I recently took part in a concert to celebrate the music of David Bowie. Presented at Union Chapel, it was really exciting to be performing at such a great venue alongside some of my heroes (pardon the pun) and pay tribute to someone who has been the main influence on my music. I sang Lady Stardust, which was one of the first songs I sang in a band at school and is still one of my favourite Bowie songs. I thought it appropriate to wear my 'Quicksilver' look as it was so obviously inspired by Bowie's work with Pierre La Roche.
For some time I've felt a bit trapped in that look and character - the financial pressures of making music and a living have meant that I didn't get to pursue my debut album as much as I wanted - plus the novelty of spending an hour in makeup just to set foot onstage wore off quite some time ago. An eye-catching look of course gets attention, which is part of it - but inevitably it becomes something people want to imitate or even steal, often brazenly - I always say if I had a pound for every time someone asked me 'How do you do your face?' I wouldn't need to do it any more - and that night I even had someone ask to show me the pot of glitter so she'd know where to get some. Teenage Wildlife indeed.
Backstage I also got chatting to a brother and sister duo The Breretons, Marc and Charlotte, who were on literally before me. I gave Marc one of my flyers and he said 'do you play the piano?'. Sadly my piano efforts are sub grade one so I said no. 'Are you sure?' he persisted. 'I'm pretty sure I don't play the piano!' I said. 'It's just my dad tuned this lady's piano and she gave him a copy of this album.' It turned out the lady was my mum! Small world indeed. When we all piled onstage to sing Heroes, I stood next to Charlotte and at the end, suddenly burst into tears. 'It's over!' I said. It had only really hit me in that moment that Bowie was dead, gone forever, kaput - but I realise now that I also meant something else.
Artists always borrow from other artists, Bowie was the master of this - and these days it's almost impossible to do anything new - but some of us lift more heavily than others. I left the evening wondering where I was on what I'd call 'the cool continuum' - was I nearer my heroes and friends Dan Gillespie Sells and David McAlmont? Or was I seen as another naff Ziggy knock-off? A glitter thief? For years I've been pretty obsessed with this placement on an imaginary ladder of success - the world we live in and the way 'showbiz' works means you can't help but feel there's a pecking order and want to get higher up on it. I remember watching Madonna's Superbowl show and loving it - but feeling furious that it wasn't me (ridiculous I know, but that's how my ego sometimes works).
The reality of this business is that we're all scrabbling around for gigs, money, attention, reviews, the list goes on - and even people we see as established usually make more money from other business interests rather than music. For years I'd felt really ashamed that I had to have a 'survival' job (a term I heard on RuPaul's podcast and love) - other creatives I knew seemed to make enough money from their creative work - I was a #epicfailure. A woman at my current temp job asked me if I was successful (a rather shitty question, but hey) - and of course I gave the wrong answer. Rather than saying 'Yes, I get to do something I feel I'm good at, that entertains people and makes me a little money' I said with a chuckle 'well, I can't be that successful or I wouldn't be working here'. 'So I thought', she replied (she really is a cow).
These kind of conversations happen all the time for creative people and of course stepping back, they're really about the person asking the question and their insecurity of their own place, not about the person who is being asked to justify their career choice.
I spent a lot of time working on YouTube content last year, at one point putting out four shows a week, which was great, but I steadily realised I'd added on yet another low-income high time input string to my bow - and was totally losing sight of the one thing that my creative work is meant to revolve around - music. So this year my goal was to find a guitarist and get out to open mics once a week (my guitar playing is only marginally better than my piano - ain't nobody got time for that!). Quicksilver and his trappings had stopped me from keeping things simple and performing as myself in a music based setting - I needed costumes and theatrics and without them I felt too exposed. That was the realisation that I had at Union Chapel - that's what was over. I needed to get back to basics and put myself out there as myself, not a character - taking off the mask would be exposing but was necessary - I would be probably be judged, but on my own merits, not as a facsimile of someone else.
Cabaret terrorist David Hoyle often says 'Never compare, never compete'. My current feeling is that even if I'm not making 'enough' money from my music at the moment, that may change - and I'm more likely to make money getting out there and playing in front of people weekly than producing my own concerts occasionally and losing money or getting further into debt. I'll also get the chance to do something I really love, instead of feeling aggrieved that other people are doing it instead of me. Part of me had thought I was above certain things - I should be performing at the Superbowl, not in a grotty pub with the football on in the background - but that attitude means nothing is ever good enough and you will never be satisfied. Getting furious that bands you don't rate, actors you don't like, singers you feel can't sing get opportunities you feel they don't deserve doesn't get you anywhere. Behind their achievements are decades of hard work and sacrifice - even the glitter thieves - and your envy makes you look petty and a prat at best and at its worst leads to bitterness.
I'm feeling nervous and excited to be making changes, but looking forward to performing in new places and challenging myself. I'm not performing at the Superbowl. I'm not Madonna - and that's O.K.