Monday, December 22, 2008

The Perfect Christmas Present: Aled Jones!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 40 mins of carol-editing
Watching: Season 3 of 'The Wire', hallelujah!
Hair Day: Adventurous, what with my man Barry having come back from his sojourn in Blackpool. Am sporting an asymmetric tri-coloured look.

All winding down for the Christmas period, although I am already panicking about my huge Drake Music project composition, an application for the PRS Creative Producers scheme and sorting out juice's PRS funding grant which we've just been awarded in order to commission all-round new music uberking Gabriel Prokofiev to write us a big piece. We managed to get the house in order and bedeck a stout Christmas tree (topped with a pink feather boa for that irreverent touch) for our pre-Christmas soiree last night, during which I attempted a look of poise and grace which masked my fear of people getting their mucky shoes on the carpet or spilling their spiced apple/whisky/ginger wine concoctions, none of which of course happened with all of us now being grown-up. I was quite proud of my music selection, all carefully themed around the festive season and failing that anything to do with stars, cold, fire, and other tenuous links; this meant we had everything from Mariah's rousing winter warbler to a quite unabashedly awful heavy metal take on 'O Christmas Tree', to Jeff Buckley's heaven-sent version of Britten's 'Corpus Christi Carol' to Muse's 'Starlight'.

juice rounded off their successful year (national press, Purcell Room, Latitude, BFI, agent, funding grant) by popping to a slick central London studio to be interviewed for BBC Radio 3's 'The Choir' - by seasonal favourite Aled Jones, no less! It's unfortunate that he's most known for his first and last cheesy public outings: 'Walking in the Air' and this year's attempt at a Christmas No. 1 with El Tel; he turned out to be absolutely lovely, a bit naughty and a consummate professional. We recorded two live tunes and were hopefully on ebullient, girly form in our interview, which was great fun. It'll be on in January. Hurrah!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dr Loop Lady

Level of conviction in own genius: 9
Amount of creative activity achived in last 24 hours: 1 hour
Listening: to a Radio 5 discussion on the Leonard Cohen's song 'Hallelujah' and how it's been bizarrely adopted by the X Factor. Bonkers. John Cale, Shrek, Rufus Wainwright, Kathryn Williams, that Alexandra woman: nothing can beat Jeff Buckley, obviously.
Hair Day: needs colour BADLY, help me Barry at Russo's, you are my only hope!

Saw a deliciously sumptuous gig at Union Chapel on Thursday night: Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, as Stef the pianist whom I know a wee bit as a Yorkie composer very kindly got Anna and I some freebie tickets. I saw RUATW at the Borderline earlier in the year and they basically did the same set, but it was of course transformed by the lofty dome, the dark dusty corners, the flickering candles and the beautifully reverberant acoustic. Rachel Unthank has apple-rosy cheeks and a voice as refresing as an ice-cold beck; her sister is kookier and huskier, exhaling layers of breath as she sings. They and the rest of the band are sassy, gorgeous girlies that make you happy to be a woman: they think nothing of singing unmiked in a consonant-heavy Shetland language in four-part harmony and doing a spot of very very untrendy clog-dancing. YES.

It was to Union Chapel again, rather hilariously for a solo gig two days later, for a relaxed afternoon series called Daylight Music. Hilarious mostly as there was probably about, ooo, 680 less people there for my gig than there were for the Mercury-nominated folkies. Whilst I did expect a draftier gig, it would have been nice for the promoter to have been there and possibly promoted it a bit! It was worse for the artist who played before me, a rather eccentric character called Ash Mandrake. A great musician, he wielded a rather imposing-looking double guitar thing, one normal electric, one baritone half-fretless guitar, taped together and encased in burnished dark-red leather with large stitching, plus a large dragon's tail-like strap that also held a mic. Ash sang rather mystical, medieval rock, songs about bees and pumpkin brains and knights riding out of the mists, that kind of thing, PLUS sported a different self-made hat for each number.

I was less pumpkinny than Ash and really enjoyed my set. The acoustic is sooo epic; when I sound-checked I asked the sound chap if he could possibly take the reverb off. He shook his head and wryly pointed into the air: the roomy chapel takes your voice, whisks it soaring round the dome a few times before fluttering into the corners 20 seconds later. It meant most of my set was ludicrously over the top atmospheric, and even though there were only 20 people watching me I got it all recorded and sound like about 100 slightly leftfield angels so was all worth it. Both at the Chapel and the next day at the rather cosier World's End pub in Finsbury Park for yet another Broken Toy Music night (all my bands have played there now!) I did some English folk, all twisted up naturally, (my favourite stuff to sing actually, I love telling those murky stories) some originals and everyone's favourite 'Down the The River' from 'O Brother Where Art Thou?'. Andy helped out again on guitar in the first gig which adds another tangy layer to all my loop station vocals, and I pop in a bit of melodica and glock too. Have absolutely loved doing the gigs, I feel a whole new folkstar Kerry coming blinking out into the light...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kerry In Derry

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3 - painting!
Watching / Reading: 'Return of the Jedi' on telly / 'The English Civil War' by Diane Purkiss to fill in the rather large gaps in Channel 4's 'The Devil's Whore'
Hair Day: Needs serious colour NOW

juice have returned from a week in Derry working hard as musicians-in-residence at Ulster University. It was something of an alternate universe where we lived together like 'Friends' in a self-catering apartment, if a little less glam New York than politically-steamy Bogside. And while a few years ago we might have been putting our hair in rag-curlers and painting each other's nails before hitting the bars, there was more of slumping, exhasuted after a day's work, in front of endless re-runs of 'Scrubs', scoffing homemade fish pie and being Molly's chief court jesters along with Uncle Tom, as Anna's baby and incredibly saintly sitter came along with us. When not getting fat, square-eyed and doing silly dances for 9-month-olds, we were in the department running improv workshops, helping in performance classes, trying out students' compositions, getting dancers to sing, performing for various schools and doing a couple of formal gigs. The latter pair were as different as they could have been: the first, a more trad lunchtime concert in the billowy acoustic of the Great Hall, was a big, fruity and enjoyable sing; the next night's was awarded the ignoble award of Juice's Worst Gig Ever, what with our multimedia sesh being beset with technical problems and it being so late we were still singing at midnight and were drooping with tiredness, but mostly due to the very bad behaviour of a crew of drunken wee 1st years, who heckled us a number of rather uncomfortable ways and made us want to sink into the ground and die a quick and quiet death. Music students at York are NEVER like that... tut tut. Still, we shall press on defiantly and next time we encounter such insolence, we will attack them with high kicks in our luminous tights and killer heels, before blinding them with Barry M glitter powder and shrieking our most stratospheric notes into their ears until their heads explode. Ha.

Have been enjoying a spot of painting this last day, what with having a whole free weekend with nothing at all to do, blissfully (apart from a trip to Broadway Market where I was very excited to star-spot one of my new favourite actors, cheeky-chopped Rafe Spall, grrr). Am covered in oil flecks, have bought more canvases and spray glue and a new brush and am loving every blithely amateur second of it...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Level of conviction in own genius: 9
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Watching/Listening: The England vs Germany friendly / to everything on random play now I have inherited Andy's old mp3 player and don't have to use my CD walkman anymore
Hair Day: unadventurous reddish tint from wash-in-wash-out shampoo; have turned into big hair-wimp in my old age - should probably peroxide the lot or else find my slippers now.

Been a busy bunny, freewheelin' in the performing/workshopping/organising world as usual, but with a few new avenues too: have discovered a quite passionate taste for working with adults with learning difficulties. juice have been up in face-rippingly cold Huddersfield doing concerts and then workshops to a range of centres, and what an eye-opener it's been. We were swept dramatically up a steep learning curve with our first gig, where we singing to a small audience aged 20-70 who were left to sit rocking on the floor facing a wall, throw toys at us, or bang their head repeatedly against their fist. It was hard not to burst into tears, frankly. As the days went on, we got more and more used to seeing the full gamut of abilities and ways of communicating. But our workshops at Kirklees Tech College were the most utterly rewarding: we were supposed to be working with 10 adults but ended up with about 40 plus carers over three days - there's so little opportunity for adults with disabilities to have funded access to the arts that the college threw everyone at us! But we couldn't have been more happy to accomodate them: how could we refuse this brilliant set of people, from some with Down's who would shout excitedly, to those who could only communicate through a flicker of the eyes. There was a curious mix of those that are adults inside but are too physically impaired to express themselves, to those who seem more adult on the surface but love songs I'd normally teach to 5-year olds. One girl could hardly utter a word until you put on a CD of wartime songs, when an internal switch would magically turn her on, and she'd croon along whilst doing a high-kickin' dance routine. It was such fun: we spent most of the time pissing ourselves laughing with them and it was hard not to fall apart when one of the less expressive pulled out a slowly beatific grin. We fell in love with a couple: Zahid, who was born a fully-working boy but has a degenerative disease which means he was squashed back in his chair, could move very little, liked to make fast car noises and was one of those angelic grinners; and Seth, a sharp, funky dude who talked to us in his own version of British Sign Language and Macaton, showed off his high tech wheelchair and would occasionally shout with helpless laughter. We came away from the sessions exhausted but elated: beats pesky children any day and I would love to do more.

After Huddersfield it was down to Newbury on a mission to take experimental vocal music to the provinces with a Gobmsack Leaves London Gasp! night. We took fabulous looper Bunty, Lis from Curious Voice Duo and Mikhail, who probably frightened the life out of the poor Home Counties audience by making sounds like his guts were beging yanked out of his throat. I also did four songs with Andy from my new looping/folk/pop etc material. With a DOLLYman gig at Brixton's The Ritzy in between, I then donned my curating hat for the third London-based Gobsmack night, this time at the lovely Luminaire. Sadly, by being on a wet and freezing Monday in Kilburn, we didn't get the fit-to-burst audience we'd had on previous nights: still, the line-up was maybe the best yet: my buddy Paul J Abbott trying out some new Marc Almond meets Laurie Anderson meets some disco angels material; Kin, a raggedy-voiced punk girl; E:LAINE, the wonderful avant-soul/jazz improvising diva; and Roshi, ethereal-voiced Iranian/Welsh girl with electronic soundscapes and visuals.

Finally, I had a massive radio event this week: the whole of my very long late-night mass, 'dusksongs' was broadcast on Classic FM's The Full Works, through a Making Music competition. Was worth it alone for probably making my dad the proudest father of a female choral composer ever, plus hopefully getting me some big fat royalties. Bring it on!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1 hour
Watching: Obama's speech on the Guardo online
Hair Day: Greasy quiff

I know it's obvious to blog about this today rather than the usual Kerry's musical headlines, but HELL, Obama's amazing victory is such a joy. I gave up quite soon last night in exasperation over the complete lack of information on the late BBC news and Jeremy Vine's ludicrous 'The Day Today'-on-acid graphics, so instead watched bits of Obama's victory speech this morning whilst, I'm slightly embarrassed to say, sobbing slightly into my bran flakes: well dammit, his resonant rhetoric is so convincing! And of course the whole thing over the water is far more glamorous than our pithy little elections, where parties button their boxy suits and swap places overnight, knuckling down to all our teeny tiny little policies: he'll get to basically rule the world by (erm, well, hopefully) sorting out their US economy, making the right environmental decisions and getting the fuck out of Iraq. Hhm, perhaps I've got a little carried away, but at last there'll be a man with a brain in his head in the White House in January.

Probably less people will be currently celebrating Wycombe Wanderers' startling position of being the only club in the professional league, thanks to Spurs getting two past Liverpool, to still be unbeaten. Am rather addicted to the footy at the mo, and not just Torres' most beguiling freckles: I can think of nothing better than MOTD2 on Sunday nights under the duvet in the living room. My beloved WW are rather less exposed in League Two so I have to restrict myself to jumping up and down in front of Final Score. Is it worrying that I'll probably be MORE jubilant if we get promoted this year than last night's transatlantic result?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lemon Funky

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Watching: 'Spooks' on bbc iplayer and mourning the loss of Rupert Penry-Jones
Hair Day: Ready for the chop, as they say

Phew, is turning in to a busy autumn packed full of gigs and educational work. juice's trip to Huddersfield to do community concerts for Live Music Now/Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival was eye-opening, charming when being hugged and kissed by enthusiastic adults with Down's, for example, and tearily challenging when singing to a roomful of adults with almost no control over their bodies and minds. But all rewarding of course. It was punctuated with excellent curries and studenty bars, an encounter with an eccentric taxi driver who introduced himself to us as 'Captain Zero', made up songs for us in Urdu and English about driving us to Slaithewaite and found it hilarious to swerve all over the road in 'amusing' fashion, and the royal treatment from our B'n'B, who called us their 'theatricals' and added our photo to the gallery in reception alongside such luminairies as Russ Abbott and the cast of the Last of the Summer Wine. juice hopefully have an agent now so are expecting similarly popular fame and fortune to be heaped upon us at any second...

Last week I was inspired by seeing Camille and her merry troupe of vocalising, body-slapping musicians at the Roundhouse (this time she got Jamie Cullum, who happened to be in the VIP crowd, to hop onstage and improvise with her), which helped no end in my first proper solo gig in the rather more intimate surroundings of the Lemon Monkey deli/cafe in Stoke Newington. It was the debut for me and my spanking new big Boss loop station, with Andy fattening up the sound in a few numbers on guitar. It was a small but perfectly-formed gig, cheered on by my mates as they drank organic beer, and I tried out some trad. English folk arrangements and some original stuff with the addition of a spot of melodica and glock. Nice! Has given me the confidence to try and get a few more wee gigs going too...

The only other highlight of last week was going to a Turkish restaurant in Dalston for a pre-Bardens Boudoir meal and spotting Gilbert and George in the corner, who apparently (them not having a kitchen and all) eat there every single night. We tee-heed to ourselves over our posh kebabs as we attempted to remember which was which. The Bardens gig was as usual rather disappointing, though the headliners, Their Hearts Were Full of Spring, redeemed themselves by bedecking their mic stands with a multitude of fake flowers. However, I could only scoff at their attempt at the Beach Boys' version of the band's name, which they could only sing on 2.5 parts. Ha! I transcribed all 4 parts in about an hour once. Hhm, think I am too much of a muso to enjoy almost any gig. Unless there's piece in 5/4 in there, that is.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Journey to the Far Side of the World's End

Level of conviction in own genius: 9
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Watching / Listening: 'Master and Commander: Journey to the Far Side of the World' - staunchly noble nautical genius! / Eliza Carthy
Hair Day: Needs funking up double quick!

Had a very cool double whammy of a gig on Saturday night, what with Metamorphic (dark melancholy jazz band who I'm now singing vocals with) being added to my wardrobe of current musical outfits; somewhat confusingly for my diary date-crammed head, my three bands are all doing the same couple of series of gigs in different combinations, and last weekend was Metamorphic's debut alongside DOLLYman at Broken Toy Music at the World's End in Finsbury Park. I think I did a grand job on vocals for Metamorphic and it was DOLLYman’s best gig yet. It was headlined by Fulborn Teversham, one of the many bands led by London's favourite small-voiced, huge-haired drummer Seb Rochford and too-cool-for-school saxman Pete Wareham. Unlike Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland, FT are a sparer, more pop outfit, sort of shouty punk-jazz with indie sprinkles. Their singer is the utterly gorgeous and extremely cockney-cool Alice Grant, who is basically my much, much classier doppelganger. As she pointed out, we both had asymmetric hair, black dresses and green tights. It was rather spooky. Spookier, then, that Alice had sung the vocals for Metamorphic's EP before she had to bail out due to busy-ness; so there I was, singing the songs she'd recorded live in front of her, wishing my hair was more angular and blitzed with peroxide. It's a terribly incestuous scene: Alice sings with Leafcutter John, who was at the gig with his Polar Bear giant elf-looking bandmate; FT’s keyboardist plays in Cinematic Orchestra and heads up London’s loose jazz family F-IRE Collective. So the night was a bit of a F-IRE love-in, with us DOLLYmen secretly hoping we'd be embraced into their scorching arms soon enough. I was far too starstruck to do more than mumble idiocies to Seb, and couldn’t even LOOK at Leafcutter John, being far too in awe; all silly given the pair’s towering musical statures are housed in twitchy, meekly spoken frames and they probably would have run away in terror had I engaged them in proper conversation. Ha, and I haven't even MENTIONED that Chris Williams, one of Led Bib's shrieky saxophones, is in Metamorphic which is basically the same as me being IN Led Bib, my favourite live band of the year. Stardom awaits!

Musical escapades are happening aplenty; the next day I tottered off to a choir rehearsal for lovely leftfield music night Arctic Circle’s Christmas EP. Lo-fi artists from little indie label Static Caravan have written beautifully alternative Christmas songs, subsequently expanded to mini-orchestra and choir by TV and film composer Harry Escott, both for the EP and later a performance at Union Chapel. The songs are heart-melting; I was tingling down to my toes with wintertide warmth and it’s only October. Last night I went to hear the Joyful Company of Singers rehearse my piece ‘O Lux Beata Trinitas’ and made efforts to look as youthfully mad cool as possible – I always like to surprise those who think that my angelic and obviously supremely clever choral music is probably written by a tweedy 60 year-old…

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Before The Talkies There Was Torquay

Level of conviction in own genius: 7.5
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Reading / Watching: just finished silly Greek philsophy mystery thing / The Wire Series 2, MOTD 2
Hair Day: Sundayish

It's the start of a fairly packed autumn for me as performer, teacher of note and composer; things kicked off notably at the private launch of King's Place, the fabulous new music and art venue in King's Cross, funded entirely by a tortoiseshell-spectacled businessman called Peter Millican. The credit crunch, as my Junior Trinity boss Marion said, had certainly not hit King's Place: the place was rammed with a thousand musical/arty/architecty/businessy types making the most of the fountains of free champagne and pick-your-own cocktails. juice were there as part of our new artvocal wunderkind BF and male-Bjork, Mikhail, who was commissioned by Peter M to create a piece that showed off the soaring, disorientating acoustic of the atrium space. So Mikhail wrote a beautiful piece for us and singer Claire Wilkinson whilst he did his usual growly extra-vocal thing over the top, all whilst wearing a canary yellow silk top, trousers made up of fat overruffled stuff and a specially-made 1.5 metre-long foam mask, sent from Milan no less. Unfortunately, what with the quaffing and hobnobbing, the guests were in no mood to shut their braying, champagne-guzzling traps for one nanosecond, and our performance was rather reduced to barking our parts out in a vain attempt to be heard. A shame, but still many did hear snippets, and we had plenty of our own shoulder-rubbing to do afterwards with various promoters, agents etc, all the while smiling beatifically and necking our third apple martinis.

The weekend was spent at the Riviera: not the posh French one, alas, but in Torquay, for the (deep breath) English Riviera International Comedy Film Festival 2008, where Bird's Eye View had got juice along for the third time to repeat our live vocals to silent film thang. Whilst the sight of palm trees and a gloriously sunsome sea view from my hotel window was to be wallowed in, there was not much else to celebrate in Torquay, and we all swiftly realised why we live in London, where you can pick up some quick food from 100 different eateries of varying nationalities and the choice of bar is not limited to Mambo's, which our taxi driver had enthusiastically recommended to us, informing us keenly that its rum mix of stag and hen dos, men dressed in togas and cheap booze would sort 'us girls' out a treat. Hhm. I prefer a night sipping melon-y wine whilst perusing a video-installation-cum-contemporary-dance night followed possibly by a late-night beigel, but I don't believe you can find that at Mambo's, even if it does stay open til 4am.

The gig itself was rather calamitous, what with everything technically falling apart and delaying the show for an hour, then only our DVD (and not Zoe Rahman and her drummer partner Pat's main showing) working. So we had to go on first and then entertain the bemused scattered few who weren't at Mambo's with an impromptu performance of 'lullaby for the witching hour' before the other DVD finally worked, albeit on a tiny screen. We were introduced rather flatly by comedienne Shazia Mirza (whose fortnightly column I read in the New Statesman religiously), whose caustic, uncompromising wit - her last show was called 'Fuck Off, I'm A Hairy Woman!' - seemed slightly suicidal in the Palace Theatre, Paignton, especially what with the audience mostly consisting of old ladies in the floral blouses. Ouch. There was more Shazia to come, at the 'Gala Night' afterwards, which was like 'Phoenix Nights' on acid. Torquay's whitest-skinned, ruddiest-cheeked men and most 80's throwbacked (and not in a Star of Bethnal Green way - it was like the Breakfast Club in there) women came dressed in their finest to sit at tables garlanded with balloons and little gold stars and take part in an auction, see some short films and hear some comedy. The strange hunchback local comedian seemed to deliberately not know how to pronounce her name in a racist-tinged way and I wanted to curl up and die, particularly knowing how Shazia's face had dropped when she'd entered. But dang, you have to give her credit: that woman has balls. Her required 30 minutes turned into an hour, and she went for it full pelt, letting them in gently with friendly jokes about Primark and flying before talking about taking it up he ass and how 'WAGS' is a grammatically-incorrect term and it should of course be... you fill in the blanks and watch us whiteys squirm. She was brilliant, and afterwards we Londoners celebrated back in the safety of our thick-carpeted, thickly-upholstered hotel bar. Very fun hanging out with a famous comedienne, a Mercury-nominated pianist, our old York acquaintance and now TV producer Alex and the Bird's Eye Crew. Shazia probably didn't really get our sound (she asked if we'd thought about going on X Factor...) but over breakfast had taken our email address to give to her cabaret promoter friend. Celebs rule!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hello Oto

Current level of conviction in own genius: 9
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 4
Hair Day: Short and snappified

It's nice when the coolest venues become places you've PLAYED in, not just been to: having viewed Cafe Oto's rise from afar - well, two miles away in Bethnal Green), we've only managed to pop in for coffee, the rest of the time pressing our noses up against the glass outside another sold-out night of leftfield electronica and all things experimental. So though Anna is away in Brittany, Sarah and I jumped at the chance to fly the juice flag last night at a Twisted Lounge night, curated by our friend, arty supremo and avant-garde jumper-wearer Mikhail ( It was an eclectic evening of interesting vocal stuff, starting with young turk Matthew Lee Knowles' piece for harpsichord and speaker, the latter deadpanly reading out probably the most repellent Marquis de Sade text off a long thin roll of paper which was slowly uncoiled. Very, very hardcore and I wanted to punch their lights out both on behalf of all women, but hell, that's probably the point. Shudder. We also heard really lovely improvisational off-the-wall-jazz stylings from E:LAINE with Leon doing marvellously percussive and inventive things on the grand piano. Then Mikhail did his usual part-Bjork, part-Arabic-ish whisperings and roarings with some excellent harpsichord accompaniment by MLK. Linda Hirst, matriarch of the contemporary vocal scene, finished off the night in deliberately poised, simple style with 9 extremely short unaccompanied John Cage songs. Sarah and I did a couple of Meredith Monk duets, Sarah and Belinda did Roger Marsh's darkly glimmering song 'Black Hair' beautifully, and I debuted my 'catalunyanpoem' on the biggest and best loop station you can buy which I'd borrowed to see if it was worth investing in. Which it is given the lovely reception afterwards - having been shitting myself over getting the first and most essential loop in time and practising putting my foot down in the loos (any others in there must have thought I was a little insane), it all went rather smoothly and I had a ball performing.

Of course, we missed the triumphant return of England to some semblance of skill and form - or at least I'm assuming so, having seen that lovely score. But I suppose being at a high-art vocal evening and networking with a variety of cheery artpeople (video-makers who worship Christian Marclay not Ronaldo), singers (all over the pitch in a good way) and promoters (Twisted Lounge not Twisted Ankle - oh, I must stop) a good excuse for missing little Theo's hat-trick. More exciting for me than Engerland's win is the fact that Wycombe are sitting, pretty and proud, at the top of League Two. Go on the boys en bleu. So sure, it's only five games in, but I'm basking in the glory while it lasts...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hurricane Led Bib

Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 3
Level of conviction in own genius: 7.5
Watching / Listening: 'The Wire' series 1 - as rich and characterful as Dickens but set in drugsland Baltimore! / Mechanical Bride
Hair day: bit shaggy

It's been gigs-a-plenty this week, which is just as well as I've been lacking inspiration on the creative front. First up was a debut trip to the Electroacoustic Club in the scuffed opulence of the Slaughtered Lamb pub basement, strewn with many a chaise-longue and pouffe to recline on whilst listening to introspective guitar-picking (first support act) and ineffective yeowlings and badly tuned 12-strings (second support act). But we were there to check out Mechanical Bride, who I'd heard on myspace doing a great lo-fi, melancholic cover of Rhianna's 'Umbrella'. Her indie oom-pah band of beardy euphonium, horn, glockenspiel, keys and conga players/singers were beguilingly beautiful, with MB's bittersweet vocals ghosting over the top. Real lovely.

The next Sarah and I went to be inspired at a PRS-MCPS conference on how to make it happen as an artist, full of advice about using Twitter and wordpress and selling t-shirts from the source and things that were a bit over our heads really. Then we showed our faces at nonclassical at The Macbeth, this time to see a kora player and violinist pairing. It was charming, the violin bubbling away over the top of glittering kora improvisation and thrumming bass strings; jewels tumbling on a magic carpet. It was slightly hampered by the braying city boyz and others, who although having paid to get in, were happy to roar their way obstinately over the top at the bar. It's the only problem with interesting music in cool venues: the habit for people to talk when the're standing up and have a drink in their hand. But if they're told, as they are at places like the Luminaire, to shut up or get out, then it can work. They just need to be told.

Finally, I bent my head into the wind and narrow-eyed rain and powered into town yesterday afternoon for the inappropriately-named 'Spitalfields Summer Stew'. What better on a Friday tea-time than some mystifying, loopy jazz under the awning in Bishop's Square. I settled down, chai latte in hand and nose under my scarf, for the wondrous Led Bib, who had curated the day. They are so excitingly visceral with sheer, silly virtuosity and out-there funkiness that they draw gasps and giggles, at least from me. The band seemed to be playing to keep the rain off, a sort of protective free jazz shield. Mark, the drummer/leader constantly looked like he was in fits of laughter, whacking his toms with gangly-armed glee; the twin saxes wreathed around each other in a birddeathdance, stomping in big puddles of bass whilst the new-rave kid jellybeaned all over his keys, doing crazy acid mud-squelches. Most hilarious watching the tourists and city folk wander bemusedy past, and even better those in the audience sitting reading the papers, as though they were listening to undemanding dinner jazz in balmy summer, rather than insane noise-skronk in a rainstorm.

I have finally managed to do a new solo track: here's 'all things are quite silent', my new glitch-folk direction...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Czech, mate

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Watching / Listening: 'House of Saddam' / Nico Muhly's Reich-like noodlings
Hair Day: Bit too 'nice'

On the spur of the moment, hearing on Radio 5 that there were still loads of seats going, I booked Andy and I tickets to Wembley to see England vs Czech Republic, to go one better than Andy's wish to see a big game at the Emirates. After cramming onto the Metropolitan line trying to spot fellow arty-leaning football fans (result: one possible nominee who was wearing glasses and a nu-rave top), forcing down chilli and garlic hot dogs that were only slightly more appealing than giving a blow-job to an overexcited hippo, we climbed up many floors to enter the lofty heights of the stadium, bursting like an overripe tomato in our faces with resplendent colour. It's a marvellous-looking building, a grand mother-ship-esque roof, the pitch was Granny Smith green, and it was hilarious to see so many famous footballers emerge, even if they were teeny little Toytown model versions. It was as if we could have picked little David Beckham and Wayne Rooney up and taken them home in our pockets to have fun games with two pence pieces on our dining room table. The first half wasn't too bad at all, and being so high up, you could see how football is supposed to work - who's making a run, formations, angles for long passes... Thank goodness we equalised at the end of both halves to make the game a half-decent one, and one enlivened by a long-running Mexican wave and out-of-time singing that sounded like clever stereo panning (I merrily joined in, though Andy didn't, the slightly jingoistic collective experience bringing out his rebellious individualist streak, ptthhh). Apart from the rather more inflated scale though, and it being the first match I've ever been to with the national anthem at the beginning (even I couldn't join in with the words for that one, and I think the Queen's alright really, especially in that nice film!), it was the same as any other football game. Watching the second half, apart from the Czechs' free kick which sliced through everyone like a blunt knife through room temperature butter, was basically no different from watching Wycombe scrap with Dagenham or someone on a weekday night down in lowly League 2. And it's rather more intimate and even special being part of a hardy (some would say fatalistic) crew of lower-league supporters. Bring on the scalding tea and stupid Wycombe songs at Barnet in the autumn!

Was a Yorkshire lass all of last week, what with workshopping and judging a composition competition for the Ebor Singers' week of choral fun. They also did some of my 'dusksongs' in a candlelit mass and performed my new York Mass which twisted and turned in the acoustics of the Minster. When not having fun in the best pubs ever or catching up with York-residing mates, I was over at my Mum's in Driffield, either watching the Olympics or being inspired by Ma to do some exercise; her training regime for her impending Himalayan charity trek means she's starting to leave me huffing and puffing, bad wolf-like, in her wake. I joined her for a most hilarious Aquafit session at the crumbling Driffield Leisure Centre, where I brought the average age down to about 65, and could hardly get through it I was in such hysterics over trying to run through water to the strains of 'Holiday' by Madonna. Andy and my little bro Daniel joined us for the weekend, and we had a great time at Robin Hood's Bay and then further inland at Beck Hole (the smallest pub in the world; you couldn't even swing a cat without whacking the only other person in there with it), where we tramped around in said luminescently mossy, peat-rusty beck, making stone/wood art. We even walked down into the majestic Hole of Horcum, a vast heather-covered crater in the moors. The next day we did a big walk from Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey, a fabulous ruin with swallows nesting in the rain-sodden arches. Fab to do some proper ruddy-cheeked walking, complete with eating Mum-made ham sandwiches whilst sitting on logs, though I'm still recovering from a lower back twinge like some kind of old lady. Hhm, perhaps that Aquafit wasn't so bad...

Have got all sorts of exciting projects piling up this autumn and spring - I was massively chuffed, having applied and done my interview with babbling and slightly deranged enthusiasm, to beat 79 other people to be lead composer/music director of a big community project that starts and ends at my most local attraction (I could throw a stone and hit it from where I'm sitting), the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood. That's mostly in the spring; before that juice are doing loads of community work and Ensemble in Residence teaching at York and Ulster unis, I have tons of juice and DOLLYman and even SOLO gigs coming up, and am also now doing some singing with new-jazz-folk-experimental group metamorphic, just to keep me busy. My last carol, 'The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly' has just been published in a new Oxford University Press anthology and I should be dashing off another one for them , along with finishing electronics on a new folk track and writing a juice piece. Of course, right now, I'm actually watching Team GB's poshest members get their horses jumping over some kind of kids' adventure playground, but I'm sure I'll get onto it in a moment...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sardines, Free Jazz and Spray-Tan: a Holiday Report (plus Latitude)

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0, been sitting on trains for most of it
Reading /Listening: 'Last Orders' by Graham Swift / CD of French Impressionist-ish 'cello music that cost a mere 3 euros
Hair Day: awright

juice took their original score to the silent film 'The Danger Girl' to Latitude, courtesy of the Bird's Eye View Film Festival girls, and bagged free tickets for the weekend of plus ones/babies/babysitters too, meaning Little Miss Molly Snow was the coolest baby in town with her oversized special baby ear-protector thingies. Our gig was fine, though we thought we'd gone down like a lead balloon until we were told afterwards that there's a special dampening of audience sound onstage for the techies, so the deathly silence and tumbleweed were mere imaginings on our part and in fact the sizeable audience was chortling merrily away. Phew. For the rest of the time we got on down to festival fun, and with this being Latitude it was a mix of music, literature, comedy, poetry, theatre and much more. Highlights were: Sigur Ros, so ridiculously elegaic I'm surprised that they didn't sprout wings and float off into the celestial heights, to the accompaniment of sousaphone, bowed guitar and 5-piece brass of course; Seasick Steve, a charming hoe-downy hound-dog of a man and damned funky with it too, proving that all you need a 1-string 'piece of shit' guitar and a twinkle in your eye to get on down; Joanna Newsom, who crooned her odd, supple songs to sleepy Sunday morning festival-goers until she forgot the words to one particularly lengthy song, and was mortified as she kept on forgetting them too; some nice readings of choice quotes about dreams in the Literature tent, performers including the tigery-growling Gary Dourdain from CSI!!!; The Irrepressibles performing their wondrous chamber art-pop whilst dressed in gimp masks and metal shards in the woods; the immensely funny Ross Noble, who had the crowds outside the Comedy tent rolling around on the grass with laughter like the extras in 'Monty Python and the Life of Brian' when Michael Palin's Pontius Pilate starts saying 'Welease Woderwick!'; and speaking of the 'Life of Brian', it really did turn into that, with Ross Noble inspiring such heights of adoration that he got half his crowd following him in a strange running conga across the Latitude site until they got to a Vegan stall where they starting chanting 'Meat! Meat!' loudly as he crowd-surfed and people tried to touch his flowing locks, etc. He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty comedian, etc.

Then Andy and I trained it long and hard down to Mazamet, south-west of Toulouse, to stay with my old school-mate Christina in her recently-moved-into pad with her partner and 3-year old moppet. When I say pad, I mean mansion: 7 bedrooms, a cellar, a bar, sky-blue wooden shutters, a pool with a self-cleaning robot thing, a log fire - really it's quite hilarious what you can buy with the money from a crappy 3-bed in High Wycombe when you fancy a change of scene. Besides hanging out with them drinking criminally cheap rose, we enjoyed the following:

1) Lounging around at the Lac de la Montagne, a big lake surrounded by butterfly and bird-festooned woodland, where you can swim in its filmy, milky-brown waters and squish your toes in the mud. All very Roger Deakin's 'Waterlog'.

2) Miro sculpture exhibition in Carcassonne. Much more impressive than the fully-intact medieval city, which while so turreted and domed and walled it's ripe for a BBC drama series location, it would only be for interior shots as inside we found less stinking streets of manure and guards with spears drinking mead and more shops bursting with cheap tat and slow tourists drinking Lipton's Ice Tea.

3) Striking gold whilst staying in Narbonne - a contemporary music festival! We sat in a stunningly dramatic open courtyard in the Palais D'Archeveques, looking up at the stars and the arches and stairways lit so that the stone simpered pink, glowered red and lamented blue whilst a group called Vrak'Trio (comprising drums, sax, tuba, electric guitar/loops and a high-falutin', screaming, shouting flute player) played a non-stop hour of avant-chamber-free-jazz fun, plus visuals. They had to stop their encore when fat rain plopped down; amusingly Andy and I were the only people in France with umbrellas. Ah, so English...

4) Playing about on the coast of the 'l'etang', a huge 'pond' just off the coast near Narbonne, with samphire-filled marshes and rich fish and birdlife. We had fun making beach-sculptures from found materials and peering at the spooky sea-ghost jellyfish lurking by the tide-lip. The seaweed was spread over the beach like dessicated coconut and crunched under our feet like tissue paper.

5) Culinary highlight of the week was not our modern tapas in Narbonne, or our extremely avant-garde luminous green and pink gaspacho soup in Beziers, but in a crumbling, overgrown garden in an out-of-the-way auberge. For 12 euros we had a massive salad, piping hot lemon cake and best of all, sardines fished from about 20 metres away slapped down on ashy smoking coals in a big brick barbecue and served up with nothing more than a wedge of lemon. Apart from the crazy flies, it was bliss; we had tea with fresh mint from the garden whilst 2 compulsively sneezy and somnambulant bassett hounds plodded around our feet.

Still, it's nice to be back. If I'm an English Rose then in France my petals wilted, dropped off and got mulched to pieces in the mad hazy 34 degrees heat and I can only take so much of that and spending most of the morning getting Andy to spray-tan me - ahem. so it's back to the laptop and the gig-getting and the rest of it...

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Real Music Makers

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Watching: Men's Singles Final Wimbledon highlights on BBCiplayer as have been too busy to see them - mmm, biceps...
Hair day: blonde and flat

juice did a sweet and perfectly formed concert down at the Deal Festival yesterday, at the end of a mad 11 days straight of work for me, involving juice community concerts, music/dance projects, primary school workshopping, Wigmore Hall meetings, etc etc. Deal was lovely and we were pretty great, particularly on the lurid tights/naughty shoes front (Sarah trumping Anna and I with her butterfly-patterned legs and sky-high electric blue suede heels YOWZA!), and our every vocal utterance, whether a gorgeous chord or nasty growl, met with gentle smiles from our appreciative crowd, which included a couple of classes of spotty teenage girls. We even signed a few giggly 12 year-olds' programmes. Ah, fame at last.

I followed this up back in London with the other side of classical life as the plus one of Rachel, wearing her English National Ballet badge, at the Arts Club for a champagne reception held by Classic FM to celebrate their educational scheme, Music Makers. My badge said nothing apart from my name, which was incorrect as it had an 's' on the end which I of course furiously scribbled off so as to not be mistaken for my evil nemesis, male electroacoustic composer Kerry Andrews. I kid you not. The evening was a little pointless, and I scoffed as Simon Bates marvelled at Music Makers' radical schemes (huh! Loads of companies do cool music educational stuff - I WORK for half of them!) in his effortlessly velvety, radioclass tones. But sipping champagne and nibbling on baffling canapes was fun (mango chicken dressed up as tiny ice creams in cones, anyone?), as well as spotting Classic FM-types, who I beamed at but really was imagining tripping over and pulling their expertly coiffed hair and holding them down whilst grunting Meredith Monk songs in their ears. There was Julian Lloyd Webber looking angry and scruffy, Nicola Benedetti looking spray-tanned and spotty (nothing next to her mum who was so cosmetically-surgeried-up she looked like a startled panther), and a buffed and toothsome vocal boyband who I whispered to Rachel must be that group G8 or whatever they were called. We also had Hayley Westenra singing snoringly popular classics into her reverby radio mic, and the Raven Quartet (another of the Benedetti clan plays with them I've now realised), seen last week at scuffy nonclassical, fitting right in here, looking even skinnier with their big Xena belts squeezing them in two, belting out their classical hits with bionic, photogenic ease. I also said hi to Sarah Derbyshire who runs Live Music Now and bumped into an old family friend and also an ex-Yorkie who now rather fortuitously work for Hazard Chase, the agency who should really be signing juice. Ah, how I love to network...

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hair Day: so-so

So Andy and I enjoyed a night of high culture last night – it’s nice to know you can cram both the watching of prancing muscular types and playing pool to uncompromising 20th century orchestral music into one evening. We started at the Royal Festival Hall on sneaky press tickets from ENB Marketing honcho mate Rachel (failing utterly to fit into the rather upmarket VIP free drinks section in the interval). I don’t see much in the way of ballet, but it was really exquisite: we first had a blink-bright plain set and some beautifully precise shape-throwing to a Bach’s Concerto No.1, with the dancers in sky-blue lycra; I nearly choked when, having just gestured the end of the first movement, the three sleekly glistening chaps turned round to present 6 exceptionally pert buttocks to the crowd. Rafael Nadal’s tennis balls would have poinged back in his face off those. The next was a premiere set to Mahler’s Ruckert-Leider: we didn’t have a programme but I’m assuming the lyrics weren’t about bunnies and chocolate drops, given the slightly shticky gothic set, smoke pouring from the ceiling and the black gauzey outfits. The choreography was merely lovely until the last song, where three guys with bare torsos danced an incredibly physical, often precariously-balanced piece full of anguish, all bathed in brooding golden light and glowering shadows. I practically wept.

Dance just makes you so aware, in the same way as music does to sound, that there can be grace and interest in every bodily movement. So we sashayed and pirouetted our way prettily to Hoxton to show our faces at this month’s nonclassical (huh – Time Out previewed THIS one but not ours!). Last night it featured The Raven Quartet, a rather Classic FM-esque set of girls with glossy manes and flashing teeth who played soundtrack music, Brian Eno and some trashy classics, including some Romeo and Juliet ‘for Gabriel’ which even I could tell was dodgily tuned and brash. Irritatingly, I’m sure they’ve a glittering future ahead of them. We were there to big up the Dead and Alive boys who were DJ-ing –they again insisted we come on for the last show and are always so nice to us (Joshua was snorting ‘all over the place!’ in my ear when the quartet were playing, tee hee). Wine now seems to have a new effect on me – getting names calamitously mixed-up. After two glasses and heading home, I asked Tim as he was stuffing his face with kebab outside The Macbeth whether he’d played any Gareth Barry yet – which, as Andy pointed out, would be a question better-suited to Fabio Capello, Gareth being a notable English midfielder and not a well-respected, hard-edged contemporary composer. I died a small death of embarrassment. Then I got home and pointed out our newest picture nailed up on the wall, a cute, intricate drawing by that wonderful satirical cartoonist, Heath Ledger. Ouch! Oh well, near enough...

Monday, June 30, 2008

My Love Has Gone To Glastonbury But I Make Up For It By Being a Radio Star

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Level of conviction in own genius:
Reading / Listening: ‘The Last English King’ by Julian Rathbone/ ME on the radio
Hair Day: short and blondish. BBC DJ Iyare compared me to Annie Lennox – I’m not sure that is a compliment...

Have been on the wireless a prestigious twice this week! Having visited the Dead and Alive boys (and Michael Nyman) a few weeks ago, we were back in the steamy Resonance FM studio last Wednesday for a rather more poppy show – The Other Woman with the lovely Ruth, a slot that plugs only girl-on-girl music, quite right too. We had the whole hour, playing some Camille and Zap Mama and discussing girly vocal stuff. Having rubbished the Puppini Sisters, we promptly sang two close-harmony covers – hhhm. Listen to the whole show here!

The second appearance was in listener mode: have been a recent discoverer of 6 Music, a station which includes Marc Riley (the Lard in ye olde Mark and Lard, my favourite radio show back in the day – the misty-edged era when Radio 1 were happy to transmit two hours of garrulous chat and arch music punctuated by poetry from the likes of John Hegley and Simon Armitage), Stuart Maconie, Tom Robinson and many more. I applied to go onthe Listener 6 Mix, a show on Sunday nights which hurls a listener into the limelight (well, lime-waves or something) to play some of their favourite tunes – and clearly my eclectic nominations on the entry form got me in! So yesterday night I was in the glossy BBC towers, bantering with stand-in DJ Iyare (the rather over-chirpy Queens of Noize being somewhere in Glasto), playing everything from Ozomatli to Tom Waits, Lord Kitchener to Joanna Newsom, and getting in a bit of Raffi, cult Canadian children’s singer-songwriter of my childhood, in there too over the space of two hours. Haven’t dared listen back yet but am crossing my fingers that I sound like Mariella Frostrup (I was trying to channel a throaty laugh) and not Barney from The Simpsons. It will be here until Sunday 6th July: .

So, Andy and I being a jet-setting pair of creative whirlwinds, whilst I have been swanning around on various radio shows of note, he has been at Glastonbury, Step 13 being there to play shows in the Shangri-La area and somewhere else I’ve forgotten again. I couldn’t really go due to work so glued myself to the BBC’s coverage, even if the levels of irritation normally generated by Jo Whiley are now being surpassed by gabby young turks from Radio 1, shouting through their styled fringes and flaunting their designer wellies. But Mark Radcliffe’s loquaciously urbane witticisms make up for it all, plus the coverage from the comfort of the sofa, so I’m able to watch The Raconteurs and Black Kids without having to trudge around bumping into people dressed as pandas and robots, I’m guessing. I will be ready to greet my intrepid showbiz husband tonight with takeaway curry, ale and a nice billowy duvet, though not before throwing him into the shower, him not having showered for FIVE DAYS. The stinker.

Still, am sooo looking forward to Latitude with juice and entourage (husbands, boyfriends, brothers, babies, small dogs, birds, clowns etc) in less than three weeks.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Bird In The Tree Is Worth Two In The Hand, Or Something

Current level of conviction in own genius: 6
Amount of creative activity achieved today: Too busy walking
Reading / Listening: 'Music and Silence' by Rose Tremain / Stuart Maconie's brain-melting 'Freak Zone' on BBC6
Hair Day: Am craving super-short on one-side haircut for more rock 'n' roll comportment

juice did a funny little gig in Whitechapel Art Gallery at the poetry/art/music night Littlest Birds, run by the curiously littlish-birdy girl who got me into the Poetry Cafe gig for my solo debut; she burbled inaudibly into the mic between acts, introducing them in such an artless, uninterested way you thought she'd sooner be curled up with a cup of cocoa at home. We're off to the not-yet-open, cutting-edge arts venue of the future, King's Place, tomorrow to test out the acoustic with fellow vocalist Mikhail, as he's asked us to sing with him in the opening week in September. Mikhail is brill, with sticky fingers in a dozen arty pies, asking us to be involved in his remix project of his last album (which hopefully he'll slip in one of Bjork's oversized, pom-pom-covered pockets) and programming us into his vocal night at cool new leftfield Dalston venue, Cafe Oto, in the autumn.

Andy and I bumped into Mikhail, resplendent in fabulous little pink rose-bobbled jumper, and his equally refined visual artist boyfriend in Tate Modern last night, where we'd turned up to hear a big sonic extravaganza by all-round creative polymath Tony Conrad in the Turbine Hall. The premise was very enticing, with drills, electronics, string quartets and silhouetted shadows on mammoth sheets that hung from the ceiling all in the high-culture mix. We settled down on the smooth stone floors (the famous crack now having been unceremoniously filled in with cement) for 90 mins of multi-sensory fun; the piece began with electric drills, amplified beyond all reason into teeth-shattering volume, which prompted a number of people to leave on the spot. 'Ha, wusses', I thought to myself, finger happily clamped over my one working ear; 15 mins later, drills still rattling my bones into dust, I was not quite so smug. The quartet, made giants by their projected shadows on the scrims, eventually rose up to methodically bow a drone that bled out of the Turbine Hall's famous hum; sadly though, the noise levels stayed the same and soon enough, I was reduced to a rabbit-eyed, cowering wreck, whimpering at Andy to go. We sat with our mates in the bar, ears ringing Big Ben-style, tremblingly forcing drinks down our throat and trying to remember our names and purposes in life. Lesson: loudness does not equal good art.

A deliberately non-arty day was had today, with Andy and I going on an intrepid canal walk through London, from Bethnal Green to Little Venice. It's an enlightening way to traverse the city, an almost-secret otherworld, suspended somewhere between edgy urbanity and rural, meadowy idyll. It's a London you hardly ever see, where fishermen sit stoutly with their maggots and copies of the Sun, where barge-owners tend to their frilly pots, where abandoned warehouses face-off ridiculous palaces. We passed rusting bleak factories near King's Cross, posho writers' townhouses in Camden Lock, pretty-yet-grimey Hackney, with crumbling estates vying for space alongside angular new builds, and slightly unhinged long-billed birds at London Zoo before ending up exhausted and mad, cramming cake into our slack-jawed mouths by Little Venice's serene and moneyed waters. But best of all, there was high riversports-meets-avian drama in Islington: a crowd had gathered around a tall birch tree surrounded by nettles as high as your head, looking up at a thrush which dangled upside down, tweeting weakly. The now-aghast fishermen had clearly flung their rod back and snared the unsuspecting bird, whose foot was wound in the thin wire which then coiled tightly round the tree; it was a horribly bizarre sight, and everyone looked a bit helpless until one man decided to do something: clearing the nettle-army, he was given a record-breaking leg-up by another chap, and very riskily shinned up the slim, bending tree, which had no helpful branches to cling onto. Finally making it up 5 metres, he lent over towards the bird, who promptly went bonkers with terror and wound itself further round the branch. Undeterred, cooing softly, the man carefully cut the bird loose with scissors that appeared from nowhere, and the bird plopped to the ground, cushioned (erm, hopefully, anyway) by nettles. The man unglamorously shimmied his way down the tree and we all clapped in astonishment. I couldn't have done that. We walked on, gasping at the audacity and braveness, knowing we had witnessed the True Greatness of a Bird-Rescuing Superhero. In next week's blog: a young woman is witnessed hopping off her bicycle and using her lighter to free a lion glued by its feet to a crane on the site of the new East London line!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

juice Meet Famous Composer On Mad Cool Underground Radio Show, Buy New Outfits And Play Two Gigs, One Of Which Is Particularly Marvellous

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Level of conviction in own genius: 8.8
Reading / Listening: the new edition of Time Out / recordings of juice from last night
Hair Day: bit frilly

juice are on fire at the moment, which is rather fabulous, like it’s our actual CAREER or something... Last week we visited the Dead & Alive boys on Resonance FM’s anarchic contemporary mostly-classical show; Josh and Tim are PRS honcho and avant-garde record store owner respectively by day and mad, hard-drinking, hard-listening DJs by night, and definitely have a much-missed flavour of Mark Russell and Robert Sandall’s deadpan sparky arguments. juice featured on the show most marvellously alongside a slightly sleepy Michael Nyman, just in from some arty European country or other, who popped in to promote his new CD. As we all stuffed our faces full of the chocolate Tim had bought us (we had to save all the free wine for some fun-filled hours after the show), we rather cheekily reminded him of a recent email Sarah had sent, asking him to write us a piece (the rumours were that Trio Medieval turned his offer down a few years ago, and we’ve been working out how to get hold of him ever since). We attempted to charm him with our witty giggliness and turns out it worked - or at least our fabulous singing did: he's emailed saying he'd love to write us a piece!!!! Sarah rang to tell me and I squealed down the phone like a hormonal teenage girl, except an extremely arty one who is excited by artistic offers by, like, right famous British composer-types... Result!

juice then had a gig at the Social for City Showcase in an electronica night. Say it very quickly three times and it becomes ‘Shitty Socase’ which was kind of how it transpired, what with the idea apparently being that CS get tons of insanely important music honchos and media down to be wowed by us, snapping us up for a multi-million-pound record deal which allows us to sing as much silly avant-garde vocal wailings as we like, but actually no-one of any career-boosting significance there at all, only lots of Japanese youths there for the next act putting their hands over the ears. Oh well, we got a chance to test out our fab new All Saints dresses (the shop, not the girl band – no low-slung baggy canvas trousers for US) and got a free Polish Martini.

When would we three meet again? Thunder, lightning and rain were all out because they would ruin our hair and angular new outfits, so to The Macbeth (ouch!) on Hoxton Street it was the next evening for nonclassical, the very ace avant-garde electronic/classical club night for those who like a drink in their hand whilst the DJ plays Berio or Varese. YES! It’s run by Gabriel Prokofiev, man of famous grandfather and owner of at least two alter-egos involving a) moustachioed dance-soul-funk and b) super-cool grime producer. Last night was a vocal special with us as headliners; the place was eventually crammed full of arty musos who were wonderfully quiet while listening to 1) a tenor and guitar premiere (quiet, nice) 2) a soprano and piano duo (slightly amateur, odd), 3) Mikhail (off the wall, brilliantly theatrical vocal histrionics) and 4) us, though the bar staff seemed to throw their glasses and bottles about with rather venomous abandon. It was a lovely relaxed night full of our favourite composers, many of them there, and we were pretty great if I say so myself... A lass from all-important classical/jazz/world promoters Serious came to see us and today I did a phone interview for the Times on classical club nights; shall find out next week whether I come across as juice-promoting sassy genius or goofy tongue-tied fool. Next up for the juicers: Whitechapel Art Gallery, more Resonance, and nice music in a hospital chapel – hhm, maybe have to have less spitting/gargling/shrieking and filthy industro-grimecore electronica in that one...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

back to black

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Level of conviction in own genius: 7.5
Listening: lovely folky duo Smoke Fairies
Hair Day: quite perky

Made my solo debut on Monday in the intimate surroundings of the Poetry Cafe for the sweet if odd Littlest Birds night. I'd been asked very last minute, so spent the weekend thrashing out three numbers using Sarah's loopstation, ending up slightly re-inventing 'shamansong' with some overlapped storytelling beforehand, doing a long-awaited loop-de-loop version of a folksong called 'all things are quite silent' and finishing with my poetry-Camille-esque vocalisations in 'catalunyanpoem'. Felt like I'd been punched in the stomach all day, I was so nervous; I did fine in the end, if to an introverted crowd. Think I was better received than the girl who stood by a large cardboard box for one minute before climbing inside it, when after another minute birdsong emanated from it, before she got out abruptly and left, all the while her man snapping noisily away to document it. Baffling. Better was Zoe Marling, who sang bluesy quirky lo-fi snogs accompanied by her dad on electric guitar, whilst she very slowly took out her hair rollers. We'll see, maybe it'll be the time for my nu-folk-leftfield-vocal alter-ego, girlscout, to rear its coy head...

Coy, or maybe rock'n'roll head, seeing as I now have a substantial tattoo on my back. Have been meaning to do this for a few years, and the thirty-life crisis was enough to send me to the sweaty confines of Happy Sailor on Hackney Road, the walls bedecked with skulls and masks and fun things, to the waiting inky gun of lovely Tota, who spread-eagled me over a recliner thing and went to work on our deer/leaf/tree design smack in the middle of my shoulder blades. She kept complimenting me on my unflinching quietness, and I was thinking how double hard I must be, taking the scratchy pain so well; til it came to a break during the filling-in two hours into it, when I burst into gushing tears and had to be given sweet tea to calm myself. The back is apparently a pretty painful place to get something done. Dang, it really freakin' hurt! So I'm going back in 10 days to finish off (possibly champing a bone between my teeth or something), though already it looks cool, if totally in yer face (well, if I'm wearing a backless top and turning away from you, anyway). Needless to say, Dad doesn't know... gulp.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lovely Pairs of Bristols

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Level of conviction in own genius: 9.8!
Reading / Listening: ‘Hard Work’ by Polly Toynbee / mps3 on my phone now that I’ve worked out how to use it
Hair Day: Ebullient!

Am on serious non-tea-induced high following a rollocking day and a half of performing and networking success. Frankly, I just have to write it all down to take it in after a manic day juggling my phone, email and pesky snivelling schoolchildren at work. First off, invited by our new composer buddy Richard Barnard, juice did a very successful pioneering gig at Colston Hall Bar in Bristol as part of the ElektroStatic series – one of many burgeoning new-classical-but-it’s-ok-to-drink-and-cough gigs in the country, although here to a small if perfectly formed audience (the footy winning out) of modern music lovers. Just as well really, as we were popping our serious avant-garde cherry with Morton Feldman’s ‘Three Voices’ - not Morton Harkett, as Andy kept saying; wonder what the chin-stroking audience would have made of our quirky a cappella take on 'The Sun Always Shines On TV'... So it was our first time doing this piece and, we think, EXCLUSIVELY, the first time live EVER. It was originally written for classy contemporary vocalist Joan LaBarbara to sing live with the other two parts pre-recorded by her and played on tape. Wuss. That is because it is impossibly, ridiculously hard, a 40-minute (MINIMUM, can go up to 90 mins) behemoth where none of us can stop, swallow, breathe or think but just have to keep singing cluster chord after cluster chord, delicately poised motif after delicately poised motif, sinking more and more into a never-ending abyss of delicately clustery hell, wanting nothing more than to heroically put Sarah and Anna out of their misery by stabbing them in the eyes with my tuning fork before turning it on myself. When it came to the performance, what with nice lighting, mics and an eager audience, I actually became rather Zen, floating out of my body and watching the three of us sing the same-things-but-never-quite-just-to-keep-you-on-your-toes over and over. We did an impromptu ‘how the hell did you DO that?’ chat with the host of the gig as we staggered off the stage; when asked how we felt I replied that I could see through time and we would have our drinks now, thank you. The interval-time neat cheapo brandy, which I’d promised myself I could have if I got through the piece without falling off my chair, was the best I’ve ever tasted.

So, a great piece to have under our sparkly aquamarine-coloured belts, a real name to tout around, and though it’s bleedin’ hard work, I think it makes us even more unique. Not many people could perform it. More excitingly, juice have now been confirmed to perform at lovely boutiquey Latitude Festival, doing our ‘Danger Girl’ silent film soundtrack again. This is marvellously exciting and brill news, seeing as it comes with free tickets to the whole festival. Plus Live Music Now gigs are streaming in, we’ve got not one but TWO appearances on Resonance FM in the next few weeks and are talking to many composers about commissions, hoping our Wigmore Hall gig is confirmed for next year and much, much more. Solo-wise, I might be doing a little poetry-music slot at the Poetry Café on Monday, and have another gig lined up in November, and have been asked by Oxford University Press for yet another carol. Better, um, write something for that then….

So 40 million slavering football nuts watched the Champions League game in this country last night. I would of course have normally been one of them, had I NOT been singing cluster chords to death in aforementioned hardcore piece by a seminal 20th-century composer. A lot less were watching last Sunday’s League Two play-off first-round second-leg (3rd cousin twice removed etc) between Stockport County and my beloved boys dans bleu, Wycombe Wanderers. Actually they played in their away red, which I’m convinced added to their noble demise; the aggregate score was 2-1 to Stockport and though we looked like a half-decent footballing outfit for once, we were mighty in every area aprt from the one where you have to get the ball into the back of the net, which appears to be the point. I was a lone fan (with some friends lending kindly support), scarf hanging limply, in the Coburn in Mile End, biting my nails to bits and sinking into my seat as the minutes ticked away. Oh sob, it’s never quite been the same since the heady days of Martin ‘Super-God’ O’Neill, or even Lawrie Sanchez. League 2 is not cool, man! I never thought I'd say this, but GO ROCHDALE!!!!

Friday, May 16, 2008

You Know When You've Been Tangoed (Vous Savez Quand Vous Avez été Tangoed)

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Level of conviction in own genius: Hhm, 6 and a bit
Reading: Just finished ‘Sing When You’re Winning: Fans, Terrace Songs and the Search for the Soul of Soccer’; now on ‘The Beauty Myth’ by Naomi Wolf
Hair Day: Even though my man Barry has defected to Blackpool, Claire at Russo’s has done a fine choppy chop

Top gig on Wednesday: Camille at Koko. Camille is a quirky, perky French singer who I can add to my list of female vocal gurus which includes Bjork and Meredith Monk; classically-trained but exploring the extreme ranges of her voice in a leftfield pop stylee. Her breakthrough album ‘Le Fil’ (‘The Thread’) had just that: a vocal drone that threaded through the whole album, no matter what sprightly pop, melancholy songs or beatboxing madness, all almost entirely vocal, went on over the top. Her new album, ‘Music Hole’ is a beguilingly daft set of songs in English which is again vocally whacksome.

Camille meandered on and sidestepped strangely over the stage in the shadows, finally coming mock-uncertainly to the mic, looking like a Dutch pixie in a kind of bright orange poncho-tent. She took a breath or two, then stopped and said in her lilting accent, ‘I can’t do it. I have a friend who can’t come til nine’ and bolted off. The shape of the kooky gamine humour – possibly an acquired taste - to come.

Camille had an ebullient 7-piece backing band of vocalists and very occasional piano from producer MaJiKer; they also pounded their bodies and stomp-boxed enough to create hardcore electro beats, ably helped by two beatboxers. Squealing, hiccupping, miaowing, crooning, dancing, clapping, slapping, Camille and co whipped through most of ‘Music Hole’ and lots of ‘Le Fil’. She got the crowd to join in with her bonkers chanted version of ‘Humpty Dumpty Sat on A WALL!’ and ‘Too Drunk to Fuck’ and did a lovely mash-up of ‘Pale Septembre’ and ‘Winter’s Child’ sat at the piano. Highlights were ‘Cats and Dogs’, where she chased the security guard at the front until he woofed into the mic as she’d requested, the vocally-rollicking ‘Ta Douleur’ and ‘Money Note’ - the piss-taking number about how ‘Dolly Parton wrote it/And Whitney Houston stole it/I’ll hit the money note’- which revealed a lavish gold curtain at the back as Camille soared up to Mariah Carey-beating levels of histrionics. Later she revealed the skintight orange number she sports on her album cover, only to trump that in the encores with a satiny black number - all Audrey Hepburn-esque demureness from the front, and massive pert-bottom-revealing cut-out at the back, much to the wide-jawed delight of the men in the crowd. At the end of three encores, the band crowded round Camille’s mic to crow drunken harmonies to ‘Paris’, the English/French crowd piling in like part of a 19th-century music hall sing-song. She may be a bit silly and winsome and Bobby McFerrin-esque for some, but for a juice-lovin’ vocalist like moi, Camille est parfaite!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

No Wonder Mum's Gone To Iceland

Current level of conviction in own genius: 7.8
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: a round zero, too ill
Reading / Listening: Have weakness for historical mysteries by CJ Sansom, just finished 'Dark Fire' (ouch!) / Beirut's second album
Hair day: overlong

A bit belated, here's my report of never-seen-before-even-though-she's-one-of-my-true-icons Bjork at Hammersmith Apollo last week. To be honest, I was looking forward to it but not like an excitable child: as much as I love her oeuvre, I have been desperately trying to like 'Volta' and quite, quite failing on the whole. But the gig was fabulously, kaleidoscopically wondrous, a sherbert burst for all the senses, a night that can only be described as brass-techno-funk led by a slightly unhinged storm-goddess.

Bjork is a freakin' genius. She looked like a thirsty lioness who'd dipped her head into a few paint pots (I was a bit disappointed not to see the nu-rave-pom-pom hat she sported in the first night press photos); she prowled and purred all over the stage, flinging 10-metre ribbons from her wrists, sending her effortlessly elastic voice into stratospheres. The songs from 'Volta' were much-improved live, and eminent guests from the album topped it off: gentle giant Antony Hegarty (much hilarity obviously ensued when I shouted 'that's not Antony, that's Alison Moyet!' Honestly, he's a dead ringer) came on to do his best with the very silly duet about sparkly eyes and fiery desire; and Toumani Diabate conjured Niagra Falls with his blurred-fingered, cascading kora strings. Alongside a keys player, techno boy and free jazz drummer, Bjork was accompanied by an Icelandic brass troupe, Wonderbrass (boom boom), 11 fantastically striking girls who if not spiking the air with punchy trumpets and tubas, were pogo-ing around to the pounding beats whilst wearing flags and similarly tribal and singing ethereal backing vocals.

'Cover Me' was a brilliant moment of clarity amongst the big noise of 'Volta'; extremely avant-garde keyboard noodling suddenly leapt into terrifying pipe organ doom-chords, with Bjork prancing around self-deprecatingly making Addams Family-esque hand moves. 'Hyperballad' was a hilarious singalong (1,000 people roaring 'every morning I walk towards the edge/and throw little things off/like car parts, bottles and cutlery/whatever I find lying around') and then launched into outrageous happy hardcore, complete with criss-crossing neon lights scrolling shapes on the ceiling. In fact, the gig was just one big party: her last track, China-baiting 'Declare Independence' had everyone jumping in the air before clouds of ticker tape burst above us. Bjork didn't say much, apart from a brightly coquettish 'Senk you!' between numbers. No really, Bjork, senk YOU!

I've just finished reading John Peel's auto/biography; what a warm, charming, brilliant man. Am utterly inspired by his constant pioneering of new music: at 60 he was introducing grime to Radio 1. I must keep going! The new idea is combining mine and Andy's love of organising and starting a new mini-experimental-music-and-literature festival. Summer 2009, here we come...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I Am Whisked Away On Mystery Holiday In Honour Of Being 30 By My Love

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: am on holiday, dumbchuck
Reading / Listening: ‘Margrave of the Marshes’ by John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft/ Rufus ‘Cheekbones From Heaven’ Wainwright
Hair Day: hairdryer, straighteners, extra hold hairspray, I greet you with open arms

So, two days after the charity/music/30th bash, I was on a train heading north which cancelled out my guesses of northern France and Cornwall – for I was being taken on a mystery holiday by Andy. Still, he was too hoppingly excited to keep it a secret forever, and by the time we were speeding through the Lakes I knew we were aiming for Kintyre, the drooping penis of lower Argyll on the west coast of Scotland – bliss! We wended (went? wound?) a winding route there past ex-forests that now look like boneyards, lochs fingered from underneath to simper and billow alluringly, villages that were no more than two houses and an inquisitive dog; in valleys boulders had thudded into the spongy earth and mountains cried steady rivulets. Our 19th-century cottage in Clachan, a small village on the west side of Kintyre, was notable for its coalfire smell and snowy fluffball dogs that were more ‘Changing Rooms’-esque decorative cushion than canine. The only place serving alcohol for 11 miles was the hotel up the road; grand but near-deserted, it was all a bit ‘The Shining’, but we read our books and drank some wine in the plush sitting room with an teeth-spitting fire and an thick-accented old man, and I played some Scottish tunes and ‘Gymnopedie’ on the echoey electric piano. Class.

The sea, a shining silver plate, was a mile walk away and dished up views of more mainland, Islay, Jura’s majestic paps (steady) and Gigha. We walked through bog and dappled woodland, by rusty little rivers that gulped and sang as if there was a tabla player wedged down there in the water, and made field recordings with our new mic of said brownish brook and small vocal ensembles of birds; I stalked a chaffinch resolutely as it repeatedly blurted out its little riff. My epiphany was climbing over a stile into the silver birch wood and a golden eagle, as big as a bi-plane, breaking into the clearing in front of me; I’d like to say that it looked deep into my eyes and burned a dark future into my soul but in truth it was there for two seconds before veering off into the sky to scour the land below for small dogs and babies to eat.

We took a ferry to the cheerily verdant little island of Gigha, notable for being community-owned, with an independent flag and annually-voted council. Andy persuaded me to hire bikes, so off we pedalled (he going at one-tenth his normal pace to allow me to huff and puff and blow my nicely-styled hair down, and sometimes just give up, get off the damn thing and walk), going end to end over the afternoon. We took in a slightly spooky, Famous Five-style beach with signs of life such as Unabomber-esque caravan and deserted jetty making me expect a hard-bitten couple (he with an angry face and dark, choppy hair, she with tarnished blond crop and glinting sunglasses) to come round the corner any second and kidnap us for revealing the whereabouts of the treasure, etc. The beach was a mixture of lovely and littered - a sad theme of many beaches we stepped upon - with gulls loitering excitably on the rocks like a bunch of kids on a school trip and terns haring down the sea-furrows like X-Wings. Stopping in the middle of the island for Argyll venison and yanked-unsuspectingly-out-of-the-sea-and-plonked-on-my-plate prawns, we then got to the other end to find a twinned beach, one ugly sister blemished with about a thousand scattered plastic bags, the other more demure but untouched. I made a small stick-sculpture (I AM Richard Long) and pretended to be a seal before returning. Miraculously, though we have watched rain fall like soot from the sky on mountains very near to us, we have existed in some kind of Kerry And Andy Microclimate: the rain has bellowed and glowered close but never touched us; plucky little freckles have indeed bloomed.

Finally we toured the main circuit of Kintrye, stopping to enjoy the bracing West Port Beach, which offered everything you’d want from coastline: perfect skimming stones (among the dross I produced one stunning 6-pointer which leapt and bounced like a gazelle over mountains), leg-slashing dunes, galloping waves, deadpan sand and enough large-scale flotsam to make three found-art, slightly totemic sculptures, named and duly documented. Towns have been unremarkable, rather sad fag-ends (what do they DO around here?! Especially when they want to see a GIG or EXHIBITION or TALK ON POSTMODERN VIDEO ART AND ITS ROLE IN OUR PHILOSOPHICAL MODERN AGE?) but it’s not about that. It’s about rollicking journeys along coastline which allows you to spot a) Kintyre b) Arran c) Mainland d) Islay e) Jura f) Gigha g) Bute and h) NORTHERN IRELAND all in one day, and forest walks that take in hushed green glades, landscapes of collapsed trees and ground so spongy with damp and a million soft-crushed pine needles you can jump on it like a trampoline.

We ended our sojourn in Glasgow, a small shock to the system but we were staying in a friend’s vacant townhouse flat and managed to see some quirky caravan-based art and eat out wonderfully with one of Andy’s ebullient authors. Still, 'tis nice to be back in the rainy metropolis, which we rechristened by gazing at Peter Doig’s mostly marvellous Canada-evoking big splashy works at Tate Britain. Now I have 7 relatively jobless weeks in which to take over the creative world. Erm, right, think I’ll make a list...

I Host The Second In A Series Of Experimental Vocal Nights At A Plush London Venue, Raise Money For A Respected Charity And Oh Yes, Turn 30

Level of conviction in own genius: 9
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: on the seventh day, I rested
Reading / Listening: ‘Mister Pip’ by Lloyd Jones / ‘I Didn’t Get It From The Lord’ by Camille
Hair Day: raffish

The landmark birthday weekend has passed: I am now 30. Hugely gratifyingly, four people in four days have expressed astonishment at me, fresh-freckle-faced and twinkle-eyed (or perhaps it’s the feckless immaturity and occasional chin-spot), being such a grand old age. But alas, ‘tis verily upon me. In truth, I have spent so long fretting about being 30 and all the things I haven’t done yet that it comes as something of a relief that it’s finally here and I can stop worrying and just get on with the damn thing.

First up, though was Gobsmack 2; the first had starred juice, semi-famous Jamie Woon and others and gone down a storm at the Spitz. That venue now being ripped to bits and replaced with another most vital and utterly craved-for gastropub (philistines!), we moved way out west for this one, to the gorgeously plum-interiored, chandelier-bedecked Bush Hall. I act as curator/presenter for this series, which involves much myspacing until my ears and eyes bleed, but brings me into contact with lots of musicians, including this time as mentioned previously, the lip-whetting prospect of meeting folky glitchtronica genius Leafcutter John, our headliner. Or that was the idea, until he rang on the day to cancel, suffering from migraines and vomiting like the wan and waifish artistic genius he is. So I was momentarily thrown into a sweaty and fish-mouthed panic until I remembered I had plenty of other very good artists on the bill too. And it went marvellously well, Bush Hall swelled nicely to hear smoky jazz-leaning Verity Standen, Peter Moran’s clever lecture on the rhythms of speech which went down a storm, Bunty’s soulful looping session, Laura Moody’s completely sensational crazy-woman-with-a-mouthful-of-voices-meets-‘cello set, Natasha Lohan’s contemporary piece with increasingly nasty, belly-rumbling electronics, Elizabeth Walling’s (best outfit of the night, complete with satin ruff and ankle-length spats) sublime Elizabethan-inspired stuff, and Mikhail’s Berio-meets-Arabic-meets-nu-rave thing. So job well done, and looking to the next ones already, probably featuring poetry and vocals, improvising and a cappella groups. Where to start…

As the birthday approacheth, Andy whisked me off to the Old Vic for a rare theatre visit to see ‘Speed the Plow’, which allowed me to see the once most-lusted after Kevin Spacey in the flesh. It was actually more exciting to see Jeff Goldblum, who seemed to be about 8 feet tall, knife-sharp in a suit that was all corners and angles and delivered all his lines with a super-laconic arch of eyebrow and made Andy and I sink into our seats at his extreme sartorial genius and coolness. The play being David Mamet’s responsibility, the two barrelled through it in volleys of bulleted barbs and ripostes: ‘A man, Bob-’ ‘A man?’ ‘Yes, a man –‘ ‘Sit down, why don’t you?’ ‘A man, Bob, came into my house – ‘ ‘A man came into your house’ ‘My HOUSE, Bob, a man came into my HOUSE and, you know I could have walked across the street with this Bob but you know I would never-‘ ‘So a man comes into your house and-‘.. repeat for an hour. Was pretty fab. The cultural side of my weekend was topped up with visits to Tate Modern to see the Man Ray, Duchamp and Picabia exhibition (verdict - early paintings: good; depiction of women: very bad) and the Natural History Museum for our annual viewing of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which is perpetually stunning; this time a macaca pictured like a ghostly Japanese seer rising out of the mist and a puffed-chested corn bunting performing an aria that, in the frosty air, became smoke-rings of song, were my favourite this year.

But onto the main event, my birthday at the Fleapit on Columbia Road. My love of organising knowing no bounds, this time I’d decided to tie it in with raising money for my Mum, who’s doing a trek for Help the Aged in the Himalayas in the autumn. So people could pay money to do karaoke with a live band – DOLLYman – backing them, commission me to arrange a pop cover for Sarah, Rob and myself to sing or do the raffle. I’d made the small oversight of forgetting that all this meant large amounts of work for me so spent many hours chained to the computer on automatic arrangement mode. But it was a top night, tons of lovely friends came to join the fun and hear a cappella covers of Mr Bungle, Nine Inch Nails, The Proclaimers, All Saints and Simon and Garfunkel – something for everyone. Accompanied by LucyDOLLY, MattDOLLY et moi assortedly on bass, clarinet, melodic, keys and vocals, Tracy delivered a sultry ‘Fever’ on the karaoke, followed by Sarah and Ross doing a killer version of ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ complete with harmonies, Andy did an outrageous ‘Tainted Love’ (complete with me on stylophone) and Phil polished it off with a smoooooth ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head’ to a rapturous reception. The raffle was a high-octane affair, with cries of ‘fix!’ and hysterical celebrations at winning such delights as a magnum of champagne or tickets to the English National Ballet at the top end, and a 3D Connect 4 game and Harris Tweed tea cosy at the other. We all went home happy and by 1am I was in my jim jams with a cup of peppermint tea. Well, I AM 30 now… sigh.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I Go To A Fenland Literary Festival, Drink Ale I Don't Like And Converse Briefly With Renowned Documentary-Maker And Humorous Journalist: A Report

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: arranging: 1; poems: 1
Reading / Listening: ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen / ‘Pink Cigarette’ by Mr Bungle, my new favourite song
Hair Day: bedecked with turquoise-green flower to match scarf and slightly lurid eyeliner

Bestowed my artistic largesse on the provinces last weekend by attending Cambridge Wordfest , part-organised by my finger-in-several-bookish-pies love. The first day involved much rain filling a wide puddle between an early morning slot with Lavinia Greenlaw and a very late-night one with some Open Mic slam poetry. Greenlaw was discussing her recent book, ‘The Importance of Music To Girls’, a pithily-titled book I read with not a small amount of (envy-tinged) irritation, seeing as it’s very little about music other than some overheatedly-rhapsodic poeticisms on a 70s disco track or two, and mostly about her angsty growing up. It may be snootiness but I’m not convinced how much she really knows about music; I really wanted to ask her who she preferred these days: Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong or Does It Offend You, Yeah? The evening slam was a bit stilted and crusty but I was inspired enough to pen some poems in the delightful Cambridge Blue pub on my unerringly optimistic willingness to taste Andy’s ales though unfailingly finding them rank. Here is one:

the candlelight plumbs
for rubies, lodged low
in this gothic, opaque,
sweet scum-covered
fairytale dark bog

it tastes like
an unwanted golden shower

Sunday saw us do a bit general brain spit ‘n’ polishing, a high-minded literary marathon that took in a talk by charming economist (not as paradoxical as you’d think! Economics is everywhere you see, in crime, dating, dieting!) Tim Harford, hard-bitten media debate with Adrian Monck and Allison Pearson and the-world-is-overconsuming rants by John Naish and ‘Shoreditch Twat’ founder and burner of brands Neil Boorman. Andy had introduced them all so I was eyeing him up rather a lot of the time but really, it was very inspiring. The perky, lemony icing on this rather wholemeal cake was a giggly hour with Jon Ronson, he of brilliantly deadpan documentaries about extremists who believe that human-lizard hybrids secretly rule the world on the one hand, and witty Guardo Weekend columns on the mortifyingly excruciating minutiae of life on the other. He was game, self-deprecating and wrigglingly funny.

We bumped straight into him at the station and he said a cheery hello, miraculously having recognised us from the back of the theatre. I beamingly gushed how much I’d enjoyed his most entertaining talk, which he seemed marvellously over-pleased about, before I skipped away to M&S on light feet as I always do having come into contact with a Real-Life Celebrity who is nice to me. We of course knew that he would be on the same train as us returning to civilisation, but resolved to stay well back; being a popular humorous journo, he would want some time alone rather than having to converse with us mere simpering minions. Respectfully then, we studiously avoided him on the platform but turned to find him at our shoulders. We headed purposefully away down the train carriage but he ended up sitting right next to us, and giving us a studiedly awkward grin and a wave. I started to worry that actually he would really like some company (we are an arty, magnetic couple after all) and that it appeared we didn’t have the slightest interest in talking to him further. Unsure which way to swing, I squinted inquisitively at his book which he held up: Nick Hornby. I showed him Neil Boorman’s tome (I had borrowed Andy’s copy to get it signed: NB was so chuffed that someone had come up to the unattended author’s table that I didn’t dare admit I hadn’t bought it and spent the next half an hour determinedly ignoring Andy in case he saw us together and was crushed) and gave him the gist, whilst inwardly cursing my incredible rudeness at shoving a book by another of the day’s authors in his face rather than holding one of HIS. Collectively, we briefly tried to remember the name of the artist who also burnt all his possessions on Oxford Street. We failed, and JR said, ‘Well, I’ll leave you to it’, which is SURELY the wrong way round! WE should have been the ones leaving HIM to it! He must have wanted train buddies. I’d gone about it totally badly, when I could have made a new urbane celebrity friend. Desperately hoping to make amends, I spent the rest of the journey looking as arty as possible (manuscript out, editing poems with a pen-chewing frown, talking loudly to Andy about his economics books), hoping he would engage us in conversation again, whilst of course studiously avoiding his occasional glances up. He gestured to me: my last chance to spark off a potentially lifelong friendship! ‘Michael Landy. That was the artist’, he said. ‘Oh yes’ I smiled, non-committal, and went back to my book. Rubbish. I’d reverted back to my achingly pathetic non-flirting teenage self, when I was in love with a long-haired boy for four years but could only hide behind my hair and whimper when he looked over, except now it was in a non-sexual celebrity-pal-wanting way. Self-defeated, I resigned myself to fantasising about JR writing his next column about us and how we’d tried to avoid him; how he’d been happy to talk but that we were far too cool and uninterested to reciprocate. Jon, how wrong you would be! Sigh.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Kerry Andrew, Thespian

Level of conviction in own genius: 8.8
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3 actorly hours
Hair day: bit flat

It's not everyone who can say that they made their professional acting debut in Wigmore Hall, but that's precisely what I chalked up yesterday. With my only previous experience being one of the minor nuns as a postgrad. in a charity version of 'The Sound of Music' (complete with slightly burlesque swinging crucifixes, ouch), I appeared on the gleam-wooded stage of the WH as the Soldier in a family concert version of Stravinsky's brilliantly quirky 'A Soldier's Tale'. I was originally employed only as a workshop leader, but kept being asked to do a bit more: sing a song written by primary school kids to be slotted into the show (no problemo!); say a couple of lines to help fill out the script (hell, why not?!); say quite a few lines complete with proper costume, props and the rest in authentic actorly way (er, gulp, ok...). But I loved it. I guess the minor drama queen in me was given a run around, and what with being given fab direction by lovely James who narrated and was mostly in charge, and bouncing off Proper Actor Ben, who both hammed it up marvellously and slithered around in blazing-eyed terrifying fashion as the Devil, got by decently. I opted for a boyish, naturalistic method approach, only talking in understated Cockney all week and saluting people in the street, etc. Ahem, not really. I did have to get over the fact that I was not going to look sexy in my boxy army jacket and oversized hat. Once I did that, I channelled my inner Prince Harry and revelled in my extremely temporary spotlight. Hurrah! It was also a step up rubbing shoulders with the Wigmore/Royal Academy animateuring team, who are a cut above. Must do more…

So, one gig of the weekend starred moi. Friday night starred Andy, in – as usual for us two eminent performers – the rather different setting of the disorientatingly dark, ear-assaulting Rhythm Factory, where Step 13 were making a comeback after 6 months away having lost their singer and drummer. They’ve been replaced by an even more blurred-armed, 3,000-bpm stick man and rockier, super-sexy lass with Beyonce-beating legs upfront. Half the time I was rocking out at the front, the other half I was thinking ‘hhm, must go swimming/cycle/stop eating curry soon…’ They were ace, got filmed by website Drum ‘n’ Bass arena and all the boys were resplendent in all-new, all-Andy-created Step 13 t-shirts.

We covered the rest of the weekend’s musical bases by ticking off jazz, hip hop and spoken word at one of motormouth beatboxer Shlomo’s monthly love-ins at the QEH last night. He’d got in jazz-punks Polar Bear, poet Lemn Sissay and a band of his own to collaborate with. Musically, it was pretty successful, but marred somewhat by Shlomo’s embarrassingly giggly, 12-year-old non-musical persona (honestly, one minute he was looping beat after beat after trombone riff after growly trumpet in a kind of vocal calypso epic, the next he was tee-heeing like a kid in a sweetshop). Polar Bear, a motley crew with a guy who looked like Santa’s overweight elf on bass, two square dads on tenor saxes, the ever-ubiquitous, storm-cloud-headed Seb Rochford on drums and enigmatic wood-nypmh Leafcutter John on the laptop, started weakly, with boomingly swampy sound not helping much. They warmed up however, and there were some good ‘Star Wars’-meets-free-noise moments when LJ and Seb faced each other off like jedi knights, complete with the former’s lightsabre bleeps. Shlomo’s own band were nothing to write home about, but his two tunes with soul-prophet Lemn Sissay were. Beatboxing met beat poetry in gloriously enriching style. The second half’s collaboration between Polar Bear and Shlomo was cool, mostly when it was just Leafcutter John sampling the beatboxer’s increasingly avant-garde sounds and near-Arabic wailings and firing them back at him. Honestly, a midi-mandolin? A red balloon played like a banshee and used as percussion? Loops manipulated by a games console? LJ is an electronics High Wizard and I can’t wait to meet him – he’s headlining Gobsmack (the next experimental vocal night that I curate) at Bush Hall next month!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Danger Girls

Level of conviction in own genius: 8.5
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 20 mins
Watching /Listening: BBC 4's new ace US import, 'Mad Men' / Camille's 1st album
Hair Day: bedhead hair

Last night saw juice's debut at the BFI Southbank, where we performed all-new, live 'n' kicking vocalistics as part of the women filmmakers' festival, marvellously-named Bird's Eye View. They have a series of silent films with live music, this year with the likes of our pals the Elysian Quartet, jazzers like Nikki Yeoh and even, rather exclusively, Imogen Heap doing a solo piano set. Our night was paired with Mercury Music Prize nominee Zoe Rahman, feisty and funky jazz pianist; she was the main feature, playing her rock-and-tumble style to 'I Don't Want To Be A Man!' a fabulous German comedy which involved drag, perky slapstick and men kissing, which seems rather racy for 1919! We had a 20 minute short, 'The Danger Girl' from 1916, starring a young, fierce-eyed Gloria Swanson capering about with a variety of men; cue fast cars, lots of falling off swings and more drag. We'd worked really hard on writing snippets of close-harmony material, supplemented with stylised sound effects, imagined sung dialogue, comedy musical quotes (The Killers' 'Somebody Told Me' and 'Walk on the Wild Side', plus a trumpety 'Superman' fanfare) and had taken pains to really add to as well as complement the film. Zoe Rahman was ridiculously over-complimentary afterwards, which was very cool... We hung about backstage beforehand with 'Smack the Pony' star Sally Phillips, who was introducing the films; initially frosty-seeming, it turned out she felt terrifiedly under-prepared and she relaxed when we started talking about babies: she was enviously astonished that Anna, with wee Molly only 4 weeks old (and hanging out in the BFI with Ed), looked so damned slim.

I have been working hard helping Tower Hamlets tykes write mini-operas based on Hamlet, as well as introducing Stravinsky's 'A Soldier's Tale' to a mixture of cheerily raucous Year 8 girls from a ramshackle Catholic school and long-fringed City Academy students, whose school looked like a humongous airport hangar. Next weekend I make my acting debut in Wigmore Hall no less, playing aforementioned solider! Eek.

In culture news, visited Wimbledon College's ace MA show at Bow Arts Trust, with my mate Harry doing a lovely, near-weepingly beautiful interactive photo/storytelling piece. Saw a very good but as hard-hitting-as-a-baseball-bat-in-the-face Deutsche Borsche prize at the Photographer's Gallery. Saw the awe-inspiring 'There Will Be Blood' at the Barbie - see it now, if only to sink, sighingly, into your seat at the sound of Daniel Day Lewis' mouthful-of-tobacco voice! Have seen two great gigs, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset with acquaintance Stef playing metal-funk piano to the gorgeously busty, ruddy-cheeked Geordie lasses' husky songs; plus nu-jazz double-whammy, Basquiat Strings (two of whom are with the Elysian Qtet and thus played at our wedding!) and the Portico Quartet at Union Chapel. Basquiat were angular and fairly rockin', but definitely need to improve on their flat-tyre stage presence; Portico created a richly glowing aurora borealis of sound with their unusual 'hang', an invented instrument that looks like a posh BBQ with the lid down, in the mix, but were maybe a bit too Fast Show-esque 'nice' for Andy and I. We need our gateway-jazz with a little more grease and muck and, well, Led Bib, frankly.

Soon DOLLYman will shake up the world of post-post-jazz, or whatever it is now: we've just recorded new material which sounds bleedin' ace! Portico, beware...