To Gig Or Not To Gig

What with the medication and the side effects and the day-to-day consequences of my specific Venn diagram of issues, I have been feeling incredibly unwell over the last several months. It’s been really tough: I’ve been dealing with nausea, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, shakiness, and so on. Having spent so much time and effort convincing people that a mental illness is actually an illness, that it isn’t less important just because the symptoms are inside your head, I think it’s easy to forget that these problems also have physical symptoms. I’m guilty of it too and I’m not very good at accepting that reality. But I’ve had to of late. Or, at the very least, try not to give myself such a hard time over it.

But this week I had my first gig in a really long time and I was going to do it, come hell or high water. The hardest thing has been not being able to do the things I love the most, namely singing and songwriting. That makes me a kind of stir crazy that I’m not sure I can put into words. So I did my absolute best to make sure I was ready, in both the health and music sense, and I thought I’d share some of the things I did in case they’re useful to anyone else.

Make sure your expectations are realistic – In the last six months, I’ve been offered a couple of gigs that I knew I just couldn’t do, regardless of how much I wanted to do them. I just wasn’t well enough. But this one was perfect: a short set, a relaxed atmosphere, lovely and supportive people… It was a really good opportunity to do this thing that I love so much without too great a cost to myself.

If it feels right, let those in charge know – I don’t think this is always necessary but when you know it could affect your performance, it can be a good move. It’s my default position to be open and honest and because I write songs about my experiences with mental health and Autism, they find out soon enough anyway but I’m also aware that people can jump to incorrect conclusions when they hear the word ‘Autism.’ So there are pros and cons but it’s something to consider.

Practice in small doses – There’s no getting away from the fact that you need to practice to be ready to perform well at anything. But it doesn’t have to be a huge, daunting black cloud that swallows up your day. I hadn’t been doing much consistent practice because I just felt so awful but I managed to build in fifteen minutes a day. It felt pathetic given that I used to be able to sing and play for hours but I’m trying to just acknowledge the thought and then put it aside. Even fifteen minutes was leaving me shaky but it gave me back some of my confidence and even though I don’t have another gig for a while, I am going to try and keep to this. It gives me more than it takes away.

Physically prepare your body – Make sure you’ve slept enough, eaten enough, and drunk enough water. These can be hard; I’ve struggled with all of them. But try to remember why you’re forcing yourself through it and do your best. It puts you in the best possible position to perform well which is, after all, the goal. Hopefully that motivation is enough.

Do whatever it is that gives you a boost and if you can’t do that, avoid the things that bring you down – I usually listen to music to inspire and energize me before a gig. They’re not necessarily happy songs but they are all high energy or high intensity. That helps me get into the right mindset to perform and that usually overrides whatever I’m dealing with physically.

If you need to stop, stop – I’ve been to multiple gigs where acts have had to call it quits mid set because of a terrible cold or whatever and every single time, the only thing anyone says is how impressed they are that the person got as far as they did. That may not always be the case but would it be better to push through and end up face planting onto the floor when the dizziness turned into fainting? No, it would not. Do what you can for as long as you can and then gracefully retreat.

Now I can’t prove that these things helped but I know they didn’t hurt. The gig went really well and it felt so good to be performing again. A couple of days later and I’m still tired and shaky but if that’s the price, I’m more than happy to pay it. For the first time in weeks, I feel like I’m in sync with my life; my anxiety has dissipated and I actually feel calm. That’s not something I can say very often.


2017 in Songs

Since I’m a songwriter first, last, and always, I thought I’d pull together some of my favourite songs this year as a sort of send off for 2017. So here goes, in no particular order:

  1. Sideways by Travis Meadows

I first heard this song last year when I went to Nashville for the first time (but it came out this year and I’ve played it a lot since then). I was there for the Tin Pan South songwriting festival and there were so many shows to go to but someone told me that, out of everybody there, I had to see Travis Meadows. So I did and I was blown away. In my opinion, he’s one of the greatest songwriters out there and I was transfixed by every song, as was everyone else in the room. And when I went back to Nashville this year, I made sure to get to his show. The chorus of this song speaks to me so deeply. You push something down and it comes out in ways you never expected and bitter thoughts do carve highways in the person you’re trying to become.

If I could buy myself a conscience that wasn’t broken 

Mend every fence I drove my hard head through 

Re-lock all the doors I wish I never opened 

Unlearn the things I wish I never knew 

And it came out through the bottle

It came out through my fists

It came out way too early

I wish it never did


Push it down, it comes out sideways

Push it down, it comes out sideways

Bitter roads turn into highways

Push it down it comes out sideways

  1. Hurt Any Less by Lauren Aquilina

This is another song that came out last year but I didn’t get around to listening to it until this year. During my teenage years Lauren Aquilina was one of my most listened to artists but that was a really tough time and I wasn’t super eager to jump back into all those associated emotions. I planned to listen to her album eventually; I was just waiting until I felt ready. And then I found out that she was playing a songwriters’ circle at my uni, the same one I was scheduled to play. It felt like the universe was telling me something so I listened to the album and fell in love. It sounds like the whole thing was written about the same person in one evening, to me at least. I love it. I love every song but I really love this one. Just because you’re doing the right thing doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Also, I’m a sucker for half time drums. Since hearing this song for the first time, I’ve met Lauren, played a songwriters’ circle with her, and written a song with her, and she is as lovely as I’d hoped she’d be.

People break each other’s hearts

In their individual ways

You broke mine clean in half

When you let me stay

You made me feel so exposed

Asked for the feelings I held close

And I gave them away


I knew this was coming from day one

This was never love, it was chaos

I was right, but I’ve never wanted to be so wrong

  1. Nothin’ New by Kalie Shorr

I loved this song from the moment I heard it. It was the song I didn’t know I needed. Moving on is hard but songs like this one make it easier. Kalie is super sweet and played it for me when I finally made it to a Song Suffragettes’ show in Nashville. That meant a lot to me. I’ve managed to get to a couple of their shows now and they’re all amazing songwriters. I can’t wait to go back.

Sun’s always gonna set in the west

Lipsticks and convertibles look better in red

And the best songs are three chords and the truth

But that ain’t nothin’ new


‘Cause ever since the beginning

Since the world started spinning, oh

It’s just a matter of fact

Girls want boys that don’t want them back

I’m just being honest, don’t matter what you call it, oh

The sun still shines, the sky’s still blue

You don’t want me, and I love you

But that ain’t nothin’ new

That ain’t nothin’ new

  1. Second Wind by Maren Morris

I know this song came out last year but it’s been on repeat all year; me and my writing partner listened to this album in so many sessions, for inspiration and just because we love it. I saw her perform three times this year, at Country2Country and twice on her UK tour, and she was absolutely incredible. I even got to meet her and she is so, so lovely. She is one of my favourite songwriters and one of my favourite singers, probably ever. This is a song I listen to when I need a boost and it delivers every time.

An airplane’s only paper ’til it finds a breeze

But don’t you know that it’s the low that makes the high so sweet?

When they try to break, break, break you

That’s when you get your break, break, breakthrough


You can’t forget about me

While you weren’t lookin’ I was gettin’ even higher

Say what you want about me

Your words are gasoline on my fire

You can hate me, underestimate me

Do what you do cause what you do don’t phase me

Just when you think I’m at the end

Any second I’ma catch my second wind

  1. This Town Still Talks About You by Natalie Hemby

When Natalie announced she was releasing an album, I literally shrieked. I was so excited and the album exceeded all my expectations. It reminds me of hazy summers and nostalgia and Nashville. I was listening to it as I flew in when I went back in March and it’s now forever tied to those memories. I got to see her play a songwriters’ round while I was there and she played this song. I also got to meet her afterwards; she signed my songwriting book and I got to tell her that she is one of the songwriters I most want to write with one day. I’m heading back to Nashville in March… A girl can dream.

Oh, this town still talks about you

Like you never left

Hidden sounds in cracked sidewalks and the church pews

How could we forget?

You were so loved, you were one of our own

And it’s never been the same since you’ve been gone

Oh, this town still talks about you

  1. Devil In Me by Halsey

I loved the Badlands album so I was so excited for Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. It took me a while to get into the latter but I think that’s because there’s just so much in it; I was completely overwhelmed to start with. I think it’s the kind of album that you have to immerse yourself in to get the best listening experience. I love the rawness of the emotion in this song and some of the lyrics cut so deep. Because the production is so layered and so all encompassing in many of her songs, I think that people sometimes forget or get distracted from what a great songwriter she is; even the songs that I would call my least favourites on the album – emotionally, stylistically, whatever – still have my songwriter brain going, “That’s so cool! That’s so clever!” I love the way she uses little details to create such vivid pictures.

You said I’m

Too much to handle

You said I

Shine too bright

I burnt the candle

Flew too high


Gotta wake up, gotta wake up

Gotta wake up, gotta wake up

Gotta wake up, come back to life

Gotta wake up, gotta wake up

Gotta wake up, gotta wake up

Gotta wake up, come back to life

  1. Someone You Couldn’t Love by Charlotte Black

Charlotte is one of my very best friends in the world and she’s an awesome singersongwriter so there was no way I wouldn’t include one of her songs in this list. She’s released two singles this year and there’s another one in the works but this one holds special memories for me. I remember sitting in her room in Nashville, listening to her talk about this song idea she’d had, hearing the first draft in class, and then counting down the minutes to its release with her. It’s my favourite of hers because I relate to it so strongly, to the confusion and distress when someone abandons you without explanation. But it’s also about taking back the power and moving forward, bravely and deliberately. Since this song’s release, I’ve been more involved with her project, writing bits and pieces for her press releases and I feel so honoured and grateful to be on this journey with her.

He’s tired of my blue eyes and the chase

I became a fierce sea in his place

I’m thunder, he was the rain

I hold onto my heart as it aches

Warm up from the chill he creates

There’s more to me than this pain


People play pretend, they change

Their minds, we’re all the same

I didn’t plan on this, it’s fine, just go


Did I become someone you couldn’t love

Did I become something you couldn’t love

Couldn’t love, couldn’t love

Couldn’t love, couldn’t love, oh

Is there a part of me that was not enough

A part you found, a part that you couldn’t love

Couldn’t love, couldn’t love

Couldn’t love, couldn’t love, oh

  1. She Used To Be Mine by Sara Bareilles

 Another ‘old’ one but I couldn’t leave this one out. This year, I hit the lowest point I’ve ever been and for a while, I was so depressed that I couldn’t listen to music. I’ve only had that experience a couple of times but it’s always excruciating. But when I start to come out of it, Sara Bareilles is my go to, especially this song. It sounds as fragile as I feel but it has the hope that I need to keep going. Many of Sara’s songs have marked important moments in my life, both good and bad, and I’m grateful for that (one of the best moments of my life was when she dedicated her song ‘Uncharted’ to me during a show). She is one of my all time favourite singers, one of my all time songwriters, and I’m endlessly inspired by her.

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


It’s not what I asked for

Sometimes life just slips in through a back door

And carves out a person

And makes you believe it’s all true

And now I’ve got you

And you’re not what I asked for

If I’m honest I know I would give it all back

For a chance to start over

And rewrite an ending or two

For the girl that I knew

  1. Broken Glass by Rachel Platten

I’ve loved Rachel Platten since ‘Fight Song’ so I was very excited for her to release more music (although I don’t think anything could beat out ‘Fight Song’ for the number one spot). When this song came out, I listened to it all the time, especially when I had to do something that made me anxious. It gave me a boost emotionally and made me feel invincible, much like ‘Fight Song’ did when I first heard it. I love the confidence and the surety in this song. Although ‘Fight Song’ had a similarly empowering message, something about it sounded like it had something to prove. ‘Broken Glass’ has moved on from that; this song doesn’t need to prove anything and I love that.

So I bet on me and my own heartbeat

When all the odds are piling

Like bricks around my feet

You know, you know it’s more than

More than just for me

You know it’s worth it

I still believe, yeah


I’m gonna dance on broken glass, on broken glass

And I’m gonna make that ceiling crash, that ceiling crash

So what? Still got knives in my back

So what? So I’m tied to the tracks

I’m gonna dance on broken glass

And here I go, ya here I go

Yeah here I go, here I go

And here I go, here I go

  1. Legends by Kelsea Ballerini

I get major songwriting envy when it comes to Kelsea Ballerini. I know that we all have different styles but damn, I wish I could write like her. I swear she manages to fit more words into a song than anyone else and that makes for a beautifully detailed world in every song. I love this one for its sense of acceptance, for its pure you-and-me-against-the-world-ness. I also love the way it blends pop and country together. I think there’s something really special about the way country writers write pop songs.

We were golden, we were fire, we were magic

Yeah, and they all knew our names all over town

We had it made in the middle of the madness

We were neon in a grey crowd

Yeah, we wrote our own story

Full of blood, sweat, and heartbeats

We didn’t do it for the fame or the glory

But we went down in history


Yeah, we were legends

Loving you baby, it was heaven

What everyone wondered, we never questioned

Closed our eyes and took on the world together

Do you remember?

We were crazy, tragic and epic, and so amazing

I’ll always wear the crown that you gave me

We will always stay lost in forever, and they’ll remember

We were legends

  1. Getaway Car by Taylor Swift

Of course there was going to be a Taylor song on this list. Taylor Swift is one of my all time favourite people. I was beyond excited for the new album and I fell in love with this song from the first listen. It’s like a full-length movie fitted into four minutes; the detail is exquisite. I love the journey, the emotion, the energy. It reminds me of ‘Out of the Woods’ from the 1989 album. I think it’s one of her best songs from a songwriting perspective and every time I listen to it, I hear more layers, both in the production and in the lyrics. I want to write a song that complex and cohesive one day. I also love the ‘Making of a Song’ video for this song because that’s how I write songs. I love how excited she gets when they finish writing the bridge; I’m exactly the same.

It was the great escape, the prison break

The light of freedom on my face

But you weren’t thinking

And I was just drinking

Well, he was running after us, I was screaming, ‘Go, go, go!’

But with three of us, honey, it’s a sideshow

And a circus ain’t a love story

And now we’re both sorry (we’re both sorry)


X marks the spot, where we fell apart

He poisoned the well, every man for himself

I knew it from the first old fashioned, we were cursed

It hit you like a shotgun shot to the heart


You were driving the getaway car

We were flying, but we’d never get far

Don’t pretend it’s such a mystery

Think about the place where you first met me

We’re riding in a getaway car

There were sirens in the beat of your heart

Should’ve known I’d be the first to leave

Think about the place where you first met me

In a getaway car

No, they never get far

No, nothing good starts in a getaway car

  1. Spring Will Come by NADINE

Not from this year but I only discovered it recently. I know Nadine from university and I love her music but this one is really special. I feel like it’s talking directly to me and encouraging me forward, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. When I listen to it, especially when I’m in the fragile place I am at the moment, it gives me hope and makes me feel like I will get through all the hard stuff. It reminds me to trust myself and I’ve really needed that.

You’ve wasted hours

Knocking on iron doors

Maintained your head and heart

You know, he can’t be yours now


Now run, my soul

From regrets too old

Be strong, be bold

Let new ways unfold


Now your cheeks turn back to colour

As you’re blinking in the sun

In time you will recover

I can see new life’s begun

Spring will come

There are so many songs I wanted to put on this list but if I wrote about all of them, we’d still be here at the end of 2018. So I’ll stop. But this has been really fun. I hope you enjoyed it too. What were your songs of 2017?

Disability Pride in Brighton

On Sunday 9th July 2017, I woke up feeling very nervous. It was the day of Disability Pride in Brighton, the first event of its kind in the UK, and I was performing on the main stage just after two o’clock. Of course, I was really excited: it was going to be a great event, one I was really proud to be a part of. But my anxiety was very high. Other than the fact that I hadn’t played live for a while (finishing my degree has taken up all of my time), I felt anxious about whether I deserved to be there.

My presentation of Autism isn’t very obvious. I’ve been told many times that I don’t ‘look Autistic’ (a phrase that needs a whole post to itself) and I’ve always struggled with where I fit under the label of ‘disabled’. The legal definition is “a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities” (according to the Equality Act 2010 if you want the source of that). So, yes, I am disabled but it’s very much an invisible disability and multiple experiences of that being questioned has made me very nervous of associating myself with the word. But I’d applied and been chosen to play so I tried to trust that.

Everyone was so nice, right from the moment I arrived. I met the stage manager, AJ, who was lovely and got ready to go on stage; I was starting to get back that excitement that I get from performing. But then my capo broke. For those of you not familiar with guitars, the capo is the little gadget you can put on the neck of the guitar to make it easier to play in different keys. It literally sprang apart in my hand. Not good. I needed it for every song (I usually have a spare but since I’d bought this one a week ago, I hadn’t worried about packing one). Half of my brain was desperately searching my repertoire for songs that didn’t need a capo and the other half was trying to figure out where on earth I could find another one. No one else seemed to have one so my parents (major shout out to them) ran off to the two guitar shops close by. I felt like I should be panicking but I was strangely calm.

Somehow a capo was found and then I was on. I’d originally had time for four songs but that had to be cut down because of the capo problems. But I didn’t mind. The atmosphere was so nice, so friendly, that I just wanted to get out there and play.

I’d agonized over what songs to play. I write a lot of songs about my experiences with mental health – it helps me process them, helps me make sense of it all – but I didn’t want to upset or trigger anyone. On the other hand, I wondered whether it was a good place to play them, somewhere where people might relate to them. In the end, I decided to play two of those songs with two more upbeat, positive ones. But with the stress of finding another capo, all coherent thinking disappeared from my brain and I was playing a song before I’d even decided to play it. Oh well. That first song was called ‘Bad Night’, about a particularly bad night where I couldn’t imagine how I would ever feel better. The second song I played was called ‘Invisible’, a really important song for me because it’s such an honest account of asking for help with my mental health and being repeatedly turned away. As I introduced it and told the story behind it, I could see people nodding and that actually made me well up a bit. Writing it was so hard that I hadn’t really thought about what kind of reaction it would get and so, to have people connect to it, connect to something that was so personal, it kind of blows my mind.

I’d hoped to play another song, to end my little set on a more upbeat note, but there wasn’t time. That was a shame but I was so happy to have played at all. All my anxiety had disappeared and I remembered exactly why I love performing so much. And I have never played to such a friendly, supportive crowd. It felt safe to sing those songs about difficult things and it felt safe to be exactly who I am. I hadn’t expected that and even though it’s now several weeks later, that feeling still almost brings me to tears. I don’t often feel safe outside my home but I did feel safe there.

It didn’t hit me until later but my favourite moment of the event (apart from the adorable little girl who stood right at the front, watched both my songs, and waved at me afterwards) was something someone in the audience called out between my songs. With all the stress beforehand, I hadn’t checked the height of the microphone stand and so I discovered during the first song that it wasn’t high enough. I made a joke about that as I adjusted it, about being too tall for the microphone, and someone from the audience called out, “the microphone’s too short for you!” It’s simple but it meant a lot to me. I often automatically put myself in the wrong, assume that I am too much or too little of something rather than looking at the situation for what it is. Here, it was simply a case of adjusting the microphone stand to match my height and it’s a little ridiculous to put all of that on myself, to let it reinforce a negative view of myself. I mean, it’s a microphone stand! But it shows how easy it is to get into a pattern of always seeing yourself as ‘wrong’, even when there isn’t a right or wrong.

Of course this isn’t always the case, but it was a good little reminder to be aware of my thought processes and be aware of what I’m telling myself. (I think it’s pretty easy to pick up that way of thinking when it comes to a disability or mental health problem, because you’re often different from the norm and you end up adjusting to fit into that. So it’s easy to feel ‘wrong’, simply because it’s not the same as everyone else. At least, I feel that way.) It’s often hard to remember that different isn’t wrong, especially when the way everyone else does things is praised as the ‘right’ way or the ‘best’ way. I regularly have to remind myself of that.

Anyway, I had a really great time at Disability Pride and I was so grateful to play. It really was one of the loveliest, most supportive crowds I’ve ever played for. I wish I could’ve stayed longer and explored more but my physical health hasn’t been great lately and even that little amount of time had completely exhausted me. But the little bit I got to see was incredible and I am so, so proud to have been part of the event, even in the smallest way. I really hope that this event can become an annual one. Thank you to everyone involved – you are all complete stars!