Beyond the Wings February 2021

This month, two of the biggest moments of my creative life happened within a few days of each other. On February 6th, I held a Zoom concert to showcase my Chinese-language song-writing. Also, my first book was released.

Output

‘The Naked Wedding’, my first short story collection, is now available as an e-book and in print. I have started soliciting reviews but have heard nothing back yet. Reviews are a hard sell; they take a lot of time and tend to pay zilch. I still hope and expect that some will have materialised by the end of the year.

Also, this month I held a Zoom concert that was a risky mixing of professional life and personal passion project.

Hopefully, this will inspire new Chinese songs, an artform on which I have been quite unproductive recently. The English songs however seem to keep flowing out. This was an attempt at a romantic salsa song written for Valentine’s weekend.

Activities

The Mandarin Club continues to thrive. As well as the Zoom concert, this month there were two literary events with well-known Chinese authors, and the February edition of the China Book Club was ‘Factory Girls’ by Leslie Chang. In March it will be the post-reform & opening masterpiece ‘Life’ by Lu Yao.

Another regular Zoom event I host is the Castle Music Group, a music, poetry and comedy group open to everyone. The March events will be on the afternoon of the 14th and the evenings of the 20th and 31st. This helps to fuel my weekly recordings of miscellaneous covers.

In February these have included ‘The Best’ by Tina Turner, ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ by Radiohead, ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ by Bon Jovi, and ‘Radio Ga Ga’ by Queen.

Wider World

As relieving as it is to be rid of President Trump, the honeymoon is already over with Biden. In late February he launched military air strikes in Syria, continuing a decades-long trend of American military intervention in the region.

Trump’s obnoxiousness was often a distraction from the genuine intractability of the problems facing the world. Here in the UK, there is genuine optimism that life will return to something resembling pre-coronavirus normalcy by the end of 2021. Still, the social and economic fallout has yet to be understood.

With the Conservative Party, whose disastrous governance has led the UK to a world-leading death toll and the worst recession in three centuries, leading in the polls, I am reminded of this poem by Erich Fried.

What Happens

It has happened

and it goes on happening

and will happen again

if nothing happens to stop it.

The innocent know nothing

because they are too innocent

and the guilty know nothing

because they are too guilty.

The poor don’t take notice

because they’re too poor

and the rich don’t take notice

because they’re too rich.

The stupid shrug their shoulders

because they’re too stupid

and the clever shrug their shoulders

because they’re too clever.

The young don’t care

because they’re too young

and the old don’t care

because they’re too old.

That’s why nothing happens

to stop it

and that is why it has happened

and goes on happening and will happen again.

‘The Naked Wedding’

My first book, a short story collection titled ‘The Naked Wedding’ has been published. It is available on both Amazon and Google Books.

This short story collection revolves around Shenzhen, one of the most exciting cities in China, and therefore the world. Having grown from a cluster of villages to a metropolis of over 12 million people in four decades, Shenzhen encapsulates the nation’s economic miracle, and its associated growing pains.

From a tale narrated by an anthropomorphised iPhone reincarnated from a Foxconn worker to one that takes in a broken engagement and the possibility of female infanticide, “The Naked Wedding: And Other Tales from the Overnight City” has a bit of everything. From China’s impoverished side, where factory workers are driven to take their own lives, to its prosperous side, where people have gone from the barnyard to the boardroom so fast they have neglected to shed the manners along the way”.

Beyond the Wings, January 2021

The UK is now back under the strictest level of lockdown for the foreseeable future. Everyone is having a tough time mentally and emotionally, but I have been lucky enough to see business grow and to be able to keep pursuing passion projects.

Output

In January I wrote two new English songs. As is often the case, I was so eager to get them recorded, there are flaws. ‘Someone Somewhere’ – which is a hybrid of ‘Someone’ by Dennis O’Driscoll, ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell, and ‘The Bad Touch’ by The Bloodhound Gang – should have been in a lower key

This song, ‘Voice of a Generation’ – which started out as a comedy song but ended up just as a list of things that happened – should really end with the line: “And now I have a PhD and work in a coffee shop”.

Another project, which took almost a month to practice and is still far from perfect, brings together two things that were long-term companions before bawdy ballads were a twinkle in my eye: East Asia and the classical guitar:

Activities

The Mandarin Club is thriving to the extent that can be expected when in-person gatherings are months away at least. The China Book club for January was Eileen Chang’s ‘Red Rose White Rose’. For February it is Leslie Chang’s ‘Factory Girls’, for March it is Lu Yao’s ‘Life’, for April it is Tsering Döndrup’s ‘The Handsome Monk’, and for May it is Laozi’s ‘Daodejing’.

Most exciting, personally, is on February 6th I will perform a set of self-penned Chinese songs. It will hopefully provide inspiration for more songs yet to be written.

To pass the time, I have also restarted recording Weekly Miscellaneous Covers.

Wider World

For reasons beyond the obvious, the world is going bad and things are set to get much worse. Covid deaths passed 100,000 here in the UK. The economic impact of lockdown is yet to be fully understood. The trauma of the past ten months will last years if not decades.

But it is not all gloom.

Joe Biden had already signed forty-two executive orders by January 28th. These include cancelling the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline; the phasing out of private prisons; and elevating climate change to the status of a national security threat.

It reminds me of this poem by Sheenagh Pugh:

‘Sometimes’

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,

from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel

faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,

sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;

elect an honest man, decide they care

enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.

Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go

amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.

The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow

that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

Beyond the Wings, December 2020

Well, what can you say about 2020? Pretty much anything because someone, somewhere will say something even more horrible. I nonetheless had a reasonably productive year, sneaking in a few mini victories amid all the awfulness.

Activities

The Mandarin Club is going strong. In December there has been a seminar on traditional Chinese medicine by a leading acupuncturist. There was also a Zoom event on twentieth century philosopher Alan Watts:

My 2020 has been a breeze compared to just about anybody else but attempts at getting on the housing ladder have been luckless. I am moving this week, staying in central Manchester. More on that in the end-of-year roundup.

Output

To acknowledge that many of my friends and acquaintances have lost a close friend or family member this year, while also staying in character, I wrote this light-hearted song about the afterlife.

On top of this, I have scheduled an online performance of self-penned Chinese songs on February 6th. Sign-ups have been modest so far, but it should be a good day.

Wider World

One of my all-time favourite musical comedians had his first major hit. I am delighted for him but would hate for this to be his legacy.

He is a brilliant songwriter, and the hit was in my opinion one of his least brilliant songs. Another song, from the same album, was highly relevant to the political situation in the world this month.

End-of-Year Roundup

With human contact kept to a minimum, I nonetheless had an eventful year. Here are some things I did:

  • Multiplied my tutoring business, including clients for Mandarin, ESL, the guitar, essay writing, and creative writing.
  • Finished two albums, one English and one Chinese. Had to cancel the album launch on April 18th for painfully obvious reasons, but if and when it ever does happen, it will be an immeasurably stronger show because …
  • I am well on the way to finishing two more albums, one English, and one Chinese. At the time of writing, six of the new English songs are likely to be even bigger crowd pleasers than anything I had before.
  • Did two in-depth interviews about my Chinese-language song-writing.
  • Also recorded over 100 covers of various pop, rock, folk, and Broadway classics.
  • Got published by Comma Press, an institution I have been in awe of since 2014.
  • Wrote many reviews of other people’s books, albums, and short story collections. I exclusively write positive reviews, as there is no value in publicly attacking other people’s hard work in this way.
  • Attempts at getting onto the property ladder kept getting comically kicked in the crotch, like a ‘Home Alone’ villain. At one stage I drunk-texted my landlord, calling him a scumbag. I couldn’t really apologise, because I meant it.
  • I finalised my first paperback book, a short story collection set in Shenzhen, China. It is now just one proofread away from going to the printers. It is called ‘The Naked Wedding’. Here is the cover: