It’s now been three weeks. And, so… this is what life is like on the other side, is it? Is this how big things end?
Five Songs to help us Unsee The Future is, yes, complete and essentially a success on its intended terms. I think we survived it. And modest as those intended terms were, it feels significant to me. Because, more personally here in a blogged reflection of it, I can say that this little show represented a turning point for me, quietly unlike any other I’ve taken. All roads lead to that evening, it seemed, and I more or less ran Momo flat on all fronts getting over the line of it. That’s conviction for you, I guess. All or nothing. Who knew I could be that guy.
I should feel a lot more depressed than I do.
Weeeehhll, you know what big highs are like, right? Always followed by big lows, they say. But oddly I kept equillibrium through Five Songs, even as the final weeks ticked by towards it and I didn’t see the end of the To Do list zooming up as quickly as the date. And this was certainly much to do with conviction – the personal belief that I should be doing this, bolstered into credibility by the lovely first lady of Momo’s agreement on the idea. She, I listen to. She wise. But any whiff of credibility, or at least enough integrity somewhere knit together in the experience of it, was hugely too to do with those around me on the night. How the hell did I talk into it whom I did?
In the official Promo article of it I’ve name-checked most of the amazing team that put their trust in me and the idea. But it goes back further to the folk who gave time to listening to a daft bloke with a book turn up and bang on about a crazy idea. I spent 2016 drafting the thesis for the idea, around writing the first music and generally keeping the other creative plates of Momo spinning. And thesis I felt early on that it would have to be, because it was obvious from the beginning that my hopes to simply take amigos into space with the third studio LP would barely cover the idea. So, as that idea took shape, I decided to work first towards codifying it into a physical tome I could thump on people’s desks and say: “This. I wanna make this. ..Am I cray-cray?”
As I explained briefly to Mark Masters on the night and a little as his guest on the You Are The Media podcast, my idea to use each different tune from the album to explore a different ‘prediction’ of scifi got me first thinking about what those regular themes really were in scifi, and then to thinking: Which of these supposed futures is the most likely for us?
And that got me looking at the current state of affairs the world is in. Turns out… um, not great.
I’d wanted to explore science fiction musically because it’s just always been the general filter through which I’ve seen the world. Thanks, as I have said often, to my wonderful mother. She I have to thank for getting me hooked on Blake’s 7 when young and for radiating the assumption that the great SF writers were proper writers indeed – expanding the human outlook, not hiding in a clique of amateur fanderbation. Which is a word I didn’t realise I had apparently in my brain ready to instantly make up by typing it before I’d even thought about it. Hmm. My, er, mind.
Beloved Asimov, or Clarke, or any of the big hitters that are legends of their creative kind today adorned my book-devouring Ma’s shelves and lay around the house throughout my childhood, all with gloriously fantastical 70s edition covers. All perhaps setting up my imagination to receive my own new generation of Star Trek when TNG beamed into TV at the end of my teens and blew me away with its integrity of in-world thinking. And our-world thinking.
So a trip round the cosmos with my playful musical sound would be a no-brainer, right? Especially with the wonderful family of amigos who’ve grown to encourage me so incredibly much these Momo:tempo years – they take me to school on storytelling and imaginative knowledge, as well as creative musical understanding. I wonder what I’ve been doing with my mind and time all these years talking with so many people in my timeline.
But, as I began to wonder more about where we currently are today, in this broad chapter of Now, the big social and political bombs dropped that just changed the climate around me somehow – the B-word result here in the UK and the terrifying satire of Forty-Five’s actual election in the US. As people I love and respect were suddenly taking forceful stands against ome values I’d not thought about dividing us before, I could sense a new kind of reality unfolding in the air between us. Division like the UK seemed to be leaving behind, if the bubble of love I felt lifted into by the 2012 Olympics was anything to go by. It wasn’t, it turns out. Or at least, it wasn’t the whole reality. Which plenty of folk I love and respect might have told me, from numerous different perspectives I’d never felt for myself.
This Now of fearsome realities, as I came to christen it, put my daft playful ideas of music into a new imperative context culturally. It wasn’t that I awoke on the morning after the referendum result and said: “Now I am on a mission. I will redeem my country with electro-beat tomfoolery.” It sort of all happened naturally, concurrently, dawningly. And so I wrote down the things I was beginning to discover.
The result is the thesis of The Shape of Things To Hum. I had a couple of sacred copies of the short-run book out on display at Five Songs. Was expecting them to get nicked, because I know I’d want to. And in their pages, I found not simply the delineation of a five-part production take shape, most especially as I shared the bare bones of the idea with Andy Robinson early on and reading a whole new heart-filling dimension to the project in his first script for The Martian Artist. But also in the way those scif topics combined to imply a story as well. A story that consolidated, by mere juxtaposition, into a little opening essay. A starting point belief from first research that perhaps in fact, scifi was always trying to teach us the future. And that that might even give us some hope.
If we can turn Things To Hum into a full production, I shall undoubtedly find the budget to release a version of the thesis in print, hopefully bringing some of the graphics up to date with work we’ll produce especially for the project and already have a little. For now, I’ve turned it into an audiobook – the complete thing – as a sort of precursor, it turned out, to the podcast, Unsee The Future.
As 2017 started, however, I had nothing else but the book and the outline of many of the tunes. Enough to feel inspired, and helpfully prepped in my mind to talk very definitely with first consultants. Because what could I do next? I had to get it outside my head and simply ask some first trusted advisors if my mad idea was pure folly. And planning to do this timed with something else interesting for Momo.
A few big things kind of cleared out of my way all at once, quietly. In creative work terms, two big clients I’d been working with alongside dear mate Julian Clarke-Jervoise came to the end of their projects with us, and a personal chapter closed for me and the lovely first lady of Momo. Some richly interesting but schedule-filling events were delivered and surived and billed by Jules and I, wrapping up a chapter of a few good crazy adventures around the world just quietly. And for Caroline and I, our long years of quietly trying for children came to an end. A sad one, but a weirldly peaceful one, as the book finally gently shut.
A story for anther time. But this turning point came to us during a year of celebrating a significant milestone in our marriage and felt like, well, at least closure. It was time to pack up our blessings and move on from the uncertainty. A mystery over us – yet one we came to finally accept, grateful for still being in a team together facing it. Who can explain any of the mysteries of loss and gain?
Which meant I found myself at the start of 2017 with a big book of an idea, some interesting tunes, a bit of pocket money in the Momo vault and a clear diary. So I filled it. With a year of trying to work out how the hell to make The Shape of Things To Hum a reality. Me. Bloke alone in a shed. With zero track record of making much beyond a jolly nice time of it happen around some good tunes.
I planned a schedule and wrestled with a gant chart, to make it seem real. I think the original gant chart I in no way used afterwards was February. I worked on a companion document to the thesis, an internal brief, to map out the many layers of development a whole concept production would require – the music, the stage, the graphics, the film and the digial elements, yes, but quietly huge challenges like the PR – finding an audience. Defining the brand. Working out how we’d fund anything, attract anyone to want to. And stages of development to start testing things.
What this year of development didn’t do was stick to first timings and get a show made. I should print out the original gant chart as a quaint poster memento. Sell it in the Mercato page as a curio.
What it did was kind of change my life.
Getting out to a number of folk in the first few months and share the vision for this great thing was empowering. Because no-one thought I was cray-cray. Well, no-one thought the idea was cray-cray. They thought it was infectiously inspiring, they all differently said. All. Exciting. So I began to belive in actual possibilities, at least. And in the idea of having a mission of sorts. One that felt somehow more than the energising ones I’d always felt before of each album adventure. As the brand developed sufficient to flip Momo:tempo into a new, more futurismy chapter, I began to explore how to build an audience. Something I’d not scienced the shee out of before, but I began to remind myself of the principle of regularity. Posting things as a regular voice of something. But also finding the ears to listen who already wanted to – finding your micro niche.
I discovered that, musically speaking, I don’t have one. That is, I’m it. So as I’d always known instinctively so I discovered with some research that year – I have no home, creatively. No neat pocket of fandom exists waiting for me to join it. The sound of Momo:tempo combines things from a few certain niches, but the combination of them has me seem to stand alone. So, I wouldn’t quickly win over the electro-pop musical crowd alone. My story was going to be the truly interesting and perhaps connecting bit. The why of Things To Hum. What came along at the same time changed up my life’s outlook again.
A friend introduced me to Ross Thornley. A creative consultant with an eye on the future. And he simply said to me: “Have you heard of the UN’s Global Goals?”
“No,” I said flatly. “What they?”
“They are a framework for talking around the human challenge as we’re facing it,” he replied. “A language used by higher-level people, who are more likely to respond to you framing your thesis around it’s analysis of everything.”
I didn’t make Unsee The Future immediately. But you know where I ended up. After reading around the topics I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this grand project before – and how the hell I was supposed to interact with them at Nobody Ground Level, where I live.
That summer, we had a first production meeting with Treehouse Digital. Because they too were something a little life-changing that came to me in my research. Frankly, like a small world of people, as I knocked on doors for enthusiastic chats. I didn’t find any cold hard cash, but I found some love for the project, at least in principle. And I found new friends. Treehouse met kindly and enthuiastically with me and Andy and with our Bonnestell – our Martian artist – Veronica Jean Trickett, whom Andy found from a networking event somewhere and to whose picture I simply said: “But that’s Nina. It’s just her, isn’t it?”
We had a sketch of a plan to make the film and the graphics. The next stage was to make a first music film to test the production and that summer, across a couple of mighty sweatsome days in Treehouse’s loft in Boscombe, we made the simply beautifully shot Behave New World, Hazel Evans brought in to be the face of the whole future, in an idea Pete, Natalie and Tom pitched to me for the piece. With a little creative help from projection artist Martin Coyne, we had a first bit of visual language and indeed music to share out there.
By the end of the year, you might have been forgiven for wondering what I’d been doing for twelve months. But it felt like I’d quietly changed worlds. Researching more of the state of the world as I squared up to becoming a podcaster, I realised this project was indeed my mission now – and that if I was to make anything of it real, I would need to begin to stoke that idea of a regular audience. Strangely not built primarily around the music, but the idea. So, stoked by You Are The Media‘s regular wise counsel in Mark’s regular weekly bulletins, I finally launched the opening episode of Unsee The Future just before Christmas. And found I loved making preachy radio.
Hardly a surprise on any front, right?
I laid out the episodes along a timeline that I hoped would lead to… something, in the spring. But as I woke up on January first this year, I realised I had no idea what I was going to do with a single moment of this new empty calendar, so preoccupied had I been with working the old one.
WHAT was I going to, er, lead towards with Unsee?
The point was to create a something that revealed The Shape of Things To Hum at long last. But… how? I knew that BEAF was back, and in April and early May, so surely I had to put some kind of something into that, right?
Then on a walk in the woods in the first days of the new year, a phrase fell out of a conversation with the lovely first lady of Momo. “Five songs to help us unsee the future.” And something quietly went twang.
In the first weeks I worked up an introduction. Just like a radio play. And realised we had a format that could work. An old-fashioned bit of budget theatre – turning out all the lights and focussing on voice. The words: “Are we all asleep?”. Then I realised we needed eye masks. It felt like the start of something.
I picked five tunes from the LP and worked out a narrative around them – could I work up a cogent thesis of how we might get to the more hopeful human tomorrow, from the themes explored by these tracks, celebrating their particular themes of science fiction? I found myself in Rob Amey’s studio space in Boscombe humming and hahing and he simply said to me with a grin: “Just put the application into BEAF. Just put something in. Then you’ve got to do it.”
Well, in the end I had to do it. And perhaps I will go into this as fully as the experience justifies it one day, but here it is enough to say that from nothing at Christmas, the journey to producing our first actual, gosh-darned real world production, Five Songs, had some remarkable turns of fortune lining me up for the runway. Coincidences that might raise the hair on my neck if I dwell on them, but which essentially just did what I most needed… encourage me. To not give up.
When I found myself sharing the opening and the plan with Mike and Michele from Octopus Farm, they stared back at me and just said words to the effect of: “Shuttup and take our help. This is awesome.” I did, and they were. They treated the whole project as real from the beginning and valued it as not only credible but purposeful. If the Octonauts were my first official sponsor in a wonderful line of souls encouraging me in other ways, I couldn’t have found more validating, excitment-amplifying ones.
This side of actually doing it, I have not had a big emotional crash. Perhaps because I avoided a huge high going into it. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and Five Songs was a waypoint. A quietly massive one, but just that. Now we at least know, it could work. And we got our ‘quorum’ of mood in the room, which was in the end my only aim. People felt it, even though this test-bed first ever production was always going to be literally made of stick and string.
As I walked into Talbot Heath hall that afternoon and saw everyone in there, separately tinkering in the big empty space, together for the first time, I knew we had it all to do, but that it wasn’t really in any one person’s hands – even mine. All I had to do was gently ensure everyone’s plate was spinning up to speed as I moved around the groups and we finally struck up some actual musical sounds.
Y’know, the real space is never the space in your head. Hazel and I and Andy and I and Pat Hayes and I and Becky Cutts and I and Becky Willis and I may have felt increasingly excited each time we met to talk performance, film, music, set and show, but eventually you are on set and having to dance through all you planned in a whole new alien reality, trusting your prep. Somehow, with a scraggle of things looking apart from each other until tea time, we could have in the end pressed the button to let folk in from 7.00pm on the nose, right on schedule. I stood there, clad in my new Po-Zus, wondering where faith would take me as I stepped forward into it in this latest little bit, the actual perforamance.
I guess, the revelation of the reality was simply that it worked. There was love in the room. Tunes I’ve had in my head for years carried themselves, I think, including a conclusion that I was still wrestling with finishing just days before. Could I really just end the show by standing at an actual lectern in a preacher’s white suit and actually just preach?
Turns out, when you resiliently have no normal Cool, like me, you are free to try anything with enough conviction.
Especially when there is love in the room willing you on. I was hugged by such a line of people I admire and appreciate it was fortifying. People who had traveled from towns away, or just from a Sunday afternoon, to let me blindfold them and put strangers’ hands in theirs and sing the end of the world to them.
Except, because of the trust everyone showed me and each other that night, I have never felt more strongly, this is very far from the end. It’s just the beginning.