My dad left this earth and the world came to a grinding halt. When I saw in 2020, I was deeply wrapped up in a disorientating loss. Characters fictional and historical have cursed the skies throughout our collective existence in these situations: “How dare the world continue to turn when I have suffered a loss this great?”. Well, in my case, it didn’t.
Grief is a suspender of belief. It painted my every day with a surreal tinge, so that the onslaught of a global pandemic didn’t seem as implausible as it should have. It was just another thing in my new reality, where nothing is as it should be or once was. We’ve all carried a lot of weight on our stagnant shoulders this year. Financial hardships, existential and career angst, loneliness, frustration, sickness, more loss and so many moments of “is this really happening?” At the risk of sounding flippant and selfish, I am grateful for the enforced break from the norm. I know myself well enough to know that I would not have taken it otherwise.
Whatever we have done with it, we will always remember this time. For the past twelve months, we’ve been walking through our future history books. While we continue to navigate our way through these turbulent chapters, I’m persevering with my tradition of taking a little bit of time to reflect on and share what I’ve done with this past year, in the hope that 2021 will be just as extraordinary, just less shit.
“Undeterred, de Bastion toured anyway” (Huffington Post)
I do not remember putting this tour together or why I felt the need to see it through when I was so raw, but in February 2020 I went on a “get back on the horse” tour. It was a ten-day-stint of living room shows and small venues from West to North Germany. I dreaded it, scared that performing in such intimate settings was going to be too overwhelming, but I had a voice in my head. A couple years earlier, when I was very sad over something far less significant, my Dad had advised me to fall into my audience: “they’ll catch you”, he said.
And they did. I could not have asked for a more cushioned fall. It was a delicate dance, tiptoeing around the emotional pitfalls of my songs. Some lines caught me off guard, sticking in my throat when they had come out smoothly the night before. Regardless, I got through it and it felt good. Looking back, I was in a state of heightened awareness. People’s small acts of kindness, be they an appreciative audience or a fellow train passenger offering me a seat or a hand with my luggage (it was an old-school solo tales from the rails tour), meant the world. Equally, negative actions, a rude or impatient stranger making a snide remark in passing, stung like it never had before. It made me appreciate the importance of kindness. No matter how insignificant we feel, what we emit matters and has a profound effect on the world around us.
This tour to me symbolised my freedom and everything I have to be grateful for. No matter what happens in my life, I can always, health permitting, play music and share it with people who appreciate it. Seeing how well some of my new songs work live was a highlight, as was making new friends in old and new settings. Those two house shows in Frankfurt and Bonn will shine brightly in my memory display for a long time to come. Another clear winner of a highlight was my sister surprising me with a visit half-way through the tour and having that celebratory drink with promoter Jeanette after the last show, just before sliding into sleep only a few hours before I had to wake early to catch a train, to catch a flight, back to my home in North London where, unbeknownst to me then, I would spend the rest of this crazy year.
Virtual insanity is what we’re living in
So what to do when you have an album ready to share, but the world shuts down and isn’t ready for you? After a quick scramble to brush up on tech skills, I decided to release a first single and try my best to find new ways of reaching people. One of my first online shows was a set on Instagram Live as part of Self Esteem’s brilliant Pxssy Pandemique festival, a three day online extravaganza made up entirely of female identifying artists, raising money for Women’s Aid, a charity fighting against domestic violence. She and her small team did such an amazing job putting it together and promoting it. I got to close the Festival with a 20 minute set right aft KT Tunstall. Needless to say I felt the pressure. I was so happy with how it went and am really grateful for the opportunity.
Inspired by the festival and with my single release only weeks away, I rushed to put together a virtual UK tour, teaming up with independent promoters and venues I’ve enjoyed working with in the past, taking over their social media accounts and streaming live shows each night. It was one of those things where I felt time was of the essence as surely everyone else was planning something similar. Turns out they weren’t and, as far as I’m aware, my virtual UK tour was the first and only one of its kind. My tour got featured in national news outlets such as The Metro, The Huffington Post (which provided that amazing above quote, which might as well be the title of my autobiography) and even got a mention on BBC News. You know, like on the TV! It was really exciting that my song Erase received airplay on Absolute Radio, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Introducing, BBC 6 Music and BBC Radio London – all without a radio plugger or marketing budget. The airplay on Absolute was really special, as Erase got played right after an interview with one of my all-time inspirations, Alanis Morissette. We have to celebrate these moments unabashedly (to use a good Alanis word), they don’t come around that often and there’s a hell of a lot of work in-between.
I’m so glad the tour and single were so well received. It gave me so much strength and motivation, to feel that we, as independent artists, are so well equipped to adapt to any situation – it’s hard enough at the best of times, so we’re used to swimming upstream and we have a secret weapon: a genuine relationship with the people who like and support our music. An army, however small, of people who want to see us succeed and who will tip us, buy our vinyl, join our Patreon and send uplifting feedback and will help amplify our art to see us through when so much of our usual work has been taken away from us.
Lockdown, summer in the city
In the summer, I released a cover of The National’s I Should Live In Salt. I had recorded it with Ben Walker prior to lockdown and enjoyed sharing it, now that a song about the challenges of sharing a small space and the monotony of every day life had taken on a new meaning for so many of us. BBC Introducing Coventry & Warwickshire named me artist of the month in July, which was a real honour and meant that Erase was played lots and I got to have a chat with Brody Swain, all about the song, tour and future plans. Simultaneously, I was invited to join Fender’s seedling program, which involved the lovely people at Fender gifting me a guitar (which was such an amazing gift, especially considering my Fender Telecaster was stolen out of my flat just six months prior). I’m now a proud seedling and owner of the new Fender Player III series. So, in the summer of 2020, I became both a seedling and artist of the month – not bad for not leaving the flat.
All gold everything
Seasons changed and we were no closer to returning to our pre-pandemic lives. My show at St. Pancras Old Church, originally scheduled for March and then re-scheduled for September, was reluctantly pushed back once more to March 2021. So, once again, I had to come up with something new. I decided to record a live show on location and stream it as a pay-per-view. Moth Club was the perfect setting and I was so pleased they were up for it. How strange it felt, to climb into the back of an Uber, mask on, guitar and amp in the trunk, driving through empty streets of a once bustling East London. It was equally eery to perform on a stage with no audience in front of me and no energy coming back at me, but the glorious feeling of plugging in my guitar and singing through a PA was the same as it ever was.
Never before had “show time” involved sitting on the sofa, laptop in hand, watching myself take to the stage. 2020 proving itself again to be the most surreal of beasts. However, we had a packed room, albeit a virtual one. I bathed in the love of that comment section, seeing all your digital reactions to the songs in real time and being able to join in, while simultaneously delivering a show. I always new us musicians were good at multi-tasking. Thank you to everyone who bought a ticket to join me virtually at Moth Club. it turned out to be a really special one and made me feel close to you all. It only feels right to have immortalised the show with a special, limited edition run of 100 gold 10” vinyl. Selling out (including test pressings and even more limited edition personalised artwork) within weeks was amazing and felt like a real achievement.
Let’s push things forward
We are moving in the right direction, even though it may not feel like it when “doom-scrolling” is the term of the year. We appear divided, but us vs. them is a fiction I urge you all not to buy into. This pandemic, with all the injustice and heartache it brings, also acts as an accelerator for our evolutionary path. It has helped shed light on some issues that have been in need of addressing for decades and it has heightened our sense of community and togetherness. Throughout the year, I’ve continued my work with the FAC, hosting education events from and for artists. Those events too were a lifeline. Hearing from artists such as Rumer, Children of Zeus, Jeremy Pritchard (Everything Everything), Eckoes and Blaine Harrison (Mystery Jets), generously giving their time and advice for free gave me and our artist community a lot of strength. It’s also interesting that Tom Gray managed to get so much traction with his #BrokenRecord campaign this year, resulting in an official government hearing into the mechanics of streaming, which will hopefully result in a fairer and more sustainable musical ecosystem. Imogen Heap’s Creative Passport, an initiative that re-invents the entire system, putting the artist at the centre and in control of their data (as they should be!) has also made leaps and bounds this year, launching its beta version in December.
Heavy lifting when no one’s looking
It was never the plan, but it felt apt to release another song, Heavy Lifting, at the end of the year. I felt it would resonate. I hope it resonates. It was a hard decision as I’ve never put anything out in the world that has left me feel this vulnerable. There are beautiful and painful memories in between the beats and lines. If you listen to it properly, you can hear them. The music video is a true depiction of my life at the moment, in my head with my thoughts and walking around Alexandra Palace moodily, but appreciating the stillness. If you live nearby you’ll probably see me around one day, wave from a two-meter-distance if you do.
On the day of release, I got to chat with Janice Long on her BBC Radio Wales evening show. In addition to introducing the song, I was asked to present a playlist of five songs that define me and in that moment, everything made sense and everything fell into place. I picked Nowhere Man by The Beatles, Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap, The joyous Yes by McAlmond and Butler, Judee Sill’s Crayon Angels and Falling Into Place by my dad, Richard de Bastion. It was an amazing gift to be able to share the release day with him in that way. He would have been thrilled to have his beautiful song played on the BBC. It was a profound experience and I’m so grateful to Janice and Adam for making it so. Later on that night, I checked social media one last time before bed and then I saw this and the most cathartic tears started flowing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Bernard. We were well and truly meant to make this album together.
And that brings us to the end of 2020. Christmas came as a rude intruder when I was just getting going. A couple of final nugget to share: Heavy Lifting was music video of the week on God Is In The TV, the song was included on The Independent’s new music playlist and was played on Dave Rowntree’s (Blur) new radio show. It also won the audition poll and was added to the playlist on Amazing Radio – thank you! A little PR bird tells me it’s so far been played 38 times.
I know we have a little while longer to trudge through this pandemic slush. We can take this time to support each other and find new and improved ways to be. If we show more compassion toward one another, particularly to those who think differently to us, we might just find that we make better collective decisions. To you, reading this – congratulations! You made it to the end of my post! Thank you for your time and support. As ever, I couldn’t do this without you. A special thank you this year goes to the 41 people in my Patreon community. It’s growing into a special place. If you want to join, here’s the link:
Keep in touch on socials for more new music announcement (they are imminent!) and also for updates on scheduled shows. I am going to leave you with a tiny cliff hanger that I’m about to announce a brand new fun project thing (technical term, that) over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned in, which is a clue…