Hey Now, Haenow, Don’t Dream it’s Over

You all know the song that goes “Last night a DJ saved my life”?

Well, it may be a little extreme but on 14th December 2014, an X Factor winner saved my life. OK, maybe he just cheered me up a bit in reality, but the events leading up to that night meant that winner:- Ben Haenow, will always, ALWAYS hold a special place in my heart.


*Ben on X Factor, photograph not my own.

Firstly though, let me address the fact that I do, indeed, watch The X Factor. I’m not ashamed. People criticise it, yeah there are novelty acts that slip through every now and then but we’ve got to remember, this is a ” light entertainment ” show aired at a peak time on a Saturday night. The more people talking about it, good or bad, the better. The reason I like it, essentially, boils down to the fact that I love live music. So many times in my life, I’ve been to local pubs and festivals and thought “how have they not hit the big time yet”, or ” its such a shame more people can’t benefit from hearing their voice”. X Factor has become a platform for those very people. I agree, once they hit the live shows, they get a commercial make over and are almost squeezed into a box to conform to what the show thinks they should be. There’s always the ballad diva, the novelty act, the good looking boy with the weakest voice but the voting public of teenage girls will love him. I get it, its pants. However… Remember this, these acts HAVE to sing live EVERY WEEK. They can’t hide behind auto tune. No, not all of them are good. Some look the part, put on the show, but vocally can’t keep it up. On the very, very rarest of occasions, a real talent will slip through. Although I’ve watched every series, I have only ever voted for three acts in the whole time the show has been running. Matt Cardle, Ben Haenow and Louisa Johnson. They all won. Louisa has recently really taken off, with upbeat dance anthems and a duet with Olly Murs. You’d be forgiven for thinking the other two had disappeared off the face of the earth, but you’d be wrong.

I’ve seen Matt Cardle live and his voice is perfection. This is what ex X Factor contestants are used to. Standing on a stage, giving their all to a crowd of people, live. On X Factor, they had a week to learn new songs, they understand delivering a performance. They haven’t been polished and guided through their career with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths. Since winning, Matt has struggled with drink and drug problems, something I don’t condone but can fully understand. You go from Joe Bloggs, painter and decorator, scraping pennies together to get by, to having a record contract, a tour and money overnight. The support isn’t there for them. They choose to go on X Factor to get a break. And that break is instant. Matt checked into rehab, sorted himself and came back with an understated, intimate tour and was moved to tears on stage from the support he still had. Still has. Matt’s albums are mainly self-penned. His voice lends itself to soulful, heart breaking ballads but he’s definitely capable of upbeat too. His X Factor performance of “First time ever I saw your face” was spine tingling.

Matt Cardle, X Factor 2010 winner on tour in Birmingham in 2012. Photograph © me

I was fortunate enough to see Louisa Johnson when she toured with Olly Murs this summer. This is a girl who was just 16 when she auditioned for X Factor. She was studying, rehearsing and performing live every week. That is talent.  Pure and undeniable. Her winners single was a flop and she dropped off the radar after that. That didn’t mean she gave up. Just when people had written her off, she came back with the single “Tears”, a collaboration with Clean Bandit, and firmly established herself as an artist away from the show. She’s taken a more edgy, dancey route and it suits her. This girl too, deserves more recognition than she gets. Her voice is beyond her years.

Olly Murs and Louisa Johnson in 2017. Photograph © me

These three favourite acts of mine to come from the show haven’t even had the biggest success since winning. When you look at the likes of One Direction (who were only ever runners up to Matt Cardle), Little Mix and Leona Lewis, who all have international fame now, you could easily say I’m backing the weakest links. But nope, I have my reasons. And Mr Haenow has earnt my loyalty in a way he’ll never know (unless he reads this blog of course).

So onto 2014, Bens year. From his first audition right through to the final, he was my firm favourite. He had a natural gritty, rocky voice which instantly meant any song he covered sounded different enough from the original and distinctively “Ben”. On screen he came across as a cheeky chappy, white van man, down to earth. Each week he got through he looked genuinely shocked and grateful for the support he was getting. In the final he was up against a sassy, ready made artist in Fleur East. She performed as if she was born to entertain. Firm bookies favourite. But Ben, with renditions of Highway to Hell and Cry me a River both perfectly executed, always had my vote. I always remember the judges telling him how brave he was to sing the first part of “Man in the Mirror” completely acapella, just his voice, raw and exposed.

Now, let me explain my opening comment.

My then husband used to watch X Factor with me. When I say “watch”, he did at least used to be in the same room as me. Albeit on his phone, or his laptop. By 2014, he was aware that Ben was my favourite act that series, but more often than not, he’d be down in the cellar “working” when I was having my Saturday night chill out. Our son was no longer interested in watching TV with Mum and Dad. It became my thing. Watching X Factor on my own. 

The final that year fell on the weekend of 13th/14th December. 

In the early hours of Friday 12th December, I kicked my husband out of our bed where he’d fallen asleep after telling me he no longer loved me, and left me crying downstairs. Yes, while I sat crying, wondering what the hell was going on, what this meant, what happened now… he stayed up in bed, where he’d made the statement after I had said I needed a hug as we approached our first Christmas without my sister, and fallen back asleep so deeply he was snoring. If my memory serves me correctly, at about 2.45am, when I could cry and wonder no more, I went upstairs, woke him up and told him to get out. No man could say he couldn’t hug me because he didn’t love me and hadn’t for two years then stay in our bed and fall back asleep. I didn’t care where he went. 

Since then, a lot of people have said that maybe he couldn’t cope with how he thought I was going to be over Christmas. I’ll let you into a secret. The first Christmas and every one since losing my sister, is crap. No two ways about it. The only person that saw me cry was my husband. The one person that I thought it was safe to cry in front of. The person who had taken vows to protect me. Everyone else saw the brave face. I “got on with it”. I didn’t break down often. When I did it was with him. Turns out, he thought he was being strong for me. He wasn’t. I was strong for myself and my family. He was thinking of himself. Trust me, I’m not being nasty saying that. Comments that have been made since have proved this to me. I’m not cold enough to think my sisters death didn’t effect him too. We’d been in each others families for almost 18 years. I’m not saying he’s heartless, completely. But the thing that has stuck with him the most about my sisters death is the fact they were the same age. To this day he still speaks of her death as a life changing moment for him. How he needed to change his life because life’s too short. Cards on the table, the only change he made was leaving me. And even then he said he hadn’t loved me for two years. Since before my sister passed away. 

I had to phone in sick to work on that Friday, and our son had to take a day off school. Not ideal. I hate calling in sick. I hate letting people down. When I’m genuinely ill I go into work to be sent kicking and screaming home again. Lack of sleep, infact no sleep at all meant I had to take the day off, and our son had woken up and heard it all. There was no blazing row. Just that statement and my following order to get out. On Friday I needed to see my husband and have the inevitable “what now” talk. Long story short. It was over, he moved out. Saturday 13th I was back at work. Admittedly, I found paperwork jobs to keep me busy out back for most of the day. But I was there, doing the job I’m paid to do. That night was the first half of Ben’s X Factor final. The press had pretty much declared Fleur the winner, and although I tuned in, I barely watched as Andrea Faustini was voted off, leaving Fleur and Ben going through to Sundays head to head. I was numb. X Factor no longer seemed important. My life had changed overnight and would never be the same again. Nothing else mattered.


So much did change between 2.45am on Friday morning and that Sunday evening. Although I spent a lot of the time wondering what the hell I was meant to do now, and questioning how it had come to this, seemingly out of the blue, I also took the time to think stuff through, find things out, connect the dots and discover untold truths amongst the outward lies. It really is amazing how hindsight and discovering the truth will turn a situation around. When I should’ve still been mourning my marriage, I was actually starting to feel grateful I was out of it. Truth smacking me round the face, waking me up and forcing me to smell the coffee. Struggling only with how it had taken me so long to see what was going on the whole time. They say love is blind. Love had me blinkered and resigned. The blinkers were now off.

I watched the Sunday night final in bed. Still hurt. Still licking my wounds. Still angry as hell. But already starting to see light at the end of a very instant, very dark tunnel. A tunnel which I zoomed through at break-neck speed thanks to the dangling carrot of truth at the end of it. 

Ben Haenow won the X Factor. My phone was ringing and my best friend S was screaming with joy down it. S had been there first thing the morning after it all happened. She was the Watson to my Sherlock. The left to my right. And she was there for me when I needed her. So was Ben. 

We both loved Ben and when he won, I smiled with genuine happiness for the first time in 3 days. The X Factor winner is so trivial. So unimportant when you look at the bigger picture, but Bens win came at a time when I needed a switch to flip. So soon after my marriage breaking up and despite knowing stuff I hadn’t known three days earlier, I was still having conflicting feelings. I’m not cold hearted. I didn’t instantly stop caring about what I’d lost, what I had, what I was to do now. I got stronger as the minutes passed but I wasn’t about to go out celebrating anytime soon. Bens win made me smile. And the smile didn’t feel out of place on my face at a time where most people would probably still be wallowing under the covers in bed and crying themselves to sleep.  New Years eve, which I spent at another friends house, was the real “fuck this shit I’m not crying anymore” moment for me, but Bens win showed me that I would be fine. I knew, deep down that I would be, but after being with the same guy from when I just turned 20, was I sure?

I distinctly remember my ex calling our son the next day and one of his comments was “I bet your Mum was pleased that her favourite won X Factor”.  My son sheepishly answered yeah, still feeling awkward, confused and not understanding what was going on. That moment was the start of a pattern. No matter how little or how much time passes, what I do, where I go, who I see and how I feel will always be asked of our son. Just because I’m no longer loved, the control is still needed, craved, as if some kind of invisible puppet strings are still attached to me. As the time does go on, however, it’s become easier to ignore. Genuinely, his loss. His problem if he can’t let go. All I did was love him, and want him to love me back. Lesson learnt, I’m not sure he ever truly did. 

Anyway, I digress. Ending on a happy note, its only fitting that December, the worst month of the year for me, has this year, become the month I met Ben Haenow. After buying tickets as a birthday present for S, we attended the gig, the first of his tour, looking forward to fun times with our bestie and a sing a long. We didn’t have VIP meet & greet tickets so when we got in and had a browse at the merchandise, imagine our joy to see Ben just stood there,taking time to personally greet everyone. Even when he was notified he had to go ready for the support act, he still had time to pose for a couple of cheeky selfies and indulge us with a hug and kiss. The gig was amazing. Ben sang songs from his album, new releases and very new material. He was entertaining, enigmatic on stage and his voice was as wonderful as I’d remembered. It was a small venue, and it felt like he was aware of every one in the crowd. Putting on a winners performance.

Ben was buzzing, S and I were happy.

If you read this Ben:- Thank You! I kinda love you. 

Photograph courtesy of S

Photograph © me

An Evening with U2Baby

Plans had been made for Saturday 25th March. A long overdue catch up with my best friend S. Couple of bottles of wine, prosecco possibly, take out Chinese and a movie on Sky.

A couple of nights before, another friend, L,  asked me if I was still up for a night of live music. I had completely forgotten she’d mentioned it. A tribute band called U2Baby were performing at a local live music venue. My friend L was photographing the gig. U2 had never really made it onto my playlist. Sure, the singles they released were good, great even, but they had never really grabbed me by the eardrums and compelled me to buy every album in the same way my old favourites Shed Seven and The Bluetones did. I owned a Greatest Hits album. That was all.

So, going to see a tribute act was purely dependent on my best friend. If she didn’t want to go, we wouldn’t. Its fair to say she didn’t take much persuading. Drinks and take out at mine.  Then lift into town with my photographer friends husband. Evening sorted.

With stomachs full of food and heads full of wine, a good night was on the cards regardless. When we got to the venue, my photographer friend L was already buzzing. She’d been at the sound check and assured us we were in for a great night. She was/is a fan of U2, and I knew songs had special meanings for her, good times and bad. I’ve mentioned before about an exes love of Muse, its impossible to hear someone you know talk so passionately about a band and not get sucked into the story yourself. 

Before the gig, L introduced S and I to the lead singer. The “Bono”. Introduction was brief and a little awkward. The poor guy was presented with two slightly tipsy girls when all he wanted to do was prepare to go on stage. I have so much respect for musicians. Putting themselves out there to be looked at, judged, talked about. In my early twenties I got roped into doing three pantomimes. Leading lady. Completely out of my comfort zone. I did it. I had fun, but to say I enjoyed it is a stretch. This guy and his band mates were about to put themselves on stage, through choice, and with the raw emotion attached to music they were obviously passionate about. That’s brave.

When I go to a live gig, I like to sing along, tap my foot, know the lyrics. My biggest concern about this gig was not knowing enough songs to fully enjoy the evening. Worried that not having an emotional connection to any of the songs would somehow take away from my experience. I needn’t of worried. The opening song, ” The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” was not one I was familiar with. However, the opening seconds of the song were almost like an anthem, a chant you’d hear at festivals across the fields. It gripped me and it made me listen. Added to that, the band. They looked like U2. The singer came alive, almost unrecognisable from the guy I’d met not ten minutes before. One song in and I was no longer at a gig. I was at concert. I was at a show. The second song was “Vertigo”. A track I knew. One that I liked and could sing along to. Notes and chords alike were spot on, and I forgot I was sat in a small, local venue, instead being transported to a stadium. The sound at the venue was amazing, top quality and every word rang powerful and clear.

As the set went on, I knew the occasional song, but even those I didn’t know scratched through my surface and reached my emotions. I find meaning in songs, relevance to me and situations I’ve been put in, and the ballads especially spoke of my life. L had made me aware of the song ” Invisible “, she told me that to her, it was a song written for me. Prior to that night I’d googled the song and its lyrics and could see exactly what she meant. 

It’s like the room just cleared of smoke
I didn’t even want the heart you broke
It’s yours to keep
You just might need one

Very few people know the extent of what I’ve had to endure over the last two years. L does. S does. And hearing U2Baby perform this song, it felt as if they did too. My story, sung to a roomful of people. The vocals of lead singer Ric Peace sent shivers down my spine when he hit notes that seemed impossible while belting out poetic lyrics that had somehow passed me by the first time around. I hung on his every word.

The accompanying music was polished and professional, you could tell these guys put a lot of effort into sound quality. Every guitar strum and drumbeat resonated with me on a level I didn’t know I had. 

By the time “Where The Streets Have No Name” was played, I could no longer sit still. I dragged S onto the dancefloor, singing away. I couldn’t help but notice a couple of obvious dedicated U2 fans , centre stage on the dancefloor. Guys that knew every word to every song. And they were loving it. Testament indeed to the quality of the performance we were all being treated to. 

It wasn’t until after the show that I discovered the venue was nowhere near full capacity. My memory of the night was very different. Every single person in that room, for me at least, created the atmosphere of a huge crowd. The kind of crowd U2Baby deserve. 

L and I made it our mission to get the guys back to our hometown. As a result I’ve had the pleasure of talking to frontman Ric, and discovering that his passion to not only recreate the sound of U2, but also the look and experience, runs deep. From props, lighting and sound effects, these guys might as well be the real deal. They have their own sound engineer, Matt Rogers, who plays a critical part in getting the U2 sound down to a tee. Matt, I salute you. Job well done. 

My CD collection has grown, purely down to how they have sold songs to me. I’m converted. And our mission succeeded.

Saturday 5th May 2018.

U2Baby will return.

Stay informed and join the group.  
I should thank U2 for a new life soundtrack. I should, but I can’t. U2 weren’t there for me in the early days as I chose to lean on lyrics from my old favourites. Instead, I must thank U2Baby for introducing me to  the music of U2.  Some songs I have only heard performed by Ric, Simon, Jon and Ash.

Guys, thank you.

I fell in love that night.

Photos courtesy of Lissywitch Photos

Eternal Sunshine of the Irrational Mind

Its quite stressful living in my head, but it certainly isn’t boring.


I thought I was getting over the being paranoid stage of my life, truly, I really thought that not caring what insignificant people thought about me was a huge step towards freeing my mind of overpowering thoughts that everyone is out to get me. 

Turns out I was wrong. I’m still paranoid. However, I’ve now decided that being paranoid isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a lot of ways, feeling paranoia shows you care. You worry if you’ve said the wrong thing because you don’t want to upset someone. You worry if you don’t hear from someone because you couldn’t stand for them to not be a part of your life. You automatically think a visit from the area manager will result in a telling off because you want to do a good job and show that you are capable. Us paranoid people, we care. A lot. Its funny, as over the last three years I’ve become the strongest possible version of myself, and for some reason I want people to see I’m OK. That doesn’t mean I don’t wobble. I’ve mentioned it in a previous blog, I have my moments. Usually behind closed doors, but more recently, I’ve decided to let those few people I trust into my head to talk sense into me. 

A little under two weeks ago, my other half went on a holiday with 21 members of his family and extended family. It had been arranged before we met, however I was invited. Due to it being so close to my sons 13th birthday, on top of having him with me all summer and having two dogs, I had to decline. I was gutted. A holiday was exactly what I needed. I saw my partner on the Tuesday before he went on the Friday. With a promise to keep in touch while away, I knew I’d miss him like crazy, but didn’t doubt for a second that our routine of daily texts and wishing each other morning and goodnight would not stop. I planned a little mini break with my son to coincide with him being away. We both needed a change of scenery and my son deserved not to have his mum moping around the house missing someone. 

I had texts when he stopped for a break on the journey down there, a goodnight that night. Even though we wouldn’t of seen each other at a weekend if we had both been at work, I missed him because I knew how long it would be till I next saw him. Contact continued throughout the weekend. Early Sunday evening, I heard from him and he ended the text “HK xx”. Hugs and Kisses. That night I wished him goodnight and took myself up to bed to read for a bit. When I was ready to sleep, I checked my phone. No reply. Knowing he’d had a busy couple of days and how his hypothyroidism effects him, I was certain my Darling had crashed out fast asleep. Not being at work myself meant I had a good lie in on the Monday morning, so when I checked my phone I expected a text telling me what I’d suspected and his plans for that day. Nothing. This is where my silly silly paranoia kicked in. It was irrational. The last text I’d got from him was nice, even a little soppy. You can’t even imagine where my mind took me. And that’s the thing, I know I’m stupid. I just can’t stop myself. I always think the worst. I sent him a morning text but by late afternoon it was clear I wasn’t gonna hear from him. Maybe he’d forgotten his charger?  Nope, that was the last thing I reminded him. Perhaps there was no signal? He’s been texting from the cottage since he arrived Friday so there’s at least signal there. He’s broken/lost his phone? He’s a man, he wouldn’t have my number written down anywhere, how’s he gonna contact me when he’s back? He’s met someone.. (Yes, my mind really went there) You stupid woman, he’s with family, including his mum who has met and likes you!! Its stupid. Its irrational. I know this! The guy means so much to me that the thought of him possibly not wanting to talk to me hurt, even though it realistically wasn’t the case. As Monday evening loomed, the more paranoid I got. As silly as it sounds, in a year of knowing each other we had NEVER gone over 24 hours without contact. My son and I were due to go away the next day and although for his sake I knew I should’ve been packing and encouraging him to do the same, acting excited, talking about our plans for the next two days , I just couldn’t summon up the required attitude. In my head, my other half was done with me. I phoned my mum who in no uncertain terms told me what I already knew, don’t be ridiculous. I messaged one of my best friends, she told me to enjoy my time away with my son and do silly things. I was being told very reasonable, likely explanations, yet still I was turning it back round and using “but if that was the case why hasn’t he…..” to disregard every one of them. I’ll say it again. I was irrational. Lying on my bed staring at my phone was the only option. 

As I lay there, the early evening sun fluttered through the blinds and I realised that I’d promised myself not to waste days like this. Picking myself up, putting my face on, my son and I took the dogs for a long walk to the park. We sat on the grass with two worn out dogs and I apologised to my recently new teenager for my grumpiness. I’m lucky. My son is my best friend too. I don’t need the mini violins out here but neither of us have had the best of times over the last few years. A holiday was out of the question for various reasons, but this mini break was exactly what we both needed. For him, I needed to put my reasonable head on. (For those of you as old as me, think Wurzel Gummage).

On Tuesday morning, we packed for our couple of nights change of scenery, and I choked back my unreasonable thoughts and put on my brave, sunny face. A stress free train journey, and a short walk to a perfectly centrally located hotel the other end, made it easier to clear my mind and start to enjoy my break. Still no word from the other half, but the worry about that was brushed aside like a mildly annoying buzzing fly, always there but easy to ignore with enough distraction. Resonating in my mind were the words of the good friend of mine that I had told about my concerns. “Enjoy the time with your son and do silly things”. It’s safe to say, we did have an awesome time. Turns out Bristol is a prime Pokemon Go hunting spot, and my son was able to get a Pikachu and a Mr Mime on the same day. Tuesday evening and Wednesday flew by. Trip to the zoo, harbour side walks, searching for Banksy paintings in obscure back streets, eating at the best pizza restaurant ever. Perfection, and a much needed break from my home town, the same four walls and home life. Only at night , when I settled down to sleep, did my mind wander back to thinking ” what if?”.

Thursday morning was our last there, and we decided to go all out and have the full on all you can eat buffet breakfast offered at the hotel.As we didn’t have to check out of our room until midday, we ate early and headed back up to the town to do some more shopping without our heavy bags. By now I had resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t do anything about my relationship situation until at least Friday when he was due back, so for the first time ever, my paranoid little brain gave up the worrying and just got on with having a great time. Now, have you ever heard the saying “the moment you stop looking for something, that’s when you’ll find it”? Or, when you’re trying to remember a name, or a song, or a film but give up and then randomly remember it long after the conversation about it took place? Well, I’ve decided that’s how my brain and fate work together. When I finally stopped consciously worrying, my phone started to glow alerting me to a text. Didn’t recognise number. What followed was a garbled text apologising for lack of signal and gratefully being able to borrow someone’s phone to text me and affirmation that he was looking forward to seeing me. If I hadn’t felt so stupid, I would’ve laughed! Reasonable explanation, like deep down I knew there would be! 

The next day, Friday, led straight into another of my paranoid situations. Quite a few months ago, I set about starting to organise a school reunion for my school year. It had been talked about a few times but not really going anywhere, and following the success of one that had been held for my sisters year, I was spurred on to do it. Creating a Facebook group was the easiest way to get hold of everyone, and after throwing a few dates around, this one had been the one the majority could make it too,especially with the advanced notice. I didn’t have the time or resources to make it as big an event as the one my sisters year did, so I found a venue with a free function room and looked into live music for the night, toyed with the idea of getting a photographer friend along to capture the evening and , although at little cost, I put a lot of time and effort into it. As we got nearer the date, it seemed we’d have around 30 people turn up. Out of a year group of over 100, this wasn’t brilliant but I was happy enough. In the week leading up to it, people started dropping out. What had I done wrong? Did people hate me? I started posting on the group page, encouraging people to come, the numbers went up and down like a yoyo. Was I more unliked at school than I thought? I was never Miss Popular, admittedly, but did people hate me now? I was neither the bully, nor bullied. I got paranoid about how these old school friends perceived me from my online presence only! Was I the kind of person people roll their eyes at when reading one of my status updates? I’m no better or worse than anyone I went to school with, and my reason behind organising this was to reconnect with people and see where life had taken them. A celebration that we’re still here. The live music act I had lined up contacted me saying she’d been offered a slot at another gig that night, and I had to let her take it. She is way better than a crowd of 22.

On the day, the numbers went down from 22 to 19. Embarrassingly, I had to email the bar owner with final numbers. I imagined him having a chuckle. I very, very nearly cancelled. I felt like I’d set myself up for the biggest fall ever. With a few encouraging messages on the group page, I went ahead with it. Including myself, 10 people came. Each of the other 9 were lovely and it was awesome to hear all their news, aside from the fleeting glances that Facebook gives us. Its fair to say that those that came had a thoroughly enjoyable time, but there’s no escaping the fact that a lot of the conversations revolved around who hadn’t come that said they would. Now, a handful of people gave us very acceptable reasons for not coming. The rest? Well, we didn’t even get a made up excuse from them.From the few people that came, I was reassured that they were grateful and they thanked me for arranging. Until now, I didn’t reveal how paranoid I felt. Queen of the brave face, me. There was talk about doing a bigger and better one for “25” years since we left school. I’ve politely pulled myself out of organising another one. I don’t think my irrational, paranoid brain could take it again. The night ended with those few of us left standing at pub kick out time dancing the night away at a local late bar with live music. 

Live music doesn’t judge. 

Live music doesn’t think I’m a failure. 

Live music doesn’t make me feel paranoid.

I don’t know what triggered this in me, I wasn’t always like this. I do know that I am now, and I probably always will be. On the outside, you wouldn’t know unless you’re one of the few people I let in. If you’re reading this, now you know. And yes, I know its irrational. But hey, at least it shows I care.

You are what you listen to. PART TWO.

Over the last few years, I’ve made it my mission to seek out affordable live music gigs, and new music to listen to. I will never tire of my favourites mentioned in Part One, but I needed some fresh music in my life. A small music festival held in my local city often brings new unsigned bands to my attention. Walking round town one day my son and I heard a young busker singing in the street. A few months later, the same girl was singing her heart out as part of a music festival outside the shop where I worked and I was able to find out who she was. Demi Marriner has the voice of an angel and makes any song she sings into her own, giving it whole new life and meaning. Her original stuff is beautiful, well written works of art, and I wish this girl all the luck in the world. I avidly follow her journey and she deserves a big break. She truly is awesome. At the most recent Take That concert I went to, I was absolutely over the moon to see Demi performing at the Genting Arena in Birmingham before the show.
On nights out, I seek out the bars with live music, whether I’ve heard of the band or not. Nothing can beat the sound of a guitar and drum kit filling a room with their melodies. Lyrics of songs seem even more personal when you hear them sung live.

At another local festival, I first saw a band called Done By Sunrise. They are an indie-pop band, a family comprised of Loren, Scott and Jodie Howland. They are now joined on cajon by Ross Nicholls. They are captivating live performers who really enjoy being on stage and their enthusiasm is infectious. Their original tracks are catchy, personal and stick in your mind. I own their debut EP “Home”. Scott’s solo tracks have had me hooked since finding them on SoundCloud. I often see them supporting another favourite local artist of mine, “Blobbie Williams”. The best Robbie Williams tribute act you will ever see, this guy not only has the facial characteristics of the real Robbie down to a “T”, he can sing… and yes, he can entertain you. His shows are pure entertainment, and although banter and tongue in cheek jokes play a huge part, he never fails to convey the songs as they were intended. His rendition of “Angels” has me in tears.
Other bands I’ve discovered along the way include The Secrets, The Fidgets, Abby Inez, Time of the Mouth, Jasper in the company of others and a guy called Damian Matthews. Damian first caught my ears at an open mic night, people turn up to sing, or play along at a venue called The Marrs Bar and when Damian took to the stage, WOW! The songs he chose to sing were my kinda songs and his voice… Well there is no other word than wow. The next time I saw him, he took to the stage as a support act to “Take Fat”, the band that Blobbie was part of at the time, and his version of “A bat out of hell” completely blew me away. Very talented man. He reaches notes I never thought possible. Why this guy isn’t on the radio every day, I’ll never know.

Early last year I won tickets to go and see Maroon 5 in concert. I had always liked their music but winning the tickets spurred me on to go out and buy the albums of theirs I didn’t already have in my collection, including the latest “V”. One song on that album jumped straight into my top ten favourite songs, an ever changing list which depends on a variety of things, whether I’m in a relationship, who I’ve just spoken, who has recently released a new single. I also love too many albums to keep the list to just ten. “Leaving California” is a few beats faster than a break up ballad and the chorus, to me, is almost anthemic. Hearing it for the first time coincided with my break up with the guy I met in January, and the brief time where I wanted him back. Enthused with a new love for Adam Levines silky vocals telling my love stories, I eagerly awaited the concert. I wasn’t disappointed. The show two nights before had been cancelled due to Adams voice going after a throat infection, but despite not being 100%, the sheer determination of him wanting to please the fans was clear. Although he held back on some of the bigger notes, he wasn’t going to let us walk away without a top performance. True professional. True lover of music.


However, only one band, that was introduced to me in May last year, have reached the same playlist level as Shed Seven and The Bluetones. This band actually formed back in 1994, but only really hit the mainstream music scene in 1999, and although I could probably name a handful of their songs, they had gone under my radar.
The musician I started dating in May was in a Muse tribute band. He lived and breathed Muse, and it was impossible to not be drawn into their music. The first album I introduced into my vast music collection was their most recent, Drones. I first listened to it in the kitchen whilst washing up and cooking tea. For me, and from past experience, if an album doesn’t grab me on the first listen, it gets discarded to a shelf to gather dust. Drones didn’t grab me. However, like I said, you can’t be around someone who speaks with such passion about the lyrics, taps out the drum beats, raves about Matt Bellamys voice and not “listen”. So that’s what I did. Armed with a glass of wine, I headed up to my bedroom on one of those rare nights alone, and put Drones on. I have never, and I mean never, had such a drastic change of opinion when it comes to music before. I either like it, or I don’t. There’s no “it’s ok”, and there’s certainly no “it’ll grow on me”. I love Drones. From the ballad of “Aftermath” to the madness of “Psycho”, every single song dug its claws into me and wouldn’t let go. In the space of two weeks I’d gone from not owning a single Muse CD to having all but one (that’s since been rectified). I’d been converted. Sometimes a song means so much to me that if the situation I’ve related it to changes, I can’t listen to it again for a while. However, when the musician and I separated, I couldn’t say goodbye to Muse, not even for a day. Infact they helped me through it.

My other half loves 80s music. Since dating him, I’ve been reintroduced to bands that were around in my early childhood, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet etc. Despite growing up in the eighties and barely being old enough to remember some of the songs from back then, the classics of the decade have stood the test of time and even my twelve year old son would be able to sing along to them. Not necessarily noted for their lyrical qualities, the music held the song back then, and songs are instantly recognised before the vocals even begin.

So now if you pick up my iPod and press play, there’s a very high chance you’ll hear Shed Seven, The Bluetones or Muse. I know the lyrics to every single song. I’ve listened to them over and over again and have never gotten bored.
I’ve picked up CDs of unsigned bands at various live events I’ve been to, so there’s a very slight chance you’ll catch a song you’ve never heard by an artist you’ve never heard of.
Nothing ever gets deleted. I don’t “go off” music.
Don’t be surprised though if on the odd occasion, you’re greeted with Take That. A slim chance you’ll happen upon Aha. Or even, possibly, maybe a bit of Britney Spears. Like I say, my taste is vast. Don’t judge me!

You are what you listen to. PART ONE.

Hands up who loves music? I mean really LOVES music? Me me me! Now, I’m not musically inclined myself in any way, shape or form in the fact that I don’t play an instrument. I’ll admit I was pretty handy on a keyboard at school but playing never really grasped me in the way that it does a true musician, so I wasn’t compelled to keep it up. Listening to music though, that has taken up a large percentage of my free “down time” in the last few years. Recorded TV programmes are eating up the memory on my SKY + box and I end up deleting a whole series of a show I used to love as I just don’t watch much television anymore. I’m going to throw it out there and say, I actually wouldn’t miss it if I didn’t have one. On those beautiful and rare occasions when I am home alone, I much prefer to pump up the volume on one of my favourite CDs, or dust off the vinyl in preference to channel surfing and watching rubbish. Music speaks to me.

I have this talent of really listening to the words of a song and making it relevant to certain people and situations in my life. Once that link is made, it remains, and that song will forever remind me of that person or time. I guess in a way, we all do that. Couples often refer to “our song”, this being the song that they most likely chose to be there first dance at their wedding. Words that spill out into the atmosphere telling their very own love story. A song that contains a phrase that they perhaps use themselves and can relate to on a much more personal level. At work last year we had a conversation about who would play us in a movie of our lives. At the same time I was compiling the soundtrack in my head, knowing exactly which songs would mark which point in my journey.
Growing up, my parents bought me my first “music system”. Double tape deck, radio and a record player on top. At the time this was probably top of the range. My sister and I would sit listening to the Radio One top 40 charts with our finger hovering over the record button on the tape deck to catch our favourite songs. No apologies to be made here, but I was once a young teenage girl, and I have no shame in admitting that boy bands and “pop” ruled my life. Most old school friends of mine will have vivid memories of me being a Bros fan, a Brosette as we liked to be called. My love for music went a lot deeper than they ever knew. As children we are judged. If I’m honest, I think I was actually teased quite a bit. However, I liked what I liked and didn’t care. It wasn’t just the attraction of the blue eyed, blond haired twins from Lewisham (although, ladies, have you seen Matt Goss at the age of 47? Wow), but I loved the uncomplicated lyrics of their songs, particularly their later stuff after the third member left and strangely when their popularity had well and truly had its day. Their music matured but their fans refused to grow up with them. Then, enter Take That. I was 14, ok! I’ll admit with this one that the manufactured bubble gum pop boyband had two plus points for me in the early days, namely Mark Owen and Jason Orange. Even I can’t fool you that the lyrics of “Do What U Like” resonated with me on any kind of deep level, or that the controversial video containing footage of their naked bums being covered in jelly and mopped by a hot woman sent out a profound message of any sort. They didn’t. They were fun and they looked good. Billions of girls agreed with me. In 1991, very very early days for the band, think leather cod pieces and barely there string vests, I was lucky enough to meet them. All five autographs were gained and I was walking on air. As the group grew in popularity, they were allowed to grow in musical ways too, but unlike Bros, this time the fans grew with them. Gary Barlow unleashed his song writing talents onto the smitten teenage female population and we all fell in love again. This time, the songs were meaning something. “A Million Love Songs” won an Ivor Novello award. Gary wrote it at the age of just 15. He is now a six times Ivor Novello award winner and was appointed an OBE in 2012 for services to music and charity. Take That are now an established “man band” and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen them. They are 100% the best show men I’ve ever seen. Back in the early days, I have vivid memories of them performing a Beatles medley which involved walking along a suspended platform into the crowd. Just last year, on the “These Days” tour, they flew above the audience in a flying car. I’ll always be a Take That fan. Oh, and I’ll always be a huge fan of The Beatles, you can thank my Dad for that one.

Behind my boy band obsession though, bubbled an unassuming indie girl. A side that my fellow students knew nothing or little about. In the same year that Take That formed, a band called Shed Seven hit the music scene. Shed Seven are an Indie Rock band from York and were one of the groups which contributed to the Britpop music scene that evolved during the 1990s. They never received the degree of mainstream success achieved by bands such as Oasis and Blur, but in my eyes, were heads and shoulders above the rest. Before even listening to their lyrics, I was transfixed with their grungy, heavy guitar sound and the wailing vocals of the legend that is Rick Witter. Between the years of 1993 and 1995 I attended Art college and Shed Seven, together with The Bluetones, wrote songs that became the sound track to my life. In 1996 it was announced that Shed Seven were coming to play at a venue in my home town. My sister and I got tickets that same day. Nov 1996. We got to the front row. We got squashed, we got covered in spilt beer, the sweat from the brow of Rick Witter fell onto us. And I fell in love with live music. Rick, in my opinion, is the only vocalist I’ve heard that sounds even better live than on a recorded track. Gary Barlow sounds exactly the same live, which is a feat in itself, but Rick…. every single word is sung with the emotion behind the lyric. He feels the music, and he puts everything into it. Last year, I got to see them again. Now all in their 40s, the energy is not lost, and the classics I loved back in the 1990s still hold their own now. I have never forgotten one beautifully penned lyric by this group. Under estimated in their time but still kings of indie and lyrics to me.
The Bluetones are another lyrically wonderful indie band. I fell in love with the dulcet tones of front man Mark Morriss the first time I heard Slight Return. Most indie bands weren’t renowned for their strong vocals, most, like Rick to some degree, although that guy can hold a note, would verge on screaming or shouting, or, in the case of Liam Gallagher, sing at an almost “can’t be bothered” pitch and hold it well throughout the song. Marks voice is nothing short of beautiful. For me, hearing such a great voice singing words that I could relate to, was just heavenly. The lyrics to their songs read almost like poetry, but turn into personal anthems the minute you team them with the music and Marks voice. I have seen The Bluetones live several times, and I’ve seen a couple of Mark’s solo gigs. His vocals are flawless. I can’t help but wonder how they know about my life in order to be able to sing about it so well. I have the entire back catalogue of both bands on my iPod, and they are by far the most listened to bands on there. No other bands or artists had come close to these two. Ed Sheeran released the album “X” which is definitely in my list of favourite albums, but I listen to it every now and then. Taylor Swift (yes my music taste is vast) is probably everyone’s choice of artist to listen to when going through a breakup, or missing someone… the words to ” Wildest Dreams” will always remind me of saying goodbye to the musician alley cat. However, try as they might with their catchy lyrics and memorable hooks, no one could make me run out and buy all their albums and listen to them on random almost daily like my two indie loves. Until May 2015, and that’ll be revealed in part two of this musical blog.
I have met both Rick and Mark and I can quite honestly say, I’ve been star struck. I’ve heard you should never meet your idols because the reality doesn’t match what you imagined.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case for me.

Run a mile
‘cos all the while
You’re cramping my style
Bleeding me dry
Grab a hold
To steady your soul
And test if they’re real
All the spotlights you shone to help me
Find needles in the hay
Let them lift away
‘cos I’ve got high hopes
I believe
In the roots that keep me complete
And I’ve got high hopes
All I need
Is your hands to steady my feet steady my feet

Some words will cut you
Like the sharpest blade
I don’t love you anymore
I don’t love you anymore
Nothing is different
But something has changed
I don’t love you anymore
I don’t love you anymore
As I speak these words
I cant believe what I’m saying
I don’t love you anymore
I don’t love you anymore
I keep my thoughts in little boxes
Labelled A-Z

Some words can break the skin
And let the daylight in
I don’t love you anymore
I don’t love you anymore
Your once charming foibles
Now drive me up the wall
I don’t love you anymore
I don’t love you anymore
I keep my thoughts in little boxes
Boxes underneath the bed
Under the bed with your photograph
And the image is fading

Time has flown
You’re all alone
You’ve always known
Its never going nowhere
Act your age
Turn the page
Leave the stage
It’s time to move on
And me and you
How high we fly
We always knew
Its never going nowhere