A look back at 2018

I’ve just been sitting down with a cup of tea and thinking back over the events of 2018. One of the great things about writing a blog is it makes a pretty effective summary of what has occurred in the last 12 months. I’ll start by reusing something I wrote in December 2017, as its relevant now (and every year I suspect.)

What have been some of your mistakes this year and what lessons have you learnt from them?

I’ve re-learnt something this year which actually comes from my experience with improv theatre; “your obvious might not be their obvious.” My experience booking gigs and running the crowdfunding campaign for my new album has been that you have to say what you want. If you’re asking someone for help, support or advice you actually have to ASK for it. Outlining the proposal and then failing to actually ask for support won’t get you anywhere. You can’t assume that people will pick up on the subtext, or that it will be obvious what you want or need. Your obvious might not be their obvious!

Maybe it’s a particularly British thing to not always say what we mean, we say things like “I don’t think I’ll be able to do that” when we mean “there is no chance at all that I will do that” or “things are a bit tough but I’ll manage” rather than “please help me immediately.”

I’d concur with myself, 12 months later! Since I wrote that I’ve done a whole load of improv shows with The Improlectuals at venues including The Abbey Theatre in Nuneaton, The Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton and two venues for Ludlow Fringe Festival. As well as my mate and Improlectuals co-founder Richard Baldwin I’ve shared the stage with very talented performers Matt Dibbens, Lee Dempsey, Nathan Blyth and Matt Vaughn Wilson. Naturally enough with the shows being improvised each has been different and we’ve had an amazing amount of support from audiences. In November Richard and I invited some performers along to an informal workshop and we are hoping to add some new talents to The Improlectuals pool of improvisers. We’ve got shows booked at Leicester Comedy Festival, The Abbey Theatre and The Harrison in London and we are hoping to announce some dates in Birmingham and at some festivals very soon. There are also plans a foot to begin running some workshops in schools.

On the music front it has again been another very busy year, beginning with the recording and release of my album Only a Flight Away and the crowdfunding campaign that supported it. It was an amazing experience running the crowdfunding project and the encouragement I received was very humbling. As I said at the time I came away from the process feeling like an artist with a commission; people were confirming that they appreciated what I did and asking me to do more. I don’t think a creative person needs much more than that, to be honest.

I’m fairly certain that the album is a culmination of everything I’ve done up to this point as a musician and songwriter, my artistic peak. After finishing it I wondered for a while if I’d be able to write anything as good in the future or if I’d spent my songwriting currency and would never save up so much again. I’m now past that and just incredibly keen to be as creative as possible. The feeling is summed up by a Maya Angelou quote I came across recently;

“You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Only a Flight Away received some really cool reviews and I was fascinated and pleased to see the elements that people had picked up on. Here’s a taste of some of what was said;

when you listen to, and appreciate, the quality of Lane’s third offering Only a Flight Away you wonder how and why he’s not a bigger proposition in the great musical scheme of things and a staple of mainstream radio airplay.
Ross Muir FabricationsHQ

All this makes for an outstanding release that may just be one of the first essential albums of 2018.
Adam Jenkins, Fatea

‘Far Too Busy’ has one of the best opening couplets I’ve heard in years.
Dai Jeffries, Folking.com

Impressive in its scope, ONLY A FLIGHT AWAY is almost a compendium of styles, all of which demonstrate Robert's versatility as a songwriter and tunesmith.
Allan Wilkinson, Northern Sky

An interesting release that enhances a growing reputation as Robert Lane continues to hone his signature sound.
Paul McGee, Lonesome Highway

Hear the album for yourself here

My fans and supporters have done wonderful things in 2018 and allowed me to take some big creative strides. As well as getting involved with the pre-order campaign for Only a Flight Away and attending the gigs I played to promote it their votes got me onto the main stage at Fatea Festival in November.

In the summer I made my first visit to Holland and fifth trip to Germany where I played some great gigs and house concerts for friends old and new. Back in the UK I played a few joint headline shows with Iona Lane who is a wonderfully talented singer and musician, and in no way related to me.

As we neared the end of the year I was thrilled to be asked by BBC producer David Payne to write music for lyrics he has written for Reality Bites, his concept for a musical about reality TV. This was a very enjoyable challenge and I was reminded how much I enjoy writing to a brief. We showcased some of the songs at an event organised by Cucumber Writers at The Old Joint Stock Theatre in Birmingham.

Of course there have been some missteps in 2018, things that didn’t pan out and seeds that despite careful nurturing did not grow into beautiful flowers. From this vantage point I can see that most of these mishaps and errors had positive consequences and all have provided useful lessons. Lessons learnt;

• Don’t dismiss posters and flyers as a way to promote gigs

• A person on the ground who promotes your show is worth their weight in gold

• Playing pub venues Germany in a baking hot summer, especially if the World Cup is happening at the same time, can present challenges

My music remains un-played on national radio, something which I’m sorry to say does bother me. In dark moments I have a look at some of my contemporaries and note their success with spot plays on various BBC 6 Music and Radio 2 shows and wonder if the gods of radio are trying to tell me something. I know that it’s not the be all and end all to get these plays and I’m also aware that late night radio play does not necessarily equate to gig attendances or record sales but it does still niggle. This said my music has been well loved on several very influential and rather cool online, local and community radio shows. Only a Flight Away was album of the week/month on several programmes including Fatea’s Along The Tracks, Roger William's World of Difference, Gary Hazlehurst's Folk Show, Magpie's Folk Cafe and Liz Franklin's Eden Folk Show. Justine Greene gave songs from the album a lot of attention on her BBC Coventry and Warwickshire show and Jason Forrest has been generous enough to give my music a play and events a plug on his Milkbar podcast throughout the year.

I’ve had it proven to me this year that people who get my music and what I’m trying to say really get it and are fantastically supportive, whilst those who don’t aren’t. That’s ok, that’s natural and that’s art.

Here’s to 2019, I am genuinely excited to see what it has in store. I wonder what rise and falls will have passed in twelve months’ time…

Robert Lane