A Queen's Message - 2016
At the end of a year that for many has felt like a series of unfortunate events, it’s easy to overlook some of the good things that have happened. As a terminal Eeyore myself, I thought I would accentuate some of the positive things that have come my way in my creative life.
For a while I had been feeling a little lost in terms of my music – that I had ended up as a cabaret artiste rather than really following what I wanted to do musically, so at the end of 2015 I started looking for a guitarist to start doing open mics again. All the books and blogs about ‘making it’ as a singer songwriter say you have to start locally, building contacts and a fan base. This was something I’d completely neglected and I thought it would be a good way to perform regularly and make those contacts. Saxophonist Chris Rand who played on my Three Little Words EP recommended his friend Adam Green, who in a case of small world syndrome had already answered one of my adverts. We started doing open mics every couple of weeks and later began filming YouTube videos for some of my songs, which you’ll start seeing in 2017. Going back to open mics after eighteen years was a really humbling journey – stripping away all the artifice meant I had to work out how to perform again as myself, rather than a character or in a costume designed as a distraction. I still find I learn something every time we do it and as I say to my coaching clients, it’s a really beneficial way of building a thicker skin as a performer and honing your craft. It’s also a useful reminder in a world that can be very cliquey and incestuous that outside of that world, nobody really knows who you are and will simply judge you on your talent (if they are ‘judging’ you – many people aren’t), not on how fabulous your reputation might be. There are some really supportive promoters as well – it’s been heartening to be encouraged by them and open new doors.
After several very difficult experiences in the world of musical theatre, I had said (to myself at least) that I wouldn’t ever do any acting again. I’d never trained, which meant I hadn’t got an agent and despite cutting my teeth in many fringe productions and getting good reviews, I usually found that the acting world wasn’t really for me. You have to be very robust to deal with rejection on a daily basis and bullying and bitchery are often rife. ‘Straight’ acting has never been my bag (as anyone who knows me can attest!) and as a bass baritone, there are few musical theatre roles for a roly-poly bearded homosexual anyway. So when my long-term collaborator Bryon Fear asked me to audition for his local theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar, I declined. I had already written some music for his previous production of Macbeth at South London Theatre and Bryon had provided the amazing artwork for my album and many other projects, but I was far too nervous to step back into a theatre company, even one helmed by someone I really trust – my fear that I would encounter boundless egos (including my own) put me off the idea. When I touched base with Bryon a few months later and asked if he had found his Herod, he replied that the person he’d really wanted had said they were far too busy. The penny finally dropped. I’m really glad that Bryon persuaded me to join the cast as the production was one of the happiest experiences of my year and perhaps my life. To be part of a company who really wanted to support each other and work together for a common goal was something I had never experienced before. Working alongside truly astoundingly talented people who were also kind and friendly was new territory for me. At the end of the last show, many of us were in tears and I know I would have liked the run to continue and to perform alongside my new friends for a longer time. Every company say they will keep in touch and remain friends and usually never do, but I feel I will definitely have a bond with my fellow Superstars that will last. I have seen many of them since and am working on a couple of projects with some of my compatriots which will be announced soon – watch this space.
The part itself was a challenge; the role is usually camped up, which really I could have done standing on my head, but we wanted our Herod to be more aggressive and frightening and I’d like to think it worked – people usually find his scene very funny but I think we also added a large dose of menace. I got a nice mention in an online review, which did nothing for the boundless ego, but did once again show me I’d made the right decision and I thank Bryon for persuading ‘madame’ to make a comeback – sorry, a ‘return’ to the stage, even if it was only a temporary one.
One of my many day jobs, alongside stints as a fingerprint technician, baker at Greggs, usher and temp has been as a ‘door whore’ for various poetry nights. Why anyone would want someone as perpetually grumpy as me to greet their punters is a mystery to me, but there we go. At some of the nights when people wouldn’t turn up, I’d often be asked if I had anything I could perform, which was how I fell into performance poetry. I randomly picked up a few spots at prestigious events and found these could be far more lucrative than wielding a guitar. Lots of other writers also sold their self-published collections (this was back in the day when self publishing was seen as vain and a bit dirty, not a necessity), so I decided to do my own, which is how my ‘chapbook’ SIGHS TEN was born. I cobbled together all the work I had and wrote a couple of new pieces and started selling it at gigs and online.
As 2016 was the fifth anniversary of its release and I had really got into audio books this year, I decided to branch out and record my own. Again, it was a bit of a challenge to record, partly as I’m never happy with recordings (I nearly re-recorded the whole thing several times) but mainly as reading for an audio book is quite different to performing; just reading the pieces can seem monotonous, but do too much and it comes across as hammy (hammy, moi?). To celebrate the launch, I got together a little band and performed a retrospective gig at Jonny Woo’s pub The Glory. It was a real trip down memory lane taking in material from my album Quicksilver – The Masquerade Macabre, poems from SIGHS TEN and songs from Postcards from God – The Sister Wendy Musical and it was very valuable to re-visit older material with fresh eyes, giving new weight to previously throwaway work and approaching darker moments with a lighter touch. I had originally thought it was just a bit of silly camp old nonsense with a few sad bits, but the feedback was really positive, so we’re aiming to do the show at other venues.
2016 also felt like a year of shedding some things off. I had wondered if I should give up performing and just see if I could enjoy it for myself as a hobby, which was one of the reasons I set up the Royal Vauxhall Tavern Choir. I also felt a little stressed out pushing hard with my Behind The Mask show and not really getting as many views as I’d like. Working on lots of projects actually just tired and stressed me out, so towards the end of the year I have re-focused again and 2017 will be a year for me to just concentrate on my music.
I now have one EP almost ready to go (I am tinkering with final vocals today as I write this) and another one that myself and my team of musicians have been working on already. I’m going to ‘leave that with you’ in the words of David Hoyle, as I want to write more about it at greater length later, but with at least one of the songs I feel I will be releasing some of my best recording work so far. The first EP, Art of Darkness will be released in the spring and I’ll be teasering it as part of a promotion I will be running in February which will be released early to members of my mailing list, so please sign up using the form at the bottom of this page.
The thought of Donald Trump as US President seemed funny at first, but is now a reality. Unfortunately I think the reality will continue to be less than funny, but let’s hope he will be kept in check once he actually comes in to power. Personally, I cannot imagine things getting better for us very quickly, but we can only hope that in other ways, the coming year will be better than 2016. Wishing you health, wealth and happiness amongst whatever else it may bring you.