A Prison Librarian’s Guide to – Working with “Lifers”

Ok! I know, that is a weird title.
“Lifers” or people serving a life sentence, can’t just be bundled in to one category for whom there are particular rules for dealing with them, of course not, but in this blog are some of the things I have learned, over a long career of working within prison environments, that I thought best fell under that title.


– Full disclosure, I am a librarian who has struggled to categorise this blog, and that title is the best I’ve got!

Throughout my career as a Prison Librarian I never had any training on the psychological/relationship/understanding side of how to work with people in prisons. I had a big chunk of Librarian training under my belt and was given a chunk of training when I began volunteering in prisons on security logistics around what not to do/bring in/say/reveal/act, but the rest of it, around how vulnerable some of the residents would be or what it can really entail to face a prison sentence and how that effects someone is just something you sort of…picked up as you went?
That seems a bit ludicrous to reflect on now. I must say there feels like there was a gap – many other departments drew on specialists in their recruitment;- psychologists who’d studied criminology, teachers who specialised in teaching adults and had an understanding of supporting learners with extra needs, Officers whose training was entirely designed for this setting. This was not the case in the library. As a librarian they looked for someone who could…be a good librarian. What this line of recruitment led to was a library that reflected any community library you could walk in to on any high-street. A Library filled with book lovers, local people, “How can I helpers” and “Nothing is too much troublers” staff happy to help with no pre-conceived ideas or judgments about who you are and what you are doing here. The library I worked in was a haven in that way. It didn’t feel like you were in a prison at all. Along with all the accolades of things we had achieved, that is one I thought we should all be most proud of. That we’d created, and continued to create, a real library, right in the middle of this most challenging of places.

So the below that I share with you does not come from a learned, studied place, it comes from someone who sort of just navigated things and who now hopes that some of the things I have learned along the way may be useful to others. I am open to criticisms, queries, different views but I do hope some of it will be useful to other Librarians working in prison settings.

In England a life sentence means you will serve at least 15 years of your sentence before facing parole. Data from the Prison Reform Trust shows an average sentence in 2019 was around 4.8 years.
Everyone’s ‘Prison Journey’ is different, depending on type of crime committed, sentence given and other factors such as what stage of life they are at. Many who find themselves facing a life sentence will spend some time in a Therapeutic Community tackling some of the psychological issues relating to their crimes. In the environment I worked in you had people on recalls doing months right through to lifers with no end in sight for parole dates and progression.
The mixing of these sentences together has it’s challenges.
15+ years is a long time, and then you’re faced with options like attending an 8 week education course on money management – when you wont be managing your own money for another 14 years and 10 months! Or working in a prison workshop for the foreseeable future, feeling miserable, not progressing, not inspired. If you come in on a shorter sentence your plan can look quite meaningful, you need to focus on something personal for example; Anger Management, so you attend that course, then depending on your plans for employment on release you begin to look for opportunities to develop your skills and knowledge to ready yourself for employment (I over simplify but you can see how a shorter sentence may provide a more clear pathway at least) for a lifer how do you even begin?
This isn’t about “using your time in prison wisely to support your life going forward” This IS your life, this is your home for the next 15+ years and you need to find meaningful and purposeful activity to, of course, progress through your sentence but also for that not to be the sole focus. You need to find meaning right here and right now or you really aren’t going to make it – this isn’t just something you can grin and bear for a couple of years, this is your life. That, to me, is what separated those serving long sentences to shorter ones, and where I felt the library came in to its own.
This is your library, in this place where you live, you can help buy the stock and shape the services and talk about books or politics or maybe the weather with civilian staff, in a room lined with books you can read for pleasure and escape – not to pass a course or progress your understanding but just to be. To be a reader. To be a library member. To be a part of a community in the way anyone is who takes the time to support their local library.
I know people who have said they want to read the Top 100 BBC Recommended reads or all the classics or some such goal – well, a lifer can make that commitment and see it out here, with us.
I know people who have been part of a book group for years and years and years – well, a lifer can join our book groups and stay with us here, for years.
I know people who have sat in their local library and written their thesis, their first novel, their life story – well, a lifer can do that right here, with us.
We are not a course or a three month programme. We are “lifers” too.

Libraries are SUCH an important part of the life of those doing long sentences because…we are long lasting. Yes we have new ideas, new displays, new courses, options but the core of what we do; providing a safe space to learn and to read for pleasure as well as ‘purpose’ will always be at our core. There will always be a place for you. We aren’t a time pressured, time relative, sentence progression activity you can tick off. We are part of your community, your routine and your life.

Below are some things which I slowly started to collect in my back pocket over the years, things which I felt it was important to be mindful of when working with people facing long sentences and some of the small things we as Library Staff can do to support those issues.

  • Remembering that it is likely they have had more breakdown of romantic, family and friendly relationships which are incredibly difficult to maintain in their circumstances.
    Can your library offer services, like Storybook Dads, to support family ties?
  • They may have a phase where there feels like there is no reason for them to “buy in” to the system because there is no end in sight.
    “Ownership” feels really important here, could your library involve the residents in buying stock or furniture or creating displays?
  • They have an identity outside of being a “lifer” which they might sometimes forget, or you might sometimes forget.
    Books and book group discussions are a great way for reaching people and talking across issues and divides, many people shared their own stories through book group or creative writing groups. Having a creative outlet is so important for wellbeing and having a sense of identity, so where you can, host book groups, debate groups, writing groups.
  • They can be at risk – they are likely to have experienced suicidal thoughts, particularly in the early stages of their sentence, they may have challenges with drugs and alcohol which leave them vulnerable.
    As you would in a public library make access to information regarding the support available prominent in the library for all users to see/take away
  • They are vulnerable to radicalisation if they are looking for a sense of self identity and belonging (something which is more likely if they are facing a long sentence and have lost contact with family and friends on the outside) Talk to other staff. If you are worried about someone talk to others. You have a duty of care for people you work with which goes beyond feeling like “it isn’t my place/business”. Many of the people we work with are vulnerable, signpost them to services that can help and share your concerns with colleagues and seek advice.
  • They are very focused on the detail of their sentence and their upcoming parole – as library staff we can navigate this by learning about prison rules and processes to support their queries.

This isn’t a blog about the services libraries can offer to support people’s rehabilitation as such, I could write for days on the importance of library delivered projects like Shannon Trust or Open University, about the impact libraries have on supporting people back in to education and employment, but this isn’t so much about the “What next?” of prison life, it is about the “What right now!?” You can’t spend 15 years planning for what comes after that time, you need to live now.
It sounds a bit grand, but I truly believe that Libraries are part of that puzzle (along with other great creative, therapeutic, progressive services) in prisons, which allow people to live their life meaningfully, with hope for a future alongside real engagement in the present, because without that I am not sure how you begin to plan for the future.

A Prison Librarian’s Guide to – Working with “Lifers”

Top 10 Christmas Gifts for Football Fans

This is a list of the top 10 items available to buy for football fans this Christmas.

 Maybe you need a gift for a dedicated groundhopper, a fair-weather supporter, a lifelong fan or someone who is new to the beautiful game. The gifts on this list are all unique and created by small /independent UK based brands and businesses who would really appreciate your support this Christmas, and you can guarantee your gifts will be made with love and care.

So a season ticket is out the window (let’s be honest it perhaps was a bit of a reach for most of us anyway!) and we haven’t really got anywhere but the sofa to be wearing the latest kit, but here are some things to wrap up and put under the tree to put a smile back on the face of football fans this Christmas. They range from £3 to around £40 and I really hope you find something useful in the list!

1 First on my list is a gift I *really* would quite like myself (hint for any close friends or family reading) Created by Oxfordshire based business ‘Maps International’ is this stunning A3 Scratch of 92 Football Grounds print. Perfect for the football fan who likes to Ground Hop, is a bit of an adventurer and is looking forward to and focussing on days when getting to games is no longer a thing of the past.


Available direct from their site here https://www.mapsinternational.co.uk/scratch-off-92-football-grounds-print.html or searchable on notonthehighstreet.com £16.29

2. Now, this one is a real gem. I got one of these for myself earlier this year and think it is a really special momento from a challenging year.
Football scarves that support the NHS. 100% of the profits raised from the scarves will go towards providing Hospital workers with a variety of warm, easy to eat and delicious meals from local businesses. A gift that keeps on giving, and also…the designs are beautiful

They tend to do limited runs of these so you need to get in there quick.
You can pick up one of two designs from
https://www.originssound.com/shop £19.99

3. I couldn’t make this list without adding this. A volume of songs entitled “You’re not singing anymore”
This is a collection of songs heard on and inspired by the football terraces!
I spent many months researching them, re-working them and talking to football fans to create this ode to the beautiful game and the art of terrace singing. Available on CD, this would be a perfect gift for any football (or folk!) fan to find under the tree on Christmas morning
Available to order from the below link for £10

https://minniebirch.bandcamp.com/album/youre-not-singing-anymore

4. This book just came across my radar, it will be hot off the press this Christmas and I am definitely adding it to my list. Here’s the pre-publication details…
In Get Your Head in the Game, Dominic Stevenson, a writer, player, coach, and lifelong football obsessive, interviews a diverse cross-section of characters in the football world, from fans to managers, from players at the start of their careers to retired veterans, women’s football stars, international celebrities, refugee footballers and mental health professionals. He uproots the connections between the sport and the mind, unpicking the subtle interplay between the two; telling the stories of personal battles both on and off the pitch, he touches on anxiety, depression, discrimination, trauma, identity and recovery.
Available from a wide range of booksellers, here is the Waterstones Link. £12.99
https://www.waterstones.com/book/get-your-head-in-the-game/dominic-stevenson/9781786784353

5 You can still pick up the football club edition Remembrance Poppy Pins
from https://www.poppyshop.org.uk/collections/sports-collectibles giving a little something to a good cause at the same time as getting some Christmas shopping done. £4.99

6 These are really adorable, and a perfect way to football theme the traditional Chocolate Orange. “Crochet by JaneyBee” creates these cute football bobble hats for your orange (or bath bomb) along with some other lovely homemade gifts on her Etsy page. Hats are £3.00
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/crochetbyjaneybee/

7. These cards aren’t just for Christmas, they are for anytime you want to tell someone you love them more than that time Deeney scored. They have a whole football range, they also have a Christmas range too! Definitely worth a look for a slightly more unique take on your Christmas cards this year.
https://www.atowncalledhome.co.uk/collections/football-cards




8 Another book for the list. This time by photographer Stuart Roy Clarke. This book really is quite special. I have never really owned a “Coffee table” book before, but this is so beautiful that I keep it out on display. It captures the intricacies of the beautiful game in such a unique way and the pictures springboard many a talking point.
Available from the below link £25
https://www.homesoffootball.co.uk/collections/-p129123336

9 Team prints. “Good Team on paper” specialise in those classic Team Kit prints, they can create you almost anything but I really like their personalised options


“From Junior Football squads & School Rugby sides to local Cricket orders, we really can design any team, you tell us the line up and we will print & frame it for you. It might be Hartlebourgh United’s Under 11s  for the upcoming season, last years Dalton Year 9 cup winning side or little Al’s first ever team from 2011, it’s up to you, we will do everything we can to give you the print you want. Hockey, Basketball, Volleyball, Baseball, American Football, any team sports, just let us know”

Find out more of what they have available here. Personalised prints £26.
https://goodteamonpaper.com/

10. Ok, this one is getting adding here because it is one of my favourite books. I read it early on in my journey of falling for the beautiful game and the community, friendships, hardships, identity and sense of self that football had given to the writer stayed with me.
“Five-a-Side football is where you play the beautiful game for love, not money. You play it for life and you play it everywhere. Your kit is damp and your legs are a leopard’s back of bruises. Shirts are often tight around the belly, with your hero’s name plastered across your shoulder blades. The showers are too cold in winter and too hot in summer…This is a book for all of us – school mates, work colleagues, total strangers – bonded by the desire to blast one into the net from two feet away

Available from Waterstones for £9.99 (or do check in with your local booksellers)
https://www.waterstones.com/book/above-head-height/james-brown/9781786481788

11..Oh, ok so more than 10! Ok so this brings us to our final gift. And this one really isn’t an independent seller, small business or a unique Christmas gift. In fact, it is perhaps the most bought and most obvious gift but, hey…this one comes with a football twist….because, is it really Christmas if you aren’t arguing over monopoly?
There are several different versions available ranging from Premier League Teams to All Stars. They already seem to be sold out in places like Argos and John Lewis so your best bet is Ebay – or the individual club shops.

So ends my round up of the best Christmas gifts for a football fan, I really hope they were of some use to you. Although if you really want to go unique and homemade then I highly recommend making your own Table Football…which I found myself doing in early lockdown! You can see evidence of that at the below link

Making a Fussball Table


Top 10 Christmas Gifts for Football Fans

How Roller Derby prepared me for a Pandemic.

Over the summer and this past month myself and Robert Lane have been hosting some online chats about this and that – the most recent of these with Chris Keniger and Roxanne de Bastion, it was a really interesting and insightful, funny and realistic chat about “Pivoting” in a pandemic.
Both Chris and Roxanne have creative careers and have navigated very creative ways of managing those careers in this strangest of times. I shall link to the chat if you’d like to take a listen.
Here it is

My main take away from it was to embrace all of the things…try the ideas, be flexible, cry if you need to, do nothing if you need to, persevere, take a nap, be angry, be positive, push forward, hibernate…and feel free to change tact at any point. This isn’t just career advice it is life advice.

So, this word…Pivot, has come up a lot this year. People are pivoting their business models to make ends meet, to carry on and to make things work. People are pivoting their lives to manage home-schooling, lock down, Life with little loo roll – whatever it is, we are all being asked/forced to make and embrace change.

Pivot is not a word I used day to day prior to March but it is one I used on Sunday mornings at Roller Derby training.

Let’s assume for a minute you aren’t sure what roller derby is and let me just drag you up to speed…

Here’s a snappy definition from sfvrollerderby.com

“Roller derby is played on an oval track.  Players called “jammers” attempt to pass groups of players called “the pack.”  This involves somewhat simultaneous defense and offense, resulting in a great sport to watch.  Roller derby is a full contact sport played at a break-neck speed — on rollerskates!!

Hidden in the “Pack” is a player who takes on the role of the Pivot. The Pivot has extra responsibilities to other players in the pack, they can be identified because their helmet has a coloured stripe down the middle. They are often the leader, telling the rest of the pack what to do, making decisions and switching up at a fast pace in almost impossible and ever changing circumstances -Roller Derby is full contact carnage!! ( with sensible rules and full safety gear)
The pivot helps the jammer get through the pack by physically sweeping opposing blockers out of their way so they can make it through, the pivot is constantly switching and sacrificing their position to make a clean line for the Jammer. However, if the Jammer really can’t carry on then they can perform what is known as a “Star pass” taking the cover off of their helmet and handing it to the pivot who places it over their striped helmet and assumes the jammer position.

The position of the pivot is essentially to organise, plan, do their darndest to get that Jammer through and then if all else fails they volunteer as tribute, take the star pass and tackle the opposing team directly themselves.

That role is a lovely analogy for these times. We can all be the pivot. We can all plan, and encourage others, and mix it up and switch and take the lead role.. and when the tough stuff gets too tough for others, we can take that star pass, take the burden and give others a break.

But remember we can also be part of the pack, the sturdy wall of players who fend off the opposing forces, who listen to and heed the advice and do what they can to be a team player without charging full throttle through the opposing pack.

We can also all be a jammer – the star of the show, the zippy fast mover who the audience love and want to see- we can be that player and also know that it is ok to occasionally take a moment, realise we are overwhelmed and outnumbered and pass the star to somebody else.

How Roller Derby prepared me for a Pandemic.

Focus on the negatives!

“Wait? what? This title is not very Minnie-ish or really what anyone wants to hear right now – there is quite enough negative thankyouverrrrymuch!” –  I know, I know but stick with me!

Last night myself and Robert Lane had the pleasure of hosting a live stream chat with Neil King (Fatea) and Jo Elkington (Fancourt Music)  We have both been live streaming a lot during this period and in July we did a stream a week. We’ve built up a nice little community in our group(Minnie Birch and Robert Lane gigs)  . and we wanted to keep that conversation and community going but both feel we wanted to not let the live stream get “dull” or “overdone”  (a consideration many people are navigating right now – how do we take a way of sharing music which was new, useful and innovative four months ago and keep breathing new life in to it? )  We decided we’d like to have a live chat that reflects Robert’s successful podcast (Creative Careers Podcast)which is all about … creative careers, we would invite other people on from all sectors of the industry and have chats about the current situation, how it is effecting them in their roles and what might the future look like.

The first was last night, and my take away point was; BE MORE NEGATIVE! but hold up, hear me out there is method in the madness.

Neil and Jo are likely two people who need no introduction to those who read my blog, but in brief, Neil is a magazine editor and radio host, and Jo is a music agent (although they are both so much more) They are also people who are generous with their time, knowledge and skills, have a desire to grow the folk community as a whole and to support artists to be their best – so ideal candidates for a chat!
They were also willing to say yes to a request to come and chat live about “you know, stuff that’s happening right now with music” – didn’t even ask us to narrow that down a bit!

If you head to our group (link above and I will drop again at the end) you can rewatch the chat in all its chaotic, hot, stormy night realness but here are some of the things I took away.

Neil and Jo introduced themselves by answering our first question “What does the landscape of things look like for you and your role right now/during all this?”

Jo was very honest about the challenges of managing several acts at different stages; tour planning/middle of tour/about to tour, and having to just very quickly switch everything up. She mentioned days of unravelling on the phone/emails and quick decision making. The not knowing if to rebook for the autumn, if insurance was paying out for any venues, how to manage the pre-sale tickets (her acts had those in hundreds) and what to do next?! The positives she spoke of were how everyone involved had pulled together at this time – which I think is something we’ve seen across most communities/industries on the ground. It was also very clear that Jo’s number one priority (as she herself sat watching months of work unravel and not being sure of her own financial future)  were her clients. The musicians were her main focus.  Jo’s knowledge of the industry and the current issues are second to none, she can reel off stats of those effected and knows what’s happening within the political landscape, with the movers and shakers of the folk world and how artists on the ground are coping, it was great to have her insight and I have had a few inboxes since last night saying how much people got from the chat;

“Great stream tonight. Wasn’t sure how interested I’d be (not being a musician), but it was incredibly informative and entertaining”

Neil talked about the very real issues facing the industry but also how Radio has come in to it’s own during this time providing community and support for people in lockdown and providing musicians with an opportunity to still be heard! He looked at some of the progressive things happening with Beardy Folk festival as an example of how something can push ahead during all this and be a road map for what things could look like, but he also talked about the importance of the political landscape and that one of the challenges is that MPs aren’t necessarily aware of the real contribution music makes to communities and the economy – how many people are effected by the halt of live events – so there’s a battle on two fronts -There’s the “how do we safely move forward?” but also the struggle of being heard and recognised as a sector which needs more real support and an awareness of the many people in the industry who have fallen through the gaps for receiving any financial support during all this.

Some stats from our chat

19% of musicians are considering quitting their careers (Musicians Union survey)
36% of public surveyed still feel wary of attending live performances (Guardian)
38% of musicians didn’t qualify for any financial support through Government schemes (Musicians Union)

The #wemakeevents campaign – which looks at all those in the entertainment sector is calling for some clear key action
– Grants not loans!
– Extension of Furlough schemes
– Self Employment schemes to reflect and be tailored to the events industry.

I wont go on much longer as the chat is there for you to have a listen to, and I would recommend it. I would also recommend following the work of Jo and Neil for further insight. In particular Neil’s work with Fatea who have covered some of these issues and who have (and I hope will continue to) run workshops to further musician’s knowledge of the industry they find themselves in.

But why did I call this blog “FOCUS ON THE NEGATIVES!” Well when talking last night I focused on some of the positives – having had more time to create, network, engage with listeners – that seems to be my go to, to look at the positives. But the message I felt I got from Jo and Neil is – that’s all very nice but across the sector are mass redundancies, venues shutting, agents with no income now or for the foreseeable future, self-employed people with no government support who still can not work, a genuine concern that the people and spaces who make our industry what it is are not going to be there when we are able to perform again. That we aren’t being considered. That this “oh but we’ve got some good out of it” is useful for your personal focus and well-being but doesn’t really help to navigate the political terrain. We have to be realistic and we have to be pro-active and that calls on us to focus on what is happening, even if it is negative….especially if it is negative.

If I am honest in my reflections,  perhaps a willingness to focus on the positives, talk openly about the luxury of being able to write, and a willingness to see music as a comfort to people in lockdown and hand it all over for free on a less than quality stream is part of the problem (don’t get me wrong, there are spaces and places for this but it did get me thinking about what my role could be in supporting the industry in a “better” way and that perhaps I haven’t always been getting it right)

So what’s an actionable thing I can do to be part of the solution?
Both Jo and Neil were clear on this – ENGAGE IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS.

This was eye-opening for me, as someone who has written to their MP many times, campaigned, signed petitions, fundraised, volunteered, lobbied in Parliament etc etc on many causes close to my heart I have NEVER once stopped and thought that now is the time to be doing this for the industry I so dearly love…odd but not unusual I think to perhaps forget to fight the battle that is closest to you?! To essentially stand up for yourself.

David. J. Hoyland dropped this useful link from the Musicians Union please do go, read, write to your MP, sign the petitions, call for change and be a NEGATIVE voice for once 🙂

It’s never been more important to focus on the negatives!!

Many thanks to those who brought their voices to the chat last night too.
Hope to see you next time

Minnie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focus on the negatives!

“Initial” thoughts…

 

 

Ok, so here goes….I got myself involved in a case of mistaken identity this week…

Recently a post went out about sexual harassment within the folk scene. “Sexual harassment” seems the best term but it is a very nuanced thing – manipulation, coercion, abuse of power.

My friend Lizzy showed it to me Tuesday evening, I read it and took it in. I dug out the original post and sent a message to the author on the Instagram account that linked the post. I noted, however that it was an Instagram account recently set up and it was anonymous. The thought crossed my mind of who it might be, was it someone close to me who needed more support? But I understood fully why the writer would want anonymity.

I wondered what would happen, if it would blow up or not and start a lot of conversation, what I could do to be part of the positive change?

On Wednesday morning I woke up to two Facebook messages of people reaching out to me as they thought I had made the post!?!?!
(it would seem, something which I hadn’t noticed, that although the post was anonymous it had been initialled and they also happened to be my initials and these two men had made the assumption it was me)

I felt quite conflicted about these messages.

Firstly, it was NOT me. It wasn’t my experience and it wasn’t my post. The post, if you read it properly, has a lot of things in it which makes it obvious it wasn’t me, and so it frustrated me these men would reach out based on initials, and seemingly not have really read the original post in much detail? Or not have known me well enough to have seen it wasn’t me but still to have reached out about something so personal when the hope was for it to be anonymous!? What were they thinking?

It was weird to think that two people had thought it was my voice – would there/could there be more? “Oh gosh” went my brain “Is this about to blow up with my name on it” – A selfish reaction, considering the real concern should be around the actual woman who wrote the original blog, but that was my reaction at the time.

I then felt angered to see that both of the men who had contacted me, thinking it was my post, had not shared the post or said anything publicly – they’d sent me unsolicited messages even though the post was anonymous but they hadn’t actually supported the issues openly.  Why not?

At first, I thought it was nice to offer support as (if it was my post) I would have been having a difficult time and people reaching out might have been welcome, but as they haven’t posted or supported publicly it is really meaningless, isn’t it?

And wasn’t it also just highlighting that my anonymity hadn’t worked?

To contact a woman and basically let her know that not only do you not have her back publicly but two of you have figured out who she is and she has no anonymity; Christ! If it HAD been my blog post, I would have been absolutely wracked with anxiety.

 

I then realised that overnight the author of the post had “outed” herself; for want of a better word. And it’s terrible but I felt some relief at this that nobody else could just see the initials and jump to the same conclusion these two men had– that’s how tricky it is to come out with these stories – I didn’t even want to be accidentally mistaken as having written it. That’s how hard it can be, and this woman has done that.

I told both the men who had actually written the blog and said that she’d likely appreciate their messages being sent her way but that actually doing something publicly was better and if they felt they could, that as men ( and one was a man who I feel a lot of us respect and look up to in the scene)  that would really help.

This was Wednesday morning. Neither of them has done it. It is now Thursday night. They’ve both posted other non-related/unimportant things on their social media accounts.

I can’t know what the author of the original post had hoped for but I feel we let her down by not starting a proper conversation around all of this – or maybe we have and I have missed it somehow?

I posted a link to the original blog on twitter. Some folk musicians liked it. They did not post themselves or share or comment. One is an artist who has herself done many a public call to arms for support with people abusing positions of power – perhaps she is exhausted with it, it isn’t my place to judge her and it shouldn’t really be the place of other women to have to constantly fight these things, but their silence was disappointing. I considered cancelling a patreon with one of them because I just felt so angry about it – but that is really misplaced. The anger needs to be on the individuals/System we have that firstly allows these things, but secondly seems to make it so impossible for people to talk about. A community which is usually vocal about injustice seems to have gone very quiet now it is a little closer to home.

I am so incredibly disappointed in the two men who contacted me (You know who you are, please do better. Why would you send a message to me when you thought it was my post but not support by having conversations, sharing publicly and being part of the solution?!) I now see all they would have done is shown there was no anonymity and no support but they masked it as concern.

Why is the folk community being so quiet?

Have I missed something here?

 

I am always here if anybody needs to talk through anything they are facing. Perhaps this too is extremely difficult for the perpetrators who have been operating within a world which has made it so that they really did not see the harm in their actions, that’s OK, we all mess up (granted this is pretty big) but if we want change we need to have supportive, safe conversations for everybody effected by this and people need to take accountability and make change where appropriate.

 

I have no idea if this blog post is part of the solution or just adds to the problem but I didn’t want to remain silent.

Minnie x

The original blog post can be found here

 

“Initial” thoughts…

Has anyone seen her?

I didn’t do a June daily diary video. I filmed a bit of stuff but actually, although June was full of lovely things and some very different moments to March, April, May it didn’t really show in 3 second snippets of each day. It all looked a bit like a Groundhog Day, which is something I think most of us want to move away from in this lockdown/limbo time. 

I really enjoy those diaries though. I like making them, looking back on them and I also enjoy watching other people’s (Charlotte Campbell’s  being a favourite!) So maybe I’ll bring them back sometime. Maybe for August -as July is already galloping away with us.

My videos also didn’t show the thing I have most been searching for in my days so I thought I could put that in a blog post. The videos show a lot of noise. There’s workout videos and library stories. Live performances and baking. Crafty making and socially distant gatherings. Song after song after song… but the thing you’ll often find me doing is searching for the silence. Where is she?

This is the most time I’ve ever spent alone but silence evades me. 

Since lockdown I’ve been doing a lot of my work and my music from home. My work also involves a lot of music making, which is nice. This last month I’ve recorded

  • A drill beat, a Beyoncé style ballad and a gorilla style funk beat (for a wonderful charity project I was able to work on)
  •  vocals on friends tracks
  •  a song for every single team coming back to the premier league
  •   more traditional folk song ideas for future projects with Said the Maiden
  •   several cover songs for campaign funders.
  •  Demos and ideas for my own music
  • library videos 
  • video tutorials for most of the sessions I used to teach as a music tech teacher.

    Recording and filming and editing over and over and over. My own voice grates and I make sloppy edits as I tire from hours of it.

I don’t usually record things at home, I do them at work or in the studio with a producer. I make rough demos, sure, but really outside of lockdown I either do things at work where the software and equipment are much better or I hire studios to work in and I think that’s ok, as a solo artist I think it can be important/fun to work with others regardless of your home studio set up or skills in this area.

But being  an audio engineer/producer/mix/mastering engineer are skills  people spend years learning. It is funny somehow that musicians are expected to successfully wear a lot of hats to be PR, Social media, tour Manager, agent, promoter, distributor, producer, engineer, live tech, merch designer etc etc., and that during lockdown it has come as a surprise to people that not all musicians have the equipment/skills/funds to just have a home studio/stream live.

But I digress, my point was just to say that this recording at home, like so many other things we are all having to adapt to across the world, is not something I normally do – it has been a positive of lockdown to be able to embrace it and learn more, I don’t have great equipment – running free software on a PC with a mic donated to me by a friend – but it is a poor workwoman who blames her tools and I have been proud of the skills I have developed and the things I have created. 

Working and learning and making the best of what we have got is sort of 2020s tag line in a lot ways.  So if I had shared a video of June it would have mostly been snippets of

  • Clearing desk space.
  • Ordering new mic stands
  • watching You tube tutorials
  • Trying to control what noise gets in and out of my space.
  • Controlling the space as much as I can.

    But I can’t control the noise.  The noise is

The children outside in the school playing field that backs on to my house

The tree strimmers from the lockdown garden project a neighbour has undertaken

The lockdown DIYers from all around the close

The arguments from next door

The Sirens 

The traffic 

The dogs…the four dogs my neighbours have

The cats…my cats! 

The phone pings

The doorbell

…And so I am

Always chasing the silence.
Waiting for the moment she arrives to catch the elusive recordings
She is a Moving beast BUT You can predict when she’ll be there. ..or you can at least predict precisely when she can’t.

I look out of my window for her.

I note the days the children are not at school or the times the neighbours leave the dog out in the garden to bark

I try to trap her in foam squares and duvets. She is elusive.

She does not want to come over for tea, she does not even want to sit in the garden at a social distance. She hides. I can’t decide if she holds no regard for lockdown rules at all, that she is entirely doing her own thing, or if she is still unsure, just beginning to step back in to normal life, so you can catch her cautiously stepping out when less people are around, at times where there is less activity that is when she decides to take her daily stroll.

When I look at it that way, I understand her reluctance to make an appearance and I patiently wait to catch the elusive silence so we can make recordings together again. 

 

 

Has anyone seen her?

May 2020

I usually like to keep a monthly tour diary, thought I would carry it on in lockdown as something to do/look back on. May has felt like quite a long month in many ways. These are snippets of my days but they are also the snippets I am willing to put on my blog. It’s been a really challenging few days across the world and, like so many others, my heart is currently heavy. It isn’t all roller skates and ukuleles but I am very appreciative of these moments of joy. Stay Safe xx

Link for May’s video 

 

May 2020

Ganning along recording a terrace choir

Recording the Terrace Choir 

***A very long version of events of how this came together – for those who may like to know***

So trying to organise this kind of thing can be tricky.
I needed the Football ground (Berkhamsted Football Club, myself, the filmographer (Tom Willmott) and the recording engineer to all be able to line up a date with a reasonable amount of time to ask people to come along and sing!

Both myself and Tom Willmott work full-time jobs alongside being full-time musicians/photographers-filmographers (yeh the maths doesn’t work out!) Then we spend our evenings gigging, filming etc so even between us the dates were limited.

The ground is used as, well… not surprisingly,as a football ground! And their first team were in the middle of an unbeaten run sitting at the top of their league table when I started to bother the chairman for some time in his ground – The Club and Chairman Steve Davis could not have been more helpful.

So we got a a date, I could do it, Tom could do it, it was reasonable amount of notice to gather together a few choir members – although they really did need to use their outdoor voices to make the numbers up and that they did – Thank you all!

But it was not enough time to source a sound engineer to fit the date. So I cobbled together what I could and set about to try and host, lead the session and record – which doesn’t sound like a lot to do but it is a faff – trust me  (when the pizza was late I almost had a breakdown)

I don’t have “good” equipment to record at home. I have access to some fantastic equipment at work so saving up for a tour van has been more important to me than buying recording equipment (yep, if I could have read the future I certainly would be stockpiling amazing audio equipment at home for recording/livestreams and not concerning myself with a van so much but …who knew?!)

So I had to make do and mend!
I recorded with one condenser mic, two handheld zooms and I used one ShureSM58

I read up a lot about placement for wind dissipation as this was my main worry – luckily we had a fairly balmy night and this wasn’t a major issue. Having the condenser embedded in the crowd helped. They sort of worked as soundproofing allowing the mic to pick up the voices of those directly around it.

I had to move the mic around a lot. The condenser (the one I used in particular) loves a quiet delicate sound – it is my microphone so that’s perfect for me – but I struggled to hear the lower end and it didn’t sound much like a football crowd!

I did a few takes with Christopher Lawley holding the mic stood in the middle (If you don’t know Christopher, he is a folk singer come town-crier come sea-shanty man and was born to sing on the football terraces)

We did a lot of takes. I ran a click through the ShureSm58 track in the hope it would give me help in lining things up later (it didnt! and Nick Harris of Spare Room Recording – Music Production did a lot of what I believe he calls “Massaging” in post production)

So when I got home I had a lot of tracks to play with.
I ended up using takes from the Zoom recorders to actually get a bit of the “background/wind” noise back in to the tracks and more of a “crowd” feel so that they sounded like they were on a terrace – the condenser had perhaps been too good at its job and I was glad I had those – Although I don’t advise you just leave a zoom running in the hope you can edit up over an hour of just streamed audio! – Editing took a while. I drank wine. Lessons have been learned!

But with a lot of tweaking and then sending to Nick for perfecting I was really happy with the outcome. It was exactly what I wanted to capture, a terrace choir but without actually using terrace choir footage.

I didn’t seek footage already recorded at Newcastle for two reasons – 1) I wanted my own and the fun of that project working with friends in that way, I am also keen to see if I can make links with local clubs and support them in some way through this project.
2) Real terraces, honest real terrace recordings, often sound like a wall of sound, they make perfect sense when you’re in the middle of them but adding them to a recording wouldn’t have quite given me my desired effect.

Thanks to the brilliant skills of Nick and my good group of friends and family who seem to be up for doing ridiculous things at the drop of a hat, I got exactly what I wanted!

Tom Willmott caught it all perfectly in this footage.

Hope you like it too. xx

 

Click to see the Blaydon Races

Ganning along recording a terrace choir