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...