Beyond the Wings, September 2022

Since starting my Substack series ‘Beyond the Wings’, two of the authors quoted have died. Hilary Mantel passed suddenly on September 22,, and Barbara Ehrenreich on September 1. Both were of advanced age, and left behind phenomenal bodies of work, but I hope this isn’t the start of some kind of Kev-curse.

Output

This month’s Substack was about creativity. It is available as a video essay here

I also re-recorded ‘The Great British Indie Song’, having tweaked the lyrics several times over the past eighteen months:

The miscellaneous cover was ‘Resistiré’,  a Spanish classic by Duo Dinámico:

Activities

For the past two years, most of my working hours have involved teaching English to Chinese housewives. But unlike in my terrible twenties, I now appreciate what a great gig it is.

I have taught dozens of hours of lessons for IELTS, the English proficiency test that helps foreigners put native speakers to shame. I am also now teaching guitar at a school in Bury. Through what is certain to be a long and brutal winter, I hope to get as many teaching hours as possible.

During the upcoming Sober October, on top of the usual work and projects, I expect to finish another English song, one last Chinese song, and a new skit.

Wider World

Every nation has something that makes it look insane to the rest of the world. For the U.S it is guns, for the U.K it is monarchy. Like Pakistan, which I mentioned last month, Ireland has historically defined itself by its relationship to its larger neighbour.

Reactions in Ireland to the British monarch’s death this month ranged from profound grief to schadenfreude. But her legacy in Ireland is a complicated one.

Most reasonable people nowadays should be learning to value nations while being repulsed by nationalism. In ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon’, Anglo-Irish author Rebecca West observed:

The little boys looked noble and devout as they recited. Here was the nationalism which the intellectuals of my age agreed to consider a vice and the origin of the world’s misfortunes…..Intense nationalist spirit is often, indeed, an effort by a people to rebuild its character when an imperial power has worked hard to destroy it.

In her own bizarre way, Queen Elizabeth II represented her nation’s character more profoundly than any elected politician. Even most republicans had a sneaking admiration for her sense of duty and tradition.

In a world that is becoming more delocalised and contemptuous of its roots, it will be interesting to see whether her replacement – a divorcee with a lot of contentious opinions – can keep the monarchy going.

Beyond the Wings, August 2022

A third of Pakistan is under water. My only connection to the country is spending time with someone who lightened up my Lockdown 3 immeasurably in the early months of 2021. But she has moved on and hasn’t kept in touch.

More on the Pakistan situation and what it implies in the Wider World section.  

Activities

August 20th was the biggest night of my creative life so far. During the day, most things that could have gone wrong did, but my own set – aside from a few technical glitches early on – went well.

With this out of the way, my creative ambitions for the rest of the year involve finishing my last Chinese album, and finish writing (though probably not recording) the third The Kev album.

In recent weeks, business has picked up considerably, with multiple IELTS lessons and forthcoming guitar lessons. I also won the highest honour on Duolingo (Legend status), but like most computer games, it makes you feel more accomplished than you really are. My Spanish is still some way from being conversant.

Output

This month’s Substack/video essay was called ‘Service with a Fixed Smile’. It involves the usual mix of history, social comment, literary criticism, and memoir.

The next two will be on the subject of creativity (‘Looking down on Creation’), and comedy (‘Laughter Is No Laughing Matter’).

The monthly cover was ‘Same Size Feet’ by The Stererophonics:

Wider World

As Al Gore predicted in the 2000s, the countries that are least responsible for global warming are set to suffer the most. The climate has never been a political issue, but a moral one.

In Pakistan, one third of the country is under water, and well over 1,000 people have been killed by the floods. At the same time, China is facing its worst drought on record, and the subsequent economic devastation is forcing the country to ration electricity.

Meanwhile in the United States, The Republicans, who in their attitude to global warming resemble a death cult more than a political party, are looking on course to make gains in November. President Joe Biden has indicated he will run for a second term, which at his age and with his record on immigration and cultural issues like the gender debate, will be a hard sell.

The notion of humans saving the planet – as opposed to hoping the planet has mercy on us – has never felt so distant.

The Kev at Manchester Academy 3, August 20th, 2022

The Kev, which originated in a mistyped email sign-off, is the persona under which I write, record, and perform most of my English songs. This alter-ego, which I have a hard time controlling or even defining, seems to mix bottomless cynicism with life-affirming silliness.

Whatever The Kev is, his biggest gig yet was held at Manchester’s Academy 3 on August 20th. Most of the set was caught on video

Personal highlights included ‘Someone Somewhere’, a consistent crowd-pleaser

and ‘Romance Tonight’, which got its live debut

Hopefully this is just the beginning, but I made sure to get some snaps from the super-glamorous dressing room because you never know when your career has peaked.

Beyond the Wings, July 2022

This has been a month of goodbyes and reminiscences. This past week I have been in Brighton for a funeral. I did a Master’s degree there at Sussex University in the academic year 2005/06.

During this Master’s I did all kinds of menial jobs, mostly factory work and cleaning. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my studies, it quickly became obvious that they were neither qualification nor preparation for the real world.

During this period, the person I spent the most time with was classmate Virginia Monson. She was by far the most helpful and positive influence. And was also an irrepressible eccentric with a schoolboy sense of humour.

Her funeral, the most crowded I’ve ever seen in England, was very her.

Activities

Another farewell that I am in the middle of is one to Chinese-language song-writing. This month I finished a Chinese version of ‘Hope It Might Be So’, which will be the last song on my last Chinese album

Speaking of all things China and Chinese, this month I launched a Facebook ad campaign for my tutoring business. I didn’t make much money but I learned a lot. I allowed a colleague to load the ads with emojis, exclamation marks, and promises of things being ‘quick’ and ‘easy’. This does not appeal to the kinds of dedicated slogger that I am looking for. As executive coach Harsha Perera pointed out:

Output

Since I will probably never be able to write a memoir, I have decided to do the next best thing – start a Substack. This month’s topic was fame, future editions will include the subjects of happiness, humour, current affairs, and – least interesting of all – romance.

This month’s miscellaneous cover was ‘This Is the Sea’ by The Waterboys:

Wider World

The 2020s, which have already included a pandemic, war in Europe, and apparent ethnic cleansing in China, are the decade in which the myth of constant progress is exploding. This month, much of Europe has experienced record temperatures, so climate change is now affecting the rich world.

Shifting temperatures will revolutionise life on the planet. In 1988, Margaret Thatcher was the first major world leader to call for international action, but since then, flying, driving, and factory farming have remained everyday activities.

American cognitive scientist Joshua Greene pointed out that our ancestors did not evolve in an environment in which total strangers on opposite sides of the world could save each other’s lives by making relatively modest sacrifices. Nowhere near enough has been done, and the consequences are coming. That was the river, this is the sea.

Beyond the Wings, June 2022

This month, at age 38, with business having been on a low ebb since the Four Peaks Challenge, I visited a careers adviser. Not much has come from that particular consultation, but I have launched a Facebook marketing campaign, which has meant days have been busier than ever with work and passion projects.

Output

Many months after it was scheduled, my first article has appeared in Litro Magazine. It is a review of the novel ‘Solo Dance’ by Li Kotomi, which was translated from Japanese. It begins:

Civil rights campaigns are a long process. There was over a century between The Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the United States, and the Civil Rights Act, which ended segregation. In the United Kingdom, there was over half a century between women getting the vote and the Equal Pay Act, and it is widely agreed that feminism is still very much needed.

For all its size and diversity, Asia lags far behind the Anglophone world in the rights of same sex couples to marry.

This month’s miscellaneous cover was ‘No Surface, All Feeling’ by The Manic Street Preachers:

I am also still giving free online Mandarin lessons to build awareness.

Activities

The next The Kev album is coming along. I have already been in the recording studio to lay down some rhythm guitar and have been putting together between-song skits to liven things up.

One of the skits is probably the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. Which is damn-well saying something. It may be self-destructive to publish this under my own name, considering how prospective employers like to Google people. But I am not a fan of online anonymity, unless it’s for corporate whistle-blowers or political dissidents, and in most jobs, competence is much more important than respectability. Speaking of prospective employers, check out the Facebook page of my new business.

August 20th at Academy 3, which will be the biggest night of my creative life so far, is shaping up to be a good one. Tickets are available here.

Wider World

In 2020, due to the decidedly ineffectual behaviour of the Labour Party, some people joked that footballer Marcus Rashford was the de facto opposition leader. With rail strikes happening this month, the current darling of the left is trade unionist Mick Lynch.

Political commentator Andrew Marr described Lynch as a silver-tongued champion of the working-class. When asked who his political hero was, Lynch named the Irish socialist James Connolly.

This has got me thinking about the notion of having heroes, and celebrity culture. In one interview, Lynch acknowledged his own status as a mere flavour of the month, pointing out the fact that tabloid journalists were going through his bins looking for things with which to smear him.

Like everyone else who has ever lived, Connolly was deeply flawed. The Irish Independent pointed out that he was a warmonger who preached confrontation. It added: “A champion of the miller, the docker and the assembly-line drone, Connolly went out of his way to dehumanise the soldier and the policeman, as if they were not wage slaves themselves.”

I have decided to set up a Substack in which I discuss these types of issues further. The first piece will be on this subject.