Wednesday 21 November 2018

The General Relativity Of Success And Failure

I was very sad yesterday. One of the projects that I was hoping to be working on next year with poet Susan Richardson, didn't get its funding. We'd been shortlisted after the 1st round of applications and had, had some very positive encouragement from the funders, but this round was unfortunately unsuccessful. I know so many folks who know all about the highs and lows of the funding game- but as I've been posting a fair bit about successes lately I thought I'd keep it real and post about the disappointment also.

Most of the time it’s a gamble being creative. You do it, but you have no idea how things are going to be received. You hope that what you’re making will fly, knowing full well that the opposite is always possible and that your creations might fail, flop, crash and burn. Sometimes they do fail. Sometimes things go quite well, but not as well as you’d hoped. Sometimes they’re incredibly well received, but that doesn’t translate into anything substantial beyond the moment of critical acclaim, and occasionally everything seems to come together at the right time, in the right way and all is hunky dory… till the next time you create…. And then it’s back to square one all over again… 

I am still waiting on the results of another funding application for my big Stone's Throw, Lament of the Selkie project next year. It's hard to hold it all lightly, knowing that all the planning and dreaming may not work out in the way that I want it to, or maybe even in the way it deserves to. I was aware that last time I was successful with R&D funding, that for all my joy and excitement there were many worthy and exciting ideas that didn’t get to be made. How sad this business is that we’re all scrabbling round and forced to compete to be able to realize the creative visions we have.

On the up side of things Susan and I following this funding rejection are still going to find a way to make some new work together and will be plotting the next strategy for this soon.

Anyway, yesterday I needed a bit of space to lick my wounds. I walked away from what I had planned to be working on as I found I couldn’t focus very well and instead I ended up writing a new song about Jackie Leven. And now today I find myself asking if I would I have written this same song, without the disappointment of failure? Did something new get born from the frustration of yesterday’s crushed hope? Could this have existed without it?   

Jackie (for folks who don’t know about him) was a Fife born singer-songwriter, who started out in rock outfit Doll by Doll (after having to leave his hometown because of local gang violence). After a tumultuous time, with the band imploding and a serious mugging that damaged his larynx and nearly cost him his voice, Jackie became addicted to heroin… Eventually Jackie managed to get himself clean, created The Clore Trust charity to help addicts and headed out onto the road as as a blues- tinged, balladeer in the tradition of artists like Kevin Coyne.

Jackie, like Kevin Coyne, observed the lows, the grime, the seedy, the pain, the mundane and the obscene. Always a storyteller and often hilarious, Jackie wove a tapestry of complex broken characters within his songs, but in doing so he gave them dignity and a spark of beauty.  

I met Jackie when I opened for him back in 2007 at the Barfly in Cardiff. I’d heard many stories of both praise and disdain about him from other artists, but on the night I met him, he was a lovely person and an extraordinary performer. Bill and I walked away from that gig commenting that it was a crime that Jackie wasn’t more well known, it certainly wasn’t for lack of showmanship, musicality or ability. Riding the rollercoaster of success and failure Jackie, sometimes spoke of his own disappointments that his work hadn't had the recognition over the years that others had achieved. He also spoke of the ongoing need for rejection of comparison. He followed the muse and made the work and that in itself was success... the comparison game is a battle every artist faces, no matter how successful...It takes a lot of conscious effort not to be continually dragged into and down by it. 

The day I found out that Jackie died, I was working on my Selkie project in its original form, a collaboration with composer Gill Stevens who had introduced me to the folklore tales. Gill and I stopped for lunch and suddenly we heard an enormous bang. A blackbird had crashed into her glass conservatory roof and died. Moments later as Dylan, Gill’s husband carried the dead bird away I saw the news on my social media feed that Jackie had also died.

It is just a week since the 7th anniversary of Jackie’s death.

My original Selkie project with Gill also didn’t get it’s funding. We then planned instead to create a streamlined version of it that would be performed on my return from touring in Italy. It was to be the last project before the birth of our daughter and it was another outcome that didn’t work out as planned. During that tour in Italy I fell from the stage and injured myself and lost my ability to perform for a season…

Life is funny....The letting go of that incarnation of the project was painful yet it led to a completely different version of a Selkie project, which in turn led to my album, which in turn played a part in my mental recovery, (see the 10 part Turbulence blog series on that) which in turn led to this years arts council funded R&D project, which has led to me putting in the application for the big grant to create the full touring show…Which may or may not happen…

Yesterday’s disappointment brought into sharp focus the reality of the fact that I might not be successful in this next round of funding for the Selkie project…

But I will cross that bridge in a few weeks time- when I come to it.

In the meantime, today has been a day for pragmatism… I’m still sad that specifics of my project with Susan won’t be realised in the way I’d intended them to at this time. It’s hard not to feel deeply frustrated after all the effort and time that goes into applications not amounting to equivalent outcomes, but I can’t stay in that place- I know it too well and I know that it won’t help me to stay there… Today I need to pick myself up, dust myself down and reassert my perspective on the general relativity of success and failure…

So for now I’ll just remember Jackie and focus on the fact that I have written a new song.
(I’ll see about recording a version of it soon)

Here’s a link to Paul Du Noyer’s excellent in depth article on Jackie Leven

Author Ian Rankin on Jackie Leven

Here’s Jackie’s own tribute to Kevin Coyne, anotherr hugely underrated artist...