from the circus


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