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Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and saying yes to meeting heroes

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amanda palmer and nathan maingard on stage in south africa

On 14 Feb 2018, out of the blue, a tweet came through from a lovely human named Peter telling me that Amanda Palmer was playing in Cape Town and there was a competition going where I could win a ticket to her show (thank you forever, Peter)! I don’t know exactly what I responded, cos somehow the original tweet has vanished, but I was very very excited! Then suddenly Amanda Fucking Palmer herself chimed in with:

Ok, before we go on let me give you some background on why I love Amanda Palmer with such unadulterated totality…

My Amanda Palmer Backstory

Vulnerability is a decision I made at some point in my life. For as long as I can remember I have been a hyper-sensitive human, curious about everything and open to everything. It didn’t take too long in the ‘education system’ before I realised that being the bookish, curious, barefoot and sparkle-eyed scamp I was was not what was being asked of me. I was bullied by peers, punished by teachers and just generally battered around by the powers that be until I learned to hide myself deeper and deeper in my beloved fantasy books (Terry Pratchett, Anne McCaffrey, Tolkien, David Eddings, Robin Hobb…oh so many more who created the worlds I could visit any time).

Over the years I learned to cope. I started drinking, took up smoking and, most painful of all, became quite the player (this is a longer story which I’ll go more into another time). I did all the ‘right’ things, the things I thought would help me fit in with a society I didn’t understand. The things I thought would make me a ‘cool guy’ and maybe I’d finally feel like I fitted in and was worthy of love.

Long story short is that after years of breaking myself to fit into a box I didn’t want to be in began the hard journey back to my Self, to return to the child within who was still there, locked away and scared of stepping out of line. I committed to a period of celibacy, began eating better, drinking less and generally started to ask myself what I really wanted from life.

At around this point I made the hard decision to speak my truth and live vulnerably as much as I could in every moment. I decided I’d rather be seen as I am and disliked than pretend and be liked for who I’m not. It felt like a lonely choice to make, as I didn’t really see many (or any) people modelling this at that time.

Over the following years I moved back to South Africa and began playing music professionally. I shared many of my wins and losses with my growing online community, like the first time I toured and played a festival as a pro musician and nearly had to turn around because I was broke; or the time I crashed my car just before another tour and ended up doing a home repair job cos I couldn’t afford the mechanic (money challenges are a sad reality for so many artists, which seems crazy to me, cos art is dreams made tangible…anyway, I digress).

Fast forward to me living back in London, working on my music career while working a few part-time jobs and hosting an incredible open mic night in Camden…and I somehow come across a TED talk called ‘the art of asking’ by someone named Amanda Palmer. As I watched it I felt my whole body ring out a resounding ‘YES’. I laughed, I cried, I tingled all over. I felt SEEN (she talks about that in her speech). Finally, here was someone who felt exactly the way I did and, not only that, she had built a successful career doing so! Suddenly I felt less alone, knowing that I wasn’t insane to believe in truth, vulnerability and asking for help.

Cue my lifeline love for Amanda Palmer!

Back to the story…

So I’ve just received a tweet from Amanda offering me free entry plus one…and THEN SHE INVITED ME TO OPEN FOR HER! I don’t remember the exact way it went, but here’s a DM she sent me confirming:

Now, here’s the kinda crazy part:

I nearly said no.

Seriously, I nearly said no to opening a show for one of the most inspiring artists I’ve ever come across. I was in the depths of challenges with depression, burnout and chronic pain and I just didn’t even know if I had what it would take to drive there and play TWO SONGS.

Thank all the angels that must surely be watching over me for getting me to say yes!

I drove out to the venue and got to meet one of my heroes…and THEN the unexpected happened and Neil Gaiman arrived! I had no idea he was even in South Africa, but he was shooting a series at the time and had come to the show. So not only did I meet Amanda Palmer but also one of my all-time favourite authors Neil Gaiman (and, bonus, their lovely son Ash). A cherry on top was connecting with the other opener, the very wonderful Miss Patty Monroe.

The night was a blur of beautiful moments, and playing two of my songs for the sold-out venue of 700+ people (WHILE AMANDA SAT ON THE STAGE BESIDE ME) was INCREDIBLE (I played Lovers In The Morning Light and Eskawata Kayawai, in case you wondered)! It was one of my lifetime highlights as a pro musician, and I’ll cherish the memories of that night forever. Seeing Amanda Palmer Live was like being an apprentice watching a true master of her craft. The way she stayed so vulnerable, raw and real while also being a phenomenal musician inspired me in every way. Sigh, good times.

Every time I looked around the audience I saw people with light shining in their faces, sometime laughing, sometimes weeping, always totally present and open and vulnerable in the most beautiful of ways.

And that’s it, that’s how saying a simple yes ended up with one of the most incredible musical nights of my life.

Thank you, dear Amanda Palmer, for being such a light of vulnerability and artistry in the world. You have for sure inspired this little troubadour here in South Africa.

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