One For Sorrow, Two for Joy, Three for…

January 2013 I was (as seems to be a regular fixture with me) unemployed and without my own home. I was staying in my friend’s box room for the winter and I had been very sick. Being painfully bored too I began writing songs and eventually had a whole album’s worth of material ready to go that was set to be a FunkNSoul/RockNRoll epic. For a catch up I  met up with my friend and frequent musical collaborator/guidance counsellor James at Platt Fields to discuss the said musical project and my usual existential angst which he so generously tolerates. As we walked around the pond I saw a magpie and offered my habitual greeting of “Good Morning Mister Magpie” as it swept by. James laughed and asked why I did that. It is a learned superstition from my Mother who insisted on saying it as it was bad luck to see a lone magpie according to the rhyme ‘one for sorrow, two for joy’. Convenient that magpies are solitary birds due to their unpleasant habits and nature but anyway. I’m not superstitious its just a habit I picked up from my Mum and magpies are very distinctive birds. James grinned and said “that’s album four’s title, the one of all piano ballads”. I laughed and we carried on chatting but as these things so often do the idea took root and by the time I got back to my friend’s house where I was staying I already had the whole album planned out. It is of no small portent that it was that month I also downloaded the video app Vine…

Over the next year I bounced back and forth between Kent and Manchester (as usual), but in May 2014 I was renting a room in a house that had my Landlord’s 120 year old Bechstein upright piano in it and the other album project was looking a long way off and expensive whereas here was a world class and unique instrument next to my head when I slept. So I bought some tapes and dug out my brother’s old 4-track Tascam Portastudio and over the course of two weeks recorded 12 tracks on the piano. Once recorded, my fear was that they sounded too similar to my last album ‘He Hath Made Me Glad’ (also named by James) in that it was me alone with an instrument and as I seem pathologically averse to repeating myself (stylistically at least) and my favourite artists always genre hop I needed to add stuff to it. By this time I had gained a following on Vine that later that year would result in a month long trip to America that changed my life. But at this stage I simply put the feelers out to see if anyone wanted to contribute their talents to the album? I got one hell of a response and subsequently got takes of vocals, clarinets, brass, strings and more.

It’s taken 2 years to amalgamate all the recordings and contributions as they slowly drip fed back to me but it’s finally finished and I love it. Whilst I am proud of the material its the contributions that have made me love this album, it’s nothing like what I originally assumed it would sound like and I couldn’t be happier about that. I am so pleased so many talented people agreed to help me out on this and make it better than I ever thought an album I recorded in my bedroom would be. So thank you to all the contributors.

A note on ‘Bedroom’ albums: This is my 3rd album and the first I recorded at home, the others were both recorded in professional studios. If you want to make an album but think you can’t afford to pay for the studio time, don’t. You have more technology on the device you are reading this through than any major band up until the 80s had. Many great musicians have recorded No.1 albums on the cheap: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma’, The Streets ‘Original Pirate Material’, David Gray’s ‘White Ladder’ are all “bedroom” albums. My favourite album of all time, Whatever & Ever Amen, was recorded at home by Ben Folds Five. Every computer comes with recording and mixing software that the Beatles would have killed for. An iPhone has a dynamic condenser microphone built into it. With a bit of know how you can make an album for practically nothing. Or an EP. Or just a single. Point is, it should be the songs and performance that matter the most. Ignore the gear heads and muso snobs who say it just HAS to sound this way or whatever, the Stones got yelled at by sound engineers to turn down because the guitar amps were distorting. Raw Power was refused by everyone except David Bowie because it was too aggressive. In an age where the likes of Pro Tools have standardised the recording process to a near conveyor belt level it is an act the utmost creativity to make an album the way you want to make it and that may be with Pro Tools but what I’m getting at is: that album you’ve always wanted to make but thought you needed a record contract to do it with, not only can you make it without that, you must. There’s no excuse not to. Not only that, you can get it on every major digital download site too. What are you waiting for? Get recording.

‘Good Morning Mr. Magpie’ is my 3rd LP and will be available online from Monday 1st August. It is the album I am most proud of that I have recorded and I would really love people to hear it. There will be a link to download it on here on Monday but you can hear it on Spotify, iTunes, Tidal, Amazon Streaming and more too. Please give it a share and tell your friends, I love talking about the recording process and how well the contributions turned out so come and chat to me on Twitter or here. Happy listening!

rearcover2

Advertisements

A Translation of the Silence

silence

The title of this post is from a quote by former American Poet Laureate Charles Simic: “Poetry is a translation of the silence.” Of all the many things I use to describe poetry (cribbed from other, better, writers) that feels like the ‘right’ one and it goes a long way to explaining the importance and necessity of silence.

The trouble we have is defining what silence is, because it sure as hell isn’t a total absence of sound. That’s just bizarre. There are sound proof rooms where no ambient noise exists but what people have found is when this occurs you start to hear the noise of your joints moving and your digestive tract squelching and when you are stood in the wilderness far from any habitation or car noise what you hear is quieter but certainly not ‘Silent’: You hear trees rustling, the breeze, birds, your own breathing, etc. In fact the only place where sound would be completely absent would be outer space and you could not survive in the vacuum long enough to perceive that phenomena. Deaf people may be the only people fully qualified to explain the idea of silence but even then it has been pointed out by people with this disability that even they feel vibrations that they interpret as sound but without the refined perception someone with hearing can sense. As such, no one has experienced ‘true’ silence, what we experience is simply the quiet as a juxtaposition of loudness.

Its amazing how loud everyday life is to that end; a constant barrage of sound that it takes a lifetime to filter out. People who were born deaf then given cochlea implants normally have to turn off the device regularly as the overwhelming sensory overload of constant sound can be painful. Equally people with tinitus who are burdened with a constant whine in their ear can find that unbearable. From this sort of anecdotal evidence we can tell that sound is a major factor of human experience, like any of our senses, but it seems to me it is the one we are least aware of. Or at least the one we pay less attention to day to day. Sight tends to be the one we focus on most (pun intended). Why is that?

Whilst it seems like an asinine and obvious observation that “hearing is, like, really important and stuff”, the reason I’ve been thinking about this was that I was house sitting recently for a friend who needed me to look after their dog while they were on holiday. While I was there I didn’t really do a lot except read and write and play a computer game. Now, day to day, I try to drown out the silence of my own life either with music, conversation, the idle prattling of a podcast or the radio etc and I rarely leave the house without my headphones in so my life tends to be ‘aurally dense’ to use a poncey term. But for this week of house sitting for one reason or another I spent the week in quiet. There was no stereo, I had no computer to use, I didn’t want to play around with their radio or anything so by and large just wrote and read in quiet then took the dog out for a walk twice a day. This amounted to almost a week of very little external sound which was actually a little disorientating. Far from being a distraction the sound is normally put there as audio wallpaper to help me focus on things and think, my own thoughts tend to wander and for some reason music in particular keeps me focussed. As such the proverbial Silence that ensued was pretty distracting to me when I was inside the house. On the flip side whilst taking the dog for a walk I had forgotten how nice listening to the sounds of the world was and how stimulating it can be. But it certainly wasn’t ‘silent’, just a lot quieter.

Something else I did whilst I was there was played through the game ‘The Last of Us’ (which I may review in full at a later date) and one of the things it did really really well was sound design. The most jarring difference to most AAA games was the almost total absence of score. With no music telling you when to be sad, scared, pumped, happy or safe you are forced to pay closer attention and in a game where a lot of it is sneaking around and a game mechanic based around ‘listening’ to the movement of enemies, that is an incredibly effective choice. I lost count of the times I was clenching my teeth and holding my own breath as a guard trudged, heavy footed past me. It also extended to quieter moments too, the sound of conversation from another room, the birds in the sky, distant gunfire, rain, wind, all given unique audio that really gives you a sense of space and place. The other game I thought achieved this most effectively was possibly my Favourite Game Ever, Half-Life 2. What this does most effectively is creates gaps, it isn’t just a constant wall of sound, never letting up at any moment but allows pauses for breath and therefore heightens the tension; sudden gunfire or a shout can really make you jump. I also went to the cinema to see a film called Ex Machina which also uses the loud/quiet dynamic very well. It all amounted to reminding me of an interview with one of the sound team from Pixar who described sound as being the part of a film that “enters through the back door”. You don’t notice it but you would if it was done badly or wasn’t there. One thing you learn when making films or videos is that an audience will tolerate a bad picture, they will not tolerate bad sound. Screw up the audio and you lose your audience immediately.

So being a Viner I decided to translate this to social media. My friend Mark Dudlik does a challenge on Vine where he does a 100 day project where he makes 100 posts over 100 days on a given topic/tag. I did a wussy version of this by doing a 60 day challenge which I dubbed 60DaysofSilence. It’s finished now and you can search them all on Vine, a few other people joined in as well. What it proved to me was that absolute silence cannot exist so I simply made the rule that I could not speak. I could only create ‘silence’ by not adding to the sound already existing in the world. This, in turn, scared me, because that is truly what silence is: not allowing someone a voice. So many people are made silent or feel they should be silent in the world today because it is so noisy already but equally we (who make all the noise) should really be listening because as the saying goes “90 percent of communication is non-verbal”. People crying for help or feeling lost or alone are telling us this every day in a variety of ways but because they don’t say it out loud we don’t listen. Ironically you don’t even need your ears for that.

Death is the Great Silencer. No one is more quiet that in death and whilst that is a bleak notion it relates to the previous paragraph because we’ve just seen several migrants (immigrants to many) drown in the sea without rescue. Their pleas for help were ignored and they fled, their voice was silent. Now many of them are dead and just as silent, just as ignored. Yet we can have chitinous, self-luminescent, 12 legged creatures of the deep spewing slugs, worms and bile from her vertical, razor toothed jaw like Katie Hopkins who has the loudest voice writ large in national print heard by thousands and it is this latter shoggoth that we listen to and are most upset and offended by. It would be easy for me to say that Hopkins should be ‘silenced’ but personally I think that thief has more than enough rope to hang herself with if she is allowed to keep her voice. What we should be doing is listening better and using OUR OWN voice, that small thing we have on a piece of paper that involves us in these affairs, to make these plights heard and help create a more attentive and compassionate civilisation. Even if, as most revolutionaries say, “we will not stay quiet any longer” people have to listen for change to happen.

Silence, like everything, is relative, it boils down to what YOU are hearing. If you want people to hear: Be louder (vote). And then, start listening.

sdcr_graphic_1_t700

2014: Yearly Review

IMG_7784

Contrary to what you may have read on my Twitter or even this blog, this year had been one of the shitter ones of my life. A lot of friends have passed away this year, one of my siblings had a cancerous tumour removed, a lot of friends lost their jobs and had to move due to finances, I myself am still unable to find gainful employment, had to move out of my bedsit, had my bank account frozen, my phone cut off and debt collectors after me. With nothing on the horizon for 2015 I confess it all looks rather bleak.

However…

IMG_7779

I couldn’t be happier.

I turned 30 this year and frankly, in and of myself, I’ve never felt this good. I know a lot of you think that might be hilarious given what a grumpy son of a bitch I am but I have improved whether it is perceptible on the outside or not. More than anything else I’ve realised what I want to do with my life this year and realised how little certain things matter. Its amazing how liberating it is not caring what a lot of people think and realising its important to do what makes you happy. I had a rough time at school and never had many friends, was never popular or accepted but in the last year I feel totally different. I made more friends than I ever thought I could and they showed me a generosity I truly did not deserve. In case you hadn’t heard, my friends on the Vine app bought me flights to the USA to meet them all and I had the time of my life.

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset

I also, as ever, am reminded what a great family I have. Without them I really wouldn’t be here today and I am eternally grateful I was lucky enough to be born into this group of weirdos. As irritating as they all are I love them all dearly and being able to spend more time with them now after 7 years in another part of the country has been wonderful.

IMG_7757

Its all pretty hard to put into words so I won’t try but 2014 had little to offer in practical terms, took a lot away in fact, but personally it has made me more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been. Part of that was realising what my actual problems were so I could fix them and, again, I figured a lot of that out while in America. I realised I actually have a real issue with spending time in company of people even when I really want to be there. After a long weekend I realised I had depleted any social reserves I had and ended up having to walk out on a group of friends to be alone and cry. That was educational in that I now know my limits and that I’m not just being “shy” or “reserved” it’s a genuine problem and I’m trying to fix that. Even if its just me being able to have a better store of social energy.

IMG_7767

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions and have stopped trying to preempt a year by saying “it’s gonna be great” or “its gonna be awful”, it will be what it will be. The best I can hope for is that I can keep the wonderful friendships I have made this year and keep improving myself and stay as happy as I am. Its strange to finally be the person you’ve wanted to be for so long and wonderful to realise you have so many people to inspire you to do that. Its all very abstract and personal so I won’t go on about it or I’ll start sounding like a self-help book or a crappy tumblr post. In short: despite my life being in the pits right now, I’m actually really rather happy. I think its mainly a change in priorities; people not things. Armed with this I feel a lot stronger and more able to face the New Year.

IMG_7775

I don’t have much more to report but thank you all for your help this year. I’m so proud to call you all my friends. I feel like a new man and its your fault. Its amazing how far a little kindness will go. Happy New Year and here’s to 2015.

Time of my Life

IMG_6471.JPG

I got back from America a week ago.

I miss the hiss of white noise drowning out the clatter and clang of a bakery next door. I miss the disappearing horizon through a mist of wind blown sand. I miss a hug from a new friend and different person everyday. I miss the flatness and clean arrangement of the towns. I miss rotten apples on a window sill in opaque light. I miss looking up from my feet more than twice a day. I miss walking till my hips twitched when I finally sat down. I miss the scale. I miss how big everything was. I miss how big everyone’s ideas were, how big their hearts were and how big their generosity was. I miss feeling involved in something. I miss being part of a group. I miss looking into a sink full of dirty dishes and being shooed away. I miss aisles and aisles of alien produce and packaging. I miss Canada Dry. I miss sitting back and watching people interact without being ignored. I miss feeling like I was wanted somewhere. I miss smiling so often. I miss being amazed at every corner and being in awe nearly ever minute of the day. I miss forcing myself to be articulate. I miss being kissed. I miss feeling like I was having an impact on someone. I miss Fijit nosing me in the dark. I miss having something to do everyday, even when it was nothing. I miss watching people be so happy. I miss sand being fucking EVERYWHERE. I miss being silly. I miss the steam coming through the drains. I miss the golden hour when the sky became a grade and the lights came on and everything came to life. I miss the expectancy that hung in the air. I miss walking down 5th avenue arm in arm with two beautiful women. I miss the views. I miss the trees. I miss those goddamn noisy crickets. I miss getting in the wrong side of the car. I miss the Avenues that went for miles straight ahead like giant troughs of a tail-light stream. I miss not caring what time it was. I miss staring at piles of food bigger than my head. I miss holding a hand. I miss resting a head. I miss the smell of the river. I miss that fucking view from the Brooklyn bridge. I miss singing stupid songs along to youtube. I miss holding my phone at the ready 24/7 because anything could be around the next corner. I miss being in someone else’s Vines. I miss just trying out ideas. I miss being listened to like what I said matters. I miss hearing people dissect their thoughts and feelings instead of brushing them aside for later, private inspection. I miss people being forthright. I miss the friendliness of strangers. I miss their openness. I miss being exotic and new. I miss not being mocked as a way of formal greeting or “endearment”. I miss the guffaw. I miss the 8 year old in grown up body. I miss the wildman in a shabby garret. I miss the bubbling bear and his Goldilocks. I miss the BFG. I miss the steel woman. I miss the grown up tinkerbell. I miss the famous girl. I miss all the damn dogs. I miss people out. I miss my friends.

IMG_6522.JPG

I wish I’d said thank you more. I wish I’d had more money. I wish I could have treated people more. I wish I hadn’t got sick. I wish I wasn’t so grumpy. I wish I was more emotionally articulate. I wish I’d told everyone how grateful I was. I wish I could have repaid everyone. I wish people had realised how quick time was going to go. I wish I had spent longer with everyone. I wish I had finished that chocolate cake. I wish I had made a move. I wish I had held that hug just a second longer to let her know. I wish I had looked back. I wish I hadn’t got so grumpy when I couldn’t explain I wanted to spend more time with people or more time alone. I wish I was better in groups. I wish each party hadn’t taken so much out of me. I wish I could have explained how drained I was instead of walking out so I could go and cry on the beach. I wish I could have told them to stop being so fucking nice and understanding which was making me upset. I wish I could have told them how fragile I was without sounding like a prick. I wish I could have been stronger. I wish I could have endeared myself to more people. I wish I had been well enough to go on the ferris wheel. I wish smores had tasted better. I wish America had better chocolate. I wish I didn’t have to keep letting people pay for my whole damn trip. I wish I was a millionaire so I could do the same for everyone. I wish there was a way I could have bottled that night. I wish I could live by that river. I wish I had a bed like that one. I wish I could live those three days again. I wish I hadn’t freaked out and ran out of that cigar bar. I wish I had spent longer in the Farm House. I wish I had been there longer than a month. I wish I was more confident. I wish I could explain how much it all meant to me. I wish there had been a piano somewhere to play. I wish I’d stayed longer in the home without doors. I wish I didn’t have to write a stupid blog post in a list to tell them all how much I love them. I wish people could see what can be done if people give a shit. I wish people would stop decrying social media and start decrying humanity’s appalling attitude to its own species. I wish people would listen. I wish people took a broader look at the world. I wish we weren’t all so fucking stupid and self-centered. I wish we took care of one another like they all took care of me. I wish I was worth all of it. I wish I was still there. I wish.

I miss.

I wish…

IMG_7009.JPG

“Give Me A Reason. Please.”

The title of this post is a line from that classic of cinema, the Lost in Space film from 1998. Joey from Friends pulls a gun on Beethoven after he tries to do something dastardly and says those immortal words. I am metaphorically holding a gun to 2014’s head and saying the same thing.

Last year, it must be said, sucked. Overall it felt like a waste of bloody time so I’m determined to make something out of this one. I did accomplish some stuff: Read 50 books, got a poem accepted by Penguin, wrote a novel and a poetry collection; but more generally accepted ‘normal’, everyday stuff people have like: a job, money, regular meals, a permanent abode, a partner, romance, an active social life, remained elusive. Or non-existent in many cases. If I’m honest the best thing that came out of last year was the discovery of an app on my phone called Vine. I wrote a post about it in the summer but since then things advanced quite rapidly. I have three new best friends I talk to everyday because of it. The ONLY date I have been on in over two years was because of it (don’t get excited, it didn’t end well). I found a whole community and made some other great friendships and real, true-blue artists with some wonderful talent have encouraged me no end. Sadly they almost ALL live in North America. Like anything, particularly social media, its what you put in that you get out and Britain has most certainly NOT caught on to the wonders of Vine yet as we seem to lack the outgoing spirit required to show off for 6 measly seconds. And to be honest, I’m glad. I’ve been living something of a double life on there for the last seven months and it has been a breath of fresh air to get the “anything goes”, carefree ebullience of the American/Canadian way of thinking. Sadly it has its crappier side, like anything inhabited by humans, but unlike Twitter I restricted my intake and was rewarded for only following a small amount of people whom I actually liked. There is a growing British contingent but by and large they’re (for me) not that interesting/funny yet, a broader community will help but that’s a way off for the time being. Whatever, Christiana, Paulette and Ryan are three of my favourite people in the world right now and have been the most attentive and wonderfully kind friends anyone could want, whether they live in Massachusetts or not. I love those ladies. And I love Vine for introducing me to them and the other gaggle of friends I now have.

My novel is all but finished in its final draft form, it merely requires another full read through to spot any screw ups and we’re done. I’ve also cobbled together the best of the poems I’ve been writing over the last couple of years into a full collection (as opposed to a pamphlet) which is also pretty much done. This means, hopefully I can spend this year touting them around. I’m not holding my breath – keeping expectations low these days is the only thing that’s keeping my head above water – but at least I have ‘product’ to sell that I believe is good and finished to a submittable level which is more than I can say for other projects I’ve embarked on in the past. Last year showed me that writing is what I enjoy the most and what I am best at and that it is what I should be trying to do with my life so having these things “in the bag”, as it were, to send out is a considerable boon.

Instead of cramming books this year I’ve decided to give a few “BoxSets” a go, or at least watch a lot of TV shows online. On the list is: Series 4 and 5 of Breaking Bad, The Wire, Dexter, Mad Men, Broadchurch and basically the whole of 30 Rock (I know I know I know, I don’t watch TV). This doesn’t mean I won’t be reading this year, oh contraire, I have a little list planned. I shall endeavour to read some of the ‘Big Uns’ this year. As I read so many last year and only just managed my task I thought I might try my hand at the bigger, longer books. I am not going to be reading War & Peace or Clarissa because frankly I want to do something other than read this year but I am going to relent to pressure from various sources and give the impenetrable sack of words that is James Joyce’s ‘Ulysees’ a go. Numerous people have insisted I read it, especially if I want to ‘do’ poetry, so am relenting. I’m told the best way to go about it is to “dip in and out” and if its good enough for Marilyn Monroe its good enough for me. I really enjoyed The Dead last year so figure I might as well. Another task is to actually read the whole of Homer’s original Odyssey as opposed to skimming and finding the best bits like last time. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is on the list too for reasons that I shall elaborate on further throughout the year. A long held desire has been to read the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo as I’m a fan of classical ripping yarn as I discovered last year so that’s on the list too. JK Rowling and her alter-ego’s books are also TBR for this year. Frankly I think that’s enough to be getting on with for now so I shall let you know how all that comes along as and when and my thoughts on them when/if I finish them. I may not finish Ulysees this year to be honest as I have read passages before and felt my eyes begin to curdle but never let it be said I shy from a challenge.

Beyond that my real ambition this year is not to be such a lonely sad-sack. I refuse to spend another year in its entirety, single. I am bored of being alone and tired of having not even had more than one date in two years. I have no idea how I’m going to go about this as all the things people REPEATEDLY tell me I should do I have been doing: I’m constantly out gigging and DJing in various bars and clubs (i.e. getting “out there” as is so often stated), I let friends introduce me to people, I try online websites (subscriptions fees limit the usefulness of this) and yes that includes Vine, I’ve gone from timid wall flower to just flat out asking women out, yet all to no avail so frankly society you can keep your “tried and tested” means to yourself. There seems to be no end of advice people who aren’t single have for you as a single person and frankly its all been twaddle thus far. I think the real reason I have remained single is that I don’t drink. That’s a major drawback when flirting/having no confidence. Either way I’m not a hideous troll, I’m not unkind or crass and nor am I an idiot so I think I deserve some sort of romantic entanglement. Christ knows I’ve earned it.

I’ve updated this here site as you might be able to tell too and will hopefully be posting more now I have my computer back and the internet. Thanks to those of you who have stuck around to read my ramblings, its nice to see the traffic figures continue to maintain a steady readership even if its not that many of you. In the meantime, Happy New Year and if we could try to maybe be a little nicer to everyone and stop killing each other or screwing each other over for financial gain, that’d be great. Thanks.

Image

Saw it on the Great Vine

Being unemployed, single and several hundred miles from the place I call ‘home’ with no friends to see nearby and without a place I can call my own life is VERY dull. I do what I can to amuse myself like trying to read 50 books in a year and all the writing I’m doing which you all know about (RIGHT?!), but along with the job applications that still leaves a considerable amount of time in the day with nothing to do. Also writing or reading for 16 hours a day gets dull after a few days in succession so I’ve been looking for more transient things to arrest my attention. Most people look to television or movies. I am, alas, living with my mother who has her TV routine set and also, I hate TV. I love films but having no money which means no DVDs to rent or buy. I stream the odd film occasionally but that either means watching a laptop or sitting in Mum’s office. This also does not detract from the main problem that is driving me stir crazy: Isolation.

As such, I have been spending a considerable amount of free time going through Twitter with a fine toothed comb and reading all the articles, watching all the videos and looking at all the pictures people post. Now, I LOVE Twitter, I still don’t think its potential has been tapped yet but I frequently forget I have a general contempt for mankind which social media often reminds me of when people act like massive hooting dick holes. Therefore I was after something different. Then I remembered I had Vine. If you don’t know, Vine is a video App for smartphones that allows you to take 6 second videos but crucially not in a continual stream and operates by touch so you can essentially edit a sequence together. This has engendered a fascinating growth of productivity and creativity amongst users: Stop motion, mini movies, character comedy, sketches and so on. But what is most amazing and what I had not realised was the community that had grown around it.

I got the app around Christmas time when it was announced for iPhone and everyone was suddenly talking about it. I immediately loved the idea and made my first post which was a 6 second version of Rosemary’s Baby which I hashtagged #6secondmovies. TV comedy writer, genius and Twitter lord Graham Linehan picked up on it and RTed it which gained me a few followers. Despite this initial success and interest I largely forgot about it for a long time. I would occasionally use it for family video snapshots for when a single instagram wasn’t enough but little more than that. A few developments made me take a closer look. A few updates happened between January and June that clearly developed its popularity and a few Vine videos went viral. The one I picked up on was the Ryan Gosling/Cereal hilarity. Also following Will Sasso (who I still think laid a lot of the ground work) who began reposting the likes of Marlo Meekins et al. Slowly I noticed people were “ReVining”, doing collaborations and tagging all and sundry so I spent a day trawling the feeds and trending topics. What I discovered amazed me.

Over here in the UK Vine has never taken hold in quite the way the States took to it. After following my nose for a day I found there were Vine “Celebs”, career “Viners” who were now sponsored, Comedy Viners who collaborated with other Viners, Hashtag parties and “Vine Hacks” to name a few of the wild mass of tropes now inherent in such a small, cheap little app. What is truly amazing though and the thing that got me interested was its sense of community. We have a vaguely similar thing here in Britain with the proliferation of YouTubers. These crew of early twenties video bloggers are becoming something of the new popstars over here through making 5 minute videos on youtube. For a good, well made and insightful introduction to this burgeoning phenomenon, take a look at Benjamin Cooks BBC worthy epic youtube series Becoming Youtube. They tend to star in each other’s videos and are self generating their own traffic through creating or joining social trends and a community has developed. One of them, Alex Day, has even climbed the charts numerous times thanks to youtube and his social networking skills. It is very incestuous once you scratch the surface however. Occasionally once a youtuber has gained a certain amount of subscribers  they are picked up by the more notable ones but this is rare. Normally people make their name by being related to someone famous or another youtuber, being friends with a noted youtuber already, or simply just being quite wealthy. Put it this way, most of the famous British youtubers are white, middle-class and male. There are a a lot of women but don’t “rake it in” the way the boys do (the furore around the Girls on YouTube video of Becoming Youtube for saying just that was an interesting thing to behold) but (as usual) its the girls who tend to make the most interesting and inventive stuff. Two of them are actually my favourites. Hannah Witton does intelligent and fun videos on sex education, a responsible, thankless and much needed task here in the UK, and Ophelia Dagger who is 1 part stand up to 2 parts critical analyst whose insightful debate and deconstructions of modern culture are balanced with genuinely funny delivery and keen wit. These seem to be when youtubers are at their best, when they are not merely being self indulgent.

With Vine, its inherent brevity detracts from the typical ‘LOOK AT ME’ approach. Whilst this is very much still there it is easily buried by much more interesting fare. To be a successful Viner requires the same knowledge of cultural touchstones as youtube and Twitter but importantly this is not the ONLY method and equally not why you use it. My way into Vine was through a young lady called Christiana, she posted a video response to the Ryan Gosling trend which counteracted the expectation and really made me laugh. So I followed her. From there I discovered many other of her Vine Friends, many of whom refer to them as their ‘Vine Family’. Whilst initially nauseating to the British sensibility of not showing any emotion whatsoever, what you discover is communities all over the place. Real friendships have sprung up through Vine and not just because you want followers. In the 6 seconds you are given, you need to tell your story/joke/picture with no frills. If you want followers you just have to ask. If you want people to think you’re funny, you’ve got to be REALLY funny and so on. The lengths people go to is astonishing. From props, make up, lighting and storyboards you will see some of the most incredible homemade videos ever. All for no money. Most have day jobs and Vine, like Twitter, is struggling to find ways to make a profit despite its insane stateside success and the wild celebrity some Viners have accrued.

The Viners themselves are a great bunch and (again, as usual) most of the best and most interesting are women. Looking at the “Vine Famous” (a phrase even those who are described as such acknowledge as not being actually famous) Viners to begin with; Marlo Meekins is an unashamedly blunt Viner who never relies on her immediately apparent physical attractiveness and in many ways actively undermines it. Her flaming red hair and pale skin make her look like a film star of a bygone era which is in contrast with her potty mouth, truly frightening costumes and her frequently bizarre videos that are almost always original or certainly subversive. Even her collaborations with other Viners tend to produce weird results (the “I Took A Dump” series gets funnier each loop). Jessi Smiles on the other hand is a flatteningly hilarious young woman who also bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence (guess how I found HER folks!). But similar to Meekins, Smiles does exactly the reverse of what it says on the tin. Playing on her immediately apparent genuine beauty she continually makes fun of what is expected of her and counteracts certain prejudices. She farts, swears, scratches herself, calls out the morons and generally is just plain funny. Yet the reason for her fame was a ‘twerk’ video she did and people clearly weren’t expecting intelligence and humour from such a young, beautiful woman. Similarly, the equally delightful Christiana, with the look of a Mad Men model and the voice of ripped silk, lures you in with frank and sincere videos that bely her masterful comic timing, beautiful singing voice, lack of pretension and just being plain hilarious. Paulette Griswold, another gorgeous young woman (looks is not a prerequisite for me liking them I might add, I think something about being an attractive yet talented woman makes them want to try harder to impress. Or maybe it is just the male gaze at work. Whatever, they are funny and talented), takes great delight in subverting peoples expectations of her appearance with clown wigs, pirate hats, swearing, dog-shitting and again, being pretty damn funny. Ex-Pat Elanor is a welcome dash of dry Mancunian wit and occasionally brilliant satire, Your Friend Grace is a ray of musical sunshine, Lizzie Pops and Donna Armitage are the “oh-my-God-she’s-responsible-for-a-child” carefree, willfully silly smiles of joy walking around as humans and Holly Go Lightly is the butter-wouldn’t-melt foul mouthed pixie whose hilarious insanity and leftfield songs never fail to shock and amuse. Notable props to the fellas too: Killroy Czop is the dry and baby-faced champion of understated humour, Ian Sweeney is startlingly adept with the editing function and also a good laugh, the giddy, childish humour of Vine superstar Brandon Calvillo, the Jim-Carrey-as-a-mop high-energy wackiness of Megalis and the still-top-of-his-game Will Sasso are all worth a look too.

Being bored and looking for something to do I resolved to make funnier Vines and be more inventive. I immediately latched onto a few of the stock things to get followers: hastagging, remakes and mentions. In 24 hours I had a whole new clutch of honestly enthusiastic and welcoming cohorts who all encouraged me for more videos and made responses to mine. Like a lot of social media and the validation it brings, this kicked in like a drug. Going from essential social isolation to being able to talk to and see new people was a hit of pure cheer for me and I’ve barely gone an hour without checking the app. The amazing thing? Its actually worth doing that, you get mentions and comments or just a new and funny/inventive/bizarre/beautiful 6 seconds to enjoy.

Like all new things this is the honeymoon period. Already Instagram has done its best to cripple Vine by nicking their structure for videos. Sadly they missed the point by making it 15 seconds. Vine’s strength is its need for immediacy and Instagram got dull pretty quick (ironically). But this does mean Vine will be in for a rough period over the next year. It’ll either move with the times and succeed (like facebook/Twitter) or stay still and fail (like MySpace). At the moment there are only a few larger companies recognising the potential of some Viners and a few of the larger ones trying to cash in on it. This is the litmus test, if it survives corporate interference and maintains its genuinely heartening community spirit and its creativity then I look forward to what the App and its users can accomplish. So much has been done with it already. I look forward to its next step. Not bad for a free App that’s only 8 months old.

Keep on Twerkin’

vinefamouscopy

P.S. The Vine app is available for Mac and Android and its free. I have not been paid by Vine, iTunes or any of the above listed people for this shameless and glowing publicity/praise. I just really think its great. Get it. Anyone above I name in person, I recommend following/subscribing to. I sincerely hope the UK will cotton on to the same extent soon, I want some friends to LNPP with.