Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Things I've Learned from the first year of doing @GBApodcast

The following things are things I've learned, achieved and considered in my first year of making Getting Better Acquainted. Many of the things I've learnt have come from conversations that haven't come out yet but will be aired in 2012.


Having spoken to so many people about themselves, and tried to empathise and find common ground, I've been reminded that we are both similar to each other and very very different. Everyone is weird because everyone is not you, and you are weird to everyone else.

All three conversations with my mother (but especially the third) yielded both the revelation that if I am to forgive myself my flaws then I have to forgive my mother and her mother their flaws. For they are the same flaws. All of spring from the same river and it flows down.

The weekend I recorded those conversations was a highly emotional one where I also held a new born child in my arms, interviewed some old and dear friends and spent time with my 6 year old niece.

From that weekend came my new attempt to sum it all up:

"We're all just people trying to get through life in whatever way we can."

GBA 24 Mum #1 by Getting Better Acquainted

To look out for: Mum #2, Mum #3 and the GBA special devoted to this revelation.


Meditation / Yoga

I've talked to people about these practices and I've come to the conclusion its time to get rid of both my sneer at, and fear of, meditation and yoga. My fear of silence probably needs to be conquered. These practices may help me find more peace in myself and give me perspective on all the chatter and clutter. I find that I crave a great stillness. But how do I find a way to fit it into my time? That's something I've yet to learn. Hopefully 2012 will offer up the answer.

Whatever my problems with fitting these new and possibly beneficial projects into my life, one thing I scribbled down after a GBA conversation was:

"I have the resolve and drive to get my shit done so I need to just do it. But also relax about it. Give myself space to breathe."

And I have done that. I'm less harsh on myself than I was. And I'm getting things done. Possibly more. But I take time out for myself and I'm enjoying the process more. I'm less desperate to race to the end.

GBA 23 Jessica by Getting Better Acquainted

GBA 27 Joss by Getting Better Acquainted

Look out for: Lily


Learning in the edit

Some conversations have been a revelation repeated. And sometimes I didn't notice what I learnt the first time properly!

Listening back to my conversation with Louise I realised I'd been on the path to the above mentioned revolution earlier than I'd thought and her wisdom in that conversation and the things I said in response informed and strengthened it.

GBA 19 Louise by Getting Better Acquainted

Listening back to the conversation with my brother Tony I realised that it would be interesting to people who didn't know us. That it was in the words of Jen a conversation full of "startling honesty". At the time i'd been disappointed with it. In the edit I realised that it had been a really great conversation and one that I should reconsider and remember. One of many times this year I've learnt things on mic.


Friendship and Family

I didn't expect the conversations to be so personal. I should have expected it but sometimes you don't think about the most obvious things. You don't fully consider them.

So many conversations were journeys into shared history. And often at the heart of that history is shared love. So I've had a chance to examine the bonds of closeness I have with people.

GBA 22 Zoe by Getting Better Acquainted

GBA 16 Owain by Getting Better Acquainted

GBA 11 Clive by Getting Better Acquainted

GBA 4 Liz by Getting Better Acquainted

GBA 6 George by Getting Better Acquainted

To look out for: Jess, Richard, Alex, Jack and George, Jen

I've also realised I was closer to more people than I thought and gave felt friendships deepen on mic.

GBA 31 Ged by Getting Better Acquainted

GBA 2 Elspeth by Getting Better Acquainted

And i've reconnected with old friends and places and revelations have come from that. Not just revelations but wedding invitations and day trips.

GBA 26 Angela by Getting Better Acquainted

GBA 17 Cardiff by Getting Better Acquainted

Look out for: Steve and The Coventry Special



The show has been organic in how it's come together. But looking back some themes seem very prominent to me.

Some have come from its structure:
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Occupation
  • Conversation
  • Memories
Others have come from my own preoccupations:
  • Art
  • Class
  • Politics
  • Getting through life
  • Nature verses nurture
And some have surprised me:
  • Faith
  • Death
  • Honesty
  • Coming of age
  • Spirituality
  • Purpose

Even the word plug and the process of asking people if they have anything to plug has been a surprisingly provocative thing. As demonstrated by Eric:

GBA 33 Eric by Getting Better Acquainted



I accidentally deleted GBA 1 which is why it now appears out of sequence. In the aftermath of that mistake I discovered that Soundcloud offers the ability to create a spotlight tab which I'm now using to house a set of episodes designed to introduce the new GBA listener to the show.

Soundcloud also allow you to create sets which has allowed me to start grouping connected episodes together. So the show has its actual order, that is designed with variety and range in mind. But now you can also follow strands of the show. I see GBA as a tapestry anyway but now it is easier to unpick.

Musicians by Getting Better Acquainted

Theatre by Getting Better Acquainted

These separated strands also bring out the element of the show that is an audio autobiography told through the connections I have made with others.

Family by Getting Better Acquainted

University Friends by Getting Better Acquainted



I've been on four GBA road trips this year and this is an element I hope to expand in 2012. The other two (Coventry and Bristol) will be coming out next year.

GBA 15 Edinburgh Festival by Getting Better Acquainted

Three of these four trips were journeys into my past literally, although the fourth one was even more related to my past in both less and more direct ways. You could say all of them were about facing and coming to terms with myself. Or my-selves, who I am now and who I was then.

I've also been travelled to other peoples homes and other locations to record people from The National Theatre to Hemel Hempstead.

Or for example to a borrowed flat in Stoke Newington:
GBA 13 Richard Tyrone Jones by Getting Better Acquainted

Sometimes others have travelled to me for conversations. Like Eric
who came for night and stayed for a weekend:

I've snatched conversations in places that I was travelling like this one with Matt that was recorded at a friends wedding.


Feeling blessed

The word blessed isn't one I'd normally use, maybe I've been influenced by all the conversations I've had. But regardless blessed is the only word I can find to describe how I feel about many of the conversations that I've had. This one for example:

GBA 18 Sam by Getting Better Acquainted

To look out for: Dad 3, Sonia, Natti

The conversations have had big effects on me. It was nice to find that they had big effects on others. For example Hayley on listening to Elspeth's GBA was inspired to embrace her faith more. She was also inspired to write a song called "Leave the body" a song being recorded for The Reactionaries new album. We'll be performing the song at the Stand Up Tragedy launch date on the 6th of February 2012.

GBA 9 Hayley by Getting Better Acquainted


Off Mic

So often the conversations and socialising that happened off mic but nevertheless happened as a result of meeting with people to record the show have been even more illuminating than what you hear. I'm often catching myself thinking "Doh! Why aren't I recording this?" Although I'm trying to cut down in that and remember one of the rules I try and record by: "You get what you get and you don't get upset."


Self Perception

This year I've really heard myself. At my worst and my best. There is nothing like recording yourself for 4 days talking to your school friends to make you hear a facet of yourself properly. The year began with plenty of that as I worked on what I consider the failed project 4 Days in a Room.

In fact 4DiaR was a big influence on GBA. I learned what works and what doesn't. And I wanted people to hear the other me's. The people I was or could be with my other friends and in different rooms.

So I've heard my voice a lot. On GBA I hear my voice on monitor headphones during the conversations. And later I hear it again in the edit.

I'm very aware of how it sounds, it's tone, the vocal ticks I have. I still find hearing myself hard. I'll think I've become used to it and then I'll find another conversation where I do things I wish I hadn't.

But i'm more philosophical about it now. I've also heard and edited a lot of other peoples vocal ticks. I know my voice doesn't annoy other people as much as it does me. And that the balance sheet has a lot of good moments on it; for every time I talk over someone when they were about to say something amazing, is a time when I listen well, or ask the perfect question. It evens out.

I also think I now hear my own voice in everyday life closer to how it sounds in reality. This is probably a good thing, although I'm not sure in what way it is good yet.

I've been creating things for years but this has been the first project people have sent me emails telling me they like it. Often people I don't well at all. And even occasionally strangers.

It really made my day when Helen Zaltzman from Answer Me This tweeted the show saying:

And we've also had twitter support and respect from Risk and I Like You. The show has a consistent international listenership and was recommended by SoundCloud.

And I've had some really great iTunes reviews and soundcloud comments this year.

All of this plus the mind expanding journey this project had been for me has helped me to see my own strengths as well as my weaknesses.

It has been a surprise to realise that my work has been leading in this direction for years. In fact it was an off mic conversation with my friend Richard (whose episodes will air in the new year) where I first realised this.

It has also been strange to realise that I am the product here. That this form is such a personal one and that on my search to explore truth I have come to this point where there is no filter between myself and the audience. Or at least only the small but crucial filters of the edit and the context.

There is no author or rock star pose, there is just me. My life. The people I know. Our stories.

In many ways this has been very liberating.

The change in my understanding that this project had been us a big part of what has led me to "book the room". This phrase comes from The Dialogue Project's Karl James whose GBA will air in three weeks. The meeting we had only happened because of GBA. And that goes for many other meetings I've had this year.

(I didn't meet with Karl till just after I'd booked the room.)

The room is The Lounge at The Leicester Square Theatre. The show is Stand Up Tragedy.


The Form

I've thought a lot this year, both on and off mic, about the form of GBA. What things it offers that other shows don't. The kind of marvellous medicine that it's ingredients make.

The show is long form and takes the audience on a journey. In fact considering the nature of what the show is and how it relates to what I do (music, writing, performance) has led me to the conclusion that what I'm interested in doing is taking audiences on journeys. I am a jouneyman and not a jack of all trades.

The moments when life intrudes into the conversations seems to me to be the crux of what it's about. When a dog interrupts or a car revs it's engine it exposes the mechanics of the show. But unlike in most forms, where exposing the mechanics makes the show feel less real, in snatched conversations it makes them more real.

The conversations happen in places TV and radio don't go to. In the guests homes, on river banks, in din filled back gardens, walking round the streets of Brixton, Edinburgh and Cardiff. In crowded pubs. In silent front rooms. In sunny back gardens filled with birdsong. And they are captured moments. Spontaneous.

But a microphone is present and that both changes and frames the moment.

The phrase I've settled on that described it is: Heightened realism


Turning 30

I began GBA in my 30th year. I always thought I'd hate thirty. Ridiculously I've been depressed by getting and being older since I turned 22. But I actually like being thirty.

Partly because in meeting up with people I went to school with like and seeing how far they've come I've realised how far I've come. "We've left school behind" as an old friend who wishes to remain off mic put it.

Also kicked off by GBA has been a reanalysis of my past. This has been partially lived out on mic. It is important to try and forgive your past, embrace it as part of yourself, and I am both pleased and surprised to find myself doing both.

Getting older is ok. Being young was rubbish. I know myself so much better now.

One of the things I know is that I don't know anything very much. But one thing I do know is that I am very glad to have found Getting Better Acquainted. It seems to fit. I am very proud of it.

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