The Manic World Tour

NB: This post is probably more for me than it is for you but it was a really significant experience so I wanted to record it. I hope you read it (or some of it – I know it’s very long) and I hope you like what you read. I promise there’s mental health and Autism content coming.

Last week, I was lucky enough to see Halsey not once but twice. I booked a ticket for London and then, as a very late celebration for my 25th birthday (as I explained in this post), me and my Mum decided to take a little trip to Dublin to see her again for a second date. She’s an incredible performer and her shows are amazing and as I’ve said in previous posts: “I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing [a show] multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once [if you can afford to], especially if it’s only on for a limited time?” Plus, she’s recently said that she’s not going to tour for an indefinite period of time so suddenly, seeing her that extra time became extra important.

The first show was in London at The O2. I couldn’t get a disability ticket so I had to get a regular ticket and because everyone was standing up to dance and jump, I had to stand up to see, which was not good for my fatigue and pain. I’m still not used to ‘being disabled’ and so I’m still ‘toughing it out’ and usually regretting it later. I leaned against my chair but it didn’t help much. I wish I could be in the standing section and stand at the front, hold her hand when she comes down to the  crowd, but just looking at all of those people packed together made my throat and chest tighten with anxiety.

We were on the side so the screens were difficult to see, blocked by the lighting rig and whatever else they have up there, which I was a bit disappointed by because Halsey always has such beautiful images on the screens behind her. I could still see them but I just couldn’t take any photos, which I love doing so that I remember all the details.

I wanted to list some of the moments I want to hold onto:

  • The first song was ‘Nightmare’ and everyone shouted the lyrics, ‘I’m tired and angry but somebody should be,’ which felt pretty appropriate for International Women’s Day. The shouting filled the arena and it was kind of amazing.
  • She had the blue black eye, like she has on the album cover. She’s done several variations over the tour so I was intrigued to see which one she’d do for the shows I was going to.

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  • She has everyone jump during the choruses of ‘Castle’ (another song I think is particularly relevant to IWD, since it includes lyrics like, ‘There’s an old man sitting on the throne that’s saying I should probably keep my pretty mouth shut,’) and she usually stops the track at the end of the first chorus to tell the crowd that they can do better but this time, she said it was, “the best of the whole fucking tour.”
  • Everyone sang along so loudly to ‘You Should Be Sad.’
  • She finally paused to speak to the crowd and everyone was really ready: “I’ve been looking forward to playing this show for a very long time. I mean, I’ve been looking forward to playing this show since the first time that I ever played a show in London. And as luck would have it, I somehow ended up here on International Women’s Day. And I don’t know what’s gotten into me but it’s like all that rage and that excitement and that ambition and that fire… I’m feeling electric tonight, I gotta be honest with you guys. If you are a woman, young or old, in this crowd tonight, I’m looking at you. I’m looking at you for that sheer unbridled lightning energy that’s gonna get me through this fucking show. And I know you’re capable of it because I’ve met women from London.” That caused a lot of cheering. “I wrote a song about one. She had quite the attitude. But we’ll get back to that in a little bit. There’s a lot we’re gonna do tonight. We’re gonna laugh, we’re gonna cry, we’re gonna get angry, we’re gonna get happy, we’re gonna get to know each other a little bit, alright? So I guess now feels like the right time to formally welcome you to The Manic World Tour!”
  • The set for ‘Haunting’ (I did not expect her to play that one) was incredible. It looked like some kind of diner with fluorescent lit windows and someone could be seen walking back and forth through them. It was very eerie.
  • The platforms (that also tipped so that they could be stairs) were so cool and a really unique piece for a concert. I’ve never seen a set like it.

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  • The colours on screen for ‘Forever … (is a long time)’ were so beautiful and there was also all of this brain imagery, like something from medical scans, and they were oddly beautiful. But I couldn’t take any pictures or videos of it because of the stage structures in the way.
  • Her vocals were even more incredible than the last time I saw her and I noticed it especially at the end of ‘Colors’ and in ‘Bad At Love.’
  • “Wow. I can’t believe I’m performing here right now. It’s so funny… I keep forgetting… I forget, like, every fifteen seconds and then I look up and I look up some more and I look up some more and then I look up some more and I’m like, ‘Oh, shit. That is a lot of people.'” She talked a bit about why she’s decided not to tour for a while: “I announced pretty recently that I was going to be taking a break from touring after this tour. And that might seem pretty strange because I look like I’m having fun up here, right? Right?! Well, that’s because I am. ‘Cause my favourite place in the world is being on stage. The thing is I pride myself on being able to make mistakes and then write about them so that you don’t have to make ’em: you can just learn the lesson through listening to the song. I know. It’s a hard job. You guys have watched me make a lot of mistakes. You’ve watched me date a lot of people. In fact, you guys have watched me go on so many dates, you’ve watched me go on dates I don’t even remember going on. But I read the articles about them and think, ‘Oh, that must be nice. Maybe I’ll go on a real date with them.’ You guys have watched me say the wrong thing at the wrong time, make friends with the wrong people, be in the wrong place… You have watched me do all of it. And I write songs about it so that you can learn from those things but I started noticing something. I started noticing that you guys are growing up right in front of my eyes. All these familiar faces I talk about, that I see on Twitter, on Instagram, on Tumblr, in the crowds… Some of you guys, I met you or I saw you or I liked your tweet from the first time when you were sixteen years old and now you’re twenty two. I have watched so many of you getting married, go to university, get your braces off… and I started realising that I can’t do my job anymore because you guys are growing up faster than I am. So I can’t write those songs for you anymore to help you out in your times of need so I decided that it’s my turn to do some growing up so that I can write you better music when I come back. Because truth be told, as much as fun as I’ve had watching you guys grow up, I wanna grow up with you.”
  • She joined her band, playing ‘3am’ on the electric guitar, and the crowd sang along so loudly. It’s such a catchy song.

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  • She had everyone hold up their phone lights during ‘Finally // beautiful stranger,’ which is always one of my favourite moments in a show. I always wonder what it would be like to see an arena of people do that for me (I’ve had a room-ful and that was pretty fucking special so an arena must be amazing). And there were these beautiful, moving colours on the screen behind her, like the northern lights. I loved it and I’m really sad I couldn’t take photos of it.

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  • She introduced her band and asked them what they were going to do on the break from touring and it was nice to see the relationships between them.
  • She performed an acoustic, gentle version of ‘100 Letters’ compared to the version that was full of power and self empowerment on the hopeless fountain kingdom Tour. Not that this version wasn’t empowering, just in a different way. The song itself is empowering but this performance was softer and more delicate, letting the lyrics speak for themselves.

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  • She performed ‘Is There Somewhere’ next, which is one of my favourite songs of hers. She said that it was the first song she released and it became a fan favourite so she promised to sing it on every tour. She climbed down into the crowd as she always does, which makes the fans at the front so happy (I just wish she’d move around a bit so that the same fans don’t get that same opportunity over and over because they know where she’s going to be; that  way other fans could have that opportunity). And she herself also looked so happy, which made me really happy. I just wish I could be down there.

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  • She does these crazy mic flips and I’m always worried she’ll drop it or it’ll go flying across the stage. It looks freaking cool though.
  • She had these beautiful starry backgrounds, like a night sky, for Graveyard that morphed into flowers that then caught fire after the bridge along with flames and sparks on stage. Aesthetically, I think it was my favourite performance of the night.
  • “Oh, London, you are a fucking treat.”
  • The last song of the main set was ‘929,’ which is probably my favourite song off the album but it usually makes me cry because of the lyric, “And I remember this girl with pink hair in Detroit, what she told me: she said, ‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die ’cause we need you,’ and honestly, I think that she lied,” but for the live performance she changed the lyrics to “honestly, I think she was right.” I almost lost it right then because I was filled with so many emotions.
  • The butterfly outfit was beautiful.

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  • She left the stage and for the encore, she returned to perform ‘Ashley,’ ‘Experiment On Me,’ and then she played ‘Gasoline.’ And as usual, she turned the mic to the crowd to scream the lyric, “do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me.” There’s something so empowering about that moment. And then, at the end, she repeated it over and over again with the crowd shouting along. It was new and empowering and special. And on the screen behind her, the word Manic appeared. It was gorgeous.

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 – From @u1123ae’s Twitter.

  • “Yeah, this is the best show I’ve ever played. I wanna tell you something really special: not only is this the best show that I’ve ever played in my life but it’s also completely sold out. Thank you for giving me, not only my dream show at The O2 but a sold out dream show at The O2. London, thank you for my dream.” She talked about how her family were there and how much she loves us, but if there’s anyone who loves us more than her, it’s her family because we gave her a second chance at life. “I promise you that I will not take this opportunity for granted because without you, this is a world without me.” It was a very emotional speech and listening to it again (I videoed it on my phone) made me cry and cry and cry.
  • There’s something so special about the way she talks to the crowd. She’ll shout to pump up the crowd but then she’ll just talk, about the songs and about herself, like she’s talking only to you. And afterwards, it feels like the show is a secret between just you and her. I actually wanted to get out really quickly afterwards because I wanted to keep that secret safe, because I didn’t want anyone to find out about it. It’s  silly, I know.
  • She ended the show with ‘Without Me’ and it was amazing. Everyone was singing so loudly, so aware that it was the last song, like they were trying to enjoy every second left of the show. It was magical.

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  • “Thank you so much! It’s being the greatest night of my life! I love you from the bottom of my heart!”

This is what I was tweeting afterwards, my feelings just bursting out of me…

And this tweet made me laugh:

And the next morning, once I’d gone through my photos and my emotions had settled a little bit, I posted on Instagram…

After standing for the whole show, my legs were very sore. I had several muscle cramps in my calves (and this went on for a couple of days) but one particularly bad one that lasted for about five minutes. Eventually it passed, which was a huge relief, but I had serious pain in that leg for days, so bad that I limped when I walked.

Now, as I said earlier, if you read my last post you’ll know that me and my Mum decided to go to Dublin, to see Halsey, as a very late 25th birthday celebration. So I went into uni on the morning of the Tuesday, went to my lecture, saw my friends briefly, and then headed for the airport.

We basically had to go straight to the arena, which is a beautiful space. The disabled seats are right at the back, which is fine because it’s not a huge room, but we were on the side of the room so, again, the screens were blocked by the stage equipment, lighting rig, etc, which was frustrating. I’m focussing on how grateful I am to have gotten to see the show twice, but it does feel like you miss part of the show when you can’t see the beautiful art that she’s created to be a part of each song. Having said that, I was really grateful to be sitting down, which was such a relief after the O2 show and the pain in my leg.

The show was amazing, just as expected. Halsey is always amazing. But even in a highly choreographed show, she still manages to make each show feel different and special.

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  • During ‘Castle,’ she did what she normally does: “Stop the track. What the fuck was that? I said, what the fuck was that? Okay. Okay, okay, okay. Look. I know you guys better than that… Are you guys gonna let London do a better job than you? I mean, fuck, even Norway did a better job… Let’s try that one more time.” The screaming just got louder and louder as she talked.
  • And then, a few songs later, she said: “I’m starting to rethink all that stuff I said back there. You guys are actually shaping up to be a pretty fucking amazing crowd. And plus, I gotta be honest with you: there’s a whole fucking lot of you squeezed in down there on that floor.”

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  • At one point, everyone started chanting ‘Halsey! Halsey! Halsey!’ and she got all cute and embarrassed: “You guys are just too fucking sweet.” She said she never knows what to say or do when a crowd starts doing that.
  • Again, she explained why she’s not touring for a while, saying something very similar to what she said in London.
  • The arena lighting up for ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’ was beautiful: “You see, this is a love song and when you sing a love song in a big arena like this one, everyone has to take out their lights. Don’t you know the rules?”

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This is what the colours behind her looked like during ‘Finally // beautiful stranger.’ 

  • After ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’: “Everybody thinks that a love song is the easiest one to write, right? Because… okay, like, you write a love song and it’s like, oh, it’s so trite and cliché and easy to write a love song. Anyone can write a bullshit love song. Fuck all the love songs on the radio… That’s bullshit. A love song is really fucking hard to write and I’ll tell you why. Writing a love song means you are opening yourself up to the world and telling them, ‘I was foolish and stupid enough to open up my heart and let someone in.’ It says to the world, ‘I might look like I have my shit together’ – personally I don’t, but maybe other artists do – ‘I might look like I have my shit together but I am a big dumbass who opened up my heart for somebody to walk right into.’ But that’s okay because you’re supposed to do that. You’re supposed to open up your heart and let people walk right inside and just trash the living room that is your heart, just fuck up the carpet, flip over the couch, break a lamp… because that’s how you learn. That’s how you get better at loving the next person, but I’ll tell you what… writing that song, I would rather stand on this stage butt-naked in front of you guys than write another love song like that. But that’s not a problem because if I ever do, I promise I’m going to keep my clothes on, I think. And I hope that I do because, you know, you guys have really spoiled me in a way. You have shown me a love that is so unconditional, I don’t think I could ever recreate it with another person. You’ve spoiled me.”
  • She actually stood somewhere else for ‘Is There Somewhere,’ after my internal commentary on how moving around would give different fans the opportunity to hold her hand and have that moment. God, I wished I was down there, wished I was able to be down there. Oh, and the guitar solo in the background was to die for; it was gorgeous.

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  • She’s so free with her body but so confident in it, in the way it moves. It’s like she has complete faith that every muscle will do exactly what she expects and intends it to do. I wish I could be like that; I wish I could feel like that.

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  • Introducing ‘Clementine’: “I wrote a lot of those songs when I was nineteen years old and I’m twenty five now. And some of the songs on Badlands… But most of them, I wrote before I had ever done a headline tour so I had no idea what it was like to have an audience of my own. So I wrote Badlands so that you could listen to it in your bedroom, not so that you could listen to it at a concert. Then I started to play shows, and I started touring, and I started getting in the studio and thinking, ‘what do I want to sing with them?'”
  • If you haven’t heard it, there are parts on the recording of ‘Clementine’ where you can hear a double track of her shouting the lyrics behind her singing the lyrics and the crowd shouted those shouted parts so loudly, louder than London. It was strangely powerful and I wish I’d gotten a video of it.
  • For ‘Graveyard,’ she asked – if it felt safe – for people in the standing area to get on each other’s shoulders because it’s an outside in the summer song and so many people did it, so many more than at The O2. And everyone was singing so, so loudly.

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  • In ‘929,’ she was singing the lyric, “And I remember this girl with purple hair down in Dublin, she told me… She said, ‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die because we need you and honestly, I think…” and then she stopped because the crowd was singing so loudly: “she was right.” I almost dropped my phone. I almost cried.
  • The crowd screamed, “do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me,” maybe even louder than in London, although that might be because the room is smaller with a lower ceiling. But it was epic and she did the same thing at the end, repeating it over and over with the crowd shouting along. It was awesome.

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  • Introducing ‘Without Me’: “We’re into encore time, motherfucker.” That made me laugh. “I’ll keep it quick. I know I haven’t shut the fuck up this whole show but I’ve got six years worth of talking I wanna do. I’ve got six years worth of stuff that I wanted to say to you guys that I had to pack into one show so… I’m gonna use my time wisely and I’m gonna tell you that a lot of you guys get to read all of the super bad shit about me because that’s what people like to write about. They like to write about all the dark moments in my life. They like writing about the shit that I’ve been through or the dark times that I’ve faced. For whatever reason, that’s what people like to write about and it used to really bother me, but now I’m kind of okay with it because… because all of those things did happen to me and some things even happened that, you know, the media, the press, whoever, they don’t know about. And some of this stuff has happened in the last couple of years while I’ve been Halsey. You know, I’ve kept it to myself at certain times but every time shit gets terrible, I always have you.” There was major cheering. “And every single artist who’s ever played a concert in the history of time gets on stage and says to the crowd, ‘I would be nothing without you,’ right? And sometimes I really believe that but, you know what? Sometimes I fucking don’t. And I think to myself, ‘You would probably be okay actually. Maybe you wouldn’t be as happy or as, you know, successful but you’d get a job, get married, do whatever, but there are so many times where I have been so, so unsure. So unsure. And you guys have made me absolutely positive. So basically this is a really long-winded way of saying thank you because without you, this would be a world without me.” That last sentence still got to me, even though I’d already heard it in London.
  • This is what the background looked like during part of the song, although it started off more like a ribbon:

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It was incredible, another incredible show, and I’m so grateful to have been there. It was an amazing birthday present. Getting back to the hotel was a struggle and my emotions felt very mixed up and messy. For over an hour, I just didn’t feel anything. I think I was just struggling with it all being over, with the idea of not having them to look forward to. Eventually that settled and real feelings started to bloom again but they were still confusing, like a lump of different coloured pieces of play dough stuck together. Impossible to separate and really identify.

The next day, when I got home and had a bit more control over my emotions, I posted to Instagram…

And now I’m home and the European Tour is over. The adrenaline crash was pretty brutal, the physical pain from London was bad, and I was exhausted after a wild three (actually four) days but it was so worth it. Halsey – Ashley – and her music mean so much to me and I’m so, so grateful for this experience.

A Very Late 25th Birthday Post

Last year, I wrote a post around my birthday about adding some rules to the celebration, mainly to make the experience more enjoyable and more memorable: do something you wouldn’t normally do and buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy. For my twenty fourth birthday, I ran my dog’s hydrotherapy session and bought myself a typewriter. It was really special so I thought I’d do it again this year… I’m just very late. Last September, my mental health was awful and I’d just started my Masters so my birthday wasn’t the first thing on my mind. A lot of the celebrations got delayed; I only got one of my birthday presents a couple of weeks ago. But that doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that it matters, that it feels special.

So here are the results of the rules for my 25th birthday…

Rule #1: Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

On Sunday 8th March, I saw Halsey at the O2 Arena and she was absolutely incredible, as I knew she would be. Back when I booked the tickets, I knew I would want to see her again. As I’ve said before, “I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing [a show] multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once [if you can afford to], especially if it’s only on for a limited time?” So after booking the London tickets, I talked to my Mum about seeing Halsey again, despite the fact that the closest possible show was in Dublin. We’d talked about taking a short trip – a few days somewhere – to celebrate my 25th birthday and up until now, I haven’t been able to think of somewhere I wanted to go (we’d thought about a few extra days in America but it clashes with university stuff this year) or do until now. So we planned our little trip to Dublin, trying to miss as little uni time as possible. And I’m really glad we did because she, Halsey, has since said that she plans not to tour for an indefinite period of time after this. So taking this extra opportunity to see her before that  happens became very important to me.

As I said, she was incredible in London – it was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen – but I want to focus on the Dublin show (on the 10th March), as that was my birthday trip. And besides, the London show being special doesn’t make the Dublin show less special. It was just special in different ways.

The arena wasn’t hugely well organised and the disabled area didn’t have a great view – Halsey has such beautiful images on the screens behind her that it was frustrating to have a significant section of it blocked by the lighting rig, etc. So it wasn’t ideal but being able to sit and still see is always such a relief. After the London show where I couldn’t get a disabled ticket and ended up having to stand to see (I’m still not used to being ‘disabled’ or ‘partially disabled’ – I’m not sure what the right term is for someone with Autism, mental health problems, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue is – so I do keep trying to tough it out, which often turns out to be a bad idea). That caused terrible leg pain that’s ongoing. So sitting down for the show was a huge, huge relief, even if we weren’t in a great position.

The show was amazing. Halsey is an incredible performer and some of the highlights for me were ‘Castle,’ ‘Forever… (Is A Long Time),’ ‘3am,’ ‘100 Letters (Acoustic),’ ‘Is There Somewhere,’ ‘Graveyard,’ ‘929,’ ‘Ashley,’ and ‘Gasoline.’ I could list all of them really because each performance was so powerful and so full of passion and electric energy. The vocals, the band, the backgrounds, the platforms hanging from the ceiling… they were all SO GOOD. She gives everything to every song, to every aspect of the show. And as much as I love all of that, the part I love the most is the way she talks to the crowd. It’s so honest and sincere and special and somehow she makes it feel like the concert is a secret between you and her. I don’t know how she does it. But I’m in awe.

It was a really special birthday present and I’m really grateful. We had barely any time in Dublin but the point of going was the concert and the concert was amazing. Halsey and her music are so special to me and her shows are so special to me but this show – these two shows – have been the most special. Turning twenty five was really scary and stressful for me and so, to celebrate that milestone – and celebrate coping with it – with someone who actually shares the same birthday as me… well, that was extra special.

Rule #2: Buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy.

I was browsing through a vintage jewellery shop recently, just looking really, because I’d seen some jewellery in the window that might work for a music video. I didn’t find anything for the video but I found this ring that I just fell in love with (and another similar one that I also loved). It’s not a colour I’d normally choose and it was a bit expensive when I’m about to go on several trips but I took a couple of weeks to think about it and even went back several times to look at it. But eventually I decided that I really, truly loved this one so I decided to buy it.

It’s a little bit big and probably needs to be resized slightly but I’ve been wearing it around the house ever since because I’m just in love with it. It’s beautiful. I can’t wait to wear it out during the day. I’m so happy with it and my choice to buy it.

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So it was a very late birthday celebration – almost six months late – but they were really good celebrations. I just wasn’t ready or capable at the time. I like to think that they showed up when I was ready. So maybe I’m ready to be twenty five now. Or maybe not. But I sure as hell celebrated it.

January 2020

January was tough. A lot of difficult things happened. Normally, I wouldn’t do a monthly round up but there were several things this month that I didn’t think would get properly acknowledged (in my yearly review or otherwise) if I didn’t. So here’s January 2020 and it’s highs and lows…

  • Assessments and meltdowns – I began the year working frantically and anxiously on assessments for the module I’d just finished. And as soon as I’d finished the essay, it was onto preparing the presentation, which absolutely terrified me. All of the work with no rest and all of the anxiety caused so, so many meltdowns. So it was a very stressful start to the year.
  • Presentation – My final presentation was very stressful. I worked ridiculously hard on a powerpoint presentation and script that described my progress throughout the semester with snippets of the songs I’d written and I thought I’d done okay but I was and am upset with my grade, mainly because the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feedback I got seems to contradict each other. There’s this thing we have called Results Counselling (or something similar) where we can go and discuss it all, which I’m gonna do as soon as I can get through it without crying (not just about the grades – it’ll come up later). Whether that will change the grade or not, I don’t know.
  • Choosing my timetable and beginning the new semester – My uni are really helpful about working with me to find a timetable that was best for my health, mental and physical. I really appreciate that they do that. I know that, as a disabled student, they have certain obligations to help me but this is something that causes me a lot of anxiety so I do really appreciate it. Special thanks to Ivy and Aislin for their help. And then the semester began. I’ve swung from overwhelming anxiety to calm and back again so many times that I’m dizzy. Right now, I’m okay. I think.
  • ‘Clarity’ came out! – The second track from my EP, Honest, was released on the 10th and for what is essentially a second single from an independent artist, it’s done really well. It was added to several playlists with lots of followers and it’s been played on a handful of independent radio stations, including Get In Her Ears, which I’ve followed for a long time. So that was really cool. It’s also had quite a lot of airplay on a couple of local independent radio stations, which feels very special even if bigger stations are ‘better’ for my career – their support means a lot to me. It’s been a lot less stressful and a lot more exciting than the release of ‘Bad Night’ (although that was probably because it was the first one and so all new and unknown). Having said that, there’s still a lot more to come…
  • My First DSA Assessment – As you probably remember from this post, it was a bit of a disaster. It was incredibly upsetting and we were basically told I would get no support as a disabled student. Things have changed a bit since then but I don’t want to talk about it until I actually know what’s happening, until it’s more than just speculation and hope.
  • Semester B – We’re only four weeks into the new semester so we haven’t gotten that far yet but it’s definitely difficult. Much like the first semester, the content is really interesting but there’s a new challenge this semester: the academic language. A lot of the time I have no idea what the texts are saying and that’s pretty distressing. It makes me feel stupid and like I’m not smart enough to complete a Masters and ‘what the fuck was I thinking trying to do this?!’ Just as I thought I had a question for my assessment essay, I decided it was too complicated and now I’m waiting to hear from my tutor about it. I feel frozen. It’s hard to research when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be researching, a problem I had last semester although in a different scenario. I’m doing my best though and I’m doing my best not to panic. But I’m keeping up with my writing and I’ve written songs that I like so that’s keeping me grounded even though they don’t get assessed. But it reminds me why I’m doing this: to write better songs.
  • Manic by Halsey was released – I love Halsey and I was very excited for this album and (Hurray!) I absolutely love it. It’s so different from Badlands and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom but they were really different from each other; there’s progression and evolution and exploration. This one is particularly emotionally vulnerable and to me, the often acoustic production reinforces that. I love all of Halsey’s albums and I think this one is the perfect next step. I love most of the songs but my absolute favourite are ‘Ashley,’ ‘Graveyard,’ ‘You should be sad,’ ‘More,’ ‘Still Learning,’ and ‘929.’
  • Sharné visited – One of my best friends from uni came to visit me (and my cats) and we had such a lovely weekend. We went to the beach at golden hour, made cookies, watched movies, and played with the cats. It was so, so nice. I had such a good time. She’s the best.
  • University gig – The full time students on my course put on a show and it was so cool to hear the songs they’d written and it was so, so nice to see my friends play and get the recognition they deserve because they’re such talented, hardworking writers. It was such a good gig and I wish I could’ve stayed to the end but I had to get home to Brighton.

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(Luce Barka performing ‘Be More Kind’ – a very beautiful, meaningful song.)

  • Richard visitedRichard came down to visit me (and, again, the cats – I’m sensing a theme) and we did some writing and production, which was really fun, especially given that I was trying some new things. We also worked on some stuff for the rest of the ‘Clarity’ release cycle and for the release of the next song. Ooooh…
  • BeFries closed – My favourite restaurant in Brighton closed this month temporarily and then permanently and I’m absolutely gutted. I loved that place, I loved the food, and I loved the people. I’m so, so sad that it’s gone and I genuinely don’t know where my new meeting spot will be because that’s where I took everyone.

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  • Announced ‘Clarity’ music video – I announced via social media (I’m having major problems updating my website for some reason) that the ‘Clarity’ music video would be coming out in early February! I’m so excited for everyone to see it! (It will have gone up by the time I post this but this is where I am right now…)

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“I’m so, so excited to announce that the music video for ‘Clarity’ will be coming out Friday 7th February! @rsandersonphoto and I had such so much fun shooting this and there’s a pretty cool surprise in there so we hope you love it as much as we do!” (x)

  • Cheer – This might seem small compared to some of the other things on this list but I watched it after hearing all the good press about it and it absolutely held up. It was shot beautifully and the pacing was really good. The stories of all the cheerleaders had me so invested in each of them and their places in the series, and in their futures. I cried in almost every episode.
  • The Grammys 2020 – I have many, many  opinions about The Grammys, about who should’ve won which awards (*cough* Taylor Swift for Song of the Year with ‘Lover’ *cough*) but mainly I’m just super happy that Natalie Hemby and Sara Bareilles won their first Grammys. I can’t believe that this is a first for both of them, given how freaking talented they are and how successful they’ve been but regardless of that, this is amazing news and I’m so happy for both of them.
  • Waitress with Sara Bareilles – The best moment of the month was seeing Sara Bareilles on her first night as Jenna in Waitress the Musical in London. She was incredible. The whole show was amazing but she was a magic all of her own. When she sang ‘She Used To Be Mine,’ (which I know is a special song to her and is a special song to me too) the standing ovation went on for so long that eventually the only way to stop us was to continue with the show and therefore force us to sit down. She was truly awesome and I felt so lucky to be there. I’m fortunate enough to get to see her again before her run finishes and I’m so, so excited.

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  • Track of the Day – In the interval of Waitress, I discovered that ‘Clarity’ was going to be Track of the Day for BBC Introducing in the South and played on the radio, on a show I haven’t been played on before. So that was massively exciting (apart from some confusion about the date). Fortunately, I wasn’t in class when they played it so I could listen and enjoy the feeling! Hearing yourself on the radio, hearing people introduce you and your song and spread the message you’re trying to spread is so special.

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  • Lucky – If you follow my social media, you’ll know that we had to have our family dog put to sleep in the last days of January. We first met him when he was a couple of days old and he would’ve been sixteen on the 9th February, so he lived a long and happy life (I hope he was happy – he seemed happy and we did everything to make sure he was). But saying goodbye to him was agonising and there’s been a massive hole in my life ever since. I miss him desperately. I want to write more about him – it just feels like the right thing to do – but I’m just not ready yet.

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  • #30dayfeb – My tutor, mentor, friend, and super inspiring person, Sophie Daniels, is running a challenge throughout February (1st February – 1st March) under her artist project name, Liberty’s Mother (the name comes from the name of her daughter, Liberty, who tragically died the day before she was born), to raise awareness about baby loss and money for the baby loss charity, Tommy’s. The challenge is all about doing something positive for your wellbeing everyday for 30 days. I know a lot of people are going to the gym everyday, doing yoga, and so on but given my chronic fatigue and chronic pain, I can’t do those things so I’ve decided to focus on relaxing my brain: mindfulness essentially but in a slightly less traditional fashion. I’m going to try and make a piece of origami every day because I can’t think or stress about anything when I’m doing it because I have to concentrate so hard. And I could do with some of that. You can sponsor me to do this, to try and do this everyday. Here are some of my attempts so far.

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So that was January. Yeah, 2020 – the new decade – began on a very stressful and sad note. I’m thankful for the moments of light.

2019 in Review

I don’t even know how to sum up this year.

If I’m honest, most of it’s blurry. The first half of it anyway. I was still trying medication after medication so I was kind of living in a haze. It’s scary to look back at a time not that long ago, search for memories and not be able to find them, find the details. Or worse, not even know what memories to look for. I hate it and it’s scary and I try not to think about it. Thank god for photos though. Looking back through my photos helped me to remember and I’m grateful for that. 

I got to go to the opening night of Waitress The Musical and to my complete surprise, Sara Bareilles was there, both to introduce the show and to bid us all goodnight. The show was amazing: I loved the music, I loved the characters, I loved the story, and the meaning in the story. And seeing Sara Bareilles in person for the first time since 2014 was extra special.

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I also got up stupid early to see her do a surprise set in St Pancras station. Apart from the fact that she has an incredible singing voice and is a great performer, even just sitting at a piano, there’s something magical about seeing a person you admire so much in real life. And my Mum was a trooper, running after her team (my medication meant I could barely stand up for the whole performance) and making sure she got my letter. So that was a good morning, even if I felt very unwell for the rest of the day (I’d overstretched, given the meds I was taking).

We had a nerve-wracking few weeks where our dog, Lucky, was incredibly unwell. I saw it happen: his head just tilted to the side and he stood there, looking so… wrong. I was convinced he was having a stroke. Plus his eyes were moving back and forth really quickly; I couldn’t imagine how he could even see. Despite a trip to the emergency vet then and there, we didn’t find out until the next day that he had Geriatric Vestibular Disease, which is basically vertigo. He was really, really sick. He wouldn’t eat and that’s really the sign that a labrador is sick. Mum was feeding him pieces of boiled chicken by hand just to keep him going. They gave him a morphine patch but that just made him sicker so they eventually removed it. It took a long time but eventually he was back to his old self. It’s not the same: he has a permanent head tilt, his balance is terrible, he can have trouble walking. But he seems to be happy and he’s certainly loved. So we’re getting through. Day by day, we’re getting through.

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I was fortunate enough to go to Nashville again, which was amazing, even though I was really, really struggling on my medication. I was depressed, overwhelmingly anxious, and my hands felt thick and clumsy, making playing guitar a real ordeal. As wonderful as it was to be in Nashville, I felt very guilty for not being as happy as I felt I should be.

Having said that, I had some really great experiences while I was there. I got to go back to my favourite places, see two Song Suffragettes shows (which are always such special experiences for me), and hang out with my friends who I only get to see once a year. I didn’t get to see everyone but I had a lovely time with the people I saw. I even got to see the awesome Caylan Hays play a show and hear all of her new songs. That was really, really special.

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Tin Pan South was amazing as usual, although I had to make some tough decisions over which shows to go to. They were all amazing though. My favourite was Nick Wayne, Hannah Ellis, Josh Kerr, and Natalie Hemby. Natalie is another person I hugely admire and she actually knows who I am now, which I’m honoured by. We got to have a proper conversation, which was one of my favourite moments of the trip. And I’d love to write with her one day: that’s a bucket list write.

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I also got to see Kelly Clarkson (who I’ve always, ALWAYS wanted to see live) in concert and Kelsea Ballerini was the opener, which was awesome because I love her. It was an amazing concert and I loved every second of it.

It was an amazing trip but I hope that next year I’ll be in a better place, a place where I can enjoy it properly and effortlessly. I think that’s gonna be one of my goals for 2020.

Here at home I also got to see some amazing concerts. My favourites were Maren Morris (I saw her twice but the second time was front row at the Royal Albert Hall, which was the most surreal, amazing experience) and Ingrid Andress, who had the whole crowd singing despite only having released a few singles. It was amazing. And she remembered me and we talked about writing together when I’m next in Nashville, although I’m now not sure it’s going to happen. But it was amazing to know that she was up for it. Hopefully one day.

I also saw Halsey in a super small venue and she was fantastic. We had trouble with the accessibility, which caused me a lot of anxiety, but the show was incredible. She’s an amazing, amazing performer. I love her. But I feel very out of place at her concerts, which is hard.

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I, with Richard Sanderson (Richard Marc on social media), spent most of the year working on my first EP. It was such a learning curve but I loved it, for the most part. It took an exceptional amount of work and I have to give so much credit to Richard and to Josh Fielden who mixed the songs because part way through, I tumbled into a really deep depression, accompanied with the worst anxiety I think I’ve ever experienced. It took a long time for me to get back to a place where I could work on it. It’s part of my musical story so I’m really glad it’s coming out, even if I still have a lot of anxiety about it. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know the story of the first single and you’ll know more about the rest of the songs soon.

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I spent several months in a deep, deep depression, the worst I’ve ever experienced. I basically lay on the sofa and thought about dying. It was awful. I don’t really know what else to say about it. It was just still, but with a mess of agonising turmoil underneath.

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Then, in the middle of the summer, one of my cats had kittens, despite the vet telling us in her vet check the week before that she absolutely wasn’t pregnant. We came home from dinner and Mouse was waiting for us. She took me upstairs to my room, curled up in one of the cat beds, and over the next few hours, she had a couple of tiny, adorable kittens. She got distressed every time I tried to leave so I stayed through the whole thing (and saw some pretty disgusting stuff that I never needed to see).

Having the kittens in my life has done wonders for my anxiety. Watching them grow and play and explore was so calming and mindful for me. And now that they’re older, all five cats play as a family. They’re a pride. It’s gorgeous. I don’t know what the future holds but having them in my life has been one of the most, if not the most, positive thing this year. I’m really, really grateful for them. Having said that, everyone’s spayed now so there won’t be any more surprises, which is probably – definitely – a good thing, as adorable as kittens are. The stress is just too much.

Somewhere in the middle of the holidays of kittens, I started taking Phenelzine again, which was a really difficult decision. I’m still struggling with the side effects but I am better than I was. I still have moments of depression but it’s not constant and I’m managing the anxiety with other medications. And best of all, I can write songs again. That is the best possible outcome.

September loomed and I spent time with the Disability Coordinator at my uni, something they had never had before. I actually felt hopeful about having someone who understood me. And then, she became extremely unreliable and that resulted in one of the worst meltdowns I’ve ever had – in the middle of Victoria Station. That triggered a period of multiple meltdowns a day, which turned the weeks into a blur. It was awful. I started my Masters Degree in Songwriting in one of the worst states I’ve ever been in.

Despite being part time, the Masters took up every day of the week, working on songs and trying to research while battling my OCD, which had suddenly spiked. I had no time off, no time to breathe. I felt like I was failing at everything. I think I’ve gotten better at managing it (and it’s going to be a focus in therapy when we start again in the new year) and I managed some research and I wrote some songs I’m really proud of. I enjoyed the course and classes but balancing everything with Autism and mental health problems was a nightmare. I’m going to write a post about the course in more detail but it still needed to be included in this post.

Oh, and somewhere in there, I turned twenty five. My Mum bought me twenty five yellow roses.

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The first single of the EP came out a few weeks into the course and it was a complete surreal – if incredibly stressful – experience. I had no idea what to expect, especially since I’m an independent artist, but for what was really a first, first single (considering ‘Invisible’ had no marketing and so on), I think it did pretty well. It got added to several playlists on Spotify and had radio play, local and BBC Introducing. That’s been amazing and I’m excited to see where the next one goes.

And now I’m finishing the year with basically no Christmas break because I’m working on the assessments for my course everyday. They’re causing me so much stress I feel like I can’t breathe. I’m also terrified of the fireworks tonight (another story I’ve talked about before) and don’t know what I’m going to do to avoid them because I have work to do and they cause awful meltdowns. So, all in all, not the best way to end the year. I’m cautiously optimistic about 2020.

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“2019 has been an incredibly difficult year. I feel broken. I feel like I was shattered into a thousand pieces and then put back together wrong. And if I’m honest I don’t know what to do about it. But there were good moments too and I’m so grateful for those. 2020, please be kind.” (x)

2019 in Songs

It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to keep a log of my favourite songs throughout the year, roughly one a month. As a songwriter especially, it’s nice to look back and see which songs I loved and played obsessively throughout the year. It was hard to choose this year – there were multiple choices each month and sometimes I couldn’t choose, as you’ll see – but here are the songs that had my heart singing.


1. Family Tree by Caylee Hammack

I first heard Caylee sing this song at a Tin Pan South show in Nashville, just a vocal and guitar and she immediately had the whole room singing along. It’s so fun and you can’t help feeling like you know the people she’s describing, the members of her family. And then the chorus is – hopefully – relatable, whether it’s your blood family or your chosen family. It’s super catchy and such a feel good song. Plus the arrangement and production are really unique and interesting.

Some swing a little higher, some’ll just hang low
A few of us are on fire to get out, and some just wanna stay home
But it don’t matter, ’cause the roots run deep
And ain’t nothing gonna shake our family tree
And ain’t nothing gonna shake our family tree, ooh


2. Lady Like by Ingrid Andress

Another song I first heard at Tin Pan South, this one a few years ago. But this year, I was lucky enough to see Ingrid twice, both times in London. Every time I see her perform it, it seems like she’s fitting more and more into her skin, not that I ever would’ve called her uncomfortable when performing this song. But she just seems stronger and more confident and it’s beautiful to see. The whole song – the lyrics, the melodies, the production – is so cohesive, like every puzzle piece fits perfectly together. It’s a great pick-me-up song, one that can totally change your mood around, from feeling low to feeling badass. Also, Ingrid is one of the loveliest artists. She’s also so grateful that I’ve come to a show and so supportive of my endeavours to be an artist. I don’t think I’ll get to see her when I’m in Nashville in March, which I’m really gutted about, but hopefully another opportunity will come up.

Woah, I could bring you to your knees and
Get you kicked out the Garden of Eden
Untamable, unframeable, Mona Lisa, oh
Kiss you like a whiskey fire
Turn around, leave your heart in a riot
Lipstick in a cigarette pack on the dash
I’m a lady like that
I’m a lady like that


3. Great Ones by Maren Morris

It took me a while to get used to the new Maren Morris album, I think because I was so attached and so familiar with the first one (not that other people weren’t – I just don’t adjust to change well). But now I love it so it was freaking hard to choose a favourite. But there’s something about this one that just feels extra special. The production is fantastic and the lyrics are just beautiful. The line ‘The myth of me and you’ really sums it up for me because the song sounds like a myth, like a legendary love story, and I can’t help but hope for something like that, even though I’m not sure that’s possible.

You just fell out of the sky
The best things come when you don’t even try
Lightning in a bottle doesn’t happen twice
The kind of gospel that saves you just in time
The myth of me and you
Is fiction turned to truth
Most loves don’t make it through
But the great ones do


4. How Do I Get Close by Nick Wayne

A third song I first heard at Tin Pan South and it was just stunning. Nick Wayne has such a beautiful voice, unreal high notes and gorgeous low notes, and the emotion just pours out of it and out of his lyrics, even if, personally, I would write it differently. He writes in particular details that I’ve never heard anyone else pick up on but there’s a simplicity to the lyric so that you don’t feel that you’re being overwhelmed with imagery. I learned a lot from listening to this song.

How do I get close to you
There ain’t nothing I won’t do
I used to know that I was your home
Now I’m in this house alone
Wondering how do I get close to you


5. She Used To Be Mine by Sara Bareilles

I’ve long loved this song and during this part of the year, when I was desperately depressed, I learned to play it on the piano and sang it everyday, sometimes multiple times. It helped somehow to focus on something that I love so much, even if it made me sob over the keys. It creates this stillness in me, this clarity, that brings all of my emotions to the surface. Waitress and this song mean so much to me and they got me through a really hard time. And now that things are a bit easier, they bring me joy as well.

She’s imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine


6. What If I Never Get Over You by Lady Antebellum

From the moment I heard this song, I was in love. I related it so strongly to an experience I went through in my late teens that took me a long time to get over and at the time, I didn’t think I’d ever get over it. I’d never had that sort of experience TO get over before so I didn’t personally know that you could get over something like that, not really. Not truly. So the song instantly felt like it could’ve been written for me. It’s a beautiful song: lyrics, melodies, build up, harmonies, and so on. It definitely got me more into Lady Antebellum.

It’s supposed to hurt, it’s a broken heart
But to movin’ on is the hardest part
It comes in waves, the letting go
But the memory fades, everybody knows
Everybody knows


7. Love Wins by Carrie Underwood

I’ve wanted to see Carrie Underwood live for years and I finally got to in July and she was even better than I thought she would be. She’s an incredible performer and her voice is even better live than it is recorded and it’s amazing recorded. It was really hard to choose a favourite song but this one was so positive and you could feel it lifting your soul. It doesn’t take in all of the complexities of the world we live in, of course, but we all need – we will always need – songs that inspire us, inspire kindness and compassion.

I, I believe you and me are sisters and brothers
And I, I believe we’re made to be here for each other
And we’ll never fall if we walk hand in hand
Put a world that seems broken together again
Yeah I, I believe in the end love wins


8. Cruel Summer by Taylor Swift

I am obsessed with this song. It’s chaotic, intense, and emotional, with both classic (“snuck in through the garden gate”) and unconventional imagery (“in the glow of the vending machine”). It’s easily one of Taylor’s best songs and I’m pretty sure it’s my favourite on ‘Lover’ (although that’s a tough call because it’s such a great, interesting, and diverse album). I’m fascinated by all the layers in the lyrics and the production is practically mythical and the bridge is a classic Swift/Antonoff work of art, building from the chorus and exploding like a firework. Then it drops back to the chorus to remind us of the core of the song, of the story, before taking off again. And then it ends suddenly. There are so many details in this song that I could write a dissertation dedicated to figuring them out and that is… awesome.

I’m drunk in the back of the car
And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar (oh)
Said “I’m fine”, but it wasn’t true
I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you
And I, snuck in through the garden gate
Every night that summer just to seal my fate (oh)
And I screamed for whatever it’s worth
I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?


9. The One by Kalie Shorr

This choice was the hardest. I was obviously going to choose a song from Kalie’s (long awaited) album but I wanted to choose every single one, each for different reasons. It’s an incredible album. I could’ve chosen Messy, F U Forever, Alice in Wonderland, The World Keeps Spinning, Big Houses, Gatsby, Vices, Lullaby, Angry Butterfly… practically the whole album. I could’ve chosen the few remaining that I haven’t listed. I don’t honestly know why I chose this one, why this one is the one (well, if I’m honest, one of a couple) that catches me in the chest every time but it does. It brings me to tears in moments. The instrumentation, the production, Kalie’s vocal and melodies, the emotion, the lyrics, even the specific arrangement of the words… They’re beautiful. They’re stunning. They’re heartbreaking.

This album ties with ‘Lover’ for album of the year for me. Sometimes I can’t listen to it because the emotions are so overwhelming, so blinding in their clarity. She’s brutal in her honesty but the vulnerability is heartbreaking. The imagery is so powerful, emotional and literal. I’m rambling. I don’t know if the songs were written or arranged chronologically but they sure do sound it and you can feel the emotional journey like the movement of ocean waves. There’s heart aching confusion, hollow vulnerability, visceral anger, self sabotage, growth, incredible strength… It’s one of the most emotionally compelling albums I’ve ever heard. It’s an origin story. I’ve always been a sucker for an origin story.

You were always supposed to be my seatbelt when we crashed
Answering the questions that I didn’t have to ask
I was supposed to be the concrete heart that couldn’t crack
Yeah, you were always supposed to be on my side of the war
Tell me what the hell were the last five years for
Now we’re just broken hearts and slamming doors
And you were supposed to be the one
You were supposed to be the one


10. I Can Love You From Here by Liberty’s Mother / This Isn’t Love (feat. Sam Jackson) by NADINE

I’m including two songs for this month because they were both played at the same event. I went to my tutor’s EP launch (released to raise awareness about baby loss), the title track of the EP being ‘I Can Love You From Here.’ Sophie (Liberty’s Mother being her artist name) performed the whole EP but the title track will always be special to me. It’s the first song I ever heard her play and it’s about how her daughter died the day before she was born, about how to love someone after they’ve died. It almost always reduces me to tears because of how strongly I relate to it. No one teaches you what to do with the love you have for someone when they’re gone – especially when it’s sudden.

The other song was performed by NADINE, who Sophie had invited to play a set at the launch. ‘This Isn’t Love’ is a song of hers that I’ve heard live several times now and absolutely love. But this time, she performed the newer, duet version with Sam Jackson and it was amazing. The guitar jack didn’t work so they stepped off the stage and performed acoustically, out of the spotlight and practically in the dark, and it was magical. Their voices fitted together beautifully and it was such a special one-of-a-kind moment. I felt so lucky to be witnessing it. The rest of her set was incredible too and there were several other songs I could be listing here, more amazing, special moments, but this one was the first of the show.


11. club by Kelsea Ballerini

I really like Kelsea Ballerini and while I liked ‘Homecoming Queen?’, I was a bit skeptical about a  twenty six year old seeing about high school. I much preferred ‘club’, despite being the person least likely to be found in a club. The melodies are so catchy and I really like the lyrics, the message that you don’t have to go out and get drunk to have fun. It’s been played many a time when I need a pick-me-up. Plus I love the video. The only thing that bothers me about it is the line ‘so what’s wrong with me?’ because it implies that there’s something wrong with not wanting to go to a club, despite the message of the rest of the song.

Yeah I like my friends, yeah I like tequila
I like puttin’ on a dress and dancin’ with my feelings
I could be the life of any party
I can play along with anybody
But sorry

I don’t wanna go to the club
I don’t wanna watch everybody around me try to hook up
And say stuff they don’t mean
And get drunk and get cheap
So what’s wrong with me?
‘Cause I don’t wanna go to the club


12. Graveyard (Acoustic) by Halsey

I love the original version of ‘Graveyard’ (the darkness in the lyrics, the urgency in the rhythms, particular production choices – when some instrumental/electronic parts were used and when they were pulled back or out completely) but there’s something about the acoustic version that just sounds so magical to me. The  slower tempo gives it a more introspective feel and I love the sound of the electric guitar. Something about it just connects deep inside me and it feels like I can breathe more easily. And on that note, the gasp that follows the bridge in the original version seems to be replaced with an exhale, like a letting go of the situation, of the person, and that small detail profoundly changes the song somehow.

You look at me
With eyes so dark, don’t know how you even see
You push right through me
It’s gettin’ real
You lock the door, you’re drunk at the steering wheel
And I can’t conceal


So there you have it. My songs of 2019. As I always say, there could’ve been so many more but I’ll stop there. I hope you liked reading this as much I liked writing it but now I have a monster of an essay to finish. Yay for me.

EDIT: If you’d like to listen to all of these songs, I made a Spotify playlist:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/playlist/1NWlFAodE18mIdvhIZUbn6

2018 in Review

This year has been a struggle. Almost eighteen months ago, I made the decision to change my medication and that has basically been my life ever since. Lots of pills and doctors appointments but mostly dealing with the side effects, everything from nausea to shaking to a complete inability to think clearly. I don’t think I realised what a huge undertaking it was going to be but it’s not exactly surprising: you’re throwing all the chemicals in your brain and body out of whack. I tried Venlafaxine, Lithium, and Lamotrigine; I weaned myself off Venlafaxine, tried Amitriptyline, and now I’m taking Pregabalin and Clomipramine. This is the most promising combination so far and I’ve actually had a few really good days so I’m cautiously optimistic. But it’s been a long, hard road, sometimes so difficult that I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. And I don’t really feel able to acknowledge the good bits without paying tribute to the really tough things I had to go through and so got through.

The first of The Big Difficult Things was moving house. God, that was a struggle. Having thought that I’d found some sort of peace around it, when it came to the day, I was absolutely devastated. There were a lot of tears – from all of us. That house was my home for fifteen years – home to the greatest triumphs and tragedies of my life – and so, to some extent, it will always be my home. I think I could probably walk into my old bedroom twenty years from now and fall right back into that old rhythm.

I’m still learning the rhythms of the new house. There are days where it feels normal and then others where I hate it so much I could scream. Most of the time, it still feels like someone else’s house. Someone else’s house with all our stuff in. But every day is a step in the right direction. We’re filling all the empty space with memories, slowly but surely.

I’ve been writing a lot about Claire Wineland of late but I couldn’t write about this year and not mention her. Her death was another of The Big Difficult Things of this year. I stumbled across her YouTube channel late last year and have been following her on social media ever since. She was – and still is – a big inspiration for me and her death hit me really hard. It just makes no sense to me and never will and I’m still struggling to cope with that.

And through all of this, depression has been my constant, oppressive companion. While I had experienced depression before, this was a whole new kind of prison. The lows were lower than I’d ever experienced and there were several pretty scary moments. And as well as affecting my mood, my depression made it almost impossible to write songs. I’ve had many discussions about writer’s block over the years and I’ve always thought that there are things that can make writing difficult and so you have to figure out what’s causing the block and address it. In my case, it feels like depression suppresses the creative part of my brain: I don’t get random sparks of inspiration, I can’t solve problems creatively, and any active creativity – like songwriting – is like pulling teeth. It feels like writing songs requires a certain level of functioning that I’m just not capable of reaching while depressed. I want to write more about this – about depression and writer’s block – but that’s for another post.

Having said all of that, there have been good days, as well as good experiences on bad days.

By far the best part of this year has been the time spent with my friends and family, whether that be online or in the physical world, in Nashville, London, or Brighton. Or anywhere in between. These people have kept me going through the hardest period of my life so far and I’m so ridiculously grateful to them for that.

I got to travel a little bit this year, which was amazing. I managed to get back to Nashville where I had the most intense ten days possibly of my life. I got to see some lovely people, write songs (or try to), listen to some of the best songwriters in the world, and play a Song Suffragettes show. Even though I was incredibly anxious about it, that may very well have been the best day of my year.

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I also travelled to Iceland for the first time and saw so many beautiful things, including a 60m waterfall, the Diamond Beach, and the Northern Lights. The natural scenery in Iceland took my breath away time and again. It felt like the first breath you take after being underwater. Of course, there was a lot of anxiety during the trip but it helped me in a way that only the magnificence of nature is able to.

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There have been more wonderful live music events than I can count: Paramore, Kelsea Ballerini, Sugarland, Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby (and all of Tin Pan South in Nashville), Frank Turner, Betsy Lane, The Shires, Sinead Burgess, The Brummies, Halsey, Kina Grannis, Aislin Evans, Maren Morris, and of course, Taylor Swift. Despite the anxieties around concerts, these are the places where I feel most alive and so, throughout this difficult period, I’ve always tried to ensure that there was another concert to look forward to.

And despite my musical struggles this year, I’ve actually played a few gigs and played shows that I am so proud to have been a part of. I got to play with WRTW again and it was even more fun than the first time (if that’s possible). I played Autism’s Got Talent in London, which was such a great opportunity. I played for Brighton Soup and Disability Pride in Brighton, two amazing organisations that I can’t praise enough. I also played Summer Fest in Worthing, my first show with my awesome friend, Richard Sanderson. And of course, I got to play a Song Suffragettes show when I was in Nashville.

I’ve also managed to do a handful to Autism research studies, as well as giving blood. I’ve been feeling so useless so I tried to contribute as best I could during this time where I’ve felt incapable of contributing anything at all.

Another big part of this year was getting used to the kittens: my cat had two kittens in February and me and my Mum just fell in love with them so we ended up keeping them. I love them dearly but it has been a major adjustment and a real struggle, especially with the daily battle that is depression. So this has been both a good and a bad thing. I want to write more about this whole experience because there were – and still are – a lot of complicated emotions involved. But above it all, we have Lucky and Lucy and the kittens and I love them more than life itself.

So, that’s it: 2018. It has been a hard, hard year, and one I’m very happy to leave behind but I’m cautiously optimistic about the next few months and the next year. I’ve felt better in the last couple of weeks than I have all year and I’m hopeful that this is characteristic of what’s to come.

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“2018, the year of living, fighting, but ultimately, surviving depression. There was a lot of gold in the grey but I’m so ready to move on to 2019.” (x)

2018 in Songs

Just as I did last year, I want to send off 2018 with the songs that made up my year, the songs that marked the happy moments and the sad, the lost and the lonely. Here goes:


1. Damn Sky by Kalie Shorr

I am obsessed with Kalie’s most recent EP, Awake. It’s SO GOOD. The songwriting, the production, the guitar parts, the vocals… I love it. There are multiple songs I could’ve chosen for this list but I think this one is so empowering. These songs have been the soundtrack to my year and I listen to them practically everyday.

What do you do when your whole heart breaks

And love only leaves you blind

Somebody had to light the way

So I learned to have the stars in my own damn sky

 

I got the nails, I got the hammer

If I got myself, I got the answers


2. I Am Disappeared by Frank Turner

Back in February I went to my university’s monthly songwriters’ circle and Frank Turner was the special guest. I love his songwriting, especially his lyric writing. The stories he tells are so rich and vivid. He asked if anyone had a request and someone shouted out this song and I just fell in love with it on the spot. It’s become a soundtrack to my anxiety, but not in a negative way. It’s like it translates my anxiety into something real and that’s such a relief.

I keep having dreams

Of pioneers and pirate ships and Bob Dylan

Of people wrapped up tight in the things that will kill them

Of being trapped in a lift plunging straight to the bottom

Of open seas and ways of life we’ve forgotten

I keep having dreams


3. Without by Megan O’Neill

Another month, another songwriters’ circle. Megan was the special guest at the March circle and I just fell in love with her voice. And her lyrics and her melodies. With every song she played, I was more and more inspired. This one is a particular favourite.

If I can’t have you, you can’t have me

‘Cause it’s all or nothing and there’s nothing in between

If you’re halfway in, I’m halfway out

Baby, we can’t shine in the shadow of a doubt

I can’t live with a love you can live without


4. Babe by Sugarland feat. Taylor Swift

I still can’t quite believe that two of my absolute favourite artists/bands collaborated and created such a beautiful song (and performed it live – what I wouldn’t give to have been there). It’s one of those songs that I’ve just had on repeat. I love Jennifer Nettles’ voice and Taylor Swift’s lyrics blow me away as usual. The imagery is especially gorgeous. I also love the combination of their voices, a nice treat that we otherwise wouldn’t have.

What a waste
Taking down the pictures and the plans we made, yeah
And it’s strange how your face doesn’t look so innocent
Your secret has its consequence and that’s on you, babe

I break down every time you call
We’re a wreck, you’re the wrecking ball
We said no one else, how could you do this, babe?


5. Running Out Of Red Lights by Lena Stone

I have loved Lena’s writing ever since I saw her perform at Tin Pan South in 2016 and I feel like I’ve been waiting for her to release this song for almost as long. It’s so beautiful and the sense of urgency is so real. And I freaking love the electric guitar part, more than life itself. Just kidding, but I do really love it. I can’t wait for her to release more music.

Six blocks down from your new place

High heels never hitting those breaks

If nothing’s gonna stop me then it’s too late

To change my mind

Wishing I could leave you in the rearview

‘Cause every yellow that I run through

Gets me closer to crashing to you

Tonight

And I’m running out of red lights


6. Tennessee Bound by Sinead Burgess

I saw Sinead Burgess open for The Shires on their tour earlier this year and I loved her writing from the first song, which was this one. I was in a really bad place and her energy just woke me up. It was magical. And now, every time I feel like I’m getting lost, I listen to it and it reminds me of that. I’m really grateful for that.

Hell, I’m ready for my brand new life

Get a new apartment, change my hair, no I won’t be thinking twice

About the things that I’m gonna miss

‘Cause I sure as hell ain’t going out like this

So I’m ready for my brand new life


7. New Light by Baylor Wilson

I have Song Suffragettes to thank for the discovery of this song. They posted a video of it on their YouTube channel and I just fell in love. I love her voice. And I love the lyrics: they’re all beautiful but there’s one – “I thought ‘love’ was just a word that people use, until I heard you say it and I said back to you” – that takes my breath away every time I hear it. There’s something about it that makes me believe that love really is out there somewhere.

Every wrong turn turned out all right

And even when the sun sets, it’s still gonna rise

I see it in a new light

I see it in a true light

Every chapter, every verse of my life

Every time that I look in your eyes

Every cloud and all the blue in the sky

Now I see it in a new light

 


8. Nightmare by Nikita Karmen

My inner songwriting nerd gets so excited about this song. I saw Nikita Karmen at Tin Pan South earlier this year and I just fell in love with the way she writes lyrics. They’re smart and funny and quirky and wise; I get major songwriting jealousy. And the fact that she deliberately rhymes ‘right’ with ‘right’ and then ‘left’ with ‘left’ – in the SAME SONG – makes me shriek every time I hear it; I love it.

It was just a little doubt that got left behind

From a love that didn’t work out

Just ghosts from yesterday

But they don’t live here now

Reach over to my left

To know you never left


9. Eyes Closed by Halsey

I got to see Halsey live this year (twice!) and it was an amazing experience (even though I was in a really difficult place). This was the first song on the set list and the crowd sang along so loudly that it took my breath away. Literally. I felt breathless with… just awe. The concert was amazing and the crowd was amazing and it was really, really special. This song reminds me of that and I’m really grateful for it.

Now if I keep my eyes closed, he looks just like you

But he’ll never stay, they never do

Now if I keep my eyes closed, he feels just like you

But you’ve been replaced

I’m face to face

With someone new


10. Get Up by Nick Wilson

I heard this song at one of my university’s songwriters’ circle and then listened to it on repeat for the next week. It’s beautiful. The imagery is gorgeous, the production is amazing, and his voice sounds incredible. And it sounds even better live!

You gotta get up, you gotta get up
I know it’s always better than you think it will be
It’s never enough, it’s never enough
You don’t know what you want until you know what you need
Don’t break the silence when it’s beautiful
Just hold your tongue
But you gotta get up, you gotta get up now


11. The Goldfish Song by Kina Grannis

I finally got to see Kina Grannis live this year after following her on YouTube for years and years. That was so exciting and I got to hear so many favourite songs, old and new. This is one of those favourites and I’ve been listening to it on and off for the last few months. I guess it just really resonated with me.

I know what you’ve been thinking

It’s too soon to empty my cocoon

This butterfly’s not ready

But wouldn’t she know better than you


12. Loving You, Using You by Caylan Hays

Caylan is one of my favourite people and I am so excited that she’s putting her gorgeous songwriting out into the world. We’ve written together several times and I always look forward to it because she just has this way with words that is different to anybody else I’ve ever met. This song is so raw and so honest and I’m so excited for the project she’s about to release.

Maybe I’m loving you because I’m lonely

Maybe I’m holding you because you know me

Maybe I’m loving you

Oh, because you’re lonely too

Maybe I’m here because I’m grieving

Maybe I’m terrified of leaving

Maybe I’m loving you

Maybe I’m using you

I wish I knew the truth


13. The Middle by Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey

I know that the format of this is twelve songs – one for every month – but I have to include this one, a song for the whole year if you like. This is no doubt my most played song of the year – it feels pretty fitting that just a few weeks ago, it was nominated for multiple Grammys. And I got to here it performed live and acoustic. I love it. Maren’s voice is beyond gorgeous and there is no song more fun to sing in the car.

So pull me closer
Why don’t you pull me close?
Why don’t you come on over?
I can’t just let you go

Oh baby, why don’t you just meet me in the middle?
I’m losing my mind just a little
So why don’t you just meet me in the middle?
In the middle


So there we go. My 2018, my songs of 2018. As always, there could’ve been so many more but I’ll leave it there. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much I enjoyed writing it.