Salt and Light #3

In my first gig since December 2019 (!), I’ll be singing at St. Laurence’s Church, Ludlow on Friday 2nd July as part of the Ludlow Fringe Festival.

I’ll be accompanied by the Anne Tupeling String Quartet, local pianist and composer Steve Dunachie, as well as my long-time collaborator Martin Riley. It’s going to be so lovely to perform again, and I’ll be doing songs from my albums ‘Song be My Soul‘ and ‘The Shining Pathway‘, plus some of the new material I’ve been creating during the various lockdowns.

It’s an extra treat to be performing in Ludlow’s historic church – such an inspiring and beautiful setting. You can book tickets here. We’ll be taking all the Covid precautions necessary, and spaces will be slightly reduced due to social distancing so book early!

Ludlow is such a magical place – the pink skies at night have been really special as we move into these warmer summer evenings. Seeing a heron in the half-light at the river Teme was a real reminder to take walks after sunset! I love the heron’s symbolism of stillness and tranquility, and determination too, because of the marshes and ponds it has to wade through during its life. In Greek Mythology, the bird represents patience and is considered a messenger from the gods.

The morning after seeing the heron, I received a song from my poet friend Clare Roslington, which really brought home to me the importance of nature, and its effect on us as human beings navigating the world.

The song, The Lost Words Blessing, can be heard here, and is so worth a listen.

The Lost Words Blessing

The song made a big impact on me. It had the sense of coming home, a recognition of the importance of music in its ability to communicate emotional truth, to reflect society, and to bring attention to important topics: “be the singer and the speaker” it encourages. And the mention of the heron as that symbol of tranquility: “let the heron still your breathing”.

The Lost Words: Spell Songs is a collection of 14 songs on a CD, alongside paintings and prose by author Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris, bound together in a beautiful coffee table hardback book. The project was initiated in response to the removal of everyday nature words from The Oxford Junior Dictionary, which grew to a larger protest at the loss of the natural world, as well as a celebration of the creatures and plants we share our lives with.

Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, Senegal’s kora player Seckou Keita, and Scottish singer-songwriters, Karine Polwart and Kris Drever, were among the musicians that wrote and recorded the songs — songs about the acorn, the kingfisher and the snow hare, singing nature back to life with their exquisite voices and instruments.

I highly recommend listening and reading the book simultaneously for a perfect evening in!

This month I also read the latest book by Pope Francis, Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. Pope Francis speaks passionately about how we can make the world safer, fairer, and healthier post Covid. This is the first time I’ve read about Covid in an actual book, and not just in the newspaper and it was striking. I’m thinking a lot about the world before the pandemic and who we are after too.

The Pope explores what the crisis can teach us about how to handle upheaval of any kind, whether in our lives, or in the world at large. He also offers a critique of the systems and ideologies in our capitalist world where fear and power rule at the expense of the marginalised. He offers wisdom on the value of unconventional thinking, and gives his view on the need to dramatically increase women’s leadership in the Church and throughout society:

“The countries with women as presidents or prime ministers have on the whole reacted better and more quickly than others, making decisions swiftly and communicating them with empathy. What does this sign invite us to think about? What might the Spirit be saying to us?”

On a personal note, 1st May is a special day for me. Today is my great cousin Deborah Rickard’s birthday. Deborah died of Leukemia when she was just 37 years old, though she miraculously lived 22 years longer than the doctors predicted. She worked in espionage in the Ascension Islands, and wrote a book called “A Chance to Live“. As her namesake, I’m lucky to have been gifted her gold cross – which was blessed by a bishop in Africa while she lived there.

I recently connected with Deborah’s mother Valerie, who lost both her children at a young age, and also two husbands to cancer. Her wisdom and strength is inspirational. She inspired me to write the song Grace Go I, which is featured on my album ‘The Shining Pathway‘. By chance, she lived just 5 miles away from a women’s prison I was visiting in Gloucester – when I explained how I felt afterwards, she said, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Valerie just reminded me how many of us are so fortunate in the lives we’ve been given. Women serving sentences in prison have often suffered the consequences of poverty, traumatic childhoods, domestic abuse and sexual violence, leading to challenging lifestyles and difficult choices.

As well as working in prisons, I work as a mentor at an organisation called Artsuplift, which explores the relationship between arts practice and mental health.

I’m delighted to share with you a recording from one of my students. Simon Dunne has been taking songwriting lessons as part of a recovery programme with Artsuplift.

“Songwriting helps me to heal,” Simon told me. “It gives me a focus and an avenue to express my feelings through music. It’s more than a music lesson. It’s where I find my peace, and how I begin to rebuild my life. Creativity is a superpower.”

And here, you can listen to the song he wrote and recorded on the course about finding sobriety: Better Way To Fight. Personally, I think if Liam Gallagher or Richard Ashcroft heard this, they’d want to cover it!

Better Way To Fight

I would love to see you on July 2nd at the concert in Ludlow. Hope you can make it!

Happy Beltane.

Much love,

P.S. If you’re local to Ludlow and fancy reading either of the two books I mentioned, they can both be bought from Castle Bookshop in Ludlow’s market square.