Saturday, March 28, 2009

Betsey's Salon and other weekendartadventures

Level of conviction in own genius: 8
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1 Watched: The fantastically intruiging, disturbing Werner Herzog docu 'Grizzly Man' on More4.
Hair day: rockin' a nice short new look yeah!

I did a little solo turn at highartpals Mikhail and Uriel's informal performance/debate night, Betsey's Salon, which has gradually moved from living rooms and small pubs to, this time, the Royal College of Arts, or should I say, the Office of Real Time's (hosting a temporary exhibition within the RCA) 'space within a space within the space of an institution'. Or something. Mikhail is the kind of guy so counter-cultured that the time an underground event turns into something successful is the time to terminate it, so this might have been the last one! Last night focused on the voice and words, hence it being a good forum for me. The poet Cherry Smyth, also involved in running the salon, read an ongoing poem about the womb (not as hyper-feminist as it sounds, actually wryly incisive, especially read in her dryly contemplative Irish tones), followed by my acquaintance, avant-soul improv diva E.Laine and her pianist hubby, the frowny Leon Michener trying out some new stuff. Then the sweetly bonkers Richard Parker read some stuff, and Mikhail transformed into Dizzy Gillespie for the beginning of his ridiculously puffed-cheek number, 'Promise'. I ended the performances with two numbers, the now more-developed storytelling version of 'shamansong' and 'catalunyanpoemsong', with my loop station not conking out like last time, mercifully.
Then followed a rather too formal discussion, with the artists seated starchly in a circle, and me feeling both disinterested and not clever enough to debate the separation of voice and text and meaning... I just do it, y'know? PhD an' all, what an unacademic girl I am. But I feel I'm growing in confidence every time I perform, and can't wait to do more.
Had a lovely hiphoppin' time at Jamm in Brixton on Saturday - we were there to support our favourite white-jazz-hip-hop friends, Lazy Habits, and grooved a bit amongst a friendly crowd to them and beatbox buddy WanDan who did a short set with the camply scary Nathan 'Flutebox' Lee doing his beats/flute thang. Followed this up on Sunday by renewing our Tate membership and seeing the cracking Rodchenko/Popova exhibition, which made my brain work so hard at contenplating the nature of art (Constructivist, functional vs something purely aesthetic and on a higher plane) I actually crumpled into tears. That doesn't normally happen... The early paintings of both artists (later rejected by them as 'useless') were beautiful explorations of shaded lines and forms that seem to boldly pre-date Abstract Expressionism; these segued into the more well-known propaganda posters and advertising collages, though also included the more interesting theatre set designs and fabric designs. Imagine wearing dresses emblazoned with New Labour roses - hhm, a different, headily (and misguidedly) politicised time...
Finally DOLLYman returned to the Ritzy Cafe for another Sunday night set. Rather unhelpfully, the heating was kaput in the entire building and so we played (badly) with our coats on, fingers as dextrous as sausages, cello and clarinet seizing up occasionally. Not our best gig by a long way, though we did get to air the new DOLLYclassic, Lucy's deranged piece about her horrible experience being ignored in Homerton hospital even though she had anaphylactic shock and how we, the other three Dollies, basically saved her life. YES!

Monday, March 23, 2009


Level of conviction in own genius: 8 (but probably should be higher)
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 0, but just you wait!
Reading: 'Winter in Madrid' by C.J.Sansom - marvellous, intelligent wartime-spy-thriller/ Watching: 'Red Riding' - unbelievably dark, brilliant series featuring our most local actor, Sean Harris as a devilish bent copper.
Hair Day: quite good, actually

The project that has mostly consumed my working life for a few months has now been and gone: Connecting Across Difference, in which I worked with three totally diverse classes in three schools in Tower Hamlets over many workshops, writing/devising them a piece on the way for a final multi-media, theatrical performance at the V&A Museum of Childhood. The project posed a completely insane amount of challenges for me, demanding a feat of juggling fit not even for the best fire-eating sword-tossing etc Covent Garden busker: I had to meet the needs of not only 50 kids with a wide array of abilities and access requirements, but teachers and three associate musicians/trainee workshop leaders, compromise with a wonderful but oft-differing-of-opinion 2nd composer, squeeze in a visual artist's physical/musical installation way too late in the day, and make it all work in a public museum with a daft acoustic and bleaching amount of light. And the kids didn't even meet until one session before the day! Bonkers.

I think I did pretty darned well considering, waking up only once or twice with cold sweats and heart-clutches, and thus 'The Spell', a 40-minute piece was performed last Friday, all very close to the bone but just about there, with the kids and staff rising to the occasion beautifully. It had a questing, magical narrative written by me and inspired by the imagery the kids came up with; tried to draw on kids' strengths in a very personalised way; and used a marvellous cornucopia of technological delights, created by wide-eyed mus-tech wunderkind Nick. I felt pretty proud of the result and rather gutted that the artistic director didn't ask me to take a bow! But man, am I glad it's all over. Now it's all onto fun things: working on my solo EP, writing a few little pieces, preparing for lots of juice work namely Wigmore Hall, and exercising/eating only seeds in order to fit into the long dress I've bought for it...

Had a nice Ma's day weekend which highlighted the wide gulf between my hood and our opposite end: the evil and horrible West. Ha. On Saturday night we went to our fab local curry house, Al-Amin on Cambridge Heath Road, for sharp hot fish curry and rubbed shoulders with the shouty East End locals. On Sunday we couldn't fail but to rub shoulders with the locals as we squeezed past grotesquely broad poshos heaving great long shiny rowboats into the glittering Thames for several races at the start of a knee-throbbing walk from Putney Bridge. The rowing fraternity (Andy slightly offended by my ogling of 50-year old men in gumboots and revealingly high tight shorts with, as Mum said, 'remarkably impressive physiques') are an irritating lot, all scrubbed, smug faces and what-ho's, and it was good to at least get onto the more rural tow-path. Star-spotting a rather hefty-looking Matthew Macfayden jogging past on the way (he slipping in our estimation as he must live in the hideous environs), we crossed to Hammersmith and through a sea of white rugby-loving middle-classes drinking lager next to the river, past ludicrously posh houses and onto Barnes and more rowers. Ugh. Back home for the evening it was a different story: to the seedily theatrical Palm Tree pub in Mile End next to the canal, we sat on stools drinking St Clement's and thick ales whilst three extremely cool sixty/seventy-somethings, jammed into a tiny corner, crouched over their piano, bass and drums, seemingly not even thinking about the fantastically deft, dextrous trad. jazz and brilliant they were tossing out. They were occasionally fronted by a very square, boxily-jacketed smoothie who crooned some standards whilst nodding and winking to the locals, a mix of 70-year old men and women dressed up for the evening, European girls dancing in front of them, and hardened artsters. YES! The East rules.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Like the echo of a...

Level of conviction in own genius: 8ish
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Reading / Watching: 'Amsterdam' by Ian McEwan / 'Red Riding' on Channel 4
Hair day: Long bit at the back has got so silly I've starting plaiting it.

Went to the rather lovely Toynbee Studios at the beginning of the week to see something rather unusual: Paper Cinema with Roger (bruv of Brian) Eno. Two people manipulated cutely drawn cardboard marionettes to create a beguiling live piece about people's dreams in east London, with nothing more than hands, paper, a video camera and a couple of cleverly poised lamps. The film, populated by idiosyncratic animals and humans bobbing on buses, bicycles and cars, was not without a little of 'Belleville Rendez-Vous''s gothic quirkiness and had some remarkably deft jumps in perspective. Eno's piano/synth/accordion accompaniment was a little 'Amelie'-lite in places but matched the charming mood and helped in turning an arty adult audience into delighted children. A rather fanciful miniature delight for an ordinary Monday eve.

It was my turn to perform last night, doing three solo looped numbers for Music Orbit to open one of spnm's monthly Sound Source shows at King's Place. Pretty marvellous to be able to perform in Hall 2 to 200 people and with a crystal, confidence-inducing sound system which made me sound actually quite good. The night was called 'Crazy Wisdom' and was supposed to marry film, dance, music and words, so I did a storytelling introduction to 'shamansong' followed by some drowning Inuit gasps (very specialist technique, you know...), then 'trainsong' with Andy playing glowing guitar, then 'catalunyanpoemsong'. It generally went very well except for two hiccups: well, one technical hiccup where my loop stopped but I got it in again very quickly, and a rather larger phlegmy belch when, in my last tune, I went to add another loop to my atmospheric coda and for the first time ever, my loop station screen said 'Sorry, too busy!' and cut out rather dramatically. Oops. I did get it back in but that was a rather glaring mistake. Whatever next from my up til now reliable Boss RC-50? I press a pedal and it says 'Sorry, have gone out for a fag. Back soon!'? Most amusingly, in the interval a very polite and very posh lady came up to me and asked if one of my lyrics had been 'like an echo of a cunt'. I had to take a second to remember it is in fact 'like the echo of a gun'. She seemed rather relieved as my subsequent lyrics had been about the sky being knifed and bleeding all over the place and thus I wasn't a militant sex-is-rape feminist. My laughter echoed all the way up the five floors of King's Place's atrium... ha ha ha!

I have to say the rest of the show (we escaped after the lengthy first half proper) was not so great. Whilst promising a relaxed, walk-in, walk-out atmosphere, you could do anything but, the seating was terribly formal and restricted viewing for most people, the musical performances were waaaay tooooo lonnnngg, and there were silent films with no music at all which thus had the air sucked out of them. Must do better. And appoint me as freelance, drift-in-when-I-want-to-and-offer-nuggets-of-advice, producer.

Connecting these two events, besides Andy and myself, was the presence of a larger than life character we once saw on train: a rotund chap who only wears bright pink, orange and yellow from top to toe, right up to his oversized spectacles. Sort of like looking at Christopher Biggins having eaten too many lollipops whilst you're on acid. But who is this mysterious rainbowish artman? And at what high-art mixed-media event will we see him at next? The story continues...

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 0
Reading: Just finished Ian McEwan's pert, beautifully concise 'On Chesil Beach'
Hair day: the asymmetrical long bit at the back has got so long I've started to put it in a wee plait

Gosh have been so busy and haven't blogged a darned thing. Have done a number of gigs at nice churches to beamingly gratified oldies with juice, unassuming jazz bars in Stokey with DOLLYman and metamorphic, been heavily embroiled in my educational project with local schools and the Museum of Childhood, and eaten lots of curries. But, fighting the frequent urge to curl up in a ball in front of BBCiplayer every night, I've also been out to some great gigs of late:

1) Tanya Tagaq at Cafe Oto, Dalston
Oto is such a great venue you forgive it even when it programmes dismally introspective muted-trumpet improv on a Saturday night. Sarah and I, flying the flag of experimental vocal music high, went to see the sometime Bjork-collaborator and Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq. Our most high-art pal and general friend to the stars, Mikhail (on whose new album, Morphica, juice features) was there to introduce us to the Canadian vocalist, who had the most frighteningly disarming, bonkers manner, insisting she'd met us before before swerving onto telling us about her ex-boyfriend who was currently 'fucking his way through Europe' with electrodes attached to his body in the name of art. She then proceeded to perform a kind of highly-sexed snake dance along to increasingly tribal-trance leanings from her laptop and drum boys. In truth, the music got a little samey, but there was no denying her incredible array of vocal utterances: she seemed to pull seagulls and tigers screaming from her throat, and veered from breathy tunes to earthquake-starting rumbles. Afterwards, she explained to Sarah and I, after we'd come to congratulate her, that the reason she was so good was because she had a pussy. We retreated gently as she shouted at us how much she loved her pussy, grinning and nodding, wishing we weren't so inhibited and.... BRITISH.

2) Firefly at the Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green
At a loss on a Friday night, Andy and I decided to go to the nearest place we could, the beguiling Gallery cafe, so near we can basically fall into it from our window. We caught the end of the open mic at one of their Organic Nights, before I realised that three of my workshop-leader acquaintances had brought their band along to headline. And darn it but they turned out to be one of my new favourite bands, a gorgeously goosebumpy mix of folk, jazz, improv and contemporary classical subtleties. They're another band, like the excellent Stravinsky-meets-folkfunksters 7 Hertz, who DOLLYman recently played with, who I feel a genuine affinity with. Hhm, I feel an askew, avant-everything collective coming on...

3) Beatabet Collective at the Shunt Lounge, London Bridge
The Brighton-based arts collective Beatabet, who count loop-vocal queen Bunty who I've programmed at Gobsmack in the past, and Nick, mus-tech wizard who I'm curently working with in schools, among their number, were curating a four-day artsfest. Unbelievably, I've never graced the underground chambers of the Shunt Lounge before, and dang that was worth the ticket price and the 30-minute queue alone! Cavernous brick arches, musty corridors, a shadowy theatre, boho bar areas, coupled with the video and sound art, installations, music and occasional trapeze artist, made us feel like we were slouching around in early 90s Berlin. We watched my 'cello-blues-avant-garde diva pal Laura Moody play a set above on of the bars, played some glockenspiel in a cupboard, avoided the gaze of weird actors and manipulated a sort of sensor-piano-gramaphone thing. It was easily the most happening event I could possibly have been at last night. London rocks, baby.