Sunday, 17 September 2017

An Introspective on Last Night

Hi folks!

First things first, I'm well aware that I've got an increasingly large backlog of blog posts to try and work my way through. This includes two weekly roundups, a general life and times update, and a couple of promotional posts for things I really like, such as the podcast I guest-starred on, Trivial Warfare. But this is a bit different. I was at a gig last night, and it got me to thinking, about things I'd like to share here. Naturally, it's ultimately a post about me and quizzing, but it's not as quizzing-based as this blog usually is.

To start with, since it was a rare night out these days that didn't involve quizzing, I want to plug a couple of people. The night itself was the final Glasgow gig for folk singer/song writer Chris T-T. I've been fortunate enough to have known Chris for quite a few years, since my days living in Glasgow, and I used to be a mainstay at his gigs in the city. It's been a while since we've seen each other but we keep in touch via social media and I think of him as a friend. I think his music is terrific, and if you like folk music, then you should definitely check him out. 

It's a shame that it's the final gig I'll see him at, but after 20 years he has decided to move on to other things, which is understandable. This gig was part of a farewell tour, that will culminate with a couple of shows in London that I'm certain will be unbelievably good. They sold out weeks ago, I believe, which tells you something of the hype.

I was also fortunate enough to get to see another old friend at this gig, singer/song writer Jud Harron, whose fantastic voice you can check out at this (public Facebook) link. Jud is still gigging and is on the look out for more chances to do so! She's a very versatile singer, capable of belting out the big numbers and also doing quieter piano ballads, as the sample video shows.

No one has asked me to make such comments, incidentally, I'm just speaking my own mind as always. It's been too long since I've seen either Chris or Jud, which is something I'm forever saying about my friends, especially those in the Glasgow area.

It was the first time I'd been in Glasgow at all for a while actually, and the first time in that particular area for many years. The gig took place on Pollokshaws Road, a main road in Glasgow's Southside. It wasn't all that far from an area I used to live in, Govanhill, which is where I ended up parking my car after inevitably getting lost...I've never been in that part of the city except on foot. I found myself walking down the very street I used to live on, and others nearby, seeing sights that I'd almost forgotten. It felt almost surreal, and very nostalgic.

Nostalgia was pretty much the defining emotion of the evening, really, mixed in with a lot of happiness, some anxiety admittedly, and some melancholy to bring it altogether. It was always going to be a bittersweet evening in multiple ways, really. It was both the end of an era, and a reminder that that era actually ended, for me anyway, before I even left Glasgow. And this is kind of the stuff I want to get out here, and realising that means this post is going to end up fairly long-winded, probably. Oh well, nothing new there.

I used to go to these gigs a lot. I didn't do it quite as often as I go quizzing now, and as such there's no direct comparison to be made, but it was pretty much a weekly thing, more than that at times. Glasgow is a wonderful place for independent artists of every kind, with the best musicians effectively being aural poets. There were a decent number of bands and performers whom I'd go and see every chance that I got, and many was the time that I'd simply go along with a few friends to see someone whom I didn't know but who sounded like they might be good. Often, of course, someone I knew would be either supporting or the main event, but by seeing the others too it was easy to find new acts to enjoy. This scene still very much exists; it didn't leave Glasgow, I did, and I remain in touch with a few, though not all, of those I knew during this time. "This time" being the 2004-2013 that I was in that city, though I didn't start meeting any of these people until 2006 and I'd largely stopped going out by 2011. That's still almost a quarter of my life, however, and it was obviously more back then.

This was the first gig of any kind I'd been to in a very long time; I genuinely can't remember the last time I went somewhere specifically for the music. Getting there was a lot more stressful than the twenty minute walk gigs used to be; I hate urban driving, especially in rush hour in places I don't know, but I got there eventually, albeit too late to have dinner. Inevitably then, the first part of the night involved panic of a kind that itself felt oddly nostalgic.

Obviously, I've come a huge way from where I was in terms of my anxiety, but I don't think it's something that will ever leave me forever. What really struck me last night specifically, was how fine the line is between euphoria and panic. It's fair to say I did have at least one small panic attack last night, as various doubts and fears started crowding around me. These included the uncertainty about my journey home, whether my car would be okay in a less-than-great area of the city, the consequences of my not having eaten more than a couple of chocolate biscuits since lunchtime, etc. 

It's not a coincidence that moments before this set in, I was thinking about how happy I was. You see, for a long time, I was almost afraid of being happy. That sounds implausible at best, but should be understandable to anyone who has ever experienced mania. Out of control happiness is dizzying and terrifying, and can be almost as bad as depression in its own way. For much of that time in Glasgow, particularly between 2007 and 2010, I was very heavily depressed. Happiness was scary because it was fleeting, and represented a painful hope. Freedom from depression, even for only a few hours, felt like nothing on this earth, but at that time it was only ever temporary. Over time, I built up a psychological link between fear and happiness that remains in some form to this day. Breaking that link has been an important part of overcoming the anxiety that was the real issue all along (the depression was real, but to a large extent it was a consequence of the underlying anxiety, which I did not realise at the time).

So being in this environment, with old friends listening to great music in the way that I always used to, did bring with it some unwanted associations, and in the past those feelings overwhelmed me and at worst could outright ruin a night. They forced me to leave early, or at the very least meant I wasn't as pleasant to be around as I otherwise might have been. I'm still amazing and delighting people with my new-found confidence, health and happiness, and Chris and Jud both complimented me on these things in the evening. I'm smiling now at the thought as I did then.

As I said though, times have changed and I've changed, and this time, I was able to endure and overcome the negatives. Eventually the panic passed and I was still there. Before the main event of Chris himself came two support acts, both pretty good and very interesting in their own ways. Both spoke about their own struggles with mental health issues, as well as other life issues which also sounded very familiar and resonant, especially since the first appeared to be as young as I was when I was going to these gigs regularly. It was not a night for coincidences, and the fact that they turned to music to express themselves, to use their clear creative talents, clearly echoed with much of the audience. Artists don't operate in isolation of course, and I'm certain there must have been lots of other creative people in the audience who would have heard and understood.

There was one emotion though that was notable in its absence from the proceedings: envy. And this I think is where I'm really going with this post.

You see, I think I only truly realised it last night, but I really did not just admire, but envied, my creative friends, who were out there writing songs, standing up on stage to play and sing them, and even going around the country on tour, maybe making a few quid, making friends, and generally having a lot of fun all round. All while, in the background and away from the flashy events, putting in a lot of hard work writing and rehearsing in order to make the big nights possible. I was crippled by depression and anxiety at the time and it was often all I could do simply to appear at the gigs, to show support and be welcomed by people who knew me, liked me and wanted my company. I wanted to be like them, to do what they could do.

I haven't been subtle about the deliberate wording of those first two sentences: replace references to music with quizzing, and that's exactly what I am doing now! I'm writing quizzes, hosting them, participating in them, travelling around the country to do so and I've even started on competitive quizzing, thus expanding my horizons further. Capping it all, I've even appeared on an American podcast heard by potentially thousands, and hopefully I can do even more such things in the future.

That realisation made me realise how far my life has come in the last decade, and how much further it has to go. It's not been easy, with some of the hardest times coming in the 2013-2016 period at the end of my engagement and during the transition to life in Dumfries. But I'm getting there. 

I always have been a creative person, in truth, it's just that back then I hadn't found my medium. Back then, I was mostly trying writing. I am a good writer, no denying that, and my anxiety was a large factor in my failing to get anywhere with it. But it's also the social side of it, because writing is often quite an isolating hobby/vocation/job and I prefer something more socially engaged, which quizzing is. "More", not "completely" of course; I can only do my studying alone, especially as I don't know anyone I can do it with in real life, at least not practically (I know a few people who would gladly combine efforts with me if we lived closer), but yeah, writing fiction ultimately isn't for me even though I could potentially do it.

The point of that paragraph though is that I had reason to envy my friends (not that envy is good, of course), and speaking to them nowadays (not meaning specifically last night) our respective ambitions, triumphs, struggles, adventures do resonate across creative forms, so we can empathise with each other. It's fascinating, actually, and I honestly hadn't connected my quizzing to their music, art, jewellery, writing, etc until last night and today.

It's especially interesting to consider as something I'm not sure I've ever really told anyone is that the one talent I'd like to have, if I could magically pick one and give it to myself, is actually singing. I'm not a good singer, let's be clear on that. Tried it briefly in my pre-teens, yeah, no. There's evidence of my drunken karaoke somewhere on YouTube as proof that I just can't do it. But I do wish I could. I can't dance, either, but that's never stopped me, and in the rock clubs of Glasgow, dancing ability was never relevant to anything; it just wasn't that kind of music. It's a great way to express emotion, and I do benefit and get enjoyment from singing and dancing to myself sometimes. I've even imagined doing it in front of people, though even if I could sing I'd never do anything like that; aside from anything else, it would mean not having enough time to quiz!

In practice, this doesn't so much speak to an interest in singing itself but the greater implications - the confidence to be able to step out onto a stage and express myself. That was what I lacked at the time, and really wanted. It just happened that watching other people sing was what enjoyed, and still do, and I've always had a tremendous interest in making other people happy; it was especially true that back then, I prioritised the happiness of others over myself. 

Instead of doing that, or anything like it, I felt like I was trapped and my life was largely going nowhere. 2010 in particular felt like a wasted year, I seem to recall, as other than my budding (online only, at the time) relationship, I did absolutely nothing of consequence, and 2011 was much the same until I finally met my partner in person towards the end of the year. So I was going out to these gigs and hanging out with my awesome and talented friends, watching them do their thing, then coming home to auto-pilot my way through an uneventful life until the next gig or night at the pub. Of course, there were reasons for it that weren't wholly in my control, and I don't blame myself for not taking control of the situation sooner.

Going back a couple of paragraphs, to the connection between the way in which my social circle expressed our creative urges, there's also changing life circumstances to consider, of course - we're all getting older! Back then, I was in my early, later mid-, twenties and as a young person without a permanent job living in a recession in one of the most poverty-stricken cities in the whole of Europe, some directionlessness was to be expected. Nowadays, there's something of an expectation that we'd settle a bit, and we've been pushed away from where we were whether we intended to move on or not. 

Now, as I was in the early part of that period, I'm single, living alone, trying to hold things together while furthering my ambitions and while being conscious of the fact that I'm nowhere near the same level of "adultness" that I perceive society expects of me. I know a few people to whom that (including the previous paragraph) may apply, to some extent at least, and now, as then, there's comfort and reassurance in knowing I'm not actually alone in such things.

As ever, I'm phrasing in such long-winded ways now what I honestly was feeling last night. As I said, the panic I felt in the early stages of the night passed, and what I was left with was a kind of almost relaxed joy. It's the sort of joy I've been experiencing over the last few months for the first time since probably my early teens, really, before I had much understanding of what anxiety was. I had great company, fantastic music, and a flood of positive memories from past shows. As I noted to Chris afterwards, I was amazed by how many of the words I still recalled, even years after attending a gig and too long after booting up a CD. Still, I was able to sing along to old favourites, like the M1 Song, Preaching to the Converted, and Market Square.

So when all was said and done, I left the gig feeling fantastic. Let's get it out of the way: my concerns about the journey home turned out to be partially justified as a motorway closure forced an abominable 20 mile detour through some awful roads, but once I was back on the motorway I actually enjoyed my drive. That in itself is rare, as I've always hated travelling, but the thoughts rushing through my head were positive. I'm awful for self-denial, but I can usually tell if I'm actually okay or not by whether I'm living in the moment or constantly trying to keep my mind distracted with irrelevant things. 

Last night, when my mind wandered, it was to positive places. I was flooded by positive memories of gigs gone by, by time spent in the company of those there and those who weren't with whom I had been to such gigs before. I was thinking of the times I've stood up as a quizzer and shown what I'm capable of, like on the podcast when I gave some terrific answers, at the Granary when I've won £100+ on the Killer Question, and when I've travelled around the country and become the star of the show for an evening. Again, that's the parallels showing through, as now I was and am actually doing what I always wished I could. Now I'm just like them in that I'm doing something real and meaningful with my natural talents.

But my mind didn't wander as much as it might have; I was able to enjoy the evening for what it was, and what it ultimately was was a terrific send-off to Chris's time in Glasgow, that was greeted with the rapturous applause after every song that it fully deserved. His songs are very varied in nature; folk can at times get kinda samey, I'm sorry to say, but not with a professional like Chris. 

It was a mixed set filled with many classics, though not all from his Greatest Hits CD (the purchasing of which made the journey home that much sweeter). Some were clearly those previously played with his full band setup, the Hoodrats, others a capella (the aforementioned M1 Song among those), some acoustic ballads, and the equipment of the venue even allowed for his piano numbers to get an airing. I do love me some good piano music, which is part of the appeal of Jud's songs to me as well, as it happens. He finished the gig in typically contrasting style; the antepenultimate song, a fairly gentle song about writing itself, was prefaced with the expected set of tributes to his fans, supporters and collaborators. The penultimate song was a moving piano song about Alzheimer's, and the respectful crowd were so quiet you could have heard a pin drop after the final note. He ended with a self described "silly" song which brought the room to its feet, just as curfew was called on the venue.

Naturally, just because the pre-arranged curfew time was reached, didn't mean Chris was getting to leave any time soon, seeing as how half the attendees were queueing up to congratulate and thank the man. Jud and I were among them of course, and I wasn't alone in buying a CD which he even signed for me.

Well, it seems I've gone ahead and done a conventional gig review amidst my musings on journeys through life, mental health, and such like! I suppose if you read my blog, or indeed speak to me in person regularly, you're probably not surprised. I actually can't stand the sound of my own voice, so I can't say as you'd expect that I love it, but I'm a rambler despite that hate and I'm cool with that. All three acts last night did a decent amount of talking between songs too, which actually added to the appeal of the evening, since it made it all feel more personal, and never detracted from the actual music itself.

All in all it was a brilliant evening, and I'm really glad it happened for more reasons than just the incredible music itself. I do honestly miss going to nights like this regularly, and hopefully I can start doing so again at least a little more frequently than I have been; as I said, the scene still exists, and I still know people who are or want to play such nights. Words are cheap, I know, I've been saying I need to get to Glasgow more frequently for years, I know, and the practical reality is that it's harder these days, I know. But nights like this show how worthwhile it is, and seeing so many positives overwhelm the old lingering negatives make it all the better.

I'm no musician; I can't hold a note, the only songs I've ever written are parodies, and I can't play an instrument. No, I'm a quizzer, one attempting to push above and beyond where he stands now. And when one looks for the origins of that desire and ambition, if for some strange reason one ever would, it's clear that a piece of the puzzle can be found in those folk-punk gigs that were a huge and important part of my life for a good few rollercoaster years in the last decade. They were the gigs where I met, spoke and listened to the likes of Chris T-T, and I'll be forever grateful that I ever had the chance to do so. I never really thought of such times as having such an impact (even if indirect) on my own future activities, but based on the above, it can be argued that they did.

Thank you Chris, and everyone else, for last night, all the other nights, and all those yet to come.

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