Inspirations: Solitude and Songwriting Beside the North Sea

S&D 1Let’s Get Lost w/ Skint & Demoralised

Matt Abbott: Yesterday I made the short walk into my local town of Ossett because I needed to pop into the Post Office for a few things; one package to send and one to collect. Anyway, not the most exhilarating of journeys I’m sure you’ll agree. But as it was early afternoon and I was enjoying a day off from work, I decided to wonder around the precinct for a few minutes. I don’t know; maybe I’d bump into somebody that I know or find a shop worth browsing through.

Being the impatient so-and-so that I am, this lasted for about thirty seconds before I decided to head back towards my home. Walking past Eller Coffee, I noticed a sign in the door saying ‘Poetry Club: 2-4’. Now don’t get me wrong, even as a poet I realise that most poetry clubs are pretentious and unappealing and usually I avoid them – particularly given the rather uncouth nature of my own offerings – but my mood at the time coupled with a free afternoon led me to wander inside and grab myself a Mocha. I quite enjoyed sitting there with a coffee and chilling out; sometimes it’s nice just to take half-an-hour and not particularly do anything, most of all knowing that you don’t have to. I wasn’t particularly fussed about the Poetry Club by 25 to 2 and admittedly I was about to make a premature exit before the organiser of the gathering walked in.

The owner of the café is a friend of a friend and knows of my exploits in S&D, and so he naturally introduced us. Fair enough, I thought, she’s here now, so I might as well see what it’s all about. After all, I do enjoy poetry, so what’s the worst that could happen? Nobody is imploring me to stick it out for the duration and it’d be pretty easy to make excuses if needs be.

Anyways, amongst the poets is a 75-year-old woman from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She hasn’t lived in Newcastle for 25 years but still has a soft lilt to her accent, as people from that part of the world often do when they move away. We exchange a few poems and I notice that she’s reading hers from a tired-looking notebook. I asked her how long she’d had it, and she turns to the very first page where there’s a note from her Mother, dated 1954. That’s two years before my mum was born (sorry mum). She was given this notebook when she was 17, at which stage she began writing poetry that charted her life and her emotions, and here she is at the age of 75 sharing them with me. How incredible is that? Everything from boyfriends to a divorce, an affair with Martin the silver-tongued landlord, a second marriage, children being born and growing up; everything. What an amazing experience.

Noticing her accent, I mention that I often escape to the nearby Northumbrian coast for a spell of writing; I spent a week there on my own in September 2011 and then again in October 2012. As it happens, I wrote the majority of the lyrics on ‘The Bit Between The Teeth’ during those trips and quite a lot of the songs are actually based there.

S&D 2There’s one spot in particular that has a profound effect on me. It really is bizarre how it almost hypnotises me, and the mind frame that I enter at that spot is as intimate and as up close and personal with my thoughts as I’ve ever experienced. Not even when I had Therapy in 2009 did I feel so close to my inner consciousness. And no word of a lie, before I’d had a chance to mention it myself, the veteran poet in the café asked if I’d ever been to St Mary’s Island, which is of course the spot that I’m talking about.

It’s a miniscule island just at the tip of Whitley Bay, containing one humble home and St Mary’s Lighthouse. The path leading to the island is on the same level as the beach, meaning that when the tide comes in, you can only travel between the mainland and the island by boat. It’s only around a hundred metres between the conjoining steps, but I wouldn’t fancy swimming even ten metres in the North Sea! To highlight how significant St Mary’s Island is to me, I ensured that we visit on a recent photo shoot in that particular part of Northumberland. We’ll be releasing a digital booklet online to accompany ‘The Bit Between The Teeth’ which will contain approximately 185 images shot in and around the areas that directly inspired the lyrics, along with some short stories that I’m currently writing whilst also typing this. One of those spots, as I’ve said, is St Mary’s Island.

The main thing that draws me to St Mary’s Island, I guess, is that it’s a tiny little island on the coast over a hundred miles away from where I live. Nobody that I’d ever met had, to my knowledge at the time of discovery, ever been there or necessarily even heard of it. It was my little spot at the edge of the universe (as I know it), and the connection that I feel is extremely personal. So to be sat in a café in Ossett listening to a 75-year-old poet tell me how she often did exactly the same thing – sit and ponder and drift away on the rocks – was quite remarkable.

When I showed these photos to MiNI dOG the other day, he told me how St Mary’s Island was a favoured spot for him and Tracey whenever they’d ever had to visit the hospital in Newcastle. Tracey is one of the people that I love and admire and respect more than anybody in the whole entire world, so to hear that really did mean something. And the poet in the café’s name? Mary, of course.

Anyway, I’ll stop waffling on about a random lighthouse. But it’s an important part of this album and at the moment it’s an important part of me. We all have our random little areas of comfort and inspiration – sometimes they’re entirely unique and sometimes you later find that they’re shared – but they’re always personal, and I thought I’d share mine. I hope it’s at least been a moderately interesting read.

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Alicia Atout

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