Friday, December 29, 2006

A Night On The Toilet Circuit

My mate Lana was playing a spot at a showcase night in a bar in Hoxton so I thought I’d go along and support her, since it was down the road, and I’d never seen her performing solo with her guitar before, normally surrounded as she is by a crowd of adoring men clutching instruments of various shapes and sizes (usually very large). So I toddle up to one of those tatty dark little bars that only Hoxton can get away with and pay my fiver to the out-of-it looking woman on the door who seems a bit amazed – I see why when I get in. There are exactly two other people there, and one of them is on stage.

No sign of Lana – she’s probably crying in the toilet – so I go and buy myself a Corona which costs me another fiver, and sit in a darkened corner so as not to put the guy on stage off with the realization that he is now playing to two whole people. He seems to be in a world of his own anyway, and is singing a song about having a split personality – so I suppose that’s one extra person in the room. He plonks through his last number at breakneck speed and then announces that neither of his selves can stop to watch his fellow performers do their stuff (that’ll explain the other member of the audience) because there is an Arsenal match on, and disappears through the door like lightning.

Lana appears at this point and shamefacedly admits that she’s not actually on at 8, she’s on at 8.30, but she always says half an hour earlier to make her flakey mates turn up on time. She offers to buy me a drink to make up for the fact I’ve had to pay to get in, which is really lovely of her but suggests that the economy of this event is somewhat out of kilter.

Then the next act goes on and I am suddenly all in favour of the performers paying their audience to listen. This guy is from Hungary and delights in the sort of screechy electric guitar noises and moaning vocals that I can imagine Hungarian teenagers playing in their dark bedrooms before their mum calls them downstairs for a plate of noodles and boiled vegetables. Then he announces that a friend from Budapest is about to join him on stage – they haven’t played together for a year but they’re going to attempt one of their old songs and see if they can remember it. Evidently they can’t. Hungarian One covers by moaning more loudly over Hungarian Two’s ill-fitting chords. I’m sure it’s very heartfelt, but it’s also in Hungarian, so his audience, although experiencing considerable pain, is not sharing his. Lana lights another Marlboro. I lend her my coat because she’s freezing in her sleeveless top. Another of the venue’s charms.

At 8.25 Lana’s more savvy friends turn up, but the event is now running late, so they get to share our enjoyment of another act before Lana goes on. This guy is Belgian, and I start to wonder if Lana is exotic enough for this event. Belgian Guy’s first song is about how shit it is living in London, and how expensive the tube is, and his pain is as heartfelt as any of the Hungarian’s numbers, if not more so. Then he tells us he wrote his next number about his ex girlfriend who always complained he didn’t get up early enough in the morning. It’s called “You always complain I don’t get up early enough in the morning.” Then he announced his last number, which he wrote last week after his girlfriend finished with him, which was called “You’ve finished with me, you bitch.” The girl he’s come with shifts uncomfortably, possibly wondering what touching ditties he’s about to write about her. We note that another unfortunate feature of the venue is the spotlight on the soundman who has spent both of the last two acts staring into space looking pained.

At long last Lana’s up. A bit of chat with the sound guy, and she’s ready to go. But first she takes her shoes off and places her feet on the mysterious wooden box in front of her, gives it a couple of trial taps. To the audience: “Can you hear the cahon?” Nope. Nice look though, going barefoot on stage – very Woodstock. Lana’s put out that her South American percussion isn’t coming up with the goods – she was planning a bit of a one-woman-band effect – but she dives in anyway. “I was on my way to heaven but I got a bit lost… oh well, looks like I’m going to hell.”

Lana sings bouncy blues numbers with lyrics about being messed about by boys or being badly behaved generally. She’s got the audience in the palm of her hand, and not just because all six of us are her mates. She’s even managed to get the sound-man paying rapt attention, which I reckon is as objective a mark of quality you can get at a showcase night. One thing is abundantly clear from Lana’s performance – she doesn’t really belong playing the sort of let-anyone-on-stage-who-begs-hard-enough venues that make up what’s affectionately known as The Toilet Circuit. I give it a year before I’m showing off to distant acquaintances about how I saw Lana at one of her first gigs, at a tiny bar in Hoxton with no central heating.

Lana shimmies her way back to the table and I congratulate her on winning over even the sound guy.

‘Oh him – I told him we could all see him staring into space through the acts cause he was right under a spotlight.’

It’s that kind of attitude that’s gonna take Lana all the way to the top.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Blue Shoes

Honey Mink has found two pairs of sparkly blue heels in the Office sale for £15 that she reckons will go with our matching blue gowns - but it's a gamble without checking the colour against the dresses, and they're only exchangeable not refundable...

So Honey is proposing stopping off at Office on Tottenham Court Road on the way to the gig tomorrow. At rush hour. With the whole band and three guest artists waiting to soundcheck on the other side of town.

Of course glamour comes before everything, but I think Earl Mysterio might have had a point when he graciously turned down our offer of a lift to the gig after hearing our en-route shopping plans.

It remains to be seen when it comes to the crunch whether Sensible Me will triumph tomorrow, or whether the temptation will simply be too much and I will end up leaping out of the car with Honey for one very quick fix of shoe-shopping action. I can give up any time I like. Really.

But then on the other hand, Honey just texted me to say she's written a new song called 'Take a little gamble on me'. How appropriate.

It's just one little pair of shoes. What harm can it do?



Saturday, December 16, 2006

Two Girls, a Futon, Fulham and a Fake Piano

Last Sunday I lured Connie Vanderlay across London with the promise of a real, glass-topped piano to play...

I had visions of a leisurely evening spent lounging against a baby grand, in a subterranean piano bar in Kensington, gently crooning away while Connie tickled the keys.

I really should have known better.

First off, Connie discovered that the carol service she'd been roped into singing for at the 'city of london' cemetery was not actually in the city of london at all, but out in the farthest reaches of suburbia somewhere halfway to Norwich. This was, however, only the beginning of her epic voyage.

I offered Connie my futon for her new flat (I did remember to ask Beloved first, although he may have been asleep at the time. However, since we're planning on buying a sofa anyway I thought it might be a useful incentive to spur us into DFI action (oh god, no...) if we had to sit on a pile of cushions on the floor for a month.) We managed to disassemble the thing and get it into the back of my trusty micra (yeah, the vintage Mercedes is still on order...) but little did we know as we pootled off that this was only the beginning of our troubles.

An hour and a half later we were inching our way along the embankment, wondering if we were still going to have time to rehearse on the Grand piano in Connie's current crashpad (I think she sleeps underneath it). An hour after that we were wondering if we were ever going to get out of the car again, or were in fact doomed to circulate the streets of west london at the speed of a small toddler for the rest of our natural lives.

When Beloved announced he was going down the pub to watch Arsenal play Chelsea, and Connie invited me over to Fulham to practise a few numbers, I hadn't connected the two things in my head. It took two roadblocks, and hordes of men pouring onto the streets of Fulham at 5pm to make the penny drop.

Well we're girls, protested Connie, we're not supposed to know when and where there's a football match on. I agree - I also don't think otherworldly jazzers such as ourselves should be required to actually drive our own vehicles either. In fact, a helicopter was the only real option in traffic like that.

Oh but were our woes over when we finally parked up? Oh no. All we had to do then was carry the futon down the entire length of the street. And of course it was raining. And of course I was wearing a pair of vintage red stillettos ready for our appearance that evening. The sight of me tottering down a chichi Fulham street lugging a great big cotton mattress was, I'm sure hilarious, if you weren't actually trying to do it. I had to keep stopping to rest the thing on garden walls while I tried to get a better grip, and in the end I just gave up and waited for Connie to come and pick up the other end. Which of course involved narrowly avoiding dropping the whole thing in a great big puddle.

We finally get the thing inside and Connie says, "You've smudged your beauty spot." Sure enough it was halfway down my face. Not a great look, unless you're Courtney Love. There was barely time for emergency facial repairs and a swift glance at the shiny grand piano before we were out the door again and back on the road to Kensington. Thankfully that bit of the journey was uneventful, but when we trot downstairs into the piano bar, Connie's ears prick up suspiciously and she says "that doesn't sound like a real piano." Maybe it's just badly amplified, I suggest?

But when we get off stage after knocking out a couple of cheeky numbers, Connie is radiating outrage from every pore.

"It's a casio keyboard!"

The glass-topped piano is nothing but an empty shell, and they've stuck a keyboard inside the frame instead.

Connie goes on a ten minute rant about how promising a pianist a piano and then giving them a keyboard and thinking it's the same thing is like offering someone a cordon bleu meal and then serving them bits of plasticine and expecting them to eat it. I'm feeling a bit embarrassed, mainly because I can't believe I did a gig there before and never even noticed the piano was a fake.

The truth came out last Thursday at a glitterati party for 'members of the cabaret and burlesque community', when the piano bar's regular pianist explained that when one of the piano's strings broke in the summer, instead of replacing one string, the venue got rid of it and stuck a keyboard in instead.

The barbarians.

But at least I can feel a bit better in the knowledge that last time I sang there it was to the accompaniment of a real piano, and my musical ear is not as insensitive as I feared.

I think I might have to find Connie somewhere else to play piano though. There must be a piano bar somewhere in London that actually has one with strings...



Saturday, December 02, 2006

adult life

Messing about at the hob cooking smoked haddock risotto while The Paul Wady Experience and Funky Yogi made loud farty electronic noises in the front room, I thought... Did I ever imagine when I was a kid that my adult life would be like this?

I think it's fair to say that I do more playing now than I ever did as a teenager, when I was deeply concerned with being Grown Up. In the photo of me aged sixteen in my passport I look about 30. I've got a really grim perm, and I'm wearing a particularly unflattering shade of pearlised peach lipstick (which probably gives away the era a bit too much), as well as an alarmingly sensible expression. I think I've been going backwards ever since. It would certainly be fair to say that my Dressing Up Box has got better stuff in it than it had when I was ten.

Latest toy to enter the household is the PWE's new 14-track mixing desk, through which Beloved intends to DI his bass, our vocal mics, and also Connie's keyboard at the next gig. It's main starring moment, however, will be when the PWE takes centre stage for his Special Guest Appearance, armed with keyboard, synthesiser, sequencer, and another couple of black boxes with loads of lights on whose purpose remains mysterious to me. PWE has programmed the keyboard to play dog barks for the number "Tanya's Doggie" but is concerned that "the dog's part may be over-written."

For the same money as PWE spent on this rather exciting number with more knobs and faders than you can shake a midi lead at, Beloved has bought a small and unprepossessing black box to plug his bass into, which is, apparently, what all serious bass players use.

This means of course that his status as official Dep Bassist of the Slinktet is confirmed. This morning he decided on his stage name:

Trousers Mercedes

Brilliant. Like I said, not how I imagined my adult life would be spent, but hey, dreaming up jazz alter-egos is probably a more positive use of our time than, say, bickering our way around Ikea. And cheaper.

Over dinner, I invited the PWE and Beloved to come up with some quotes I could use on the band's promotional material. The PWE came up with a few left-field ones, like "A Human Jazz Pacemaker", "Great dress. Shame about the smell." and some other things equally insulting. But Beloved says I don't look anything like the back end of a horse, so that's okay. Beloved's best one was "I wear her dresses when she's out at work". Not sure any of them are actually usable but good effort boys.

They are now enjoying a hiatus in their slanging match about whether the bass part to Tanya's Doggie has been programmed an octave too high, to revel in Arsenal's victory over Spurs on Match of the Day. This could cause friction at Monday night's rehearsal, when die-hard Spurs fan Sir Fitzroy Callow may be nursing a few post-match grudges...

However, chances are we will be too busy slinkifying Kylie hits and christmas songs ready for the cabaret on the 18th, to get into any football conversations.

Or dealing with mouse corpses.

Haven't told Bobby what we found nestled under his bass pedal last time we were down there...

Beloved and Mysterio manfully carried the Departed out to the bins, and as long as no more small mammals have made the pilgrimage there to breathe their last in that hallowed musical space, the coast should be clear...

fingers crossed.



PS The PWE is still coming up with them...
The Jazz Tornado
A One-Woman Party
Jazz Prozac
Sings as well as she cooks
Doesn't look that bad
Beats cold turkey, salami, and everything else in your fridge
Has become a regular event in my life
Singing that kills you, and dresses to die for
A dangerous mouth and a killer body. And the hair's okay.
A ray of cheeky sunshine in a dress
The more you drink, the better she sounds

aw bless...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Studio Antics

I have come to the conclusion that we are not a very serious band.

Serious bands wouldn't get distracted from listening back to their studio performances by the game of dressing the drummer up in high heeled pink stilettos... would they?

Would a serious jazz singer allow herself to be photographed with a banana in her mouth? I think not.

Yes, photos exist of both of these occurrences, but no, I am not going to post either of them here.

No. Not even if you beg me.

Well, maybe if you give me flowers...

And I think it's fair to say that Honey excelled herself with the contents of her car boot this time. On previous occasions she has magically produced six ukeleles (in four different colours), and about a dozen shoes, some of them even making up matching pairs. This Sunday it was a huge bag of baby percussion - toy tambourines, midget maracas, technicolour shakey eggs, the works. The original intention was to play some hand percussion on Boys Don't Cry, but once the bag was tipped out over the floor in the control room, the place looked like a creche, and the temptation to shake things wildly for no apparent musical reason overcame us all. I doubt that carpet has ever witnessed anything quite so infantile in its entire professional career.

On another occasion our Sound Engineer returned from lunch to find an impromtu blues jam going on, with Honey stealing the show on Kazoo. Sir Fitz was feeling the icy blast of wind on the back of his neck I can tell you.

No, I wouldn't say that we were a serious band at all. I would say that we were a playful band. And I would also say that is definitely the best sort of band to be in.

'Serious' bands probably spend a lot of time having sleepless nights about whether the piano is too high in the mix in the solo. Playful bands like ours make our minds up on the day the mix is made, and decide we like it that way whenever we hear it from then on. Because that's the way it is.

Yeah, sure we probably could have inched our way to a more perfect recording if we'd sweated blood over it - but that was never the point.

The point was always to get a recording that sounded like we do live. And that meant playing live together in the studio. Which, if you were going to take it seriously, would mash your brain with the pressure.

Only by not taking it seriously is it possible to pull off this feat of daring. Having a cool, collected, gleamingly professional Sound Engineer probably helps as well. I never saw one flicker of frustration cross his inscrutable, smiling face. The man is clearly destined for world domination.

Okay, I have to confess, the week before we did all take it a bit seriously. Yes, there were nights of tossing and turning, there was angsting and indecision, there were emails flying to and fro debating whether or not this part or that part needed to be scrapped and re-recorded. And then, magically, we all calmed down and got things into perspective. All it took, I think, was a week of listening back to what we'd got already in the can, and realising that it wasn't half bad - and then, galvanised by the knowledge that we could actually make good music, we rediscovered our mojo.

Beloved was rather shocked by the inattention and childish behaviour displayed collectively by the Slinktet in the studio... but I think it is both advisable and necessary to maintain a lightness of touch at moments of stress.

Think about it - seven people all craning their ears to listen to the ultimate final, this-is-it mix of a track, focusing on the minutest of details... Was there a tiny cymbal sound just before the final stab at the end? Which of the two trombone growls sounds better over the last verse? Does the vocal go sharp at the end of the first line - and if so, does it add bluesy character to the number, or just sound like I can't sing?

All that concentration, all that pressure... you have to let off steam somehow. Serious bands probably OD on coke. We make the boys in the band try on girls' shoes. Take your pick.

When, you may be asking, can we hear these astonishing recordings?

I am going to tease and tantalise you for as long as possible, as any proper jazz vamp should, so I'm only going to put one track on myspace at a time.

The first one is the last that we recorded - in two takes - and it is dedicated, with thanks, to a young man who once declined to accept my offer of a repeat performance. I was pretty miserable at the time, I can tell you, but it just goes to show that something good can come out of the most ill-advised of romantic encounters.

It's called Well I Didn't Want You Anyway.

Thanks to Mysterio and Sir Fitz for making it into studio magic.




Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Self-consciousness: the enemy of creativity

There we all were in the studio in our own little bubbles of stress, convinced we were shit and letting everybody else down...

i was convinced I couldn't sing. Fresh was thinking of throwing in his sticks and resigning himself to a career in educational administration.And Beloved was ready to go and lie in the road - having managed to convince himself he had failed me and us so absolutely as a stand-in bassist...

then we put the cd of the performance bounces on last night... and whaddaya know? it sounds great.


spot of mixing, a couple of cheeky drop-ins, and we'll have another killer track or three on our hands.

who knows, we might even get the album out by Christmas...

thanks guys. And sorry if I was so busy thinking i was crap to remember to tell you you're all brilliant.

You're all brilliant.



Friday, November 17, 2006

In The Zone

Lovely gig last night... lots of warm vibes from all our friends in the audience, and the band were all having a lot of fun, enjoying each others' company up on stage, enjoying knowing the numbers well enough to relax into them like a comfortable bath.

i had the weirdest experience in the second half... it suddenly felt as if the song i was singing had a life of its own, and didn't really have anything to do with me singing it at all. I almost felt like I could have stepped off stage and the song would have carried on without me. Like the music was moving through me of its own accord...

that sounds really wanky probably, but it was a mad feeling - and brilliant.

And I'd only had one rum and coke.

i think it would be fair to say that we are in a really good place to go into the studio on Sunday... even without a bass.

But we've come up with a cunning solution to our bass dilemma:

Honey is going to play bass on her own song - I love you for all the wrong reasons - and is busily practising her part ready for our rehearsal in the Cellar Of Dusty Tramples tomorrow afternoon.

And Beloved is going to play bass on my song, My Side of The Bed, which is, appropriately enough, about the joys of cohabitation. Connie is coming over tonight for a bit of a run-through of the arrangement with him, and I'm going to cook them both a spot of tea while they get down to some musicking (poached smoked haddock in cheese and chive roux sauce, with mashed potato and broccoli, I thought).

Then if there's time in the studio, we might also record some intimate duo and trio numbers: Well I Didn't Want You Anyway, with vocals, guitar and trombone, Is it Because with piano, trombone and maybe a spot of light brushes from Bobby Fresh... and perhaps even a vamped out version of Say Hello Wave Goodbye, with just me and Earl Mysterio, since it went so well last night...

Whatever we end up doing, I know we'll have a brilliant time doing it anyway

better get the chocolate biscuits in for Vanderlay


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bass Race

The good news is we're going back into the studio next Sunday...

The bad news is, we haven't got a bass player to take with us.

Magic J is going to be making punters' watches disappear in Croydon somewhere, so he can't join us - and so, for the last month, the other five of us have been asking every one we've ever met who plays bass if they're free on the 19th (including that guy from the party who said he'd played a bit of bass when he was 17 before he sold his instrument to take his girlfriend on holiday but even though he's now 43 he's sure he could pick it up again really easily). Now Magic J's getting more and more bookings to make things disappear or blow things up, it's getting quite pressing to find ourselves a new magician-of-the-bass, as it were, not just for the studio, but for the gigs as well.

Somewhere out there is the future bass player of the Tricity Vogue Slinktet. I'm dreaming of a double bassist, but at the end of the day I'm not fussy as long as they know their G string from their elbow. (That pronouncement sounds eerily familiar: I suspect that in the past I may once have said something similar about my search for love...)

Of course, there is one last resort... Beloved does number bass playing among his many talents, but I'm terrified of roping him into the band... because what if it all goes wrong and the music doesn't come together, and then me and him end up having a massive row and splitting up? Not that we've ever had a massive row about anything - but the trouble is that when you make music with your squeeze it's never just about the music: the music becomes a metaphor for your entire relationship. One 'bold note' can seem like the end of the world instead of just a slip of a finger. Is it fair on him, asking him to step into an established, tight band, that his girlfriend also happens to run? He's got no choice but to be blindingly good, to preserve his own chutzpah - and that's not a good position to put anybody in. And is it fair on the band either, when I'm getting all cozy with my fella instead of giving everybody equal attention? And if I don't give Beloved the attention that a girlfriend should, he's going to be really hurt because i'm being weird and distant with him... Apart from anything else, this is not the kind of behavioural dilemma i want to put myself in when I go into the studio and attempt to feel as relaxed and confident as possible, so I can deliver that killer vocal.

oh good grief.

One last desperate solution...

last night Beloved gave me a bass lesson and he said I was picking it up really fast and had a really good sense of rhythm and timing... and maybe I should play bass myself in the band???

mmmm... somehow I can't see that quite working. Not before next Sunday, anyway. And yes, girls playing bass do look really cool, but I think I might save that up my sleeve for another band, another day... I'm not really feeling a lowslung bass over a satin full-length gown, never mind trying to play one in evening gloves.

Still, it's a Look...



Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Exceedingly Good Cakes

There we were again last night, down Earl Mysterio's cellar, but this time we had Mr Kipling's Cherry Bakewells to keep us company, not to mention Bramley Apple Tarts.

The cakes were courtesy of Magic J by way of atonement for making us change the rehearsal date at the last minute because he had to go and let off fireworks tonight for the Scissor Sisters (all part of Magic's secret double life as a Special Effects Man...)

Connie was laying into her corner of the cellar with a dustpan and brush, trying to make it all nice and clean, which seems a bit pointless to me since she's right under the hole in the roof, but some girls just have that homemaker instinct, I suppose. I think Beloved will be the first one to draw attention to my sad deficiency in that respect. I must be missing a gene.

The good news is that we're gonna reintroduce Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps into the repertoire - most famously sung by Doris Day, as featured in that classic of camp modern cinema, Strictly Ballroom. I plan to make Honey sing a verse in the original Spanish for a bit of continental sex appeal.

This may mean I have to then sing something in German so as not to feel left out of the multilingual chanteuse game: how about Falling In Love Again, as sung by Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel? ("Ich bin von kopf bis fuss auf liebe eingestellt - I am from head to foot besotted by love..." Or something like that. I dunno. German just doesn't sound as glamorous as Spanish or Portuguese. Or maybe only on the lips of Dietrich...)

We can both speak French, which means lots of opportunities for cheeky gallic numbers in the future. I quite fancy doing Sympathique by Pink Martini:

i think it's been on an advert but I can't remember what for. Can't stop singing it at bus stops though (forgive me, I hate to ruin my mystique by admitting i ever even stand at bust stops)

exciting future social engagements for the Slinktet include tomorrow's 'brand design meeting' when we are going to get our heads together to conceive the artwork for the demo sleeve, promotional material etc... and an even more exciting evening of Cellar Crap Clearance when we will all get drunk and sling Mysterio's old crap out of the front cellar to make space for new Band Crap. We are going to be transporting it all the way to the back cellar. Still, one room nearer the stairs, come the day when it actually makes it out of the front door into a skip (which will no doubt require the consumption of yet more alcohol).

What will Tricity be wearing for this enterprise? Possibly something from Beloved's wardrobe. He's got all sorts of army trousers and other 'alpha male' items of clothing which can only be enhanced by smears of chalky old whitewash and cobwebs. In fact, I'd probably be doing him a favour breaking them in for him. Then again, what am I thinking? I don't want to undermine his masculinity by doing manual labour and leaving him standing by watching. I'm sure he'd much rather it was the other way around.

Maybe I could offer to mix the cocktails while everyone else does the heavy lifting?



Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Men Prefer Women Without Make-up: Discuss

Up until a few months ago I spent half an hour every morning diligently putting my face on before I left the house. Then I got together with my Beloved in a flurry of passion, and stopped bothering. This was only partly because he said he preferred me without: mainly it was because of laziness. That half hour could be better spent luxuriating in bed with him until I couldn't put off leaving the house any longer.

Now that our romance has mellowed into a more comfortable, less frantic state, I'm still not bothering with the slap. Partly because this summer's monster bout of hay fever gave me itchy eyes, and partly because, thanks to the near-drag-queen glamour of my onstage persona, make-up has started to feel like hard work. I sometimes catch myself thinking about my stage make-up the way I used to think about the A-line nylon dress I wore in Boots when I was sixteen: it's a uniform, and I can't wait to get it off. Before every gig I sit down to the painstaking ritual of bringing Tricity Vogue to life: first, create a blank canvas of thick foundation, then add the sparkly pink eye shadow, then paint on the liquid eyeliner with as steady a hand as I can manage, sloping up from the eyes at the corners to make them look bigger (a trick I learned from a drag queen, funnily enough), then layer upon layer of vibrant lipstick, strongly arching brows, blusher, a round black beauty spot, and finally, the moment of truth .. the false eyelashes. These are, quite frankly, a bugger. The glue sticks to your fingers, and the first couple of attempts usually leave your eyelid smeared with rubber and the eyelash hanging off one end of your eye by a tendril of glue. The secret is to attach them to the line you've drawn in liquid liner, rather than your real eyelid, but if you botch the first attempt you have to draw the line all over again, and wait for it to dry before you glue up and go for a second take. It's worth it though. False eyelashes are my favourite dressing-up-box toy. The number of times friends have come up to me and stared bemusedly into my face just before I go on stage, muttering 'You've got amazing eyelashes, I've never noticed them before,' without a clue they're fake - even though they've seen me, and the stunted little lashes nature gave me, pretty much daily for months.

But false eyelashes only work in their proper context, as I've learnt to my cost. In my early twenties I got into wearing them when I went out clubbing, until one night I brought home a charming young man, and left my make-up on when we went to bed (as you do, when you've got a charming young man with you). I woke up in the night screaming that there was a spider on my pillow. Closer examination revealed it to be a false eyelash. Which meant that one of my eyes had a blank white patch around it where the eyelash had peeled away, but the other one was still fluttering at full-throttle, making me look a bit like something out of A Clockwork Orange. Needless to say, after his disturbed, and disturbing, night, the Charming Young Man didn't stay for breakfast.

I've learned the hard way that when you like your look extreme, you risk scaring the looker out of their wits. I once had a part in a children's TV series where I played an evil jewel thief who stole a pearl necklace and was chased across Birmingham by a small yellow car. I took a Dior ad in to show the make up artist - white face, red lips, black eyes - and she sighed resignedly and told me I'd need to be there an hour earlier (5am) to give her time to do it. I thought I looked fantastic - but when they showed the video to a five-year-old focus group, they all screamed at the screen when they saw me: 'Arrrrgh! She's so ugly!' Lesson learned.

So when I went to a big party recently with my Beloved in tow, I toned it down a lot. Okay, I still had the red lips, but the rest of my face was looking almost natural. Only to have my Beloved staring all agog at a young actress-musician all night, who was wearing the most immaculately applied, 40s-siren style make-up job I've ever seen. White face, black eyes, and red red lips. Apparently the standards of grooming which my beloved applied to me, did not apply to the goddess before him. In fact, I don't think he even saw the slap. To him, she was an iconic beauty who belonged to another, more glamorous, world. When men say they prefer women without make-up, do they actually mean it, or do they mean they can't be arsed sitting around for half an hour while you're putting it on before you go out? - even though, once out, their eyes may be irresistibly drawn to a mysteriously more vivid face than your own, without them necessarily making the logical connection between half an hour messing about with little pots and brushes, and the finished work of art?

Or am I attributing my Beloved with more gullibility than he deserves? Here's a thought: does a make-up-free face signal to other men that you're off the market? In which case, a man encouraging you to lay down your lip brush, and your doing so for him, is a sort of unspoken pact of commitment between you. I've certainly never been encouraged to go bare-faced by any of the glamour-bedazzled men I've pulled at gigs. (In fact, many of them have asked if I..d consider wearing the full stage ensemble in the bedroom - but that's a whole different story.) If they took me out, there was a tacit understanding that it was my job to look like a jazz singer, not the girl-next-door. On the discovery that an off-duty jazz singer is the girl next door after all, they would beat a hasty, disillusioned retreat. I reckon my Beloved might be a keeper.

So what have we learned? That the inappropriate use of make up may bring on extreme reactions of fear, hostility, or, if you're lucky, adoration. That make-up makes you look different to your everyday self. Which is maybe why your fella might ask you not to wear it: if he's fallen in love with your real face, that's the face he wants to look at all the time, which is fair enough really, and a lot less like hard work.

Meanwhile, I've decided not to be churlish about my actress friend looking like a million dollars at the party the other week. This actress-musician (let's call her 'Charlie') was at a crucial turning point in her career, with her band's single due for release on the Monday. She could have been catapulted to stardom by the end of the week, or not. But she was dressing as if she was already there. Her immaculate make-up put her up there among the 'beautiful people' - and it told everyone that was where she belonged. Good for her. Because you're never going to get there if you don't act like you deserve it. And late in the night, when my own red lipstick had wiped itself off on glass rims and male cheeks (only my Beloved's of course), she rummaged in her handbag and whipped out a small pot and brush with a conspiratorial air and invited me to try on her red instead. It was in a pot because the lipstick case had broken, but she'd managed to salvage the lippy itself. She had the same lip brush as me. But no mirror. So I painted it on blind, the way she must have been doing all night. And, as she nodded approvingly at my good aim, I felt a moment of powerful female bonding. I loved the fact she kept her favourite lipstick in a little plastic pot. And I loved the fact that she knew it didn't matter, because it was just a tool - like a carpenter's chisel.

In fact, I felt so warm towards her after our lipstick moment, that I invited her to come onstage with me and do a duet at my next gig. Then again, maybe that wasn't so wise. I'm not sure I want to share my stage with someone who can do their make up so much better than me.

Monday, October 09, 2006

What's the Giggle Gap?

According to this naughtly old gentleman at the gig last night, it's the gap between the top of a girl's stocking and the bottom of her skirt (or whatever)... and it's called the giggle gap because, if a man gets that far, he's laughing.

I was deeply flattered to be told that I had brought on three near coronaries with my stockings last night. They should issue medals for that.

Then again maybe I should have dressed a bit more demurely for a 70th birthday party...

Pretty sprightly crowd though - some fine shapes being thrown on the dancefloor. I don't think we've ever seen so much dancing at one of our gigs. The senior citizens of Kent put our regular crew of bright young things to shame. Honey kept sneaking onto the dancefloor in the instrumental solos to Give It Large, but was completely out-shone by an 8-year-old girl in a pink tutu. They soon teamed up and started working on some spectacular routines though - and Connie joined in as soon as she could slip out from behind the keyboards.

Meanwhile my Beloved juggled manning the DJ decks (okay, the DJ laptop) with charming the waiter into serving him not one, not two, but three bottles of Veuve Clicquot - and even found a Magic Mushroom growing in the field full of sheep behind the marquee. Then, paralytic on champagne, he expertly reversed our little car out of the driveway past two porsches and the soundman's trailer at one o'clock in the morning, after I'd made two very pathetic and girly attempts at the manoeuvre and given up in despair. I didn't let him drive home, though.

I only had one glass of champagne all night but I felt as if I'd had three bottles myself - that's what playing a good gig does for you.

Oh, here's another jazz joke, courtesy of Honey Mink:

What do you call a big grey animal that sings jazz?

Elephantz Gerald



Thursday, October 05, 2006

Expensive Date

It seems like nobody wants me except the people who can't afford me at the moment.

I'm not talking about my love life (for once) I'm talking about the sorry plight of our gig diary.

After a year of indulging our every whim, Lovely Tom at the Shepherds Bar has noticed that our monthly residency is bankrupting him. Bless him though, he hasn't actually sacked us, he's presented me with the harsh economic reality of the situation (never a pleasant experience for a girl), and invited us all to come up with a solution. So what we're going to have to do is take a brutal pay cut. Which means I'm going to be saving for 8 months for a new gown from Hollywood, instead of 4. Oh well, the old ones aren't looking exactly shabby yet, I suppose.

The biggest downer of this new state of penury is that Bobby Fresh will now be actually paying for the privilege of playing a gig, because the taxi fare to bring his drums to the venue will actually be more than he'll get paid for hitting them. He pointed out that it wasn't any of our faults that he'd never learned to drive or bought a car, but I still feel bad about it. Especially as they are such a cute set of drums. Maybe we should pass the hat round for driving lessons?

Spurred on by the realisation I might have to look further afield for a home for my cheeky slinktet, I've been busily firing off emails in all directions to every bar, club and agency I could think of. But clearly my email account must be malfunctioning because, mysteriously, I haven't had a single reply.

Frankly I'm baffled. Who wouldn't want to pay through the nose for the privilege of squeezing a seven-piece band into their venue - with not one but two sultry songstresses in slinky gowns? (not to mention Sir Fitz and his fruity brass, and don't even get me started on what the rhythm section get up to). I know I would. If I had a venue. Or any money.

Which brings me on to my antics this evening.

Meet Tricity Vogue, Jazz Gatecrasher

I was strolling up Newington Green Road on my way home from the recording studio this evening and as I passed the Alma pub I heard the unmistakable skitter of jazz drums, and the fruity plunk of a double bass. Sure enough, there in the window was a poster advertising a performance that night by BBC-best-jazz-soloist award winner Anita Wardell. I was all set to mosey on in when I noticed that tickets were £30. Bugger.

I must have looked like a little puppy with my nose pressed against the window pane, because this dapper gentleman in a smart black suit came out and ushered me inside, telling me not to worry about tickets, just put something in the hat when it came round. I went up to the bar to get a drink, opened my purse... and discovered the grand total of £1.95 inside. Did they accept cards? Not for under £10. A half pint of Kronenberg was £1.65, leaving me exactly 30 pence for the hat. Luckily it was all in ones and twos, and the 'hat' turned out to be a proper collection bucket with a discreet slot, so my coinage made a lot of noise when it went in, and nobody was any the wiser.

Anita and her trio tripped delightfully through some favourite standards, and a few I hadn't heard before (which is always a delight) while I took tiny ladylike sips of my half of lager and made it last an hour. Lovely warm vocals over properly feather-light piano, bass and drums. As the Fast Show guy would say: "Nice".

Now all I've got in my purse is two plectrums. Handy in case the sudden urge to play the guitar comes over me (I haven't touched one for about three months, but you never know) - but not much good for anything else.

There is something fundamentally awry with the economics of being a jazzer. Have you ever heard the joke about the jazz musician who won the Lottery? They asked him how long he was going to carry on playing jazz now he was a millionaire and he said... "Until the money runs out."



Thursday, September 28, 2006

The sunshine of your love

Was listening to Radio Two while I was cooking supper, and they had a feature on about Cream. They kicked off with Sunshine of Your Love, and I thought - how about me and Honey doing a cover of that?

Texted Honey who zipped straight back with 'That's one of my favourite songs'. I reckon it would really swing. Could get nice and dirty and bluesy. Will put it to the ladies and gentlemen of the Slinktet poste-haste for consideration.

Had another thought after Sunday's gig - well, that combined with a long telephone catch-up chat with that elusive couturier of ours, Hollywood. What about matching costumes? Looking at the stage of the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club reminded me of the opening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (my favourite film, unsurprisingly) in which Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell burst through a glittery curtain just like the one at the BGWMC (well, maybe in slightly better nick) and launch into a big number about how they're 'Just two little girls from Little Rock' (aren't we all?) in matching red sequinned outfits.

Honey says she's always had fantasies about a blue sequinned dress. I can see myself in blue sequins. The question is, do they sell them in Goldhawk Road?

the other question is, I suppose, which one of us is Marilyn and which one is Jane Russell?

Since we're both brunettes, that could be a tricky one, although now Honey's taken to sporting a red wig, I suppose that brings her slightly closer to blonde.

Connie Vanderlay is a natural blonde of course, but I can't imagine ever exciting her at the thought of wearing blue sequins, or indeed sequins of any colour. She's only interested in music, and would be quite happy going on stage in a hockey mask, if it weren't for the fact it would probably impede her ability to communicate with the rest of the band. Bizarre.

I've a sneaking suspicion she might not have heard the Cream version of Sunshine of your Love - I bet they banned rock music at the Conservatoire. I look forward to introducing it to her. On the other hand I have no doubt that our resident rake Earl Mysterio knows all the guitar licks for it like the back of his hand...



Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Do You Know The Way To St Tropez?

Clearly I don't, because I managed to sing it in the wrong key at Sunday's gig.

Sir Fitzroy Callow is blaming himself for putting me off, because he launched into the introduction for Boys Don't Cry without realising everyone else was playing St Tropez. Maybe I did pick up the wrong cue from him somehow, but the weird thing was that once I'd kicked off in one key I just couldn't get myself off it - it was like train tracks. Honey was singing the right tune really loudly in my ear but that didn't work, and neither did Connie bashing the chords out super loud on the keyboard. I'd got two thirds of the way through the song before I finally managed to pitch it right.

Honey said to me after the gig, "Never mind, the good thing about live gigs is that nobody ever remembers the mistakes afterwards." But of course St Tropez would have to be the one song that two of my friends decided to video on their mobile phones, wouldn't it? So I got to conduct a full post-mortem on my cock up. This has enabled me to ascertain that I did indeed pick up my wrong note from the trombone, but no hard feelings Sir Fitz, because I should have been listening to the bass, piano and guitar, and you were outnumbered three instruments to one. Four if you count Bobby Fresh, who claims he was definitely drumming in the right key.

I don't fuck up very often, but when I do, I do it spectacularly. I can't decide if this is a good thing, or if it would be better to fuck up little and often. Obviously not fucking up at all would be best of all.



Tuesday, September 19, 2006

We Dance Even When Nobody's Watching (And Other Secrets Of The Studio Revealed)

I've decided I love recording studios.

We've just spent the weekend at Alchemea Studio in Islington, recording three tracks for our demo. It was the first time we've all been into the studio together, and we weren't sure how it was going to go, especially since we'd boldly (some might say foolishly) decided to record all the tracks live. But we're pretty chuffed with the results. Here they are, on the myspace page:

All the studio cliches about hanging around for hours before anything happens are true of course. Bobby Fresh's drums took about 2 hours to mic up, as per, and then there was Mr Mysterio's Fender amp to sort out in its own little room, so he could play with all his effects pedals properly (what, if anything, do they all actually do???).

Me and Honey had a little studio to ourselves which lulled us into a false sense of privacy, until Honey struck up a whispered conversation about the sexual proclivities of one of our paramours - which was, of course, broadcast to the entire band and the sound engineers through their headphones. I ended up swapping microphones with Honey because I liked the sound of myself better through hers, which was an AKG instead of a Neumann, for those among you of a technical bent. All right, it was gold instead of silver, but that really didn't influence my decision. Honest. And yes, we wound up doing little dance routines to all our numbers while we were singing, which got us some funny looks from the sound engineers on the other side of the glass, who weren't wearing headphones and couldn't hear what we were dancing to.

Connie confessed she got a kick out of being in a small, sweaty room with 'the boys'. They didn't have any vocal mics in there so it was harder to make out exactly what was going on, but the drum mics picked up enough ambient sound to establish they were having a good time.

And Sir Fitzroy was in a soundproof room by himself, which was a far cry from his usual recording experience of being jammed in a room with 20 sweaty brass players. This VIP treatment put him in a sunny mood all day, despite all the waiting around which usually drives him mad at rehearsals.

We came up with some inventive ways of passing the time while the mixing was being done:

Earl Mysterio acted out everyone's Horoscopes.

Honey covered everybody in the band with sticky gold stars.

Connie ate kebabs.

Magic J slept. (In fact, there was a lot of sleeping going on. Honey managed to fall asleep lying on the vocal studio floor with her headphones on, while I yorped out the vocals to St Tropez in her ear).

And we told jokes. But I can only remember two.

Why did the chicken cross the playground? To get to the other slide.

A woman walked into a shop and asked the man for a Double Entendre. So he gave her one.

There were loads of knock knock jokes as well, but I've blanked them from my memory, possibly because they were too painful to record for posterity. If any of you other guys can remember any more, can you post them up as a comment?

Loved every minute of it. Even the knock knock jokes.

Big thank you to Ian and Alchemea

and lots of love from us all






Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Secret Life of a Jazz Singer

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Inhaling Dust

We had our first full band rehearsal in Earl Mysterio's cellar last night and I've been coughing ever since.

I've just given up smoking (three weeks without a single puff so far...) but I may have just undone all that good work by inhaling three hours worth of brick dust.

But apart from that it was a good rehearsal.

Connie set up the keyboard under the hole in the roof, and it didn't cave in on top of her, (so that's good), but she did manage to get white chalk off the wall all down her back. That'll teach her to slouch when she's playing.

Earl kept hitting his head on the plastic flower garlands hanging from the ceiling, but I don't think it hurt.

Bobby seemed to be sitting on a computer monitor to drum, because he had to squeeze the kit in next to three boxes of junk, but he managed to find enough floor space for his beers so he was happy.

Magic J didn't have to bring his bass amp because Earl had a spare one. So he was happy too.

Fitzroy doesn't have to worry any more about leaving puddles of water on the floor when he's emptying the spit out of his trombone. If anything, this could be the perfect solution to the dust problem - damp it down.

Honey and I even had enough room to dance. I think that might be where all the dust came from: we might have kicked it up during our soft shoe shuffle.

So a good night all round.

All the cables are covered in dust now though, which is a whole new gig-night hazard. Brick dust on a satin gown is not a good look.



Monday, September 04, 2006

singing for my supper

This weekend i've been a proper jobbing musician with a gig on Saturday and a gig on Sunday, and very delicious free dinners at both.

I tell you what, it beats earning your crust by sitting in an office in front of a computer.

On Saturday I was on a riverboat cruise from Putney pier singing jazz standards for the esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the Rotary Club, while we cruised up and down the thames looking at the sights through the drizzle.

And last night Connie and I played at the Portobello Gold in Notting Hill. It looks like a 'rock pub' when you walk in, but it's got this amazing conservatory at the back where they have the restaurant and you can sit among palm fronds and mirrors and eat the immodestly billed "best sunday lunch in london". I have to say, my tuna steak with nicoise salad was quite possibly the finest I have ever eaten, so they may actually be telling the truth.

The barman built us a stage out of beer crates and boards, and rigged up the PA for us, but it felt slightly odd at first, standing above a pub-load of beer drinkers crooning old-fashioned jazz. Like a door had opened from another dimension and I had accidentally stepped through onto the wrong stage. But we had enough of our own friends there who knew what we were all about to turn the tide of the pub in our favour, and some very unlikely-looking punters seemed prepared to embrace jazz nostalgia - including a guy who looked as if he'd have been more at home at The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who didn't take his eyes off us for the whole first set, and thoughtfully mentioned in the break that the mix needed a slight adjustment to bring the vocal up so he could hear every word of the lyrics.

Then Tommy the promoter grabbed me and said there was a jazz singer in the pub on holiday from Hawaii, and could she do a number with us? Sherri got up and duetted on Girl From Ipanema, which would have gone slightly better if she could have remembered the words, but she attacked the number with plenty of enthusiasm to make up for it, and the crowd embraced her bravura performance with a kindhearted sense of fun. I got my first breaks in London being invited up on stage by complete strangers after brashly announcing myself as a jazz singer, so I'm all for it. Honey Mink was, in fact, one such kindhearted and brave musician - and I don't think she's ever lived to regret it. But that's a story for another time...

I managed to end the evening with a spectacular piece of girly ineptitude, which took the shine off a bit, and also jeopardised the future of my 50s dress. I pulled into a petrol station at 11 at night and couldn't manage to get near a pump where I could fill up from the left hand side - so I tried to pull the pump handle all the way around the back of my car instead. And of course the minute I pressed the handle petrol spurted all down my dress and over my arms and feet. I went flapping into the shop squealing like Nikki off Big Brother, demanding hand towels. The guys asked me why I didn't just turn my car round and approach the pump from the other side, which of course hadn't occurred to me. Oh and they also charged me 17p for the petrol I threw down myself.

Whether my dress will survive its misadventure remains to be seen. It's currently in a bucket soaking in Sainsbury's stain removal powder.

Note to self not to engage in any physical activities involving common sense or manual dexterity after singing for two hours.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

Goodbye Boscombe Road

It's the end of an era.

Ever since the band began, about two and a half years ago, we've been rehearsing in the front room of my old flat on Boscombe Road - and for decades the house has been a haven for actors, writers, and musicians. But the house has been sold - and this week we all moved our gear out and said goodbye forever to the crumbling Victorian pile, with its elegantly wasted leaking conservatory (home of many a messy party), its vast, overgrown garden (home of an impressive array of fruit bushes and a whole den of foxes), its eccentric electrics (including the fuse you have to push back in every time you turn on the kettle and the toaster at the same time and trip the power), and its giant front door (complete with beautiful lion door-knocker, and erratic yale lock, prone to jamming and locking you inside the house, so you have to go out via the conservatory and climb over the side gate to escape).

I love the place.

Luckily, we're not out on the street, with our piles of dodgy amps and pilfered keyboards. The stupendous Mr Earl Mysterio is in possession of a cellar which is not only big enough to fit us in, gear and all, it also has electricity. All right, so it also has a big hole in the ceiling, but as long as none of us stand under it, we should be okay.

But, no offence to Earl and his generous hospitality, it won't be the same...

Goodbye Boscombe Road, and thank you for being an inspirational, bonkers, totally brilliant place to live, work and play.




Strange Glamour Dreams

I'm a bit worried about my subcoscious life

A couple of nights ago I had a dream that I was giving someone make up tips - for some reason I was taking her step-by-step through my make-up routine on a beach. We were sitting on a rock promontary at the edge of a lovely sunny beach, looking out to sea. There I was, dolled up to the nines, complete with false eyelashes - and then I realised that to get off the beach, I would have to wade through the sea. I'd made it halfway across, when I saw a huge wave coming. Oh no, I thought, my make-up is going to be ruined! The wave hit me - but only came halfway up my face, leaving my false eyelashes spared. I was hugely relieved. What disturbed me, when I woke up shortly afterwards, was that I hadn't been remotely worried about drowning in the vast wave I saw coming straight for me (we are talking Old Spice Advert scale here, for anyone mature enough to recognise that reference) - all I was worried about was all that hard work on my face going to waste.

Have I got Glamour Issues? Should I be consulting a psychologist?



Thursday, August 24, 2006

Going Festie

I know I'm not the sort of girl you would imagine doing this but... last weekend I went incognito to a music festival.

Yes, that's right. Mud, wellies, the works.

Admittedly, my Beloved and I did have a designer tent, complete with inflatable double matress, duvet and pillows... but in all other respects we threw ourselves enthusiastically into the full festie experience.  I even wore the free plastic poncho that came with the Guardian. I hope to God there are no photos...

Most decadent festie activity of the weekend was the stalls selling balloons filled with nitrous oxide for £2 a pop. Festies everywhere were sitting on the ground in little circles inhaling from party balloons then whooping, giggling and swooning as the laughing gas kicked in for, ooh, seconds of thrill. I daresay by next year someone will have found some reason to make it illegal - or limited the sale of whipped cream dispensers to certified catering companies only, thus cutting off the nitrous oxide dealers' access to the tools of their trade...

I may have been there incognito but if there's a stage going begging anywhere you can count on me to muscle my way onto it somehow or other... and getting onto the mainstage was definitely the highlight of my festival.  Honey Mink was booked to play at the festival under her alter-ego, 'Lana, and she asked me if I fancied doing backing vocals for her. She didn't have to ask me twice, I can tell you.

It was very exciting getting the green artist's wristband, swanning past the security to the backstage area, having real roadies shifting our gear onto the stage, free bottles of water, and a stage manager asking us where we wanted the mikes set up. But most exciting of all was standing up there and looking out at the crowd from the stage. I was really crap - I actually waved at Beloved from the stage, which is sooooo uncool. But I was excited.

Lana's songs went down a storm - and so they should. They're catchy, simple bluesy rock'n'roll numbers that are stupidly easy to dance to and almost impossible to get out of your head. I danced my little socks off... and, just as Lana predicted, the sun came out specially for the half hour we were on stage.





Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"What have you done to your back?"

Gearing up for this week's gig, I've been hit by an unforeseen crisis.

My Beloved, possibly the most well-qualified boyfriend in the whole universe ever, is not only a yoga teacher, but also trained in the art of massage, and last Friday he generously offered to give my shoulders a good strong pummelling because they were giving me gyp. And very pleasant it was too.

But the next morning as I was dressing he asked, "What have you done to your back?" Peering over my shoulder in the mirror, I noticed what looked like two carpet burns - right where Beloved was pressing away some particularly stubborn knots of tension the day before. Beloved vehemently denied these were actual grazes, but claimed instead they were some sort of internal burst blood capillaries which would disappear within a day.

But sitting on the grass in Regents Park at the Fruitstock festival that afternoon, Honey suddenly said, "What have you done to your back?" and confirmed my worst fears that they were actual proper scabs, like the sort you got on your knee when you fell down in the playground aged five.

Beloved is very embarrassed, bless him - it seems that while he was flinging all his strength into massaging my shoulders, he was also grinding the cloth of my top into my skin in an unintentionally abrasive fashion. More fool me for leaving my top on. I'm not really angry with him - he was pouring all his energies into being a devoted and loving boyfriend at the time. He just doesn't know his own strength.

But it does leave me with a terrible dilemma for Thursday. All my gowns are backless - in fact Hollywood, who designs them for me, has decided to make a bare back my signature feature. But I don't particularly want to raise gasps of horror and concern every time I turn my back on the audience and they get an eyeful of my spectacularly unsexy scabs. It's too hot to keep my kimono-coat on for the whole gig. And I can't see a couple of plasters cutting the mustard either.

I've got two days to come up with a solution. Answers on a postcard please.



Friday, August 04, 2006

Honey can't come out to play

We've been offered a gig at Bethnal Green Working Men's Club - which is brilliant, because we've wanted to play there for ages - but when everybody got their diaries out at rehearsal on Monday night to book it in, Honey pipes up:

"Oh no! I'm not allowed out of the house that day!"

What's this? is she under house arrest? Some kind of excessive punishment for her bad-girl activities (smoking too many marlboros, picking up strange men on the tube)?

No, apparently there are two days in the entire year when she's not allowed out of doors, and this is one of them. It's Rosh Hashanah. So that means while we're hefting amps about, trailing microphone leads dangerously across the floor, and applying Rocket Red to our lips (well, maybe only me) in preparation to large it at the Sunday Large Club, she'll be draped elegantly over a couch eating milk and honey (how appropriate).

We'll just have to manage without her - but it won't be the same. I haven't done a gig without her shimmying along beside me for months, and I can tell you, shimmying is a lot more fun 'a deux' as the French say. But you probably knew that.

Maybe I can coax Connie out from behind the keyboards to join me for a quick wiggle now and again. And come to think of it, Sir Fitz has been known to indulge in the odd dance move (and I use the word odd advisedly) when he's not got his 'bone stuck to his lips. So I think we'll muddle through...

...but I'm glad there are only two days of the year when Honey's not allowed out to play.



Sunday, July 30, 2006

Too darn hot

Everybody's wilting a bit in this London heatwave, but spare a thought for the special hardships of jazz singers like me and Honey Mink. It's hot enough on stage at the best of times, what with the lights and the dancing around and all the over-excitement generally - but in this weather it's a killer. When you've got a boned, corseted gown on that's so tight you need a friend to zip you in (thanks, Honey) you get to know the meaning of the word overheated. I'm thinking I may have to dress down for the gig on August 10th and try and find something with a few more airholes.

Honey's having terrible trouble with the heat, and had to cancel a rehearsal the other week because she was too hot to move and therefore unable to travel. She also experiences massive sartorial dilemmas in this weather. She hates her bra-straps showing, but she can't go out without a bra, and bra straps show under most of the summer tops you can buy, so the net result is that she's leaving the house as little as possible.

But she has promised to come to the park with me tomorrow so we can practise our harmonies. So if you're wandering through Clissold Park tomorrow afternoon, and you hear the lilting sound of scat, that'll probably be us rehearsing. Practising in a park is a pretty good idea, because hopefully you can find a spot far enough away from everyone else that they can't hear you. Much better than rehearsing on the tube, I can tell you. Mind you it depends what Honey decides to wear - depending on how hot she is, we might end up attracting more attention than we bargained for...


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Who is Connie Vanderlay?

I'm often called upon to answer questions about my mysterious and exotic fellow band members (musical history, sexual availability etc etc...), so I'm going to do my best to satisfy your curiosity, starting with pianist Connie Vanderlay, whose erstwhile biographer, Rosa Conrad, has kindly supplied me with the following document for publication:

"Connie's musical background remains an enigma. It is generally accepted
that at some point she went to a prestigious music conservatoire but did
not attend the full term. One version of this story is that Connie went
AWOL in search of the strange sounds she had heard at night when listening
to her favourite radio station, 'Weird Waves' and was spotted some time
after on horseback clutching a Tuvan throat singer for warmth somewhere
east of Ulan Bator.

Another version is that she had fallen foul of the conservatoires
sensibilities by becoming obsessed with jazz chords and improvisation,
going off on wild tangents inappropriately in the middle of Beethoven
sonatas and Bach fugues and tried the patience of the masters by having the
uncontrollable urge to make tri-tone substitutions of the dominant and
scattering minor sevenths and sharp ninths where they weren't invited. The
final straw being an infamous re-working of Schumann's Kinderscenen joined
as a kind of hybrid with a jazzed up version of the 80's Alice Cooper
classic, 'Poison'. She had a good ear, they say, but she was out on it.

Since these shady times, she seems to have been spotted in several
extremely far-off locations conducting some kind of musical odyssey. She
was heard playing her strange improv whilst necking back the wine in a
pricy restaurant in the geothermal wonderland that is Rotorua, New Zealand.
Then she was spotted busking Irish folk music with a frighteningly virtuoso
accordionist for mere cents in the country's capital, Wellington. Further
sightings were made in hicksville sheep country: deepest Taranaki where
first she was spotted playing Aerosmith dities on keyboards in a Maori hard
rock band, then later seems to have re-visited the region only to get
entangled with an all-female sect whose raison d'etre is to deify the

She was also spotted singing folk songs and playing a surprisingly small
guitar in a Kyoto cafe, and in several places around Japan on the country's
highly organised underground bluegrass circuit with a wayward Japanese man
who appeared to be half man, half mandolin.

And of course there was her extended stay on the tiny tropical island of
Cuni-Longo where she was entranced by the Melanesian rhythms and harmonies
and became so involved with native life that some believed she would be
lost to the coral reefs and palm trees for good.

As for men, she's been linked to various slightly unhinged drummers;
legendarily, Tricity Vogue's ex-drummer, the dapper Ferdinand Lips, who
inexplicably ran away to join a Parisian cult circus troupe who hold firmly
to the belief that the moon is made of camembert. Any link with this sudden
departure to the fact that the night before Connie had taken him to an
extended performance of Arnold Schoenberg's 'Pierrot Lunaire' and Anton
Weber's 'Wozzek' is mere conjecture.

But Ms. Vanderlay insists that music is her true love and that she won't
let herself be sidetracked from her passion by such irrelevancies as men,
unlike her deplorable friend Ms. Vogue. Although some might say this may be
less to do with a righteous stand for independence than a hopeless raising
of her standards as a result of her past intimacy with the beautiful
cannibals of Cuni-Longo."

So there you have it.

Anyone still willing to risk a liaison with Ms Vanderlay after learning of her taste in cannibals is a braver man than any I've ever dated.

Then again, that isn't saying much...





I think I was there in that Kyoto cafe.  Good times.  I'd had quite a bit of sake but am pretty sure she was doing a jazz-folk version of 'Honey, suck my rose', by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers I think.

Posted by The Goldhawk Road Slush Fund on Tuesday, July 18, 2006 at 12:41 PM

Wow... corroboration! And there was me thinking some of it might actually be made up... I feel so ashamed of my lack of faith. Sorry Connie.

Now all we need to find is some witnesses from Cuni-Longo...



Saturday, July 08, 2006

my sparkly new website

I'm so excited! It's been a labour of love, and it's finally finished. My very own website.

The more observant followers of my career may have noticed that I've been using the word "soon" a bit loosely on the holding page - which has boldly stated "website coming soon" for the last year. But now it's finally come, I hope you'll forgive me for making you wait.

Of course, there is a school of thought that making people (especially men) wait for something will make them appreciate it more when they get it. I've never actually been able to put this theory into practise, especially not with men, being too impatient myself - but it really wasn't a deliberate strategy this time.

What happened was that my brother offered to build me a website, and we sat down for a meeting and came up with loads of brilliant ideas together, like, why don't I hand-draw all the captions and the decorative bits? And then we discovered that for every hour I spent doing lettering by hand, my brother would have to spend about five hours painstakingly cleaning it up in photoshop so it was actually legible. But we stuck doggedly to our plan.

However, work on the site hit a slight hiatus in March 2005 when my brother produced something else:
Lily Mae

Quite rightly, Lily Mae got first billing for a while, but my brother promised me that he would finish my site come hell or high water. Then he found out he had to move to France for his job. Luckily, France isn't in hell or high water, however, so work resumed on our hand-crafted piece of virtual real estate, as scanned images, photographs and emails commuted from London to Lyon in a glamorously continental fashion. This may be whimsy, but I have to say that I think a touch of French chic has attached itself to the site in consequence.

I sent an email to all the Friends of Tricity this week to give the site its grand official launch, and lots of people have been complimentary about it, which is delightful - I feel like a proud parent showing everyone my new baby, even though, strictly speaking, it was my brother who went through all the labour pains.

I've even started getting letters to my agony page, from troubled souls hoping to draw on my extensive experience in affairs of the heart. (Some might say too extensive, but that's nonsense. If you were looking for a plumber, you wouldn't choose one who'd never fitted a pipe before, would you?) Having learnt my own lessons in love from the School of Hard Knocks, I'm only too happy to share what I've learned along the way, and hope that it saves someone else a few bruises.

If I can help you out with any romantic dilemmas, don't hesitate to drop me a line.
Meanwhile I'd love to know what you think of the site... and whether it was worth the wait.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The warm glow of a gig well done

I don't usually admit this, but I was a bit scared before last week's gig. Not because I was worried about our performance - but because I was worried about England's - in the World Cup game right before the gig. If, God forbid, England lost - and lost against Trinidad and Tobago of all people, then no amount of flirtatious leg-wiggling from me was going to raise a smile from any male audience member - let alone a glass of champagne. If on the other hand we won, there was a high chance that the bar would be filled with boisterous males more interested in thumping each other on the back and roaring banal footie anthems, than sitting still and listening to finely-honed jazz. Or, if the mood was right, and the crowd was still basking in the warm glow of victory... it could be one of our best gigs yet.

Honey Mink and I sat together painting our nails and listening to the radio commentary on the match with rising trepidation. As the clock ticked on towards six thirty, we applied coats of "Vino" (tragically, a now discontinued Mac shade) with increasingly shaky hands as the commentator reiterated how angry he was getting at the disappointing England play, and I envisaged hoards of raging, red-faced England fans venting their frustration by hurling half-empty pint glasses at my shiny pink frock...And then - oh blessed relief! - a goal. And then another! Victory snatched from the jaws of nondescript play at the last moment... I positively bounced to the car with Connie's keyboard (lucky she was holding the other end).

It took a good hour to get ourselves set up for the sound check, what with persuading the footie fans sitting in our stage area to make way for a drumkit and pile of amps, moving sofas, and encouraging drunken revellers to remove their drinks from the surface reserved for the mixing desk... but once we got stuck in to the first number it quickly became apparent that the crowd were on our side. By the second number, people were dancing, and by the third, an impromptu dance-floor had formed.  We played straight through til ten, and despite my fears that the audience would have a low tolerance threshold for quieter numbers, even that sorry tale of  being dumped, Is It Because, went down well. And there was as much dancing to original numbers My Side of the Bed and Under Your Thumb as there was to the cheeky eighties covers.

The second set saw no let up in enthusiasm from the crowd, who I was quite prepared to see sloping off after ten - and, delightfully, they wouldn't let us off the stage, demanding not one, but two encores. There were even cries for a third, but by then we were all jazzed out and in need of a stiff drink.  Special commendations must go to the gentlemen of the National Geographic Channel, who desported themselves very commendably on the dancefloor - I will of course give one of their number's request to join the band in the role of backing dancer serious consideration.

Special mention too, to my beloved, who thought the embarrassment of being singled out for a Birthday dedication would be lessened if he banned us from singing Happy Birthday or mentioning his name. How wrong he was. But I feel sure that he was deeply touched - and reassured - by my bespoke performance of Aint Misbehaving, during which I assured him emphatically of my fidelity and virtuous behaviour, while shimmying hell-for-leather in figure-hugging satin.

A big thank-you to my partner-in-crime Miss Honey Mink (who's made some major new conquests at the National Geographic), to Lovely Tom, the Shepherds Bar Manager (who, despite having had to pack about three days-worth of work into one, still stayed to mix the sound so exquisitely for us) and to the band, who reached new heights of cheeky aplomb, and kept everyone grooving away on the dance-floor:

The melodious Sir Fitzroy Callow on Trombone

The mischievous Bobby Fresh on Drums

The marvellous Magic J on Bass

The mellifluous Earl Mysterio on Guitar

and, finally,

The magnificient Miss Connie Vanderlay on piano.

It was so so lovely to have her back, and, despite the fact we were performing together for the first time in more than a year, it was like she'd never been away... but even better.



Friday, June 02, 2006

The Return of Connie Vanderlay

She's back! After a year travelling the world with her cheeky little baby guitar on her back, Miss Connie Vanderlay has returned to the bosom of the family Vogue.

Our inimitable pianist will be launching herself on London musical society anew at our next gig on Thursday 15 June. After playing in festivals across Australia and New Zealand, and even a Japanese birthday party, it's back to the glitz and glamour of Shepherds Bush. Let's hope it doesn't go to her head.

What she is actually going to play ON is still a minor puzzle for us to solve. I can't imagine, even if I turn the full beam of my charm on him, that I can persuade Lovely Tom the Shepherds Bar manager to install a grand piano in two weeks. Bassist extraordinaire Magic J, true to his name, has revealed, astonishingly, that he happens to have a full-size Roland keyboard with a stand, weighted keys and the whole caboodle lying around in his loft. Apparently though his loft is in Croydon. Also the keyboard is longer than his car. I doubt I can persuade Tom to buy us a roof-rack.

So maybe I can attach one end of the keyboard to my bumper, Magic J can attach the other end to the front of his car, and we can put some coasters on it. Magic J, when not thumbing the beefy strings of his bass, has a nifty little sideline in Special Effects, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed he can come up with something magical to transport his ivories to the Bush. Nothing would be more disappointing for our audience than a pianist they can't hear, because she's been forced to play thin air.

However we solve the quandary of the Missing Piano, the return of Connie means one thing very important: the band is getting bigger... and I'll have my very own Big Band again before I know it. Only 16 more musicians to go...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Post Gig Bliss - and the search for an Angel...

Ah, last week's gig really was lovely...

It was the hottest day of the year so far, and everyone was sitting outside on the terrace while we crooned away inside for the first half... then, in the second half, we got a few hardcore fans inside to listen properly - and, indeed, sing along. I must confess I got a bit raunchy at one point, thanks to the influence of a particularly flamboyant (and possibly homosexual?) member of the audience.

Bobby Fresh has got himself a new drumkit in fabulous canary yellow, which was a fine addition to the stage show, and contrasted deliciously with my bright pink gown. Honey Mink and myself found it tougher than usual to squeeze into our stage-wear. Which might have been to do with the temperature, or alternatively an excess of indulgence... One of the nice things about sharing your stage with a lady friend is that you have someone to help you in and out of your frock. Honey's has an inner corset as well, so there are two zips to wrestle with - all I can say is, I'm glad of all that yoga training. Both our frocks are boned and corseted to within an inch of our lives, and we both felt quite light-headed with relief when we finally unfastened them at the end of the evening... we may have to source some Victorian-style smelling salts if the weather gets much hotter over the summer. Or try tequila. That's Honey's cure-all for most ills, and I have to say, she may be onto something. It's certainly less gassy than champagne.

The dresses are not the only thing feeling tighter these days - the boys in the band are on exquisite form, and we glided and swished and sassed our way through out set with a relaxed aplomb that makes me feel certain that now is the time to record our demo. Of course, all we need to do now is find a kindhearted angel with an empty unused studio just waiting to be filled with jazzers for the day...

If you are that angel, do please drop me a line. Much as I love singing in tight satin gowns, I can't wait for the opportunity to sing without wearing one for a change, in a more intimate studio atmosphere...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006
The Joys of Rehearsing

Who said that trying to get a bunch of musicians together in one place was like herding cats? Jazz musicians are the coolest cats of the lot of course, and so it took a week of solid planning and negotiation to make last night's rehearsal happen - but once you get us all in a room together we find it hard to leave...

Sir Fitzroy Callow couldn't help but stay for one more number, despite his urgent desire to return to glamorous Tottenham for an early(ish) night - but once we started up the slinky rhythms of Trust In Me, how could he resist putting in his saucy snake noises? It's amazing what he can do with that rubber mute of his. Who would have thought one horn could produce so many different sounds?

Jazz in-jokes of the night included a spontaneous rendition after I said 'Okay guys, take five...' and smirks at the phrase 'I like a good rim-shot'. Possibly the cans of 'wife beater' were a mistake for musicians of such refined sensibilities, but they certainly made three hours of rehearsing go by in a flash, and by the end of the night we were certainly tight, both in the muso-speak sense, and the classic debauched sense.

We will probably have even more fun on Thursday - not just because the Shepherds Bar has a more refined range of beverages than my refrigerator, but also because there'll be a discerning audience of likeminded cool cats and kittens to play for...

Hope to see you there.

All my love,




Sincere apologies to Sir Fitzroy Callow, who has corrected my misapprehension that he currently resides in Tottenham. Although he is Tottenham born and bred, he is now living in Southgate, which, confusingly, is not in the south of the city at all, but even further north than Tottenham.

All the more reason to appreciate his dedication to the jazzerly cause in trekking all the way to Shepherds Bush for rehearsals.



Thursday, April 20, 2006
A New Residency

I've been wandering like a little waif from venue to venue ever since my Big Band ditched me, but the lovely Tom, manager at the Shepherds Bar (so charming, so KIND...), wants me back every month from now on. I can't tell you how excited I am - of course variety is nice, but a longterm relationship with a single venue is much more satisfying than one night stands in a different bar or club every week. You never know what the dressing facilities are going to be like, what you'll sound like through the PA, or, even more crucial, whether you'll be properly lit...

I really hope that this one lasts... I think I've been through quite enough upheavals for one girl, and, although Shepherds Bush may be a little further from the West End than I'd been led to believe, sometimes being a little hard to reach is good for a girl's image...