Best Laid Plans
Best Laid Plans is a collection of six songs I have been sitting on for a while. It is well documented, on the website and in one or two interviews that I’ve done, that the origins of Brave New Broken Hearts Club is found in two significant personal heartbreaks. The second of these was the cessation of the charity I had set up and run for nearly 6 years. I had poured my whole self into it, invested it with every bit of life-force I had. The end of it left me burned out, depressed and utterly bewildered.
The despondency I was to fall into perhaps would not have been so deep had I just been dealing with that blow, as historically I’ve been very resilient but I had started the charity straight off the back of a painful breakup of a 10 year relationship; a ten year relationship that I had also poured all my life-force into. That had also left me exhausted and broken (although I was unaware at the time of just how much). The two blows, probably neither quite enough to take me out on their own, combined together in an axeman’s stroke that took away my last remaining bit of timber - I was felled. This was late Autumn 2019 - as the Americans would have - ‘the fall’!
By the end of 2019 I was beginning to get anxious, I was under pressure to ‘sort my life out’ - I had been sustaining myself - as I had optimistically waited for one of my many funding applications for the charity to come good - on credit and that left me financially in bad shape. I needed to work out what I was going to do. I found myself with no plan B; I had hoped and expected that the charity would be my thing for the rest of my working life, it had at the time, felt like the culmination of all the jobs I’d done up until that point; all the skills I had learned and the life experience I had accrued. It was not to be. So I was left adrift with no energy, no desire, very little real life-force left in me. Then…
Well, we all know what happened at the beginning of 2020. The pandemic and lockdown came along; and as unlikely as it happening at all - were the ramifications it brought for me in my depressed state. With lockdown, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders, as it dawned on me that I couldn’t ‘sort my life out’ - no one could! The whole world came into my ‘lane’ it seemed. For someone who didn’t have very much energy to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone - at the time ‘Stay at home’ was like a prescription from ‘on high’ specifically designed for my wellbeing (in more ways than they meant it to be). The relief I felt was tangible and I fully gave myself over to rest, recovery and restoration.
As well as spending many hours sitting staring out the window reflecting and journalling I entered into the longest most consistent spell of what you might call ‘flow’ I had ever experienced. Whilst I was coming out of a dark place these songs and the process of making them were a joy to me - in a time of confusion and struggle they helped me explore my thoughts and feelings and feel my way to the start of a narrow path out of the shadow I was under. The process certainly - if not entirely on its own - had a hand in saving me.
I have to add, that this was not in a vacuum. Due to the lack of income during that final year of running the charity I had fallen well behind on my rent. I am still grateful to this day to my mate/housemate/landlord for the generosity and graciousness with which he dealt with me. As it turned out the perfect solution had presented itself for me to pay off my debt. Before I had started the charity I had been a painter and decorator for many years (one of the myriad of jobs I’ve done to make ends meet over the years) in fact I had decorated the flat I now lived in ten years before, when my mate first bought it! So it was time for me to do it again to cover the rent arrears. I finished decorating and putting new floors in in the first week of lockdown - this is pertinent only because the time decorating had given me hours and hours to listen to audiobooks and podcasts, speakers and teachers. I had picked things to listen to pertinent to my struggle, and to my quest to make sense of the place I found myself as I tried to come to terms with it and to find my way though it.
All this proved to be a rich source of lyrical inspiration: everything I had been listening to (Brené Brown and Richard Rohr’s work in particular and especially all their Jungian references) along with my own reflections, percolated and fermented in my mind: the nature of disappointment, of expectations and how they set you up for that disappointment; certainty (the absurdity of it); failure, loss, heartbreak and the mysteries that these things can combine to illuminate.
All this to say that, this collection of songs hold the discoveries I made, the revelations that pain, loss and disappointment in particular, had for me. They reflect the journey I went on … from a place of desolation, rage, bewilderment, resentment, hopelessness - first to a place of curiosity, then to acceptance and peace and then courage and renewed hope…
This process not only gave me these six songs, for which I am enormously grateful, it brought me towards restoration and it also gave me the name Brave New Broken Hearts Club and is the reason I wrote this:
‘If you’re being creative, conjuring something, where before, there was nothing; if you’re out in the world trying stuff - ideas, relationships, love... in other words... being Brave…. then you're going to get your Heart Broken.
If, when disappointment bites because it hasn't panned out the way you hoped, you don’t stay down but you get up and try again... each time your heartbreak will be New. We salute you, you Brave New Broken Hearts .. welcome to the Club.’
As you probably know I had already recorded what ended up being my debut album in 2019, at the time with no intention or thought to ‘release it’ - Brave New Broken Hearts Club didn’t exist as such! So having done the solo acoustic thing with that, when I determined to write and record these songs I thought that I’d like to write and record songs as if I was in a band! So I approached it with a completely different mindset - and with very specific inspirations in mind. Growing up I listened to Ska music (Ska and reggae were the predominant sounds coming from the open windows of Stoke Newington where we lived). I also loved The Police and the second hand influences of their music… so I consciously went with this kind of sonic palette, rhythm and feel… I mean… it’s a ‘lite’ version, but the influences are there across the six songs!
Second Half of life
This song is inspired by a concept of Carl Jung’s expounded by Richard Rohr in his book Falling Upwards. The chorus is inspired by Carl Jung’s words:
‘We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.’
In Falling Upwards - Richard Rohr also references Homer’s Odyssey extensively so that wove its way into the lyric too by way of lines such as, ‘Stumbling through my odyssey, I’m wounded in the fight’ and ‘The road home is calling me, I leave myself behind’
This came out or my own reflections on the nature of love and suffering. The greatest argument, surely, against a divine benevolent power/intelligence/being is the presence of pain and suffering. How, if divine love exists, could such things be ‘allowed’? Love and suffering, in this context are often set up as being paradoxical… binary opposites… the argument seems to assume that pain and suffering is not only contrary to love but also that the greatness of it, knocks out, defeats, destroys, love. How can love stand in the face of suffering? My reflections took me to wondering on how love and suffering could coexist (a central Buddhist philosophy I have since learned). As with all these concepts I can only say ‘I don’t know’… but for my part I have come to think of ‘Love’, divine Love, as not only capable of standing up, existing, in the face of immeasurable suffering, but actually so much greater than the suffering as to actually contain it… not paradoxical, not binary opposites at all but rather somehow mysteriously and inextricably linked: ‘When all is dark… Still Love remains’.
Love Like Love Is Meant To Be
This started with the title, which I thought sounded clever. Of course I have no idea what love is ‘meant to be’… but all these songs are more concerned with the questions than the answers…
‘I have often wondered if love’s not about monogamy’ was kind of the starting point for this song… it is actually something I have wondered about a lot.. isn’t love so much more? Our society's obsession is with only one kind of love - romantic love, and the idolisation of it, and the damaging and misleading deluded representation of even that kind of love seems to obscure any other potentially greater perspective. What if by only focusing on, and being obsessed with a entirely ‘false’ and imaginary version of love - I am denying myself an understanding of something infinitely richer and more rewarding, something that could serve the world so much much better … an understanding of ‘Love Like Love Is Meant To be’?
I have struggled to deal with disappointment all my life… it has knocked my props away time and time again… in big and small ways. This song is inspired by the realisation that it has been my unbridled and naive optimism and my expectations that have set me up for these falls. I am naturally hopeful, naturally inclined towards optimism, but I have been working my way to becoming more realistic, and managing expectations or actually, better said, learning how to not have any at all. At the same time though, I don’t want to be without ‘hope’; which lead me to the question, ‘Can there be hope without expectations?’ my best effort at defining what that would look like is in the next line: ‘simple at excitement, at what could be’. At the very least I would very much like to be able to ‘make plans without the implications of all the ways I think things should be’ because if the world has taught me anything, it is that that way, often as not… lies disappointment!
Many Ways Of Knowing
The title is simply a line that leapt out at me as I listened to The Power Of Vulnerability a collection of teachings by Brené Brown. The teachings are not especially about this idea, it was a slightly incidental comment, but there’s a lot of this kind of idea that is inherent in what Brené talks about regarding curiosity, and the power of paradoxes and the ways of knowing - ourselves, others and the world. This lyric also contains references to a couple of notable quotes, ‘Uncertainty is an uncomfortable place to be, but certainty is an absurd one’ by Voltaire and also a paraphrasing of a quote I have seen attributed to different sources over time but most commonly Mark Twain ‘It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so’
This song is a song of defiance … the last of the songs I wrote in this prolific spell as I was coming back to myself and determining not to stay down on the canvas after what I’d been through.
In the chorus I sing ‘In the arena till the end’; specifically this line and I guess the larger concept of the song was Inspired by another, very famous quote… The Man In The Arena by Theodore Roosevelt. (Brené Brown references this a lot, especially in her work Daring Greatly, but I have been aware of it for many years before reading that and used to carry it around with me as an encouragement in my creative journey - which has often in my life been met with scepticism, and barely hidden incredulity, dismissiveness or at the very least disinterest.) It is a suitable last single of the summer as it kind of sums up Brave New Broken Hearts Club, which came out of me being facedown and daring to pick myself up and ‘go again’ it would have been safer just to go quietly after the charity stopped, but I chose to pick myself up and recover by putting my creative efforts out into the world!
Inherent in this song is the idea that anything worth doing is risky, that if you live only to not get hurt, to never fail, to never lose, you will never really live. It speaks to the very idea that to be vulnerable is to be courageous, to live wholeheartedly despite the sure fact that you will get your hurt is to truly live . There is a fabulous quote by C.S Lewis that inspired the middle eight lyric :’To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.’ I was simply applying it to all things - correlating love with all things - to try anything, to be creative, to be ambitious, to be kind - to try anything ‘life-giving’ or valuable to the world is to make yourself vulnerable - but to not be, has an even worse fate!