Tuesday, August 21, 2007

False eyelashes, deckchairs and underground toilets

It's been a busy few days on Planet Vogue.

Friday night was A Night of Lamour at Volupte. I was providing the musical interludes between the stripteases, and Miss Gwendoline Lamour was breaking in a new outfit.

Boys, forgive me. I have to take a few moments to describe this wonder. The girls, and one or two of the homosexual men among my readership, will understand.

First, a full length silk satin coat, with a train, in pale gold, trimmed with brocade and swarovski crystal beads. The coat was given to Gwendoline by a designer friend, but came from the designer's wedding collection and was in fact worth three and a half grand. The brocade and beads were sewn on by Gwendoline herself. She plans to add more when she's saved up to buy enough swarovski crystals. Beneath the coat, a golden corset, absolutely decked in beads, again, all lovingly sewn on by Gwendoline's own hand.

Never before has the point that burlesque is really all about showing off fabulous outfits and only secondarily, if at all, about showing naked flesh been brought home to me more emphatically.

The dressing room was a flurry of twittering anxiety. and I was the worst of the lot, because lovely Connie was halfway up a mountain in Italy, and I'd called in a dep to cover the gig for the evening. A dep who I hadn't actually had a chance to rehearse with at all. A dep who hadn't turned up yet. Luckily for me, Dickie Luck (yes that is his real name) appeared in the nick of time, after a rocky ride on the tube, and we dashed for the piano, just in time to run through our numbers before they started letting the punters in. I just had time to nip back down to the dressing room, where four burlesque stars were jostling for position in front of the mirror, and finish putting on my own slap.

Miss Honey Deville was struggling with her false eyelashes and wanted to know how I stuck mine on. I explained that I used surgical glue (which dries transparent), blew on the eyelashes after I'd applied the glue to dry it a bit before I put them onto my eyelids, and used a cotton wool bud to prod the edge of the lashes down onto my lids if they started peeling away. Honey got one lash on perfectly and was full of thanks for my 'hot tips' until her second lash completely failed to stick. Then divine Miss Roxy Velviet, cheekiest of burlesque dames, offered up her own eyelash tips. Her eyelash glue was from Shu uema and cost a fortune, but was, she claimed, about 10 times stickier than the regular type. She also suggested putting the glued eyelash onto your eyelid then taking it straight off again, so that when you put it back on after the glue has started to dry, there is glue on both surfaces (the lashes and your eyelid), which makes it stick better.

Miss Honey Deville was a bit reluctant to fork out for Shu uema luxury eyelash glue, although the other half of Roxy's advice seemed eminently sensible (I even tried it myself before my Sunday gig, but I think I'll stick to my regular method because it got a bit messy). Roxy then revealed that the only reason she actually possessed this fabulous Shu uema glue was because she'd done a photoshoot once and the make up artist had told Roxy to put the glue in her pocket while they were on the location, then completely forgotten to claim it back off her afterwards. Spoils of war. Nice one.

Both shows went off with a bang, and Honey Deville's glitter eyelashes not only looked fabulous but also stayed on throughout the night. Gwendoline's new outfit drew appreciative gasps from the crowd, as did her swing act. Roxy Velvet ate a goldfish live on stage. And me and Dicky Luck managed to feel our way through the four songs we'd had exactly ten minutes to rehearse and look as if we knew what we were doing. Oh and chef gave me a mouthful of freshly made cinnamon meringue which hadn't quite dried yet, but which was absolutely delicious.

Saturday morning at the crack of dawn my alarm went off because I'd offered to go and be an extra in director Alex de Campi's music video. I promptly turned it off and went straight back to sleep, then woke up an hour and a half later with the dim awareness that I was supposed to be doing something. I somehow made it to Embankment Gardens only an hour late, and discovered, to my relief, that none of the extras had actually been needed in a shot yet. Our job was to sit in deck chairs reading books. Nice one.

The story of the video was that a skinny lad was singing a love song to a girl on one of the deckchairs, then was spotted by a couple of record industry men, who replaced him with a cheesy boyband singer, but the skinny lad broke a bottle over the boyband singer's head and reclaimed the song for himself, before running off into the sunset with the girl in the deckchair. I thought the skinny lad was the musician whose song it was, but when we were chatting on the bandstand later it turned out he was an actor, and the guy who'd made the track (and who was also a former member of Scritti Politti) was the unassuming middle aged bloke who'd been in charge of playback earlier, and had been lugging a mini amp and MP3 player around obligingly. The self consciously cool looking bloke in the shades and leather jacket who I'd assumed to be the star when I first arrived turned out to be nothing to do with the track at all. He was the actress in the deckchair's boyfriend.

I also learned (from the boyband singer) that having a sugar glass bottle broken over your head feels like nothing at all, and the boyband singer actually had to remind himself to fall, because there was nothing to push him to the ground. I also tried wasabi nuts for the first time (very hot) and learned (from the boyband singer, again) that Vogue cigarettes are actually what old ladies smoke. Which has done more than anything else so far to deter me from smoking them. But still not quite enough.

Oh and I met pioneer online diarist Dickon Edwards, who's been writing a blog for about a decade now and is very good at it. I just had a little peek at his diary and sure enough he's written up the video shoot as well, with infinitely more erudition:


Dickon's got such an elegant way of putting things. I like the idea of being a polymath - and I suppose now that I spend half my time writing and the other half of my time singing in nightclubs in flamboyant gowns, that might even qualify me as one. Or a dilettante - although I'm not sure which one of my two 'jobs' I could be described as dabbling in. Beloved has a creeping suspicion that it might be the day-job I take the less seriously of the two, and is constantly encouraging me to focus on my writing career and stop getting sidetracked by glitter and feathers.

But on Sunday Beloved came along to my gig - which was lovely of him - and not only that, he even rounded up loads of his mates to come too. The gig was at CellarDoor, a former underground toilet on Aldwych, now converted into a very chic little venue, all banquettes and mirrors. The stage 'area' (if that isn't an exaggeration) is surrounded by a black velvet curtain that can be whipped aside dramatically at the beginning of the set, and swished closed again at the end. This alone would be enough to give away the camp leanings of the bar's two owners, even without the absurdly handsome bar staff. Mr Dickie Luck struggled his way through the very cryptic charts I put in front of him and made beautiful noises come out of the keyboard despite my best efforts to throw him off the scent. There were occasional moments when I was singing a different tune to the one he was playing, but hey, people expect that when it's jazz. A moment of brilliant serendipidy occurred when I whipped out my small pink ukelele, and a girl in the audience whipped out another pink ukelele to match. It was her birthday, and she'd just been given it as a present. She turned out to be the singer in two London bands, and I invited her to come with me to the 'uke gotta be kidding' ukelele jam on Wednesday nights on Charing Cross Road. She promises to come as soon as she's learned her first chord...

It was a very special night for me because my best friend was in the audience, visiting London from Edinburgh for his Birthday. This is the man I wrote one of my most moving and romantic songs about - The Man I Love Loves Only Men - and I was able to serenade him in person, which he enjoyed enormously, being quite possibly even more of a shameless show off than I am. I suspect he enjoyed the cabaret Kylie cover even more though - because he could join in with the dance routine. There are not many men who can mime their way through a Kylie routine and still retain any gravitas, but Birthday Boy is one of the few. I think his new beard might have helped, or possibly the poise that several years of university lecturing have lent him. Although as far as I can tell his students have been more a bad influence on him, than he's been a good influence on them.

But now he must return to his hibernian home, and his new kitten, and I must return to my weekday life of less glamour and more contentment in my Stoke Newington pied a terre, where Beloved is cooking up quiche and salad and disproving the myth that real men don't eat it once and for all.

And so the false eyelashes come off and the 'real me' is revealed at last...

But only until next Sunday, when I'll be sticking them straight back on again.



Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sore Fingertips

More jazz injuries - this time self-inflicted.*

All my fingertips on my left hand are killing me from practising the ukelele.

They are also developing hard pads like cat's paws on the ends, which will eventually mean (hopefully) that it'll stop hurting so much when I practice.

It never hurts when I play in front of an audience. This must be because the adrenaline kicks in and you don't feel anything. This is probably the same reflex that stops me sneezing on stage as well, even though my hay fever is so bad this year that I've actually come near to biting off my own tongue a couple of times, such are the power of my sneezes.

Although I feel no pain live on stage, I do however manage to forget the chords to songs I thought I knew inside out and upside down as soon as somebody else is looking at me. My strategy has therefore been to write some new songs that only have two chords in them. So far this strategy has been extremely successful.

However, with my usual unrealistic approach to music and performance, I have now decided to attempt to learn how to play the real big league jazz standards, in order to perform them live on solo ukelele. I'm starting with Take Five. I'm getting the hang of strumming in 5/4 time, but it occurs to me that it might be a good idea to get the audience to sing along, so that they can provide the famous 'take five' riff themselves. This will also serve a dual purpose, as it will hopefully distract the audience from listening too closely to the pregnant pauses, lurches and stumblings which pepper my ukelele stylings.

Another side-effect of playing the ukelele, as well as sore fingertips, is the necessity for short nails. This is going to put the kybosh on any plans for glamour manicures in the near future, unless someone can come up with instantly detachable (or hinged?) nail extensions. I've discounted the idea of having long nails on one hand and short nails on the other. That just sends out mixed messages. The solution is probably to wear gloves at all times unless I am actually playing the ukelele. Then hopefully my fingers will be flying over the strings so fast that nobody will notice their stubby nail-ness.

I'm very pleased with my hard case - a generous gift from Miss Vanderlay's mother (thank you Mrs V!) - although a couple of times I have been mistaken for a violinist on my way to the Royal Festival Hall (instead of a cabaret artist on my way to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern). I've also heard a few cracks about carrying a tommy gun in there, Bugsy Malone style, but luckily not so far from any employees of the underground or gentlemen in Blue.

The next thing on my ukelele shopping list is a ukelele stand. I bet they sell them at the Duke of Uke.

Imagine my tiny pink ukelele sitting proudly upright on stage on its very own little stand - possibly cosying up between Mysterio's swish orange German guitar and Trousers' new Japanese Fender bass like some sort of bastard guitar offspring. If I can get two stands, then mine and Honey's can snuggle up next to each other like twin babies.

I think I am to be congratulated on finding an instrument to play that successfully repels all attempts to take it seriously. I am determined to hold true to my defiant stance against becoming a 'serious musician' - and thankfully, even now that I am regularly seen actually playing an instrument (one of the credentials essential for the 'serious musician' tag), I seem to have got away with it by choosing an instrument that is absurdly tiny, and pink.




*PS if my jazz injuries are self-inflicted, does that make it musical self-abuse?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

smoking - a cautionary tale

Last night I was dancing around in a flat in Bounds Green (no, I didn't know where it was either, until I got there, and I'm still not sure I could find it again) one minute, and mopping up blood the next.

I was at the residence of two delightful Swiss German gentlemen whose exquisite taste in interior decor was only rivalled by their gardening skills. The Fine Artist of the couple had just introduced me to the breathtaking camp grandeur of a tune called Paroles Paroles by tragic French 70s pop diva, Dalida, and I was waving my arms about appreciatively, making shapes in sillhouette in the window glass, as you do after putting away about a bottle and a half of cava, joined by the Artist and another of his guests. Only then did we notice that the Artist's better half was mysteriously absent.

Moments later he reappeared in the flat with a bloody nose, a cut lip, wonky glasses and a big graze over his eye. Most distressing of all was the fact that he'd knocked out half of his front teeth. Had he been beaten up? No. He had been running to the off licence to buy more cigarettes before they shut when he tripped and fell flat on his face.

The real tragedy of the situation was that my fellow guest had a brand new packet of cigarettes in her car all along, so our host's mission had been completely unnecessary in the first place.

While I refilled our host's wine glass, my fellow guest carefully placed a cigarette between his numb lips, and lit it for him. He inhaled gratefully, and the soothing effect of the nicotine enabled him to calm down enough to recount his sorry tale. His companion then proceeded to tell him how unattractive his face now looked, while my fellow guest started lecturing him about the dangers of bad British dentistry, and recommending her own dentist in Milan.

Non-smokers frequently talk about the strange death-wish that drives us smokers to continue fuelling our nicotine addiction. It seems we must now add running to the shop for more supplies to the list of perils that assail us on all sides.

Naturally we will all continue smoking anyway, out of sheer bloody mindedness