January 1st 2015, 7.00am. London.
One guitar, one rucksack, one wet street and one bus stop. On my way to Barcelona, Spain, no idea what would happen next. 300 euros in my wallet, the address of a monastery in my pocket. Literally, on a wing and a prayer, as they say.
The Pyrenees, blue sky, wonderful snow capped jagged peaks below. It was exciting, yes, unpredictable, a good start to the New Year. The previous night, New Year’s eve, a friend asked me what my plans for 2015 were. I’m going to a monastery near Barcelona I said. And then? He asked. I’ve no idea. That’s the best news I’ve heard all year he said.
I left London for Montserrat to shake things up a little, to create a gap in my life and see what falls into it, as a friend had suggested. The previous summer I had spent time imagining…if I could choose an artistic path, what would it look like? Well..travelling around Europe, staying in religious houses as a volunteer, bed and board, writing songs, playing and recording in European cities. That sounded good to me. Montserrat was the only one that replied with any enthusiasm. Well, I say Montserrat, Sylvia working in admin to be precise. And.. she had made a mistake. She invited me over, yes bed and board no problem, yes voluntary work no problem, a musician too? Montserrat has a fantastic tradition of music..But, in the end, the monks didn’t quite see it like that. They didn’t need volunteers and they didn’t need musicians. I had already bought my ticket, I was coming no matter what.
I came, I saw Sylvia, she apologised, it’s ok, no mistake, I needed a change, I waited. I prayed – is there a plan? Is the universe benevolent? Now is the time to find out..
Rock n’ Roll, Elvis, Cliff, The Beatles. My mother sang all of these. I listened to all the old records, the beat, the directness, the voices, the expression, the release.
When I left school, I lived in a community with people with learning difficulties in South London for a year. A fantastic year, creative, stimulating. I fell in love twice, heartbroken twice. And I discovered the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. As rough as hell. Ragged and easy, relaxed and focused. Political, funny, witty, romantic, bold, made you think, woke you up.
I went to and dropped out of university, found work in a hospital, and then thankfully into social services, working directly with people with some kind of “disability”. People – mysterious, interesting, touching, friendly, funny, and sometimes painful. Always teaching me something. Always teaching me that the word “disabled” really barely described them at all. And that there were a whole bunch of us, a great deal of us drawn to this joy of working with them, of being with them.
I didn’t start writing songs until my late twenties. I had always played guitar and sang since I was at school, but I was frequently bewildered in my twenties, uncertain, unconfident, and unsure of direction. In my late twenties I began to find my feet and to concentrate. I had had too much other stuff to deal with before then, big questions I didn’t have the courage to answer – what did I really want to do with my life? So I went through the system..it churned me out until my late twenties, then I began to settle. I found work I enjoyed. Then I began to make some great friends.
I started writing. I spent months practising strumming. I moved out of suburban Teddington into urban Holloway, north London. Eventually I started playing gigs in clubs in the centre of London.
I balanced working in social services and charities with musical ambition. I found a passion in writing songs, believing every one to be a classic. Surely, I thought, it’s just a matter of time before I am discovered. In fact I was so sure, practising my wise TV interview answers, that I was even afraid of fame!
I discovered that it’s a treadmill, the singer songwriter path. Many people have a good song or two. You could imagine them on TV with a record. I kept playing and getting people to come to unpaid gigs. You can keep this up for ever. The music business always seemed a place I could only view from the outside. I had no idea how to get inside that circle. Write good songs, yes, play gigs, yes, get experience, yes, but make money..get a record..who knows who has that power to make your dreams come true.
And so I decided to make my own dream come true.
Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.
I came to Montserrat.