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!