Listen, engage richly, hold lightly. Have I finally found something smart-arse sounding enough to share with my younger self? If your own worthy roadmap or absent plans for the future are driving you crazy, is it because you still think you are supposed to be driving everything?
So stop shovelling coal into the boiler for a moment. I think I learned something in my travels this autumn.
Trains are becoming beloved symbols of eco travel. And why I don’t hate them by now is a bit of a mystery to me.
Fourteen months without a car and I feel I should be writing guide books and doing very very low octane BBC4 travel documentaries about life on rails. Which would be an ironic title for any series, given that my most intense period of transportation research this year seems to me now to have been about derailing some of my expectations.
Especially environmental ones. For at least two of those train journeys I had to fly.
Coal-powered steam trains maybe a romantic symbol of travel, but splendidly efficient high-speed electric versions across Japan or Europe feel more symbolic of a clean, public transit future.
Now, I know you’re a bit of a conshy ponderer yourself. But you’re also sensible, and secretly wonder which bits of any revolution are really for you. So I have three travel tips for you if, like me, you are foolishly considering journeying into the future. On some rainy Tuesdays you might be tempted to avoid the future all together, but on the bold Mondays you are determined to forge into it, declaring your reputation as a Changemaker on Linked In, pull up your decentralised underwear, solarpunk voyager, here are my three tips:
Expect to ask for help a lot, expect to look less than your best much of the time, and don’t expect to know which of all the extra documentation you’ve been asked to decode and prepare you will actually be asked for at the border.
Oh and, four: Learn to get zenly comfortable with uncertainty. Because while us individualists are all privately obsessing about power, life is all much more about transition, man.
Joining the Battery Tour.
My birthday isn’t the reason I love autumn so much. Especially this autumn, because I spent my entire birthday in a brooding mood waiting for various types of bus – taxis, planes, monorails and coaches.
I’ve bored you enough about it over the years. About how I’m grateful to my sometimes dumb, wet little island nation for giving me so much different weather to enjoy, often in one day. Meteorology that transitions obviously all the time. But generally in a temperate part of the globe – this side of the collapse of all the climate systems we’ve ever known – autumn seems to me to be a helpful mental refresh after languid summer moods. The healthy death season that is all about rebirth. A time of change and possibly new shoes.
But this autumn shook up my perspective with more activity than normal, forcing me out into the still Covid-clagged world, ostensibly to drag kit around Europe but really to reset my view of my own world.
For a year’s work with changemaker and music artist AY Young lead me to Italy and Glasgow and to some contrasting examples of how to get things done.
You may have seen me talk about The Global Goals Music Roadshow. God bless you, you may have even seen a bit of it. But you may be wondering why I seem to have paused the work and reputation of Momo to spend time doing it. Well, I can only say that it felt like everything Momo:tempo and Unsee The Future and the emerging Momo:zo have lead me into lead me very suddenly to AY, to his Battery Tour movement, and to helping him make a goofy show about changing the world. Because it simply felt like values and jokes were in alignment, with energy.
Developing storytelling skills
I can say most practically that I’ve spent this year practicing up some presenting skills and very home-made TV production. Flexing muscles as a live sense maker. This has, yes, paused the central calling and grand plans of Timo Peach to make music as an artist. In fact, music for me has suffered its own little deaths this year, but that is for a forthcoming post.
But, really, I think this is absolutely part of the same journey for me as an artist and human future storyteller. Because it’s hard to imagine many others meeting an imposing figure like AY and understanding a bold alternative vision for human planet business, as well as music making and how to goof off on Saturday Night Live, in anything like the instinctive combination he does. But, yeah… hi.
You’ll know if you followed any of our 34 shows leading up to it that our crazy trip to Italy in October was to be the first time he and I actually met IRL. What would we make of this? Would it break the spell of chemistry we’d worked up so magically, with such confidence of creative generosity on his part, purely over the four-and-a-half-thousand mile wire up till then?
You can see the actual moment in our Live Showbiz Supershow for the World Food Forum in Rome, if you’ve not watched it yet. The genuine actual moment, cheekily a bit stage managed by me. But our whole ten days taking the Battery Tour on the road did shake up everything for us as as this chapter’s team. It has indeed been a bit of a learning transition.
Seizing a moment, to seize a few more.
AY might be the most genuinely star-quality person I think I’ve met. His presence in person is somehow a bit larger than ordinary life to begin with. I actually felt like a bit of a normie in the first hours we were in a room. Me. Such projection of professionalism, goals for getting things done, warm listening to each member of the team, a brief prayer circle – the works. It took me a while to tune into him in the very normal way I had done online for two over thirds of a year as a mate. It might simply be that he had that thing so different to me – the presence of someone training to be a prize fighter. I can guess that growing up black in America gives everyone a headstart in this over the entitled meanderings of a whimsical white bloke.
Whatever combination of talents and experiences AY might bring together in his intention, I grew to observe that he’s not just a street performer-level hustler – the highest, in other words – he thrives in emergency mode.
I thrive in cafe on an evening street in Rome mode. As per the night before.
Now, of course no one is meant to live in emergency mode, even my showbiz changemaker brother AY. You can do it for a project and get things done – like an event schedule with a clear end date. But you can’t live in a hunt & attack state of mind and not be eaten by adrenalin in the end. I think it’s a big part of global trauma in our era of crisis – how many millions of us are lethargic from helpless drama fatigue?
Which is why doing the GGShow has always felt like an injection of life.
Presenting our live little video podcast always seems to leave me, AY and all our GGGuests feeling better than when they joined an episode. And so I must suppose, our tiny beta audience. Right the way through my travels, not only with the Battery Tour but as a creative host to more corporate events also, I’ve felt some echo of our show with me, talking to us about where the value is in our work.
Looking back, it’s clear that AY knew this was a coming out, or coming together moment for him, the crazy schedule of events he knew was ahead of him around the world, across September, October and November. After ten years of playing, planning, getting out there, developing his vision for the Battery Tour, this was a long series of moments, planned or seized on the go, that he knew he had to throw himself into. To me, this felt like an opportunity the road had led me to, to join in for a bit.
I expected graft. I can do it when the plan is clear. I didn’t expect to show part of my worst self all of a sudden. But I’ll get to that.
Building a path as the plans kept morphing.
We went to Italy simply because AY was invited, as UN Young Leader and music artist, to open the World Food Forum in Rome. An event produced by the Food & Agriculture Organisation which is based in offices the size of a city block in Rome. But as the dates approached, it became clear that we could possibly make more of getting a whole Battery crew together than show up to film that one event. More even than convince the team at the WFF that doing a live GG Supershow in the incredible Terme Di Caracalla would be awesome and add value to AY’s cache, though we somehow managed this too.
A rail ride away in Milan, Youth 4 Climate was holding a big event. Badged as “Youth COP26” because Italy and the UK were actually co-hosting the upcoming hugely anticipated Conference Of Parties, the few days of speakers and events was culminating in a concert – a concert we blagged our boy AY into.
Hosted by the Rockin’1000 movement, the concert was to feature an evening of famous songs, epically covered by a very big multi-band – ie: a band made up of many bands. This is Rockin’1000’s thing, originally devised as a hell of a stunt to get the Foo Fighters to play in a modest Italian venue off the usual tour trails. It involves a literal “pledge to the click” to deliver everyone in sync, but the sound live is admittedly impressive, and the generally slick production was broadcast by Sky and one of the big Italian telly networks. A big bash of famous Italian music artists I didn’t know, all milling around the portacabins of the VIP zone with us, for which AY opened everything, the sole performer to get a slot sharing his own original music.
And in so doing, to me at least, looked like the only artist there really doing anything.
Except, of course, he wasn’t. Not simply because it is fairer to say, and more fundamentally sustainable to say, that we are all at different stages of awareness and work as we try to face what the climate crisis means to us. But because he was literally on stage with another remarkable music artist known as much for her passionate understanding of environmental and social challenges, Raine Stern. And he was there with me, editing his backing video in my pants in my hotel room the night before. And he was also there with poet, activist and leader shaper Nico Olivieri, who had worked magic to even see this opportunity, never mind negotiate it into our crazy schedule through the Covid haze over all live re-emerging events this year.
The point being, all of us in the crew could see the opportunity in helping AY do a job of being seen in these moments, and we took on less central looking creative roles to seize them together.
If we hadn’t been working in a spirit of listening and collaborating, we would have missed them. And that was not simply an example of energising generosity set by AY’s global perspective, but a philosophy taken gently beyond the clouds by Nico.
Learning from events.
What did we get out of it? I see it this way: AY has a gift for opening palace doors.
As we all get invited in behind him, we get to see more of the state of everything – high level business, the NGO sector, the climate movement, all of it. And we maybe get to turn it all into a platform, with a movement’s mentality, that takes the useless pressure off any one of us to be a super saviour, including AY. We were helping to build The Battery Tour. Doing different jobs exploring how to.
It, yes, felt weird not to be the one on stage. Or the one passionately speaking. But in this setting, I had zero cache – and that was fine. It was more than fine, it was significantly instructive. Brought to life most consciously for me by the third person in my partnership with AY – Nico.
I know a thing or two about events. I’ve put them on, helped others put them on, branded them, hosted them, been the central bloke at the front telling the story, been behind the camera as hidden help to someone else’s story. In Italy, in Scotland, and in Croatia and the UK in between Battery Tour work, I was part of a string of events, some of them huge. Each of them gave example of how to produce such experiences, including the traveling event of the Battery Tour caravan itself this autumn.
One of those events, the most corporate in Dubrovnik, was so well organised ahead of the days it was on I felt smoothly slotted in to focus calmly on one job – bring alive the experience as host. And it felt liberating, however strange to spend so much time in other people’s worlds all autumn. In all of the other events, however big, I could smell those familiar cinders from the sparks of last minute panics, COP26 included.
It’s the nature of events, that plans will have to change. Things will go wrong, people will bail, permits will fail and so will technology – bet your life on it. But there is always an issue of energy – what energy you use, what energy you pass on, in making an event and involving others.
The Battery Tour team required a ton of energy, but all of us delivered it in buckets for ten resilient days in Italy because there wasn’t quite a sense of panic. It wasn’t zenly calm either but, in Italy especially, Nico added to AY’s confident spirit of generosity to others by exuding his key value:
Holding space to listen for wisdom.
Listening for truth.
“I’m not much interested in my opinion. Or for that matter AY’s or yours – we all have them. But humans also have this amazing capacity for channelling wisdom – and if we can learn to hold space to listen in to what it’s trying to tell us in any given moment, we will make much smarter decisions. Because we’ll only be doing what is necessary.”
Nico said this to me once. In fact, many times in different ways.
I took this on board leading up to Italy. It’s a mental trick of mine to take stock of every step and proceed in at least just the next step’s amount of faith, based on my sense of gentle trajectory. And being as used to projects and events and traveling as I am, I tend to be calm and organised on the go. But Nico helped me bring an extra dimension of intentionality to this. A perfect example being the first full day we were in the country.
Nico, Sabine, their utterly charming boy Aiden, Caroline and I had only met that drizzly morning on the street outside the FAO. It was delightful, our first coffee together in the real world. By lunchtime, on site at the Terme, we had still yet to meet AY who was landing from New York only that morning, but we had already been given the news – now all assmbled from across the world – that we couldn’t do the Global Goals Music Roadshow Showbiz Special Supershow after all. Not on the stage where all the music acts were performing we couldn’t – the venue with the amazing ancient backdrop and all the production pointing at. We couldn’t even film a thing that showed we were on site there. A bit of historic site Italian beaurocracy not weedled out for us before we all spent a fortune getting on planes.
If we DID film here, what we filmed would have to belong to the World Food Forum, as the licence holder. We couldn’t put it on YouTube ourselves.
When I said to the person explaining this all to us that this show was being sponsored by Enel Green Power she turned white for a moment.
I began to calmly think of alternatives, problem solving. Nico took me aside and helped me think out loud.
“Think about it,” he said, “what if we went along with this? Brought to this point, all ready to go, what if we surrender hanging on to it as we had envisioned and took the showbiz chance to film here as a special thing?”
Taking a moment to listen in, before problem solving. That’s what he was doing. And his suggestion in that moment is exactly what we did, with results that are much better than if we’d filmed infront of some bushes that could have been on the Southbourne overcliff.
Taking the road through the clouds.
Running your own business, or even just your own creative practice you might think you are a train driver – toot toot. Expected to keep the wheels turning and everything on track. But you may well be behaving more like the locomotive itself – the big chugging engine dragging the whole train across the country.
There is certainly much about the venturing life that seems to demand endurance.
On an eight-day shoot for a client in Florida once, esteemed creative director and mate Andrew Sheerin once said to me: “You’re a machine!” And he’s another prize fighter in his way. When I know the plan, and have a strong hand in it, I can keep going for a while. Hell, when another esteemed creative director and dear mate and actual sort of prize fighter and definite backing dancer for Peter André, Gellan Watt, took me on his stag weekend skiing in France for the first time ever, I got uncharacteristic food poising on the first night, was wiped out with S&D for 24 hours and got back on the piste at 100 miles an our with still no terrific stopping skills the following day. I’ve never quite been completely consumption hankies and wan faints by the window.
But I’ve had to map out my limits. As anyone half facing the basics of adulthood has to. And a key limitation for me is not one to help my surprising sudden bid here to convince you I belong in the Highland Games. Namely, I can fully personality crash if I feel I’ve lost myself.
As a young man, gosh was I moody. Searching for some equillibrium of self value. As a bloke who’s come to terms with himself and learned to work with people who want a bit of the idiosyncratic value I can add, I came to forget this in the Momo years. Just one or two odd experiences reminded me of it along the way and I didn’t see one coming in Italy. A darkness I couldn’t pull out of at the very end of our time together. The night before my birthday.
I said at the top of this personal post: “Still think you are supposed to be in control of your destiny?” It’s the sort of thing said by gurus who’ve felt the power of momentum. The sort usually leading them to thousands of subscribers and a platform to talk about surrendering to destiny. But I’ve never felt the slightest squeak from the wheels of momentum – when I stop pedalling, the bike stops and I fall off, half way up the hill. Not born to be a fighter, I’ve had to learn resilience to still be an artist with no one watching.
In a weird moment, suddenly distanced from the inspiring group of people surrounding me on a balmy Roman night, I felt lost to myself. Nothing anyone had said, far from it. Perfaps just too much time in someone else’s world. Like dark walls closing in, no place to shine or add my true value – despite running the shows. The Battery Tour isn’t about me, I’m a guest encouraging someone else’s vision and my head applauds this. But for a little techtonic shifting moment, and an embarrassing one, my spirit felt crushed, like running out of oxygen. Or in this case, Momo.
Wisdom doesn’t think like this.
Such experiences are a reminder that my life isn’t mine. Neither is yours. It is actually made of value unseen. Half way up the back side of the hill. Un-arrived.
This is why the seen life drives us all mad. The desire for recognition. It is a life in emergency mode perpetually – if it didn’t get recorded, it didn’t happen. An especial joke for us on that trip, given the Inception level of recording the recordings going on between the production platforms we were working with, filmmaker Danny, social media lead Enya and all of us lot with our phones. But the Must Be Seen life is the antithesis of wisdom. And it’s why I actually felt I could trust and respect AY – he’s always known his job is to be seen, to accomplish things, not his desire. He’s quietly wary of all that showbiz bollocks, it’s simply something he feels he must soberly face. There’s much in there I can relate to.
I’ve never wanted applause for the sake of it. Don’t need the crowd’s love like a drug. And I have strongly never wanted to take someone else’s win – I simply don’t need to. I just function out loud because it’s my gift. And my desire to encourage with the freedom of theatre. But you have to take care of your own self as surely as anyone else’s; you know who’s oxygen mask you are to put on first if you are to be any use to your children when the aircraft window blows.
I think the practical truth as we explore is that new partnership is about finding a new balance – between letting go of your own centrality and not losing yourself in the process. It’s new for me to find myself trying to run with global leaders – never kidded myself to try. Momo is still me in a shed because I appear to value freedom much more than trying to be on The Apprentice, or The Voice. I’m no prizefighter, I’m a playful encourager. Balancing this truth of myself with a vision of the world worth fighting for is my challenge now; knowing how to channel the fight building up in me – and find a team I can fight for.
It’s all the imperfect journey of a limping pilgrim, as surely as any hopes for sustainability. The humbling but burden lifting call of leading a guided life and not trying to keep up with anyone. A call I am overdue to understand still better. Even after all these years of believing that all I have to trade is being myself.
Little deaths, like honest accidental sharings of your true self with new brothers and sisters, are where the road of healthy growth leads, I think. And as if to bring this home forcefully, I was brought up short in recent days by something I heard said with shocking clarity: The ultimate expression of self devaluation, suicide, is perhaps really a yearning for a new identity. A new story of your self at a higher level.
If we’re listening out for wisdom, we’ll find we are not simply in perpetual transition but transformation. The very functioning of life itself.
Making the next moment.
My experience of Glasgow was something on top of all this. My interpretations of COP26 itself are for another post, perhaps, but I’ll share one observation.
AY was the only one of us with a pass to the hallowed Blue Zone. And, it turns out, the only one of his 17 UN Young Leaders to have one. He said to me: “I realise I am alone in there, bro. There is no one coming but us.” Which is a perspective.
It took a couple of days for me to put my finger on it but I realised I felt a slow, quiet drain in the soul being up there. Splendid as Glasgow is, COP26 looked like a system that doesn’t know how transform itself. The story, the telling of it, the characters in it.
We agreed it felt like a great (overwhelmingly white) cocktail party washed up against the doors of a hallowed Inner Room, chattering and planning and some of them trying to protest for things and some of them having nice dinners all in a lively social energy. And I could picture AY and I breaking into the Inner Room beyond all that to find it… empty. Dark and completely unmanned. Nothing in there.
There is no help coming but us.
It’s an unfair literal image for those pushing hard to get agreements signed and make something of it. But figuratively it’s chillingly true. As sensemaking mate and former GGGuest Rina said to me over text while I was up there: “We must look to the miraculous margins.”
Are we it? I have no idea; I am trying to listen and engage richly with what’s come to me, but hold it lightly.
I can say so far that meeting these guys has been lifechanging. AY’s invitation to help make a show has added a whole dimension of learning I didn’t see coming to all I’ve been lead to do in recent years. And he’s a legend to share time with – I can see a lot of gold to spin together ahead yet. A new creative chapter together. With Nico part of the energy of the Battery Tour’s future, along with diamonds like Raine, Carrie, Enya, Nicolai, El, Danny, Stephen and our own fabulous niece Tara plugging in their passions with us, at least for a bit, I feel the combination could be portal-to-the-future opening.
I’d hoped that riding along would be more than a break from everyday work for the lovely first lady of Momo, I hoped it would put new fire in Caroline’s heart about her own incredible values and perspective. And it absolutely did; AY has gathered souls of all ages that remind us both there are other ways of doing things, other ways of valuing life out there.
It feels like a diaspora of love for a whole new age for humans on Earth. I’m not overstating how I feel about the experience, and what I hope I can bring back to those already with me in the longing for such futures.
And for all the wonderful creative ambition of AY’s Project 17 taking shape, I think there is something about the magic of the GGShow that is immediately speaking to us about The Battery Tour’s spirit. To break barriers and build bridges – and this can be done as simply as bringing people with different experience together in a spirit of hope, honour and goofing freedom. We saw it happen in all three specials of it we filmed, in Rome, Glasgow and Milan. It was a kind of magic unlocked every time.
And it gets to me like only the more hopeful human tomorrow can.
None of this need mute Momo:tempo. Or Unsee The Future. If anything, tuning in as best I can to what comes next, it feels like it will have the opposite effect on all that, and plans with other beautiful creative sisters and brothers of mine.
For one thing, if I took nothing else from it, I took a sudden dawning realisation that if any three people could take an explosively talented planet cabaret on the road, it would be the possibly genius combination of Raine, me and AY. Is that what the Global Goals Music Roadshow is really going to become?
In the mean time, I can say this. My next news will be sharing from the heartland of my work as an artist. And you are going to want to hear it.
Oh, and that goofy, hopeful little show is now on Earth X TV – and you can find it here.
If you are dumb enough to want to journey into the future you’ll need help. Lots of it, in the right shape of people – people who get something of what you’re worth. Know you’ll not look your best under pressure always to them. And don’t expect passport control to understand the shifting sands of local Covid regulations much better than you do.
If you decide it’s time to set out I can tell you it may take work, but it won’t be shovelling coal.