The Story Behind- The World As I – And the EP Artwork.
The kettle was on, there was a box of tissues next to the sofa and I was sat poised with my pencil and paper… Kathryn came in with 2 cups of tea and sat down next to me looking slightly nervous about what emotions talking to me might bring to the surface…
Kathryn’s son Rob has Asperger syndrome. He was diagnosed at the age of 3.
When I began my journey in search of stories to turn into songs I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t even know if people would be willing to share their stories with me let alone if I was capable of turning them into a song. As I sat to talk with Kathryn that afternoon I was a few months into my quest and I had already sat down with several others. I has listened intently to each of them unveil some of the most private and harrowing moments of their lives. It was often hard to get them to open up, I would ask lots of leading questions or alternatively change the subject for a while to give them some respite if I felt it was getting too much for them. I was careful to be receptive of whomever I was talking to at the time and do my best to gauge their emotional state and when they needed breaks. With the majority of people I had two, sometimes three meetings just to allow them the time and space they needed to recall these painful memories and emotions that they had buried deep inside. This was not true for Kathryn; all I had to say was: “So Kathyrn, Tell me about your son”… the words poured from her mouth effortlessly, just like water from a tap. She talked about his early years and the frustration of not knowing why her son was behaving the way he was, blaming herself and feeling like she had somehow failed her first child. She told me of the day her best friend sat her down to tell her that the nursery had expressed concerns about Rob and that she may need to consider the possibility that he is autistic. Then she divulged the whirlwind of emotions that preceded his eventual diagnosis: relief that everything finally made sense, combined with worry that this condition may ‘take away Rob’s innocence’, his childhood…
I am sure if I had offered to camp out there, Kathryn could’ve happily talked continuously about her son Rob for days on end. The love that shone out of her as she spoke about him was overwhelming, I already felt full of admiration and affection for this boy whom I had never met.
When I arranged to meet with Kathryn I thought I would write about how she had coped with motherhood to and autistic son and what it was like for her to deal with Rob’s autism on a daily basis. But the more she spoke about him the more I began to realise that this boy was a very special human being and I became intrigued by Robert and his outlook on life. Kathryn’s biggest fear for Robert was that he would lose his innocence but this couldn’t have been further from the truth! He has the most wonderfully purity about him, an innocence that neither you nor I would be capable of holding on to through our adult life. His view of the world is enviable; he doesn’t understand the concept of lying or cheating; He has a great love of football but rather than support one team he simply supports the winning team of whichever match he is watching, because “why wouldn’t you want the winners to win?”
When he was young, Rob struggled to understand that there was once a time before he was born. He would see pictures and ask where he was and after several failed attempts of explaining to him that he hadn’t been born yet, Kathryn found herself saying: “You were in God’s pocket”. Years on Rob would still tell people when looking at those very photos that that’s where he was.
One day when Rob came home from nursery Kathryn, as usual, asked him about his day. He got frustrated with her; “Why do you always ask me that Mum? You know what I did!” She told him that she didn’t have any idea what he had been up to at nursery as she was not in fact there with him: Kathryn explained to me that it is common for young children with Asperger’s to see themselves and their mother’s as 1 person. Rob believed that Kathryn was with him at all times even when he couldn’t see her. I thought this was such a beautiful thing… The words are pouring out of me even now just as they did from Kathryn that day, I too could go on for pages and pages about all the wonderful stories she told me, but I also want to tell you how his song came to life…
Tears were shed, tea was drunk, hugs were shared and my pad was filled with scribbles of wonderful tales for this song. But as I left I knew that I wanted to write the song about Rob, I wanted to get inside his world and write the song from his perspective on life. He has such a wonderful view of the world, looking at things with open eyes, finding joy in things that would pass us by unnoticed, that I wanted to try and capture this within the song. I called Kathryn and explained this to her, she was delighted and told me that years ago Rob wrote a story about his year in ‘Bridging’ (a school that he went to for 1 year to ‘bridge the gap’ between moving from a school for children with Asperger’s to state school). She promised to ask him if he would be happy for me to read that story and use it for my song…
To my delight he said yes!
I was like a kid receiving their favourite comic book eager and excited to see what was inside. I sat down and read through what Rob had titled ‘My Top 20 Mad Moments’ and I was smiling from beginning to end. I immediately booked a room at Bally Studios with Rhys(my co-writer). I sat at the mic’, Rhys at the piano and just as the words had flowed out of Kathryn that day, the song seemed to do the same from me.
With the artwork for this track we wanted to capture the innocence of Rob but also convey the wonderful way in which he sees the world around him. Spinks and I came up with the idea of the Kaleidoscope; we were really excited by it as it was a children’s toy, (which perfectly represented the innocence) that you look through and crate amazingly symmetrical patterns and colours out of broken glass and rubble. Much like Rob does in life; something we might deem to be ugly or meaningless he would fine ultimately satisfying and exciting! Now to figure out how to create this on the canvas of a body (If you haven’t read my previous posts, I decided to do all the artwork for the EP in body painting pictures. I am very fortunate to have a super talented friend and it just felt right that the artwork for songs about real people should be painted on real people)! After many weird and wonderful ideas we settled on this: Spinks painted a geometric globe on my body (to depict the kaleidoscope as a beautiful viewpoint of the world). Victoria Evans then took pictures of me as a slowly spun around, ensuring that she got a shot of each and every country. We then chose our favourite shots and handed it over to Andy Biddle to piece together in a Kaleidoscope fashion. The results turned out to be the EP cover itself. It just felt right. The overriding connection between all the subjects of the EP is that they have worked through a world of broken glass and rubble and created a beautiful life for themselves and those around them. Gained strength and perspective in the face of adversity.
This song always gets such a wonderful response at gigs and gives me such a heart warming feeling when I sing it. One of my proudest moments to date is when I played it to Kathryn for the first time and through teary eyes she said “You’ve just got him down to a T, it’s perfect.”
Since working on the EP with Dan, this song, like all the others has evolved from its original acoustic state but I think this one probably went on the biggest journey of all. I found it so hard to keep the innocence of Rob within the new more electronic sound that I was creating for this project but I didn’t want to cast it aside as it has an uplifting, infectious quality that I wanted for this EP. After lots of work and an awkward call to my lovely producer Dan explaining that we needed to re-do it again for the 4th time even though I had signed off on it. I am finally proud of where it has ended up. I still like to play the acoustic version every now and again as I believe that is where the true essence of Rob lays but I feel like he still shines through in the EP version. Thank you Rob and thank you Kathryn for sharing your beautiful world and teaching me to see the beauty in the little things that pass us by.