I was recently asked to play an acoustic set centred around the theme of my Himalayan research. I’ve never played a set quite like it - I mixed recordings of Himalayan folk music with my own songs to let people know about this special area of the world and how it has influenced my song writing (I’ve been travelling to Spiti in the Indian Himalayas since 2015 to record stories and songs from the area). You can hear recordings and read about my work in a separate post, but here are some of the songs I played on the night and how my travels in the Himalayas and elsewhere in the world have influenced my music:
I’ve previously written about my motorcycle trips to the US, but this song is written around the concept of doing a bike trip alone in a foreign country, rather than about any one particular place. I've spent a lot of time over the years living a quite transient life while those around me were all settling down and I found it hard to relate to the lives my friends were living. I would notice this feeling the least when I was travelling on my own (especially travelling continuously rather than staying in one place); maybe because people are curious and want to confess their own feelings of restlessness when they hear what I’m doing. On these trips, I feel like I can be totally myself without coming up against other people’s expectations.
There’s a techno club in Berlin called Berghain that has an infamous door policy. Nobody really knows what the policy is, so there’s a lot of hearsay about how you get past the bouncers. People will wait in line for hours just to be turned away for seemingly no reason. I started going in 2011 and returned to Berlin occasionally over the next four years when I did not have a steady job and was feeling like a bit of an outsider. Berghain could be thought of in a similar way to the sbas yul that are said to be found in the Himalayas (or biyul in Spiti; magical hidden lands that are difficult to access). I’ve researched the concept of sbas yul in my own work in Spiti and elsewhere in the Himalayas. In a similar way, the door policy at Berghain has become something of a legend; Berghain is a sacred place to many people and a haven for the marginalised. On the one hand, I felt good when I got into Berghain in spite of the door policy; on the other hand, I knew was being carried along by the hype surrounding it. I began writing my song Berlin with the idea of a Patron Saint of Fakers and extended it to write about Berlin as a city in general, trying to capture both the artifice of an exclusive and inscrutable door policy and the need for a sense of belonging.
Fox in the City
Every town in the world I’ve visited has its own unique culture, history and traditions. Pin Valley in the Spiti region, for example, is home to the Buchen, or performing lamas, who are not found anywhere else in the world. Each place has its own symbols and legends attached to it and foxes are an emblem of my city of Leicester. I wrote Fox in the City about being part of the community of Leicester City supporters; this was before we had even achieved our historic Premier League win against 5000-1 odds. I have been a Leicester City supporter since the 1980s. I went to every home and away match in the Martin O'Neill era with my Dad and skipped school to watch us lose 3-1 to Grimsby away. I travelled back from Scotland for matches when we were in League One and for every home match when I lived in Bologna. I'm sure many Leicester fans could tell similar stories of dedication. The recent death of our beloved chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha shocked our football family, but the strength of community feeling among the club and supporters is a testament to his work in our city.
I wrote this song in 2015, when I was staying in Kibber in Himachal Pradesh. I’ve travelled a lot to remote places on my own while being in a relationship and suffered often from missing my boyfriend. I took the feeling and contextualised it with other things that were going on around me: the single star that hung above the mountains during a storm, the sound of the dogs and the men playing poker at night, the fact that anything you do is immediately relayed to all the villages in the mountains, in spite of the fact that there is no phone or internet, and the history of the Himalayas in terms of how they used to be part of the ocean.