I’ve decided to ditch my usual boring blog for (another one?) something a bit more interesting (I hope.) Now I’m living in London and A Fine Day for Sailing have grown into something new and exciting, people have started asking me how I got here (including some of my bandmates!) It’s probably, if not certainly, self indulgent, but I thought I’d tell that story. Books and music are tied in together for me and both have led to my heart being broken numerous times (hence the name of the blog.) I’ve decided to do short snippets every so often, rather than long ramblings. Hope you like it! There are some interesting characters in there. It will probably read like fiction, but I assure you it’s all true. The last few years of my life have just been like that. I’m sure I’ll offend a few people, but they’ll get over it…
Part 1: The Storyteller
My girlfriend of many years had just left me and I’d not long finished humiliating myself by crying down the phone line at her Dad. I grabbed my guitar for the first time in a couple of years and wrote what was to become the song Blanket Girlfriend. That’s pretty much how it started, it really was that straightforward – well the first bit anyway. I remember looking around our big flat and wondering how the hell I was going to pay for it on my own. Instead of worrying about it, I started writing all these little pop songs, walking around with my guitar singing and imagining that I had some people stood behind me, filling out the sound. I dreamed of the perfect indiepop band with drums and strings and wind instruments maybe too. I was pretty alone. I’d moved down to Exeter to be with her, but I hadn’t made many friends. I used to hang out with my workmate Jo every now and then, for a bite to eat in town, but that was about it. All my friends were her friends, and it turned out they weren’t much interested in me without her. I wrote another song about that (I think it became Me and the Girl.) Most of my songs were about this kind of thing. It was all I knew at the time.
About this time was when I was just about to open my bookshop. It was a children’s bookshop, full of picture books, junior fiction, toys and a magical storytime room upstairs. Sarah (the girl) moved to France before I got the shop and started the renovation. I’d jacked in my job as children’s librarian to follow my dream. It was great – I did most of it on my own. I remember this one time, I was holding a giant MDF sheet for a wall when I tripped and it fell on top of me. No one was there to help so I just lay there listening to Radio 4 getting flatter and flatter. It took me 2 hours to wriggle out. Eventually I painted all the walls, put up the bookshelves and filled them with books. I should have been really excited and filled with anticipation, but I was sad about her, it kind of took the sheen off. Anyway, soon the bookshop opened.
The two most important customers that I ever had were a girl called Andaiye (I’ll tell you more about her in the next post) and Eric. Eric was possibly the most interesting man I ever met. He was 75 years old, virtually blind, a little bit crazy, but almost overwhelmingly inspiring. The first time he came in the shop was under the pretence of buying a book for his granddaughter, but it soon became clear that he just wanted the company. Some amazing facts about Eric: he was virtually blind, but still drove 20 miles along windy country lanes to get to my shop every other day; his fingers didn’t move properly because of his arthritis, but he still bought a Steinway piano and played every single day; he could barely move and walked with a limp, but was planning to build a mini-ski slope in his garden so he could learn to ski and teach his daughter (he even bought books about it and practiced in front of his mirror on two planks of wood.) I asked him how he did it all (still not quite believing he could play piano) and he told me that nothing was stronger than the will to do something. If you really wanted something enough, get your mind in order and your body will follow. I didn’t really believe him. One day I told him I wanted to play my songs in front of people, but that I was too scared to do it on my own.
The next day he bought in a cassette he’d recorded the night before. He poured us both a cranberry juice (every time he came in he bought me a box of cranberry juice – ‘it’s good for your urine flow’ and a chocolate bar, which I stored away because I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was vegan.) I nervously put it into the shop stereo and hit play. The first noise I heard was his muffled voice saying ‘recording for Matt.’ What came next changed my life. First the tune was a bit discordant – a few bum notes here and there – but then started to flow the most beautifully played piece of piano music I’d ever heard. I nearly cried. I looked down at his withered hand. He caught me looking and just smiled and nodded. “If I can do that, you can stand in front of people and sing your songs.”
It turned out he was right. I just needed to work out how to do it.