New Favourite Song: Riskee and the Ridicule – Roots

Riskee and the Ridicule Dawn of The Dog Roots

This song is my latest obsession. I’ve spent this weekend listening, dancing, travelling, thinking, dancing, sorting out, working out and dancing to it. Yeah, it is hard to keep still when listening to Riskee and the Ridicule.

By the way, the whole album Dawn of the Dog is awesome. Listening to it felt like a punch to the chest in reverse, one that fills your lungs with air rather than pushing it out, as if a fist has sucked the pain out and replaced it with catchy hip-hoppy punk ska music.

But back to Roots, a track I am sharing because I love it and I think you will too. It’s a feel-good anthem for those of us who want to be the best versions of ourselves, reach up towards the light, but keep our feet on the ground (while stomping in time with the beat). Because “if you ain’t got roots, how you gonna grow?”

We’ve all done stuff we’re not that proud of, had things happen to us that we wish hadn’t, made mistakes, done embarrassing things, made dubious decisions, or maybe just regret the things we haven’t done. We all have a past. We all started somewhere. Whatever our stories, let’s just own it. 

I love the potent messages packed into this tune, but also how they are expressed in punchy poetic lyrical lines about blooming plants and telling tattoos… “every scar is a memory” and “just because you came from the dark, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve light”. 

Also, the video has some quality nostalgia…

Play it loud, reaching for the skies, standing tall, with an army of skeletons behind you.

9 Lessons In Body Confidence Worth Remembering

Body Image Confidence

Yes, I’m doing it, I’m writing the inevitable body image blog post. It is a style blogger rite of passage and in case that isn’t reason enough, I already have another excuse lined up, as it is Body Confidence Week.

I actually started writing this post back in April, after 2000 words and only a third of the way through, I realised it had become moany monologue (a moanologue?) and while it was quite cathartic to write, it is not something I want to inflict upon the world. My body and I have always had a rocky relationship, probably in no small part because I refer to it in the third person, it’s definitely a wild ride and something I have to continually work on. So I thought I’d rework my original draft into something a bit more constructive – the lessons I have learnt, then forgotten and learnt again. Hopefully sharing them will help me remember them.

Body confidence has nothing to do with how you actually look
It has everything to do with how you feel. The moments I have felt content, pleased with my body or happy in my own skin have been when I have felt strong, fit, healthy, exhilarated, well-rested or pampered. When you feel good, you look good. Work on how you feel rather than change the way you look.

Look after your body
This is one of life’s most important rules, yet it is the one I am pretty much always bending and often outright flouting. Crimes against self love include forgetting to feed yourself properly, depriving yourself of sleep and being a bitch to yourself. Self-neglect is hard habit to break, but real body confidence begins by knowing you are worth looking after. When you’re busy and things start to slip, go back to basics: eat well, drink more water, sleep or rest when you need to, move more, go for a walk, dance to your favourite song and be kind to yourself, and I mean being super lovely to yourself.

Changing your size won’t necessarily make you happier with your body
I’ve been skinny, average and overweight, none have resulted in instant happiness and contentment, each had their pros and cons. If you are fixated on your appearance in a dysfunctional way, getting one thing right just means you’ll move your attention onto the next body part. Focus on the things you love about yourself, work on being happy, not perfect.

Only buy clothes that fit and make you feel fabulous
Clothes can help! Of course we have all had wardrobe angst and changing room dramas (it can’t just be me) but when you find the right clothes, they really do make it much better. Don’t worry about the size you want to be in, that is just a label, only ever buy things that fit well and feel good. Don’t settle for the first thing you grab because it is easier, seek out the beautiful and comfortable items that your gorgeous body deserves to wear. This takes time and money of course, but start infiltrating your wardrobe with lovely things, aiming towards only owning things you utterly adore.

Be nice to and about strangers
I have heard kind, generous people, who I love dearly, make negative comments about strangers across the room or passers-by due to their size, fashion sense, hairstyle or body modifications. I have also heard strangers mutter things about me, and in some cases confront me directly with insults (seriously uncool ladies). How someone looks, what they choose to wear or how they present their body is none of your business, you don’t have to like it. Comments always say more about the person uttering them than their subject. If you hear one, ignore it. If you’re about to make one, stop and ask yourself why.

Keep it in perspective
Today I feel pretty rough, so I went to work with no make up on and my hair just grabbed back in one of those lazy half pony-tails. There is no way I’d post a selfie today as it’s not how I’d choose to be seen. However, I can still leave the house and get stuff done. Contrary to what cheap celeb mags suggest, no one is going to be traumatised by a woman not wearing make up. 

You are beautiful right now – appreciate it
I hated the way I looked when I was younger, my face, my body, the whole package, but when I look back at photographs, I actually looked alright! I just didn’t know it or feel it, but I wish I had so that I could have enjoyed the way I looked at the time. I fully intend to get improve with age, I’m definitely more confident now and looking forward to things getting even better as I get older. I don’t always look or feel good now, but I do know that when I am in my forties and fifties, I’ll look back and think I looked great. Now I realise that, I always try to appreciate how I look and to feel beautiful right now. 

Compliment others and let yourself be complimented
Everyone needs to learn how to accept compliments right now! I did this on a self-confidence adult-ed course, we all had to give and accept a compliment with the other people in the room. It was quietly hilarious being in a room full of uncomfortable, shy, socially awkward strangers each trying to be genuinely nice to each and accept the niceness in return. It made me realise that giving and receiving compliments are both difficult. Giving compliments can make you feel great, but having one rejected can knock your confidence. If I tell a friend they look fabulous and they disagree, I get really frustrated. I don’t think they are being modest, I think they are basically telling me they don’t value my opinion, which makes me sad. If someone compliments you, just say thank you!

Your body is amazing!
Listen to your heartbeat, do some deep breathing, think about all the things your body does automatically. When you have or live with someone with chronic illness, you realise how wondrous the human body is when it works! Appreciate how your body works as well as how it looks. Don’t forget how amazing your body is. 

Book Review: The Sunken by S.C. Green

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The latest novel from S.C. Green is a dark steampunk fantasy set in an alternate Georgian London with a vampiric king, flesh-eating monsters and… dragons! That’s all I really needed to hear to know I wanted to read it (actually she had me at steampunk).

The Sunken is the first book in the four-part Engine Ward series so inevitably there are introductions to be done and scenes to be set. Now I have finished the first book, I cannot wait for part two (and there is a sneak peek at the end), but it did take me a while to get into The Sunken, to get to grips with the rich and complex alternate history and to suss out the many different characters. Then, all of a sudden, I found I was completely immersed in the Engine Ward world, the adventure kicked in and I couldn’t put it down.  

Told mostly in third person narration, the story is interspersed with entries from the unpublished memoirs of James Holman ‘the blind physician’, a central character, who I was delighted to discover, was inspired by a real-life blind adventurer with the same name. He isn’t the only famous historical figure reworked for fantastical fictional purposes, Isambard Kingdom Brunel is in the middle of the action in this story and provides some innovative twists and turns to the plot. Completing the trio of boyhood friends is Nicholas Thorne, a mysterious character who can sense the thoughts and feelings of animals, and who leaves a trail of unfortunate accidents and murders in his wake.

I loved the alternate history; familiar names and public figures pop up all over the place, but not quite as you ever imagined them. I know the Royals are always up to some mischief, but there is something seriously sinister going on with the King in this book.

Industrial advancement is given an entirely new context as politics, religion and innovation interweave. In the Georgian London of the Engine Ward world, engineers are political and religious figures with their own churches. Knowledge really is power, but only if you can play and win the political game. It may be fantasy, but the social and class structures are instantly recognisable. The women are mostly wives or servants, we only get a glimpse of Bryon’s brilliant daughter and a mention of Mary Shelley. The working class ‘Stokers’ are not allowed to innovate or invent, and therefore kept from power or influence. Of course, a young Stoker Engineer called Isambard disrupts all that. 

Why I liked it

  • I liked the friendships between the main characters, which felt unpredictable. Each of them has their own backstory and personal baggage and I never felt entirely sure how their relationships would play out.
  • It’s adventurous with a bit of violence and gore!
  • The playful alternate history features prominent engineers, scientists, poets and innovators making appearances.
  • This line made me do a weird snort-y chuckle “Turner secretly had popular artists killed in their sleep”.
  • I became intrigued about our actual History and started looking up some of the figures I didn’t know much about. This is unusual for me as I don’t really get excited by History (unless you include vintage fashion!), but maybe not that surprising as I do get excited by stories of individual people, whether fact or fiction. 
  • The Free-Thinking Men’s Blasphemous Brandy and Supper Society (how do I join?)
  • I found the industrial relations in this book really interesting (probably due to the fact I’ve previously worked in HR and I live with a Trade Unionist!).  I find the similarities to real life in fantasy fiction just as intriguing as the differences, although obviously flesh-eating monsters and dragons are a lot more exciting! 

Read this if
…you’re a sucker for a steampunk adventure tale, full of invention and innovation.
…you like a dark dystopian fantasy.
…you are ready to discover a series that plays with history to create a rich new world to lose yourself in. 

Thanks to Steff for sending me a copy of The Sunken to review. Steff is an author, artist and heavy metal maiden. When she’s not writing books, she is writing an awesome blog about metal music, writing, living off-grid, and her adventures with home-brewing at http://www.steffmetal.com

Style Shortcut: Customise Your High Street Bargains

Customising a High Street lace top with Faux Fur

I love vintage fashion and handmade quirkiness, but lots of my clothes come from the High Street, because I’m a babe on a budget.

The things I want to spend more money on are classic wardrobe staples that fit well, last ages and go with anything. I don’t want to spend a huge amount on cute quirky items that will get worn infrequently and don’t go with many of my other clothes. This is all well and good, but can lead to boring, predictable clothes shopping, which in turn leads to boring, predictable outfits (gasp!) and of course, I do want all the cute and quirky things, I just can’t afford them all!

One of my solutions to this is to customise! You don’t need a lot of know-how to do this. I don’t have a sewing machine and to be quite honest, my hand-stitching skills are a bit slap dash, that’ll do. My DIY projects are unpredictable, some work and some don’t. The one I’m sharing today worked a treat, so I thought I would share (you’re welcome!).

I started with a lace top from Primark and a piece of multi-coloured faux-fur from eBay.

Sewing faux fur onto a lace top

I decided to add the faux-fur onto the sleeves, but this could work on collars, cuffs, etc. wherever possible work on an existing feature because it makes it much easier! 

Cut the fur to a workable size, I always allow more than I need as it is easier to trim later than patch a piece that is too small. I pinned the fur around the sleeve so the edges met under the arm, so any dodgy finishing would be hidden from sight!

I used the existing seams on the lace as a guide and used a whip stitch. Usually I’d go for the thread the same colour, but as we are going multi-coloured here I went for yellow (also I already had some spare!). I kept the stitches quite small and adjusted the fur to cover them.

Customising clothes with faux fur

I quite liked working with lace and faux fur, as they were quite forgiving! Once I had gone round the bottom of the sleeve, I went round the shoulder. It can be tricky to get the tension right, I just went slow, then un-stitched and tried again when it went wrong. Then I finished up under the arm.

I am really pleased with my unique quirky top and it cost me less than a tenner. It had it’s first outing back in August to Lounge on the Farm accessorised with sparkly kitty ears from Crown and Glory.

Cassy Fry in customized lace top

I still have some of this super cute faux fur left, I’m still decided what to use it for. I’m tempted to sew a multi-coloured fluffy heart onto the front of one of my jumpers. What do you think? Any other cute and crafty ideas for me?

Adventure To… See Honeyblood at Ramsgate Music Hall

Honeyblood at Ramsgate Music Hall

You know when you hear a song for the first time and you instantly love it? I hope you do, because it is an awesome feeling. That moment when you think to yourself, this is the band my record collection has been waiting for! I need to know who this is! If I was my own best friend I’d be so excited to share this with me! This was how I felt when I heard Honeyblood. I’m a sucker for female musicians making feisty lo-fi punk rock music with melodic pop and grungy indie influences. I went and brought their album straight away on the strength of one song (the one I’m sharing at the end of this post).

So I was thrilled to see their name on a flyer for the Ramsgate Music Hall and I was surprised too. I hadn’t heard of Ramsgate Music Hall. How had I missed this venue in East Kent that is programming good music?! I was consoled by the fact it only opened about six months ago, so I’m not too late to the party. 

I was delighted by my first visit. It’s small but perfectly formed and ideal for the intimate gigs I am so fond. Also, the toilet walls are covered in egg wallpaper (srsly this is the ladies) and I have it on good authority that the egg cartons in the gents are empty, with the exception of eggs spelling out PEE over the urinals. 

Let’s cut back to the music, the evening was opened by Canterbury based indie rock band The Doctorates, who were fantastic. Then Honeyblood took to the stage, it was the last night of their UK tour. Singer Stina had that sexy raspy end of tour quality to her vocals, but still smashed it, sipping whisky and oozing friendly charisma between songs. Cat is just completely awesome, her drumming skills are a joy to watch and dance to. I’m so glad I got to see the amazing duo and discover a fab new venue. 

Link Love – Too Many Ideas, 100 Questions And Embracing Kookiness

Cassy Fry in Kooky Unicorn Jumper

It’s time to say so long September, but before we start a shiny new month, here are some stylish, creative and cultural links for you to enjoy. 

Why It Is OK To Have More Ideas Than Time
If you saw my somewhat tongue-in-cheek advice on How To Be Super Productive, you’ll know I’ve been big on ideas and short on time. Kate shared her blog post with me when I was hitting her up for advice. The bit that made me say YES!… “ideas make ideas”. Let’s keep them coming,

100 Questions To Inspire Self-Discovery
This epic list of questions is sure to inspire personal epiphanies, creative projects or stimulating conversations. 

It’s OK To Embrace Your Kookiness
I met the fabulous Jo Christy this month and I’m hoping some of her opportunity-seizing energy is going to wear off on me! I am probably well on my way to embracing my kookiness, but there is always work to be done. This post is essential reading for anyone who needs to network, market their own business or create opportunities. 

Maybe You’re Not Lost, Maybe You’re Reinventing
I love Reina’s writing, she is so insightful and her advice and ideas always ground me without tying me down. I read this post about reinvention just when I needed it. It could apply to you personally, professionally or to a creative project. All is not lost. 

Majorie Salvaterra’s Weird And Wonderful Photographs Of Women 
This series of cinematic and surreal photographs exploring the roles of women are stunning. My favourite is ‘When The Universe Has A Bigger Plan’ (the one with women standing in the sea throwing umbrellas in the air!). There are some nice quotes from Salvaterra in this Huffington Post piece.

Get A Free Download From The Doctorates
So I had my first visit to Ramsgate Music Hall this week and I was delighted. Nice programming, capacity circa 125 people and cool decor, just the kind of small music venue we’ve been missing in East Kent. Headliners Honeyblood were utterly awesome, have so much love for this band right now. Support was provided by Canterbury based indie rock band The Doctorates. I’d already heard good things about them locally and they didn’t disappoint. There is no weak link in this three-piece, they are all seriously good. Hear for yourself by grabbing this free download of their Soundcloud page. Unfortunately it doesn’t come with the bassist’s funky moves, so you’ll have to go see them yourself for that. 

Mark Grist ‘Girls Who Read’
I’ve heard a lot of amazing poetry this month, so I thought I’d end by sharing a poem. I saw unlikely battle rapper, rogue teacher and Poet Laureate for Peterborough, Mark Grist at the Wise Words Festival and he was fantastic.

10 Books That Changed My Life

books that changed my life

One of my coolest Facebook friends recently shared 10 books that changed her life and tagged me to do the same. Those taggy things are not always my cuppa tea, but if they’re about music or books then I love them! In this case I thought it might also make a good blog post.

Of course the books that have changed my life aren’t necessarily my favourite books or the trendiest texts. It was more challenging than I first thought to share the books that have genuinely have made an impact on my life rather than the ones that seem coolest. It was also hard to pick just ten, but I did and here they are in vague chronological order…

1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B White
The first book that I got utterly lost in. The beginning of a lifetime falling in love with fictional characters. It taught me about the value of being compassionate and clever. It made me cry, but I still read it again and again. I’ve never been scared of spiders, in fact I find them rather fascinating and I’m pretty sure Charlotte is the reason why.

2. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
One of the texts I studied at school was Silas Marner and I HATED IT! So when I got to college and found out I was going to be studying another Eliot novel, and it was about a mill, my heart sank. I wanted to like George, for starters she was a woman writer, and she took a boy’s name, like my favourite character in the Famous Five, so I gave her another chance. It wasn’t really the book alone that changed my life, it was an amazing teacher called Mollie Hall who, like Maggie in the story, had wild hair and a passion for books. She taught me how to really read a book, to deconstruct it without losing the magic. She was the reason I went on to study literature for another five years! I can’t think about her without thinking of this book or vice versa.

3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
When I wasn’t reading curriculum approved texts, I recited and studied the lyrics of the Manic Street Preachers, then went to the library to seek out the referenced works, which mostly went way over my head. While I never “spat out Plath” I did read her poetry and chewed her words over and over. Then I read The Bell Jar. It changed my life because I could relate to some parts of it and it felt authentic in a way a lot of the books I read as a young woman just didn’t. It marked my transition from reading perky-teenage moral-of-the-story books to novels that explored the human experience, and were significantly darker. 

4. Could It Be Magic? by Paul Magrs
One of many excellent books I studied at University. I picked this Magrs novel over one written by Angela Carter or Jeanette Winterson (20 year old me gasps!) because I can see the lasting impact it had on me and my reading habits, plus it is super sexy. This book turned me away from literary snobbishness and onto reading fantasy fiction. When I finished my Masters, I stopped reading for about a year. I just didn’t enjoy it anymore, it had momentarily lost its magic. When I was ready to read again, it was Magrs I turned to. His books are clever and fun, and utterly magical. 

5. Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland
This was the first Coupland book I read and I loved it, it captured that coming of age, what am I doing with my life feeling that I had in my twenties, only in a cool post-apocalyptic context. After this book, I read all of his novels. If I could only ever read one author, it would be him. I still re-read Girlfriend in a Coma regularly, it is a time capsule for my early adulthood.

6. Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers
I hate admitting that I read self-help books, but I do! And some of them have been helpful. I used to have an unhealthy fear of fireworks, dogs barking and balloons bursting. It got way out of control and I had to do something. The first step was reading this book. It helped, which was good as soon after I actually had to organise a firework display! 

7. The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
Auster is another of my favourite authors, but that is not why this is on the list. It made the list as it is incredibly compelling and it got under my skin and into my head. It is dark and depressing, but it also blurs life and art in weird and wonderful ways. 

8. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I wish I had read this book as a teenager, but I’m so glad I have it now! I just love it. I adore Charlie. I like to read it when I am feeling lonely, confused and lost. It makes me smile quietly to myself. 

9. Secret Suffering by Susan Bilheimer and Dr. Robert J. Echenberg
When chronic pelvic pain started to take over my whole life, I spent a lot of time reading medical books and journals, books about healing or about living with chronic illness. It wasn’t a lot of fun, clinical books are dull, but I was desperate to understand what the hell was going on and help myself. This was by far the most useful as it is written by a patient and a doctor. It is also a fascinating psychological read as it delves into other people’s sex lives! It is so refreshingly open and honest. 

10. Choose Yourself by James Altucher
I read this at the beginning of the year, but already had been reading James’s blog for a while. Both have been massively helpful and influential on me during a time of personal change and prioritising myself. 

How To Be Super Productive

World Domination Plans

The last fortnight or so has been a whirlwind of inspiration and exciting things. I have heard poetry, slept in a yurt, been to London, laughed hysterically at Adam Buxton, been working 9-5, met up with friends for drinks after work, been writing three blog posts a week, scribbled some creative writing every day, started my Tai Chi class again, went to the flicks to see The Punk Singer, saw Gruff Rhys at Revelation St Mary’s and heard more poetry. It has been pretty amazing and I am incredibly thankful.

I am mostly enjoying feeling not-quite-healthy, but in better shape than I’ve been for years. I am living life, dreaming dreams and feeling feelings. I have more ideas than I have time to execute. I am impatient and I want to do EVERYTHING right NOW! I am a runaway train, but instead of looking for the brake, I’m blowing the horn, then leaning out of the door and waving happily to the world as I race on by.

Knowing that sooner or later I was going to crash, I asked for help from my fellow Blogcademy graduates, seeking some advice about how to cope with more inspiration than time. We had some sensible discussions about self-love and realistic goal setting, but they also gave me more inspiration and ideas to add to my ever-growing to do list! Thanks Kate, Jessica and Bethan!

Jo Christy aka Miss Sue Flay suggested I share my mojo. While I certainly have some to spare, and would love to do so over afternoon tea, I’m not sure it is as easy to slice as an actual cake.

Instead I am going to tell you all the things I did to whip up my mojo to such an excitable and exhausting state. I am going to tell you everything. I could edit this list, airbrush the advice and just share the good stuff that makes me sound awesome. However some of the less sensible things are a significant part of the picture. I’m sure you’ll know which of these are effective strategies and which are just quick fixes to get through a demanding day.

  • Write every day, not just blogging, but also journaling, creative writing and poetry. Whatever your passion is, do it in every spare second.
  • Go and see things, lots of things, could be talks, films, music, exhibitions, comedy, just consume culture.
  • Stop watching TV.
  • Drink too much coffee, then drink some more.
  • Spend time with sparky, brave, clever, and positive people.
  • Encourage others to follow their dreams, believe in them and they will believe in you. 
  • Talk about art, daydreams, boys (or girls) and amazingly good things.
  • Write a manifesto – for your blog, business or your life, or maybe all three, then refer to it regularly. 
  • Smile lots.
  • Become an ideas machine.
  • Stop sleeping. Still go to bed, but lay awake with a buzzy brain. Don’t get stressed, just imagine nice things, there is always the aforementioned coffee to turn to in the morning.
  • Dream big, then dream bigger.
  • Read as much as you can and make sure it is fantastical or inspiring.
  • Record your random thoughts, things you heard and write down every idea you have.
  • Treat yourself like a spoiled child.
  • Have a box of mint matchmakers for breakfast.
  • Go to Tai Chi, remember to breathe and relax.
  • Stuff the housework. Ignore it all until it feels important. 
  • Talk to people honestly and openly.
  • Stop feeling guilty. Focus on what you want and do it! 
  • Listen to more music, play albums in full.
  • Forget to call your family and friends. The ones worth keeping will forgive you. Maybe let close friends know you’re prioritising yourself so they might just need to shout and throw glitter in the air to get your attention, and that’s allowed because you love them.
  • Use your lunch break to do other work.
  • Forget to eat. Then remember and eat something. 
  • Get distracted. Write down your distraction to come back to later. Get back to work. 
  • Never think about how tired you are.
  • Tap on it. (Gala Darling introduced me to tapping at the Radical Self Love Salon and it’s amazing.) 
  • Give yourself deadlines and stick to them no matter what.
  • Celebrate anything you’ve achieved today. Everything else can wait until tomorrow.
  • Consume an insane amount of sugar.
  • Try to trust in life.
  • Slam on the brakes. Have a bubble bath. Re-group. Check you’re still headed in the right direction. Keep going. 

What To Wear To Say Goodbye To Summer

Floral Skater Dress - Cassy Fry

I love Autumn so I’m happy it has arrived and glad that is officially boot and jacket weather, they’re two of my favourite fashion items. However, I am making the most of these last few days mild enough for bare arms and legs.

I brought this fabulous floral dressing the sale at Peacocks at the end of July. It was only £9 and I couldn’t resist all the colours!

Floral Skater Dress Customised - Cassy Fry

This is dress I mentioned in my post about how to incorporate ribbon into your outfits. I brought the vintage lace ribbon from a fair for £2, and sent it off to my master-seamstress mum to customise it for me.

It finally got it’s first outing this month on my last trip to London. Of course I also wore ribbon laces on my boots.

Boots with ribbon laces - Cassy Fry

Although I’m saying goodbye to summer, I definitely won’t be saying goodbye to colour. My favourite red and orange shades are perfect for Autumn and will keep me bright and beautiful when the winter sets in.

Revelation Review: Gruff Rhys – American Interior

Gruff Rhys with American Interior Unicorn at Revelation St Marys

American Interior is more than the latest concept album from Gruff Rhys, it is an extraordinary multi-platform adventure telling tall tales and following the footsteps of Welsh pioneer John Evans. As well as the album, which is wonderful, there is a film, a book and an app. Each can stand alone, but adds to the exploration of Evans’s remarkable life story. Then there is the show, which I saw at Revelation St Mary’s on Friday night, and that’s the part I’m going to tell you about. 

This was very much a show rather than a gig, it was a fully-formed and well thought-through performance that enhanced the experience of listening to American Interior the album. Gruff was more storytelling troubadour than rock star. It was a perfect bit of programming for Revelation, where I’ve come to expect to hear excellent music while still anticipating surprises. There was no support, but the evening wasn’t all about Gruff Rhys, it was mostly about John Evans.

I don’t want to tell you all the details of his story, there is something alluring about gradually uncovering it with each element of the project and I hope you’ll want to go and discover it yourself. However, I do need to give you some background. Context is essential, which is why after Gruff popped on stage to say welcome, we watched some documentary footage. It may sound like a strange way to start an evening of live music, but as well as imparting the knowledge we needed, it also set the tone for the evening. It prepared the audience to listen, to expect something surreal and special, something which we might actually learn from along the way. 

The video footage was about the legend of the Welsh Prince Madoc. who was said to have discovered America 300 years before Columbus, leaving behind his descendants, a tribe of Welsh speaking Indians. It was this compelling tale that led John Evans to voyage to America in the 1790s, in search of the mythical Welsh tribe.

Evans was an ordinary man that did something extraordinary, travelling from Wales to London to Baltimore, to walk across the American Interior, along an alligator-rich Mississippi, then mapping the Missouri before reaching the Mandan Tribes to discover they weren’t very Welsh at all.

Gruff is a wonderful song-writer, but also it turns out, a very clever story-teller. Between songs, Gruff detailed each stage of the voyage with a good dose of dry humour, using quirky illustrations by Pete Fowler and photographs of Mr Evans 2.0, a bionic puppet reincarnation made by the talented Felt Mistress. Some snaps were taken on Gruff’s own 2012 journey across the States and some may have been taken in Cardiff. All this cuteness made it fun to watch while upping the surreal quality of the story and balancing the sadness of it.

There are so many layers to the tale of Evans’s incredible quest – the colonial context of America at that time, the political ideologies of the Madoc myth, the exploration of new landscapes, the story of the man himself – but Gruff started at the beginning and recreated each step. It’s hard to tell fact from fiction, but Evans and his quest are both real. Gruff obviously did his research, but is playful in his deadpan delivery, simultaneously dispelling myths and recreating them.

Although there was creative use of iPad projections, illustrations, puppetry and props, it was all quite lo-fi. Essential equipment included an acoustic guitar, drum machine recordings, microphone effects and metronome. 

Gruff Rhys American Interior Revelation St Marys

The songs were atmospheric, each inspired by an element of John Evan’s life rather than a straight-forward narrative. This isn’t John Evans the musical. Instead the music invoked the landscapes, capturing the human experience, sometimes making fun at it’s futility, but also giving the quest the grandeur it deserves. 

The title track American Interior was played early on, setting the mysterious dreamy mood and witty words that would carry us through the evening. 

The Swamp is one of the sadder songs, but is also both wistful and wonderful, and one of my favourites. Beneath the humour and Gruff’s quiet charisma, which made the evening so enjoyable, was a tragic tale. That side of the story was very much told through the music. Beautiful songs like this, and Into the Wilderness sound so poignant amplified in this venue, I’m not sure if it is the acoustics or architecture, or most likely, a combination of the two. 

Before the final number, Gruff joked that the whole show had been an introduction and that he’d now play the gig starting with 100 Unread Messages. This track is probably closest to the folk song narrative, it’s a joyfully jangly song which condenses the whole journey in it’s verses, with a catchy chorus remembering his family waiting back home for news. 

I’ve been listening to the album again as I write this, each track seems a bit more poignant and the whole record sounds richer. I cannot stop thinking about the enigmatic Mr Evans and I’m looking forward to continue my exploration via the book and the app.

Evans died unaware of his cartographic legacy, his Missouri maps were found and used after his death. But I love that over 200 years later, he has another unknown legacy, one which would have been utterly inconceivable to Evans. That his life and his quest inspired Gruff to take the same voyage, make music, share his story and create an entire project around it. Then take it to a church in Ashford, where a room filled with live music lovers, listened attentively, laughed loudly, applauded enthusiastically and posed for photographs with a puppet made in his image. It was a very special night. 

John Evans Gruff Rhys American Interior at Revelation St Mary's

Find out more about Gruff Rhys at http://www.gruffrhys.com and about American Interior – the album, the book, the film and the app at http://www.american-interior.com or you can stream the album here.

I’m so excited about this season of Revelation events visit Revelation St Mary’s website to see what is coming up and book your tickets. Make sure you don’t miss a thing by following @RevelationSTM on Twitter and liking the Revelation STM Facebook page

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