Half the World Away – Overcoming Asperger’s, Graduating University and The Next Phase

For those of you who (I like to hope) might regularly read my blog and have read any of my past blog posts, you are probably aware that I have a condition called Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. A year ago, I wrote two blogs about my struggles with the condition, how I battled against all the difficulties to eventually get into university, and how I had to balance my condition with the pressures of university life.

Since then, my blog has been more of a hub for music reviews and interviews in my quest to pursue a career in music journalism and the media, as music is a huge passion in my life and a fundamental part of my life journey. However, in light of what was undeniably the biggest week of my life so far, I have decided to temporarily side track from all that and reflect back on the past week, my journey up to then and my hopes for the future from this point onwards.

At the time I wrote those two blogs, I was in a place where I was much happier and more aware of both the difficulties I had and how I could overcome them, and also my strengths as a person. At the same time, I was in the busiest, most eventful and most pivotal stage of my life – the midway point of university with my final year lurking around the corner. Since then, a lot has happened in my life during my third, concluding year of university. I’ve had plenty more ups as well as downs, and grown much more as an individual.

Two weeks ago, I received what was undoubtedly the best news I ever had. After three of the hardest, most stressful yet most rewarding years of my life at university in Cardiff, I’d received the news that I’d be graduating in a couple of weeks with a 2:1 in BA Journalism at University of South Wales.

Just six years previously, I had been kicked out of my sixth form due to the shared (and now misinformed) belief by the staff there that I would fail in my studies and wouldn’t get any further. It was both my defiant refusal to succumb to that fate and my fight to be allowed to study at a higher education college, along with a bout of sheer (and then very rare) luck that I was interviewed for and subsequently allowed onto two courses at Cornwall College St Austell – BTEC Media Studies and A-Level Film Studies – just a couple of weeks later. The three years of college were both the making of me and a test of my character as I navigated both the academic and social battleground of college, and it was my two main tutors who had allowed me onto their course in the first place that helped me survive those three brutal years. To go from all that to getting into university (having passed Media with a Distinction, Film with a B and Communications and Culture with an A*) and getting a 2:1 degree just three years later is something that I’m deeply humbled by and at one point would never have dreamed possible, yet which I know is down to both my hard work and determination to succeed in pursuit of my goals, and the unshakable support of my family, my few friends and my college tutors.

Just before the start of this year, I said to myself that a 2:1 was exactly the minimum grade I wanted to achieve. Obviously, by just getting into university I had already come further than I ever could’ve imagined and finishing with any degree would be an amazing achievement. However, I knew I had the potential to get at least a 2:1 and that if I committed myself and worked harder than usual, I could get it. Getting this result shows that my belief, my hard work and my positivity in the face of adversity has paid off. Getting a 2:1 for my dissertation as well is just the icing on the cake. As well as having the degree, I now have the knowledge that I can be anything I want to be if I set my mind to it and work for it, regardless of any obstacles that decorate my path.

After all I’ve had to go through to achieve my goal of graduating with a degree, the day of my graduation was a fitting culmination of, and reward for, all those years of hard work as well as all the triumphs I’ve achieved in the first half of this year, with my 23rd birthday fittingly a week before. Simultaneously, it marked the end of one chapter in my life and the beginning of another. My graduation was very much the pivotal turning point in my life journey.

It was undoubtedly one of the happiest, proudest days of my life so far if not the happiest. I will always cherish the few priceless seconds of walking up to the stage and officially receiving my degree to the applause of the audience and my family, that flashed by in an instant yet which I will never forget. When I walked up, I didn’t even take notice of the applause, probably because there was so much going through my mind although perhaps I was so focused on not making a fool of myself on stage on one of the biggest occasions of my life. Just walking up on stage in front of a big audience of people is something that used to petrify me, yet now I was walking on stage with no nerves or hesitation at all.

In addition, I received a special award on my course that I was nominated for by all my lecturers unanimously – a Certificate of Academic Excellence. To receive that award and to get such amazing praise form my lecturer after the ceremony made me feel so proud.

For me, achieving my degree provides me with closure for the struggles I’ve had to deal with on my way to graduating and makes a bit of that feel worth it. I move on into the next phase of my life with my head held high knowing that I’ve achieved a degree and done so against all the odds. It hasn’t entirely hinged on fate; because I could have so easily been in an opposite position had I not battled to get into college and university. I owe it to all my hard work and determination to succeed, because that is what has got me here.

I’m still on a high from that amazing day that will forever be etched in my mind, but at the same time feeling slightly deflated now that it has ended, and the reality of the real working world has fully sunk in again. It’s a strange mixture of emotions I’m feeling because as delighted as I am, I’m also sad that arguably the best three years of my life at university have now come to an end, and I’ve now left Cardiff and my whole course. But while one door has closed, another has opened for me.

While the unknown aspect of what the post-uni world holds in store for me is something that is slightly daunting, I’m very positive and confident now about entering the next phase of my life. The first half of this year has already brought me so much in my life, and whatever happens in the remaining half of 2014, this year is already the best year I’ve had. Now I’m looking forward to what the second half and the rest of the future will bring me, and to achieving more new milestones. I still have more goals that I want to achieve, and believe I can.

As many people who know me and who might regularly read my blog (or not), one of my main passions is music and journalism, and this is something which I hope I can make a lifestyle out of and hopefully a career. While I have always loved music and loved writing, doing interviews and getting myself out there is something that a few years ago would have intimidated me due to my lack of social skills, and tested my limits. Regardless, I have worked extremely hard to overcome the difficulties I had, and doing a journalism course at university, as well as living in Cardiff far from my home in Lostwithiel in Cornwall, has helped me step out of my comfort zone and improve both my chances of succeeding in a potential career in journalism and my social skills in general. Now, I am doing reviews regularly and have met so many great people along the way that have supported me and pushed me closer in pursuit of my dreams.

Additionally, I have recently done work experience in the PR industry, which is a route I definitely want to explore further. Now that I have found something which I enjoy and which I’m getting plenty of great feedback for, I am determined to keep doing journalism as a freelance hobby for now, improve as a writer, and get myself out there as I have done and as I’m doing now.

Then there’s the usual goals that everyone else has – to have a successful job, live independently, to travel, to have a happy relationship and a family. A few years ago, these are probably dreams that would have been impossible for me. Now, nothing is impossible.

In what has already been a great year, I am certainly hoping to accomplish plenty more in the remaining months and beyond.

‘How many corners do I have to turn, how many times do I have to learn, all the love I have is in my mind’ – Richard Ashcroft, ‘Lucky Man’, The Verve, 1997

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Introducing…Lucy Anna: ‘Everyone in Cornwall wants to support and help each other’

Lucy Anna music review

15-year old Lucy Anna from Cornwall is building up a lot of hype around the Cornish music scene, with music fans and fellow musicians becoming newly devoted fans of the young singer/songwriter. Her gentle yet emotive vocals perfectly complement her simplistic, understated guitar melodies and sound. Still so young and yet to fully hit her stride as a live performer, she will no doubt develop as a musician and performer in the next few years. For now, read my exclusive interview with the singer who is only just hitting her peak.

Who are your favourite music artists?

My three favourite artists are Jessie J, Ed Sheeran and Gabrielle Aplin.

Do you have any new material you plan to release soon?

I have an EP out at the moment called ‘Stay Strong’ which was released back in February, and I did a launch for the EP at this same venue, The Nightjar. It’s a great place to perform and I always love coming back here.

Has the Cornish music scene helped you develop as an artist?

I’ve grown so much as an artist because of playing around Cornwall. Everyone always wants to help each other out and it’s not a competitive scene at all, we all support and want each other to do well.

Any artists in the scene you think stand out?

Ben Thorpe, Gareth Lee and Annie Bayliss, Holly Turton – to name just a few!

Do you have ambitions to tour outside of Cornwall?

I took part in a singing competition that was held in Bristol, but that’s as far as I’ve gone outside of Cornwall so far. I do intend to do a small tour across the UK at some point in the future, so it’s just carefully planning that at the moment.

Lucy Anna’s debut EP ‘Stay Strong’ is available to buy now.

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Introducing…Jessica McEvoy: ‘I’m very lucky the music scene in Cornwall is so supportive’

 Jess McEvoy 4

The latest in an increasingly long line of talented young musicians to spring from Cornwall, 18 year old alt-folk singer-songwriter Jessica McEvoy’s whispery vocals and serene guitar melodies are striking for someone so young. She sings with a maturity and passion in her voice that belies her years yet accompanied by a quirkiness and youthful innocence in her vocals and lyrics that instantly warms the listener to her, along with a surprisingly natural confidence on stage as if she has been playing for years. Now accompanying her is Fred Baylis on guitar, who adds further to the pleasant harmonies of her songs.

A few weeks ago, she had the duty of opening the Howling Jar showcase of rising female singer-songwriters from Cornwall at the Nightjar in Truro. Here is my interview with her shortly before she took to the stage.

Who are your biggest musical influences on you as an artist?

I really listen to anything and have a very eclectic taste in music, and also share a lot of my dad’s taste in music including Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. Perhaps my main influences are Kate Nash, Gabrielle Aplin and Jake Bugg, but I’m open to all genres.

Are you planning to release any new material soon?

We’re going to get some recording done as quickly as possible. I’m now performing as a duo with guitarist Fred Baylis who joined recently. He is a great musician and we gel well together musically. I’m still yet to record with him so I’m looking forward to laying down some tracks with him. My first EP is already out now, and hopefully a second will be released later this year.

Do you find the Cornish music scene has been supportive of you as an artist so far?

It’s been generally been really great. There’s been a lot of venues that have been open to the idea of having new people perform. I’ve only been playing gigs for a year now, but I’ve been very lucky that there has been so many venues supportive of new artists. Generally, you get a good turnout for gigs down here.

Is there any artists in the scene you think could make a breakthrough soon?

There are so many – Jack Wallen, Gareth Lee, Kezia who is performing tonight. There is so much talent down here.

Do you have plans to tour more outside of Cornwall?

We actually did a gig in Camden a week ago, and will hopefully go back up to London in July. I’m taking a gap year at the moment, so it’s a good opportunity to get out of Cornwall more and travel.

Jess McEvoy

Jessica McEvoy’s eponymous debut EP is available to buy now.

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Introducing…Stef Andrew: ‘Music is my main passion and where my heart lies’

STEF ANDREW

Originally from York and currently based in Cornwall, indie folk songstress Stef Andrew can reduce a room to a mesmerised silence so loud you can hear a pin drop, thanks to her eerie acoustic guitar melodies and hauntingly fragile voice. While she may not possess the natural confidence other artists in a similar genre might have, she definitely has the talent and with a few more gigs has the potential to develop into a natural performer with time.

I talked to the still unsigned (though hopefully not for long) singer a day after her set at the Howling Jar Ladies’ Showcase at The Nightjar in Truro in Cornwall, in which she revealed her extensive musical family background, her experience performing at Boardmasters Festival in Newquay last year and her plans for the future.

Who are you biggest musical influences?

My biggest influence is probably my dad, as he has been teaching me the guitar since I was little and he used to play in a band in Liverpool. My uncle also used to play at The Cavern in Liverpool which obviously was the birthplace of The Beatles, so I’ve definitely grown up in a big music environment. The artists I’m most inspired by are Laura Marling and a singer called Lucy Ward. I saw her live and she blew me away, and she inspired me to write in a more folksy, storytelling style.

Are you currently working on or planning to release any new material soon?

I’ve just recorded some new music in my living room on my own recording kit. I’ve got a 2-track EP in the pipeline that I will hopefully put out into the world soon and bring to future gigs I play. I’ve not had anything I’ve been able to give to audiences who I play to so I really want to release new material soon and spread my music out there.

Has being in Cornwall and the music scene had an influence on you as well?

I studied in Aberdeen and in Inverness as well, and spent a lot of time around the music scene there. Like Cornwall, it was very small and local, and I got such a great reception there. When I came down to Cornwall, I didn’t know what it was going to be like here but it has simply been amazing. I’ve had such nice comments for my music and gained a lot of new followers.

The Nightjar in Truro, in particular, has been a great place for me to play and they’ve invited me back to perform so many times and somehow never seem to get sick of me which is incredibly nice.

Have you toured anywhere in the UK outside of Cornwall and Aberdeen, or do you plan to play in any other UK cities at some point?

I’ve mainly played in those two places really, and I originally grew up in York so performed a lot there growing up. It was around the time I moved to Aberdeen and Inverness to study university there where I started writing my own music and being an independent artist. I haven’t played many other places but will consider touring at some point.

The music scene in Cornwall tends to be overlooked. Do you think there is potential for the scene to eventually get bigger and for artists from Cornwall to breakthrough?

It is hard because we are very isolated. A lot of up and coming artists do play in Cornwall on their way to achieving mainstream success but they mainly use London as a platform. I feel I’ve exhausted it a bit because I’ve played a lot in Cornwall but haven’t made it to where I want to be in my music career, so in the future I’d like to play somewhere where the scene is a little bigger.

If there are more music venues in Cornwall though and places like The Nightjar carry on going, then Cornwall is definitely making progress with its music scene.

Do you think more showcases like The Howling Jar could be held in Cornwall to give local artists a platform to get themselves more recognition?

Playing in The Nightjar is the first time I’ve played a showcase like this. There’s definitely a lot of similar showcases like this that are being held down here which is great in terms of promoting the talent here.

Would you consider playing more festivals such as Boardmasters in the future?

In played at Boardmasters last year and had such an amazing reception which I wasn’t expecting. It was definitely the biggest crowd I played to yet. I’m hoping to play there again this year so fingers crossed!

Do you prefer to stay unsigned in order to be more independent as an artist, or do you hope to be signed by a label soon?

I would love to be signed by a label eventually, but it’s difficult for me because I’m also working as a doctor outside of music. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time for music as I would like. Now that I have found more time recently to perform music, it’s starting to get bigger for me. I love both of my careers, but music is definitely my passion and where my heart lies.

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Introducing…Louella Jade Eke: ‘My main influences are simply the artists that soundtrack my life at a particular moment’

LOUELLA JADE EKE

Singer/songwriter Louella Jade Eke, from Par in Cornwall, certainly packs a punch with her raspy voice and raw, edgy yet sedative brand of blues and folk. Imagine the deep lyrics and wistful melodies of Elliott Smith mixed with the aggressive bluesy tones of Led Zeppelin in their folk-rock era and you have some idea of her distinct sound. She brings an excitement in her performances both on record and on stage, where her authoritative yet laid back stage presence and natural charm keep the audience hooked from start to finish.

Before her set at the Howling Jar Ladies’ Showcase at The Nightjar in Truro in Cornwall, I caught an interview with Louella as she talked about her musical influences and how the music scene in Cornwall has helped her.

Who are your biggest musical influences?

Bob Dylan is probably my favourite artist, and I also used to listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Those are my main influences musically, but a lot of my main influences just come from what is happening in my life now and who I’m listening to or the artists that soundtrack my life. On the way to this gig, I was listening to Elliott Smith in the car, and it gets me in the mood to write really deep lyrics which I love.

Are you currently working on or planning to release any new material soon?

I have got a new EP on the way called which will be released with my band Louella and the Gambit. We’re currently recording the EP in the studio which me and my boyfriend run called The Cave, and plan to record it over the next few months.

Has the music scene in Cornwall been very supportive?

I originally come from North Devon, which I felt didn’t have much of a music scene. When I moved to Cornwall, I felt it all kicked off for me and there was a bigger variety of music venues. Where I lived in Penzance in Cornwall, every night there was live music going on.

I started out in a small folk band just playing old traditional folk songs. I was approached by them to join them and to get used to the idea of performing with other people. It was a good starting point for me, and the band plus the entire music community in Cornwall were very supportive of me. I feel Cornwall is a more eccentric place and you are accepted a lot more for who you are and what you want to do.

Are they many artists in the Cornish music scene who have the potential to get bigger?

There are so many talented artists who are doing very well at the moment. It’s hard to name just a few but Lucy Anna has a great voice and is still so young so she has such a long way to go. Holly Turton is doing very well and there are some very strong bands such as The White Bicycles and Grip-Like Vice. Kezia is a great friend of mine and a spectacular musician as well. There’s too many for me to think of in one moment; there is such a limitless amount of talent in Cornwall waiting to be discovered.

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Review: Abee Hague ‘Novus’ EP – “Downtempo, trip hop-infused R’n’B”

ABEE HAGUE

Byline on Abee Hague’s website

Cornwall’s own Abee Hague is an artist quite unlike any other around at the moment with her own unique sound and vision. Her latest EP ‘Novus’ marks the moment at which the Falmouth songstress’ vision comes to life on record and in the process announces her impending arrival on the mainstream that surely awaits her.

Abee’s music can best be described as electro-flavoured nu-soul with a hint of psychedelia, with twisted lyrics and melodies that soundtrack the deepest subconscious of the soul. Her vocals are a delightful combination of sugar sweet and deliciously dark, tinged somewhere between playful innocence and world-weary angst. Hew new EP ‘Novus’ serves up five tracks of downtempo, trip hop-infused R’n’B.

The minute the opening track Bringing It Back to You kicks in with its haunting into and distorted howls, you realise you are listening to a truly individual artist with her own musical vision, as she takes you onto a journey into the unknown, dark recesses of the mind and soul. The track mixes the menacing tones of Portishead with the surreal soundscapes of Death in Vegas, underpinned by an morose vocal turn from Abee, while the George Harrison-esque sitar lends the track a suitably hallucinogenic aura.

The slow jam-inspired The Way It Is provides a soothing comedown and here is where the full emotional range of Abee’s soulful voice is given room to flourish. The bouncing bassline and gentle beat drive the track along before it takes off from the runway and into the air at the chorus against a backdrop of sprinkling synths. A dash of 60’s psychedelic soul horns are thrown in to add a decidedly retro touch. The song could easily soundtrack a Tarantino-indebted indie film with its moody atmosphere.

The delicacy of her voice is on full display on the impassioned WOAH which is what the end result would be if Jessie Ware did a guest vocal on a Massive Attack production. Again, the minimal production and intimate vibe allows her voice to truly sparkle.

Valentine impresses with its gentle beat and wispy melody, with quirky lyrics and delicate vocals that are pitched somewhere between youthful optimism and heartbreak.

The breath-taking finale Now Breathe (pun unintended) is the perfect closing track, perfectly encapsulating the concoction of influences that resonate across the whole of ‘Novus’. Building up from a lurking melody, the song grows into a different beast altogether towards the crescendo as wailing guitar licks and dense beats threaten to culminate in an explosive finish, only to end in a slight whimper but in such a way that it leaves you wanting more.

Overall, ‘Novus’ is an enchanting magical mystery tour into the realms of Abee’s musical influences that are seamlessly blended together in meticulous fashion, which forms a sound that is all her own and sets her apart from the crowd. Her unique sound is one that is fresh and exciting yet still rooted in a pop sensibility, which puts it in tune with the sound emulating from today’s artists yet strives to subtly break the mould.

‘Novus’ is simultaneously an homage to Abee’s musical influences and a signpost to both the thrilling possibilities of music that can be explored and a potential new musical wave, of which Abee Hague has placed herself at the crest.

‘Novus’ is available now and can be streamed here, including this track:

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Introducing…Debbie Kate: ‘It’s incredible just how big a pool of talent Cornwall actually is’

DEBBIE KATE

Living in Cornwall but hailing from Dublin and Glasgow, singer/songwriter Debbie Kate’s simplistic, laid back melodies invite the listener in, before entrancing you with the sugar-sweet, delicate beauty of her voice. Her music is the perfect soundtrack to a chilled summer evening spent winding down in the sunset – introspective and intoxicatingly refreshing in equal measure.

Before her set at the Howling Jar Ladies’ Showcase at The Nightjar in Truro, I caught an interview with the songbird and Aerials Up frontwoman.

You have an extensive background having originally come from Dublin and then Glasgow. How do you find Cornwall and the music scene here compared to those two places?

It’s very different as when you’re in a bigger city like Dublin or Glasgow or anywhere else, you have a lot of access to touring bands and people spending lots of moneys to get into gigs. Down here is much different in comparison. There’s a lot of amazing artists and it’s incredible just how big a pool of talent Cornwall actually is, but there’s not many places down here to showcase new music and many outlets for these artists to be heard outside of Cornwall.

Do you think having more venues to accommodate new music in Cornwall will help its scene improve?

It’s hard because Cornwall is obviously a tourism-centred county and doesn’t really have a big city or the big venues for the scene to be centred around. I definitely think there needs to be much more support for Cornwall’s music industry and its artists.

You’ve recently released your new EP ‘Trapped Bird’. What was the inspiration behind the EP as well as your whole musical output?

My life experiences definitely influence me lyrically. Musically, I grew up listening to a range of artists from Joni Mitchell to Cream and Led Zeppelin, and I definitely take elements from all genres or types of music. I admire a lot of the big female artists today, like Laura Marling especially.

You were also previously in the band Aerials Up. Does it feel a lot different for you performing solo as opposed to being in a band?

Performing in a band is a whole other thing compared to just playing solo. Preferably, I like to play with the support of a whole band and the excitement and energy that comes with that, but at the same time it could be very hard as Aerials Up was a seven piece so getting everyone together and properly in sync was a mission. I would definitely like to go back to being in a team of musicians thought probably not as big as a seven-piece.

Do you have any plans to release any more material soon?

I’m hoping to record and release another EP, and probably release it online-only as opposed to a physical release. The plan is to record it this summer.

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