The past couple of weeks have felt like a whirlwind; in the best way. I found myself complaining to the best human this morning that I felt too slow today, that I wasn’t moving fast enough with the day and with the list – there’s always a list. As an habituated workaholic I know I’m the one with the problem regarding the need for speed. I’ve had write a blog on the list for a week now and so finally, I’m giving it the space, having composted a whole load of things I want to say in the brain bin.
Touring Fish Tales is an incomparable experience for me. Yes, I’ve toured before and done more gigs than I can count. I’ve had great fun doing gigs and real moments of total immersion in the experience. Music and performance are super powerful human expressions and not to be dismissed. So what makes Fish Tales so special, so stand-out different? I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I have theories but no definitive answers.
One theory is that the nature of jazz makes this a special experience. The musicians are all stunning artists in their own individual right. Each one a gifted player with extraordinary musicality. They come together and form a marvellous octet under Alan Barnes’ leadership and create a magical space for a couple of hours in which their music and my words commingle to make something special happen. And then we all go away. Everyone works with lots of other people. The octet is an association, a free and open musical relationship that is not limited or constrained. I’ve marvelled at how this happens in the jazz world, at how jazz musicians practise this free association, moving in and out of ensembles, fluid not fixed. It’s rather beautiful and magical. Sure, musicians gravitate towards those with whom they’ve developed a groove or a particular relationship. Of course bands form but there seems to be an openness of spirit and willingness to move freely and easily as the creative process opens up. This freedom appeals to my nature and my instinct as an artist.
Another theory, one that is based on my experience of talking to audiences and fellow musicians is that the work itself speaks loudly and is important; perhaps more important than I realised when this project began. Fish Tales is about something lost. It’s about a lost industry and a lost time. When I was writing I did not want the piece to be nostalgic or romantic. There is too much romanticising of fishing and not enough discussion of how deadly it was. However, when Grimsby, and other communities lost their fishing, nothing replaced it. This is a story that is replicated across the UK in terms of the loss of manufacturing and production that began in the 80’s and which is still continuing as the final pieces are dismantled, sold off or left to fall into obsolescence. What is left behind is poverty, worklessness and lack of hope and aspiration. I see it here in my town, writ large. There is not enough meaningful work, communities are divided and often impoverished and without massive investment it is hard to see how current trends can be reversed.
Fish Tales then is a story of what once was, what is lost forever and now commemorated in verse and music. It is a monument and an honouring of the industrial past, a recognition of what was done by the fishing community and what it meant.
At a more simple level, I just love being on stage with such an incredible calibre of musicians and part of a suite of new work which is complex, challenging, exciting and beautiful. Fish Tales is full of riches. The interplay between musicians, the dialogue between my words and the musical themes and motifs make it exciting to perform each and every time. I remember the visceral thrill when I heard it the first time, last year, the lump that came to my throat when the music swelled like the tide. I have simply never felt as fully immersed in a piece of work as I feel in this. It has set the bar and when the time comes to write something new then this is the level at which I want to work.