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I don’t go out very often. I’m more of a stay at home girl. I like sitting down, working, drinking coffee, reading, writing, singing, trying to find a tune on the keyboard… occasionally you’ll find me sitting by the sea. But that’s about as far outside as I usually get. I’m not a fan of crowds, clubs, loud noises, alcohol or rowdy people. So it takes a pretty awesome line-up to get me off my sofa and across town to a gig. 

Last night promised that line-up. Bitter Ruin plus Brian Viglione. What could possibly be better? The other names on the website were Sxip Shirey, who I’d heard about but whose music I’d never listened to, and Elyas Khan, who I’d never even heard of. But I thought, well, why not? It’s been at least a year since I went to a gig, I’m due a little time outside of my living room. Off I went. 

Of course I went alone. I find it easier to lose myself in the music that way. Being me, I got there half an hour early and stood propping up the bar with my lemonade for a while before they opened the doors. You know what, though? It was worth it, because I spent the entire gig front & centre, totally in on all the action. 

So. Bitter Ruin got up first. They were fucking awesome. They opened with Chewing Gum, a song close to my heart: 
(none of these videos are actually of them last night, but you get the idea)

They carried on with a few more, and then they said they were going to do a new one. Georgia explained that this one didn’t really work without drums, so… lo and behold, they got a drummer on stage, and it was only Brian Fucking Viglione! OHMYGOD. I swear I nearly died of pleasure just at the thought of this partnership. And then they started to play. 

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I’m going to let you in on a little secret now. It’s well-known that I’m not a very emotional person. I’ve even been accused of being a robot from time to time. The other day, one of my colleagues turned to me and said “When are we going to see your softer side?” and everyone around him – me included – fell about laughing. But there is one thing that can change that. One thing that somehow makes me open myself up to my feelings. That thing is really, really good drumming. Don’t ask me why. I have no idea. It just happens. Give me an excellent drummer and I will give you a softer me who actually has feelings almost like a normal human being. 

So. Back to Brian. Georgia and Ben started singing. Ben was playing guitar. It was a beautiful Wild West number. And then Ben mouthed “one, two, three, four”, and Brian hit the drums and blew my mind. Honestly. He ripped me open with his drumsticks and my soul spilled onto the stage. It was awe-inspiring. At the end of the song, I couldn’t even whoop over the lump in my throat. Yes, me. Robotic, unemotional me. That man does more than just drum. He gets in tune with the rhythm of the universe and hits that motherfucker until it belongs to him. 

Needless to say, after that I was feeling a bit raw. Stunned. Amazed. And then Georgia said they were going to do A Brand New Me. Without Brian this time. I was happy, because this is one of my favourite songs of hers. You know when you listen to an album, and there are one or two tracks that just resonate really deeply with your own life, and you think, I wish I’d written that? Yeah.

So, we were all sitting on the floor. Georgia picked up her mike, readied herself for singing, and then said “You know what? I’m going to come and sit in the audience.” Like I said, I was front and centre, and she only CAME AND SAT RIGHT NEXT TO ME. Just when I thought the night couldn’t get any better, when I was so raw from listening to Brian beat the living shit out of the drums while Ben & Georgia slayed one of the most amazing songs I’d ever heard, Georgia Fucking Train came and sat next to me and sang a song that’s really close to my heart (oh yes, dear doubters, I have one). She performed the shit out of it, too. Who’d have thought someone could come and sit in a teeny cramped space in between audience members and still make everyone feel like they were watching her on stage? The girl is a legend. Anyway, the song was beautiful as always, haunting and emotional and the perfect follow-up to the song with Brian. What’s that? You don’t know the song? Shame on you. Here it is: 


It was intense. She finished (to rounds of enthusiastic applause), got back up on stage, and said “In complete contrast, this next song is about… oh, it’s just about a dickhead.” We all laughed. Outrageous was fantastic, a dedication to all the dickheads in our lives. I think it’s one of the most vocally amazing songs she conquers, though once I’d heard the song with Brian (at some point I’ll find out its actual name), that one quickly took first position. 

And so Bitter Ruin finished their set, having opened the floodgates and let me ride the waves. They got off stage, and the audience screamed at them to come back, so back they came. For one more song, a beautiful rendition of Beware

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I stayed sitting on the floor while Gentlemen & Assassins set up. 

Holy fucking crap, guys. I never thought it was possible to get three people who are so talented, so masterful, so completely fucking awesome on the same stage. Obviously we’ve already spoken about Brian Viglione and his amazingness on drums. Couple that with Sxip Shirey and Elyas Khan, and you’re onto a winner. 

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Sxip is fantastic. He plays things that aren’t instruments with a passion that borders on orgasmic. Actually, I’m pretty sure that at some points during last night’s show it might have crossed that border. I have never seen someone master the art of a mixing bowl and a marble before, but you know what? I’d pay really good money to see this guy do it again. Which reminds me of two points (argh, dammit, why am I not one of those people whose brain works in a nice logical linear fashion?) 

1. The gig was only £8. EIGHT FUCKING QUID. I’d have paid twenty easily. Thirty, perhaps. 

2. The whole thing reminded me of a religious experience. More on that later. 

Anyway, Sxip. Fucking master of musicality. I get the feeling you could walk down the street with him and he’d suddenly start playing the leaves, the walls, bringing the graffiti to life… the man is a magician. He gained a die-hard fan last night. 

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Elyas Khan I’d never even heard of, but man he was good. Reminiscent of Eugene from Gogol Bordello, which coming from a Gypsy girl is one hell of a compliment. He was so intuitively musical, so into his lyrics, so able to switch suddenly from one part of the song to the next. It felt like the tunes were being created around him. There is always a comparison that can be made between musicians and other artists, but watching this guy create the stage (because he didn’t just own it, he fucking made it) was like watching a master artist at work. You could just see him start by sketching the outline and then fill it with beautiful colours, the dashes getting more and more wild as the song went on, until finally, the climax. What a dude. 

Back to the religious experience thing. Not that I’ve ever had one. Or not brought on by religion, anyway. Gentlemen & Assassins when on stage have the ability to transport you to a plane of consciousness you might not have realised existed. It’s like a huge mess of instruments and bike bells and marbles and mixing bowls and penny whistles and paper clips and pieces of wood, all coming together to create something sublime. 

They finished up with Georgia on stage with them, singing her heart out. By this point I was so open, so raw, that I could barely process the things that were making the music happen. I was just listening, partaking, watching this beautiful thing take shape. And then it was over. 

I don’t stick around after gigs. Inevitably people end up speaking to me, often they’re drunk, always they’re rowdy, and it’s not really my scene. You know, humans. Anyway, I disappeared as quickly and quietly as I could, after smiling my appreciation at Sxip across the room, and I stepped outside into the relative quiet of the streets of Hove. I turned right towards the main road, then thought, you know what would make an amazing evening complete? Some time by the sea. So to the sea I went. 

I sat in front of the waves and sung at them. I’ve been doing this from time to time since I first moved back to the sea when I was sixteen. I find it calming and therapeutic. Yesterday I just found it fitting. 

Tonight I went down to a place by the sea 
Where the floor was hard and the chairs were cold
I stood front and centre and swayed to the beat 
And the music healed my soul

I sung that, over and over, allowing myself to feel. I watched the waves. I sung with them rather than over them, keeping my crescendos in line with their crashes, my beats in line with their rhythm. And then I sung through the album I’ve written but not recorded yet, sitting on a groyne facing the sea. It was a beautiful end to an overwhelming evening. It was interesting to see which tracks I wanted to sing to the ocean and which ones I felt weren’t good enough. If I’m taking that as my benchmark, the album when I eventually get around to putting something down on recording equipment will be quite different from the one I’d imagined. I think I might need some sea noises in there too. 

Eventually I came to the end of the songs, and I stood up and walked slowly along the beach towards home. I sung other songs, not my own; starting with Autumn Leaves and continuing through gradually more operatic tunes; Nella Fantasia, Aranjuez. By the time I hit Brighton Pier I’d done a sort of acoustic version of Ampersand (not that I had an instrument, but I can imagine it working that way), a couple of takes of A Brand New Me and was finishing up with Hurt when I saw over the road the bright lights of a chip shop. I wandered over, bought myself a bag of them and plonked down on a bench opposite the sea, watching the waves from a distance this time but still feeling a connection. 

I threw the paper away and wandered towards home, past all the drunken people spilling out of the clubs (and, for the most part, out of their clothes) and arrived back at some late-ish hour, at which point I lay in bed and fell asleep unusually quickly. 

So, in summary: if you ever get the chance to see this combination of bands, go. If you get the chance to see them separately, go as well. They will blow your mind.

My top 13 books for this year; none of which were published this year, all of which I read this year, some of which I read for the second time this year.
 
13. Broken ~ Karin Fossum
 

I picked this book up in the little bookshop at the end of my road, as part of a 3-for-£2 deal. This tends to be my source of fiction when I need something to rest my brain in between reading heavy academic tomes. Broken, when I opened the first page, looked like it might not be the break I needed. It was written in that linguistically interesting way that makes you realise as soon as you’ve passed the first line that the author has put their heart and soul into the writing. You know the kind. Much as I’m all for excellent authorship, what I was looking for at the time was a little light reading. I decided to give it a go, and it turned out to be perfect. Incredibly well-written – even more so when you consider that the English version is a translation – with a story that grips the reader, pulling them gently through the pages up to the climax. Definitely recommended.
 
12. Aula Lucis – Thomas Vaughan
 

Written in 1651, Aula Lucis is a work on alchemy. Unlike the vast majority of “old alchemical texts” out there, this one is interesting and has a ring of sense about it. Definitely worth reading if you’re looking for anything alchemical, it would also be of interest to the reader of general literature and mythology. A number of themes run throughout the short book, which may be easier to find in its later edition among the collected works of A.E. Waite.
 
11. The Book of Black Magic – A.E. Waite
 

Speaking of Waite, his Book of Black Magic also makes it into my top thirteen. Why? Because, like Aula Lucis, this book is slightly different from the majority of magical texts. For those who wish to skip straight to the ‘how-to’ section, there is a grimoire at the end; but for those who are interested in the philosophy of magic, the development of the idea of ‘black’ and ‘white’ magic, and the history of the two, the first part of the book will be invaluable. Whilst I would hesitate to suggest that Waite’s work is infallible, particularly considering the level of rivalry within the magical community in general, it is certainly worth reading for any would-be student of magic.
 
10. The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus
 

Surprisingly something I had not read before, The Myth of Sisyphus encompasses so much of philosophy that reading it seems almost essential. It’s short, it’s concise, it’s easy to read. It concerns itself largely with the idea of the absurd; a subject which of course fascinates me, but will be of interest to anyone who has ever sat back, looked at the world and thought: “They’re all mad.”
 
9. Sophist – Plato
 

 
Another large gap in my reading that was filled in 2009, Sophist is a work of Plato and therefore intrinsically valuable to the student of philosophy. Here, Plato furthers his conception of the Forms, discusses the puzzles of Parmenides, and generally gets the grey matter going. Go. Read. Enjoy.
 
8. Where Are the Children? – Mary Higgins Clark
 
 
The Queen of Suspense had to be in there, didn’t she? Higgins Clark is one of my favourite authors to whom I turn for solace when my brain is imploding from too much philosophy, physics and thought. Where Are the Children? was the first of her books I ever read, and is also the one I have read the most times. It has all the best components of an excellent work of crime fiction – mystery, desperation, fear, intrigue – woven together to form a beautiful and ultimately satisfying work that leaves the reader with that slightly hair-raising feeling. Crime fiction perfection.
 
7. The Rise and Fall of the Knights Templar – Gordon Napier
 
This book is on here for one reason: it’s realistic. Taking the myths concerned with the Knights Templar and gradually dispelling them to reveal the truth, this book is a must-read for anyone studying the history of this order of soldiers. Also recommended if you know someone who has read too much Dan Brown. There are parts that will make your eyes widen, but more because of the sheer audacity of the Catholic Church throughout history than the mysterious rituals associated with a shrouded temple order. A refreshing break: back to reality.
 
6. Leviathan – Thomas Hobbes
 

 
Another pre-2009 gap in my reading, Leviathan was an excellent work of political philosophy; an area of reading which I rarely visit. Truly one of those books that can survive through the centuries, it raises important questions for today’s politics and sheds light on a great mind. It might take a while to read – it’s certainly not small – but it’s well worth it.
 
5. On the Road – Jack Kerouac
 
Husband gave me this book before we were married, and it has taken me
until late this year to actually get around to reading it. Kerouac’s writing style is truly amazing; not many could get away with no paragraph breaks; but On the Road is a work of art before it is a work of literature, and the creative value of the text teamed with its truthful tales shines through. It’s one of Husband’s favourite books; it’s one that I appreciate for its beauty. Read it.
 
4. Accidentally Engaged – Mary Carter
 

Let me get one thing straight before I start talking about this book: I hate chick lit. Loathe it. Cannot stand it. Picked up a chick lit book a few months ago and couldn’t read beyond the first page for fear of driving myself to tear the room apart with my bare hands. But Accidentally Engaged isn’t really chick lit, it’s just lit. And good lit, too. A psychic woman accidentally ends up getting engaged to a man she neither likes nor knows, for reasons that are as alien to her as they seem to be to him. Thoughts of fate, control, life and hilarity entwine to create a genuinely great book that will have you in stitches throughout. It made me make embarrassing snorting noises on the train, and that in itself is a recommendation.
 
3. The Fabric of Reality – David Deutsch
 

I kept having to stop and remind myself to breathe during this one. It will take your world view, turn it upside-down, shake it around, throw in some bright colours, paint the ceiling, make the ceiling into the floor, place you on your head, gently return you to the right way up, and then inform you that you were right all along. A strange work of physics and philosophy, The Fabric of Reality lacks something in the philosophy department but more than makes up for it overall. It will terrify, it will grip, it will upend. Read it only after stocking up on a large supply of tea and biscuits, and a huge comfy chair: you’re going to need them.
 
2. The Mathematical Experience – Philip J. Davis & Reuben Hersh
 
The only book I have ever read that really outlines the beauty of mathematics, The Mathematical Experience was recommended by Marcus du Sautoy on one of his programmes, and I picked it up a little while later expecting something interesting but relatively dry. Oh no. Ohhhhh no. It is beautiful. Not only does it take you through the normal bits: philosophy of mathematics, history of mathematics, life stories of some mathematicians, how ideas were born; it takes you right to the bare bones of the subject. For example, reading an account of how Pythagoras actually arrived at his famous theorem was simply amazing. Taking you far beyond the basic mathematics and deep into the minds of those who founded the discipline, this book will make you want to become a mathematician; or at the very least, you’ll see mathematics in everything for weeks afterwards.
 
1. The White Goddess – Robert Graves
 

 
Since I was seventeen years old, my favourite book has been Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard. A fantastic philosophical tome, I thought nothing could ever overthrow its place as Number One Favourite Book In The World Ever. But that was before I read The White Goddess. I had heard whispers about it here and there – people saying I’d like it, but they say that about everything – and then, when we got married, Friend gave it to us as a wedding gift.
 
There is so much to say about this book that I can’t possibly cover it all here and have no idea where to begin. Its subtitle calls it ‘A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth’; and that it is. Written by a poet-historian who devoted his life to reading, writing and considering, it scrutinises myths and legends in ways only grammarians could, taking them in their historical contexts and drawing parallels not only with the rest of the literature of the time but also with the world around them. Graves seems to be able to get inside the minds of the writers of old, watching them draw their inspiration from the trees, the country, the world; and allowing us to see what they saw through his own eyes.
 
On top of this is the personal aspect: Graves speaks about his struggle with his life’s work; how he felt unable to call himself a ‘poet’ without losing respect from others, and how he therefore devoted himself largely to being a historian and author of more popular texts, neglecting the poetry he so loved for the sake of society. The happiness he feels at finally being able to release a work both of and about poetry shines through the text, making it a glorious and beautiful work of literary genius.