Live Review: Mount Eerie

Before going to see Mount Eerie, the current name of the recording project of Phil Elverum, play songs from ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ live I would have recommended the album to almost anyone. I would have called it my ‘Album of the Year’ in that pandering way people do, trying to say that one album can possibly be the ‘best.’ After seeing these songs played live and watching the man who wrote them perform them I cannot say either of these things. In fact, I’m not sure if this is an album that is meant to be listened to.

The setting was, in a first for me, a church. I waited outside on the steps of St. John’s on Bethnal Green, alone, under a concrete crucifix. A church seemed like a strange place for a gig. Usually, it is a bar, a pub or somewhere else where there is usually live music and not congregations and knitted pew seats. In retrospect, and with the benefit of hindsight, it was a perfect place for this particular event, as I would hasten to call it a gig after experiencing it. Churches, and any place of worship, command respect, you can be an atheist or another religion, but a church has a deep and spiritual meaning to somebody. From the words in the songs played by Phil, I don’t think he is religious, but I think there was a spiritual significance to him playing in a church. Just not one I can put my finger on.

Waiting for the doors to open I was excited. As I have previously mentioned on this blog I found ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ to be an incredibly moving piece of work, and the thought of seeing these songs played live was something I was interested in seeing. As the doors opened and I shuffled through to the right of me was Elverum himself selling his merchandise and albums. Someone asks him if he wants a drink and he says he will have a red berry tea. I asked him if he had any copies of ‘The Glow pt.2’ but he didn’t so settle on a copy of ‘Mount Eerie.’ He didn’t have any change for my £20 so I told him not to worry.

I sit down in a church pew. There is a long wait as the rest of the crowd make their way in, buy their albums and, inexplicably given the venue and the tone of the evening, buy their beer and wine. The wait is almost an hour but eventually, the lights darken, and Phil walks directly down the aisle. He places down his tea, picks up his guitar and launches into ‘Real Death’ a song that starts with the line ‘Death is Real.’

It was only throughout this performance that I realised how real death could be, looking at the man who had written songs that had touched me so much struggle to make it through singing them. I realised that these songs aren’t meant for me, they are for Phil, they are for his own personal healing process. Any attempt I make at finding personal meaning in these songs is moot. This is a man mourning a loss that hopefully, I will never have to face. A man who is dealing with a reality he could never have seen coming. A man trying to make as much sense of a senseless world as he can.

The experience is mesmerising but not necessarily enjoyable. Watching Phil pour out his heart, sing with nothing but unrefined and pure emotion is possibly the most moving experience I have ever had. But it feels like I shouldn’t be there. Phil put it best as before he played his last song he thanked the audience for coming to ‘whatever this is’ and stated that he wouldn’t be playing these songs again as hopefully there would be a future with different, less heavy material coming from him.

The new material he did play seemed to be an extension, and in many ways, a reaction, to ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ new songs dealt with the continuation of his mourning of Genevieve, with a particularly haunting thematic verse about fragments of bone. What stuck with me the most, however, was the song about being flown to a desert festival to play these songs. It struck me the absurdity of what was happening, that this art that had touched people had taken on a life of its own. People enjoyed and respected the album and the songs but the whole scenario was strange. Part of me felt voyeuristic, that I was bathing in the misery of another human being for even listening to ‘A Crow Looked at Me.’ I felt awful for being there expecting Phil to sing these songs and for expecting some sort of feeling from another person’s grief. But it was an experience I will never forget and in some ways inspiring. It is inspirational that someone can carry on to any extent after the events that became Phil occurred. Fighting through songs so raw, emotional and autobiographical that it must be difficult reliving these memories on a stage with an audience looking at you.

As Phil played the last song he walked back down the aisle and sat at the merch booth. The lights went up and people started to leave. As I left I nudged him on the shoulder and thanked him. I’m not sure if this was appropriate or what I was meant to do but I felt the need to thank him for doing what he just did. For giving a room full of people what they had expected and thought they wanted, even though it was evidently difficult for him to do so. He thanked me back, I can speculate as to why, but for whatever reason he did, I don’t feel like he needed to.

‘A Crow Looked at Me’ will be put on the end of year lists. It will be ranked against other albums and placed accordingly because that is what the public wants and will expect. When I first listened to this album I gave it a rating in my head, but in all honesty, that rating is meaningless. Anything I could write about the album is meaningless. Watching Phil play, hearing these songs played live, it was apparent that the meaning this album has is Phil’s and Phil’s alone. His musings on life, finding meaning in life and such are interesting and insightful, but this album and these songs are meant for him. I hope that in the future Phil can come out with songs that he can play with more ease. I hope he has the future that he wants and deserves.


Album Review: Arcade Fire – Everything Now

What is the musical direction you take when your previous albums are all critically acclaimed classics? Most bands would not go in a direction where the lead single plays like a combination of ABBA and Rusted Root’s ‘Send Me on My Way.’ Then again, most bands wouldn’t create a fictional company that are intent on trying to maximise the band’s marketing potential after signing a 360-degree contract. This surreal backdrop to Arcade Fire’s fifth studio album ‘Everything Now’ has resulted in an insane, yet enjoyable, album roll out campaign, mixing the bands new singles with fake news articles and everything else in between.

But regardless of the information overload presented by the Everything Now Corporation, what matters the most is the new songs. The lead single Everything Now is pretty indicative of the direction the band have taken, they have fully embraced the dance vibes that they flirted with on Reflektor. Everything Now seems destined to be a set list staple, combining a magnificent pygmy flute (sampled from Francis Bebey’s ‘The Coffee Cola Song) with a sing along chorus which seems to be an attempt to recapture the magic of the self-described ‘Millennial Whoop’ from ‘Wake Up.’ It does not quite reach the emotional peaks of Wake Up, but it is a solid single.

Three other singles also debuted before the album release, Creature Comfort, Signs of Life and Electric Blue. Creature Comfort is a deceptively and deliciously dark piece of death disco. With lyrics alluding to suicide and the band’s own ability to dwell on death and make depressing music. The song is a gem and amongst the best the band have made in their last couple of albums. Signs of Life doesn’t quite live up to the previous singles, but is pretty groovy and a decent song, but nothing special. Electric Blue is excellent, showboating Regine Chassagne’s vocals to the highest note they can possibly reach. The song plays like the 80’s disco that forms the backbone of the album, but with the falsetto vocals of Regine pushing the song to another level. It is moody and one of the highlights of the album.

Infinite Content/Infinite_Content is an interesting idea, two songs which use the same repetitive lyrics about being ‘Infinitely content’ with infinite content. This is the most direct example of one of the overarching themes of Everything Now, tackling with living in the information age. The idea of accessibility and availability of everything are consistently questioned throughout the album, asking the questions about consumerism that the band asked in the promotional campaign. In an age in which technological advances mean that almost anything and anyone is accessible from anywhere the band hit on a cultural nerve about technological progress that is often ignored.

Ultimately the rest of the album can be split into two parts, before the Infinite Content/Infinite_Content duo and after. The two non-singles before that stopgap, ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Chemistry’ are pretty good, Chemistry sounding like the most disco inspired 60’s rock song put to record and Peter Pan being an interesting take on morality. I predict neither of these songs will be future tour staples for the band, but much like ‘Joan of Arc’ on Reflektor, these are solid album tracks that work well. The same can be said of Good God Damn, a moody and downbeat song which seems to allude to the Mormon upbringing of Win and Will Butler and has the existential themes that are common in Arcade Fire’s music.

The closing straight of Everything Now is where it flourishes. ‘Put Your Money on Me’ sounds directly out the Depeche Mode playbook however has the signature Arcade Fire touches that make it their version of Synth-pop. It is yet another atmospheric and lyrically dark song, but with playful synth lines. It is excellent and the purest embrace of the synthesiser that Arcade Fire have produced.

However, by far the best song on the album, ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ is the perfect penultimate song. A beautifully emotional song (That I am unafraid to admit made me cry the first time I heard it). I feel like any description I write cannot do this song justice. It is absolutely fantastic.

In the end, Everything Now will have its detractors. People will argue that it is too ‘Pop’, that Arcade Fire shouldn’t do Disco and go back to their Funeral, Neon Bible or The Suburbs sound. Like any good band, Arcade Fire continue to innovate their sound, they push the boundaries of what their fans expect and what they think they want. Everything Now is by no means a perfect album, it can get slightly repetitive at points and some songs are not ones that I can see myself playing outside of the context of the album. But it has something to say, it has a concept behind it, it is a band having fun and playing the music they want to play.

A Crow Looked at Me by Mount Eerie: Thoughts and Feelings

I have wanted to write about music for a while but I know literally nothing about music theory. It makes it quite difficult when writing, I can’t talk about the technicalities of music because to me music has always been about the effect it has upon me. To me the best albums and music have a profound effect on me that I can’t necessarily articulate. They make me feel emotions and take me to the place the artist was when writing them, and that is hard to put into words.

‘A Crow Looked at Me’ by Mount Eerie is a peculiar case. I cannot think of another album that has ever made me feel as strongly as this one has. I cannot relate to the death of a spouse; I have never been put into that horrific situation. For Phil Elverum his wife, Genevieve, died from cancer. This loss is the sole story of ‘A Crow Looked at Me’, a beautiful and haunting ode to love, and a diary of longing and loneliness.

I feel insensitive being able to relate to this album. I have never felt the extreme loss that Phil has, but I have lost. I have felt longing for something or someone that no longer exists. I have had to deal with, however on a much more insignificant scale, not being able to be with people I love. In many ways, this album being deeply personal makes it more relatable. I do not have the same stories Phil has, but I have stories of things that I miss. I can relate to him when he talks about thinking people want him to stop talking about Genevieve, as I can relate to my thoughts about people wishing I would shut up about the things and people I miss.

When looking at others thoughts on this album I have found many to say that it was an uncomfortable listen. I do not doubt this for one moment. It is certainly not an album that can be put on for background listening. It demands, and deserves, full unrivalled attention. There is not really any light that shines through this album, it is not hopeful, it is just a man trying to deal with something that fractured his world and outlook on life and nature. However, I have not found it, as some claim it to be, exploitive of Phil. There is a level of cathartic relief from sharing how you feel. I believe Phil wanted this out in the world. He wanted people to see the effect that this had on him. More than anything however I believe he wanted the world to know how much he loves Genevieve.

There is however, one solitary ray of light in this dark record and that is love. Although it is the tale of a relationship that perished too soon there is so much love and emotion devoted to Genevieve throughout the runtime of this record. The album, although about his struggle with loss, shows the absolute love and devotion that Phil had for Genevieve. One can only assume that the feeling was mutual. The love between them is what illuminates this record. It makes the loss so much more difficult to accept, but it is also what makes this album exist in the first place.

Ultimately ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ is probably not for everyone. As beautiful as it is it is very dark and is not an uplifting listen. It is also musically sparse, there is not much instrumentation on this and even then, it is used sparingly. However, as an experience, it is one that has had an impact since I first listened to it. It is one that in many ways confuses me. Part of me hopes I will never feel the strength of emotion that Phil describes throughout this album. The other part of me hopes that one day I can meet someone that I love as much as Phil loves Genevieve, that although it may hurt to lose them, that love having been worthwhile.


Album Review: Nick Knowles – Every Kinda People

You would be forgiven for thinking that Taylor Swift’s ‘reputation’ was the biggest album to release on the 10th of November. Sure, her face may be plastered on the side of UPS trucks and there may have been a lot more media coverage, but all of this pales in comparison to the tour de force of an album that is DIY SOS Superstar Nick Knowles ‘Every Kinda People.’

Cynics may call this an uninspired cash grab, an attempt of building off of the success of Bradley Walsh’s album last year but, obviously, they would be wrong. Nick, or Knowlsey as he will be referred to from this point forward, had previously signed a record deal but decided to turn it down in order to focus on his television presenting. In many ways it is unfortunate that his musical talent has laid dormant for all these years, however I believe that is a small price to pay for TV such as ‘Nick Knowles Original Features.’

This obviously a project oozing with passion, featuring no original songs but instead a collection of Knowlsey’s favourite tracks to which Knowlsey adds his own unique spin. The highlight is Knowlsey’s version of the Barry White classic ‘You’re The First, My Last, My Everything.’ Knowlsey’s raw voice makes sure every word is meant and, as the listener, you can’t help but feel Knowlsey really feels this way about you personally. This is the version of this song that Barry White wishes he had written, not relying on backing singers and harmonies. It is an emotional, haunting experience.

Knowlsey is not contempt with having just one future classic on his hands. Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ is one of my personal favourite songs of all time, a gorgeous yet cold track that stirs up every emotion in my body, whilst using the backdrop of the festive season to reflect the loneliness and depression that can be felt. Knowlsey breathes fresh life into this sombre song using his trademark growl to give his own, somehow more poignant, take on one of Joni’s best songs.

His take on ‘Your Body Is A Wonderland’ could be taken for having a double meaning, with the line ‘I’ll use my hands’ possibly referring to his most known role of handyman on DIY SOS. But Knowlsey uses his hands with great effect all throughout this album with them playing Guitar. Knowlsey plays with ease making the guitar an extension of his persona, warm, caring and loving.

Adele had made ‘Make You Feel My Love’ her own song. However, Knowlsey obviously has intentions of challenging for her crown with his own version adding formidable competition to both her and the original composer Bob Dylan. Much like every song on this album, Knowlsey makes you feel the emotions that the lyrics imply.

Ultimately ‘Every Kinda People’ is a modern masterpiece. A truly passionate and daring listen that showcases the beauty of Knowlsey’s guitar playing and voice. It is a shame that this will ultimately be compared to the lesser efforts of the likes of Martine McCutcheon, Bradley Walsh and Jason Manford. Knowlsey is an superb singer and guitarist and ‘Every Kinda People’ is hopefully just the beginning of the musical career of this modern day renaissance man.


Apologising for how much I have dismissed Jeremy Corbyn

I will be the first to admit that were it not for a snap General Election being called I would not be apologising. However, in these uncertain and constantly changing times it is only fair that when my mind changes I admit to it and apologise.

I am not apologising for what I consider to be bad leadership. I am still uncertain of Corbyn’s credibility as a Prime Minister. But what I do apologise for is buying into the media narrative of him being a bad leader. Rather than focusing on the faults in the leadership of the opposition I bought into their own scapegoat of his leadership failing’s rather than May’s. It has become apparent through Theresa May’s refusal to debate you on television that neither of the party leaders are classically brilliant leaders. A leader should be willing and ready to debate at any opportunity. They should not have to selectively filter the questions they are asked at their own press events. Corbyn has not done either of these things, unlike the incumbent Prime Minister and, to me at least, that shows better leadership than we are led to believe we currently have.

I must also commend Corbyn and the Labour Party for the policy decisions which you and your party have put forth. For the first time in my living memory the public are being a given a real choice. It is not a choice between austerity and austerity-lite but a truly different alternative. There is nationalising the railways and royal mail, policies that the public are heavily in favour when polled purely on standalone issues. The Labour manifesto sets out real and tangible ways of saving the NHS and the failing school system. As an aside I must add that I find it comical that so many people who hold the NHS dear are the ones that oppose the principles of socialism on which it was based. Corbyn’s policies may be socialistic and in an incredibly right wing political climate may be too much for the public to stomach after years of increasingly right wing government, but the whole idea that there is a credible and real alternative makes me more excited to vote than I have been before in my adult life time.

I am cautiously optimistic about this election. I am not expecting a win, but any shift of the Overton Window would be a step in the right direction. Part of me would be happy to see the Tories win this election, to watch them struggle with the mess that they have created of Brexit. To watch as the people who have turned to the Tories in the wake of Brexit realise that they have nothing in common with the party other than a commitment to reducing immigration realise they have voted to destroy the NHS and schooling they hold dear. (I do have to point out here that immigration targets by the Tories have never been met.) However, I realise that this election is important to win as five more years of Tory rule could ultimately destroy the NHS as we know it

Although you have the option of voting you do not have to use this. I say this as if you believe both leaders to be equally bad and are not inspired to vote for either or do not feel involved in politics enough to the point of being able to decide then why do so. Ultimately if you are unsure but voting based on the strong and stable mantra without looking at policies or anything else that matters then you could be voting for something that you don’t believe in, that has just been spun in a way to make you agreeable to it. Elections are crucial and people should vote, but if you don’t know what you are voting for then you could be a turkey voting for Christmas.

UKIP are not the voice of Brexit Britain however much they want to be

One of the biggest fallacies in Brexit Britain comes from UKIP. They seem to reason that the UK voted in favour of what UKIP has as their vision of the United Kingdom. They seem to think that despite only having 12.6% of the popular vote in 2015, that the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union was a resounding acceptance of UKIP beliefs and mantras. Unfortunately for UKIP, as Labour holding onto Stoke-on-Trent central proves, the Brexit vote was not out of support for the likes of Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall but out of dismay with the status quo. Much more of a protest vote against the current way of governing than a movement towards what UKIP want.

Britain voting to leave the EU has left what was essentially a single issue party, the clue is in the name here, looking and sounding a little bit lost. With the populist Nigel Farage an ever looming presence, any other leader struggles to emerge from his shadow in part because he seems reluctant to let them. Enter Paul Nuttall, a man who has tried every trick in the book to appeal to the masses, and tried to claim every lie regardless of how audacious and dark it may be. Reaching the lows of lying about losing close friends in the Hillsborough disaster was probably not too much of a jump for a man who was content in lying to the masses about the perks of Brexit.

With Stoke, Nuttall out his neck on the line as party leader in order to try and win a first seat for UKIP. Ultimately he failed, despite running a hideous campaign in which he tried to ride on the coat tails of the Brexit result. Claiming that a Corbyn lead Labour would try to keep us in the EU was a ridiculous accusation, not least because Corbyn has been ineffective in battling the May lead Brexit and seems happy to leave the EU himself. But more importantly this proved one thing, that Brexit is not as important to the British people as UKIP would have wanted to, and hoped, to believe.

The issue with a single issue party is that people know you have one primary concern and belief and the others are somehow interconnected but not as important. With UKIP this means that independence from the EU was the main concern and the implications this had on economics and immigration were secondary but needless to say would be beneficial in the eyes of UKIP. However, once the party name is achieved then what? Nationalism and appealing to patriotism is all well and good, but UKIP will be forever associated with UK independence but never seen as the reason for it.

With this in mind it looks likely we will see the relative demise of UKIP. Their role is done, they have won the argument they wanted to win and now are the manifestation of the Trump supporter in the UK. They could still mobilise, they could look to capitalise on Brexit and set themselves apart from Labour and the Tories. They could hoover up the support of the disenfranchised Labour supporter who is fed up of Corbyn and has a nationalistic streak. However, this is not what they are doing, instead they are claiming a victory that was won by people outside of their party as their own and claiming to be the voice of Brexit Britain in doing so. They never were and they never will be.

Brexit may mean Brexit, but Brexit doesn’t mean May’s Brexit

It has been a week where what the public actually voted for in the EU referendum was finally, albeit slightly, revealed through Theresa May’s 12 point Brexit plan. Finally, we have some level of understanding of what a ‘Red, White and Blue Brexit’ signifies. These twelve points, which I will not discuss in detail here as it is not the purpose of my writing, are the backbone of what May hopes to achieve through her enacting of article 50 and the leaving of the European Union. But in summary, it makes Britain defy all laws of economics and sociology and become a centre of free trade.

However, what caught my eye was that, in spite of her pathetic attempts to stop it, May has agreed to let parliament vote on this issue. Democratically elected representatives will actually get a say on what constitutes such issues such as national sovereignty and will be allowed to debate the Brexit strategy. Despite the wishes of at least 48% of the nation there will be, and probably should not be, a repeal of the plebiscite that pushed the UK into Brexit, but a debate in parliament has the benefit of vetting the leaving plan and strategy. It allows parliament to check that this strategy does work in the UK’s favour, to the best of its ability.

With this in mind, what strikes me as odd is the complete nonchalance shown by Jeremy Corbyn by enacting the party whip in making sure his MPs vote in favour of the Article 50 trigger. By saying this Corbyn is essentially saying that what the Conservative government wants to happen in regards to Brexit will happen. Corbyn is making his MPs neglect their own constituents, the members of his party who mainly voted in favour of Remain and those people who may not oppose Brexit as an idea, but reject Theresa May’s vision of Brexit.

But to me, this is synonymous of the problems that embody Corbyn as the leader of the opposition. In the wake of Brexit, the Conservative party was in disarray, the Prime Minister had to step down and there was chaos. As much as the coup within the Labour Party did not help (and no it was not just the work of ‘Blairites’ and ‘Red Tories’ there are legitimate reasons from socialists such as myself why they had lost faith in Corbyn) absolutely no effort was made to try and make political gains from the self-destruction of the Conservatives, instead Labour self-destructed too and has not rebuilt at all in the same way the Conservatives have managed to. Corbyn cemented himself as the leader, but he has done little to actually oppose.

The media are partly to blame, as always, it is hard for Corbyn to get good press when he levels himself as someone who opposes the press. But press is not the issue, as we inhabit the world in which people are increasingly accessing news that only agrees with their opinion, not once have I seen Corbyn actually pressure the Government. Brexit would be a perfect time to state what he would do differently, how a Labour Government would handle Brexit. To oppose Article 50 in the commons, not because he wants to vote against the people, but to show the people that he does not agree with May’s Brexit. That he wants a Brexit that works for the people, rather than letting Phillip Hammond speculate that Britain may become a tax haven for the wealthy.

If Corbyn so drastically wants a rebrand to a more populist image, a man of the people for the people, then he should start listening to the people because at the moment people are rejecting him. If he wants to ‘respect the decision of the British People’ then he should also start respecting the opinion polls of the British people that put him behind Theresa May. That show a growing Liberal Democrat party whose leader is actually making and pushing the point of opposing Brexit.

There is cause for hope, as much as the dreaded rise of the far right is occurring through candidates such as Trump and Le Pen, the success of Bernie Sanders in the US Democratic primaries and Benoit Hamon recently surging in the polls in France shows that maybe it is dramatic change that people want rather than Fascism and Right Wing intolerance. Corbyn surged to Labour Party leadership because of these reasons. But unlike the aforementioned candidates, Corbyn has not been able to get his message out to outside of his own party. The issue is not so much what he stands for, but getting his message across.

Opposing Article 50 being triggered would show his leadership skills. It would send a message the Media could not ignore and one that would appeal to about 48% of the nation. In a world that is looking for alternatives, it is time that Labour, and by extension Corbyn, show the UK that Brexit can mean Brexit, but it does not mean May’s Brexit.

Life Lessons of 2016

Reviewing a year like 2016 was never going to be fun. For a year that has been awful in almost every single conceivable way, ranging from my personal life to multiple celebrity deaths that shocked the world, there is not really much worth celebrating from my perspective. For some less like-minded subsections of society it has been the year of their dreams, but for people like me who plant themselves firmly on the left of the political spectrum it could not possibly have been worse. But in everything that happens there are lessons to be learned. I do not believe that everything happens for a reason, a greatly optimistic view of life but one which tries to justify a lot of suffering that cannot be justified, but I believe that we can learn lessons from life that can help us for the future. So although 2016 has been, in almost every conceivable way, the worst year of my life here are some lessons that I have learnt that give me hope that 2017 can be at least a little bit better.
People are angry with the world, and that gives hope for a more progressive change.

Politically 2016 will be remembered for two votes more so than any other events, Brexit and the victory of Donald Trump. Both were the victors of horrific campaigns fought, primarily by the victors, on a platform of fear and hatred. The demagogic caricature of a human being that is Donald Trump preyed upon an electorate that was fed up with the status quo, so perfectly embodied by Hillary Clinton, to win the electoral college and thus the presidency. He harnessed an anger that had been brewing against establishment politicians, something which was also being done by Bernie Sanders who ran a much closer competition against a Clinton than many would have expected.

So although the consequences are terrifying, Trump has already proven he has no idea whatsoever of international diplomacy, both Trump and Brexit have proven one thing and that is that the status quo will no longer do. People do not feel like the political and economic systems are working to their benefit and want a change. Thus these events can be seen as, misguided I believe they may be, attempts of the people bringing back control, taking control away from an established elite and giving it to people. How giving more power to an UK government that has constantly removed and lessened the rights of workers and has an increasing number of people working whilst in poverty is good for people I do not know, however I can see the motivation for voting such a way.

I believe that Brexit and Trump won not on political issues, but by aligning public fear and anger with their cause. The Brexit campaign prayed on frustration with employment, economics, and migration, to name but a few, and showed that these things would be better by a radical change to the status quo, something that is a lot more believable than the status quo resulting in the change that people want.

To me the status quo will not create the change that people want, but that has nothing to do with membership of the European Union, it is to do with the Tories austerity measures. It is due to companies seeking profit at the expense of worker’s rights, as seen by Sports Directs Scandals. The EU was just a scapegoat for the change people want to see, a change that will not come from the leaving of the European Union, but from a direct change to the political system. A move towards less partisan politics that people divide themselves into tribes for and a progressive alliance for common interests. A political system that people feel is and can see is working for the many and not just the few. A political system that creates the real substantial change that people want to see. People are angry with a system, politicians and a media that does not reflect them. That puts emphasis on events and topics that do not mean much to them, when jobs and economics are the main focus for many families.

This anger deserves a movement that creates the change that people want to see, rather than, to quote Will Self about Trump and Farage, ‘Grubby opportunists on the coattails of history’. People harnessing this anger for their own beliefs, ambitions and ideals rather than, working for the wishes of the people. We can learn that people are angry, and we can listen to them and see what they want to change and how they want to change it.

People are really fucking great.

When I consider my social skills this time last year to where I am now, I have made brilliant strides. I will always be an introvert, I will never really be the life and soul of the party, I will barely be at the party. I may feel like I am missing out but I am probably not or maybe I am but ultimately I would probably rather be drinking some tea and reading a good book. But over this year, and probably for the first time I can remember in a long time, I have learnt not to fear people, and on top of that most people are really fucking great.

I used to shy away from talking to anyone new, and in all honesty I still probably won’t make the first move in talking to people. However, this year I have got over my fears of casual conversation and can now talk to people a lot better. By working in retail I have to talk to so many new people a day and I now no longer fear being approached. I no longer judge people by how they look, which I feel I subconsciously used to do, and I am no longer so quick to judge people. I will always be a little bit critical but in many regards that is who I am. In the last 12 months I have met many of the, loveliest people I have ever met who I would never have even spoken to had I never been in the situation I have been in. This has not only helped me conquer my fear of people but also helped me understand others a lot better. I have met people who all have their difficulties and come from all different walks of life, some seemingly more privileged than others but all lives have their issues and those issues are relative to the person.

So on that note, I have learnt that people are, mostly, brilliant. That people mainly want the best, not just for themselves, but for others. People are not selfish, people care deeply about others and are there when you need support and help. With this in mind I am hopeful for the next year, I have made some great friends, I have rekindled some friendships that were dying or thought to be dead and I maintained some great friendships too. So I am hopeful for 2017 as I am a more confident and at peace person

Appreciate what you have.

This is not so much bound to this year but the last year and a half. I interrupted my university studies in March 2015, it is now December 2016 and my life is nothing like it was. Relationships have come and gone, my family life is completely different, I moved from buying music on CD to buying it on vinyl. The main thing is I would not say I am better off now, I would not say I am happier. If I could change certain things I would. If I could have made the most of certain situations I would have. If I could have changed my attitudes towards certain events, certain people and how I dealt with things I would have done. For large periods of this year I have felt lost. I have felt hopeless at points; I have felt like I just wanted to give up on everything. I felt like everything was going wrong, everything had gone wrong and everything would go wrong. I still don’t really feel happy with who I am at points.

I have learnt things from this, not to put too much weight on people and relationships is the main thing. That there is not a single solution to all my problems and making things out to be one is not helpful. That things I want are not necessarily what other people want and that is ok, it is not ideal for me but if it is what they want that then I have to respect that and try to move on. But ultimately what I have learnt is that I need to appreciate moments more. Looking forward to things in the future is good but those things may never happen. Plans you have, things you are looking forward to can just as easily not happen anymore. So I have learnt to appreciate what I have and the people in my life now because one day they may not be there. It may not be anyone’s fault and it may be for any reason but one-day people might not be in your life anymore. So appreciate those that you care about, the things you love and the experiences you have, because soon they could just vanish and the future becomes bleaker and less something worth looking forward to and more one in which you hope there is something worth looking forward to.

There is hope, however much it might not seem like it now

My last point may have sounded self-defeatist but in reality I have found accepting, these things to be one of the most positive, albeit harsh, life lessons of the last year. As I have said I am not happier than I was this time last year, but I am happier than I was in July. Things don’t ever have to be great, I may never be as happy now as I was this time last year. I may never have a trip I enjoyed as much as the time I went to Bucharest; I may never see a gig that is better than Kate Bush’s ‘Before The Dawn’. Time does not denote progress and progress does not denote time.

Accepting this has given me hope. Acceptance that getting older and not everything happening for a reason has allowed me to see that life is just a series of peaks and troughs and maybe I have already reached my highest peaks and hopefully my lowest troughs. Maybe I will lament forever about how great certain things were, but all I can do right now is live my life and hope things get better. That means to be proactive and try and make things better be it through my personal life, becoming more politically active and trying to make the difference I want to see or just by making the most of opportunities and experiences. Life isn’t great, the world is in a terrifying state and we lost Prince and Bowie this year. But there is hope. 2016 was shit in every way, maybe 2017 will be too. But maybe just maybe it won’t be. And that hope it won’t be is worth staying alive and working for.

Because the world needs another opinion on the US Presidential Election

A question that is asked at the end of every election is whether the victor won the election or the loser lost it. Ultimately it is always somewhere between the two, the victor did things to win the election and the loser did things to lose it. But as the world prepares for the dawn of the age of President Donald J. Trump, I think the progressive Left can look for hope in a belief that it was not Trump who won the election, but Hillary Clinton who lost it.

2016 will be remembered in history for two votes, The EU Referendum and the US Presidential election, with their common ground being a rejection of the status quo. Both the UK and the US voted for change, a change that personally I feel is more detrimental than beneficial to both nations but a change nonetheless. Unfortunately, I believe that this change is no more than a desire by some of the people who voted for them as a return to an era that does not and cannot longer exist, with desires of Making America Great Again and Taking Back Control in a world where that is increasingly impossible and actually counterproductive on a global stage. However, the desire for change from the status quo is admirable and one that I can back.

Obama promised “Change we can believe in” and captured an optimism and desire for progressive change. A desire by the people to make an African American president, a desire to create affordable healthcare and a desire for social changes. The jury is out on if he succeeded here and what his legacy will be. Hillary tried to recapture this hope of progressive change by trying to become the first woman president but that was not enough against a man who claimed he would provide real change. Trump was arguing for a complete change to the establishment, the dismantlement of the political juggernaut families and the like, (he beat a Bush in order to become republican nominee) whereas to many Americans Clinton was the embodiment of establishment politics.

This election could never have been about anything else than anti-establishment politics. When Clinton faced Sanders in the primaries, in an election that I believe to have been rigged by the DNC in favour of Clinton, she was constantly attacked for being a member of the establishment. Sanders galvanised a progressive movement in the US similar to the one that Corbyn represents in the UK and created a group of people who described themselves as “Bernie or bust.” Democratic, left-leaning supporters who wanted the dismantlement of establishment in a similar way that Trump’s supporters desired. They could not wholeheartedly vote for Clinton because she was in many ways the enemy, any vote for Clinton would be one of reluctance and in many ways, in a parallel of what the media has accused Trump of on many occasions, fear.

Trump opposes almost everything I stand for. His stances on immigrants, minorities, abortions and almost every other social policy I can fathom are despicable and in many ways something to fear. However, fear of Trump alone is not enough to start a movement (Although recent events in America may soon prove this wrong), especially when it is being spearheaded by someone who people in her own party see as untrustworthy and dishonest. Trump harnessed fear in a direct sense, he picked up on the fear of immigrants, fear of job losses and fear of America losing its premier position in world politics. Clinton tried to fight a campaign on fear too, however, this was the fear of what Trump could do and thus more hypothetical. There is undoubtedly reason to be fearful of Trump when being a minority in the US, and for some this would be reason enough to vote for Clinton, but for many this was not. This is reflected in the overall results where Trump got approximately the same votes as Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008. Hillary got 10 million less than Obama in 2008 and 5 million less than in 2012.

In that sense is it possible to say that Trump won the election? Trump managed to maintain a core Republican base, even when being such a divisive candidate, but Hillary did not manage to get out the voters that Obama did. Hillary did not manage to connect with millennials in a way that resulted in increased turnout like Obama did. Hillary did not create a movement like Sanders did. To that extent, this election is less about Trump beating Clinton and more Clinton (and the DNC) failing to connect with America.

So why has this given me optimism? In many ways it cannot be argued that the right is growing, votes and turnout did not drastically improve in this election. It could be argued that the left is dwindling, however, I would argue that the fall in turnout was more due to the apathy of establishment politics. Both Republicans and Democrats want a change to the norms of the establishment as witnessed by the meteoric rise of Sanders. Trump was an outsider, no experience of public office and woefully underequipped and prepared for the job, but to Republicans, this did not matter he was better than the democratic candidate. To many people, swing voters, and democrats alike, Clinton was the lesser of two evils* but not something worth voting for, or making the effort to vote for. Essentially these people were less Pro-Clinton and more Anti-Trump whereas Trump’s supporters were Pro-Trump making them more likely to vote Trump. Ultimately fear of Trump was not enough. What gives me optimism is that establishment politics is under attack from both sides. It saddens and distresses me greatly that it is the Right and a man who’s few endorsements are from groups like the KKK and NRA who is in control of the most powerful nation on earth, but I am heartened by the fact that more and more people want change to a system that is not working for them. I hope that this encourages the Left to create movements for progressive and more worthwhile change that is based less on fear, like both sides peddled this election and more on hope optimism and real reform of a world that right now is working for the few, such as Trump and Clinton and not for the many such as you and me.

* I do wish to add as a footnote that this lesser of two evils argument has come under attack from people who claim that this argument was damaging to Clinton. People are free to think whatever they want, both candidates were terrible options for America just one was worse than the other. In my opinion, this is damaging to Clinton but the truth.

Life As A Highly Sensitive Introvert

I am a highly sensitive introvert. This is not a revolutionary statement, anyone who knows me on any degree will know this about me. What it basically means is that I react strongly to things, I have strong emotions and feelings. If I am hurt, I am very hurt and I will think deeply and introspectively about why I am hurt. If I am happy, I stop and think about why I am happy, what makes me this happy and I reflect on it. This is who I am.

But by using these words and phrases to describe my personality, these psychological terms, it allows me to understand myself better. It allows me to understand why when I play a game of the board game Risk I am overly cautious, it is just my nature and to an extent my nurture. Why I am not reward driven, why I am happy to play the long game rather than wait for instant gratification. The understanding that the journey strengthens, and looking at how best to improve oneself.

Introverted life is difficult, especially coupled with anxiety and depression, however introverts are more likely to suffer from depression so that makes sense. Quiet by Susan Cain is the most life affirming read I have ever had, it is teaching me that many of the things that I feel about myself are not flaws, but are instead just things about me that I need to stop seeing as flaws. The fact that I do not enjoy parties – I fear them in fact – is something that I am overcoming. However it is not something that I may ever actually overcome. Like a rubber band, I can stretch myself to my limits but my limits are my limits. Acknowledging that you have limits, a sweet spot or a comfort zone is crucial to being happy with who you are. It is not settling, you can change things to work for you, but aspiring to this caricature of the socialite is not one that suits everyone. I am happier at home with a bottle of wine, my vinyl player and a book, and that is OK.

I react strongly to being judged, that is in many ways part and parcel (lol what an old saying) of being introverted. This has always been true, when someone reads my work in front of me I blush. I fear that instantaneous reaction of rejection. It is in many ways instinctive but it is heightened by many aspects of society, most notably social media. Social media usually only shows you the best or most empathetic times of a person’s life. Facebook does not show you these solitary moments of happiness but it shows you the social ones. The infiltration of Facebook into everyday life is one which heightens my own feelings of social inadequacy. Holidays, nights out, parties and other such social occasions are glamourized. Snapchat gives you up to 10 second highlights of someone’s experiences or a quick photo of something they saw or did. None of this shows any level of isolation, introversion, those moments where you are alone but contempt. The fact that people need to share these moments indicates a level of not being contempt in my opinion. In a world where we value someone’s personality – their outwards way of expressing themselves – over their character – who they are their morals etc. – it has become increasingly difficult for anxious introverts to feel good about themselves.

Initially I stopped using Facebook in order to get over a bad break up. I had become addicted, with my phone in my hand all the time. I was wondering and hoping that they would get back in contact with me and still do to an extent. So I decided that by not being able to see if they had or not for extended periods I could try and kill this personal neurosis. However in many ways it opened my eyes to a culture which encourages me to judge myself. I see someone post about something new they have bought or somewhere new they have gone and I compare it against myself. I justify my own feelings of inadequacy, something that I have obviously been feeling a lot recently as a result of a break-up. So by taking away these methods of judging myself I aim to become happier.

But like any addiction, it cannot just be overcome. I still crave social acceptance and that is based less on my nature but more my nurture, things that have happened to me. For example the weeks I sat on a bench by myself in year 4 when I changed school still haunt me. I wanted that social acceptance but I was too shy to move. I was immobilised by fear. I have moved past that and am now a lot more confident and outgoing. But I am still not the first to start a conversation, I still avoid social events, I still hate parties and they cripple me with fear. This is not an issue though, there is no problem with me feeling this way. I just have to accept that my rubber band does not stretch that far sometimes. And some days it won’t stretch as far as others, but that is ok too. Knowing my limitations is good.

This leads me to another point about introverts. On the whole we don’t want to upset people. We don’t want to say no, so we say maybe. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings so we try and put things off, it is not through mean spirits it is through our own limitations. It is not that I do not love you if I don’t do something, it’s just sometimes I feel too anxious or it is just not something I feel comfortable doing. It won’t necessarily make me happy either way, I will be sad that I have missed out or I just won’t enjoy it. Like going out drinking for example, I will do this and I can enjoy it, but it is more out of being social than anything else, if I don’t go I will regret it, if I do go I will regret it. I would not organise a night out as it is not something that I enjoy doing. If it is a party with people that I do not know and in a more intimate setting then that scares me even more. The feeling of being intimate with strangers terrifies me.

Introverts also don’t really like working in groups. This doesn’t mean that we are all people who want to sit in silence and not socialise. We just work best on our own. Open plan seating does nothing for us, we need nooks and crannies to go and work away in. So with this obsession with being a team player, networking and bouncing ideas off one another for some people that is difficult. In a world where it increasingly feels more like who you know than what you know, introverts who find it hard getting to know people can feel like they are falling behind.

It increasingly is feeling like the death of a merit based world, where it matters less what you know and more about how you can come across. I feel like I personally can do this to a degree, I am constantly stretching my personal rubber band, but in many ways there are some things that I just don’t feel comfortable doing like networking, like working in large groups, like not being able to be totally in control of my own decisions and things such as that. It is these things that are being bought into many environments they originally were not in. Concepts such as group brainstorming have been proven not to work, so why do we fetishize them so? Would it not be better to encourage people to pursue their ideas, feelings and intuition rather than follow the most talkative person in their brainstorm? If some people feel uncomfortable contributing in these scenarios does that mean that we should not allow them a voice? I talk from personal experience.

Introverts are people too, although we may not fit this current social media generation stereotype. Giving an introvert another window through which to glimpse the world is dangerous to those of us who feel inadequate most of the time anyway. But regardless I am learning to embrace who I am. I am learning to lose that which makes me unhappy and become more like the studious person I was a few years back. A hyper connected world has changed many things for the better, but progress is not always linear. Being able to be connected all the time is not necessarily a good thing or something that we should all embrace. So in the words of my beloved Kacey Musgraves “I’m gonna turn off my phone, start catching up with the old me.” That way I hope to embrace my introversion and channel it not into anxiety or feelings of inadequacy and instead embrace who I am, even in a society which seemingly prioritises extroversion and the group over the quiet and individual.

In relation to what I have written if you feel like you can relate to any of this, or are just interested in introversion and extroversion then I cannot reccomend enough and the accompanying book “Quiet” by Susan Cain enough. 

(Art taken from by Isabella Huffington, an introverted artist)