Tuesday, May 15, 2007

a heady week of gownage, gadgetry, and glamour tobacco

There's been so much exciting stuff going on that I've been dying to write it all up in my blog - but it's one of life's ironies that the more there is worth writing about the less time there is to write about it. So this is going to be a bit of an omnibus edition.

This time last week I was getting ready to go onstage at Volupte with the rest of the Slinktet, to a select audience of 60 of our nearest and dearest, and 5 video cameras. I was twittering with nerves, and Denise the co-owner of Volupte gave me a shot of black sambuca to calm me down. But instead of drinking it I managed to knock it all over the bar instead. Reminds me of the guy with the drink problem in Airplane who kept missing his mouth. I quite often have that problem when I'm nervous.

We ended up with a director, 5 camera operators, and 5 sound men, which was a pretty impressive crew considering they were all doing it for love (and I did give everybody a thank-you bottle of wine as well). We'd spent the afternoon in the wilds of darkest Stratford, hiring the cameras and monitors from an arts venue cunningly located in the centre of Stratford's busiest road junction. This meant that as well as bass, bass amp, guitar, effects pedals and guitar amp, plus gown and make-up bags, our longsuffering little Micra also had two camera bags, two massive tripods, three monitors and a battery pack rammed into the back of it, and the equally longsuffering Beloved had to lug it all in and out of the car as well. As someone pointed out (I think it was Dan, who came along to operate one of the cameras) music and filmmaking are possibly the two most equipment heavy occupations it is possible to find, and combining the two on one night was bound to be a killer.

In a way, all that running around was quite a useful distraction to stop me angsting about my actual performance. In the end I just about had time to stick on my false eyelashes and make a few warm up siren noises (which annoyed Honey no end). The siren noises are great - it's all about making as much noise as possible without worrying about sounding pretty, or even whether or not you're hitting the note (because siren wails don't have notes). Doing siren noises as loud as possible gives me flashbacks to my childhood and my mum barking "Give up yorping" at me. Now I'm a grown-up I can yorp with impunity. Hooray. Richard my singing teacher wants me to do my siren noises every morning, but Beloved is mysteriously not keen.

So the gig itself went by in a blur, as they generally do, but I think I remember enjoying it. The matching pink ukeleles were a big hit - although mine just looked pretty and wasn't actually making any sound through the PA (which was probably lucky, since I only started learning a few weeks ago and I'm still a bit more hit and miss on it than Honey). I found out a couple of days after the gig that Bobby Fresh had been sitting at his drumkit reading the paper behind me while I was pouring my heart and soul into my ballad "Well I didn't want you anyway" - which I thought was admirably cheeky behaviour for the drummer of a "cheeky Jazz" band. I don't think he was the cheekiest of the night though, that award probably goes to the 5th camera operator who did a runner without paying his tab. Although come to think of it when I offered him his thank you bottle of wine he did mutter something about having had two glasses at his table: perhaps I wasn't perceptive enough to realise he was asking me to pick up his tab.

It'll probably be a while before the video is finished - poor Phil the editor has got 10 hours of footage to trawl through before he even begins putting anything together - but I'm so taken by the added glamour that a load of cameras lend to an evening that I might set them up at all our future gigs from now on. There wouldn't be any film in them, they'd be purely for decoration.

Next day, I was wandering through Soho after coming out of a meeting about the day job (writing stuff) when I bumped into Burlesque starlet Roxy Velvet, who was exuding vintage glamour in red lipstick, fabulous sunglasses, a tweed pencil skirt and red patent heels. We decided to go for coffee, but on the way Roxy popped into a newsagents to buy 20 Vogue menthols. I was thrilled - a cigarette named after me? They shouldn't have. No, they really shouldn't have, because of course I had to buy a packet. Every single long slender white cigarette has my signature on it. It's uncanny. Seriously, check it out. Here's a picture of the packet:

and here's my signature:

Now of course this didn't help my battle to resist the lure of tobacco at all. The only advantage was that the cigarettes looked and tasted so fabulous that everyone else was nicking them off me all week, and they were gone by the weekend.
Next stop for me and Roxy on our way to coffee was a haberdashers selling the most enormous feather boas I'd ever seen in my life. Roxy tried the turquoise one on for size and decided that £130 was very reasonable for such a piece of exquisite frippery - but she didn't have the cash on her just at the moment. I find it reassuring to think that as soon as I have a spare £130 burning a hole in my pocket I'll know where to go.

And then we bought a couple of lattes and Roxy told me all sorts of colourful tales about her past which were just as sensational (in every sense) as you'd expect, but which of course discretion prevents me from sharing with you.

On Thursday I was back on stage again, in a former chapel on the Isle of Dogs, with a grand piano, but without a microphone. It was the opposite extreme to Tuesday's gig's embarrassment of audio and visual gadgetry... I had nothing but my own lungs to create enough sound to fill a room. Luckily I also had my gowns to provide enough visual spectacle to get me through my 20 minute set, but to my relief I did succeed in making enough noise to be heard, which is thanks in no small part to the encouragement and tutelage of Richard Link, my singing teacher. While drinking in the bar afterwards, Jamie Anderson the host and Jo Jolly one of the other performers on the bill both admitted that they'd been as neurotic as I'd been about having no mic to sing through (whilst helping me get through my packet of Vogue Menthols). Andrew Pepper even brought along a microphone stand to use as a prop for his performance. His particularly colourful use of the stand during his number about auto-erotica was one of the most memorable moments of the evening.

Thursday was a wonderful experience, but I was very glad to have a mic back in my hand again on Friday for The End of the World variety show, when I polished off most of the rest of my Vogue Menthols, with a bit of help from Janet, the venue manager. The rest of them fell out of their packet into the bottom of my bag, but Sophie, the leader of the showgirls troupe The Lady Greys, saved them from a total mashing by suggesting I tip the contents of my bag onto the floor and rescue them that way.

When I went for my singing lesson yesterday, Richard commented that my voice was much lower and much less "present" than usual - perhaps, he wondered, I was tired after my 3-gig week... or had I, perhaps, been smoking? I confessed that I had, and it was obvious to me even without Richard pointing it out what a negative effect it had had on my poor dessicated vocal chords.

So no more Vogue menthols for me. No really. I mean it.

I'd brought along the sheet music to "What are you doing the rest of your life" - a song I recently fell in love with after finding a track of Dusty Springfield performing it with what is possibly the most beautiful vocal I have ever heard: it glides along the mad scales of the song like a river of pure honey. Richard not only knew the song well, he also lent me a whole book of the composer, Michel Legrand's songs -which include "The Windmills of your Mind" (my dad's favourite song), and "I will wait for you", the theme tune to a beautiful French film called Les Parapluies De Cherbourg, which is a delicious visual and aural confection entirely in song from beginning to end (even the mundane moments where people ask their neighbour if they'd like a cup of tea, or discuss whether their car needs a new clutch). Richard played a song of Michel Legrand's called "You must Believe in Spring" which I sight read over his shoulder, and which made me burst into tears, it was so poignant and lovely. I want it sung at my funeral.

I realised today how totally absorbed I'd become in the world of music for the last week when I was wandering along Stoke Newington High street and saw a sign for "Fresh Bass". For a moment I wondered how a musical instrument could be described as "fresh" until I realised I was actually walking past a fishmongers.



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