Happy New Year... AGAIN
I’m sad to note that I haven’t posted any news to the site all year. It was an incredibly hard year, though it started beautifully with some great touring fun with my dearest Canadian buddy, Scott Cook, and new Canadian friends The Belle Miners, Bramwell Park and Corin Raymond. The year really peaked early, with the announcement at this years Newstead LIVE! that I had won the 2018 Troubadour Award for Performer of the Year.
To be completely honest however, even back then (before the year got super tough) I was struggling with my worst bout of anxiety ever, constantly overwhelmed with regular panic attacks and having trouble sleeping. A couple of months of professional help got me to the hard realisation by mid-autumn that 20 years of relentless live performance touring was eroding my mental health. A pretty tough discovery for a full-time musician who had focussed exclusively on a live performance career in a large country with a comparatively small population! Eek.
This led to my toughest decision in a long while. I decided to take a break from interstate touring with long time collaborator Fred Smith, as the majority of my touring over the last few years has been for Fred's shows. We did an emotional last few shows at this years National Folk Festival, and I entered the winter with my last big touring commitment of the year before me, the launch of the John Flanagan Trio's debut album 'Honest Man'. I am really proud of this album, so with my newly formulated mental tool kit for surviving life on the road, I leapt into the shows with enthusiasm.
My joy was cut short mid tour somewhere in South Australia. My mum called to tell me my dad was in critical condition from heart failure. I finished the last show Adelaide and flew to be with the rest of the family by his bedside the next morning. He could hear us but breathing equipment and pain control meant he couldn't reply. His heart proved too weak to survive any attempts at clearing the blockages and within a couple of days he was gone.
The winter was one of grief and confusion. My dad was a troubled and complicated soul who I loved deeply and my grief was violent and complex in response. We shared so many flaws and so many of the demons he grappled with haunted me as well. I managed to complete the trio tour but my plans to finish the Paper Mouse album and record some solo material fell by the wayside. I survived in a cloudy energy-drained state; playing local gigs with the sublime Robbie Melville and did a few random Victorian shows with a host of lovely performers including Jan Preston, Fred Smith, Kimberley Wheeler & Tanya Bradley, and some more with the John Flanagan Trio.
Winter finally abated as the spring bulbs broke through in my garden, and a small seed of positive energy germinated in my heavy heart. Some special gigs unfolded including small reunion of Jigzag organised around the wedding of some long time friends of the band at this year's Springfest. This was another incredibly mixed emotional experience after our sudden break up in 2010. So much to absorb and make sense of. No wonder I didn't get any recording done- I was reeling so much I wasn't quite sure who I was anymore!
My new found optimism (layered on top of a LOT of serious re-thinking of how to make my career work with less travel) saw the tide turn for me by late spring. I took some singing lessons with a wonderful teacher, Darren Wicks which boosted my confidence and reminded me just how much I love learning and striving to make beautiful music. I started a local Thursday lunchtime residency at Chaplins cafe on the main Street of Trentham. It was both a chance to get over my fear of playing solo and also a chance to meet and bond with my local community. I was also spending quite a lot of time in the studio at last, though there wasn't as much time for my music as I had hoped. During the last six weeks I've played on yet to be released albums by Enda Kenny, Fred Smith and Sarah Humphreys, as well as getting a few more Paper Mouse tracks recorded. I was astonished to finally be booked as myself at a few spring festivals too. Both Maldon Folk Festival and Bendigo Blues and Roots included me in their 2018 line-up and I'm just now preparing for my own January shows at Cygnet Festival 2019 (with Josh Bennett) and Newstead LIVE Festival 2019 (with Robbie Melville).
Of the NEW friendships I made this year I have to single out two incredibly inspirational women who’ve encouraged and supported me during this tough time. Kimberley Wheeler- who has trusted me with her beautiful songs and been a supportive and intelligent ear during some hard moments. You can hear me playing some of Kim’s songs as part of her ‘Roadside Holiday’ ensemble if you attend the 2019 National Folk Festival. I have also been fortunate enough to share the music of Monique Clare onstage, as well as sharing some pretty intense and beautiful soul-chats off the stage. Playing her Brunswick Green ‘Monique and Friends’ show a few weeks ago was one of the highlights of my year. What she does with voice and cello continues to astonish and delight me.
2019 is almost here and I'm glad. It feels like a fresh start with a new attitude. I'm done with an accomplishment focussed existence. From now on I want to truly embrace a growth mindset and aim to do the kind of things every day that the kind of person I want to be would do. Where that leads me is something I have yet to find out. I'm still very much in a transition phase musically, but that hasn't stopped me from slapping some really special gigs on the new year's calendar. Look out for me at Cygnet and Newstead and also our Paper Mouse February residency on Fridays at The Lost Ones in Ballarat. I'll be taking on the February Album Writing Month challenge again with a new Liz Frencham album already formulating in my mind. Also keep a look out for my first wanderings further afield in March as I get the massive privilege of opening for Scott Cook and the She'll Be Rights as well as being part of that very same band. :)
Thanks for taking the time to catch up and for all your support! Happy New Year!