Saturday, 29 August 2009


For a while now I've been a bit frustrated at being so dispersed across the internet. It doesn't feel very neat. So I just took a couple of days to pull everything together into a fully integrated, firing-on-all-cylinders, Rolls-Royce-of-the-internet type web experience that is PadmaLand!

From now on my blogs will be posted there. There's also a section for video, Twitter updates, links to articles I've written, gig schedule, music, ah man it is a work of art.

So please head on over to PadmaLand for the latest news, ramblings, cogitations, videos, 140 character Twitter haiku ... you name it, it's there.

See you at PadmaLand soon! (It's like Disneyland but without the attitude police and the expensive cuddly toys).


Thursday, 16 July 2009


Greetings all

Sorry I'm being a terrible blogger at the moment. Got so much on with life and recording demos and writing the book that there isn't much time left for other things.

So, quick brain dump for you:

1. I've been thinking about the future of the internet. I think right now the internet is really big but, like life in general, it is going to get smaller. When Myspace, Youtube and a million webzines etc have to pay royalties for the content they stream, eventually they will become subscription based. We will choose a package of sites that we subscribe to, kind of like people do with cable TV now.

2. I've been thinking about peak oil. That and eco-villages. That and the fact that Padma does not play well with other children. I have always been weird about groups. Neurotic individualistic singer-songwriter. But community is the way forward. Gonna have to learn how to be more well adjusted.

I interviewed two of the world's leading speakers on co-housing the other week. It was fascinating. I got back to my apartment and found out that my video camera had run out of space for the first time ever, so the interview was lost! Hrmmpph. One of the guys was called Charles Durrett. His electricity bill for last year was minus 83 dollars. (Solar panels). The other guy was the Jan Gudmand-Hoyer, the founder of the cohousing movement.

Cohousing is great. Community is a difficult thing to pull off but cohousing has a high likelihood of success designed in. You need enough privacy to be happy, you need a lack of ideology (just people living next door to each other) and then plenty of spaces and opportunities for hanging out together. The place where I am living recycles 95% of its garbage. Only two small bins for more than 35 people! I will write something proper on cohousing when I have a moment. It's a great solution to city living - and will be increasingly so in the years to follow.

Here's a bit of info on cohousing from Kathryn McCamant (from McCamant & Durrett architects):

3. The music is going well. I have two different things going on at the moment. One is the businessy, organisationy side - talking to producers, managers, press, and so on, trying to work out the next phase of Padma's Campaign for World Domination.

The other side is creating. Making music is so great. I sometimes wonder why I bother with the Campaign for World Domination. I could just be a little guy in my place making music for myself and having a lovely time. But that seems kind of selfish to me. One of the key things about music is it can bring us together and remind us of something magical and beyond the mundane. To connect with others on such a basis is for me the only way I can really connect.

Today I have been recording a demo of 'If Friends Were Neighbours Too'. It will hopefully be on the next album. It starts with 'Wouldn't it be nice if food just grew on trees'. I wrote that line when I was driving up a mountain track on the way to the yurt with a friend and we stopped at a wild cherry tree and picked piles and piles of cherries for all of us. They would've cost LOADS of money to buy in a supermarket, and they were organic and delicious. And at that point I thought 'how preposterous to pay for food'. And then I got that line in my head and the song just came together really quickly.

And now I'm in a cohousing community where my friends are my neighbours too!

Friday, 10 July 2009


At last I have sorted a musician page on facebook. A place where we can all hang out and comment on each other's statuses (or is that stati?) while being benignly observed by the CIA and other organisations with our best interests at heart.

Please join us!

Saturday, 13 June 2009


Things have been quite busy of late.

Went to a seminar on placing your music in TV, film and computer games. A couple of music producers came up from LA to talk about their work. So I am taking advantage of being on the West coast.

I’ve always had an interest in the business side of the music business. I think I’ll probably even set up a label one day, when there's a good reason to do so (like I've got to sign this band!!!) and I've got the time. But the whole publishing/placement thing has been pretty much a mystery to me. Esoteric knowledge, like tantric ritual. I have in fact read about it a whole bunch of times, but it’s like physics, I just can’t remember it. So to sit and listen to these guys and to be able to ask a question or two was excellent.

I’ve also been outside of Vancouver for the first time. Out into the wilds. Saw a bear! Amazingly there were a couple of tourists who had stopped the car and were standing extremely close to it taking photographs. Bear attacks usually happen to tourists, apparently. In one famous incident, a German tourist put jam on her kid’s face so that the bear would lick it off while they took a photo. You can probably guess the outcome.

The reason I was out of the city was that I was visiting an eco village. It was great to see people who had actually got something going. They were due to move into their places within a few weeks. They grow their own food on one-acre patches, the houses are ultra efficient, using thermal mass and solar gain (rather than heating and air conditioning) to keep a constant temperature, and they plan soon to buy a wind turbine to generate the electricity. I love meeting people who are out there and doing it. It takes creativity, skill, patience and above all commitment to get something like this to the moving-in stage, so you can guarantee that you are going to meet inspirational people. I may well be playing a gig there on the solstice.

While I was there a humming bird flew up to me and hovered about a foot away from my chest for a moment, before realising that my brightly coloured cardigan was not going to produce nectar, and shooting off. It was amazing, hovering there right at my heart chakra, like a fairy from a Disney cartoon.

When I was living in the yurt I decided that I’d like to write a book to go with the next album. Most of the songs that will be on the album were written during that time so hopefully it will provide an extra bit of context. I met up with the record company when I was in London and they were cool with the idea, so this week I started to write it. I’m going to attempt to chug it out quite quickly., Kerouac-style brain dump. I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said ‘All first drafts are shit’ so my plan is to just get the first draft out and then lovingly sculpt and tidy it once it’s on the page.

Got invited to play the Bodhi Garden festival (an excellent little Buddhist festival in Brighton) but alas I shan’t be in the country. I might try to do something there as part of my UK tour though, later in the year. They are a good bunch.

The week has also seen me in a bit of internal strife about how to approach the sound of the album. I love this period before things have really started, but it’s a painful time. It’s like being a teenager – a time filled with potential but also insecurity. Which way to jump? Who to be?

I think making art must inevitably be this way, assuming you really care about it and aren’t just trying to create something that will get played on the radio. This is especially true when you are producing as well as writing and playing the music. I miss Holy McGrail!

At the moment, the whole thing is sitting there in my heart, beautiful and melancholy, before it has been polluted and compromised by bringing it out into the world. It feels like a great responsibility to be the one whose job it is to turn it into an album.

I read something beautiful and melancholy today which expressed perfectly what I hope to achieve. I was listening to Nina Violet’s album, which I love. I supported her in Brighton when she was doing her UK tour and was knocked out. Anyway, I was listening to the album, and decided to have a nose on the internet. After a quick search on google, I found an article about her. And she was talking about how Woody Guthrie’s music spoke out the suffering of the people, and somehow made it alright:

"Think back to what Woody Guthrie did in the Depression," she says. "He alleviated the suffering of people by singing their suffering aloud. When everybody was thinking these down thoughts and then a charismatic man showed up and sung the thoughts back to them, it made their suffering real and it made it okay. Music has always been an expression from people to God, or to each other or to themselves about the things that they suffer and the joys that they feel."


Wednesday, 3 June 2009


This is a tekky post for people (like me) in the exciting position of just having bought a new midi controller keyboard.

If you want to assign the transport keys (play, stop, record, etc) in Logic to the ones on your new toy, you may have a bit of trouble.

I have just been scouting the internet for help. There's not much out there so I thought I would post this. It seems that you:

Go to LogicPro/Preferences/Key Commands/Global Commands

Then click on a parameter (e.g. 'Play'), click on 'Learn new assignment' and then press the button on your new toy.

Hope that helps!


Sunday, 31 May 2009


“Basically we’re making a vessel, we call it, that deals with shelter, of course, energy, food, water and air. Almost like on Walden Pond – those were the things Thoreau said people needed. Well, we need them, but we need them without nuclear power plants, we need them without power lines, and we need them without destroying the earth’s aquifiers. We need to provide them in each unit that we build. And that’s the idea we’re dealing with here. And so we’re providing food, shelter, power and sewage treatment, all in one unit.”

Mike Reynolds, the architect who designed the Earthship, quoted in Chris Turner’s exellent ‘The Geography of Hope’.

Yesterday I was out trekking on Bowen Island, which is a small island off the coast of Vancouver. Amazingly beautiful and chilled. Lovely.

The sun was shining, the breeze light, birds singing, huge trees providing shade.

The bountifulness of the environment surrounding me reminded me of something Mike Reynolds (quoted above) said about when he first started making earthships. He was talking about harnessing wind power, solar power, collecting rain falling on the roof, and using thermal mass in the walls to keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter so you don’t need heating or air conditioning.

He said that he realised that, with all this freely available power all around, we are sitting on a goldmine. All we need to do is harness it.

It’s funny how people think of oil and natural gas as being really precious, but ignore the wind and the sun. Building huge coal plants and nuclear plants while ignoring what is right in front of our noses – everything we need is available in our immediate environment. A house needs no power lines going in, no sewage pipes going out. It can regulate its own temperature, provide its own electricity and collect its own water.

Incredible that we are still using that old, dirty, expensive stuff that is owned by a few companies holding the entire world to ransom. People fight wars over it! Astounding!

Anyway, my life in the city is going fine. I am happy. The older I get and the more I move on, the clearer it is to me that one's experience is largely mind-made. Wherever you are, your mind projects itself onto the world and that is fundamentally what you experience. Still, if I was in a war zone, I would move...

Went to a zen group last week which was fun. Lots of meditation and a drink of tea. (Jasmine tea, not proper tea. I like jasmine tea but when someone tells me there’s going to be tea after the sit I’m expecting tea, you know? Anyway, moving on...)

A very cool independent record store (there are so few of them left) has agreed to stock my album. So if you’re in Canada and you want a copy, buy one from me! But if you’d rather get one from a record shop, go to Recat Records.

Got a nice email, as I do from time to time, from someone who had read one of my articles and is living off grid. It’s great to hear other people’s stories. One guy sent me an email explaining how to make felt (for yurt lining) out of local sheeps wool. Actually the area where I live in Spain is mostly goats, and I have vegan leanings (though not the strength of will for 100% compliance), so I shall stick with using blankets, but nice to hear anyway. Another guy got in touch who was living in one of those funky yellow American school buses. There are many interesting people in the world, tucked away among the trees, up mountains, and in the remote places of the world.

I am very behind on emails but do enjoy hearing from people and do get back eventually, so feel free to drop me a line and share your story.

The other interesting news is I have decided to include a book with the next album. It will be about my time on the mountain, where most of the songs were written. Working title for the album is ‘Wild’, though I do tend to change my mind on these things. I originally thought of ‘Wild ‘Un; Or, Life in the Yurt’ might be good, but I have a tendency to turn everything into a joke and ruin the vibe, so, probably will just leave that as a private chuckle between us.

Hasta luego


PS The pics were ones I took yesterday of and on Bowen Island. Nice huh.

Friday, 22 May 2009


The other day, someone asked me my opinion on the MPs-expenses scandal which is currently providing journalists with something to write about in the UK.

Parliamentary politics is of limited interest to me these days (I did a degree in politics) but the question still got me thinking.

Basically, I have spent a lot of time being angry, disappointed, frustrated and outraged by the cruelty, greed and stupidity of a significant proportion of the human race. MPs often included.

All the injustice in the world can quite easily make one’s blood boil. Many people in the activist world see this kind of response as a good thing. Something to be encouraged. If more people got angry, then change would surely be demanded, and change would come. We get the government we deserve.

This may be true, but I’m fed up with feeling like that. And what’s more, I think that action born of such emotions is quite likely to end up causing as much damage as the damage I would be trying to combat. Men (and occasionally women) with visions of how the world should be are often dangerous. There’s a part of me that wants to be that man, but another part of me keeps it in check:

Look around
You’ll find the ground is not so far from where you are
Don’t be too wise.
(Nick Drake)

Plus, in reality I wouldn’t be combatting very much of it at all, even if I committed my entire life to the cause. So there’ll always be plenty for me to get wound up about.

Over the years I have come up with (or read) a number of thoughts on this issue.

The most controversial view, which I begrudgingly hold at the moment, despite my distrust of hierarchical models, is that of the existence of an evolutionary scale with regard to consciousness.

That is, that there is a hierarchy of consciousness and people are at different levels in that hierarchy. You can’t blame a dog for chasing cats or shitting on the street. That’s just where dogs are at. It doesn’t make a dog a bad person.

People’s ways of going about things are based on where they’re at. George Bush wants to own everything and blow people up. That’s his thing. He’s freaked out about the fragility of his own wellbeing and this is his response. I might try to stop him doing it but to be angry at him for not being like me is to miss the point.

Some MPs become MPs because they want a better world and they want to help to make that better world. And some MPs are fuckheads who I wouldn’t trust with a bag of chips, let alone the country. What can you do? (Note: these two groups are not mutually exclusive. I could draw a Venn diagram about it but hopefully you already get the picture).

In the end I always conclude that the only rational action is to develop one’s character and to invite other people to develop theirs. We can wipe out a Bush, a Hussein, a Thatcher, but there is always another one waiting to take their place. They’re like the cockroaches from Freak Brothers comics ("Don't worry! There's plenty more where they came from!")

Like old Bill Hicks (and a number of other mystics and existentialist writers) said, ‘It’s just a ride’. And his whole act was based on moral outrage!

To live in the flow of imperfection, humiliation and injustice is the only way. That’s where we’re at. You don’t have to add to it, but you can’t wipe it out either. You do what you can and find peace in the moment, because the moment is all there is.

And anyway, who really knows what’s going on with this universe? Why are we here? Maybe all this greed, cruelty and injustice is helping to keep it all in balance – preventing oblivion?

Probably not, but it’s worth considering.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


Here's one of the things I did while I was in London:

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


Dear All

A little while before I went off to the yurt there was a period when I was left utterly alone in my studio. After about 48 hours I emerged, exhausted, hungry and squinting into the daylight. The good news is I had given birth to a beautiful bouncing baby song. It was a fairly painless delivery and required no drugs. But it's not like my other kids.

It's called 'The Bloke Downstairs' and is utterly different from anything else I've been coming out with. The lyrics are pretty political and it contains no guitars whatsoever! I know!

I've been scratching my head as to what to do with it and figured the best thing might be just to give it away.

It's available exclusively to people on my mailing list. You can join my list, listen and download it right now from

Happy bopping.


Sunday, 17 May 2009


The community where I am living recycles 95 per cent of its waste. They are almost at the stage where they don't need the garbage truck to turn up. In fact there was a strike a while ago and no rubbish was collected for six weeks. It was piled up all over the city, but this community was fine.

I bump into people on the stairs and have excellent conversations about vipassana meditation or art or Vancouver before there were any high-rise buildings. People set up in the communal areas and practice their cello or guitar. Someone cooks for everyone once or twice a week. I am digging this place.

I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Geography of Hope’. It’s by a guy called Chris Turner, who stayed in this community for a few days when he was in town. Basically the guy went touring for a year and found a bunch of places where people are living sustainably, and therefore are part of the solution. The quiet revolution that might just save us all. He mapped out a vision for a post-fossil fuel world. And like he says, quoting some economist dude: ‘Anything that exists can happen’.

The book is journalism with soul. Kind of like Lester Bangs or Hunter S Thompson writing about climate change. Highly recommended.

I also read up on the Whole Earth Catalog, after stumbling on a quote that turned out to be from it: ‘We are as gods and may as well get good at it’. Too true.

Musicwise I am waiting for my stuff to arrive by sea before I can do any audio recording. Sitting in front of the computer twiddling my thumbs and checking my watch. Right now I am confined to midi. So I am programming drums and making backing tracks with soft synths and playing along in my own private karaoke. Kind of doing live demos to get my head around the direction of the next album. I think it will be vibrationally similar to the first album but I think it’s gonna have a bit more of a groove.

The working title is ‘Wild’, after the place where much of it was written. But I’m also trying to get across a sense of what the mountain and yurt life was/is about for me.

Been listening to Elliott Smith a lot recently. Anyone can write a song, but hardly anyone can write a song. Humbled as ever.

I don’t seem to have as much time here as I did in the yurt. Which is weird since it takes much less time to do anything and it’s not like I have a TV or anything. I guess cities just suck time out of the day. Surrounded by a whirlwind of busy-ness, destroying everything, just so we can get by.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Yep I have arrived. Just about over the jetlag and the mild strain of swine flu that I caught on the plane over. They just shouldn't let pigs on planes. It raises all kinds of issues about expressions starting with "If pigs could fly..."

But I digress.

Between leaving the yurt and arriving here I've been writing articles, doing interviews and performing on web TV. Thus not much time for blogging.

You can read about my journey and all the stuff I got up to in England here: There are also some nice photos of me (oh, and the yurt).

And see for a couple of vids of me performing tracks from the first album, and an interview about my time in la yurta.

And see for an article about Just Music - the record co I am signed to. If you haven't already got Padma fatigue by now, the article also includes an interview with me.

There are some very groovy people in the community where I'm staying: Oneness blessing givers, whirling dervishes, musicians, artists and regular nice people. I am enjoying it.


Started recording the album, got first gig lined up in Vancouver, and got my eyes on a sexy Edirol midi controller keyboard from a GIGANTIC music store downtown (will post a picture when we are married). Experimenting with drum programming. More soon!


Wednesday, 15 April 2009


“I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one ... I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amidst the mountains.” Thoreau, Walden.

Captain’s blog. Stardate: Spring 2009.

Six months have passed already. I can’t believe it. What a ride.

This shall be my last post from the mountain. I’ll be here for a week or so still, but that time will be full with packing down and saying goodbyes. When I have time for thinking, I’d like to be free just to think. And I’d like to say goodbye to the place privately.

But do not be alarmed! I’ll be keeping up with the blog. The world breathes a sigh of relief. Or was it a groan?

I’ve enjoyed having the blog as a focus and a forum for sharing ideas and opinions. And I’m sure I shall have as many opinions in the heart of the city as I do from the top of a mountain!

It will be difficult to say goodbye to this life. I am already trying to work out how soon I can return. But, like Thoreau, I have other lives to lead, and have no more time for this one. At least for now.

I am looking forward to recording the music that I have written while I’ve been here. There is well over an album’s worth. I’m also looking forward to a horizontal floor, a hot shower in the morning, and a 24 hour shop around the corner (I keep strange hours).

I’ll be in the UK for about ten days, and they will be a busy ten days. Aside from looking in on friends and family, I will also be doing a couple of sessions for web TV channels in London (Balcony TV and Get Closer), and doing a live web chat for Gigwise, where you will be able to write in and ask me questions. I’ll post more details on those as I have them.

Earlier today, as I sat watching the river run through my kitchen (see video), I was reflecting on how quickly I have forgotten how to be in a city. This yurt life has become normal now, and it’s rhythms and relationships are where I feel comfortable. This place allows an opening of the heart. Cities demand a cutting off and closing down.

I remember getting back to the city after attending Glastonbury festival for the first time. Filled to the brim with peace and love, I was mugged within a few hours. Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.

All was not lost though. I was penniless so had no presents for the muggers, and even managed to put my arm around one of them and ask him why he was being so nasty. The knives remained in their jeans and I lived to hug another day...

The Spanish words I have learnt here are indicative of the life I have led: firewood, countryside, spring, olive oil, chainsaw, rain, sun, wind, stove, stars, village, friend, electricity superhighway. I wonder which words I would know had I moved to Barcelona?

Still, I will be going to a city that I have never lived in before (Vancouver, Canada) which is hemmed in by mountains on one side and the sea on the other. So things could be worse! I’ll also be living in a co-housing community which was built using lots of reclaimed materials, has a communal meditation room and recycles its greywater. I’m interested in exploring potential solutions to the environmental crisis that can be lived by everyone, so am excited to see what a city-based community like this has to offer.

We are on this planet for a brief time, and this time seems to be a pivotal one for humanity, and for the planet at large. This is a responsibility, but also an exciting opportunity. I hope we will rise to the challenge. This involves a change of thinking, a change of values, and a change of behaviour. The change is already beginning to happen, but this is one situation where we do in fact need bigger better faster more.

The good news is that it doesn’t require everyone in the world to get it. If five or ten per cent of us change our lives, great change will happen. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela. History is full of the names of people who got a crew together and changed history. They were always in the minority, but a minority is all it takes.

Change is inevitable – we just need to steer it towards a future that works. Don’t wait for the governments of the world to get with the programme. And don’t wait for big business. We are the power. They will follow us.

Thanks to all of you who have read the blog so far, for the many words of encouragement you have sent, and for the sharing of ideas. See you when I’m back in the world!

Perhaps it is fitting that I should end this chapter of the blog with Thoreau’s final words in Walden:

“I do not say that John or Jonathan will realise all this; such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

Or, if that doesn’t do it for you, perhaps you will resonate more with the succinct sign off of the great (though perhaps a little Bush-esque in his approach to inter-galactic relations) Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise: “Kirk out”.

Friday, 3 April 2009


“We read that the traveller asked the boy if the swamp before him had a hard bottom. The boy replied that it had. But presently the traveller’s horse sank in up to the girths, and he observed to the boy, ‘I thought you said that this bog had a hard bottom.’ ‘So it has,’ answered the latter, ‘but you have not got half-way to it yet.’”
Thoreau, Walden

I’ve been spending the morning by the fire, listening to a cuckoo in a nearby tree.

Last night a frog sat croaking by the river in the valley below – the silence is so total here that I had no problem in hearing him or her (I’m guessing it was a him out on the pull) all the way up here in the yurt.

The fog has been rolling in and out for the last couple of days.

And in London several thousand people stood shouting about bankers, governments, capitalism and the environment.

Part of me really wanted to be there. Another part of me feels slightly confused at the abstract nature of global capitalism, compared with, say, a cuckoo or a frog.

What does the ‘G’ in ‘G20’ stand for anyway? Gobshites? (I hope so – I love that word). Gnomes? Gnobheads?

And how come it’s G20? When I went to the last big protest in the City, I’m sure it was the G8. Is there some kind of tournament? Is the first round G20, and G8 is the quarter finals?

All I know is it’s a bunch of middle-aged white men in suits (plus Obama), sitting around deciding to do something or other with a trillion dollars. Spend it, I guess.

And there’s another abstract concept. A trillion dollars. How much is that? I can get my head around a fiver. Maybe even a grand. But beyond that it all becomes Monopoly money. My guess is that this is true of the men sitting round that table too. And yet someone has to stump up that trillion. And that someone, in the end, is me and you.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make here is that the economy is in the state it’s in because it has become far too complex. The crops didn’t fail. There wasn’t a natural disaster that wiped out all the houses. The work that needed to be done last year to keep us all thriving needs to be done this year too. And yet we are in a ‘global recession’. The worst since the second world war, apparently.

In the words of Thoreau, ‘Simplify, simplify, simplify!’

When we start talking about hedge funds, futures markets and currency trading, we put ourselves in a situation where greedy bankers with insatiable appetites can pull the wool over our eyes, the government’s eyes, and even each others’ eyes. They don’t really understand the economy either. All they know is if they spend somebody else’s money on X in the next 15 seconds, they make another 50k for themselves.

The economic tumble happened because of greed and too much complexity. The system is set up to make such fluctuations in the economy inevitable.

I don’t think the answer is to have a small number of people sitting around a table talking about a trillion dollars, pretending that they understand what’s going on. If they understood what was going on, they would have been able to pre-empt the recession. No one expects the Spanish inquisition.

I think the answer is to live local lives, in local economies, so that massive global fluctuations cannot happen. In a local economy, no one needs to know how the global economy functions. In a local economy, the people really do have the power. They don’t work at Starbucks for five quid an hour, they own their own land. They don’t have a mortgage that will take 25 years to pay off, they build their own house in a year or less, then get on with the rest of their lives.

This kind of living makes you reliant to some extent on your neighbours (e.g. to help you put the roof on your house, or to feed you for a while if your crops fail), but you are always reliant on someone. Better your neighbours than banks and police and the government. And remember – your neighbours also rely on you. There is a balance of power. You cease to be the little guy.

Anyway, the world will continue on its path. The bankers will continue to do their thing, the governments of the world will continue to do theirs, and the cuckoo, at least for a while, will continue to warm my heart in the mornings.

I have been a protester on several occasions and know a whole bunch of anarchists, climate campers and Reclaim the Streets types. They are intelligent, caring, friendly people. I also know several people who work in the City and they are actually very nice people with good hearts too. I don’t agree with the sector they work in, and I wouldn’t work in it, but to blame the bankers for all this mess is to miss the point. We are in the same system, and if we look at the full implications of our actions we see that the money in our own pockets is just as dirty as theirs.

The entire system must change, and it will only change if we, as individuals, change our behaviours. To blame the other guy might make us feel better (and may have some truth to it) but it changes nothing. If you wipe out individuals but leave values and mental states in tact, other individuals will soon take their places. We need to change hearts, minds, values and therefore behaviours if we want real, lasting positive change. And the easiest heart and mind to start with is your own. So hug a banker, I say. Love em till they ditch the day job. And then hug an anarchist. Ah, what the hell. Hug everybody.

Monday, 30 March 2009


Here is my little contribution. As you can hear, it was raining outside! It rained solid for 24 hours and the spring is now running well again. Thank you weather system!

Friday, 27 March 2009


Just wanted to break from my usual one post a week to say that tomorrow (March 28th) at 8.30pm, you are warmly invited to turn off your lights for one hour.

This is will be going on all over the planet:

I'll be turning off my (solar-powered, energy-efficient) light bulb and listening to the stove crackle, while imagining the planet as it was not so long ago. Beautiful stars shining down on all of us...

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


Sorry, been a bit crap with getting the video sorted out again, but will endeavour to get something sorted mucho rapido....

Several days later: Here you go...

"Let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our brows, and take up a little life into our pores." Thoreau, Walden

Dawn is rising as I write this. The embers from last night’s fire are still glowing, so I’ve just put a couple of logs on and given it a blow until the flames kick in, and soon I will be warm. I’ve put the kettle on top of the stove too, so not only will I be warm, I will have tea!

Unlike an electric kettle, a kettle on a fire can take 20 minutes to boil. This is no inconvenience to me whatsoever. Why are we in such a rush? Where are we trying to get to? The grave will arrive soon enough...

Boiling a kettle here is an event in itself. You sit and keep an eye on the fire, and listen as the kettle gets warmer, in complete harmony with the flames dancing below it. I never do that in a flat. Watching the red light on a kettle go on and then watching it click off three minutes later just doesn’t hold my attention somehow.

As I wait for the kettle to boil, I’ve been thinking, and I thought I would share my thoughts with you.

There is an ancient lore among recording engineers, on which I have been reflecting:

“Shit in, shit out”.

Cryptic, I know. They are an esoteric lot, sound engineers. Like Zen masters, you rarely get a straight answer out of them.

What it means is, if what you record is of poor quality, it doesn’t matter how you mix it, and how many fancy effects you put on it, the resulting track will be poor.

I have been thinking about this with regard to life in general.

I live in such beautiful surroundings. I meditate and do yoga regularly. This makes it possible for me to live simply without feeling bored, or at the end of my tether. I spend a significant amount of time sitting with my thoughts, listening to the wood crackle in the stove. I walk though magnificent mountains. I drink, and even bathe in, fresh mountain spring water – straight from the spring – that would be too expensive to enjoy so lavishly, were I to buy it in plastic bottles from the shop. Nature is all around me, and at night when I go out for a pee, I always end up peeing with my head cocked up looking at the stars. I say ‘wow’ regularly.

I am putting in beauty and positivity through my senses, and the result is feeling content to the point where I sometimes feel on the verge of enlightenment, as my heart opens right up, and I have no feelings of craving for anything other than this. I don’t even crave enlightenment. My sense of self drops away, as I feel totally merged with the universe around me. I become aware that I am a little knot of energy in a much larger energetic field, and I know that this knot will unravel soon enough.

Beauty in, beauty out.

Recently, a friend reminded me of a story from the Buddhist tradition:

A monk spends many years on retreat and thinks he has become enlightened. He comes down from the mountains, back into the world. As he is walking through a market, someone stands on his foot. “Hey, watch where you’re going!” he says angrily. And he realises he is not in fact enlightened, and sods off back up the mountain, for an undisclosed period of time.

This story illustrates how much of the Buddhist path can only really be walked in the world. It’s easy to cultivate universal loving-kindness for the human race in abstract. But when the nasty little bleeders are stealing your parking space, or blowing up your street because they want to install a puppet government and pilfer your country’s natural resources, it’s another story isn’t it.

This anecdote is a great reminder for spiritual seekers that they should not use meditation to disappear up their own arseholes and think they are Buddhas. But for most of us, that’s not really the problem.

For most of us, I think we could do with a lot more sitting on mountains, cultivating universal loving-kindness for all beings. Even if it is in abstract. At least then you get to know what it feels like. And actually, it’s not like such practices are pointless because you can’t maintain them twenty-four seven in the heart of the city. They change you and they change the world.

In this world, right now, there are countless beings sitting on mountains, glowing with positive energy and spreading feelings of loving-kindness in all directions throughout time and space. Mantras are being chanted at this very moment, for the benefit of all beings, and have been, without a break, for hundreds of years. This world is aglow with mystics, putting in the hours for the sake of all sentient beings. We are better off for having them around.

Anyway, I’ve got my suspicions that these ‘city’ concoctions are a passing phase and soon everyone who’s anyone will be living in a yurt in the mountains. A-listers will be fetching their own water from holes that they dug themselves. The paps will be catching shots of them taking a pee with their heads cocked up at the sky, mouths agape. The caption below the photo in OK magasine will read ‘Wow’. Red carpets will be so last season. Mountain chic...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009


This week I’ve been writing an article on music and commercialism, which has just been published on this website. So this week’s blog is going to be a short one.

As you can see from the video, I’ve spent a little time involved with the anti-autopista campaign. It’s excellent to see how quickly they are organising. Two people had been doing research into the health and environmental effects, and they did presentations. Someone else handed out the company’s proposal document for attendees to take away, and a whole host of awareness-raising actions have been planned.

In general, these are not political activists, just ordinary people who love this place – many of them have lived in the area all their lives, as did their parents, and they don’t want the autopista here.

It’s not as if the electricity is even for this area. As far as I can work out, they are trying to create a Europe-wide network of these things, and there are people protesting about it all over Europe. Interestingly, the nuclear power station is going to be located in Africa. Leave them with the problems, again, and take the goodies so that us Europeans can keep living like this.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. I spent an evening talking with a friend about transition towns. Don’t know much about it yet, but it seems like a really positive approach to bringing about transformation at community level, in order to hopefully avert the imminent environmental catastrophe. It doesn’t strike me as The Answer, but definitely as one of the answers.

And I’ve spent a bunch of time on the mountain of course. I’ve been doing quite a bit of yoga now that the weather has improved and I can do it outside. I’ve been practising yoga for years, but for the few months before coming here I was taught a new style – more meditative than what I had done before – and it has transformed my practice. Loving it!

By the way, if you want to comment on anything raised in the music article but don’t fancy registering on the site on which it’s published, feel free to leave comments here.

Right. I’m off to do some more yoga!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009


“The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning with younger hope than ever! The faint silvery warblings heard over the partially bare and moist fields from the blue-bird, the song-sparrow, and the red-wing, as if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they fell! What at such a time are histories, chronologies, traditions, and all written revelations?” Thoreau, Walden

Spring has arrived (though a few days ago we had more snow) and I am enjoying watching the seasons change. The sounds of the mountain are different now – bees buzzing, migratory birds singing and squabbling, lizards darting out of sight as I pass, farmers doing the things farmers do in springtime (which invariably involve tractors – it’s like the tractors have come out of hibernation).

I am starting to spread out. Winter was spent largely working, moving at a pace, or sitting within a few feet of the stove. Now I am bathing, preparing food, lazing around, doing yoga, meditating, reading, all outside. It’s great!

One of the big draws of this lifestyle for me is that, while I find it beautiful, it is fundamentally a celebration of substance, rather than of style.

Conversely, the rest of the Western world is fast becoming a cathedral to style. If something, or someone, seems a certain way, then that is apparently all that matters. It is of much less importance what that thing, or who that person, actually is.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that it will soon be time for me to leave this wondrous mountain. In a few weeks time I will be heading off to the big city in order to set about recording some music, which will hopefully become my second album.

I am looking forward to this. I have all these pent-up songs that only exist on voice and acoustic guitar, but in my head I can hear the full production and am beginning to salivate when I visualise a recording studio.

But, for all the reasons mentioned so far in this blog, I am also a wee bit trepidatious about heading back down into Babylon.

The city too hot
I-man got a cool life
Upon the hill top.
(Lee "Scratch" Perry)

This feeling reminds me of the end of festival season. I used to work at festivals and when you’ve spent a couple of months traveling around, basically living in a big moving festival, where everyone around you is muddy and celebrating and being the most loving and happy and inspired that they ever get, the idea of walking back out into everyday life is a bit daunting, even depressing.

I remember airing this reticence to a friend in a festival once, many years ago. He was a few years older than me and had been around the block a few more times. His reply has stayed with me. He said, ‘On-site is on-site, and off-site is off-site’. Then he shrugged.

These days though, I am increasingly interested in what makes on-site on-site, and what makes off-site off-site. Really, all that is different is people’s attitudes. Their state of mind. An optimism and a letting go.

Maybe, if we all put in a bit of effort, we can turn off-site into one big on-site!

Coming back to my style versus substance rant, one of the ways I think that people get opened up and happy at a festival is that by day three, everyone looks like shit. On the first day everyone arrives in designer hippy gear – specially bought decorative wellies, newly dyed (semi-permanent) pink hair and so on. You can feel the paranoia in the air, as everyone tries to look either like they were born in a festival, man, or conversely that they are absolutely not festival people, unlike you sad twats, and are just here for a laugh.

But by day three everyone’s forgotten what they look like. They haven’t seen a mirror in days, they’ve had no sleep, they’re covered in mud, and they’ve been high, they've been low, come up, come down, drunk and hung over, a whole bunch of times in such quick succession that this psychic washing machine has transported them to some kind of parallel universe where, no matter what’s going on, everything is ok. And in this parallel universe, what kind of wellies you’re wearing (if you haven’t lost them by now) has somehow lost its significance.

The trendies, the hippies, the punks, the goths, the ravers, the sporty types, the sloaney types, the hoodies, the business types, the geeks... man we are so consumed with this need for an identity. Like shapeless ghosts, we drift around, lost and frantic, until we find some shape to wear so that the world, we hope, can finally see us. Actually, we don’t even want them to see us, because we feel too ashamed of who we believe we really are. So we hope that people will see the form we have taken, and mistake it for us.

On this mountain, who cares? There is no dress code. The birds and the trees don’t recognise human subcultures. The earth is happy for me to walk on it, no matter where I bought my shoes. I sometimes spend days in pajamas. I haven’t noticed a single vulture scowl.

Don’t get me wrong – I love style (as opposed to ‘fashion’). Walking down the street can be art. Why not dye your hair pink? I love pink hair. Humans have decorated themselves since before they got up off all fours and declared themselves homo sapiens, to a universe that cares nothing for Latin.

It’s not style that I am against, so much as lack of substance. Even the arts are riddled with this inability to spot the difference. Where has all the soul gone??? I listen to the radio on occasion and find myself swearing until I turn it off. I flip between anger and despondency as I scan through the stations. Inevitably, silence soon resumes its residency in my ears.

Music can be so healing, so inspiring. It can remind you of who you really are. Why is so much of what’s out there just sonic chewing gum? It might keep your ears busy for a while, but it has absolutely no nutritional value.

[For those of you who listen to radio on the internet, I would like to give a quick plug at this point to: and, both of which are run by people who actually like music].

I have a few more mountain tales to come before heading off and am trying to be as ‘in the now’ as possible, while at the same time working out how to pack down this life once again and leave it stable, so that when I return there is (hopefully) a yurt still standing, a spring still running and clean, and a stack of wood for my first night’s fire.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


“...and now for many a year there will be no more rambling through the aisles of the wood, with occasional vistas through which you see the water. My muse may be excused if she is silent henceforth. How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down?” Thoreau, Walden

As you will see from the video, the main news this week is that a big utility company want to make an ‘electricity superhighway’ (aka ‘autopista electrica’). They want it to run all the way to France, over the Pyrenees, heading just behind my land, coming from God knows where. Satan’s arsehole, probably.

It seems there is nowhere to hide. The quiet, simple life is under threat once again from the incessant march of so-called ‘progress’ and ‘technology’.

The thing is, this technology is outdated. This is a retrogressive step. It is the company, not me, that is behind the times.

Microgeneration is the future people! (Actually, it is the present. I’m not yet sure if we have a future).

I’m sure Big Nasty and Greedy Inc know this. And I’m sure they are shitting themselves. Think of all the profit to be lost if the people can generate their own electricity! Quick, lets build massive infrastructure, before it becomes completely redundant, and see if we can’t squeeze out a few more million in profits, before the excrement hits the solar-powered fan.

It’s ok, BN&G. I have an answer for us both. It’s a win-win situation. You will continue to make supernormal profits by screwing the little guy, and I will continue to be able to sit on my land without getting my gonads fried by your electric cables. Here’s how:

Instead of investing all that money in electricity pylons and bribes (sorry, I mean ‘compensation’) to local Government, you invest it in solar panels. You pay for the solar panels, their installation and, if necessary, their maintenance (NB solar panels rarely need any maintenance, but don’t tell the punters that – then you can stiff them for a few more Euros every month). You supply all the houses you would have supplied electricity for with solar set ups so that they can generate their own electricity! No cables! No children with cancer! No nuclear explosions or waste to throw into the sea! No monstrosities marring this beautiful landscape!

I know I know, it sounds terrible. But bear with me. You still get to make piles of cash.

Instead of households paying you a monthly direct debit for energy usage, they pay you a monthly direct debit to pay back the cost of purchase, installation and maintenance. Plus interest of course. Kind of like an electricity mortgage.

There you go. Clean, safe energy, but we still maintain people’s dependence on big business and therefore the status quo. Everybody happyish?

Great. Well then leave this beautiful countryside alone and go and buy up a pile of solar panel companies double quick, before the competition reads this blog and beats you to it.

By the way, I am giving this idea away for free. There is no patent pending. Just go out and exploit it.

Have a great day, big corporations of the world. May your directors’ bonuses increase exponentially.

Monday, 23 February 2009


This week's quote is not from Thoreau, but from a Buddhist academic called David Loy, basically because I read an article of his this week and found it interesting.

Also, an article of my own has been published on this week.

And now for the blog:

“... for many premodern societies, the physical conditions of their survival were often precarious, so we have embraced technology to control and secure those conditions. The supreme irony of the ecological crisis, from that perspective, is that our technological efforts to secure ourselves materially over the last five hundred years are what have caused the biospheric degradation that now threatens our very survival.” Loy, Remaking the World, or Remaking Ourselves? Buddhist Reflections on Technology

Using natural resources to develop technology is potentially dangerous. Not using natural resources to develop technology is potentially dangerous. Life is potentially dangerous. So maybe fear of danger isn’t the best criterion for making choices about how we organise our lives.

At the moment I am working out how to cultivate the spring on the land. I have been thinking about it, looking at it, musing, experimenting. At first there was a puddle. It was a puddle with potential, but still just a puddle. I dug a hole where the puddle was and it filled up with water. When the mud settled, the water was clear, but the hole overflowed, so you had to walk through boggy land to get to it. So I dug a channel from the hole. Now when it overflows, the water doesn’t flood everything.

I decided it was probably a good idea to cover the hole so that it doesn’t become the local hang out for all the thirsty animals. I have also started to surround it with stones.

This is an ongoing project. I have seen a few springs and so I have a sense of how they are traditionally cultivated around here, but I am also free to come to my own conclusions and to try things out.

The same is true of everything here. Making and maintaining the yurt, making a kitchen, a wood shed, and generally sorting out a functional (and beautiful) living space.

I am free to do all this as I see fit. I can’t get sacked, sued or passed over for promotion. And I don’t need to hire a contractor with a certificate in spring cultivation. If I want to stay in bed until the afternoon, in general I can do that. I have no demands for money arriving on my doormat from utility companies. I have no landlord or mortgage.

There is a general assumption that technology allows autonomy. All those labour-saving devices that let you spend your time doing other things. Mobile this and instant that. Do what you want, where you want, when you want. Do life your way.

One irritating characteristic of technology though, is that it doesn’t happen on a small scale. It happens in complex societies, with complex economies, and it happens usually out of a desire to make money. If you want to enjoy the freedoms that technology offers, you have to tie yourself into a whole bunch of relationships and contracts that you wouldn’t choose if you didn’t have to.

Let’s forget about the taxation levied to pay for infrastructure and defence of our stash. And let’s put on one side the utility companies wired into your home, so you are in debt to the company even if you just want to drink a glass of water or take a shit. Let’s stick to a basic example for now: how you spend your time.

If you want to own and use technology, you need money. For most of us, this means you need a job. That is, you need to sell your labour (i.e. your time). In order to sell your labour successfully in a complex economy, realistically you need to specialise. You need to be an X or a Y, and you need to build up qualifications and experience in your chosen profession. And if you don’t get the qualifications and experience for whatever reason, you will have to be really specialised. Screwing in widgets all day or making a machine go ‘beep’ at the check out.

In general, being an X means that you have committed to not being all the other letters of the alphabet that you might like to be sometimes. Further, you need to make sure that you are exactly the type of X that employers want you to be, so you probably need to go to college and learn what that is, then keep your head down and do it that way. There is little room for initiative, experimentation and doing things according to your own rhythms. Some of us manage to live creatively, but we are very much in the minority.

Contrast this with a self-sufficient life. The self-sufficient life most certainly has its limitations, and you need to do certain things you might not be in the mood for. But it is far more varied, and you are in a relationship with the natural world, not with an economy. Your immediate environment provides everything you need. No shops, no employers, no adverts. You look at what you need and what you want and you work out how to make that happen. You are free to make it happen any way that occurs to you. You are free to experiment and to make mistakes. You own your life.

There is a nice balance between mental and physical work. Your attention is engaged, but not overly taxed, to the point where your head is spinning at the end of the day and you feel like a brain on a stick, completely divorced from the gangly thing that people talk to when they want something from you (i.e. your body).

Your body is engaged, but you are generally free to work to your own rhythm, and because your mind is engaged in the work too, you don’t turn into a robot. The physical work in a self-sufficient life is varied. It does not require you to do the same thing again and again, from nine to five, five days a week, 48 weeks a year.

The embodied, engaged-but-not-hectic mind is exactly the kind of mind you are trying to develop in meditation, which suggests that leading a self-sufficient life helps you to lead a spiritually-nourishing life.

I am not self-sufficient, and I do enjoy technology. I wouldn’t want to turn my back on the whole thing, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge what it really costs, in terms of our life and our freedom to be who we are.

Loy makes an interesting suggestion about how we, as a society, could make choices about how we use and develop technology. Rather than leaving it to big business and the profit motive, he argues that we might be better to do things more democratically. We could discuss what we actually need and want as a society, and develop from there.

This kind of ‘discussion’ is not as far-fetched as it seems. Governments carry out consultation exercises as a matter of course when developing new strategies, that go on to become initiatives or legislation. Why not have a technological-development strategy too? If we could actually get this to happen, and provided the Government didn’t balls it up with red tape and too many layers of bureaucracy, this approach might produce quite different, more measured, and more satisfying results.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


“A voice said to him – Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you? Those same stars twinkle over other fields than these. But how to come out of this condition and actually migrate thither? All that he could think of was to practise some new austerity, to let his mind descend into his body and redeem it, and treat himself with ever-increasing respect.”
Thoreau, Walden

Ever since I was a young boy I’ve played the silver ball. From Soho down to Brighton, I must have played them all... Oh no, wait. Wrong movie...

Ever since I was a young boy I’ve had a lust for adventure. I’ve wanted to go and find the unusual experiences, the peak experiences. To ‘suck all the marrow out of life’ to quote Thoreau.

I think it’s a fairly universal desire for the young man – the quest to find the boundaries, and hopefully to pass beyond them, into new territory. To take some risks and taste the extremes.

This is one reason why young men drive too fast, drink too much, experiment with drugs, travel the world with a backpack and one change of pants, and tend to be a real pain in the arse at parties. (NB many cultures have initiatory rituals to deal with these drives and initiate young men into manhood. I think we could do with some of them in our culture too).

So here I sit, in the middle of the night on a mountain far from my hometown, in an alien culture, in an alien structure, warming myself on wood from trees planted by someone else’s great grandparents. (I only use the dead wood – no trees were harmed during the making of this movie).

This desire to get further and further out has never really left me. I have always hunted out the fringes. The highs and the lows. I have shared the pavement with the homeless and I have shared dinners with the aristocracy. I experimented with drugs until it was no longer an experiment, and then I experimented with other ways of surfing the psyche, and diving deep into its oceans – that’s how I landed at Buddhism. I’m still experimenting with that. I guess this drive is one of the reasons I love to make music. Art is a never-ending experiment. No one seems to know what art even is...

The most surprising feature of the fringe for me has been the speed with which it becomes incredibly ordinary. Peak experience cannot be maintained, by its very nature. The sublime is a fleeting thing that can be glimpsed, but cannot be lived in.

There is a book by Jack Kornfield (which I haven’t read but it has a catchy title) called ‘First the Ecstasy, then the Laundry’. So much of life is laundry.

My life on the mountain has become an everyday experience for me. It has become the laundry.

I am older now and I have come to expect this. The trick for me, and I guess for all of us, is how to live with that in peace and contentment. What that actually means is, when your ‘self’ catches up with you, what then? Run off and attempt to escape into another adventure, or sit with it and... and... and???

I can’t remember where, but I remember reading years ago that all of the problems of the human race stem from our inability to sit happily in a chair for any length of time.

Samsara, which is the Buddhist term for unenlightened existence, literally means something like ‘wandering on’. Nirvana on the other hand, has its root in a term meaning ‘to put out’ or ‘to extinguish’. The flames of desire are extinguished once and for all. Sounds kind of boring though, eh?

Well, not really. That’s the problem with trying to use words to describe something beyond language. But the discussion on mystic wisdom will have to wait for another time.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that here, on this mountain, I am getting into the everydayness of my life. I have emptied out all the unnecessary alienated drudgery (as far as is possible right now). What is left is fetching water, gathering wood, maintaining the yurt, waiting for the rain to stop, cooking food, waiting for the kettle to boil, etc, etc.

This kind of drudgery seems acceptable to me. It feels real. In fact most of the time it doesn’t feel like drudgery at all. Even though I may have times when I want to escape from it, I know that here is a place I can genuinely try to practice ‘everyday Zen’. In the complex life of contemporary Western society I spend a lot of time thinking ‘What the f***? This is mad!’ and looking for a way out. I think it is possible to practice everyday Zen in that kind of a life too, but not for me.

Here I feel that life is sane. Me as an organism, me as a person, and my lifestyle are pretty much in balance. The pain seems reasonable, the pleasure seems reasonable. The risks and the comforts all make some kind of sense. I watch the flow of my mental states and the flow of my emotions and all of it is grounded in something grounded. Know what I mean?

Of course in writing this down I am being far more clear than all this really is, and I am painting a picture of purity and simplicity that isn’t totally there, but nevertheless, there is some truth here. There is something of value here.

I remember reading, I think it was Gary Snyder (well-known Buddhist, early environmentalist, and Beat poet) talking about when he was living in a Zen monastery in Japan. They had to fetch the water from the well and do various other chores and he came up with a way to get the water into the kitchen without having to carry it, and a number of other labour-saving ideas (I am paraphrasing madly here but the vibe is true to the text). When he shared these ideas with the monks they chuckled and said ‘You haven’t got what this life is about at all, have you’.

We can keep creating bigger, better, faster, easier ways of doing life forever. Where does it end? When is enough? And what is the point? What are we trying to achieve? I mean really, what??? Nobody seems to ask these questions, and until we do, we will not get a grip on the semi-conscious attitudes, beliefs and values that are leading us to environmental, and therefore personal, ruin.

To want to improve one’s life is natural. The question is, what will bring a genuine improvement? When I think this through, I always end up concluding that spiritual practice is the only sane answer. Working with our mental states is the only way to achieve anything of genuine value, once the basics of taking care of ourselves are put into action. A vacuum cleaner that does the carpets while you’re at work then gives you a blow job on your return might well be the next must-have appliance, but will it really make life really any better than it was before, once the novelty has worn off? When is enough?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


“While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me.”
Thoreau, Walden

You can’t really plan your life here in the same way as you can in a city. It has been raining most of this week. Heavy rain. Parts of the land look like day three at Glastonbury festival. So that prevented me from working on various tasks which required me to be outside. The weather has a big impact on this kind of lifestyle.

Like Paul Simon, I get all the news I need on the weather report. Well, I would if I had a TV. And could speak Catalan.

I have taken to writing lists. I don’t estimate how long something will take, because you can’t. And I don’t think ‘Tomorrow I will do X and the day after I will finish off Y’, because you never know. I just write a list and then work through it as best I can, when I can.

You need a lot of patience here. Patience is one of the six ‘perfections’ in a particular strand of Buddhism (the Prajnaparamita tradition for those of you interested in chasing this up and finding out what the other five are). By patience, Buddhism means something like ‘remaining in a positive mental state when faced with obstructive conditions’. The three things that Buddhism suggests one specifically needs to cultivate patience towards are:

1. illness
2. other people, and
3. the weather.

It seems that in some ways, things haven’t changed that much in the last two thousand years!

Anyway, this week I have been trying to cultivate patience towards the bleeding weather. Again. Not unlike my comrades in the UK. I understand you have had a spot of snow? :-)

On the upside, this has meant that I have been writing some new music and having some new thoughts.

With regard to time, and having more of it, I have been thinking that this life would work better with a few more people around (though see point 2 above). I can see why tribes form. A lot of work benefits from economies of scale. For example, you can cook for four people without lots more effort than cooking for one. And while you are cooking, the other three can be off doing work that you would otherwise have to do. And a fire uses the same amount of wood to heat four people as it does to heat one. It seems clear to me that the individual, the couple, and even the nuclear family, are not big enough units to be living in. A few families and a few generations living together and sharing the load makes much more sense.

The trouble is, I am riddled with individualism. I like the idea of living as part of a community, and having a bunch of people around to share the work and share the evenings with. I like the idea of having kids around and elders. But I like my space and my freedoms too.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. As a culture, I think we are going to have to go beyond the cult of the individual – everyone having at least one of everything, and preferably one that’s slightly different from the neighbours’ (‘which mobile phone expresses who I would like people to think I really am?’). It is wasteful of course, and it requires us to work harder and longer, but the other thing about it is I don’t think it makes us very happy.

I think really, you have to get your hands dirty with life. You have to dive in and get involved. The trouble is, we’re too busy seeing others as objects in our subjective experience, and expending our effort on trying to maintain the illusion that we are everything the advertisers say we ought to be.

The inevitable shit that needs to be worked through in our relationships doesn’t get worked through because people don’t want to really be changed by life. They don’t really want to be part of something. When it impinges on our sense of self (which often gets called our ‘ego’ these days), the current trend is to just walk off. And that way we don’t end up with the feeling of connection that we crave. The sense of belonging. Of being home.

We rattle around the world buying things and looking for an instant hit. If we are not in 100% happy mode all the time we feel that we must simply not have got the right stuff yet, or not be with the right person, or not be hanging out in the right scene, or that there is something wrong with us. And the advertisers rub salt in our wounds because these insecurities are good for business.

According to the Buddha, suffering, or at the very least, dissatisfaction, is an inherent quality of unawakened existence. The dissatisfaction is caused by craving for X and trying to avoid Y all the time. If the world does not conform to our present desires, and if it does not change its configuration in exactly the same rhythm and direction as our desires change, we experience dissatisfaction. It doesn’t take a genius to spot the propensity for dissatisfaction built into this set up.

So the trick is to go beyond the rushing around after X and taking out law suites against Y. It’s about cultivating contentment with how things are, trying to move things in your desired direction, while at the same time being patient and finding enjoyment in the process.

That’s the theory anyway. Putting it into practice can take a while.

I guess one of the reasons I tend to write sad songs is that this side of our experience tends not to be shared with others. We slap on a smile and feel isolated and alone. I’ve always written songs to get that out of me. And I chose to release them to the public because hearing songs like that has saved my poor heart on more than one occasion. So I hope maybe I can return the favour.

But don’t forget the songs that made you cry
And the songs that saved your life
And when you’re dancing and laughing and finally living
Hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly.

Monday, 2 February 2009


This week began with a destructive unwanted visitor...

“When I return to my house I find that visitors have been there and left their cards – either a bunch of flowers, or a wreath of evergreen, or a name in pencil on a yellow walnut leaf”
Thoreau, Walden

One thing that Thoreau never talks about in Walden are the hard times. The times when you think ‘Am I completely insane? Is it actually possible to live like this?’

Walden is all about ‘Oh la de da, life is bliss and you’re all stupid for doing day jobs and going to dinner parties’. But I bet there were plenty of times when he thought that he’d got it wrong, and that civilization was industrialising for very good reasons.

When something like this happens, you feel vulnerable. It’s easy to see why humans have tried their best to render nature impotent – it’s higher up the food chain than we are. Unfortunately, and despite the basic vibe of the Bible, and the general direction of science, we can’t render nature impotent. We can only wind it up to the point that it has us for breakfast.

The other option of course is that we realise that we are nature, and nature supports and provides just as much as it threatens and destroys, and we shift paradigms and live in balance and harmony instead of always trying to dominate and contain, like some intellectually challenged school bully who doesn’t realise the kid he’s hassling has a black belt in karate and about 3000 mates just around the corner...

After the wind subsided, the next few hours were spent trying to drag the yurt back into position (my abs are currently pretty sore as a result – it is heavy), re-fitting roof poles, making the stove stable again, and generally getting the place back to some kind of livable. Followed by a little fire in the stove and a nice cup of tea, though this wasn’t particularly relaxing, as I was worried that the stove might not be safe and my ears were acutely aware of the sound of the wind, and wondering if the worst was still to come...

The next day I found out that there had been winds of 120kph. 21 people were killed. Loads of people were without electricity. The news was full of stories of collapsed buildings, overturned lorries, uprooted trees and general mayhem, all caused by the wind. It seems my little yurt is quite robust after all. You can trust Mongolian nomads to design something that’s fairly sturdy I guess.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the concept of ‘security’. Does it really exist?

It seems clear that freak weather conditions are becoming, and will become, more common. The old ideas about security need a makeover. Security cannot be guaranteed by piling up as much money as you can, insuring yourself up to the eyeballs, building a big wall with razor-wire on top and CCTV, a burglar alarm hooked up to the police and a reinforced steel ‘safe room’.

Security (such as it exists in this fragile world, with such fragile bodies as ours) comes from the realisation that we are all inter-connected. If I go, you go. And vice versa. It’s win-win or lose-lose and that’s that. Global warming is now accepted as fact by everyone who knows anything about it, despite what certain Republican politicians might say. And global warming is a group issue. It affects individuals, but it cannot be affected by individuals, except to the extent that those individuals affect the behaviours of the group. So here I am, shooting my mouth off again…

I watched an incredible DVD called ‘Garbage Warrior’ about the architect who invented the ‘Earth ship’. That guy is a genius. I urge you to watch it. Basically he makes these beautiful, well-functioning, totally self-sufficient houses out of rubbish. Old tyres, old plastic bottles, old beer cans. Amazing. These houses don’t require heating or air conditioning. They gather their own water. They sort out their own waste and power. You don’t need to be hooked up to any grid or any pipes.

This is how I am living of course, except these houses look really comfortable and much more in line with how people want to live. Yurts will never take off as a viable solution to the environmental crisis, but these houses really are a viable alternative to our current reliance on fossil fuels, land fill and big business. The ideas are there – we just have to use them!

One interesting point the architect made, given my ‘Death to the City’ post, was that he sees a future where the cities are abandoned because they simply cannot support themselves. People will only go back into the cities to mine their resources, scraping out the scrap, in a very different world...

Until next week


Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Video blog: Back in the UK

Here is this week's video blog at last! Had some trouble getting it uploaded.

Thursday, 22 January 2009


I have just realised that I left my copy of Walden in the studio at the BBC, so here's a quote from The Smiths:

‘Fame, fame, fatal fame. It can play hideous tricks on the brain. But still I’d rather be famous than righteous or holy, anyday anyday anyday...’ Morrissey, Frankly Mr Shankly

I sit on my mountain at night sometimes and I look at the stars. And I think about the size of this universe. And I think of its birth and its eventual demise. And then I think about the planet, and it’s history since the swamp things first struggled to breathe out of water. And then I think of the history of humanity, and of Western ‘civilisation’ and then I think of all the lives being lived right now on the planet. And then of my own life. And being ‘famous’ stops being quite so important for a while. In fact, NOT making an impression on the planet is becoming increasingly interesting to me.

But I want to not make an impression on a REALLY BIG scale and convince as many people as possible to leave light footprints too...

Yes folks, this week I have been back in London (as you will see from my next video blog). Wined and dined by the record company, chauffeured into Broadcasting House for a session on radio 3, then training it down to Brighton to play a gig (I am writing this on the train down there).

It’s strange but true. One of my neuroses is a desire for recognition. Stick that in your hash-pipe and smoke it, Mr Buddha. Mr Guru. And yet, while I get a buzz out of being on the radio, I am also excruciatingly aware of the folly of such a goal. (Actually, I don’t want to be famous like a Spice Girl, I want to be famous like someone with artistic integrity who is a total genius, and recognised as such, in my lifetime, and well-paid for being so cool and clever. Like Van Gogh or Nick Drake, but with a great publicist and no mental health issues.)

There is a story in a Buddhist text about an actor who goes to the Buddha and says ‘I am an actor. I make my living out of entertaining people and making them laugh. Will I be reborn in the Heaven of the Laughing Gods?’

The Buddha asks him not to ask this question, but the actor asks the question three times, and if the Buddha is asked a question three times, the Buddha answers it. He says, ‘No, you will actually be reborn in a hell realm.’

The actor is incredulous. ‘But why???’

‘Because, not only do you delude yourself, you make your living out of deluding others.’

Heavy shit, huh?

My own thinking on this is that firstly, I think the actor did plays that were more ‘Home and Away’ and less Shakespeare (and by ‘Shakespeare’ I mean the bits of Shakespeare that weren’t like Home and Away). I think that plays, and the arts in general, can be used to delude people or to point them in the direction of truth, beauty, and an opening of the heart and mind. Indeed the arts are an integral part of many Buddhist traditions.

Secondly, I think that there is inevitably an element of bullshit in any walk of life - Life As PR Exercise (‘That’ll look good on your CV’). We live in a capitalist society, and you might as well just acknowledge that you have been reborn in that situation, with those limitations, and just get on with it as best you can.

[I was once standing outside an ashram in India and watched all the beggars, looking absolutely at death’s door and half insane, until everyone had gone into the ashram, then the chai wallah poured everyone a cup of chai and they sat around and had a chat until everyone started coming out of the ashram, when the whole pantomime resumed. It was exactly like that bit in ‘Life of Brian’ where the centurion is trying to get some sense out of the jailors. I was reassured of the basic universality of the human condition. NB the beggars were in general suffering from terrible deformities and/or leprosy and were most likely from the ex-untouchable class and had no other means of earning enough to eat. I am not arguing that they were scam artists that were unworthy of receiving money from the devotees from the ashram. But if you are going to be a beggar, I guess you have competition for market share the same as in any other sector of the economy, so you use what you’ve got.]

And thirdly I think that if it is in you, provided it is not totally unskilful (such as a penchant for paedophilia) it is better to express that aspect of yourself than to repress it, but to express it in a way that is of most benefit to all beings. My basic view, with regard to one’s emotional, creative and even physical energy is that first you must unblock it, then direct it, and then refine it. The tantric path. We are not perfectly enlightened Buddhas. Obviously. At some point you have to let go of trying to be Superman and just be yourself.

But I am getting ahead of myself. After all, many people, and the culture itself, think that fame is a noble pursuit. So, the first question should be ‘Is it though?’

You will have to wait for the book before I give my full lowdown on fame. We are fast approaching Brighton and I need to think about what I’m going to play tonight. All I will say right now is that Eckhart Tolle talks about looking at the ‘Born’ and ‘Died’ dates on a gravestone, and then the hyphen between the two. And that hyphen is what we all consider to be SO significant...

I am on The Verb on Radio 3 this Friday 23rd at 9pm.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


My walk to get water:

Happy new year. Hope you had an enjoyable festive season. Mine was ok. The weather has been terrible for weeks (see above) so life has been a bit more of a challenge, and I have been having to ration my electricity due to lack of sun, but I am settling into being here and continue to enjoy myself. I have noticed that I am beginning to stop comparing this life with living in a flat, so I think I must be finally arriving here. For example, the time it takes to boil the kettle, or brush your teeth here is just becoming how long it takes. I have stopped thinking of it as slower than my previous life.

Next week I shall be hitting the UK for a few days. I’m going to be doing a session for a Radio 3 show called ‘The Verb’. I’ll also be doing a free gig in Brighton (see my website for details on both of these). I’m planning to take the camcorder, so you can see what I look like standing on tarmac (not quite as dashing, but still damn sexy).

This week’s blog is full of quotes from wise gurus from many traditions. Enjoy…


“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded and interpreted in his favour in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost, that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Thoreau, Walden

“And though we didn’t have much money, I was rich as I could be, in my coat of many colours, my momma made for me”
Dolly Parton

I’ve been reading Seven Ages of Britain by Justin Pollard over the last month or so. Sadly, the industrial revolution has begun and the book has ended. I am now left with a head filled with 10,000 years of British history, a million opinions, and Britain is still 150 years away from putting cars on its streets.

One pattern that I noticed is that although technology, from the Stone Age onwards, has made life easier and allowed people to generate more wealth, what seems to have happened is that the wealth has consistently fallen into the pockets of the few, not the many. When society became more complicated, it did not benefit the vast majority of the people.

Further, it seems to have fallen into the pockets of those who were prepared to use force in order to acquire and protect it.

As well as using physical force (as can be seen today in the West’s attempts to secure a plentiful supply of cheap oil) there has also been a long history of manipulating culture and religion for economic ends (i.e. propaganda – as can be seen in the West’s attempts to secure plentiful supply of cheap oil). For example, the idea will tend to be floated that the monarchy and aristocracy of a country is either divine, or has been placed in that position because they communicate with gods, or because gods want them to be there. There is a ‘natural order’. The gods have spoken. Kings (and occasionally queens) are supposed to be at the top, and you, Sonny Jim, are supposed to be at the bottom. So shut up and get on with it. The caste system in India was/is an example of this (this was technically outlawed some years ago, but still endures).

But we’ve got science haven’t we. We don’t believe in God anymore, so we don’t have these kinds of psychological problems. We’ve got democracy. Right? Well…

What about the religion of celebrity? That these people are somehow special and different. They must be because they are all shiny, thin and apparently rich. Or the religion of capitalism? You are where you are because you are failing in some way. You just don’t have what it takes. There is nothing wrong with the system, there must therefore be something wrong with you. Or even the religion of Science for that matter. Most of us are a good few decades behind in terms of what we believe to be scientific 'truth' and we tend to be a lot more certain than the scientists themselves, because we only understand the broad brushstrokes of these outdated theories which we cling to, like previous generations clung to the 'good book'.

And this ‘democracy’ that the US and UK are trying to inflict on places like Afghanistan and Iraq is not exactly being installed in a democratic fashion is it? “We come in peace. Shoot to kill!”. And Guantanamo Bay. And the anti-terrorism legislation etc, etc, etc. Do they really expect us to swallow this stuff and believe we live in a democracy? Yep! And what’s really messed up, is we do believe it!

These kinds of beliefs help to maintain the status quo, and that helps to keep the incredible wealth that we all generate, and the wealth that is just lying around all over the place on this beautiful Earth, in the hands of the few. And it really is only a few. If this ever becomes a book I will dig out the research and give you lots of lovely statistics to prove my point. But as it is, I have only a certain amount of battery left on my computer and it has been either foggy or cloudy for the last few weeks so the solar panels aren’t generating much juice. Plus I am quite a lazy person and am a lover of big, general ideas rather than specific details.

One of the things I have been reflecting on over the last few days is whether or not poverty is a virtue. Certainly in Buddhism, the monks who technically own nothing (though sometimes live in very nice monasteries), beg for a living and in some traditions can’t even handle money, are held in high regard. The same goes for the Christians. Not sure about the other major religions of the world. But anyway, I have this idea buried in my psyche that there is something wholesome about poverty and something ugly about wealth.

At the same time, as a child of capitalism, I believe that money equals success, and the more you have, the better you are doing. Money can buy lots of things and I have a long list of the things that I would like to buy with it (e.g. a nice big, shiny, well-equipped recording studio. Oh yes and maybe a house).

So which shall I choose? Shall I feel bad for being poor or feel bad for being rich? As it says in that country song, “I been rich and I been poor and being rich is better”. There must be some other way.

There seems to be a ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ element to this. That is, there is how this plays out in your life, and then there’s the big picture.

Micro economics:

The Government has a specific money figure, below which a person is officially living in poverty. They also include whether or not a person has certain amenities in their calculations. But I don’t see it like that. When I talk about poverty I mean having so little that life is a struggle. That you feel like you’ve got a weight on your shoulders and you can’t see any way you can ever put it down. Poverty is a feeling, first and foremost. It is a state of mind – though external conditions (e.g. hungry belly, chattering teeth, no furniture) can certainly help to back that feeling up.

For myself I have no central heating, no water on tap (let alone hot water on tap), no double glazing (or even single glazing come to that). No kitchen, no bathroom, no connection to the national grid. It’s currently well below freezing outside and between me and the cold are a couple of pieces of canvas. For many people this would be abject poverty. Me, I love it. I feel rich and surrounded by the abundance of this beautiful world.

But for me, this is a choice. When you have no choice, that’s when you’re poor. I could go and rent a three-bedroom house somewhere within the week if I wanted. But I’m fine here for now, thanks.

Although I could rent, I couldn’t afford to buy a house without changing my working circumstances significantly (suit up, clock in, zone out has never been my style), and I couldn’t get a long lease on a council place because they were all sold off by the Demon Thatcher. I am far from one of the country’s trustafarians – play at being poor for a couple of years then settle into a nice pad in Chelsea when the lack of fine wine at parties becomes a bore. ‘I want to live like common people, I want to do whatever common people do’ etc. So, like many others in England, I am in a bit of a fix. Which leads me to macro economics.

Macro economics:

On a macro level, poverty is most definitely not a virtue. I used to work in regeneration and I know that if you live in one area of Sheffield (the poor bit) you are statistically likely to die ten years earlier than if you were born in another area (the posh bit). You have to deal with drugs, crime and racism on your doorstep. Violence is a very real threat. Most people around you are depressed. The schools have low expectations of the kids, and the kids meet those expectations. The stuff that other people read about in the news is the stuff that you live in. And so do your kids.

If, as a society, we wanted to sort this out, we could. And it wouldn’t necessarily cost a whole pile of money. Much of it is about changing attitudes and rebuilding community. The places where the local people have done this off their own bat are incredible, fantastic, amazing examples of this triumph of the human spirit over adversity. I am truly humbled by these people – they are the real heroes of our society. If we gave them some proper power and resources, the UK would be a much better place. They shouldn’t be wasting their time and energy lobbying a blinkered Government, they should be the Government.

But the Government has big business to think of. It is not really in the interests of the Government or big business to have an educated, cohesive, aware working class. They might start demanding things! They might refuse to work in those shitty jobs that are needed to be filled if the rich are to stay rich! They might stop taking drugs, so we’d have nothing to have a ‘war’ on in the hope of getting re-elected without actually solving any real problems. (By the way, the rich gobble drugs too, but they don’t really feature in the adverts. We don’t really want to have a war on those drugs. After all, the City and the entertainment industries would immediately grind to a halt.)

Although it is not in the interests of the powers that be to effectively tackle poverty, it is in their interest to pay lip service to tackling poverty. That way people don’t get so irritated or desperate that they actually make demands. No, we can’t have that.

Divide and rule. Ghetto-ise the problems, then direct people’s attention towards the people who live in the ghetto and blame them for those problems (and therefore away from the gigantic injustices that are taking place in our name and under our noses at a systemic level).

That kind of poverty is certainly not a virtue, and I won’t even mention the poverty experienced in the so-called ‘developing’ countries.

Poverty is shit. It is not a virtue.

But that is not to say that simplicity is something to shy away from – wealth and ‘stuff’ are not necessarily the same thing. Just ask the great sage Dolly Parton.

It is simplicity that is the virtue – simplicity and contentment with simplicity. We shoot around, endlessly trying to create external conditions that will bring us contentment. We think if only we had enough stuff, we would be happy. Nope, happiness is NOW. You can cultivate it right now. This is what Buddhist simplicity is about. And if you aren’t happy, it’s not because you don’t have enough stuff, it’s because you haven’t got your head and heart around Reality.

We need to find ways to simplify our lives – for our own peace of mind, but also for the benefit of this tired world – a world that is groaning under the weight of our desires.

Ideally, we should have a general approach of simplifying our lives. Looking for beauty and joy in simple things. Reduce, re-use, recycle, as it says on Bob the Builder (on which there is a guy who lives in a yurt).

BUT, renunciation is a process, not a thing. We need to factor in our own happiness. A sustainable future is not a grim future – if it is perceived in that way it will certainly not arrive. Personally I would heartily recommend some kind of spiritual practice as an aid to developing happiness and contentment (yoga, meditation, qi gong, etc NB the shopping ritual doesn’t count). I would also recommend conscious thought and reflection about life.

In the words of those other great sages, the Spice Girls “Tell me what you want, what you really really want”. And that’s the thing. If you get deep enough into yourself to work out what you really really want, it is usually not ‘stuff’. The stuff symbolises a feeling that you think you would have if you owned it. Why not just look for ways to cultivate the emotion directly? Cut out the middle man?

E.g. You feel that if you had a few million pounds that you would not feel anxious about money. So you are looking to reduce your anxiety. Do you really have to get hold of a mountain on cash in order to develop fearlessness? (And by the way, you would still have the anxiety – imagine, one wrong move and you could lose millions of pounds!!!) Or you think that if you had that money you could do whatever you wanted. Is that true? Surely it is equally true to say that if you don’t spend your time getting into a position where you can pull in that kind of wonga, you can spend more of your time doing whatever you want?

Of course, I could write a whole self-help book about this, so for now I will leave it there.

Stillness, simplicity and contentment. The road to sustainability sounds great to me!