Beyond the Wings, October 2022

Having done Dryanuary, Lent, and now Sober October, this has been the least boozy year of my adult life. In 2023, I intend to take the next step, and go One Year No Beer. On New Year’s Eve, this will be me.

Speaking of things that I will miss, I am set to release my final Chinese-language album soon. In February, I will hold an online performance that will celebrate my Chinese songwriting career (or lack thereof).


The last Chinese song I ever plan to write is about the country’s tendency to throw high-profile people in jail for things that are easy mistakes to make. It comes full circle and reflects on how – though it was once what I wanted – I never become nationally famous for my songwriting, and that this is probably for the best:

This month’s miscellaneous covers were a medley of songs that I played on the big night at Manchester Academy 3. That particular part of the gig doesn’t seem to have been captured on camera, so I did it all again at home:

This month’s Substack is on the subject of humour.


On Mondays on Fridays I am in Bury in North Manchester teaching guitar to teenagers. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am in Withington in South Manchester teaching English Literature to a successful businessman.

I have always taken for granted that I would have to draw a firm line between paid work and personal passion projects, but these gigs involve music and creative writing respectively, which is heartening.

Wider World

When I reached voting age in the 2000s, the leading figures on the world stage included George W Bush, Silvio Berlusconi, and …well… Vladimir Putin. And people were saying, not without justification, that we were entering the post-democratic age.

Remembrance Sunday is almost upon us and soon wearing poppies will be unofficially mandatory. I have always thought that the most disrespectful way to treat the memory of World War 1 soldiers is to pretend that pointless wars started by idiot politicians are a thing of the past.

Xi Jinping has just secured another five years at the helm in China, and the smart money is on him invading Taiwan this decade. I couldn’t help thinking about this along with Putin ramping things up in Eastern Europe while watching the new adaptation of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (I still prefer the 1930 version, see below). It makes me more convinced of the tastelessness of turning this waste of human life into a fashion appendage.

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.


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:


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.  


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.


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.