Minnie Birch is a highly original folk-indie singer who writes her own material and has appeared three times with Joan Armatrading. I began my interview with Minnie by asking where her unusual stage name came from. She explained, “Minnie is my aunt’s middle name and Birch is my grandma’s maiden name.”
Leslie: You’ve recorded two albums Settled and Floundering. What’s the story behind these two titles?
Minnie:Settled is one of my favourite words. In one way it conjures up this idea of being at peace and secure, and on the other hand it has these connotations of giving up, settling for second best or ‘settling the score’. The title track from this EP is all about how an unconventional love can still be ‘settled’. At the time I was surrounded by people who were ‘settled’ and it seemed like my love wasn’t… and yet it was. It’s a song about how the magic bits of early love fade away but you still want to be with that person. That’s my idea of ‘settling’. Flounderingis, to me, the exact opposite of being settled. Continue reading A MUSICIAN’S TALE→
All of us have a primitive prompter or commentator within, who from earliest years has been advising us, telling us what the real world is – Saul Bellow.
Picture a room with a boy in bed. The room is small and, though it has a child’s wallpaper with rockets and stars and a chest full of toys, it feels quite empty. Bare and untouched, as if it was a cell. It’s summer and the glow from the street spreads across the walls. The light is soft and grey, filtered through curtains. Outside, the boys are playing football, shouting; inside, the boy is talking to himself. He’s imitating voices – cartoon characters and the woman next door. He speaks with an accent, all la-di-dah. Next he tries cockney. When he imitates children his voice goes squeaky and when he mimics adults he talks into his boots. His impressions are funny.
‘Without contraries is no progression’ – William Blake.
My childhood was full of journeys. Some of them were moves and some were visits. It meant that I travelled a lot for a child in the 1950s.
The first big trip was the annual Christmas drive from London to the NE. It took twelve hours through hail and snow with my dad white-knuckling the car around corners like Ahab in a storm. I sat in the back being good. At the end of that drive there was Christmas with family and lights and parties where everyone loved me. It was the kind of journey into darkness where the battle against the elements had a bright-and-shiny ending. Continue reading IT’S THE JOURNEY THAT COUNTS→
‘For me the process of creating art… is a way of re-connecting with your inner self, it stimulates the imagination, it can bring clarity, which in turn helps to dissolve problems; it strengthens the ability to concentrate and can have a calming and comforting effect.’
I interviewed Catherina Petit–van Hoey, a visual artist, originally trained in textile and fabric work, who now experiments with an unusual combination of mixed-media art, meditation, alchemy and art therapy. The titles Catherina uses for her artworks give an idea of some of her concerns, they include: ‘Threads of Time’, ‘Human Alchemy’, ‘Sweet Life’ and ‘The Enlightenment of a Housewife’.
‘Often I can see the humour and the sadness in the same situation and, as a writer, I have sometimes taken a tale which was told to me as a comic story and recast it as a tragic one or vice versa.’
I talked to Chris Hill, a former crime reporter who now writes literary and comic fiction. I asked Chris about his career as a journalist. “People sometimes think,” he told me, “that because I was news editor of The Citizenin Gloucester during the Fred and Rose West murder case, I write thrillers. Funny enough, I’ve never had any desire to do so.” Chris now works for WellChild, a UK charity which helps seriously ill children. “It’s a job,” he said, “which I find very fulfilling.” Chris was the 2001 winner of the Bridport Short Story Prize, so I began the interview with questions about his literary interests and methods.
‘I felt the solidity of my adult life compared to the transparency of childhood. It was as if I’d glimpsed myself as another person in another time and place.’
Have you ever taken the nostalgia trip to where you used to live? Maybe to your old house, a school, a street or a childhood play space? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably thought about it. So what’s it like? And what does it tell us, if anything, about ourselves? I imagined it would bring back memories and plug me in more directly to childhood. I also hoped it would tell me more about myself and start me off writing. But the experience wasn’t quite what I’d expected. Continue reading THE PAST IS ANOTHER COUNTRY→
‘This way of working isn’t a reaction, it’s a proactive experiment, an open-ended open-hearted manifestation of a powerful inner impulse’.
I interviewed Trevor Davies about the art and business of growing flowers. Trevor and his wife Bettina run Gillyflower, an ecologically-minded floristry business in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Single-handedly, they cultivate a cut flower garden creating beautiful bouquets for local event as an alternative to imported flowers grown with artificial fertilizers and pesticides. They both have long histories of involvement in the performing arts.
‘Any level of guided imaginative activity teaches you just how difficult it is to reach mastery’.
I remember several creative people in my family. My grandpa on my mother’s side was a tenor who, I’ve been told, was invited to train in Italy but had to turn the opportunity down because he was a railway clerk with a family to support. On a trip to London he recorded his voice at HMV, Oxford Street, which had its own studio. Sadly, the 78 rpm disc he produced has gone missing. He conducted the local choir in his NE seaside town in performances of The Messiah, even changing churches to retain creative control. His wife was a skilled accompanist on the piano and also played the organ. They were like fire and water; he was the leader, she gave of herself and supported. Their front room was a busy place with leading members of the choir popping in, and recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies rising from the depths of the ‘Horn Cabinet’ which he and my dad built in the corner. Continue reading THE CREATIVE SPARK – what do people find to do with their talents?→