Beyond the Wings, September 2021 

‘Abusive X’ is now available on all major platforms. The initial launch night is set for November 13th at the Lion’s Den, Manchester.

Activities

Tutoring is continuing to go great. My pupils for both Chinese and English are making pleasing progress.

On the subject of Chinese, this month’s China Book Club was ‘Broken Wings’ by Jia Pingwa. Upcoming ones will include China Dream’ by Ma Jian, and Out of Mao’s Shadow by Philip Pan.

With some pupils moving on recently, I hope to get more tutoring business going forward, especially in essay writing and music.

Output

My classical guitar will go unused for a few days as the new set of strings settles, the last outing for the old strings was a recording of ‘Hommage à Tarrega’, an exciting and technically challenging piece by Joaquin Turina.

I also revived my weekly miscellaneous covers. Though still somewhat creatively drained after finishing ‘Abusive X’, I hope to finish some new original songs in October.

Wider World

Of the two political earthquakes of 2016, Brexit always seemed more consequential than the election of Donald Trump. Trump may be the most talked about person of the past half decade, but there is no reason to believe his presidency will be considered a particularly memorable one in decades to come.

Despite his disastrous handling of Covid, attempted coup, and two impeachments, he is already considered by many to be a thing of the past. Meanwhile, Brexit is only just beginning to be a reality.

Manifestations currently include depleted shelves and a shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers. Lots of people have a lot to say about this, some very amusingly.

Beyond the Wings, August 2021

It is finished. The new album ‘Abusive X’ is already available as a YouTube playlist and on Bandcamp. It was hard work but a great experience. The cover, as designed by Wanda Roslyn, is one of my favourite things about it.

Output

Toward the end of the month I was frantically making YouTube videos for songs from the new album. Personal favourites include ‘Cheap Hotel’

And the album closer ‘Hope It Might Be So’.

I have also been getting out and performing at least once a week.

Activities

Despite business being great for both my English tutoring and Chinese tutoring, I have had the privilege of being able to read a lot. This month’s reading included newly released blockbuster ‘The Abstainer’ by Ian McGuire, which I intend to write a review about soon, and ‘China Dream’, by Ma Jian, which will certainly be the subject of a future China Book Club.

With all Covid restrictions being lifted, at least for the time being, my online activities have been less well-attended. This is a good thing, obviously. But I built some great relationships during the Zoom era, and there is much I will miss about those events.

Looking forward, I have been trying my hand at comedy sketch writing and will finally be working toward making my ideas a reality in September.

Most excitingly of all, the album launch night, which was originally set for April 18th, 2020, is scheduled to finally go ahead on November 13th at The Lion’s Den, Manchester.

Wider World

I spent my formative years during the 1990s. Those times, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and before the September 11th terrorist attacks, America was unchallenged as the world’s only superpower. This month its military suffered a colossal failure in Afghanistan.

The current president is getting the blame, but the three previous administrations failed comprehensively at nation-building, and all made huge mistakes. The Bush Administration started another costly and disastrous war in Iraq, Obama’s trop surge proved ineffective, and Trump struck a disastrous deal with the Taliban, which has been easily exploited.

Some commentators have predicted that America’s defeat will embolden China, auguring well for its desire to take back control of Taiwan, and extending its crackdown on Afghanistan’s Uighur population. But the Taliban government will find it very difficult to achieve stability in Afghanistan, and China does not need more chaos on its Western border. There are three nuclear-armed states in the region, all with their own territorial ambitions.

Only a fool would predict anything too confidently, but it is quite likely that this Aldous Huxley quote will stay as relevant as ever: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”

Beyond the Wings, July 2021

It probably won’t be available online for another month, but my latest English album – under my sleazy The Kev persona – is sounding amazing. Songs like ‘Cheap Hotel’ and ‘Satire’ are being recorded in a proper studio, with an excellent drummer and a world-class bass player.

Others, like ‘Cancel Me’, ‘Someone Somewhere’, and ‘Hope It Might Be So’, I have simply re-recorded at home.   

Output

Early this month I finished a new English song, inspired by recent romantic (mis)adventures.

And another classical guitar video.

And I continued with the miscellaneous covers. There is an endgame to this seemingly random assortment of songs. It can only be revealed if and when my album launch happens.

I also had another review posted by the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing.

Activities

This month I completed another draft of my novel, working title ‘Fallen Souls’. The latest rewrite was about fleshing out the character of the antagonist and giving him a backstory. Working on it is always emotionally and creatively draining, but writing scenes set during his school days was particularly triggering, dredging up countless teenage memories.

In-person gatherings are very much the norm again. I have continued to play new original songs at open mics and am again holding the thriving Socially Awkward Singsong at Manchester’s Castle Hotel.  

At The Lion’s Den open mic

Wider World

It is not an original observation that social media is a giant toilet that everybody is free to use and nobody is responsible for cleaning. Jonathan Frantzen criticised Twitter for being unconducive to seriousness or proper expression.

This month has been particularly depressing on social media. Andrew Lawrence, a comedian I admired a lot, posted a tweet about the England football team which seemed unambiguously racist, and I find impossible to defend.

Journalist Flora Gill tweeted about introducing a sort of gateway, entry-level pornography for people under eighteen. She apologised for the poor wording, but even so, what a stupid post.

Despite this, when someone is publicly shamed for a social media post, it is healthy to remember that the same thing could happen to anyone. And it is therefore unwise to take too much glee in piling on, as you could be next.

Online mobs, just like offline mobs, are dangerous, no matter how right they are.

Beyond the Wings, June 2021

Those long winter months, when restrictions were at their tightest, and Covid deaths were at their highest, I spent a lot of time designing syllabuses for both English teaching and Chinese. All this solitary work has started to pay off both professionally and creatively.

Activities

My tutoring business grew significantly in June, with new clients for Chinese and English. I remain available for tuition in those subjects, as well as the guitar, creative writing, and essay writing.

I also wrote some more for the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing. On top of this, my book ‘The Naked Wedding’ got its first mainstream media coverage.

Output

After only making one classical guitar video in the first five months of 2021, I made three this month, ‘Canon in D’ by Johann Pachelbel, ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ by Johann Sebastian Bach, and ‘The Flower Duet’ by Leo Delibes:

I also finished a new Chinese song, titled 《害羞》(Shy).

The next English album, new working title ‘Cancel Me’, is being recorded and should be available on all platforms by the end of August.

Wider World

The Chinese Communist Party this month celebrated its centenary. I was in China, working for one of its propaganda rags when it turned ninety. I still don’t know exactly what to think of the experience.

On the one hand it was just another place to work, meet professional people, and learn vital skills. On the other, I was in the employment of the organisation that had sent the tanks rolling in on June 4th, 1989, and since then has begun what has credibly been described as a genocide. I more or less see the job the same way now as I did then, like this, if you replace the word ‘English’ with ‘Communist Party’ and ‘colonised’ with ‘employed’:

It would be disingenuous to claim that China’s economic miracle has happened in spite of, and not directly because of, the leadership of the Communist Party. But the economy faces all kinds of problems. The Party’s reputation and credibility rest on its success, and the pressure to keep delivering is immense.

Beyond the Wings, May 2021

The final preparations have been made, and in June, I will finally record my new English album. Also, with businesses finally reopening, I should finally get the chance to debut some of my new material for a live audience. My tutoring has also involved some in-person lessons for the first time in well over a year. Here are some other things I’ve done in May.

Output

Since I don’t live in China anymore and am not a member of the society, writing new Chinese songs in proving a challenge. I nonetheless finished this one, whose lyrics I scribbled in a notepad during a meeting in 2014.

Near the start of the month, I also wrote an English love song:

Activities

I have completed another redraft of my novel, working title ‘Fallen Souls’. It is much improved, but a lot needs to be done with the character of the antagonist and co-narrator. This month I read ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks, which will really help construct the character’s childhood and backstory. I have also just started revisiting ‘G’ by John Berger, in which the protagonist, like my antagonist, is the illegitimate child of a successful man.

The Naked Wedding’ and other stories has had more reviews. A date will be set in June for its first featuring in a mainstream publication.

I have also written some reviews, including one of the second book to be published by Manchester’s own Orton Publishing. For the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, I have read a new translation of ‘Stories of the Sahara’ by San Mao and my review will appear in June.

Wider World

New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has announced that she is in therapy. This has met with predictable scorn from her many political opponents.

Her announcement is both brave and timely. Mental health is getting more talked about in the mainstream, but still not enough. Even in the world’s most advanced societies, there is still considerable taboo around it.

The ‘self-help’ industry is a massive one, and so much unhelpful ‘advice’ is flying around. Much of this falls under the category of toxic positivity. As Carl Jung said, we shouldn’t flee from negative emotions, but experience our suffering to the fullest. Now is not a time to repress painful feelings.