Anna talks for the Willow Foundation
“It’s for a really good cause. Keep it together.”
These were the words I kept telling myself when the day of Folk by the Oak came around and I was stood sidestage with the Director of the Willow Foundation, waiting to go on and talk in front of thousands of folk fans.
Gulp. Ask me to sing or play fiddle in front of a big crowd – not a problem, bring it on, no fear. But this…
When the Willow Foundation asked me to talk about my experience of one of their “special days” I instantly said yes. But what I wasn’t expecting was to feel so hugely emotional when faced with the reality of talking about my illness in public.
As I spoke about the difficulties I faced over the years, it made me realise why the work that the Willow Foundation does is so very important. When you are ill for a long time you have to live every day knowing that you cannot go out and do what you’d like to do. Your body hinders you at every opportunity. Sometimes you live day to day, sometimes minute to minute. Both are hugely draining, especially for young people who should be in the prime of their lives running wild and living life to the fullest. The Willow Foundation provide special days for seriously ill adults in the UK aged 16-40, and a few years ago, when I thought I couldn’t get any lower, I benefited from one of these days.
Most people seem to go for weekends away in nice hotels, spas, a day at a racetrack, a shopping trip, things like that. I asked if I could sit in on Chris Evans’ BBC Radio 2 Show….
Willow were amazing at sorting this out, and Cormac and I had a day we’ll never forget. We even met Sally Traffic!! It happened at a time when my hair was growing back after chemo and I was on a lot of steroids and not looking like myself at all. But as you can see from this photo, it didn't stop me smiling!
But it was so much more than just a nice day out away from the hospital. It gave me my freedom again. Just for that day I felt normal, a part of the world, like I was engaging again. That feeling didn’t diminish when we returned home either – it kept me going a lot longer than I expected. Gave me the strength to return back to fight another day. Sounds cheesy but it’s so true.
We are so lucky to live in a country where healthcare is provided free of charge, for everyone. Had I been born in a country without a free healthcare service I can say for certain that I would not be alive now. But still there is not enough support for the other side of long-term illness, the mental health side. Imagine the effect on a 21 year old performer who’s told that she can’t be around other people because the risk to her own life is too great. Imagine having tubes dangling from your chest for years, while they pump you full of drugs and blood to try to save your life. Imagine months in an isolation room, because your own immune system can’t protect you any more. I spent Christmas’s, birthdays and anniversaries in hospital and that has affected me greatly. The happiness that the Willow Foundation gave me kept me going throughout the years and was a vital part of my recovery. When the head is strong, the body is much better equipped to fight, and the Willow Foundation helped me to find that strength again, long after I thought I’d lost it.
And just so you know, that day at Folk by the Oak raised around £7000 for the charity. Incredible. Thank you to every single one of you who donated. Let’s keep it up, and make a difference.
Please visit the Willow Foundation website, and donate if you are able.
Anna Esslemont August 2011
The Big Announcement
Well folks, you’ve heard the rumours, and yes it’s true – 2011 will be the final year of performances for Uiscedwr.
After lots of umming and ahhing Cormac and I finally decided to move on to pastures new, to create a whole new band, a whole new sound, and give Uiscedwr a rest. We’ve been recording and touring with Uiscedwr for 8 years now and enjoyed every second of it. All the line-ups, the gigs, awards, albums, festivals… it’s been amazing and we wouldn’t have been able to keep going for so long without the incredible support of our fans and the folk scene in general. So many bookers, agents and promoters have gone out on a limb to help us out, lending us a hand when things got tough during my illness and always believing we could deliver a great show, we really appreciate every last bit of it.
But why now? Well, we feel that musically although we’re happier than ever with Uiscedwr’s sound and current line up, we want to leave it on a high note (pardon the pun) rather than risking it getting stale. I’ve been writing a lot of songs that just didn’t fit Uiscedwr’s sound, but that really inspired us, and they need a platform of their own. We’ve never been the type of musicians to rest on our laurels and keep plugging away once we’ve found a winning formula, we have to change, evolve and keep experimenting in order to deliver a kind of music that satisfies us and our audiences.
Uiscedwr is like our baby – our first professional band that we put together from scratch and the reason we started our record label Yukka Records. But now it’s time to move on, and Bad Anna is our light on the horizon.
2011 sees Uiscedwr touring all over the country to give our supporters one last final fling before Bad Anna appears next year. We’re still booking for the tours, but as you can see from the gig list, there’s plenty up there already! The final gig will be in Rugby, at Richard Barnes’ gig – Rugby Roots. We’ve performed there several times over the years and always been welcomed by the audiences in the area. Richard and his wife Anna have become good friends of the band and we were chuffed to bits when they asked if they could have the last gig. I can’t think of a better place to go out with a performance to end all performances! It’s going to be emotional! December 10th – be there.
We’ll be announcing more about Bad Anna over the coming months, but for now, rest assured that the end of Uiscedwr does not mean the end of our musical adventures…. We hope that you can come and see us in our final year, and enjoy the musical madness one last time.
Thank you to every one of you that has supported us, believed in us and encouraged us, we look forward to introducing Bad Anna to you soon.
Anna Esslemont June 2011
Anna's Antics: mini-blog
Touring is harder than you think. Long hours spent in the car, a different bed every night, and peddling your soul to a different group of strangers at each concert is never easy. But it is a hell of a lot of fun.
For the last month or so I’ve had the honour of touring with two folk singer-songwriting ladies who I am hugely inspired by – O’Hooley and Tidow.
I met Belinda O’Hooley years ago when she was still part of the Rachel Unthank and the Winterset outfit. Uiscedwr gigged a few times with the band and a friendship was born. Imagine my delight when I discovered Belinda only lives over the hill from us, bonus! We met the lovely Heidi when the duo came to see Uiscedwr at Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2006, and they say that after seeing that gig they knew they wanted to work with me. What a treat! I’ve never been so inspired by someone else’s music before, and weirdly felt my fiddle style had a natural place alongside their voices and the piano. I did a few gigs with them last year, but this spring I embarked on my first full tour with them.
Lots of gigs and too many to mention them all, so I’ll try to give you my highlights:
Farncombe Music Club at The Cavern, Farncombe.
Beautiful little venue, great PA system and for some unexplainable reason the three of us were on fire that night. I think I actually disappeared off the planet in the song ‘Hidden from the Sun’, it was so powerful – we were all really connected musically that night. Very special.
After our first gig of the tour in Leith we got gazumped by road closures across Lincolnshire. It was very late, very dark and no matter how many times we turned around we kept coming across road blocks!! After the third time it started to get a bit worrying.
Definitely goes to Heidi, who battled through a mega-cold and cough to perform at The Forge in Basingstoke. She was amazing, and I thought her husky voice really added to the vibe of the music! What a pro!
Other than the tour with O’Hooley and Tidow I’ve also been writing a lot of new material for Bad Anna, our new project for next year. It’s tricky stuff to write because it’s very honest – songs about the incredible highs and lows of my life so far. Good things are coming out though and when we try the new songs out with the band it’s like electricity being passed around so I know we’re on to something special. I’ve also been moonlighting for a company that provides music for advertising. They always ask me to do strange things as a musician, and this time was no exception. My brief was to sing the 90’s classic Mmmm Bop (by Hansen, oh yes) in the style of new pop lady Ellie Goulding…. Bizarre. I rose to the challenge for the pitch, but I don’t think we got the job, so you’ll never get to hear it – PHEW!
After the O’Hooley & Tidow tour and a quick Bad Anna rehearsal I got sick. Bad sick. Like need to (very reluctantly) call the doctor sick. Managed a week of being ill at home before I gave in and called them. I hate doing this because they always send me to hospital. I suppose that as a recovering bone marrow transplant patient I’ll always have a somewhat dodgy immune system, and after touring your body’s always wrecked so I had it coming really. Got admitted to Jimmy’s hospital in Leeds with a respiratory virus thing and was promptly put in isolation and hooked up to a nebuliser for 6 hours a day. Fun. A week later and I am now in Wales recuperating with my lovely Mother. In fact, I better run, I’m late meeting her for lunch.
Anna Esslemont April 2011