Friday, 30 October 2015

health, 2.0


It's been ten months since I threw my musical toys out of the pram and went off to do other things, and whilst normally we get to October and ask each other where the year's gone as if we don't know, it's my duty to report that 2015 at Marwood Towers (two bedrooms, rented) has felt about four years long. To boot, looking back at the blog posts in a year which has felt not unlike being stuck in motorway traffic, it seems I've treated you to the following delights:

  • An announcement that I was curating some shows in Reading last March
  • A post asking everyone to vote in May's UK elections
  • A link to an Ask XMR article where I gave dodgy life advice
  • A rant about the government

I think it's fair to say that those things are probably not why people come to read this blog - it's certainly not why I set it up, anyway - and so it's probably about time we had a real update on the last ten months' happenings beyond the social media sprinklings that I've been dishing out willy-nilly.

That said, you should probably also know that I started drafting this update in July (yes, July) and so in order to get this finished and posted I am restricting myself to just five succinct points. After all, this is still the intro; a full-length unedited update would probably take up all remaining space on the internet.

So here goes.

1. I'm alive
If you had to study my life's works so far, one of the things they'd all have in common is that I've been alive for all of them, and I'm delighted to say that will continue. This might seem like a completely redundant point, but when I put everything on hold last year I was being tested for all manner of Terminal Bastards to try and get to the bottom of things in a setting where such things as The End are discussed particularly frankly and at least one person definitely didn't rate my chances. By the end of January I'd seen a stream of specialists and the one thing they all agreed on is that while no-one has any idea what is actually wrong, it isn't serious. You could argue that being that certain about something you can't identify defies logic, but LA LA LA LA I can't hear you.

If the hiatus post seemed overly emo, I will readily admit that I was resigned to my impending death, and it was a source of great embarrassment between me and everyone I confided in when I didn't die after all. Only joking about that last bit. Mostly.

2. Mental health is important
In the end, we arrived at a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which, whether correct or not, drastically reduced the amount of time I had to spend being prodded by the medical world which was absolutely fine by me. What became clear pretty quickly was the total lack of solution to the CFS problem as it is, in essence, not so much a precise diagnosis but more of a checklist of criteria the patient's condition satisfies. As a result, two people diagnosed with the same illness can have two entirely different sets of symptoms that have progressed in different ways, from a slow decline to a sudden plummet into Illhood, meaning that what helps me might be useless for the next person.

What people do seem to agree on is that the mental outlook of the patient does have a part to play: I'm not saying that thinking you're going to get better means you'll get better, but resigning yourself to a lifetime of illness and despair at the hands of this beast will probably help you get there. Being serious about mental health, admitting defeat when you need to and keeping a positive attitude has been key to recovery and to that end..

3. Everyone is great
.. it was largely possible thanks to a network of friends who remain a brilliant mixture of the optimistics, the straight-talkers, the relentlessly-attentives and some plain lunatics. I had cards, messages, emails and on one occasion a fucking binder full of well-wishes and it was all deeply touching once I repressed the feeling that I had become some kind of strange charity case. Incidentally, you shouldn't repress your feelings. I hear it will make you ill.

There are too many people here to thank, so let's not do that here. You probably already know who you are, but if you think you're borderline, flip a coin.

4. Playing/hearing/watching music is getting easier
At first I was afraid. I was petrified. Also I felt very sick whenever I tried to play guitar, the combination of trying to stay balanced coupled with co-ordinating my fingers being just too much, and don't get me started on trying to project vocals under those circumstances.

Unhilariously, the problem also extended to going to gigs, where standing up whilst listening to loud music in the darkness presented me with a problem for some reason (normally Where Does The Floor Keep Going?). A list of quirky symptoms still remain, some of which are truly hilarious, keeping me away from doing shows, although I'm sure it won't be long. I can string five or six songs together in a row, and I no longer go jelly-legged whilst walking down staircases, so before too long I guess I'll be able to play short shows even if the stage is at the bottom of a giant flight of stairs.

That said, cutting out the music stuff did do wonders for reducing my stress levels, but..

5. I have begun work on album three
.. as much fun as laying around not doing any music was (and for a while, it really was), by the end of the Spring I was in the process of upgrading my studio for the first time since I bought it in 2002. Out has gone the trusty Tascam 788 8-track which I used to record most of This Is Not What You Had PlannedOutside There's A Curse and, on reflection, not enough of Back Down, and in has come a Tascam DP-24, with such mind-boggling features as SDHC capability and a USB connection. I'm living in the future/not so far in the past.

There's not much exciting information I can give you at present, other than recording started a few weeks ago, rhythm section rehearsals to pull the loud parts together are due to start in the last days of November and none of the songs are about Trevor McDonald.

There are your five points. See you in ten months!*

*mostly joking

Saturday, 11 July 2015

South Street Arts Centre, and the ongoing struggle

The hiatus is nearly seven months old and I've been terrible at keeping people filled in. I owe you an update, really, but this is a slow-moving target and so there's always tomorrow.

There are other things which are perhaps more time sensitive, and that's why I want to talk about that thing that arouses us all: that's right, we're going to talk about the recent UK budget and the threat to the needy. And the arts. Which isn't the same.

Phwoar. Right?

I know, I know: we all know it. The Tories hate the arts because there's not a lot of money in it and funding theatre, shows and activities for us plebs to do has never been high up on their list of priorities. "Get off your soapbox Ben Marwood, Reading's Sexiest Bachelor 2002", you all say. Quite why you felt the need to invent an award for me is beyond me, but I'm flattered all the same.

This Government is the pits, but I am actually going somewhere with this, albeit somewhere heavily Reading-centric (sorry).

In this latest wave of cuts assigned to austerity and balancing the books - fine, whatever, let's not get into that here - Reading Borough Council's funding that isn't ringfenced (eugh, that term) is being cut by a third, and so the council has started doing the legwork ahead of their big meet on July 20th, planning what cuts might happen and by how much. There's a big list of depressing numbers over here if you're interested, among them heavy cuts to learning disability services, mental health services, extra care housing and so on. So far, so Tory.


(Sorry. Recently Michael Gove, living Pob puppet and somehow Secretary of State for Justice, circulated a memo that asked MPs to stop starting sentences with 'However'. I couldn't let that go without mentioning.)

However, I know nothing about the state of those services to defend them, though I will happily jump on that bandwagon when someone smart fills me in. The thing that stood out to me the most was that the council are reviewing the use of their buildings in Reading and typically the one which is facing the axe (aside from underused libraries) seems to be South Street Arts Centre, a two-roomed venue (one 80-100 cap, one 200-250) specialising in theatre and live music and ideal for those moving through the grassroots of the entertainment industry.

Now, I can't claim to have always enjoyed going to South Street - I had a string of very average shows there, though in recent years it's been much better - but to close it would be a terrible shame for the lovely people who staff it and the fantastic acts who pass through there and aren't me (like the wonderful Alex Horne, who is there in September). The suggestion that South Street's extensive portfolio of acts and nights could be relocated is bonkers: the other council venues in Reading are the Hexagon (much, much bigger than South Street), the Town Hall (the same size, but with a schedule already just as busy if you include wedding receptions) and the 3Bs, which is so without definable use that I didn't even know it was still open despite walking past it every day.

So, if you've ever been to South Street and would like to go again, you could probably do worse than sign this petition:

Will it change much? Who knows, but staying silent would just be to give up and given that South Street is a council venue, I don't expect the staff there can make much noise to defend themselves (as council employees in a council venue).

Safeguarding entertainment in Reading is important to me, and hopefully to others too. I do not want to forever spend my evenings in front of prime time ITV. If towns are judged by their individuality, Reading would be one step closer to a chain store-only wasteland without places like South Street Arts Centre, or the Rising Sun Arts Centre just up the road.

These are the first cuts of many. If cuts like these aren't happening in your area already, they probably will be soon. The Conservative Austerity train is heading to your town and whether you like it or not as a country it's exactly what we ordered in May. The Conservative Party are businessmen if nothing else (and so often, nothing else) and will run the country as such. Perhaps all we can do at grassroots level for the next few years is to identify the causes we hold most important and the things we don't want to lose, and then fight for them. This is the way things might have to be, short of some global revolution, which - and let me put this bluntly - isn't ever going to arrive if your figurehead is Russell Brand.

In Reading, the fight for the arts starts here.

All this probably seems pretty trivial in the week where George Osborne mostly punished the poor just for being poor, raising the income tax threshold to benefit the employed whilst abolishing tax credits and benefits for hard-up families. I get it, really I do. There seems to be this idea among some of the financially-secure employed that the low-earning families are there because they don't work hard or they have five children and dine out on your taxes and exclusively your taxes, but that's bullshit isn't it? We could all work our bums off every day forever, but if you only get paid an hourly rate and it's low, you take home that low pay no matter how hard you work. If we really have to balance the books here and we're all in it together, perhaps we should all have taken a percentage income cut together, employed or not. But that won't get you votes, will it?

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Take life advice from Ben Marwood

I think it's been long enough now since the election to come out of hiding. The people shouting across Facebook have settled and will go back to the e-petitions, normal petitions, protests and word-spreading whilst we wait for the next General Election to roll around a few years down the line. I'll be honest - I was saddened by the result, but in no way surprised.

You're due a health update, I guess. That'll be along soon, but if we're catching up on news we may as well start with me being a temporary agony aunt over on the XMR Hub a few months back.

See me answer questions such as:
What happens if you put a werewolf on the moon?
What is your favourite irrational number?
What is the capital of East Timor?

Neat eh? You can find it on the Ask XMR page, dated 05/04/2015.

b. x

Sunday, 19 April 2015


Today is the 19th of April 2015, which means that unless Russell Brand accidentally rips apart space and time with his alternative to the current system (which I'm sure is due any day now), tomorrow is the deadline for registering to vote in the UK general and local elections.

To me, voting is pretty important, a chance to have your say in who represents you day in, day out for the next few years. I appreciate that not everyone feels that way, but if you're someone who intends to vote but hasn't yet registered and is dragging their feet, the link is right here:

As if you need any further opinion on the matter, me and some rock stars recently let Punktastic know why we consider voting to be a priority. You can read all that over here, and they even used my quote in the header. Totally famous.

Good luck, UK.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Not cured, but curating


Admittedly, I may be no closer to playing shows of my own, but that doesn't mean I can't give the fine people of Reading, UK some shows to go to.

Starting tomorrow, I'm the guest curator on Tuesday nights at the Purple Turtle on Gun Street, a bar where me and a great many of my friends have staggered blindly around wondering which way is up. Since those days it's had a huge makeover and these days puts on some decent shows, and for five Tuesdays in March my aim is to not completely destroy that reputation.

These shows are FREE and 18+. Come on down.

3rd: Oxygen Thief + Matthew Greener
10th: Grant Sharkey + Buildings On Fire
17th: She Makes War + Seasons In Shorthand
24th: Retrospective Soundtrack Players + Damien A Passmore & the Loveable Fraudsters
31st: Quiet Quiet Band + Bruce Neil.

See you there!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Exit music (for a ben)

Season's greetings, fellows!

First up, thanks to all of you who've been checking in with me over the past few months to see how I'm doing and keeping my spirits up. There've been a bunch of you checking in weekly, even daily, and putting up with me in all moods which is a quite remarkable feat of human perseverance. Thank you one and all, even whoever anonymously tried to post on this blog "please don't get your hopes up about being well again", which as far as get well messages go is impressively obscure.

And indeed, in a move which has alarmed the world of Homeopathic Medicine, all these positive vibes haven't actually made me any better, and as a few people have begun to ask what my plans for 2015 are with that unspoken air of expectation, I figured I can no longer postpone the following announcement:

I am hanging up my musical boots for the forseeable future.

I'm not sure what it is I dislike about the expression 'indefinite hiatus'. Maybe it's because normally when you hear it, it's out of the mouths of big touring acts who mean "we are bored, but we'll be back when we want some more of your money". That is not why this is happening. I don't even have musical boots to hang up, come to think of it, and this place is rented so I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to hang stuff up anyway.

Since the last update (whenever that was), I've been prodded by a number of specialists and treated to a variety of consultations and tests which ranged from pleasant conversations to some kind of heavy petting. Result: this - whatever this is - doesn't seem to be ear-related after all, if it ever was, and I'm being tested for everything from the trivial to the terminal. As the year approaches its close, with my general outlook getting more depressing and the tests getting a bit more invasive, my inability to stand up, play guitar and sing (or indeed, do any of those three individually for any extended period of time) has proven to be the final frustrating nail in the coffin that I sometimes feel I'm headed for, hammered in with all the commitment of a recent graduate on a zero hours contract.

So, there you go. There's a huge part of me that can't quite believe this is happening, even though I've known for quite a while that a proper, long term break is my only real option. In much the same way that it is the fear of many humans that they'll be forgotten after they're dead, it's the egotistical fear of many artists that they'll be forgotten whilst they're still alive, and I'll happily claim to be no different. I have poured countless hours into this for many years, and to see it end even temporarily on anything other than my terms is pretty heartbreaking.

Still, I leave you in the capable hands of my friends and peers. Oxygen Thief recently converted his one man solo show into a much heavier trio, Frank and the Sleeping Souls are somewhere in the stratosphere and Beans On Toast is enjoying incredible success, Retrospective Soundtrack Players reached new heights with their latest album, Jim Lockey is reinvented (again) and holy moses, have you seen how hard Billy The Kid works? If I can't give 100% to this musical adventure, keeping up is going to be near impossible.

But this isn't the last you'll hear of me. I won't be far away, hanging around on social media, filling up your timelines with Mountain Goats songs and other such nonsense and hey, it's not all bad, at least since I've been unable to make it to my own shows no-one's asked me to play Party In The USA. Plus - important news - I have all the songs written for a third album, and even if the bastardly stars align and I can never bring myself to go near a recording studio ever again or I choose tomorrow to fall under a bus, I do at least have a handful of demos that will make their way out into the open someday and they're ones I'm particularly proud of to boot.

For my part, I'll keep you updated on the news whether it's good or bad, and in the meantime I keep with me a lot of excellent memories, from hundreds of shows with friends and clubnight afterparties in York, to those unforgettable 2000Trees sets and standing on that hill at the Olympics, all of which I can barely believe I deserved, especially that last one because it wasn't really anything to do with me.

Stay well, stay safe, and stay great. I'll do my best to be back.

And if not? Well, it's like the old artistic adage: always leave them wanti

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

No man is poor who has friends

(Prologue: I've been meaning to update my blog for ages with regards to my health and The Future, but this post is not that update. I've been waiting on some news before I post anything, and it doesn't look like that news is coming anytime soon. I will have an update before Christmas though, guaranteed.)

For now, I'm here to tell you about the new album from Retrospective Soundtrack Players, seasonally titled It's A Wonderful Christmas Carol. Are you looking for a present for the music lover in your life, but they already own Lorde's Pure Heroine? Well then, it sounds like you definitely need this excellent third album from The RSP, everyone's favourite Rock Band Who Record Concept Albums Based On Films And Books that I know of.

Why not take a listen on Spotify?

If you need any convincing or you just don't want to take my personal word for it - and, why would you, I haven't been to work properly for nearly six months at this point and nine of my last ten shows were cancelled - consider that this is the only album ever recorded that features the legendary trio of Chris T-T, Frank Turner and I as the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future in no particular order. If there's anything to be said for the three of us together it's that we have, at one point or another, all lived in Hampshire.