I can hear nothing but the birds. A small pink cloud hangs in the sky from the sun that has just gone down. Today on the farm we made 33 jars of marmalade from the oranges in the orchard. My arms ache from all the hours of stirring. Then back to the string arrangement I started at 6am this morning and have now nearly finished. It’s for a song very close to my heart – so close in fact it made me a bit teary just now.
The days and weeks are flying by. We’ve been back in the bush nearly 6 months now and it’s been one of the happiest, most creative times of my life. I’ve written string parts, guitar parts, keyboard parts and backing vocals for 24 songs. It will be hard, if not slightly heartbreaking, to choose which ones will make my next album. But at least the other arrangements are done and saved for someday in the future.
Our veggie garden is blooming despite the fact that it’s the middle of winter here. I’ve planted lettuces, pak choi, onions, leeks, cabbages, cauliflower, shallots, beetroot, carrots, silver beet, snow peas, rocket and spinach. I’m slightly concerned at how excited I was to be given a worm farm this week. The fact that I used to consider worms as miniature snakes to be avoided at all costs shows how far I’ve come since moving to Australia.
Christian has been baking the most amazing sourdough bread and I’ve started making cakes for the first time in my life. The chickens are still molting so they’re not laying that much but we usually get a couple of eggs a day. The orchard is still full of fruit, which the goats love to guzzle at the end of the day. The idea of being self-sufficient is quite addictive.
One thing that made me chuckle the other day was finding out my very soft acoustic guitar ballad ‘Start Over Again’ is being used in a Hollywood horror film. You never know where songs will end up but I didn’t see that coming!
I can’t wait for you to hear these new songs and to perform them for you. I’ll keep you posted on progress…
I hope all’s well in your world.
It’s the end of autumn here in the Obi Obi valley – the nights are drawing in and I’ve started wearing a hat and jumper. We’ve just discovered we have a rather large snake living in our ceiling, but hopefully it should be going to sleep soon for winter. I’m a bit worried it might be female and we’ll have lots of baby pythons slithering around the shack come the spring.
The seedlings in our huge veggie garden are starting to appear. We’ve only planted 3 beds for now but there are 21 other beds that need weeding and manuring with all the wonderful goat poo from the paddock. The veggie garden is about 8 times the size of our flat in Bath. The citrus orchard is full of ripe oranges, grapefruit, mandarins, kumquats, and limes. The macadamia nut trees that line the driveway have also produced a bumper harvest so we now have a large flock of very noisy white cockatoos munching away.
We’ve been working on the songs for my next album. I’ve been in my element writing string arrangements – one of my favourite things – and recording backing vocals, most of which feature a squawk from a passing white cockatoo. I have my studio in the back room where I do my meditation practice and where I can see the forest through one window and the verandah view across the valley from the other.
This weekend we are doing our first Australian gig, opening for Irish singer-songwriter Enda Kenny. The gig will be the first outing for Christian’s beautiful old double bass which we picked up in Sydney (a 14 hour drive each way).
I can’t wait for you to hear all these new songs, half of which I’ve written since we arrived here. I’ll keep you posted on the album’s progress…
I hope all’s well in your world.
At first we thought we were lucky – beautiful white cockatoos flying overhead and settling in the trees that surround our goat farm. But then they discovered our macadamia trees and the thousands of nuts on the ground. Word got round and soon we were counting fifty white cockatoos happily munching away on our driveway. The screeching and squawking starts at 5.30 in the morning and carries on until sundown. We are trying to be Buddhist about it of course but without much success. I guess patience you can only learn the hard way! They will move on eventually…
On the positive side, our shipment finally arrived having been thoroughly quarantined by Australian Customs. Having only had my acoustic guitar with me for the past 3 months, I was so delighted to have my keyboard back I immediately wrote a new song. I’m really happy with it. The trouble is my song list for my next album is getting longer and longer by the day and I don’t want to let go of any of them. Another Buddhist practice then!
Christian has now set up his studio and so once we can record something without deafening backing vocals from white cockatoos we will get to work on my new album. New songs have been pouring out of my head since we arrived in Australia and six of them will be on it. I can’t wait for you to hear them.
I hope all’s well in your world.
To celebrate World Bipolar Day, I’ve been sharing the video for ‘Over The Waterfall‘, my song about being bipolar, which I performed in Sydney last week at the awards ceremony of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders.
I wrote this song after being referred to mental health services during a severe depressive episode in 2012. When I first heard this version of the song, created by producer Nigel Butler for my album ‘Bird Inside A Cage‘, it was a turning point and I began to recover. The album was released in 2013. The video for ‘Over The Waterfall’ was made by my partner and bass player Christian Dunham. It has been shared across the world.
Just back from Sydney where I received an award for public service and advocacy from the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD) and performed at their awards dinner cruise in Sydney Harbour. Thank goodness for sea-sickness pills (I am Piscean but hopeless on boats!). It was wonderful meeting so many people who work in psychiatry all around the world to help people who are bipolar like me. Thanks to Marylou Selo for the photo of me performing on the boat with my partner Christian Dunham. My award is a massive block of glass with a chunk of lithium suspended in it which thankfully I managed to get past Virgin Australia’s hand-baggage weight check.
Now after the hustle and bustle of Sydney we’re back in our ‘real world’ of trees, cattle, horses, wallabies and bellbirds up in the hills behind the Sunshine Coast. Amazing how quickly you lose your immunity to the city. It was fun but I’m so glad to be home…
Our goats are in disgrace. They may look cute but they are in fact extremely cunning. My mother-in-law left the gate open by mistake the other day and they saw their chance… not to escape but to tip over a barrel of grain and roll it until the top came off (I kid you not). They then proceeded to gorge themselves on a hundred dollars’ worth of top-quality feed. This of course led to terrible indigestion and diarrhoea on an epic scale. They haven’t been out in the paddock since and are lounging around the dairy looking very sorry for themselves.
It’s quite hard being a Buddhist in the Australian bush. The flies are out in force because of the rain and they love dive-bombing my face. The more you swot them away the more they come after you. I’m learning it’s best to leave them be unless they are in your eyes or mouth. I am just a bit paranoid about them laying eggs in my hair (what’s left of it).
We’ve cleared out the yurt. Christian built it for my birthday back in 2004 and it used to be my meditation and songwriting space. I can’t believe the wood and tin is still standing after all the tropical storms of the past 10 years but it’s pretty sheltered by two huge lychee trees. Inside we found the debris of a decade of rubbish – old building materials and stuff piled high in boxes full of rats nests. We wore boots and gloves and thankfully no snakes were in there, only two enormous spiders that gave us both a fright. The yurt is too far gone to start using it again so the plan is now to rebuild it.
What was really lovely was finding a load of old photos from when we lived here before – all the gigs we did here when I was just starting out as a singer-songwriter. I hope we’ll be playing again in Australia before too long. If any of you have any suggestions for small venues or house concerts here please contact us.
Yesterday we went to Brisbane to buy a double-bass for Christian but came back with a gorgeous cello for me. I felt like a kid at Christmas when I woke up this morning! You can see me playing it on my Instagram feed.
I hope all’s well in your world.
Yesterday I saw my first snake. I’ve been dreading this but the fact that it was only about a foot long and we were inside the car was a big relief. I could even say that it looked sweet. (The snakeskin we found draped over the rafters on our porch is somewhat bigger but I am trying to be brave.)
We’ve been clearing the enormous veggie garden which hasn’t been used for a long time so the beds are all full of huge weeds. We can only do this either at the beginning or end of the day as the sun is so hot. We are going to start planting in the next few weeks as it gets cooler. We’re coming into autumn here now.
Coolabine is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of koalas’. There are only a few houses dotted here and there along the valley – you can’t see any from the shack, only the back of a barn in the distance. It’s part of the Obi Obi valley, a sacred meeting place for the south-east Queensland tribes who used to gather here every few years.
I’ve been writing songs on my beautiful Maton guitar which has been a bit neglected over the last few years as I got obsessed with writing piano songs. My keyboard is still on a ship heading to Australia so in the meantime I’ve been remembering how much I love playing guitar. I’ve written four new songs, one of which you will definitely hear on an album someday.
I hope all’s well in your world.
It’s 4.30am. Still jetlagged, I’ve just finished my meditation practice and made myself an enormous cup of coffee. The cocks are crowing but it’s dark outside. I can hear the sound of cicadas and the crazy kookaburras laughing in the trees. Earlier a dingo was howling in the hills that surround the shack.
After 11 years in a sterile, creatureless flat in England, we are back in the Australian bush. Here wildlife dominates every waking moment. Even if it wasn’t for my snake phobia I’d still be mindful of every step, of the spider webs lying in wait between the orange trees. Yesterday morning we were clearing up a pile of maggots. Last night I trod on a bee.
It’s getting light. The darkness fades leaving a mist over the Obi Obi valley. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here.
Hope all’s well in your world.
It’s been six full-on days of clearing, dumping and packing. It’s amazing how much stuff a one-bedroom flat can hold. I can’t believe we arrived 11 years ago with nothing but 2 guitars, a bag of CDs and the clothes on our backs. Now I want to travel light again.
2018 has been an incredible year of highs and lows. I’ve enjoyed the gigs we’ve done so much. I didn’t enjoy so much having pneumonia and dealing with Australian Immigration. But now we’re leaving for Australia in a few weeks’ time with no idea of what’s coming next. It makes me think of my favourite poem (see below).
Thanks to you all for your amazing support of my music. I will be writing songs again in my yurt and look forward to playing them to you when we next meet.
Wishing you all a very happy new year.
I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I I’m going.
And I have trained myself to love it.
Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight,
That we force our wings to unravel and at last begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to.
But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings.
You may not know where you’re going,
But you know that so long as you spread your wings,
the winds will carry you.
My ‘Meditation Mind’ poetry and song tour ended last night at the beautiful Sakya Buddhist Centre in Bristol, a gig that was possibly one of the highlights of my whole career. Thanks so much to everyone who came to see us play acoustic versions of my songs over the last month – we enjoyed it so much it may have changed the direction of my next album.
It is now 7 weeks until we get on a plane bound for Australia and move our lives back to the shack on a goat farm in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland where Shaktu Records began 15 years ago. After spending the last 10 years living in a first-floor, one-bedroom flat on an industrial main road in Bath, we can’t wait to be back in the Australian bush with space and sunshine, living in the beautiful wooden house that has replaced Shaktu (the tree trunks and potato sack walls were eaten by termites – only the roof remains).
We are going to make a new album there and then come back to the UK in 2020 to tour. I will keep you posted on dates and hopefully see you at a gig sometime then. In the meantime, if you would like any of my CDs and books, they are available from Amazon up until Christmas and afterwards, once we’re in Australia, will continue to be available to order through my website.
It’s been an incredible year. Thanks so much to all of you for supporting my music – we couldn’t do it without you. I will keep in touch and let you know how I’m getting on in Australia and whether I’ve managed to overcome my snake phobia :). You can follow me on Instagram and join my mailing list to receive the occasional email from me.
Wishing you all very merry Christmas and a happy new year.