On February 6th, I performed a set of my self-penned Chinese songs in a Zoom concert.
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”.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Like a lot of others, I got a big boost in the first half of this month when Trump was defeated. On the other hand, a second lockdown has put this particular part of the world under house arrest again, so it is going to be a depressing winter.
This second lockdown has been a productive time for songwriting. This month I have recorded a new Chinese song
A new song about marital infidelity that will become a staple of my live sets
And another English song that kind of falls between two stools of not being quite funny and not quite sad
My Meetup group The Mandarin Club has been going since August. It will flourish when in-person activities are allowed again. For now there is the China Book Club, and occasional other activities, including an event about acupuncture on Thursday December 3rd.
Like everybody else, I am looking forward to being able to gather with people again. When I am able to schedule, I will hold three album launches and a book launch. Watch this space.
With the Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca vaccines, there is now finally an end in sight to the pandemic, even though restrictions will last well into 2021 and maybe its entirety. The next year will be another tough one, with a hard Brexit and a Biden administration locking horns with congress.
With Republicans likely to hold the senate, it will probably be a less transformational presidency than some have hoped, with no green new deal and no universal healthcare. But it will be a relief to have a less flamboyant individual in the world’s highest political office.