Cheryl Beer

Cheryl Beer
Award Winning Creative Director making social change through the mediums of sound, story & mantra

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Old Dog, New Tricks? Cubase Home Tutor

Is it Possible to Teach this Old Dog New Tricks
with Cubase Training? 

I am not a technical person; computer- type things do not come easy to me. Unless I can get a grip of the basics quickly, my head wanders off to other places, places where twiddling with a mouse is the least important thing on the agenda!
So, the thought of sitting for days on end training on the computer in a stark grey room, fills me with complete dread!

Photo: Dale Dread : by Sink Swansea

And Dread is an apt word for my solution! I was on-line and Dale Dread, a musician face book friend from Swansea, sent me one of his tracks as a sound cloud to have a listen to. He messaged me in the little face book bubble pop thingy (which undoubtedly has a technical name that I will never bother knowing) and asked me what I thought of his tune.
‘Love the effect on your vox, what did you use?’
‘M8 recorded it on cubase’
‘I’d love to know cubase’
‘My m8 Mark does lessons’
‘Do you think he would come to my house and teach me one to one cos I’m a nightmare.’
‘Yeah give him a ring and tell him I sent you.’

And there we have it, the universe answering my call to become better skilled at music technology.

To be honest, I only learnt Magix Music Maker, Basic Edition because I was working with young people on a project called The Mix in the Heads of the Valleys, via Head for Arts, Funded via Reach the Heights and The Arts Council of Wales. My role was to recruit 400 young people who were not in education, employment or training, via music and the arts. Very quickly it became apparent to me that I would need to expand my repertoire of skills to be able to engage such large numbers of young people in a small space of time, so I taught myself Magix. It’s really very simple, it must be because I got to grips with it immediately.

With Fusion Inspire, I have the opportunity to expand those skills and do more creative things with music technology, offering a techno/acoustic fusion. I can either pay someone else to translate my ideas onto a more complex system, or I can learn that system myself! This old dog is going to learn some new tricks! (hopefully!)

Poor Mark, bless him, he had no idea what he was walking into! I’m bad enough at concentrating on things that are not really my bag, even when I am smoking! But 10 days into giving up, well, it wasn’t pretty!
First things first, Mark had to hump stacks of gear into my house, his computer, and bibs and bobs.

After wriggling around on the floor setting it all up (him not me!) he started the 4 hour training session.

We recorded a bit of ukulele and vocal nonsense to begin with, just to hear it back and very quickly the job was done. I have to say the sound capture was a much better quality than my old analogue set up in my studio, clear, crisp, concise as opposed to character, frayed and warm: More like a well-  ironed pair of new jeans, rather than an old pair of faded, crumpled cords.
Then we came to me having a go at the recording bit … which for me, felt a tad sterile. Sat at my computer desk, I just couldn’t feel the vibe, so if I do go for the upgrade of a Mac and Cubase then I will have to cwtch it into an atmospheric setting: patterned scatter cushions and candles maybe!
But technically, it wasn’t that hard to be honest, not once the wonderful Mark had showed me what to do. Bless him, he tried to draw me diagrams to show me how it worked the way it did, but that doesn’t really help me. If I ask a question I just want the answer, yes , no or like this. I don’t really want a diagram showing me the technical insights.
I remember when I was learning to drive one of the many instructors over the 11 years it took to pass my test, tried to explain the gear box to me, thinking it would help me with clutch control! Didn’t help at all because what happens to me during these moments, is that the person’s voice turns into the teacher from Snoopy ‘ Blah blah blah blah blah blah!’ and it’s almost as if I have metaphorically put my fingers in my ears.
So I explained this to Mark, who very calmly said, in his deep Tom Jones-esque drawl,
‘Yeah, but it helps me to explain, so  ignore the pictures and just listen.’  That told me! So I tried to listen!

At one point I asked him if he smoked. He did, so we went outside for his fag (not mine of course) and it was at this point that I realised how important smoking has been in terms of my time management, engagement with outdoors and escape from overload! I didn’t have one (honest) but I did feel better for having 5 minutes in the garden.

So,  back to the training. After I had recorded myself on uke and vocals, I wanted to see if I could get equally as good a product from Magix. I never use it for vocals only the soundpools, and I wondered if I needed to spend time exploring further what I have got already, rather than splashing out on shiny new (expensive) options.

My Individual Mainline Grant Funding from The Arts Council of Wales does not cover the cost of new equipment so if I want to upgrade I will have to pay for it out the money that is covering my time on the project in much the same way as buying stuff from your wages.

Although having said that, I think I will have a look again at the Local Initiative Fund. I was going to apply for funding from them before. They can help with up to 40% of the cost of technical equipment etc needed to enhance your business.
Here’s the link in Carmarthenshire/South West Wales but I’m sure there will be something on line for your local area too.

So, back to the chocolate voiced techno- wizard in my lounge. After the session I decided that:
  • 4 hours is too long for me!
  • I may be better learning on the job so I think I’ll ask Mark to come out and record on location with me then we edit together back at mine
  • I don’t want to spend this year agonising over new ‘technicals’ that fry my brains
  • I should have a look a more in-depth look at Magix before committing to new products because it is so easy and doesn’t cost me anything because I already have it
  • I need to think about an investment in a Mac?
  • Mark deserves a medal and is the most laid back and calm tutor ever! What a top bloke! Defo worth you booking him. He has a studio in Swansea if you’d rather go to his place, or he can come to you. If you would like further details then email me with your telephone number and I will pass it onto Mark, who will then give you a bell.

To Mac or not to Mac?
I put this post up on my Face Book and loads of responses from mostly people saying, YES MAC but some saying NO! DON’T DO IT! So what do you think?
My reckoning is that my current set up in my studio has been my back bone for 10 years but its fading and needs an upgrade. It’s not even computerised! Proper Old Skool! And although it’s a big investment it could be setting me up for the next 10 years … but I so don’t want to make a mistake! Mmmm will have a long think about it!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Disco Balls and Mother Nature

So you’re thinking, ‘What on earth have disco balls got to do with Fusion Inspire,’ right?

Well, the other night my sister, who is 13 years my junior, persuaded me (it didn’t take much, just a phone call) to go to a local night club. We love to go just so that we can dance together all night; the flashing lights, the loud music, the dancing like no-one is watching. We were stood upstairs on the balcony looking over and there were 5 hanging disco balls. They looked beautiful and below them on the floor the lights danced like ethereal fairies chasing each other across the stained and dance engrained wooden floor. It was quite magical, so I whipped out my mobile and started taking some photographs and then filmed the dizzy lights. The quality on my mobile was a bit grainy because it was so dark, but when I got home I put it into my editing package and slowed it right down and I really like it.

While we were up on the balcony, I noticed a young lad dancing. He was different to the other people dancing; youth, street, vibrant, mesmerising yet rough cut and edgy. Later on, I was stood at the side of the dance floor watching him. I must have been staring! I was thinking about taking him out of this club and filming him dancing in beautiful spots on the coastline of West Wales; he was a piece of hidden treasure I had found. I liked the idea of taking this gritty part of the coast and showing it in a different context because he truly moved beautifully, in juxtaposition to the stereotype that some might sketch because of the way he looked and where we were.
Anyways, he very politely smiled at me, the middle aged woman transfixed on his feet, and asked if I wanted to dance with him. I replied no, that I was just enjoying watching him dance. He looked embarrassed, like a child for a moment, then shrugged and got carried away again by the beat. We spoke briefly.
Throughout the week I thought about him a lot. I thought about the graffiti tags on our walls, the high unemployment of coastal towns, particularly out of season, I thought about this under belly of the coast that people tend to over look, case it should mar the beauty of their passing stay, their time out from reality. Yet, this is part of our reality.

There is a Graffiti Tag in Llanelli town that I have walked past for many years and it says ‘The Dragon Tree’ I imagined him dancing there and then cutting to him on a rock, or in the sea … somewhere you just wouldn’t expect him to be.

I went back to the club the following week to see if I could see him, and yes, he was there. This time we talked at length about dance and how it had brought light to his life. He had in the past, been involved in a drugs scene, was unemployed and has been trying to turn his life round, getting involved in community arts projects. I genuinely liked  him.
I couldn’t dance when I first came to this club,’ he said. ‘So I watched the women, danced next to them, took their steps and then made up my own.’
And what he has achieved by doing this is a very unique, joyous and captivating choreography. I told him about Fusion Inspire and he agreed to come and dance for me. I don’t know if he will. I have given him my business card and asked him to add me on face book. I have told him that I am not going to chase him because I don’t want him to feel awkward. That I have put it out there and now it’s up to him. He has said he will think about it for a few days because essentially he is a shy person and might not be able to do it out of his comfort zone.

A young woman was with him, his ex girlfriend but the 2 of them are still close friends.
‘I will get him to do it, don’t worry,’ she said, ‘he needs a push, this would be great for him.’ 
‘Don’t push him,’ I replied, ‘If it’s meant to happen, then it will. The time may not be right for him. Let’s see how he feels.’
And even if he decides not to contact me, I thank him for inspiring me because I will definitely be filming a piece that focuses on this B side of the coastline.
When I thought it through, the coast line has its own underbelly. Mother Nature is cruel when she needs to be, almost as if she can only be this beautiful by accepting some self sacrifice.

For instance, I have been doing some research this week into the Legend of the Lost Low Lands in Cardigan, and it seems that Mother Nature pushed her seas to consume a substantial part of Cardigan, some say you can still hear the church bells ringing on the sea bed, the ghost of another time, where 100’s lost their life on those Lowlands. Maybe it was Mother Nature, some say it was a drunken damn keeper who forgot his duties, or others would persuade us with tales of angry mermaids, who brought the revengeful seas in. I rather like this idea and will talk at length in my next blog about how I will fuse this myth/legend/history about mermaids into my creative production.

So, there you have it! That’s how Disco Balls led me to think about Mother Nature and her treasures. I’m starting to get a real sense of all the pieces that are inspiring me now and can feel how they fuse together … the Treasures that the children find on the beach, the dream catcher, the dancer, the graffiti, the disco balls, the night stars, the building of fires, the loss of lowlands , the wrath of mermaids … all balls juggled in the air, balanced with space in time, waiting for me to catch and place them …  while I wait for them to fall and place themselves.

Many thanks to Clive Brookfield @ Bar Luna NIght Club, Llanelli for permission to use photographs & film.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

A Friend in Need: The Dream Catcher

Sam Collins: Creative Artist

Sam Collins

Fusion Inspire will give me the amazing opportunity to collaborate artistically with some of my wonderful friends. I am so blessed here in West Wales to be surrounded by a plethora of gifted people.

Friends are precious jewels, and I think we should treasure them. Sometimes we meet people and feel sure we have known them forever and my feeling is ....  that maybe, we have! You know, when we feel that instant connection with someone; like a recognition of a friend from a time when our energy was elsewhere, we call it the past or past life because we have learnt and been taught to be linear thinkers in our culture. Time is in lines for us.

Funnily enough, I feel acutely aware today of how linear our concept of time is. It isn’t until I have started to write this blog, that I have realised how often all of what I am, impacts on the here and now. What are usually my passing thoughts whizzing through my head in nanoseconds, are now written down for me to ponder and paw over. Through re-living and extending these usually fleeting moments, I have come to realise that if the past is so inextricably interwoven with the here and now, then so too, must be the future. And then I started thinking, hang on a minute, I’m still explaining this to myself in a very linear way. What if time is not in a straight line at all! And then I started to freak myself out and decided that was enough thinking for one day! But I am definitely going to come back to that thought on a different day.

Anyways, about these kindred souls: During my journey back to re-connecting with the part of me that is now able to believe it is possible to live the dream, waking every day simply to create, I was very lucky that the universe brought to me a guru, a guide, a person that I would describe as one of the world’s true Creatives: Sam Collins. She has been an inspiration and helped me to see how beautiful it is just to be. Sam is not simply a creative artist, a dancer, a musician, a singer, a poet, she is a creative aura. Her whole way of seeing and being is creative. She doesn’t just live outside the box; she tears it up and re-makes it into something far more beautiful.

Sam Collins

If Sam stood in a field doing her thing, it would not be long before that field was full of people. Not because she had shouted for them to join her, not because she had a big poster up, just because she has the kind of special aura that draws people to her.

She is a wise woman indeed in terms of offering advice and support to others, and yet I have heard her say, ‘Why can’t I advise myself.’ And maybe this is the most difficult thing to do.

Sam is currently studying with Positive Choices to deliver ASIST training across Wales, to groups, organisations and individuals interested in Suicide First Aid.  ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) is a two-day interactive workshop designed to help prevent suicide across Wales by training "gatekeepers" in suicide prevention and early intervention techniques.  It is suitable for all kinds of caregivers - health workers, teachers, community workers, Gardai, youth workers, volunteers, people responding to family, friends and co-workers.

If you are interested in booking training why not visit (National Office for Suicide Prevention)

So how lucky am I that Sam Collins is going to create a wonderful collaborative piece with me for Fusion Inspire. I want the piece to be something that reminds me of our journey so far, but is also connected to the now and the tomorrow.

So to do this, let’s have a look back at how we both met.

                                             Sound Of Music: Wales Millennium Centre

It was at The Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. A mutual friend of ours, Fiona Winter who lives at the beautiful Pen Beili Cottage mentioned in an earlier blog, had been asked to collect a number of dancers together and bring them to the Millennium Centre. I don’t quite know how I qualified! But I found myself back stage, in the huge studio, with 100 or so dancers, all learning a Flash Mob piece to be filmed and used to advertise The Sound of Music. Our cue; Doe a Dear.

Rehearsals @ The Wales Millennium Centre

I knew I liked Sam immediately. Bit like that first day in school when you just seem to migrate to like souls.

Once we knew the routine, we ‘dressed to blend in’ and arrived at the Capital Centre in Cardiff. We were to look like 'ordinary' shoppers, all 100 or so of us; no one would know our secret until the music blasted and we would emerge from nowhere to dance like a doe in the meadow. It was exhilarating.

When we were all stood discussing what we would wear in the foyer of the Millennium Centre, Sam said, ‘Shall I come as a bag lady.’ We were in fits of laughter, ‘Yes, why not I think that would be amazing!’ And I totally meant it. Break the stereotype, make people think, I loved that idea. When we turned up on the day and Sam HAD come as a bag lady, shopping trolley and all, I knew I didn’t just like her, I loved her to bits!

Flash Mob with Sound of Music @ Cardiff Capitol Shopping Centre

Video of us flash mobbing available at this link on youtube

I didn’t see her for a good 18 months to 2 years after this until I was Creative Director of Celtic Women in partnership with Community Music Wales funded by Big Lottery and Welsh Gov.t. The project enabled me to work with and bring together 370 women through workshops in song, music technology, creative writing, storytelling; recording, publishing ... and Sam became one of the central volunteers on the project. We were soon close friends. I talked about my need to return to my creative self, she spoke of her need to become more focussed on paid work, and between the two of us, we migrated a little closer to the middle of our creative continuum.

I managed to get a few paid contracts for Sam, one as a Dance Leader with older people who had come on a residential in St.David’s with me at The Cwrt House, to learn the songs of a re-write of Carmen the Opera based on their council estate in Trevethin, for a Community Production where over 300 people took part. I was Artistic Director. Sam came and devised the Dance of the Scarves ...  and the other was a contract delivering hands on crafts to young people who have exhausted mainstream provision and are said to be dis-engaged.

Making Dream Catchers

One of the crafts that Sam facilitated was making dream catchers ... she cut the willow from her friends harvested woods in West Wales and manoeuvred it as if it were part of her own body. And it is this, the creation of a dream catcher from West Wales nature, that I think is most apt for me and Sam to work on together for Fusion Inspire because she has helped me to catch my dreams, and many others to catch theirs, and by the same token, she is helping to keep away bad dreams by offering emotional first aid to those who need it the most.

So, during my travels around the coastline, writing and filming, I will collect what I like to call ‘treasure’ beach combing for nature’s trinkets. I will drill a tiny hole into these, and then film Sam weaving them into our dream catcher. I can see her teasing that willow in slow motion ... and with film cut ins.

The cut ins will be from a film shoot I have agreed in principle with the Deputy Head of Bigyn Primary School. I am currently contracted with Night Out Scheme funded via The Arts Council of Wales to deliver the Young Promoters Project, where children become the organisers and promoters for a professional touring theatre company. We’ve got Pickled Image: Wolf Tales coming on 27th March 2012 at 6.00pm to the school. The children are a dream to work with; bubbly, enthusiastic and good fun and the staff team are so incredibly dedicated, way beyond the call of duty.

We have discussed a Fusion Inspire shoot in the Spring, where I will film the children looking for ‘treasure’ on the beach, then they will come full frontal to the camera with their found piece ...  

In my mind’s eye, I can see the dream catcher hanging in the bay window of The Cwrt House at the Living Installation during the performances next Jan/Feb 2013.

Sam Collins

Only one last thing to say and that is...
                                                                 Thank You Sam Collins!

PS: I know I said that was the last thing I would say, but I do also want to mention and thank Amie Collins, Sam’s beautiful clever, funny daughter who always manages to make me smile!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Women Build Fires! International Women's Day

Women Build Fires!
International Women's Day at New quay

Photo By Miranda Betts

I have never built a fire.
In the School Summer holidays, back in a time when 6 weeks seemed like forever, our street was its most laden with forgotten fruit; cheeky children and tricky teenagers gloriously absorbed in Play scheme, Knock down Ginger, Red Rover, and to spice things up further, on those years when the sun was kind to us, we eagerly prepared for what we knew to be the ultimate in excitement.
Huddled together ‘round the garages’ after countless games of Blocky 1, 2, 3, someone would throw it out there,
‘Shall we go camping over our fields tonight?’
We’d all run off to our different coloured front doors.
‘Quick Mum, where’s my stuff, we’re going camping.’
Off course, we couldn’t afford to go anywhere too fancy but where’s there’s a will, there’s a way. Estate kids are easily pleased. After gathering our overnight things in a carrier bag, we made our way along the dust and rubble lanes.  Five minutes later, we would all arrive at our ‘holiday’ destination.
Its funny how, as children, we grew up living by sets of unwritten roles and rules. The lads were ALWAYS in charge of lighting the fire. The girls half heartedly searched the fields and woods bringing back the odd branch and then sat together chatting, leaving the boys to it.
It seemed to us that these luxuriously lazy days would last a lifetime but this was the era of the home owner and so, the big diggers finally arrived and they built on our fields; on them, behind them, beside them, beyond them; A huge private housing estate called Jersey Farm, only it wasn’t Jersey farm anymore because farms are not full of shiny new houses.
I can remember spending literally half days at a time in the Show House pretending I lived there! Imagine being a person who could live in a house like this, with matching furniture, colour coded appliances and carpets that fitted right up to the walls!
It’s not so easy for 30 children from the street to go camping when their field has been ruined, but you can’t keep a good dog down. 
‘Get the wood. We’ll start the fire,’ the boys shouted and off we obediently toddled. We soon found ourselves on the building site; stumbling through the darkness without a torch, we only just avoided falling down a 40 feet foundation hole. We girls howled with laughter, finding it hilarious that we had nearly plunged to a sticky end. Curious, the boys came running over to see what all the fuss was about.
‘There’s loads of wood in here girls, come on and give us a hand.’
It was camp fire heaven on that building site.  Needless to say, a week later the local paper reported that a significant number of skirting boards had ‘gone missing’ and they suggested that whoever had taken them would be in big trouble.
We didn’t go camping again. The threat worked, so much so that I’m actually nervous writing this, just in case the skirting board police come knocking at my door!

Me: Filming the Waves: Photo By Miranda Betts

So, I’m wondering if that’s why going to New Quay beach, nestled into the jagged edges of West Wales to build a camp fire, watch the moon rise above the Irish sea and sing with like minded kindreds, seemed like the perfect way to spend International Women’s Day.

Photo By Miranda Betts

Miranda Betts is a dancer. She lives and breathes dance. Her speciality is creative movement and improvisation particularly with women’s groups. I will be working a fair bit with Miranda during Fusion Inspire because she will be leading the LegaC group (funded by Arts Care Gofal Celf)  This group  will be taking part in the filming and live productions of Fusion Inspire. I’m very excited about that because I really like Miranda. With some people there is a wonderful warmth about them; an immediate genuineness. Well, that’s Miranda. When she smiles, it’s as if everything will be OK.
Miranda put a group invitation to quite a few of us on face book to come and share international women’s day on New Quay Beach and I would like to thank her and her partner Hannah for an absolutely magical evening.
It dawned on me before I left that the making of a women’s fire would be a very exciting thing to film and edit for one of my film scapes for the Fusion Inspire end productions.
It was so very exciting! Arms filled with wood, kindling, paper and boxes, women scurried like ants on a mission down the narrow concrete steeply descending steps to the sandy beach.
There were huge diggers on the beach being manoeuvred by lumber jack clad drivers. They were quite noisy, but we were unperturbed as the bubbling enthusiasm of the group drowned out the machinery of modernisation.

Photo by Miranda Betts

First, Hannah and Miranda put down the paper and kindling, everyone ripping up the cardboard boxes. Then they lit it! Simple as that! All those years of the boys mystifying the ritualistic creation of the heartbeat of the camp, and actually, women build fires too! And it wasn’t even difficult with all hands on deck. Pretty soon the flames grew and as they reached into the dusk sky, the waves edged their way closer.
I filmed the entire fire from start to finish, right through to the sea taking its last lap at the embers and carrying them off on the tide. The fusion of these elements seemed most fitting on a day where across the world women were gathered to celebrate.
At 7.00pm Miranda led us in group songs. Many gatherings of women across the world had agreed to sing at this time. In particular, we had linked to a Goddess Group in Glastonbury to sing for peace.

Photo by Miranda Betts

When the tide had come tight in and the fire was no more, we gathered up everything, but the steps had been consumed by the tide. My trousers were already rolled up from paddling, so I tip toed through the wet sand that squelched through my toes. I stopped and looked out into the darkness, taking a moment to breathe. I felt alive in that moment, surrounded by the laughter and giggles of the women in the group, reassured by the rhythmic waves, and in my heart, I was 14 years old again, gathering up my things and getting ready for the School Holiday Summer Camp.

When we arrived at Miranda and Hannah’s House everyone had brought a plate of vegetarian food to share with each other and it had become a feast; plump raisons, mango based fruit salad, olives, hummus, cous cous, beautifully made with the love of everyone in the room … er … well, my contribution was given with love, but I bought it with my fair hand in the Spar rather than risk food poisoning the entire party with my cooking.
We went upstairs to Miranda’s music room, singing and dancing into the night, and there, central to the room, keeping us warm and holding the dimming light at bay, was an open fire. It felt as though the flames were following us for International Women’s Day, burning just for us, that they knew what day it was and somehow had managed to burn more brightly. But by the same token, caged in the grate, I had an overwhelming desire to lift that fire in my arms, take it down to the beach and set it free.

Since coming home, I have had a long think about the evening.
I have edited my Fire Film and it looks very beautiful in slow motion, mesmerising. I have also drafted out a sound scape framework using music technology. I am going to add found sound to this from the coast line and with live musicians for the end productions.
I have also booked into Women’s Creative Movement Workshops on Sunday 22nd April,  Cellan Millennium Hall, Lampeter, 11.00am – 16.00pm. The cost is £15/£20 for the day. I want to go so that I can feel where Miranda is dancing from, to gain an insight into her delivery because I think it will help me with the music compositions.

It would seem, that inadvertently, I have launched Fusion Inspire with a fire on the West Coast and have decided that I should have a fire ceremony next March when the funded productions come to a close and I launch all that I have created this year into the next phase of my life. And who will be building this fire? Me! Because Women build fires!

Note to self. Miranda has very kindly said that I can use some of her beautiful photographs. It is important to be respectful of another’s privacy and so I have decided not to include the ones with women in. There are people in other cultures who believe that taking a photograph is stealing the soul.

Feel free to add me as a chum on facebook!

Thanks for being on this journey with me!

Friday, 9 March 2012

A Musician's Smoke Screen: Has Mab Jones Saved My Life?

Me : Live at Plymouth Soundwaves

As we travelled, Mab Jones and I, from Dylan Thomas Birth House in Swansea to Chapter in Cardiff for her Dickensian Twist Evening, we chatted about our childhoods and how our lives had led us to where we are. Mab explained that she loved being a Performance Poet, it is what she would want to do every day of her life to the exclusion of everything else. I totally understand that feeling, it is her life force.

'Wouldn't you like to just perform?' She asked

'Mmmmmm ..... '

Mab Jones at The Story Telling Weekend
National Botanic Garden of Wales

For a time, my life was focussed on just performance. I toured furiously as part of the music machine, with management and agents but became a tad disillusioned by it and ended up running off to India to work with street children.

Me: Working in India

For me it's about balance and meaning. The most joy I get is from writing ... and then playing my songs back to my inner circle for feed back. I've never been a great lover of studio work, although needs must, and I suffer so badly with nerves that pre-performance is a struggle for me, although once I'm sat with my guitar telling my stories and singing my songs, I'm in a different place and afterwards ..

My biggest audience: @ 25,000 people!

oh afterwards! ... it feels like a constant glow of love and passion, a light that radiates from every pore, an array of orange, yellow and gold, floating, timeless, outside of oneself;  mmmm there's NOTHING else like it.

Me: Cheryl Beer

Mab explained that to increase her physical abililty to keep up with her schedule, for instance she is currently flying over to Japan! she has spent time focussing on her energy flow and levels. She wakes in the morning and goes for a walk, has adopted healthy eating practices.

Photo By Jo Day Lewis

'Oh, how lovely to have the time to go for a walk,' I think to myself and find I have wistfully said it out loud.

'We should make time, it is important.' Mab talks so quietly in the car that I can barely hear her over the heating and wind screen wipers. I have to strain my ears to absorb her words. As if she is conserving all her energy for the next 'on stage' part of her day. But in those quiet, personal moments, I totally agree with her; if you love to do something then you should do all you can to help yourself to do it ....

'So why,' I ask myself in my most stern school mistress tone, 'Why are you smoking?'

How utterly ridiculous that I ruin my voice with smoke! I know it shortens my range; I wake up as if a budgie had camped out the night in the back of my throat! Oh, I kid myself that actually it enhances my voice, gives it more character, but truth is, I have had to adopt techniques to compensate for the change in my vocal chords.

It's not that I can't give up. NO, I am actually absolutely brilliant at giving up, it's just that I am better at starting again! I have had all sorts of reasons for giving up, the cost ... so for instance, if I smoke 10 a day for 20 years, by stopping I will have saved a whopping £36,000 ... but then I think, surely I deserve £3.50 per day, and am back on the ciggies.

I have tried giving up for partners, lovers, family members, friends, pacts, lent, in fact every reason you can think of.

But this time is different.

This time, the Arts Council of Wales have awarded me an Individual Mainline Grant to focus on my own work for 12 months. That is IMMENSE! It could quite literally be a once in a lifetime opportunity and next Jan/Feb 2013 when I am touring the Fusion Inspire production I want my voice to be the best it can be.

                     Mab Jones is right!

I love what I do, I am passionate about it, and spending the weekend doing someone elses's type of poetry, really showed me how important writing songs and singing them is in my world, it is my world, it is ME! Surely I should be looking after my voice, not dragging it through a cheese grater every 30 minutes!

On Monday 5th March 2012 I smoked my last cigerette at 6.00pm and I am doing it for my art, darling! Which makes me sound like a bit of a luvvie and maybe ... maybe I am!


Me: Launching my album Snow Tracks
The National Botanic Garden of Wales

Off course the double whammy upside of this, is that through sharing her perspective on health and her art form, Mab Jones could have quite possibly saved my life, and by sharing my story with you, I hope that you may be inspired to start giving your body a better chance at enhancing your journey. We can do it together!

Fusion Inspire: Keeping up with the Poetry Joneses!

The view from outside 5 Cwmdonkin Drive

March 3rd 2012 and I toddle off for my first ever Poetry workshop. Now then, this may surprise you because over the years I have been blessed to be included in so many Creative Writing Projects as a facilitator. But in actual fact, my romance with poetry is street lived, and not a class room based affair.

I first started writing 'poetry' in free style when I was @ 5 or 6 years old. I did it instead of writing my Weekend News. Every Monday morning in Primary School I would write how our family had been ‘legless up at the Working Men's Club’ and how I had ‘danced ‘til my legs dropped off’

So my Mum said to me,

 'Stop writing that we go to the Club.'
 'But we do?'
 'Yes I know we DO, but it sounds awful! Write something else!'

So I did!

Next time we had to write our News on a Monday Morning, I wrote about a dark seedling that I had found. I tugged at it gently and it came loose in my hand. I took it home and planted it in my back garden and it grew into a black rose that entwined with all other things.

It seemed this wandering of my imagination wasn't quite what my Mum had meant!

The teacher worried that the chubby 5 year old from the council estate was ‘a little too deep’ for her own good ...

Mum went up to class, sorted it out!

I rather liked the notion that being poetic could cause such a stir! It has stayed my solemn friend since ... oh sometimes it dresses in a suit and presents itself to support others in accessing their own catharsis through workshops, but usually, it stays with me in secret, coming out late at night like a shy bush baby blinking her eyes in the dim light of my beside lamp. Together, 'free style writing and me' can float above this planet!

Award Winning Spoken Word Poet: Mab Jones

Back to the workshop, I had no idea what to expect. I knew it would be fabulous though because it was being led by Mab Jones, who is a very interesting kettle of fish, let me tell you! Her performance poetry is so clever, funny, quirky, quick and cheeky ... her poems poke their tongue at you and run, winking before they trip to the next line, re-assuring you that it is ok to laugh with them.

Her performances are individually tailored for the people she finds herself in front of, almost immediately, she can carve and cross stitch, she can paint and compose with her crafted words. It is seemingly effortless to her, it is who she is! But privately Mab seems more complex, deep and layered. When I read her history on line, it's not a 100 miles away from my own, although her coping mechanisms were different: It seems we have both experienced 'Working Class Gal in Posh Skool!' Syndrome. I think she has embraced the structure and system of language, knowing the rules intimately in order to break them and make them her own. I have admittedly, totally ignored the rules and done my own thang!

 5 Cwmdonkin Drive: Dylan Thomas Birth House, Swansea

The Poetry Workshop was at Dylan Thomas Birth House in Swansea; the co-owner, Annie is working hard and putting so much of herself into creating a place where literary souls, artists, musicians will gather and share the history that beats proudly in her heart and in the blood stream of the house itself. Recording oral history with a maid that worked at the house for 5 years whilst Dylan and his parents lived there, the place where he wrote 2/3 of his life's work, has enabled the home to be lovingly restored, with modern convenience. It is a private enterprise, Annie has put her life savings into the house, but it is undoubtedly a labour of love that she will share with the community.

Oh and the 3rd reason I knew why it would be fabulous is because we were to have afternoon tea and cake!

Now then, the wonderful Mab Jones leading a poetry workshop at the Birth House of Dylan Thomas and Cake! What's not to like! And all that £15.00. Bargain!

The Kitchen at Dylan Thomas Birth House

We sat in the front parlour at Dylan's place. This was known as the the 'best room' and he probably wouldn't have been allowed in here very often, instead his friends came on a Wednesday night to the study next to the parlour.

The Study at Dylan Thomas Birth House.
Wednseday nights, Dylan was allowed to have his friends round to The Study
Annie is going to start up a Wednesday Night Gathering soon ...

I sat cross legged on the wooden, rug skimmed floor. There were 11 of us. Nearly all the others were Creative Writing Masters Degree Students/ Graduates/Lecturers! No pressure then! The woman I paired up with had just got a 1st in her Creative Writing Masters Degree!

The Parlour at Dylan Thomas Birth House & our Poetry Drafts

I needn’t have worried though, everyone was really lovely, supportive and pretty soon we felt as though we had all known each other for years.

It was really good for me to experience life so far outside of my comfort zone. Gave me a good insight into how people might feel at the start of my workshops.

Mab explained that she didn’t feel that ‘freestyle’ was poetry (Gulp, that’s me done in and sunk) and asked us to write Noun, Adjective or Verb at the top of our piece of paper. We then had to pass the papers around the room and write the first thing that came into our head under each title.

 As soon as the words Noun, Adjective and Verb had left Mab’s mouth, my whole body started to tremble! I can’t recall ever having thought to myself, ‘I could do with a different noun there!’

 I froze!  

Not one single word would pop into my head! I think I was in literary shock! Off course, trying to be supportive, the group were re-assuring me, ‘Just write anything,’ but quite literally, I couldn’t write anything, nothing would come out!

I can remember being a teenager in class. I loved to sit by the big open 1970’s windows, especially when on the 2nd or 3rd floor. I would gaze out longingly at the shape shifting clouds and blue skies instead of starting a piece of work. It was always starting that troubled me. I would hold my pen patiently over the paper waiting for the words to flow from my head through the ink ... but they wouldn’t come. Not like when I was sat at home on my bed with my little notebook, I could write until the cows came home in there because no one was going to check it, criticise it, ridicule it. No-one could censor it, shape it ... no one except me.

And now that same hemmed in, classroom feeling had tracked me down, found me in this sun kissed Cwmdonkin parlour, where the rays teased and beckoned through the netted bay window ...

 ‘Come on Chez!’ said a little voice somewhere inside me, ‘For pities sake, write something!’ and I did, but it it didn’t feel right, just dragging out random words because they fit in a list. Great to do though! Great excercise, made me confront why I love to write in the way I love to write, what it means to me ...

We spent the afternoon  ...
Bathed in greek epistrophe, epistrophe, epistrophe
Kapowed by onamaterpier
Scribbling sets of stanza

Poetry is a metaphor
Like a simile
But not the same
Couplets of rhyming love

In the Front Room at Dylan Thomas Birth House

So what did I write ... well, the afternoon theme was Love Poetry. There were some beautiful poems crafted by the creative writers in the room, summer breeze, ocean seas and romance, but this is not what love is to me ... not anymore!

This is the draft from one of my attempts written on the day:

Love is the Officer General
Jumped up jack ass
Writhing written rules

Love  is the tortured tin solider
Tick, tick, ticking time bomb
Winning no battle; bringing war

Love is the soul laid beaten and breathless
Bathing, bereft of belief
Waving his bloodied white flag

I quite like this poem, particularly the last stanza and I think I may use it, for Fusion Inspire. I have a character growing in my mind who would link together some of the pieces I have written/found out about, based on the West Wales coast, one from today and one from folk stories ... but I’ll tell you all about that in another blog, because we need to go back to Dylan’s Parlour!

What a lovely afternoon, we giggled, we had tea and cake, we met Annie, we had a little tour of the house and we had an amazing opportunity; to share the creative mindset of Mab Jones.

Dylan Thomas Birth House

After the workshop, Mab had to dash back to Cardiff because she had organised a Dickensian Twist, a 19th Century Poetry Slam at Chapter. She had advertised the event on facebook and I had quite fancied going to read a poem I have written about Fanny Imlay, recorded on my Easy Street EP/CD with ukulele and backing vocals. I thought standing up at an Open Mic would be a challenge, push me out of my comfort zone ... but I was so tired, I decided I wouldn’t go and left Mab a message the day before.

The view down Cwmdonkin Drive

When I saw Mab at the end of the poetry workshop day, bless her, she reminded me of me, dashing off to the next thing that some idiot had written in my diary because it looked like fun but without actually thinking through the physical logistics! Seriously, sometimes I wonder if a gorilla slips into my house during the night, seeks out my diary and sneakily writes extra things in when I’m not looking. I couldn't bear to think of her on a coach back to Cardiff  ...

‘I will come tonight Mab, so you can jump in the car with me, love.’

Our trip down to Cardiff was very interesting indeed ...

But rather than digress just now, let me tell you how we dashed to Mab’s home, picked up the PA, had a quick once over with the flannel and scooted off round to Chapter. I dropped Mab at the back door where she met her lovely assistant Steve and they scurried off to organise things, while I looked for a safe place to park the car.

Chapter, Cardiff

Chapter was so alive and vibrant. The cafe was brimming with people all dressed so differently and from different walks of life. You could spot the students, the Gran and Grand Child, the family, the couple in love, the couple who can’t stand each other, and the singles! Not many of us, just a few peppered like over rich spice sparsely applied to the recipe. Most importantly, and quite unusually, I didn’t feel out of place. I queued, someone spoke to me, I got my cappuccino, someone else spoke to me, I sat, someone spoke to me ...  there were so many things happening; the cinema, the gallery, a theatre performance and Mab’s Dickensian Twist poetry Slam.

I sat on my own at the back of the side room she had hired. The chairs were lined up like at the Doctor’s Surgery, the lights were on and at the front, a rather lonely microphone waited patiently in its stand for the humans to do their thing! As a musician, I'm more used to chill out zones, where decades of hummers and strummers have carved our niche, so this new environment did feel a bit odd at first. The room was soon brimming full of interesting and colourful people who re-defined the blank canvass of the room.

I think we should work together and have a network, room for all of us, let’s not battle against ourselves, unity within –type attitude, so that's probably why I hadn't found myself at a Slam before! The Open Mic section was before the Slam and I had agreed to read my Fanny’s Tale poem in this section. As I sat and waited, I had a severe episode of cotton mouth! Every drip drop of fluid had drained from my mouth, and I could feel that my hands were trembling, which is not good when you have to hold a piece of paper steady to be able to read it! Thankfully, I had remembered my reading glasses!

I know that I am a performer, presenter, singer/songwriter, I know that I am known for my apparent confidence on stage, but this is in actual fact, my mask! The more confident I appear, the more frightened and nervous I am. This creature from planet confidence consumes my entire body and says all manner of stupid things without my permission, waves my arms around beyond my control, contorts my face, speaks in silly voices ... deep down inside little shaking scared me is whispering encouragement ... ‘Go on, you’re doing OK, just keep going ...  SMILE!’

Dickensian Poetry Slam, Chapter, Cardiff

I can honestly say that being a Poetry Slam Virgin and taking the plunge, is like bungee jumping (not that I have ever bungee jumped but how I imagine) Stood on the arc of the bridge, with nothing but a light harness and a rope, waters deep and far below, stood, legs together, arms outstretched like an angel at the mercy of the audience: 1,2,3 ... jump, float, glide ...

Everyone was very polite, bless them, they clapped and made the right noises, said kind things, but I had stumbled a fair bit as the bungee rope tightened around my throat. I really enjoyed it but not like when I perform as a singer/song writer. When me and my guitar or my uke, or hand drum do our thing together on stage, at home, anywhere ... we escape, nothing exists except the air.

On the drive home from my Mab day,  as my beetle went into M4 auto pilot, skipping merry to be returning to the rugged West, my mind traced over the events, feelings and thoughts of the day and I came to a poignant and what could be, life changing conclusion ...

You can find out more about Mab at:
Or more about Dylan Thomas Birth House at:
And Chapter Arts centre: