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.

Snapshot #1: Country2Country Festival as an Autistic Person

So, while this isn’t specifically a post about mental health, it is about how my mental health affects my life and the things that I want to do so I think it’s still relevant and maybe useful to someone else. There still aren’t a huge amount of resources for people with Autism and music festivals aren’t a naturally autism friendly situation: they’re loud and busy and overwhelming. The obvious advice is to avoid the conditions that cause you distress but when you love music and live music, it’s not that simple. This thing that I love is also a great stress. So it has to be about balance. Am I having a good time? Is this taking more than it’s giving?

So, let’s begin. For those of you who don’t know, Country2Country is a country music festival in London, Glasgow, and Dublin. In London, it’s three days at the O2 Arena with little stages throughout the complex and a big arena show in the evenings. I love country music and I love the country music community in the UK so there are a lot of positive moments but a lot of stressful ones too. I thought I’d write out a little overview of the festival, the good points and the bad, and how the whole thing fitted into the picture of my mental health and experience of Autism.

The biggest consideration for events like these is my lack of energy, especially with my recently increased struggles with fatigue. Standing is a huge part of any festival and for me, standing for extended periods of time (and by that I mean more than a few minutes) results in shaking, dizziness, and overwhelming nausea. Not to mention the disproportional levels of fatigue that build and build until I physically can’t stand up anymore. Most of the shows are standing, especially the ones during the day. And like any concert, there’s the expectation that you stand, as if standing means you care more than someone who’s sitting. My fatigue has been so bad lately that I only went to shows where I knew I could sit down and even then, I really struggled. I had to really pick and choose what I could go to and that came down to an upsettingly short list. But I was determined to enjoy what I could manage.

My 2018 C2C experience began on the Thursday night with a Songwriters’ Circle where a group of songwriters take turns playing songs they’ve written (that have often been released by other artists) and sharing stories about writing them. I love these events: they’re usually pretty laid back and very inspiring. It is one of my favourite things to hear songs as they were originally written and to hear how they turned from nothing into something. I was almost at the back but I was just so happy to be there. The line up was Brett James, Luke Combs, Nicolle Galyon, Kip Moore, and Natalie Hemby who is one of my all time favourite songwriters so I was very excited and they did not disappoint. They played old favourites as well as new songs but I think everyone agreed that Natalie’s performance of her song, ‘Jealous,’ recorded by Labyrinth, completely stole the show. Although I must also give an honourable mention both to Nicolle’s performance of ‘Consequences,’ recorded by Camila Cabello, and Luke Combs’ new songs. And to round off the night in the most perfect fashion, I managed to hang out with Natalie for a few minutes after the show and she was even lovelier than I remembered. So with that as a first night, the standard was set pretty high!

My excitement was so high that I did crash afterwards. I was completely overwhelmed by nausea twice on my way home, to the point where I had to sit on the ground and just breathe until it faded. This is one of the side effects of my most recent medication (for depression) and it’s one of the worst I’ve experienced but once it passed, I was okay. The emotional energy I get from live music and from being inspired and from talking to these wonderful people is unlike anything else. I could live off that night for days, even weeks, and that’s without the rest of C2C. It’s like feeding a dying fire; I come back to life.

Having had to go back home to Brighton, Day 1 of C2C began with travelling into London. My first event of the day was a very exciting one: an exclusive listen to The Shires’ upcoming album. I’d applied for a ticket and not gotten one but one of my friends in the UK Country community offered me their plus one. I can’t put into words how much that meant to me. I’ve been listening to The Shires since their first single came out and I actually went to one of the events they held when releasing their first album. I’ve already said it but I absolutely adore the UK Country community: I’ve met so many wonderful people (and now great friends) while queuing for gigs or while waiting in meet and greet lines and it is just the kindest, most generous group of people. For this event in particular, I saw so many people offering their tickets to people they knew desperately wanted to go and I was so touched to witness that. Personally, I had three people offer me a ticket because they all knew how much I wanted to be there. How amazing is that?! You’ll get no spoilers from me but it was better than I’d hoped it would be and I felt honoured to be there. Ben and Crissie are such lovely people and it has been so special to watch their journey up to this point. I’m honestly so excited to listen to all of these new songs over and over when the album comes out.

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We weren’t allowed to use our phones in the session so, for the purposes of this blog post, I took a photo of The Shires appearing in the official highlights video.

I genuinely loved hanging out with everyone and catching up afterwards but it wasn’t long before I started to struggle. I powered through for a while but when my legs started to shake, I had to call it and headed back to where I was staying, although I did have to sit in North Greenwich station for a while because the shaking and dizziness got so bad. I would love to be able to wander around and spend the day listening to artist after artist but it’s just too much for me: my lack of energy, the constant high level of noise, and the overwhelming amount of people. With the latter two, it’s like my brain becomes overloaded and that can trigger a meltdown. I haven’t written about meltdowns very much so far on this blog (although I mentioned them here – a more in depth post is on the list, I promise!) but one way to explain it would be to imagine tapping on glass that has a crack in it. While one knock doesn’t do much damage, they build up and eventually it shatters. That’s how incoming sensory information feels to me. When I reach overload, I experience extreme anxiety and that can lead to crying, screaming, self harming, etc. Obviously that’s not something I ever want to experience in public, with people that I don’t know, where I don’t feel completely safe, so I have to be aware of how close to that point I am and retreat to a safe place when everything starts to feel too much. I went back to where I was staying and had a couple of hours of quiet time before heading back to the O2 for the arena show.

Kelsea Ballerini was my priority with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s headline set coming in second; I would have to assess my capabilities throughout the night. Getting into the O2 Arena always stresses me out: there could be a problem with the ticket, they might not let me take my bag in, the metal detector could go off and they’d want to pat me down… All of those things cause me a lot of anxiety before going into a concert but fortunately everything went smoothly this time (having said that, that anxiety still takes a lot out of me, even when the things I’m worried about don’t come to pass). It always surprises me that people can’t seem to tell how anxious I am because to me, it’s everything. It’s all I can think about. But as I said, it was simple, so that anxiety didn’t turn into anything else.

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“Can I be Kelsea Ballerini when I grow up? What a fab show. I loved every second of it. I may have cried a little bit because I want to write songs and sing them too and I want it so badly but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are made to love things and I love music unapologetically.” (x)

Kelsea Ballerini was fantastic. I’ve now seen her three times in the last year and she’s such a great performer. I got completely lost in it and that was wonderful, even if I did cry a bit because I want that to be me so badly – that’s not something I can ever really separate myself from. But I had a really awesome time, and I actually managed to lose myself in the music and not feel so self-conscious about enjoying myself. Normally, I can barely move for feeling so exposed to everyone’s opinions. So that was really fun. Also, we all need someone to look at us the way Kelsea looks at her audiences…

By the end of her set, I was feeling very shaky and since I wanted to be well enough for Sugarland the next night (I’ve been waiting eight years to see them live!), I decided to go home. That was derailed a bit by some stuff going on with a friend that didn’t exactly help my anxiety and by the time I got home, I was completely exhausted. As is normal after days and evenings of high emotions, it took me a long time to get to sleep but then I slept so deeply that when I woke up, I was so disorientated that a week could’ve passed. Apparently the previous two days had tired me out more than I’d thought because I slept for most of the day and only really managed to get up in time for the arena shows. I was pretty shaky and anxious but having some of my family with me definitely helped.

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Sugarland were freaking awesome. One of my parents played me a few Sugarland songs about eight years ago and ever since, I’ve absolutely loved their voices, their songs, and their energy. If I’m jamming out in the car, it’s most likely to a Sugarland song. So we were both super excited when they announced that they were getting back together and even more so when they were on the line up for C2C. We sang and danced (while sitting down) through the whole thing and it was so, so fun. It couldn’t have been better. I mean, there were more songs I wanted to hear but I do understand that they couldn’t just keep playing until they’d performed their entire repertoire. Mostly… Anyway, I was and am a very happy bean for having finally seen them live. It was a dream come true.

“I didn’t think I could love Sugarland any more than I already did but after last night, I absolutely do. The show was incredible and after waiting eight years, it was a dream come true. Apologies to the people behind me for all the crazy dancing and dramatic singalong.” (x)

The headline act of the night was Kacey Musgraves who I have loved since her first album. When I bought my tickets, I decided that I wanted to see her more than anyone on the Sunday so I decided to push myself to stay for her and then not go the next day. I was okay with that trade off and it was worth it. I’d sort of forgotten how much I love her and her writing style and it was so great to hear both my old favourites and some new songs from the upcoming album. I struggled a bit with the graphics on the screens; they made me a bit dizzy and gave me a headache. But it was a great show and I can’t wait for her to come back to the UK in October. I was worried about being in the underground with masses of people so we left a little bit early and had a relatively easy journey home.

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“Kacey Musgraves is a princess. I’m loving the new songs.” (x)

It was a good weekend, if a tiring one. I spent the next day in bed, tired and achy and a bit overly emotional, but that’s not an unexpected consequence of an event like this. It takes a lot out of me, on lots of different levels. Because of all the thinking and restricting and careful planning, it wasn’t too bad but I wish it were easier. I wish I didn’t struggle so much and I wish my abilities and my needs weren’t so incompatible with the way the world typically works. Being out in the world is stressful and overwhelming and most places don’t come with a built in quiet room to hide out in while I recharge. It doesn’t help that I find it really difficult to ask for support. I feel like I’m failing for succumbing to these problems and that I should be strong enough to power through, which I think comes from being diagnosed so late: I’ve spent my life thinking this way and it’s not an easy habit to break.

I hope that this has been helpful, or at the very least gives an insight into what it can be like to go to a festival such as Country2Country when you have Autism, when you struggle with your mental health. The positive moments are unrivalled but the difficulties are freaking difficult.