Talent With A Heart: An interview with Laura Hocking

It is difficult to capture the essence of a person, and to express them in words so that others can truly feel a closeness, a connection with them. To define somebody within a strict word count, to pick and choose elements of somebody to create a brief overview, in some cases even to weave fiction to fashion a particular image, all of this can drain the life out of a subject.

Luckily, capturing the essence of Laura Hocking did not pose this problem. Laura is not your average folk-tinted freak pop singer-songwriter (although I’ll be honest and I’m sure you’ll agree, it is pretty tricky to find an ‘average’ to compare her with). Beautiful, brunette with a cut glass voice that could easily have been a gift from an angel, her song-telling (if there is a clear cut distinction between song-writing and storytelling, it is safe to say nobody has informed Laura of this, and thank goodness!) is of a certain standard of imagination and technique that we struggle to find in the mainstream music charts. Her songs tell stories of love, stalking, female wrestling champions, forcible tattooing, theft, hypochondria and the notion that the best revenge is an unflattering portrait. Laura says that she takes a lot of inspiration for her songs from films; ‘specifically, Two Thirds is a Dream was inspired by Mulholland Drive (Lynch). Talented Tailor was inspired by a short story by Roald Dahl’. A stylistic feature of Laura’s song-writing is her ability to create ‘brilliant freaky characters who mould their world around them’, inspired by film makers like Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. Another characteristic of Laura’s songs which makes them so uniquely interesting is her interest in the theory of the mind. She likes to ‘mix a bit of psychosis and delusion in wherever I can, it keeps things fresh’.

However, the song that I feel really captures Laura as a person has to be ‘Strongmen and Acrobats’. Written for brother, Daniel, who has Autism and sees the world very differently, Laura seeks to thank Daniel for teaching her so much and also to educate others about the condition. The song ‘starts off with a scene at fireworks night, and then goes on to look at bullying and the different diagnoses we had from various doctors, quacks and therapists’. The title is not as abstract as one might first assume, Laura explains ‘at the time (of writing) I had the view that people get on in the world by being either pushy (a strongman) or adaptable (an acrobat), and there’s not much provision for people who just need to be themselves’.

For those of you wondering, Autism is a life-long developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them (sourced from the National Autistic Society Website). It is often seen as an illness, where the symptoms include difficulty socialising; finding it hard to cope with change; having a very literal viewpoint (not understanding jokes and sarcasm) and heightened sensory awareness. However, being autistic doesn’t have to be seen as a negative thing. As Laura puts it, ‘it’s sad when people focus on the limitations – can’t do X, trouble with Y. It always seemed to me that it was about feeling some things more intensely than anyone else, not having the filters which make reality easy to digest. Experiencing bright colours, loud sounds and sudden movements as totally unique each time, and not being able to slot them into a matrix of experience. Not having a mental map of how people relate to one another with eye contact, body language and voice tone. There’s a lot of coded information in the world that we take for granted, and sometimes it takes someone who can’t read it all to show you how complex it is.

On the 2nd April 2011, World Autism Awareness Day, Laura donated 20% of the profits of her CD sales plus income from radio plays of ‘Strongmen’ to the National Autistic Society. Laura says ‘I fundraise for them when I can, and sometimes I get involved with their campaigns. Autism has come to public consciousness a lot more in the last decade or so – when my brother was young nobody really knew what was different about him for ages, so we didn’t get the right support. So now when I see great charities like Hope (helphope.org.uk) and the NAS, I want to help them give other people the support and assistance we missed out on’. Her kind donations helped and still help to fund various projects run by the society. For example, the National Autistic Society runs training programmes for professionals, educating them about the nature of Asperger’s Syndrome. Training programmes such as this aim to eliminate the negative attitudes of the ‘psychologist cynics’ Laura sings about in ‘Strongmen’, so that young men and women like Daniel will not have to face the same uphill struggle as he and his family did.

One of the larger projects run by the National Autistic Society are the six schools for children and young people with aspergers syndrome. Due to the nature of the students and the specific training of the staff, children can enjoy a prejudice-free education suited to their needs. The ‘bad girls and bully boys’ Laura sings about in  ‘Strongmen’, although present elsewhere, cannot alienate the children at these schools in the way that Daniel and many others like him were bullied and alienated by school children at mainstream schools.

As a short refrain, Laura sings ‘you taught me to tend towards clemency’, despite the fact her mother said he ‘tried the patience of saints’. As well as educating her listeners, Laura seeks to thank her brother for all that he taught her. Laura’s advice is both accurate and heart-warming; through my own experiences with family members who have Asperger’s syndrome, I fully support her notion that clemency and patience are the best ways to go.

So, in capturing the essence of Laura Hocking I believe I have discovered a true star; a star that burns bright with talent but also a star who is able to use that talent to financially and educationally support an extremely worthy cause. The definition of Laura Hocking? Talent with Heart.

Laura Hocking’s EP ‘Laura Hocking and the Long Goodbye’ is now available to purchase. Find out more at www.laurahocking.com.

More information about Autism and the work done by the National Autistic Society can be found at www.autism.org.uk.

By  Jennifer Considine

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