Monday, March 31, 2008

Follow the Glitter

On the Thursday night of the Bank Holiday I met up with a few friends for some civilised drinks. Rapidly the hour of civilisation came and went, and before I knew it I was perched elegantly on a bar stool in Freedom Bar with Luke, sipping deftly at a gin and tonic. A few more of those and some always-ill-advised tequilas later and we were weaving our way down the stairs in search of the dance floor. Above us hundreds of disco balls of various sizes winked and glittered invitingly, twisting their bright spots all over the dark room. Two silver poles stood proudly on the dance floor, and were being twisted around enthusiastically by happy-looking wannabe pole-dancers.

Looking around the crowd I suddenly felt a jolt of recognition. I elbowed Luke, whose feet had already started involuntarily twitching to the electrifying keening of Gloria Gaynor. "Hey" I shouted over the sound of a room full of men gearing up to full Liza mode. "Isn't that Miss Kimberley?". Luke looked, and agreed that, yes, it was. Miss Kimberley, a drag queen with whom I had sung my heart out a few years ago in The Edge bar. Who I then blogged about. After a bit of nudging from Luke I walked over to where she was leaning, feline, by the bar.

"Um. Hello! Remember me? We met at The Edge? A couple of years ago."

She looked at me and I felt my cheeks begin to flush.

"I sang Big Spender with you?"

A smile began to dawn on her face.

"Remember you? Of COURSE I remember you! I told you to come back and you never did! Why didn't you come back?!"

I didn't go back because I assumed that, when she had extracted the promise from me to come back, she had just been being nice. That as soon as I had walked out and got on the bus that night she had forgotten me, that girls with dubiously-dyed hair and holes in their tights always command the microphone to belt out Shirley Bassey classics on Wednesday evenings in gay bars.

I explained, and she waved my excuses away.

"Right. I am doing cabaret here now. On Thursdays. You MUST come down and sing with me. Promise, this time?"

She looked down at me from her much superior height, hand on hip and eyebrows raised.

I was a little taken aback, I must say. I didn't expect her to remember me, and I certainly didn't expect to be invited for a repeat performance. I love drag acts. I adore the unashamed glamour, the make up and the glitz. I find the drama and confidence exciting and inspiring. I don't have much experience of female-to-male drag acts, but the idea of creating oneself in the whatever image one desires is wonderful to me. Gender and sexuality are not a fixed givens, but ideas to be played with and sculpted, and there is something incredibly powerful about self-creating. Personally, I am happy being a woman on stage (and off), but I still feel that when I perform I am a version of myself that I have made, and drag is just an extension of that.

I looked back up at Miss Kimberley.

"Are you kidding? That would be brilliant! I'd LOVE to!"

We exchanged numbers. According to Luke, having a straight woman as part of a drag cabaret is fairly common practice. Deferring to the queen, but fabulous in her own right. I could, I believe, do that. Wonderful. I will you let know if it happens.

The following night I was on stage in the Two Brewers bar, a gay bar/club on Clapham High Street, singing with another drag act, this time named Lola. I sang a bit, and did not have to buy another drink for the rest of the night. I was made such a fuss of, I felt as though I was Judy Garland, back from the dead for one last wild night out.

Other news I shall sum up in bullet points (the lazy blogger's friend).

- Yesterday was Impish Little Sister's birthday. I couldn't call her as her phone number has recently started going through to a French lady who explains politely that nobody owns this phone, and in fact it is not even a phone number. I get the impression that she judges me for even trying. I'm sure Sophie had a very Parisian birthday, full of absinthe and nonchalance, but I would have loved to spoken to her. I emailed, even using a fancy font and different colours, but it's not the same.

- You should read this blog! It's one of those ones that has a point, as opposed to, say, one of those ones for which the only motivation is rampant narcissism and not having any real friends (ahem). As a person Ben is, like, super-dreamy, and as a poet, performer and person-who-really-cares-about-the-environment-as-opposed-to-just-feeling-mildly-guilty-for-getting-a-carrier-bag-in-Sainsbury's he is, well, also super-dreamy but also excessively talented and clever. When I have been going Up North recently it has often been to see him.

- My friend Chris came back from New York! We all had a marvellous weekend to celebrate, with partying, a roast dinner and many congratulations for making it back to London. It was thrilling. Two days later he was called into his boss's office and told they were sending him back over the Altantic for another six months, this time to Washington. All "Welcome Home!" celebrations quickly turned into "Fine, Piss Off Back To America Then" ones, which take considerably more sign-writing skills.

- I am ready for summer now. By 'summer' I mean, of course 'British summer', so I therefore mean half a day of sun in August, during which I will sustain horrific sunburn and eight people will be taken ill on the tube from heat exhaustion. The next day the papers will be teeming with pictures of half-naked girls on Brighton beach, who, judging from their even tans and devil-my-care attitudes, will Not Be British. Whatever. I am ready for it.

This has become a long post of irrelevant twittering. Tomorrow I am going to start saving the planet and writing about that, but for now I must satisfy myself with hanging out with transvestites and then trying to capture it in long-winded and overly-flowery prose. Then I will just click the 'Publish Post' button and hope that the post doesn't end too sudde

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Open For Criticism

Here it is. I work every day in an job. I get up in the morning and get on the tube with thousands of other tired-looking commuters and stare at the free papers, trying to resist the temptation to correct the grammar with a red pen. I nine-to-five (thirty) and then leave.

Some days I am hungover and feel that I am going nowhere, that I will be sucked under by the mire of admin work. Maybe I will live out my days behind a grey desk, dreaming of music. Most days I don't entertain these qualms, though. Most days I just plan. In the last few months quite a few things I planned for last year have started to blossom, so I plan nowadays with renewed vigour.

Somehow this blog fits into that plan. For a while I have entertained the idea of this being a proper musician/struggling artist blog, where I post my compositions, stick up photos of gigs and really focus on gearing everything in my life towards my music. The only other thing I enjoy nearly as much as music is writing. It seems logical.

Only, of course, that's nothing new! That's been the plan for ages. Lack of web access, lack of time and lack of energy has forestalled it, but it is always lurking.

So I am going to start small. With an open list. People write open letters, so I am going to take that format, make it slightly less interesting, and write an open list. Maybe I want to prove that, all this time that I sit greyly at a desk, watching a computer screen flicker, I am simply gearing up to do something wonderful. Maybe I find it easier to process things when there is a 'publish' button to click. Or maybe (and this is probably the most plausible) I am just a incurable narcissist.

Whatever. Here is my open plan. Feel free to make suggestions, comments or criticisms. I mean it. I would really appreciate the input.

Writing (music) - I have been working on tracks that are entirely composed of layered vocals. The last one I did all the way through had fifteen different vocal tracks, which, although not all on top of each other all the time, more than fills up the space. I have started quite a few more, although haven't actually finished any of them. I want to experiment with different backing vocal styles, as well as explore my limits of the line between spoken word and vocals.

I am aiming to have three songs like this completed within the next two months. Completed enough to be able to take the tracks along to open mic sessions and play them while I sing a lead vocal over the top.

Performance – I am going to continue to go perform at the gigs I currently do, but also start going to more jazz jams. I have a list of about fifty jazz standards that I do, along with the keys in which I do them, so it really is ludicrously easy to go along and sing. Particularly when there are sites like this and this. I can't allow myself to whinge about how I have just worked all day and I'm tired because, idiot, the only reason I work all day is to facilitate my music. Man up, silly girl (is what I'll say).

Work with other people - I am currently working with one producer. This is fine, but I want to also work with live musicians.

Regular Gig - At a showcase I did in January, I got chatting to another girl who was on the line up as well. The gig was running late and it didn't feel much like anyone knew what was going on. We chatted about how frustrating it was to work to someone else's schedule all the time, and the lack of autonomy we both felt. I was surprised to hear her echoing my thoughts, as she is way cooler than me and, I assumed, above that kind of thing. We decided between us to start putting on events ourselves. As a way of providing ourselves with a regular platform, but also of developing our music and getting other people to come and perform. She's called Nyika and she is very cool. She's a bit older than I am, and those years have seen two albums and lots of experience. I'm at a bit of a loss as to what exactly I am bringing to the table, but I know I am not leaving it. We have already been to look at a venue, and are setting a date for the first of our monthly gigs. It'll probably be in June. Put it in your diary.

Internet - I want to have more of a web presence. For marketing purposes, obviously, but also just because I adore the Internet and want to do more stuff on it. Musically and writing-wise. I want to put my songs and plans up to invite opinion, as it can be quite exhausting thinking on my own all the time.

So, do you have any ideas? Insights? Thoughts are welcome. Maybe this is my real reason for posting an open list. I know this list. To me it is old hat. To other people, though, it might be new and it might inspire ideas. I would like to hear those ideas. Very much.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Weathering the Weather

The country is wracked with storms! Across the land coats are zipped right up to the top and hair-styling is rendered completely pointless. Abandoned umbrellas lie strewn across the pavements like ungainly stick insects. People talk animatedly about delays on public transport and irreparable damage to garden trellises. A sense of community prevails as we are brought together by hats whipped clean off in the street and pictures of huge waves in Cornwall. It makes us happy, and we chatter about it incessantly. We are inclined to blame The Storms for any minor irritation in life. Trouble sleeping? Might be the weather. Slight headache? Happens when it's cold out. Family of angry leopards circling your desk? I blame global warming.

The weekend with my sister was ace. On Saturday afternoon we hung around nonchalantly in trendy pubs in Camden, even though neither of us has an asymmetrical haircut or attend art school. Some of Impish Sophie's friends came down and we drank and chatted until it was time for us to go to the Roundhouse to see Roisin Murphy.

We queued up for some squashy plastic cups of wine before making our way into the auditorium. The Roundhouse space is cavernous, and it was packed full to bursting. Soph and I pushed our way through the bodies, vying for a spot near the front. Eventually we reached a point of impasse, hemmed in by a group of loud, extremely camp boys who starkly refused to let us push any further. They were jumping up and down, hugging each other a lot and generally being very annoying. We had, of course, spent the last five minutes annoying everyone else by elbowing our way through the crowd, but we chose to forget that and concentrate on being annoyed by them.

Roisin's Ruby Blue album is innovative and exciting. The production is interesting - electronic sounds mixed with live big band instrumentals, topped off by the weird and wonderful vocals of Roisin herself. To me it is an example of how good songwriting combined with forward-thinking production can result in something really exciting. Safe to say, my hopes were up.

I was, however, very disappointed by the live show. It was all such a banal set-up - DJ at the back, guitarist one on side and identi-kit backing vocalists on the other. The lighting was bright and peppered with moving shafts of neon which cut over those on stage in an attempt to be interesting. In the middle Roisin herself gave a performance without soul, and which was so clearly choreographed that it was embarrassing to watch. At one point she made a big deal of taking her suit jacket off, only to reveal a plain white top underneath. Sure, she was bra-less, but it was rather a pointless gesture and only served to confuse. Sophie and I stood, baffled, being jostled this way and that by the over-enthusiastic boys surrounding us. They seemed to have been enthused by something we could not see. Or had not taken.

Quickly we came to a decision. "This" Sophie shouted to me, over the vacuous cheering, "is really boring." It was. There was no soul to any of it. I felt like I had been sucked into an MTV video in the mid-nineties and could not get out. Except, of course, that we could. So we did.

Disappointing. It won't stop me listening to the album, or being interested in other work she does, but some people are just not that good on stage. A damning response, I know, but I feel strongly that people who get to be on stage have a responsibility to be good. Like Jill Scott, for example, whose gig at Shepherd's Bush was possibly the best I've ever seen.

Tonight I am going to the theatre, to see a production called I Hear Voices, which I am certain will be top-notch and super. It is their last London date and I am looking forward to it greatly.

This weekend my friend Chris is returning from New York and moving back to Brixton. Hurray! I am excited by the prospect of a re-Londonization weekend for him. I will have my work cut out for me if I am to de-NewYorkize him in just two days. I'd better not introduce him to Charlene, they might start to have an alarming amount in common, and that cheerleader outfit can be pretty chilly.

I am excited about tonight, and about the weekend! I can only hope that it isn't all ruined horribly by conversations about the weather.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Weekend Horizons

This morning I looked out of my window and saw Brixton smeared with rain. On the opposite side of the road the dome of the Academy was smudging and the heavy double-deckers that continuously rumble past were just a wash of red streaks.

Entirely my fault, I suspected. When I was walking to a jam session in Stoke Newington last night I thought to myself, oh, isn't it nice that it hasn't rained in a while!* That must've done it. The act of appreciating good weather, as everyone knows, is more than enough to make it quickly turn to shit.

*I often make banal comments to myself like this, like I have somebody's Grandmother living in my head. I am compelled to make small talk with her. Only the other day I caught myself thinking, yes, but that Torvill and Dean were good, weren't they? Granny nodded sagely in response. I then threw myself down the nearest available flight of stairs.

By now, however, London is wetly bright. It shines and gleams, and it is Friday afternoon.

Tonight my Impish Sophie Sister is whooshing (Eurostar, not tube) over from Paris, back to London. She will stay with my parents. Tomorrow we are meeting for lunch in Camden at this place with our parents (but sadly not our other sister, she is somewhere else, the fool), then Sophie and I will skip merrily off to sit in either the Lock Tavern or the Lockside Lounge and wait for people to come and join us for a beer.

(Hey, you want to join us for a beer? We'll be there from about four-thirty, in one or other of the places. You'll get to meet Impish Sophie and nod in agreement that yes, she is indeed distinctly Imp-like. Come along!)

We will sit there and talk and make jokes until such time rolls around for us to go here to see this woman play. Sophie and I are both fans of her Ruby Blue album, and we also both secretly want to be her. I personally think I am closer because I a) have more reddish (read: ginger) hair (thanks, cheap Superdrug hairdye!) and b) also have a funny accenty line thing above one of the letters of my name.

Sophie will then stay with me in Brixton. On Sunday morning we will go to Soho and meet our other sister for a Sister Brunch, at which we will no doubt talk about clothes, ponies and boys.

I possibly have a rehearsal in the evening, depending upon whether a gig that might happen on Monday actually happens, but whatever happens this weekend looks promisingly super. I was meant to be in the studio tonight, but it might be cancelled, who knows.

For now I am going to trot happily over to my friend's office to meet her for lunch, at which we will no doubt talk about clothes, ponies and boys.

This morning London was smeared with rain, and now it shines. It is a funny thing.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Have pom-poms. Will travel.

Friday, 5.30pm. I hurried out of the doors of the big marble building in which I am currently temping my days away. Whoosh! on the crush of the tube to London Bridge and the Southwark Playhouse. In time to change, cramped and cold in a toilet cubicle, into a slinky black dress whilst humming tunelessly in an attempt to warm up my voice. After peering into the mirror to touch up my fading make-up and push my fingers through the messycurltangle that I willfully attempt to pass off as hair, I walked out to meet the pianist. It was the press night of a play called Woyzeck, by a theatre company called Cardboard Citizens. The company had contacted my friend and fellow jazz person Steve after we had played there for another press night for another theatre company. The venue itself is wonderful, underneath the arches of London Bridge train station. Huge, cavernous and echoing, cleaned-up (but not too much), lit with swathes of fairy lights and imposing silver air vents. We played on a stage in the bar area, before the show, in the interval and at the end.

It (inevitably) lasted longer than we had expected, so it was eleven before I was making my over to a clandestine meeting in a Travelodge in Brentford. The wind was whipping in the dark and the rain had watched the wind for a bit, thought it looked like it was having the jolliest of times and decided to join in. I made it, however, despite nearly being buffeted clean off the pavement. We sat up in a very empty bar until the early hours, drinking brandy and being distracted by music videos until it was time to go to bed.

The following morning I woke up with a hangover. Brixton beckoned. Home, with its attendant pleasures of a shower and food. This, however, was not to last long.

Shower, food, change. Coffee, painkillers, water.

Panic. Checking the contents of my bag. Double-checking. Triple.

Out of the house I ran, through the Brixton Saturday throng, to whoosh! again onto the tube. Panic. Staring at sheets of paper with words on them, printed out the week before and clutched desperately now. Glancing at my watch over and over, holding my bags with my be-trainered feet.

Forty minutes later I arrived at a huge suburban house and stood outside it for a few seconds. Breathing. One more breath and I crunched up the gravel, feeling small and tired.

The front door was opened by a friendly-looking woman, with two little girls lurking shyly behind her legs.

I smiled broadly.

"Hi!" I said in a loud, abrasive American accent. "I'm Charlene! I'm a cheerleader!"

I was invited in, and introduced to the girls. The house was bright and airy, with light, wooden floors and white walls. I was shown a room so I could change.

Trainers. White sports socks. A white and blue skirt, just above the knee. A sleeveless white and blue top with the letters "MHS" emblazoned across the front. Hair tied up, high and swishy (it had been de-messycurltangled since the night before).

I picked up my pom-poms and stared into the mirror, daring my reflection to laugh. No laughter came. I can do this, I told myself. I did it before, I can do it again.

The birthday girl was seven, and her nineteen friends were all about the same age. The next two hours were spent with stories, games and dancing. With, of course, a break for tea and birthday cake.

The parents were in and out a bit but mostly it was just me, American, brash, leading the way. Learning their names and trying to negotiate my way around a group of the sensitivities and confidences of little girls. Encouraging them to play and have fun. Some of them hung around my ankles and waist the whole time, others could only just be persuaded to smile.

On my way back home (having changed back to English Léonie, Charlene tucked safely away in my bag) I listened to a voicemail from Dan. They were going out in Brixton. I had said I might come, was I going to?

I called back. Accepted the offer, high on the success of the party. Said that they should all come for a drink at my house first and promised them that if they did I would greet them all in my cheerleading outfit.

They said they'd be there at nine.

Wine was opened, I was mocked and enjoyed it, my house was praised for its loveliness. Then I got changed and we all went out. Drank and danced, then some people came back to mine. We opened more wine and talked until five, before I handed out spare beds and sofas and we all fell asleep.

On Sunday I woke at one.

Shower, food, change. Coffee, painkillers, water.

Whoosh! again onto the tube and made my way to another house, another party. Another chance for Charlene to leap out and astound everybody with her energetic enthusiasm. This time the girls were eight and there were fewer of them. We had a wonderful time.

After the two hours were up I changed back into my Léonie costume (jeans, top and a weary expression) and snuck back into the room to collect my CD player. The girls were all still "dancing crazy" (Charlene does this a lot) and they swooped. "Who are YOU?" one of them demanded, poking her eight-year-old finger into my shoulder. "We thought you were a cheerleader!" They all looked at me, daring me to answer.

Léonie shrugged, so Charlene replied. "Hey, you think I wear that all the time?! I'd get COLD! I have to go outside!"

They considered this. The one who has spoken earlier looked at me, sucked in her breath and shook her head. Hands on hips she pushed her face close to mine and slowly spoke.


There was nothing else for it. I stood up.

"Ah HA!" I cried, gleefully, still in my American accent. "I ATE HER! ALL UP! Mmmmmm... she was DE-LI-CIOUS!"

To prove my words I rubbed my stomach with my hands and licked my lips in a pantomimic manner.

They are screeched and scattered, giggling and pointing. "Arrest her! She ate our cheerleader! She ate Charlene! She's an impostor!"

And with that, I left.

Whoosh. Back on the tube. To Soho. To Madame JoJo's and the Finger in the Pie Cabaret.

To change back into slinky black (trousers and a waistcoat this time)to sing some more jazz, to end the weekend in the manner in which it had started.

We played a few sets and watched some cabaret. People drifted home but somehow I could not drag myself away from my weekend, and stayed with my friend Tara, drinking wine and talking emphatically about life until three.

I fell into bed, reflecting that I probably should have eaten more than one meal that day, and quickly fell asleep.

My phone beeped its smug song early on Monday morning.

Shower, food, change. Coffee, painkillers, water.