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The Origins Of My Big Idea

photo by Shane Young of The Old School Room at St Mary De Crypt

I daydream a lot. In past years I’ve spent long periods of time dormant artistically, but there are always ideas milling around waiting for an opportunity to take root and become reality. Once they do I make stuff happen. My singer/songwriter/vicar friend Dan Pierce, who I made music with for a decade before he went off to Durham in 2010 to become a priest, once described me as the member of our band with the steely grit and determination to get the album finished.

Olafur Arnalds. Photo by Lars Hung

Last year I discovered Olafur Arnald’s Island Songs project. If you haven’t heard or seen this then you should check it out. I find his music and the way he has chosen to present what he makes as truly inspirational. Some of what I am doing with this project is so obviously influenced by his approach and, to a slightly lesser extent, his music. Nils Frahm is another musician that I admire - another influence on me and this projects. There’s also Duke Special, Sufjan Stevens, The Unthanks and The National who have exerted significant influence on my songwriting and music production practice. I listen to a lot of different music and a lot of what I hear leads to me having ideas of my own, some of which take root and result in actual music that I make and share. These artists I mention in this paragraph are the ones that I must acknowledge and recognise as shaping my own musical output over the past decade.

Gloucester, the city where I live, is really old. It’s been a settlement since Roman times, almost 2000 years ago. I grew up in the suburbs of Greater London and there was no obvious link to the past there for a child of the 80s. I’ve now resided in Gloucester for 18 years, which is longer than any other place I lived in including my childhood home. I am beginning to really appreciate the power that history has to affect a person (in my case particularly my imagination) as a result of living here.

My home is in the city centre so it’s easy to take a walk to visit all the interesting places. My mind wanders when I do so and I imagine the thousands of people that have been here before me in the buildings and streets of the city. I found myself reflecting on the many dramas that have been played out in previous centuries. Eventually I started to consider what music has been made here, in the churches, in sports arenas, performed in venues, in pubs, privately in homes and many other city locations and I realise that I really want to make music that is somehow linked, however tenuous, to the past.

I consider that I don’t want to do this music making alone. I want to collaborate and bring people into my world of music. It’s good for the soul to do things together. Collaboration is a powerful tool for improving oneself and practicing being open to other people. The majority of my closest friendships are relationships born of sharing the practice and/or appreciation of creativity together in some way. I have come to believe that friendship with other people is worth pursuing and meaningful relationships are an end unto themselves in this life. I have found, but perhaps not realised before now, that music is a generous and valuable tool that I possess and can use to help me go deep in my relationships with other people.

Having cut corners in the past and always having an eye on the outcome, I’m now also more aware of the importance of craft in good art, to take time and be full of care when making and creating. This project will give me an opportunity to push my skills and immerse myself in process, in the present.

So anyway…. I had this idea that I could arrange to make music in places like Gloucester Cathedral and St Nicholas Church on Westgate street. I would tap into the historical spirit in those places somehow and be inspired to create music. I mentioned what I was musing about to my wife Nic and, having just trawled around the city with our young boys looking out for pig sculptures, she suggested that I might make a musical trail around the city. With the trail idea in mind and inspired by the architecture and imagined history of the city I set about writing a funding application for Arts Council England’s Grants For The Arts scheme.

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