One Hundred and One Days: A Reflection

Hello, world.

I’ve officially been on American shores for exactly one hundred and one days(!!!), and so I thought it was about time that I broke my silence with a reflection on how things have been since I relocated in the summer. Yesterday (Thursday Nov 26) was Thanksgiving in the USA, and so amidst the flurry of people packing up and dashing home to visit their families for this all-American holiday, I found myself slowing down, and I also had the time to be properly thankful for what I have here.

On the 18th of August I left the UK entirely, not really sure what I was getting myself into or what exactly was to come. As difficult as it was, and as much as I couldn’t help thinking “I’ve made a bloody huge mistake”, the transition was made all the easier by my parents thanks to them being so marvelously accepting of the entire venture. I’m grateful to them every day for supporting me in all of the crazy things I’ve done and all of the crazy things I’ll inevitably suggest in the future: having their only child move to another continent at 18 was never really part of the plan, but they both took it in their stride and neither of them have faltered since. Thank you, parents. I appreciate it and I love you both.

IMG_7515

they even take selfies

IMG_7638

#relatable

When I first arrived here, I had previously only spent a maximum of 72 hours in the United States – not even enough time to get over the jetlag. Everything was painfully new to me; so it is a relief, three months on, to feel comfortable in this country. Harvard as an institution has proved itself to be a challenge both academically and culturally, but it is also incredibly rewarding, and I am grateful (and slightly overwhelmed) every day to call this place my school; my home. For those who are curious, it really is no different to any ther university: there’s a lot of work and not enough sleep, and no-one ever really knows quite what they’re doing.

I am blessed to have a stellar support system on this side of the pond in the form of Deane and Dick who were simply wonderful during my first few weeks alone in Boston (thank you Daisy!), as well as my fabulous friends, in particular my roommates; Angela, Amy, Ana and Shira. They have been wonderful: consistently patient and responsive to my cries of “help I’m foreign!”, caring and inspiring beyond belief, and incredibly funny to top it all off. I love them, and I’m so happy that we live together. Finally, there’s my host family Andrew, John and Danya, with whom I spent my first Thanksgiving just yesterday. Alongside the all-American Thanksgiving experience, I was reminded once again of how lucky I am to have a home away from home in a country which can sometimes feel very foreign.

IMG_7542

roommates yay yay yay

Suddenly stripping away everything you previously knew is a very confusing experience for anyone moving to a new place, let alone to a different continent, and I largely credit my time at Plockton for making the transition infinitely easier. Nevertheless, there are times when everyone needs a bit of familiarity. For me, the personification of this arrived in mid-October in the form of my uncle Vincent, who went above and beyond to allow me a weekend away, not just from Harvard but from Massachusetts entirely. Equipped with an iPhone and my dodgy navigation skills, we drove up to Maine, and for the first time in a while I was able to be entirely British about the whole thing. I appreciated that more than I let on at the time, and it truly helped me keep everything in perspective.

IMG_7731

happiness, somewhere on the coast of Maine

It is easy at times to lose sight what an incredible opportunity this is, when you’re drowning in reading and you’re not quite sure there is time to sleep in the next few days (“there wasn’t any room in my schedule,” I have definitely said more than once as I justify another all-nighter to my less-than-impressed roommates). But when all is said and done, I’m learning more and more every day and having the time of my life doing so. Any complaints I can possibly fathom are true first world problems, and they really don’t matter at all. Not at all.

So, in the spirit of things, here I am giving thanks: for this wonderful, crazy adventure, for these wonderful, crazy people, and for everything that is to come. I’m really bloody grateful to be where I am. Cheers.

IMG_7556

i’m sorry that you were obscured by a tree, class of 2016

TL;DR– everything is great!

2015: A Year for Pop

As we move into awards season and hold a collective breath for our favourite nominees (plus those poor fish from the Brits – I’m looking at you, Grace from Clean Bandit), it’s easy to become hung up on successes from the previous year and forget about what’s to come. Look ahead, though: 2015 is going to see some of the best yet. There’s plenty for everyone, from effervescent Raury to the poetic crooning of James Bay. Eighteen year old Låpsley from Liverpool looks set to take centre stage alongside British duo Aquilo, both of whom are producing ambient electro-pop which is smooth and rich in texture. If music was chocolate, this would be a bar of Galaxy after a stressful day at the office: calm, relaxing, and non-judgemental. London-based Years and Years bring an R&B sound to the electro-pop trend, heavy synths and house-esque grooves creating a sound they aptly describe as “feelings, emotions and synths”. There’s lots to anticipate in the coming months, and all of it is exciting. Without further ado, here are my biggest tips for 2015.

Raury

Atlanta-born Raury may only be eighteen years of age, but his music – described as somewhat “genre-less” and spanning a wide range of influences – could be mistaken for that of someone with far more life experience. His insightful lyrics have been toted as “style-sampling”, perhaps attributed to his many musical inspirations (he cites Bon Iver and Andre 3000 amongst others), and his full-length album Indigo Child shows promise across a whole variety of sounds: Raury is one to watch, savour, and absorb. Check out God’s Whisper for a gospel-gone-rogue anthem.

James Bay

Hailing from Hertfordshire, indie singer-songwriter James Bay has caused waves in both the UK (where he’s bagged the Critic’s Choice award at this year’s Brits) and in Australia, where his single Hold Back the River peaked at number 4 last year. Initially discovered on YouTube by an A&R talent scout for Republic, Bay’s career so far has seen him land performances at Burberry’s Fashion Week show and BBC Radio One’s Live Lounge, and he’s set to tour the UK in the coming months. His music is heartfelt and relatable: in 2015, you can guarantee that James Bay is going to become a household name. For an understated sound, recent release Scars is thoughtful and showcases Bay’s vocals in all their glory.

Låpsley

Liverpudlian Låpsley (also known as Holly Lapsley Fletcher) released her Understudy EP on January 5th. At only eighteen years of age, she’s already become a favourite of Radio 1 with her stripped-back, minimal sounding tracks, and her success looks like it will only grow in 2015. The music itself is electronic, ethereal and enveloping – there’s no clutter here, just well placed piano chords and soft percussive hits. Falling Short, the EP’s leading track, is honest and subtle: well worth a listen (or thirty…)

Aquilo

Lancashire band Aquilo have already seen success on the Glastonbury BBC Introducing stage as well as on several Radio 1 playlists in the past twelve months. Having moved away from their rock band origins, they now work and perform as a duo, producing electronica that is captivating and calm. The sound on their second EP Human seamlessly flows from their first self titled offering: these guys know what they are about, and they know what they want to create. I Gave It All from second EP Human is emotive, contemplating and trance-like: if you’re looking for a soundtrack to your days spent brooding about life, this is it.

Years and Years

They may be dominating the electronica scene, but London-based Years and Years are just as good when they’re stripped back to their acoustics. Originally a five-piece, the band now perform as a trio consisting of vocals, keyboards, bass and synths, with a sound that has been touted as electro-pop blended with R&B and ’90s house. Take Shelter, their August 2014 release, topped the iTunes electronic chart, and in January this year they were listed as the BBC’s Sound of 2015. New single King is released on March 1st: this is only the beginning for a band that may well run the show in the next twelve months.

Some Thoughts

My grandfather Vincent Nolan was a remarkable man. More than that, for the word “remarkable” would suggest he was merely worthy of intermittent snippets of conversation. In actual fact, you could write novels about his ideas, his thinking, and the change he inspired in the world. Many people did, and those works exist in published form today. He contributed to most of them. A number sit on our bookshelf at home, with the most recent addition signed by him only last month. “To Molly,” it reads. “With all my love, Grandpa, 16th July 2014.”

On Sunday the 17th of August 2014 Vincent passed away after a period of time spent battling cancer. Again, though, “battle” is really the wrong word, because there was no war between my grandfather and his disease. In the most dignified manner, he accepted his fate with a grace that only the strongest of characters could have been partial to. After receiving the news that his father had passed, my dad sighed. “A Sunday morning,” he said. “Well, I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

The sentiment made me smile at the time and it still does, because it is inarguably true. We as a family long said that Vincent would dictate when he went, rather than letting the disease do so for him, and so his passing was exactly in keeping with what we all had learned to expect from such a man. Timely, certainly, and peaceful – he was an individual who knew exactly what he wanted out of both life and death, and he commanded it absolutely.

I know my grandfather was proud of me, not because he explicitly told me so, but because when I would disclose to him my own ambitions, he would lean forward with a twinkle in his eye and encourage me to elaborate. He was a hugely intelligent man, and for him to take an interest by providing constructive criticism or words of wisdom meant far more than a hug or a kiss. From the beginning, he was also a guiding presence in my musical life. He bequeathed me his first cello – the ultimate approval.

Vincent had a fantastic wit about him that he never ever lost. In the final weeks of his life, he remarked that he didn’t much care what happened in the Scottish independence referendum, but nevertheless was rather annoyed that he wouldn’t find out which way it would go. Astuteness was the way in which he dealt with his impending passing, and it went a long way in consoling the rest of us who were undeniably more afraid than he was himself.

In the years I knew Vincent Nolan, he was a great inspiration to me, influencing not only my musical and academic life but most importantly my overall ethos. He provided me with wisdom that I will live with until the day I die, unwavering support and a true sense of family, and I know my cousins and I will be in absolute agreement when I say that we couldn’t have wished for a better, kinder role model than that we had in our grandfather.

Thanks for everything, Grandpa. I love you.