Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Worry, Why Do I Let Myself Worry?

Late on Monday night I found myself on a stage in South London. Stepping into the Brockley Social Club is like slipping back in time, to an age where people wore tinted glasses and sparkly, shoulder-padded jackets. When a prawn-cocktail was considered the height of sophistication and a white wine spritzer would set you back less than a pound. At the end of the bar a group of locals stood clustered, and a bar maid eyed us cautiously from behind the sticky beer taps. Glittering above the bottles of spirits there proudly stood some large silver cups, proclaiming local sporting prowess.

That evening I had been doing some writing and recording with Martin, who has been working with me on some of the songs I have written. I love the way things are going with those songs. We're working on a reggae/dubstep sound, mixing it in with the jazz feel towards which I tend to gravitate. As the songs are all written and recorded on my computer at home they tend to be fairly heavy on the backing vocals, so we are working on incorporating these in the music without making it sound like there is a big choir hovering in the background somewhere, chipping in with harmonies and clapping at random. I want some of the vocals to sound like samples and some to sound like the radio happened to be playing in the background while the song was being recorded. My voice tends to have a quite a clear and girlish quality (see my MySpace for confirmation) (ignore the production on those songs, I hate it and am going to re-record them soon) so I want to dirty it up. "Dirty It Up" being, of course, a technical term, (and possibly a good name for the next Girls Aloud album). Martin is great to work with. Not only does he seem to have similar ideas to me, but he also seems to be genuinely able to leave his ego at the door when he works. It definitely isn't always like this, so it's good to feel relaxed and confident, and not afraid to criticize for fear of provoking sullenness or full-blown anger.

We had a good session and arranged the next one, giving us both some work to do in the meantime. We're working on a track called "Thursday Rain" at the moment, and have a bit of a plan for how we're going to start on the next few as well.

It was about ten o'clock. Martin had a gig to play at and he invited me along. I looked outside at the drenched and blackened June skies. I was exhausted from a heady weekend, seeing friends in Brixton, Soho and then Oxford and back, and had been staring at walls at my temp job all day. The prospect of dragging myself from my bed the following morning had already started to nag at my brain, and I knew that travelling home on night buses after the gig would be intimidating and stressful. All of this duly taken into account, I shrugged, affirmative.

"Yeah, alright. I could use a drink."

I helped him with his amp and keyboard stand and we made our way to the venue. He was playing as part of the Brockley Max Festival, more specifically for their jazz and blues night. The Brockley Social Club is small and, as I mentioned, seems to hark back to a simpler time, when local people all gathered in one place to knock back a few gins and maybe have a game of pool (and perhaps a bit of a dance on a Friday night). A scrolling LED sign balefully informed us that bingo took place every Sunday at nine, and that the dates for the karaoke were yet to be confirmed.

We sat down at a wooden table in the corner and gazed at the stage, upon which a group of middle-aged men dressed in black were blasting out covers of The Clash. "Not quite jazz and blues!" joked the front man in a thick Welsh accent, adjusting his leather trilby hat and greying, tapered jeans. They played their instruments enthusiastically, each dramatic strum of a guitar or blast of a trumpet recalling a boyhood dream of life in a ska-punk band. I enjoyed watching them, enjoyed the fact that they all looked a bit like over-the-hill sound engineers (bar the drummer, who was fourteen and the son of one of the be-ponytailed rockers), I enjoyed the fun they were having. The best part, though, was the familial support of the audience, who cheered every bum note and heckled good-naturedly in the spaces between songs.

To applause and friendly jibes they finished their set, and at that moment the other two members of Martin's band turned up. We were all introduced and shook each other by the hand, and I glanced at the clock. It was just gone eleven and I was tired. I opened my mouth to announce my departure just at the same moment that Martin, by way of explanation, told the other two that I was a singer he was working with.

"Oh" said one of them. "Cool. Are you singing tonight with us, then?"

I laughed, but they shrugged. "Do you want to?" asked Martin. "It would be cool if you did."

Once more I contemplated, although this time I knew what the answer would be. I know myself well enough to know that, no matter the time, no matter the venue, no matter the situation, I can't turn down the opportunity to sing. This explains how I ended up singing once in the middle of Singapore airport, another time with a member of Iron Maiden at the London Marathon and numerous other eclectic places from canoes to cabaret bars. It's like a disease, only with more showing-off.

I picked out a few tunes and wrote down the keys in which I sing them. They set up the stage with drums, keyboard and bass and I clambered up to the mic, wishing I had bothered to brush my hair in the last twenty-four hours. Summertime. Georgia On My Mind. I had no energy for chatting with the audience, so I just smiled and, after glancing down at the piece of paper on which I had hastily scribbled the names of the bassist and drummer, introduced the band. We carried on.

I watched the friendly faces of the locals watching and all of a sudden felt like an intruder. Horrified, I started to think that they probably preferred to watch the musical stylings of their own family and friends to that of some jumped up self-professed jazz singer with a crumpled dress and messy hair. These thoughts crashed upon me in the middle of Fly Me To The Moon, so after that I decided to leave the boys to an instrumental for a bit. Sitting back down on a fake leather seat and clutching a half-drunk pint of Guinness, I decided now was the time to go home. After another two instrumental numbers I stood up and walked over to the stage to say goodbye.

Moments later I was up holding the mic again, listening to the introduction of Night and Day. After this one, I thought, I will definitely go home.


"One more?" asked the host.

Just over half an hour later I sat on the night bus as it trundled through the dark crevices of South London. Alone in the fluorescence of the lights, I felt all my anxiety about getting up and working in not very many hours slam back into my brain. We had been asked to play somewhere else the following night. The drummer had shaken my hand at the end and said "it's nice to play with a singer who can actually sing!", which I took as a compliment whilst trying to ignore the implied comment about singers in general. It was a nice little gig, or at least would have been if I hadn't allowed my anxiety to creep in with its insidious little claws and ruin it for me. I, of course, got home fine and, of course, got up the next morning without too much trouble. I am twenty-six years old, not eighty. I don't need that much sleep.

Anxiety troubles me, and always has, but I must learn to overcome it and enjoy my youth, enjoy my life and take advantage of my freedom. I don't think I will ever be able to stop saying yes to things, so I might as well accept that and start to enjoy the mentalness. I know that's the answer, I just need to work out how to implement it.


Blogger T. said...

Hi, Leonie - just listened to your stuff on MySpace. Fantastic! A talented singer/songwriter, AND an incredible WRITER! Thanks for your music and for the stories you share.

5:18 am

Blogger Badass Geek said...

Yes! She gets it!

I'm glad you have come to this realization. I've been waiting for that for you for a number of years now. Keep that in mind!

12:20 pm

Blogger Miss Devylish said...

I bet it was lovely.. I'm so dying to one day hear you in person and be your biggest fan! I mean, I'm still your biggest fan, but you know. :) Chin up sugar.. you've got more talent in your little finger than most ppl have at all. xo

5:47 pm


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