I love everything about hosting open mic nights for singers at the Live Lounge and CellarDoor... except for one thing.
The pianist and the host play for tips, so part of my job as the host is to sweetly cajole and/or strongly pressurise the audience into throwing some money into the hat. And I have to do this several times during the course of the evening. The relatively cowardly way to do this is to send the hat around the tables by itself while I sing a song which is hopefully so entertaining that the audience willingly dig deep into their pockets.
However, I have noticed that a lot of coppers end up in the hat this way, because people feel that for appearances sake they should put something in, but they don't really want to part with their dosh, so they put 1p and 2p pieces in. But this is worse than putting in nothing at all. Not only do the coppers weigh the hat down, thus impeding ease of passage around the room, they also encourage other people, who see the coppers in there, to put more coppers in themselves. And not only that, guess who is stuck counting the 1p and 2p pieces for half an hour at the end of the night, sifting through them hopefully looking for missed pound coins? Yours truly.
A tactic used by godfather of cabaret Mr Paul L Martin is to publicly shame anyone who doesn't donate, by pointing them out to the rest of the audience, and explaining to them that if they are enjoying to the evening's live entertainment, they should give money to the people who are providing that entertainment for them. And if they're not interested in the live entertainment, they should leave and find another bar where no one is singing their hearts out in front of their noses. This strategy frequently results in people leaving, rather than in people putting money in the hat, however.
The best way I've come up with so far to make people put proper money in the hat is to go round and stick it right under their nose in person. Nobody puts 2p pieces in when you're watching them like a hawk, it's almost uniformly pound coins, or even fivers, if you're lucky. It's nice if someone else will do this on your behalf - a friend, or one of the bar staff - but you generally get more if you do it yourself. So far I haven't directly confronted any of the people who have pointedly ignored me, or pretended they've already put money in when I know they haven't, but I have to say that my confidence is growing, and I've noticed that the more shameless and unembarrassed I am about asking for money, the more I get. "Please donate to the Starving Musician's Cocktail Fund" has been my most successful line as yet. It's only a matter of time before i'm having a face-off with some reluctant donor or other and asking them if the live music going on under their nose is interfering with their quiet evening out, or whether it is, in fact, contributing to their enjoyment in any way, in which case they should show their appreciation.
I once lived in Sri Lanka (where I also started my singing career, singing jazz in the five star hotels) and it took me a long time to get used to the constant barrage of beggars who would appear as if from nowhere as soon as I stepped outside my door (and sometimes even before I'd stepped outside my door). Street beggars who'd lost their arms thrusting their handless stumps through an open car window into my face was the most disturbing experience I remember. At first I reacted to this experience of everyone constantly wanting a piece of me by giving nobody anything. This was a pretty common initial gut reaction amongst all the other expats as well - we felt assaulted by these intrusions into our privacy, by the rudeness and apparent hostility of it. But I noticed when I was out with affluent Sri Lankans that they would give automatically without even thinking twice about it. In Sri Lanka, giving to beggars was like tipping in restaurants: just something you do, to maintain the economic system you live within.
And now I find myself on the opposite side of that equation, at a time of life when I expected I'd be financially secure, instead of which I'm the one holding out the begging bowl. When I'm passing the hat around at an open mic night, I sometimes get unnerving flashbacks to those handless stumps being waved in my face through a car window in Sri Lanka.
Being a performer gives you an odd sort of status. On the one hand, people are often admiring, and complimentary, and you certainly get more ego boosts than you do in most other jobs. On the other hand, you are just as often viewed as someone in a servile role, who is there for the entertainment of the audience, the hired help, and therefore low status. Ironically, in my experience, the more you are paid for a private function, the more you are ignored or treated with disdain by the guests. So, to persevere as a performer, you must be resilient to rapid, unexpected, and unpredictable swings in status, from god to serf and back again, sometimes several times in one evening. Apparently Buddha said it was good discipline for anyone on the road to enlightenment to experience periods of both high and low status in their life. I can see how it could help to polish you into a fine, humble and generous spirit - although it is just as likely to leave you a neurotic bag of nerves.
So how to overcome this status neurosis and steel myself to ask my audience to pay me for my performance?
I suppose at the end of the day it's about how much I value my own and my colleague's work: because in life one generally gets what one thinks one deserves (rather than what one really deserves. This is one of life's great ironies, but also one of life's great secrets. Once you're in on it, your path will be strewn with rose petals. Probably. )
I know that my colleague on piano is working his socks off performing musical feats that I could never dream of accomplishing (even if I could play the piano) - sight reading 10-page-long musical scores, transposing keys on sight, and vamping around a singer who's lost their place until they find it again, without drawing attention to the fact. He's earned his money all right, which is why I owe it to him to get as much as I can out of the crowd. I also know that I'm working hard to make the evening fun for everybody in the room, and that's no mean feat either, so I deserve my half too.
Hosting an open mic night can be a delicate balancing act. Sometimes pleasing the would-be singers by giving them several opportunities to sing is not pleasing the audience, who want more variety, and don't mind one or two rather more experimental or charmingly unpolished performances, but find their patience wearing thin if required to listen to too many of them. Sometimes taking on a roomful of drunken partygoers is like walking into a bear pit - although you're just as likely to find yourself being playfully stroked by the bears as you are being savaged by them. However, drunk bears can play rough without even realising they're doing it, so you're also just as likely to come out bruised from copious effusions of affection.
Sometimes nobody in the room is interested in anything other than their own performance, and twitch impatiently through everyone else's turns until they can get behind the mic themselves. Singing to this type of crowd, as host, is terrifying, because you are supremely aware that your technical vocal abilities are being judged by a highly-attuned critical ear, and, worse, with that sort of why-not-me attitude that is impossible to please except by making it their turn as fast as possible. Which is generally my strategy in these situations. And when I do come back on to sing at the end, it's usually to lead the room in a singalong - which is another cunning strategy to deal with overly-critical listeners, because they will be far too busy concentrating on their own performance to worry about mine.
But when the night works - and this is what I'm beavering away to achieve, by working the room and smiling and chatting to everybody, and trying to find out what their musical dreams and ambitions are, and giving them a gentle nudge up to the microphone if they need it - when the night works it's magic. About 10 times more magic than just playing a gig yourself and having people just sitting listening to you. Because you're all part of something together: a night of musical discovery where new voices have been heard and people have exposed themselves on a microphone for the first time and discovered how exciting it is to make yourself vulnerable on stage for an audience. And even the people who've discovered how emotionally eviscerating it is to make yourself vulnerable on stage for an audience have been lifted up by the love in the room and made to feel better about the fact they sang the whole of Girl From Ipanema in the wrong key. Because no one is more gentle with performers than other performers. Because nobody knows better than other performers how hard it is to get up there and sing the right notes, and the right words, in the right order, and most of all to be yourself, amplified.
When the night works, it's priceless.
And those are the nights we get the most money in the hat.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Walking around London with a ukelele case all of a sudden transforms your day into a whimsical adventure, whether or not that was your original intention. Try it yourself, and you'll see what I mean.
A few days ago I headed out of the house with a long list of back-to-back social engagements, and the last one on the list was the ukelele jam session that happens every week in the Royal George pub off Charing Cross Road, so that meant I had to take my ukelele with me to all the other appointments too.
First off I dropped in on Johnboy, the manager of the Lincoln Lounge, who made me a frothy free latte while we discussed plans for the Ukelele Cabaret on Tuesday. While we were at it, we also discussed a range of other random matters, such as the ethics of ripped software, how many books we owned and the ethics of making drunken punters move off a reserved table. Then I realised I had to be in Soho for another meeting in half an hour, and foolishly decided to walk it because it would be good exercise and more interesting.
Half an hour later, instead of being safely ensconced in one of Soho House's sofas where I should have been, I was standing on a Bloomsbury street corner staring blankly at the pages of my A to Z. A girl stopped and asked me if I was lost, then revealed that I was in fact in Holborn not Soho and pointed me in the right direction. Before she walked off she asked me if that was a ukelele I was carrying? I said it was and she said it was nice to meet a fellow ukelele player. So i whipped out a flyer for Tuesday's gig and pressed it eagerly into her hand before I skittered off.
I think it was the ukelele case that made her stop and help me in the first place. A ukelele sisterhood, if you like.
Rushing through Soho in a slightly sweaty panic, I discovered another use for a ukelele case - brandishing it in front of me like a sword, I was able to clear myself a path through the teeming crowds of Tottenham Court Road far more effectively.
I apologised profusely for being late when I finally rattled into Soho House and my host said graciously that it was worth it to see a girl walk in with a ukelele.
When that meeting was finished I trotted down to Picadilly Circus to the Pigalle Club to pick up our pay from the previous week's gig. I think there's something really cool about walking into clubs through the back door, especially really posh West End supper clubs. Even if the back corridors are invariably grubby and grim. In fact the posher the venue, the grimmer the back corridor - it's a sort of Murphy's Law of gigging. I did feel a bit weird trotting into the club when it wasn't even our night to play there, but the fact that I was carrying my ukelele case made me feel legitimate, and also meant that nobody questioned my right to be in the back corridors; they could look at me, see the instrument case and think, ah, right, she's a musician, that explains what she's doing here. Handy. I was especially grateful for my prop when I had to squeeze past Lenny Beige and his cohorts while they were soundchecking for their gig that night. Lenny Beige exists only as a legend for me: one day I hope to actually get to see one of his shows, but at least I've seen him obsessively mumbling gibberish into a radio mic, which is something.
Then I trotted off to yet another meeting at the University Women's Club, where an eclectic array of very individual-looking women of every age, shape, size and colour barely gave my ukelele case a second glance, then I shimmied my way past all the designer shops of Mayfair, swinging my case happily, back into Soho and finally to my destination, the ukelele jam itself.
Walking down into a basement full of ukeleles of every hue, as well as a smattering of banjoleles for good measure, I could almost feel my little pink Mahalo vibrating with pleasure from inside its case, like a purring kitten.
One of the ukelele jammers said to me after we'd finished playing for the night that the thing with the ukelele is that you either get it or you don't. The world, for him, is divided into Friends of the Ukelele and everyone else.
I appear to have stumbled into some sort of evangelical musical movement - Ukevangelism?
Little did I know when I first picked up one of these diminutive little instruments that I was also becoming part of a Movement and taking on a spiritual creed. I'm not sure exactly what the creed of the ukelele is, but I'll ponder on it and maybe try and write it out in due course. I think it might have something to do with being whimsical and taking the scenic route in life.
Even if taking the scenic route makes you fifteen minutes late for a meeting, it would seem that if you're carrying a ukelele with you, nobody will mind.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Packing up my kit bag last night with my Jazz Costume, ready for my late spot at the Warped Variety Show, I spotted some grubby bits of cack stuck to my pink velvet shoes.
What on earth was that nasty brownish stuff?
Then I remembered. About a month ago I did a spot at the Volupte Saturday Night Gala, right after a burlesquer by the name of Stella Plumes. One of Stella's acts is to come on stage as her alter-ego, Enid Brown, in a prim and proper 40s style secretary get-up, complete with glasses and hair in a bun. She then recites a poem about how everyone told poor downtrodden Enid to behave herself and not eat cakes, but she decided to transform herself into Stella Plumes and be a bad girl. 'Enid' then strips off right down to her lingerie, while gorging herself seductively on cream cakes at the same time. This act has intense appeal to the women in the audience, making the connection so explicit between being a bad girl and eating sugary confections slathered in chocolate.
After her act Stella trotted gaily off the stage in her suspenders, knickers and nipple tassels, and I trotted gaily on, putting my foot right in her chocolate eclair.
Being the showman that I am I didn't flinch - and a moment later I was distracted by a very drunk gentleman shouting "Off! Off! Off!" I wasn't sure if he was referring to my clothes or my entire person, but when I went over to take him to task over his heckling after my set, he assured me that I was very lovely and he had meant no offense (while kissing my hand rather sloppily). This did not deter him from shouting the same thing at every other act that went on after me as well, however.
Sir Fitzroy asked me in passing later what on earth that squishy brown thing on the floor at his feet had been, and was relieved to hear it was only a cream cake. You never know with these burlesque girls. But he was mostly concerned with the heckler and his intense desire to march off stage and thump the guy with his trombone. I'm glad he didn't: I don't want any harm coming to Fitz's brass.
And so I completely forgot about the cream cake until last night, when I spotted those bits of several-week old cream and choux pastry clinging to my footwear. I'm happy to report I managed to get it all off with the nail brush from the side of the bath. And then I put the nail brush back on the side of the bath without rinsing it off. But I was in a rush to get to the gig - and nobody ever uses those things on their actual nails anyway.
I will remember to rinse the nail brush off later. Probably.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I've always known Beloved was fond of his gold fender strat, but I've never troubled myself with the question of which of us he would save if the house was burning down.
Until last night.
While walking across the front room yesterday evening I caught my foot in the guitar lead and knocked the axe in question off its stand so it went flying and landed on my foot.
While I shrieked in pain, Beloved leaped across the room and picked up his poor precious baby. He cradled the guitar protectively in his arms and peered solicitously along its neck. One of the strings had broken and hung limply from the fretboard. Beloved struck a tentative chord. The guitar made a pitifully cacophonous noise, a bit like a mewling kitten.
For the next hour Beloved refused to look at or speak to me. Instead he fetched a screwdriver, a soft cloth and a can of furniture polish, and proceeded to administer a full medical on his poor bruised guitar. The strings were carefully removed. The fretboard was lovingly polished. A panel was unscrewed from the back of the guitar, revealing three mysterious springs. Beloved then attempted to remove the spring from inside the lid of the spray can of furniture polish without success. Luckily he turned out not to need it, as all three springs in the back of the guitar were apparently intact. He then carefully placed the stringless but now very sparkly axe on its stand, and pointedly kicked the leads and wires out of the way of any stray clumsy feet that may happen to be passing.
Throughout this entire procedure I was rubbing my poor bruised toes, emitting faint whimpers of pain, to which Beloved was completely oblivious.
Several hours later, Beloved decided to graciously accept my apology for tripping over a wire in the semi darkness that was sprawled right across my path, and grudgingly acknowledged that I might not have knocked his guitar over on purpose.
I look forward to a full medical update on the wellbeing of the Love Axe when I get home this evening.
As for my toes, they are much better, and only slightly sore, so the good news is that I will be able to wear heels again.
Although possibly not in the front room.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The dressing room at Volupte is a hotbed of glamour and intrigue.
Last Friday night was no exception, as a room-ful of semi-clad maidens jostled for position in front of the mirror and catalogued their various beauty woes.
"I can't find my nipple tassels!" shrieked Kitty Bang Bang, emptying the entire contents of her vanity case onto the dressing room floor. A fascinating array of satin lingerie tumbled out - but no nipple tassels. As you can imagine, embarking upon a burlesque striptease without that crucial final layer of concealment is unthinkable.
Luckily the combined maternal instincts and razor-sharp organisational skills of our Mother Superior of Burlesque, Gwendoline Lamour, came to the rescue, because naturally she had a spare set in her own bag kept at the ready for just such an emergency. They were silver ones, in the shape of snowflakes. Gwendoline warned Kitty that one corner was a bit wonky and needed extra glue to keep it stuck on. Kitty was limp with gratitude.
And very fine they looked too, if not entirely in-line with the playing card theme of her new 'Luck be a Lady' routine. But I didn't hear any of the appreciative punters in the audience commenting on the incongruity of snowflakes, so I think she got away with it.
As for me, I was moaning about the fact that my hair was all frizzy, and asking advice from my partners in glamour on what on earth to do about it. Kitty's suggestion - don't wash your hair on the day of a gig - was unfortunately too late to follow, but The Divine Miss Em bunged me some hair serum which helped no end.
Then it was Gwendoline's turn to put the distress call out, as she realised she couldn't find her red lipliner. Horror! No burlesque star goes on stage without red lipstick, least of all the star of the entire night. I lent her mine, and was rather pleased to be told it was the perfect colour. It was, however, sharpened with an inferior type of sharpener, which meant the point wasn't long enough. Luckily Gwendoline had a proper sharpener, and gave me back my own second rate one, before carefully sharpening my lip pencil with her more professional tool.
I used the lipliner myself right after Gwendoline had finished with it, and it did indeed seem easier to handle with a longer point. Now I come to think about it, I've had that old pencil sharpener since I was about sixteen, and it came free with a set of big fat pearlised eyeshadow pencils which have long since gone the way of all superannuated make up in my life. (They're stashed in a vanity case on my dressing table.) Note to self - next time I'm in Covent Garden I shall brave the supercilious sneers of the shop assistants in Charles Fox and go and pick up a proper pencil sharpener.
Last time I went into Charles Fox it was my maiden visit to this den of thespianry, and very intimidating it was too. I was buying some new make up ready for a 2-minute screentest I was shooting the next day with filmmaker Alex de Campi, and she'd told me she wanted me to look really pale skinned, for a very heightened, extreme look. However, the greasepaint that the assistant in Screen Face showed me was actually about two shades darker than my natural skin colour. I told her that I'd been instructed to get something pale, but she retorted:
"Oh no, you need to go much pinker for stage lighting. When I'm on stage myself, I always go for a foundation much darker and warmer than my natural skin tone, otherwise I look washed out."
I was still doubtful about this - I explained I was being filmed rather than appearing in the theatre, but Miss Make Up claimed this made no difference. When I reiterated that the director had explicitly asked me to go for a pale shade, and asked her about a greasepaint stick two shades lighter than the one she'd suggested, she got huffy with me:
"By all means get that one - if you want to look like a corpse."
She then walked off and refused to meet my eye for the duration of my time in the shop, so I had to get her colleague to help me find translucent powder, false eyelashes, a sponge and a powder-puff.
Gritting my teeth in the face of this opprobrium, I bought the "too-pale" shade I'd picked out anyway - and you can see for yourself whether it makes me look like a corpse by having a look at the film Alex shot of me:
Meanwhile, back in the Volupte dressing room the clock was ticking. (Not that there is actually a clock in there. It's on the list of things we always harp on about needing for that room every time we're getting ready, along with a second mirror for the other wall. Harping on about this has now become one of those reassuring Volupte rituals.) Showtime was almost upon us, so I chucked my lipliner back in my make up bag, picked up my skirts and skittered up the two flights of stairs to the restaurant.
Because I make use of a magical and quite possibly carcinogenic product known as Lipcote, I don't need to top up my lipstick at half time when I'm doing a show. Lipcote is a mysterious liquid that comes in a little bottle with an applicator brush and which you paint around the edges of your lips then across their entire surface area to permanently glue on your lipstick. It stings like a motherfucker (as a certain potty-mouthed Burlesque star would say), but so powerful is its effect that I regularly have to scrub my lips with my toothbrush to get the red lipstick off at the end of the night.
However, probably very wisely, none of my show-mates make use of this dubious substance, so, it occurs to me in retrospect that I was perhaps a little bit previous in assuming the work of my lipliner was done for the evening, and putting it away. When I came back to the dressing room after the first show I was mildly puzzled to see my make up bag lying open when I was sure I'd put it in my canvas holdall, but I packed it away again absentmindedly without thinking to check its contents.
And this despite Gwendoline's dire warning to me just a few weeks before, that she had a dangerous tendency to hoover up any make up that was left anywhere in her vicinity. That time, I had only just managed to rescue my greasepaint stick (yes the corpse-coloured one) and powder puff in the nick of time, before they disappeared forever into the black hole of her make up bag.
I have no evidence whatsoever for the outrageous accusation made in the title of this blog entry. But when I unzipped my make up bag to get ready for my show at CellarDoor on Sunday, there was no sign of my red lipliner anywhere.
Hazily the memory of that open make-up bag came back to me. Could it be that, needing a lip top up, and, naturally, needing to use the same shade as she'd put on before, Miss Lamour had fished out my lip pencil once more and then, in her haste to rush to the stage, absentmindedly left it in a pile with the rest of her make up paraphernalia, to be swept into the Black Hole when she packed up at the end of the night? If I hadn't tidied away my own make up bag into my holdall, she'd probably have noticed it sitting there, and remembered where the lipliner came from.
Of course my lipliner might actually be rattling around in the bottom of my canvas holdall, along with a multicoloured bag of straws (in case the venue don't have any, and I need one for my water, to avoid smudging my lipstick on the rim of the glass), and a pink paper fan (in case it's hot on stage - this item of my Emergency Kit hasn't been out of the bag all summer, incidentally). I should probably have checked before making such wild accusations.
But the fact remained that on Sunday night I was in a bit of a jam. No red lipliner, and no roomful of burlesque stars to tap for one either. Just me in my own bathroom at home.
What did I do? I pulled a faded cloth vanity case from the bottom of a pile of stuff on my dressing table and opened up Pandora's Box to reveal every discarded piece of make up I have ever possessed since the tender age of sixteen (my mum wouldn't let me wear make up before then. I'm not sure what dangerous effect she thought it might have on me, but whatever her fears were, I think it's fair to say I've surpassed them many times over by now.) Sure enough, in amongst the peach pearlised lipsticks and dried out mascara wands was a red lipliner of fine length, virtually unused. I gave it a quick sharpen with my vintage teenage sharpener, and we were good to go.
So everything was all right in the end. My new (old) lipliner does the job nicely, although a better pencil sharpener might help transform it into a truly professional tool. My original red lipliner may or may not be jetsetting its way around the world in the make up bag of an international burlesque star. I like to think of it being whipped out in dressing rooms in New York, LA, and Istanbul. Oh what tales it will soon be able to tell, if it could talk. (Although if it could talk, I doubt Gwendoline would let it live. And come to think of it, neither would I.)
Will I be asking Gwendoline for my lipliner back? Absolutely not.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
It's been a busy few days on Planet Vogue.
Friday night was A Night of Lamour at Volupte. I was providing the musical interludes between the stripteases, and Miss Gwendoline Lamour was breaking in a new outfit.
Boys, forgive me. I have to take a few moments to describe this wonder. The girls, and one or two of the homosexual men among my readership, will understand.
First, a full length silk satin coat, with a train, in pale gold, trimmed with brocade and swarovski crystal beads. The coat was given to Gwendoline by a designer friend, but came from the designer's wedding collection and was in fact worth three and a half grand. The brocade and beads were sewn on by Gwendoline herself. She plans to add more when she's saved up to buy enough swarovski crystals. Beneath the coat, a golden corset, absolutely decked in beads, again, all lovingly sewn on by Gwendoline's own hand.
Never before has the point that burlesque is really all about showing off fabulous outfits and only secondarily, if at all, about showing naked flesh been brought home to me more emphatically.
The dressing room was a flurry of twittering anxiety. and I was the worst of the lot, because lovely Connie was halfway up a mountain in Italy, and I'd called in a dep to cover the gig for the evening. A dep who I hadn't actually had a chance to rehearse with at all. A dep who hadn't turned up yet. Luckily for me, Dickie Luck (yes that is his real name) appeared in the nick of time, after a rocky ride on the tube, and we dashed for the piano, just in time to run through our numbers before they started letting the punters in. I just had time to nip back down to the dressing room, where four burlesque stars were jostling for position in front of the mirror, and finish putting on my own slap.
Miss Honey Deville was struggling with her false eyelashes and wanted to know how I stuck mine on. I explained that I used surgical glue (which dries transparent), blew on the eyelashes after I'd applied the glue to dry it a bit before I put them onto my eyelids, and used a cotton wool bud to prod the edge of the lashes down onto my lids if they started peeling away. Honey got one lash on perfectly and was full of thanks for my 'hot tips' until her second lash completely failed to stick. Then divine Miss Roxy Velviet, cheekiest of burlesque dames, offered up her own eyelash tips. Her eyelash glue was from Shu uema and cost a fortune, but was, she claimed, about 10 times stickier than the regular type. She also suggested putting the glued eyelash onto your eyelid then taking it straight off again, so that when you put it back on after the glue has started to dry, there is glue on both surfaces (the lashes and your eyelid), which makes it stick better.
Miss Honey Deville was a bit reluctant to fork out for Shu uema luxury eyelash glue, although the other half of Roxy's advice seemed eminently sensible (I even tried it myself before my Sunday gig, but I think I'll stick to my regular method because it got a bit messy). Roxy then revealed that the only reason she actually possessed this fabulous Shu uema glue was because she'd done a photoshoot once and the make up artist had told Roxy to put the glue in her pocket while they were on the location, then completely forgotten to claim it back off her afterwards. Spoils of war. Nice one.
Both shows went off with a bang, and Honey Deville's glitter eyelashes not only looked fabulous but also stayed on throughout the night. Gwendoline's new outfit drew appreciative gasps from the crowd, as did her swing act. Roxy Velvet ate a goldfish live on stage. And me and Dicky Luck managed to feel our way through the four songs we'd had exactly ten minutes to rehearse and look as if we knew what we were doing. Oh and chef gave me a mouthful of freshly made cinnamon meringue which hadn't quite dried yet, but which was absolutely delicious.
Saturday morning at the crack of dawn my alarm went off because I'd offered to go and be an extra in director Alex de Campi's music video. I promptly turned it off and went straight back to sleep, then woke up an hour and a half later with the dim awareness that I was supposed to be doing something. I somehow made it to Embankment Gardens only an hour late, and discovered, to my relief, that none of the extras had actually been needed in a shot yet. Our job was to sit in deck chairs reading books. Nice one.
The story of the video was that a skinny lad was singing a love song to a girl on one of the deckchairs, then was spotted by a couple of record industry men, who replaced him with a cheesy boyband singer, but the skinny lad broke a bottle over the boyband singer's head and reclaimed the song for himself, before running off into the sunset with the girl in the deckchair. I thought the skinny lad was the musician whose song it was, but when we were chatting on the bandstand later it turned out he was an actor, and the guy who'd made the track (and who was also a former member of Scritti Politti) was the unassuming middle aged bloke who'd been in charge of playback earlier, and had been lugging a mini amp and MP3 player around obligingly. The self consciously cool looking bloke in the shades and leather jacket who I'd assumed to be the star when I first arrived turned out to be nothing to do with the track at all. He was the actress in the deckchair's boyfriend.
I also learned (from the boyband singer) that having a sugar glass bottle broken over your head feels like nothing at all, and the boyband singer actually had to remind himself to fall, because there was nothing to push him to the ground. I also tried wasabi nuts for the first time (very hot) and learned (from the boyband singer, again) that Vogue cigarettes are actually what old ladies smoke. Which has done more than anything else so far to deter me from smoking them. But still not quite enough.
Oh and I met pioneer online diarist Dickon Edwards, who's been writing a blog for about a decade now and is very good at it. I just had a little peek at his diary and sure enough he's written up the video shoot as well, with infinitely more erudition:
Dickon's got such an elegant way of putting things. I like the idea of being a polymath - and I suppose now that I spend half my time writing and the other half of my time singing in nightclubs in flamboyant gowns, that might even qualify me as one. Or a dilettante - although I'm not sure which one of my two 'jobs' I could be described as dabbling in. Beloved has a creeping suspicion that it might be the day-job I take the less seriously of the two, and is constantly encouraging me to focus on my writing career and stop getting sidetracked by glitter and feathers.
But on Sunday Beloved came along to my gig - which was lovely of him - and not only that, he even rounded up loads of his mates to come too. The gig was at CellarDoor, a former underground toilet on Aldwych, now converted into a very chic little venue, all banquettes and mirrors. The stage 'area' (if that isn't an exaggeration) is surrounded by a black velvet curtain that can be whipped aside dramatically at the beginning of the set, and swished closed again at the end. This alone would be enough to give away the camp leanings of the bar's two owners, even without the absurdly handsome bar staff. Mr Dickie Luck struggled his way through the very cryptic charts I put in front of him and made beautiful noises come out of the keyboard despite my best efforts to throw him off the scent. There were occasional moments when I was singing a different tune to the one he was playing, but hey, people expect that when it's jazz. A moment of brilliant serendipidy occurred when I whipped out my small pink ukelele, and a girl in the audience whipped out another pink ukelele to match. It was her birthday, and she'd just been given it as a present. She turned out to be the singer in two London bands, and I invited her to come with me to the 'uke gotta be kidding' ukelele jam on Wednesday nights on Charing Cross Road. She promises to come as soon as she's learned her first chord...
It was a very special night for me because my best friend was in the audience, visiting London from Edinburgh for his Birthday. This is the man I wrote one of my most moving and romantic songs about - The Man I Love Loves Only Men - and I was able to serenade him in person, which he enjoyed enormously, being quite possibly even more of a shameless show off than I am. I suspect he enjoyed the cabaret Kylie cover even more though - because he could join in with the dance routine. There are not many men who can mime their way through a Kylie routine and still retain any gravitas, but Birthday Boy is one of the few. I think his new beard might have helped, or possibly the poise that several years of university lecturing have lent him. Although as far as I can tell his students have been more a bad influence on him, than he's been a good influence on them.
But now he must return to his hibernian home, and his new kitten, and I must return to my weekday life of less glamour and more contentment in my Stoke Newington pied a terre, where Beloved is cooking up quiche and salad and disproving the myth that real men don't eat it once and for all.
And so the false eyelashes come off and the 'real me' is revealed at last...
But only until next Sunday, when I'll be sticking them straight back on again.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
More jazz injuries - this time self-inflicted.*
All my fingertips on my left hand are killing me from practising the ukelele.
They are also developing hard pads like cat's paws on the ends, which will eventually mean (hopefully) that it'll stop hurting so much when I practice.
It never hurts when I play in front of an audience. This must be because the adrenaline kicks in and you don't feel anything. This is probably the same reflex that stops me sneezing on stage as well, even though my hay fever is so bad this year that I've actually come near to biting off my own tongue a couple of times, such are the power of my sneezes.
Although I feel no pain live on stage, I do however manage to forget the chords to songs I thought I knew inside out and upside down as soon as somebody else is looking at me. My strategy has therefore been to write some new songs that only have two chords in them. So far this strategy has been extremely successful.
However, with my usual unrealistic approach to music and performance, I have now decided to attempt to learn how to play the real big league jazz standards, in order to perform them live on solo ukelele. I'm starting with Take Five. I'm getting the hang of strumming in 5/4 time, but it occurs to me that it might be a good idea to get the audience to sing along, so that they can provide the famous 'take five' riff themselves. This will also serve a dual purpose, as it will hopefully distract the audience from listening too closely to the pregnant pauses, lurches and stumblings which pepper my ukelele stylings.
Another side-effect of playing the ukelele, as well as sore fingertips, is the necessity for short nails. This is going to put the kybosh on any plans for glamour manicures in the near future, unless someone can come up with instantly detachable (or hinged?) nail extensions. I've discounted the idea of having long nails on one hand and short nails on the other. That just sends out mixed messages. The solution is probably to wear gloves at all times unless I am actually playing the ukelele. Then hopefully my fingers will be flying over the strings so fast that nobody will notice their stubby nail-ness.
I'm very pleased with my hard case - a generous gift from Miss Vanderlay's mother (thank you Mrs V!) - although a couple of times I have been mistaken for a violinist on my way to the Royal Festival Hall (instead of a cabaret artist on my way to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern). I've also heard a few cracks about carrying a tommy gun in there, Bugsy Malone style, but luckily not so far from any employees of the underground or gentlemen in Blue.
The next thing on my ukelele shopping list is a ukelele stand. I bet they sell them at the Duke of Uke.
Imagine my tiny pink ukelele sitting proudly upright on stage on its very own little stand - possibly cosying up between Mysterio's swish orange German guitar and Trousers' new Japanese Fender bass like some sort of bastard guitar offspring. If I can get two stands, then mine and Honey's can snuggle up next to each other like twin babies.
I think I am to be congratulated on finding an instrument to play that successfully repels all attempts to take it seriously. I am determined to hold true to my defiant stance against becoming a 'serious musician' - and thankfully, even now that I am regularly seen actually playing an instrument (one of the credentials essential for the 'serious musician' tag), I seem to have got away with it by choosing an instrument that is absurdly tiny, and pink.
*PS if my jazz injuries are self-inflicted, does that make it musical self-abuse?
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
|Last night I was dancing around in a flat in Bounds Green (no, I didn't know where it was either, until I got there, and I'm still not sure I could find it again) one minute, and mopping up blood the next.|
I was at the residence of two delightful Swiss German gentlemen whose exquisite taste in interior decor was only rivalled by their gardening skills. The Fine Artist of the couple had just introduced me to the breathtaking camp grandeur of a tune called Paroles Paroles by tragic French 70s pop diva, Dalida, and I was waving my arms about appreciatively, making shapes in sillhouette in the window glass, as you do after putting away about a bottle and a half of cava, joined by the Artist and another of his guests. Only then did we notice that the Artist's better half was mysteriously absent.
Moments later he reappeared in the flat with a bloody nose, a cut lip, wonky glasses and a big graze over his eye. Most distressing of all was the fact that he'd knocked out half of his front teeth. Had he been beaten up? No. He had been running to the off licence to buy more cigarettes before they shut when he tripped and fell flat on his face.
The real tragedy of the situation was that my fellow guest had a brand new packet of cigarettes in her car all along, so our host's mission had been completely unnecessary in the first place.
While I refilled our host's wine glass, my fellow guest carefully placed a cigarette between his numb lips, and lit it for him. He inhaled gratefully, and the soothing effect of the nicotine enabled him to calm down enough to recount his sorry tale. His companion then proceeded to tell him how unattractive his face now looked, while my fellow guest started lecturing him about the dangers of bad British dentistry, and recommending her own dentist in Milan.
Non-smokers frequently talk about the strange death-wish that drives us smokers to continue fuelling our nicotine addiction. It seems we must now add running to the shop for more supplies to the list of perils that assail us on all sides.
Naturally we will all continue smoking anyway, out of sheer bloody mindedness
Friday, July 20, 2007
Deep in the underbelly of Holborn's favourite cabaret and burlesque club, there lurks a Black Hole.
Perhaps I have been watching too much Doctor Who (in fact, I know I've been watching too much Doctor Who... god bless broadband) but there is definitely something spooky going on down there...
It all started with Connie Vanderlay's watch, which mysteriously vanished from the dressing room. Then Earl Mysterio reported that his entire music folder had disappeared. And then I discovered that I'd lost my diamond ring. I never lose my diamonds - as anyone familiar with my act will know, my diamonds are very precious to me and i keep them close to my heart at all times. They may not be real diamonds, but that's not their fault. I can only conclude that a supernatural force has been at work.
I mentioned this Black Hole thesis to Bobby Fresh a few days ago, and he revealed that Volupte had also swallowed up one roll of gaffer tape and two felt-covered mallets (which are apparently for hitting drums with).
A watch, a folder full of chord charts, a diamond ring, a roll of gaffer tape and two mallets. What strange device is our supernatural foe creating in its underworld lair?
And then the text came today from club owner Miss Kuki Labelle informing me that her laptop computer had also mysteriously disappeared from Volupte's subterranean depths.
Which means that the Creature from the Black Hole is now online, and is probably reading this blog entry right now... which means it knows I'm onto it.
Which means that next time I descend the staircase into Volupte's basement, I might never come back up again...
Thursday, July 05, 2007
I've got one front tooth that is yellower than the other. My dentist told me that it is actually dead because I've knocked it.
It took me ages to figure out when I'd knocked my front tooth. And then one day I got over excited while I was singing at a gig and whacked my teeth on the microphone - and remembered that I'd done that quite often before in the past.
So there you have it. My jazz singing has actually killed one of my front teeth.
Who'd have thought jazz could be so perilous?
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Imagine my delight, then, when I received a lovely text from my hairdresser offering me a half-price deal 'for a special lady' - just in the nick of time. Not that I'm prepared to admit in print to any signs of premature ageing in my coiffure, but I can reveal the doubtless not particularly shocking news that my hair colour is not 100% natural. And you've got to keep your bob crisp, haven't you? Especially when it's your signature 'look'.
So I hot footed it over to Kensington Church Street, and skipped up the little secret grey staircase that leads to a magical wonderland of mirrored walls and swivelling chairs. One of the positive things about not having a proper day job is the fact that you can lounge around gettting your hair cut when other people are strapped to their desks, and the salon was deliciously quiet - just me, my Hair Guru, and lots of cups of Earl Grey tea.
The Hair Guru had found a new hair colour which he thought would be perfect for me - very dark brown with a rich red glow to it. The swatch looked great. Of course when he actually mixed it up in the little tub, it looked a highly suspicious shade of nuclear orange, but I didn't let that worry me, because it always does. I was a little bit anxious that my lazy habit of spraying dry shampoo into my hair when I can't be bothered to actually wash it might have detrimental effects if the dye reacted with the chemicals in the stuff, but the HG seemed to think this was highly unlikely. We chatted our way around a heady mix of topics from celebrity clients to Northern sensibilities while we waited for the dye to work its magic, and then the HG washed it off.
A tiny twinge of alarm hit me as I glanced at my reflection in the mirror beside the sinks - was my hair... purple...?
I decided to wait until it was dry before getting alarmed.
HG snipped away, sharpening up my bob, and then blow dried it until it was deliciously smooth and shining - and it really did look great. The colour was very dark, and there was a distinctly coppery glow about it, but I decided that my purple moment had been one of sheer unfounded paranoia. Paranoia at the hairdressers is a very common occurrence, as every girl knows, and it's important to give yourself time to get used to new hair before deciding whether or not it works on you - our initial reaction to something different to what we're used to is quite often one of shock and negativity.
Hair done, HG invited me to spend the afternoon hanging out with him, since he didn't have any other clients booked in, and we indulged in a sushi and red wine lunch at the newly opened Whole Foods store on Kensington High Street. The one-time Biba building has been transformed anew into a sort of high glamour supermarket, where a serve-yourself salad from the salad bar can cost you £12 if you're not careful. Upstairs in the food hall you can sit at the window and look down at the Kensington shoppers below while you snack on delicious and organic treats from the various food counters. From the looks of it, this is where the Ladies Who Lunch are all hanging out these days. HG and I agreed that although it was all very stylish, they had made one or two errors of judgement in the fixtures and fittings (with some of the overhead lights looking suspiciously like the sort you get in B&Q) and we missed the old Barkers. But finding two bottles of organic wine for £8 on offer downstairs won us over again.
Then it was back to HG's flat in Camden for a couple of games of pool and some rather excellent 70s tunes played extremely loud, while we road-tested the organic wine, and HG's flatmate wowed us with his note-perfect rendition of Jose Feliciano's Light My Fire. When I eventually got home to Beloved I was feeling extremely mellow. But not too mellow to resist asking him what he thought of my new hair colour?
Yes, it's nice.
Does it look... purple... to you at all?
Beloved immediately spotted an opportunity to wind me up, and said, with a broad grin...
Maybe... a bit...
and has been letting drop the odd remark here and there ever since:
"Your hair's looking a bit purple this morning"
"Maybe it's just this light..."
"Lots of my ex girlfriends used to have one hairdresser they trusted for the cut and another they trusted for the colour..."
Is beloved feeling slightly miffed that I spent the afternoon boozing and playing pool (very badly) with my hairdresser? Is this his way of getting his own back? Quite possibly.
I consulted with another friend independently, who said the colour was very dark, but she couldn't see any purple in it.
Would it bother me so much if my hair WAS purple? And if so, why?
Taste is a strange thing; it sometimes seems to be a kind of tightrope walk between conservatism and boldness. To be truly stylish, you have to take bold steps across the line from time to time, but you also have to know and regard long established style conventions at the same time. Every style choice comes with its own set of associations; a sharp little bob like mine has resonances of the 60s and Mary Quant, and also a hint of the 20s about it, although it's not pure Louise Brooks because I don't have a fringe (I can't do fringes, I look rubbish, as this picture of me in one of Honey's wigs demonstrates)
The bob was the HG's idea, and I'll be forever grateful to him for finding me my signature hairstyle, which I'll probably keep until the end of my days (I might have it completely white when I reach my dotage - I'm thinking that look could have a lot of gravitas going for it). And that's why I feel I need to trust him on the colour too.
But just a step too far over the line towards burgundy could bring all sorts of less welcome associations with it, of a particular kind of 80s retro that reminds me more of brassy northern birds in lurid lycra and plastic jewellery. Okay, I know I am, to some extent, a northern bird, and it's important to be true to your roots, but call me conservative, I like my hair colour to look natural these days. Even if it isn't actually my own natural colour, at least it can be someone else's...
I found resolution for my colour-anxiety yesterday when Beloved and I were walking on Hampstead Heath.
"What's that lovely tree over there with the really dark leaves," I asked Beloved, "They look amazing, almost black - or purple."
"That," said Beloved, who grew up in the countryside and knows his trees, "is a Copper Beech."
"The leaves are the same colour as my hair!" I realised, delighted.
So now I can rest easy in the knowledge that, even if my hair is, in some lights, slightly on the purple side, the colour is still completely natural.
It's the colour of a Copper Beech.
Friday, June 15, 2007
The dames in question were Can Booty Can ( http://www.myspace.com/canbootycan ), Miss Honey Mink and myself, and the location was backstage at Volupte's Friday Follies. It was the hour-long break between shows, and we were all tucking into our free dinner with gusto (one seldom sees food-related neuroses amongst the cabaret sorority, I can tell you) whilst swapping tales about the perils of performance.
Mademoiselle Fifi had filled us in on the dangers of working with flammable liquids and naked flames (she was still tasting paraffin after knocking back a mouthful of fire more quickly than intended in the early show) and I'd recounted in gory detail the full horrors of escapologist Jonathan Goodwin's "Nipple Ring of Doom" (see my blog of 28 April 07), after which one of the Can Booty Can dancers had stood up too quickly from our makeshift table and banged her head on the air con unit, and I had commented that myself and Honey Mink were relatively safe from misadventure, because you didn't hear of so many "Jazz Accidents".
I had to say it, didn't I?
Later that night, after our second set was over, Sir Fitzroy Callow hobbled towards me through the restaurant and told me that he'd just fallen down the backstage stairs. The intense pain in his ankle was as nothing compared to the deep humiliation he felt after the club owner, Miss Kuki LaBelle, stepped out of her office just at the moment he landed on his arse at the bottom of the stairs, and politely enquired what on earth he was doing down there.
So there you have it. A real-life jazz accident, as demonstrated by our very own one-man horn section, Sir Fitz.
Monday, June 04, 2007
I am battling with a wave of sheer bone exhaustion right now. It's so extreme that I barely have the strength to lift my fingers to type. Has this been brought on by a great feat of physical endeavour? No. Well, not unless you count walking round the corner to Fresh and Wild to buy a chocolate brownie.
It's been brought on by the job I'm supposed to be doing right now, instead of writing this. I'm supposed to be writing an article about pulmonary disease for a fitness website. And when I've finished that, I've got to write one about the cardiovascular system.
I tell you what, my own cardiovascular system is struggling to keep pumping the blood around my body, such is the dead weight which has settled upon every fibre of my being at the prospect of wrestling with phrases such as "Pulmonologists are involved in both clinical and basic research of the respiratory system, ranging from the anatomy of the bronchial epithelium to the most effective treatment of pulmonary hypertension (a disease notoriously resistant to therapy)" in an attempt to render them remotely interesting or comprehensible to the breather on the street.
The chocolate brownie did help, but it disappeared alarmingly fast. I wonder if there is any scientific research into why doing things you don't want to is approximately ten times more tiring than doing things you do want to? According to my calculations, I could sing for five hours and feel ten times more energetic afterwards than I do now, albeit in need of a drink to rehydrate my vocal cords.
I suspect I have uncovered the dark secret behind the capitalist economy. People go to work to earn money to spend on things they want, but they find having to go to work so draining, that they have to spend a large amount of the money they earn on compensating for the pain of having to work for it in the first place: comfort chocolate brownies being a case in point. For the more well heeled, the same also goes for stress-relieving massage, and retail therapy. Whereas, if they didn't go to work, they would need to spend much less money on boosting their energies and improving their mood, because they wouldn't need cheering up in the first place, and the whole capitalist economy would collapse.
And we'd all be like Tom and Barbara in the Good Life, driving around on converted lawnmowers and living in wellies. Think how long our smart going-out clothes would last us when we got so little wear out of them.
But then, unfortunately, no one would be able to afford to pay the entrance price to come to Volupte either, so I would end up with no one to sing to...
maybe I'd better just resign myself to the status quo and buy myself another chocolate brownie instead.
Monday, May 28, 2007
One of the first enclosures we passed contained a couple of enormous and frankly rather grizzled looking storks, with bald heads and necks, and ferocious-looking beaks. They use their beaks for picking at carrion, and have evolved without feathers on their heads and necks to stop the blood of the dead animals they feed off from sticking to their plumage. I didn't like the look of them much, and was ready to move on to the aviaries with all the pretty birds of paradise in, until I noticed the name on the sign.
They were Marabou Storks.
Stephane made me a flamboyant and voluptuous coat about a year ago completely covered in pink Marabou feathers, and I don't know why, but I somehow imagined them as coming from small cute pink birds - if I even imagined them coming from birds at all. I suppose I hadn't really given it much thought... until I saw those great big ugly fowl stomping about in their pen. The notice on the enclosure fence said that although the birds weren't yet an endangered species, their numbers were becoming severely depleted owing to the popularity of their inner tail feathers for use in ladies' hats and haberdashery. That's me, that is.
I had a good look at their tails, and there really weren't very many of the fluffy little feathers like the ones on my coat, even on those massive, fully-grown birds (and they weren't pink, they were white). I wondered how many of those gargantuan creatures had died to make my coat.
I've always considered my predilection for glamour to be a relatively benign hobby, but it made me realise that it's not as harmless a pursuit as I always thought it was.
Consider the lilies of the field. What do they get for looking beautiful? They get chopped from their roots, wrapped in plastic, shipped halfway across the world and then plonked in a big glass vase for the likes of me to enjoy looking at.
Arum lilies have always been my favourite flowers – but I've recently noticed how lovely they look growing in gardens and on balconies around Stoke Newington: they've got big lush leaves that elegantly complement the fine white flowers I've always loved.
Maybe I should stop buying them from the florist and grow a bush of them in our garden instead.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
It's looking very likely that it will be back in a few weeks time, but even so, I felt really sad saying goodbye to everybody on Friday - because I've been a performer long enough to know that you can never be 100% sure of anything until it's penned in your diary, and quite often not even then.
There are so many reasons why it's been brilliant. It's been brilliant being part of a company, and working with performers who do so many weird and wonderful things - I never met a man who makes his living juggling a glass ball before. And Matt Hennem is not only a mesmerising performer, he's also one of the loveliest and most fascinating people I've met in a long time. Mind you, he has stiff competition from the other guys and girls in the show: I want Irene the tap dancer to give me tap lessons, and the beautiful Gemma with her extraordinary soul voice to come and sing and wow the crowd at the open mic night I host. And Jack the guitarist, who walked me home to my door at 4am on Friday, turns out to be a Stoke Newington neighbour, so I'm pretty certain I haven't seen the last of him either.
It's also been brilliant coming back to the same venue every week and gradually getting to know everyone a little bit better, so that by the end even the apparently surly Nigel Burch of the Fleapit Orchestra was ballroom dancing with me around the hall.
And having the chance to sing non-stop for an hour every week has been brilliant, because it's given me so much practice, and really got me into a new place as a singer, where I could start to relax into the music. After the first couple of weeks I felt comfortable with the venue, and familiar with the sound set up, and Connie and I felt comfortable with each other as a duo, and it meant I started to sing for the sheer love of singing. Because we were the warm up act it wasn't my job to command the undivided attention of the crowd, and even that was quite relaxing, because it meant we could just get into the music without worrying about doing lots of attention-grabbing patter. In fact, I think it's taught me, more than anything else, that I don't need to talk at all to get the audience's attention. I can just sing. And I think I'm going to do a lot less talking all round in future.
This Friday, Earl Mysterio came with me and played guitar instead of Connie on piano, because Connie has been at the Small Worlds music festival all weekend, sitting in a field with her little travelling guitar, joining in jams for 48 hour stretches and such like. Mysterio found it quite tough, and said it felt like "playing through a sock" but Jack, the guitarist who accompanies Gemma in the show, reassured us that we sounded really strong, even if we couldn't hear ourselves. I like singing with just the guitar as much as I like singing with just the piano - it brings out a different sort of flavour, and I find myself going for a more melancholic, soft kind of mood, whereas Connie on piano often brings out the bounce in me. Mysterio and I are going to do a wedding together in July, with Fitz on trombone, and I think it will sound rather lovely. Where the piano provides a very full accompaniment, the guitar is somehow more spartan, and more intimate. Having said that, it's high time we got the full band together again for another full-on party gig as well - hopefully with dancing. I get a real kick out of seeing people dancing to our music. I reckon we all do. Who knows, maybe when The End Of The World comes back, The Fleapit Orchestra might need a night off sometime, and James will book the full band... and then we can work out a number for the Lady Greys to dance to as well.
Me and Sophie who runs the troupe weren't the only ones talking about collaborations by the end of the night on Friday. Not only are we getting excited at the prospect of joining forces and choreographing a number with the Lady Greys singing and dancing along with the Slinktet, but Barry and Stuart the magicians also came up with the idea of getting the Lady Greys to saw them both in half live on stage. I suggested that maybe I could write a 'sawing in half song' to accompany the spectacle. There followed lots of drunken attempts to come up with brilliant rhymes for 'saw' and 'half', after which Stuart concluded that it could be the worst song I ever sang.
Actually Connie is working on composing a special "End of the World" song already. I really hope I get the chance to sing it when the run starts up again. Please come back. Oh please come back...
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
This time last week I was getting ready to go onstage at Volupte with the rest of the Slinktet, to a select audience of 60 of our nearest and dearest, and 5 video cameras. I was twittering with nerves, and Denise the co-owner of Volupte gave me a shot of black sambuca to calm me down. But instead of drinking it I managed to knock it all over the bar instead. Reminds me of the guy with the drink problem in Airplane who kept missing his mouth. I quite often have that problem when I'm nervous.
We ended up with a director, 5 camera operators, and 5 sound men, which was a pretty impressive crew considering they were all doing it for love (and I did give everybody a thank-you bottle of wine as well). We'd spent the afternoon in the wilds of darkest Stratford, hiring the cameras and monitors from an arts venue cunningly located in the centre of Stratford's busiest road junction. This meant that as well as bass, bass amp, guitar, effects pedals and guitar amp, plus gown and make-up bags, our longsuffering little Micra also had two camera bags, two massive tripods, three monitors and a battery pack rammed into the back of it, and the equally longsuffering Beloved had to lug it all in and out of the car as well. As someone pointed out (I think it was Dan, who came along to operate one of the cameras) music and filmmaking are possibly the two most equipment heavy occupations it is possible to find, and combining the two on one night was bound to be a killer.
In a way, all that running around was quite a useful distraction to stop me angsting about my actual performance. In the end I just about had time to stick on my false eyelashes and make a few warm up siren noises (which annoyed Honey no end). The siren noises are great - it's all about making as much noise as possible without worrying about sounding pretty, or even whether or not you're hitting the note (because siren wails don't have notes). Doing siren noises as loud as possible gives me flashbacks to my childhood and my mum barking "Give up yorping" at me. Now I'm a grown-up I can yorp with impunity. Hooray. Richard my singing teacher wants me to do my siren noises every morning, but Beloved is mysteriously not keen.
So the gig itself went by in a blur, as they generally do, but I think I remember enjoying it. The matching pink ukeleles were a big hit - although mine just looked pretty and wasn't actually making any sound through the PA (which was probably lucky, since I only started learning a few weeks ago and I'm still a bit more hit and miss on it than Honey). I found out a couple of days after the gig that Bobby Fresh had been sitting at his drumkit reading the paper behind me while I was pouring my heart and soul into my ballad "Well I didn't want you anyway" - which I thought was admirably cheeky behaviour for the drummer of a "cheeky Jazz" band. I don't think he was the cheekiest of the night though, that award probably goes to the 5th camera operator who did a runner without paying his tab. Although come to think of it when I offered him his thank you bottle of wine he did mutter something about having had two glasses at his table: perhaps I wasn't perceptive enough to realise he was asking me to pick up his tab.
It'll probably be a while before the video is finished - poor Phil the editor has got 10 hours of footage to trawl through before he even begins putting anything together - but I'm so taken by the added glamour that a load of cameras lend to an evening that I might set them up at all our future gigs from now on. There wouldn't be any film in them, they'd be purely for decoration.
Next day, I was wandering through Soho after coming out of a meeting about the day job (writing stuff) when I bumped into Burlesque starlet Roxy Velvet, who was exuding vintage glamour in red lipstick, fabulous sunglasses, a tweed pencil skirt and red patent heels. We decided to go for coffee, but on the way Roxy popped into a newsagents to buy 20 Vogue menthols. I was thrilled - a cigarette named after me? They shouldn't have. No, they really shouldn't have, because of course I had to buy a packet. Every single long slender white cigarette has my signature on it. It's uncanny. Seriously, check it out. Here's a picture of the packet:
and here's my signature:
Now of course this didn't help my battle to resist the lure of tobacco at all. The only advantage was that the cigarettes looked and tasted so fabulous that everyone else was nicking them off me all week, and they were gone by the weekend.
Next stop for me and Roxy on our way to coffee was a haberdashers selling the most enormous feather boas I'd ever seen in my life. Roxy tried the turquoise one on for size and decided that £130 was very reasonable for such a piece of exquisite frippery - but she didn't have the cash on her just at the moment. I find it reassuring to think that as soon as I have a spare £130 burning a hole in my pocket I'll know where to go.
And then we bought a couple of lattes and Roxy told me all sorts of colourful tales about her past which were just as sensational (in every sense) as you'd expect, but which of course discretion prevents me from sharing with you.
On Thursday I was back on stage again, in a former chapel on the Isle of Dogs, with a grand piano, but without a microphone. It was the opposite extreme to Tuesday's gig's embarrassment of audio and visual gadgetry... I had nothing but my own lungs to create enough sound to fill a room. Luckily I also had my gowns to provide enough visual spectacle to get me through my 20 minute set, but to my relief I did succeed in making enough noise to be heard, which is thanks in no small part to the encouragement and tutelage of Richard Link, my singing teacher. While drinking in the bar afterwards, Jamie Anderson the host and Jo Jolly one of the other performers on the bill both admitted that they'd been as neurotic as I'd been about having no mic to sing through (whilst helping me get through my packet of Vogue Menthols). Andrew Pepper even brought along a microphone stand to use as a prop for his performance. His particularly colourful use of the stand during his number about auto-erotica was one of the most memorable moments of the evening.
Thursday was a wonderful experience, but I was very glad to have a mic back in my hand again on Friday for The End of the World variety show, when I polished off most of the rest of my Vogue Menthols, with a bit of help from Janet, the venue manager. The rest of them fell out of their packet into the bottom of my bag, but Sophie, the leader of the showgirls troupe The Lady Greys, saved them from a total mashing by suggesting I tip the contents of my bag onto the floor and rescue them that way.
When I went for my singing lesson yesterday, Richard commented that my voice was much lower and much less "present" than usual - perhaps, he wondered, I was tired after my 3-gig week... or had I, perhaps, been smoking? I confessed that I had, and it was obvious to me even without Richard pointing it out what a negative effect it had had on my poor dessicated vocal chords.
So no more Vogue menthols for me. No really. I mean it.
I'd brought along the sheet music to "What are you doing the rest of your life" - a song I recently fell in love with after finding a track of Dusty Springfield performing it with what is possibly the most beautiful vocal I have ever heard: it glides along the mad scales of the song like a river of pure honey. Richard not only knew the song well, he also lent me a whole book of the composer, Michel Legrand's songs -which include "The Windmills of your Mind" (my dad's favourite song), and "I will wait for you", the theme tune to a beautiful French film called Les Parapluies De Cherbourg, which is a delicious visual and aural confection entirely in song from beginning to end (even the mundane moments where people ask their neighbour if they'd like a cup of tea, or discuss whether their car needs a new clutch). Richard played a song of Michel Legrand's called "You must Believe in Spring" which I sight read over his shoulder, and which made me burst into tears, it was so poignant and lovely. I want it sung at my funeral.
I realised today how totally absorbed I'd become in the world of music for the last week when I was wandering along Stoke Newington High street and saw a sign for "Fresh Bass". For a moment I wondered how a musical instrument could be described as "fresh" until I realised I was actually walking past a fishmongers.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
After a rather fraught rehearsal a month or two back, when our rumbustuous rendition of Honeysuckle Rose was interrupted at every bar by angry banging on the ceiling (lighten up mate, it wasn't even ten o'clock...), Connie has gone to inventive new lengths to avoid more aggressive complaints from her neighbours.
Last night she pulled off the front of her piano to show us her ingenious invention. She had attached a clothes peg to the rod of her soft pedal, which held the hammers nearer to the strings when the soft pedal was depressed, making the piano even quieter.
Of course I completely undid all her good work by demonstrating exactly how loud I could sing top A (or whatever it was, feel free to correct me, Connie) at 10.15pm. It was a very childish thing to do, and quite unpleasant for Connie and Honey, who were both within two feet of me at the time, let alone the neighbours. I don't know what came over me - the only possible explanation I can offer is that I'd been having a singing lesson just the day before at which the lovely Richard had been encouraging me to make as much noise as I could. He even lets me make siren noises, it's brilliant.
I'm not sure if Richard is aware that by encouraging me to shake off my inhibitions and sing at full operatic volume in a built up area, he has unleashed a monster...
still, as forms of rebellion go, I suppose it's relatively benign being a human noise pollutant.
Maybe I could get a peg for my throat...
Sunday, April 29, 2007
It's classic self-destructive behaviour. I've got two important gigs coming up next week: one of them we're going to film, so I want it to be note-perfect and pure honey-coated sound, and the other one I've got to sing without a microphone, so I'm going to need my full lung-power.
And just when I need my lungs at full capacity, and my voice crystal clear, I'm hijacking my bronchial system with smoke and tar.
Yeah yeah I know that some people like to hear a bit of 'hard living' in a jazz voice, but I haven't really got that sort of voice. Much as I'd like to sound like Billie Holliday, I know I'm more like Doris Day in her squeaky clean phase... and you've gotta play to your strengths. Apart from which, if I've been caning it with the tobacco, I can't sing to the end of a 45 minute set without running out of puff. And breathless panting, although it can work in some contexts (Brigitte Bardot in Je t'aime, for example) is not really appropriate for my material...
Even while I'm writing about how terrible it is for me to smoke, I'm getting cravings to roll another cigarette. What's that all about?
I've noticed that pretty much every singer I ever meet is a smoker - including Honey Mink, who is similarly wrestling with her addiction at the moment. She smokes Marlborough Reds, which is properly hardcore. And they look great in a cigarette holder too. My own personal predilection for roll ups doesn't go with my image at all - another reason to knock it on the head - plus they leave orange stains on my fingers. Yuk.
And when I brush my teeth after I've been smoking, they feel really sensitive. And then there's the foul taste you wake up with in your mouth. It's so much nicer to feel clean, inside and out.
All in all, it's a no-brainer.
So why am I still eyeing that packet of Amber Leaf with pure longing...?
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Beloved has decided he quite fancies becoming a Private Detective. He's imagining it will be a glamorous modern day version of a Raymond Chandler novel, and he'll get to drink loads of whisky and play with high tech gadgets. Me and his friend Jason reckoned it would be more about sitting in cars watching houses and having to tell distraught spouses that their husband/wife was doing the dirty on them, and that he'd be bored out of his skull and/or an emotional wreck within a week.
The suggested alternative job for Beloved was Supervillain. He quite fancied sitting in a big swivel chair with a cat on his lap, but Jason reckoned a more appropriate prop for him would be a Mini Me. The perks would be good - an immense fortune, and an underground swimming pool stocked with sharks - but then we decided it would probably be quite stressful because Supervillains were never satisfied until they'd achieved Total World Domination, and they never get that because some heroic secret agent usually throws a spanner in the works.
So then we decided Beloved could apply for the job of James Bond instead. I'd quite like to apply for the job of nerdy girl sidekick, the one who spouts gobbets of science geek-speak and cunningly hides her beauty by having her hair up and wearing glasses.
Then the talk turned to real life bizarre jobs. Beloved had once read about a job vacancy to throw frozen chickens into a jet engine. We discussed whether the fact they were frozen would give an inaccurate result, since real birds flying into a jet engine wouldn't actually be frozen at the time, and whether you would also have to defrost them in a microwave before you lobbed them in.
Jason had heard there were actually job vacancies for Horse Masturbators. Because apparently throughbred racehorses are far too precious to risk letting them copulate as nature intended. He wondered whether confusion might arise in social situations: "No, sorry mate, I only do horses."
My dream job would be "shopping researcher". I would be given a lump sum of cash - say, £1000 a day, to go out and spend, and report back on my purchases.
I reckon we should start an Ideal Jobs web-page, where instead of having to apply for real jobs, which always sound boring as hell (Communications Manager for Pest Control Magazine), you could write a job description for the job you'd actually really fancy doing, and then see if anyone got in touch and offered you the position.
I'd like to propose to my readers that we start the ball rolling right now. Let's have your Job Descriptions please...
Monday, April 23, 2007
I didn't know what the word 'eschatalogical' meant until recently, and now I do I thought I'd 'try using it in a sentence today' (as Cher says to her protege in Clueless).
Regular readers will be relieved to learn it is nothing to do with scatalogical adventures, which are not something I would ever go in for, and even if I did I certainly wouldn't write about them in my blog.
Eschatalogical means relating to the end of the world - which of course, I was performing at on Friday night. It's quite weird attending the end of the world on a weekly basis, but in a nice way. I managed to stay and watch the whole show to the end this time, and it was brilliant - particularly the guy juggling a glass ball and making it look like it was floating by itself - that was mesmerising. In a way, though, it's the audience contribution that really makes the show - they email in loads of stuff before the show, like songs they want to hear in their last two hours on earth, and any regrets or secrets they want to get out in the open before armageddon strikes... and if i was gonna bare my soul before the end of the world, I can't think of a cuter man to do it to than Alex Zane. Of course, when I say 'cute', I mean that in a purely platonic way... and I do of course mean 'bare' in a purely metaphorical way. Of course.
This week I followed up the End of the World with a cross-London marathon to Vauxhall, where the Dark Prince of Cabaret, Dusty Limits was hosting the debut night of new cabaret show, Le Phreeque, at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. The place was bristling with Burlesque icons, rubbing shoulders with party boys, men in white coats - and puppets. I loved the puppets. My favourites were the giant disembodied mouths who came on stage as backing singers to a lipsynching act. I'm not sure if it would be accurate to describe it as a drag act - it was a pretty out there costume, but there was no question of the performer's manhood, given the size of his stainless steel codpiece. He particularly enjoyed reflecting laser beams off it in the course of his number.
Dusty threw in a few special effects of his own, including snorting white powder from a mirror live on stage through a rolled up 5 euro note, to lend modern-day verisimilitude to his colourful rendition of Kurt Weill's Alabama Song. He told me afterwards what the powder really was, but I'm sure I'm not allowed to reveal his professional secrets, so I'm not telling you whether it was what you're probably thinking it was, or not.
My night ended in style when the divine Miss Roxy Velvet gave me a lift all the way home to Stoke Newington. She had to move a nurse's medical screen off the back seat specially to make room for me - and manipulating metal poles and rubber sheeting is not easy in the dark in six inch silver lame heels - but the sight of a glammed up burlesque queen wrestling with her props by the side of the road has become one of those bizarre sights which I now think of as entirely normal in the curious cabaret world I've been inhabiting of late.
Roxy was due to run the London marathon on Sunday, and she's managed to raise nearly £1500 for Shelter. She'd been eating nothing but pasta and potatoes all week in preparation, and was nobly necking back the pineapple juice all night - but she was as excited about the run as I get about a big show. I can't wait to hear how she got on.
After spending Friday night at the very apex of Gay London, I spent Saturday afternoon at that bastion of heterosexual masculinity - watching the Arsenal Tottenham match in the pub with Beloved. Okay I can't pretend I know anything about football - or care - but it was quite exhilarating being in a roomful of excitable testosterone. I liked the chants - they were even quite tuneful in places.
Sunday was more live performance chaos - this time at the first birthday celebrations for Lost Society in Camden. So I made my own little trek across London north to south, while all the marathon runners were on their East to West axis. I would like to thank Transport for London for choosing this Sunday in particular to close both the Northern Line Bank Branch and the Victoria Line between Victoria and Stockwell. Nice one. I staggered into Lost Society brandishing my slightly battered pink ukelele case with only minutes to spare before I was due on - and then hung around for 45 minutes anyway, while the band due on after me lugged their gear up on stage. It was mayhem in there, mainly because everyone had been knocking back free cocktails since 2pm. Not necessarily the gentlest and most attentive environment to try a cute and quirky little turn with me pretending I'd been dumped by my big band and attempting to recreate the same musical effect with one tiny pink ukelele and a kazoo... I'm glad Connie and Fresh were there to lend moral support - although I did get lots of warm kind words afterwards, even if some of them did involve the word 'brave', which i generally think is a bad sign (it means they could see the fear)... and Connie said she'd never seen a kazoo solo go down so well before...
I stuck around to watch Miss Vicky Butterfly perform her butterfly strip an hour later - since a couple of the audience had already invaded the stage to give impromptu pole-dancing displays I felt rather concerned for her modesty, but luckily her butterfly costume had an 8 foot wingspan and some fairly scary metal rods on the ends of her arms, so everybody was sensible enough to keep their distance. And even when the music cut out seconds before the end of the act, it only added to the performance - because it was just at the moment Vicky was about to reveal the butterfly pasties affixed to her bosoms. What could possibly have distracted the sound man at exactly that moment I wonder?
And finally I'd like to congratulate Tryg, our host and entertainer extraordinaire last night, for holding his own despite the onslaught of obnoxiously drunk Clapham Bunnies trying to grind him and steal his microphone to announce to the assembled crowd that it was their mate's birthday and she was a whore.
So there we have it, another weekend of strange and wonderful occurrences on London's live scene. You couldn't make it up.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
How's that for a provocative blog title?
Okay so I'm not planning on taking my clothes off in front of an audience, but before you sue me under the trade descriptions act, there are other sorts of naked.
I'm going to go naked-voiced on stage on 10 May. At Cabaret Confidential's first night in its new Canary Wharf home I'm going to be singing without a microphone for the first time since I was a choir girl - which was a lot longer ago than I'm prepared to admit.
London's Cabaret Godfather Paul L Martin says that The Space has incredible acoustics because it's a converted chapel, so none of us will need mics. But many of his other acts are musical theatre performers, used to belting out showtunes at full volume whilst dashing across the stage under hot lights in period costumes carrying a fellow cast-member. I'm just a lazy little jazzer used to moaning gently into an SM58 and letting the lucky soul on the sound desk pick up the slack.
Time to remind my diaphragm it exists, I think. It's ten years since my singing teacher drilled me through my scales and introduced me to the mysteries of Resonance, and many of the parts of my body she once pressed into service for making a big noise come out of me have long since gone back to sleep. I'm going for a refresher lesson next week with the lovely mister Richard Link, who says that what I have to do to make my voice carry is make a clean sound, without any air in it. Because the air is like white noise, interfering with the signal. I'm not 100% sure I get what he means, but I'm guessing it's something to do with singing less like Marilyn Monroe.
The question is, can I make my voice loud enough to carry without a mic, and still sound like Tricity Vogue? It's always worth trying something a bit different in my book, so I'm looking forward to the challenge. Plus it's a long time since anybody let me sing inside a church (even a converted one).
And while we're on the subject of trying new things, the lovely Crimson Skye was telling me I ought to give burlesque a go on Friday night... she says the first thing is to find a great song, one that makes you think 'yeah, I want to take my clothes off to that'. She does her act to The Doors 20th Century Girl, and Jimmi Hendrix Foxy Lady. I know what song I'd do my burlesque striptease to - if Beloved would allow me to do a burlesque striptease in a million years. But he is being very firm on the matter (and he's very sexy when he's being firm on the matter, I can tell you) so I will of course be respecting his wishes, and giving up on my fantasy to come on stage dressed as a nun to the strains of Johnny Cash singing Your Own Personal Jesus, then remove my habit to reveal devil horns and a basque underneath, just as the music segues into the Depeche Mode version of the song...
Shame, it was a cracker of an act. And I bet Stephane would enjoy designing the costume too.
But Dusty Limits said something very wise on Friday along the lines of the fact that being physically naked isn't really revealing that much in this day and age, and a really daring striptease is an emotional one, when a performer reveals the truth about themselves. I think that was the jist of it - I was onto my third glass of champagne by then and everything was very sparkly and fizzy - but it rings true to me. That's what great cabaret singing - in fact great singing full stop - is really all about. Emotional striptease.
So that's the kind of naked I'm going to aspire to on stage.