Who are we kidding with all the bunting and baubles?
I don’t think I’m known for my sombriety or humbug – I for one have been looking forward to the end of the year and it’s lengthening excuses for winter’s many toasty pubs. But is there a time we should just say: put your knees DOWN, Mother Brown?
In some ways, I’m a believer in ringing solstice bells no matter what is filling our news streams and robbing our bank accounts – diurnal rhythms keep us grounded. But this summer I felt like I had to ask myself this opening question.
For this October was the 20th anniversary of Momo.
Surviving this long as a creative independent seems worth a glass of fizz or two with some of the people I’ve met during that time, no? They did change my life, after all. But I weirdly found myself doing the opposite. I switched off all the lights and went to the beach and didn’t do anything to celebrate it all. No party, no announcements, no fireworks. It just didn’t seem quite like a standard fizzy success moment.
What I did was take my first sabbatical. I bought a sketch book and mostly just wrote in it, to let in or out all the sillybollocks of private journaling and look for clues. Let the brain go cool after all that trying. Listen in to what secretly really wanted to do with myself next.
And what did come out of that time?
That is a big question.
One to which I cannot give a big answer yet. Even now. Now on the last few hours of the year.
I suppose the very simplest headline was: Don’t celebrate twenty years – celebrate Momo’s 21st.
This will take a step of faith. Because Momo is, as far as my recent VAT returns are concerned, on ice. Scant invoices in months, and a sole employee apparently not returned from leave. A company creative director dangerously adrift mentally, surely.
Yet, I’m not sure I’ve felt quite like this before – lost but like something is very purposefully prepping in me.
Come April, I feel a rather crushing shame to say, it will be five years since Five Songs. And not a single live music show since. Just two singles releases. I can’t explain it. But it feels like folding paper and stepping through a door – I don’t believe it is so long. And that evidence trail of my work is pretty terrifying to dwell upon. So I don’t for long.
Because over the last seven fasmagorically fast seven years, I’ve been effectively retraining.
Learning about the planet I live on, finding a take on it, exploring that and meeting people to learn from them about it and turning those conversations into blogs and recordings. I’ve been building a thesis of the world and experimenting with lots of components of storytelling. Sort of instinctively, sort of intentionally. And finding out what my working values really are, to lock in all I’ve been trying out to those and to a surer purpose.
Learning about emotional truth. Its centrality to all human motivation, including mine.
Still trying to flee the demon of incredibility, not helped by the loving stability of my life for half a century; great artists seem to allow themselves to go mad from seeing life’s fundamental Absurdity, yet I have still Kobayashi Maru-ed it. Death will catch up with me, of course – which only affirms my personal lifelong conviction to be a man of joy, in the moments I am able to.
The summer ran into the autumn and buffered into Christmas for us fast. So I am starting 2023 like a graduate getting out on his bike; renewing and starting again. Unsure of what I have that will work.
But what I have is simple – a desire to help people get more excited about crisis and change. To use my creative voice to speak for the world of possibilities out there beyond this present narcy darkness.
Speaking for nature a bit, encouraging leaders to see new stories ahead, not old ones, and to find their voices in this hour. I want to help do that.
I said I wanted to focus. Defrag the freelance hardbrain. Let the engine go properly cool. In the balmy warmth all across Europe this summer, from London, to Paris, to the south of France to Milton Keynes, back home to the south coast of England, I felt that cool breeze and began to write in that blank sketchbook.
I let the pencil nib follow the breadcrumb trail of excitement. Not overthink anything. Just note it. Feel into the quiet guided ooh! and not analyse it for a while.
The result was a conviction.
Time to make it now. Renew your vows to the thing you preach and scare off the eternal worried dilettante.
I followed this into a number of things that now sit on my desktop underneath this browser window, to go with last spring’s first draft of the book of my thesis.
2023 will be about The Shape of Things To Hum. I know the LP now – it is a six-sided vinyl experience and I have still some lyrics to write, some sessions to record, some segues to figure out, but I know it. I feel it. I think I believe in it again. I cannot explain it’s loooong gestation but I have a first draft of a megamix sitting on this desktop alongside everything else, and it… might yet be brilliant. If my creative experience can pull rank on my inherent naffness and snap to life the right locked cut.
But the summer also produced a complete script for a full cabaret musical around it.
This is essentially trying to make two different experiences at once, in order to make both better.
Picturing as clearly as I do now how this could be brought to the stage, building on Andy’s and my work with Five Songs filled me with manifestatory confidence, I have to say – and gave me some direction on unfinished tunes.
This in turn lead to a small but world-shifting additional development – the logo. The Shape of Things To Hum has a logo now and when it fell into place on my screen in the autumn I couldn’t stop staring at it. It felt – it feels – real. Like a mad alternative West End show waiting to explode.
I turned all this into a lovely one-off episode of UTF: The Hopeychattybits in which I talk with three of the dearest creative mates Momo led me to – Simon Brett, Andy Robinson and Lee Rawlings. In it I reveal a first little brand sting to them and how I rashly sent them the show script draft #1 to look awkwardly at each other about – all as part of my ongoing mission to discuss how practically to fashion new stories of us in these times of distinctly buzzkilling crisis.
Through the summer as well, however, I found myself easily scratching out concepts for how to get from one to the other – from a musical headphones experience to a live cabaret media event – and I have focus for some intriguing one-man street sketches and for a one-man character talk for corporate events as much as artistic ones.
I found people who might be able to fashion me the Ghost of Future Shock’s shocking hot pink costume and then discovered what colour 2023 is meant to be. Hot pink.
I feel sure about the three parts of my creative life – art, research and consultancy. Experiences, ideas and advocacy; Momo:tempo, Unsee The Future, Momo:zo. And so I finish this year with a clearer idea of what I am knocking on doors with, and who’s doors. It’s frightening.
I start the new year alone. Unresourced, unsure who needs me. But with a suite of developed creative experiences and skills bound by a now deep conviction in my world view. And so many incredible people met and learned from before I took to the beach to think.
We are in a time of gross corruption, injustice, failure and apparent collapse. A time of illusions and isolations and wonderings.
What the hell, you might say, do we really have to celebrate this NY?
I think all we can do to take more active part in this era of fearsome unrealities and unknowable change is dream much more intentionally – and step into those dreams with dumb-ass have-a-go to-hell-with-it.
This is what I am about to do on the other side of this evening of more fizz and bells and wonderings.
Wish me luck. But it’s not luck. It’s art. And I wish it to you too.
Thank you for upholding me through all this. I hope I can better encourage you too next.
Here’s to coming of age this year.