Regular visitors to the wonderful Moors inspired city of Granada, Andalucia will be more than a little familiar with both the sight and the distinctive sound of Chris Millington.
Chris's journey from Administrative Assistant in the DSS to University Lecturer to Recording Artist is one that inspires and reminds us all, do not be afraid to make a change.
So without further ado, and in his very own words... I give you Chris Millington.
Where do you see yourself in five years´ time? It´s the obvious question.
It´s the one we are most prepared for on that nervous day wearing the interview tie, polished shoes and a shirt whiter than the well-meant mistruths that are about to win you that job.
2015. I was working as a philosophy of religion and critical thinking lecturer in a further education college in North Devon. Since completing my degree in the combined studies of philosophy, theology and astronomy, I had followed my mother and my heart into teaching, firstly in secondary education then onto A level and degree level.
I lived in one of the most beautiful idyllic villages on the North Devon Coast renowned for its bohemian culture and its thriving music scene. My life at the time was well balanced between my music, which had always been a fundamental and prodigious part of my life, and my career. I was playing gigs around the south west at least once a week, building my reputation as a formidable presence on the English Folk scene and, during the day, asking questions related to our fundamental existence, quantum spirituality and the illusion of temporal time which returns us to our original, obvious question.
´Where do you see yourself in five years´ time? ´
The truth is, I didn’t. The intricate chain of events that led me here to Spain were neither predicted nor planned. Although I love teaching, I discovered one of the downsides to the profession is that one has to be a teacher and, as the years went on and policies changed, being a teacher became less rewarding and increasingly stressful. This eventually took a toll on my health and I stepped away from the classroom to focus on my music.
Japanese artist Hiroko Sakai said, “The privilege of struggling artists is… life being buried in what we can´t really afford.” Relinquishing the safety net of the nine to five and its accompanying salary was more of a struggle than I had envisioned, and a handful of gigs each month went a very little way to meeting the rent and bills.
I had simple dreams and I had a range of useful talents. In my university years I had learned to juggle clubs and knives, I worked as a table magician in a Cardiff restaurant, I had amassed an ensemble of instruments and I had a voice, but as the slow realization that my outgoings far exceeded my income, it was obvious something was going to happen, some kind of end, but I didn’t know what, when or how.
I learned so much at university, not just academically but about myself and others. Many of the good friends I still rely on, I met there. Many I stay in touch with and many I have lost through the spaces between correspondence. On a rainy April morning waiting for something, anything to happen, I received a text from one of these very friends I had lost contact with. We hadn´t met more than three times back then before she left to teach in Japan but she had left an impression on me and the demo tape of my songs which I gave her to listen to on her journey back in 1998 had evidently left some impression on her.
This time we maintained contact and together we grew close. We were both at a crossroads in the paths of our lives. Her path had taken her to Granada where she had lived for seven years and through the messages and distance, she gradually helped me to realise that it was not some kind of end I was waiting for but some kind of change. The feelings of being trapped under a weight of mounting debt were actually the feelings and desire for freedom.
April 2017 we met at Granada bus station and I stayed for ten days. I fell in love with the mountains, the city, the people, the friend and Spain very quickly, and on that first return flight home to a drizzly, mizzly Devon, unpacking my memories, I knew I´d left a large piece of my heart in the Spanish mountains.
On my second visit to Spain a month later I applied for a busking license and borrowed a guitar. My friend, now partner, worked as an English teacher in the city and her two girls were at school during the day so it seemed an adventurous and potentially profitable way to spend the balmy mornings in the city.
As a young boy I was a member of Manchester Cathedral voluntary choir and had a trained chorister´s voice. As my boyhood turned to youthfulness, I began to sing in various local Manchester bands, which developed and honed my voice giving it intensity and volume.
As I sat in Plaza Romanilla, guitar across my knee, open case at my feet, strummed the first few chords of a favorite song, it was that very voice I heard bouncing back from the walls of the Garcia Lorca museum opposite my bench.
Pockets weighed down with coins of all sizes and nations I returned with a feeling of achievement and satisfaction that with no more than an instrument, my voice and my songs I had not only earned a day´s wage but had met, entertained and befriended some of the kindest of strangers.
It was through busking that I met many other musicians that are on the touring circuit and was invited to play support for some of them at more prestigious music venues in and around Granada including Lemon Rock and Chistera in Monachil, and some large festivals including two consecutive years for Celatsur Festival and Sulayr Festival in Pampaneira in the Alpujarras.
After several more visits and establishing myself as a familiar face and voice in the various Plazas in the city, in February 2019 I sold my car and bought a camper van and in March it was Ioaded with my instruments, my juggling clubs, a one eyed teddy bear for company, a box of magic tricks and heading toward Dover ferry terminal. My house back in Devon was empty and bare, my keys returned to the landlady and my goodbyes to friends, to Devon and to England, said
I had been living on my own in Devon for nearly a year and so had grown to withstand my own company and was therefore excited about the 2200 kilometer solo adventure ahead of me. Counties and countries went by and I would wake each morning with a hot tea, a map and an exhilarating sense of freedom.
I travelled from Calais across France stopping a night here and night there and sometimes two, sometimes in a layby, sometimes indulging in the luxury of an established campsite.
I travelled to Mont Saint Michel on the French coast and from where I was parked I could see the illuminated Abbey silhouetted in the evening sun and decided that this would be a good busking spot.
The following morning, I took my melodeon to the windy causeway and stood playing tunes to the breeze for a few hours, alone, save the waving driver of the infrequent passing tourist train. This was my realization that busking the tourist spots out of season is very different to the consistent buzz and business of the city.
In April 2019 I returned to Guejar Sierra, a small white and terracotta village in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, just outside Granada. This time I had no return ticket, nowhere to return to and home had become an Iveco van named Trundles. With just the possessions I had carried with me across Europe I was sparsely equipped but ready to start a new chapter.
I have lived in Guejar Sierra permanently now for over a year and busking has been my main source of income. Every day is like busking for the first time. Opening up the case, extracting the guitar and tuning it in front of a passing uninterested audience, mustering the confidence to raise my voice above the clammer of the street, but once that first note is out and that first coin and smile in, then I can lose myself in the unfolding theatre of a busy Granada square.
I have to renew my busking license every six months and am required to produce it fairly regularly should a pair of unoccupied Guardia Civil happen to stroll past. This allows me to play in designated places around the city between eleven and two then seven until nine in the evenings but, being a creature of habit, I enjoy the acoustics of Plaza Romanilla or the relaxed leafy ambience of Plaza Trinidad.
In between the days´ busking and domesticity, I started to record a new album at a friend´s studio in Guejar Sierra, collating my experiences of life in Spain and re-working some older material, this would become my fourth album and I called it `Footprints and Songs´ as a title to the stories of my busking experiences.
I have a mix of songs that I play when busking, some covers and some my own and its fascinating to see which songs bring in the most ´drops.´ Last February it was The Smiths´ song, Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want. I was astonished how many passers by would stop and listen as if the song had touched them at some point in their story and I was singing the echoes of some buried memory in the universal language of Morrisey.
March 2020 and lockdown. An abrupt halt on busking. As a musician, one relies on an audience, on a level of appreciation wherein the entertainer is rewarded in some way, be it financially or through a show of gratitude and support. An earning musician in lockdown is just a penniless bloke with a guitar.
I missed the early morning bus journeys down the mountain past Canales, the reflections of the rocky outcrops in the deep emerald green lake, the half open sleepy shutters of Pinos Genil and the clumsy calles of Cenes de La Vega. I missed the walk from the bus stop across the city, guitar in one hand and optimism in the other, the smiles and greetings of the stationary city dwellers, the street vendors, the street performers, the silent beggars and the bar owners. The familiarity of a beautiful yet still foreign cityscape.
Fatalism is my biggest flaw and yet my greatest asset in dealing with situations that are beyond my control, and so, balanced by optimism and my need to be creative I wanted to use the time as productively as possible. Unpacking my very humble home studio and surrounding myself with my instruments and a nineties Yamaha keyboard, I locked down for four or five hours a day to get on with writing and recording all the songs I assured myself in the days of normality, I hadn´t had the time to write. I also had time to learn new skills that would compliment my projects and so taught myself how to film, edit and produce my own music videos.
This became my `Folk in Lock Down´ project and over the course of three months I had recorded, written and produced the videos for fourteen songs which I shared online through various social media sites. The feedback was incredible.
I used social media live streams to perform a solo gig once a week to followers all over the globe meaning that my presence as an established singer songwriter could be digitally maintained. Performing to an audience you cannot see is strange but contrastingly reminded me of the silence of the wings, the long walk across the stage to the microphone and the blinding lights of a theatre gig, knowing the audience is out there but blindly and confidently singing into the darkness.
I love writing songs. The process of starting with an idea, tumbling words around until they find a structure, hearing the tune develop around the rhythm of the vowels and consonants, yet the hardest part of the process is the beginning, the search for a subject. I enjoy writing historical songs as the story is already written, it becomes a process of putting that story into a rhythmic meter and rhyme, so often when I hear a personal story of love or loss it is a given theme, and the bare threads of a song, which can then be woven together.
With this idea I developed a concept of writing personal and individual songs for any occasion, whether it be an anniversary, a birthday or a memory to be captured in a song that can be gifted and listened to throughout the rest of a person´s life. I created a website and social media page and began to advertise. Within an hour I had my first customer and within a week I had my first very happy customer. This gave me confidence to commit to the project and I have so far written five songs in the space of one month to very pleased, satisfied and happy clients.
With the uncertainty of the future in these strange times, being a street musician is difficult due to so many variables. Singing with a mask would be almost impossible, bars are at half capacity, the streets are empty and social distancing leaves one unapproachable, so my days are spent in the studio crafting the stories of strangers into personal compositions.
The transition from teaching and lecturing to working as a musician and street performer has taught me many valuable lessons and I think the most fundamental one of these is do not be afraid to make a change. My dreams, plans and ambitions of five years ago were very different to what they and I have become today. I now have the opportunity to employ the skills I have learned throughout my life in a positive and creative way that brings pleasure to other people and to live and work at my own pace in these sleepy Spanish mountains, this tranquil terracotta town, and this beautiful country.
Please take the time to visit Chris's websites
Chris´s song writing website - https://asongforme.wixsite.com/website