(Photo by Rachell Smith)
I’ve been spurred into posting because a demo I sent to the Wife In Space website (http://wifeinspace.com) has been posted and re-tweeted and might be doing the rounds. It’s me reading out every Dr. Who story title in three minutes, to my electro version of Murray Gold’s “I Am The Doctor”. https://soundcloud.com/wifeinspace/wife-in-space-next-time-by
I’m not used to this kind of attention but I had something similar last year. For a friend’s 40th birthday, I did a jokey track using samples from The Big Bang Theory. Another friend did a video for it… and it got 12,000 hits in a month. Only got 15 likes though.
And I’ve also been preparing for the next Eccentronic show, which will have a (vaguely) Eurovision theme. http://eccentronic.co.uk
All these things are fun and it’s lovely to have the attention. They aren’t my ‘serious’ music, but I’m not complaining. That would suggest that the frivolous side of me isn’t as much a part of me as the pensive, angry and melancholic sides. In my live shows I’m parading around in cardboard costumes and clowning around, accompanying songs about death or whatever. Am I mis-representing them? It’s the same person being daft as being maudlin.
Anyway, I’ve finally finished the new album, which I’m hoping to release within the next couple of months on Antigen. http://antigenrecords.com
The photo above was taken by Rachell Smith, after I posed for her on a trampoline. http://www.rachellsmith.com/
Before I get waffling about burlesque, I’d like to make two musical recommendations for discriminating Fringe-goers: cheerful and catchy electro from Massive Horse (http://massivehorse.com/ - performing at Moods, 1 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA); and the intense theatrical electroclash of Tomás Ford (An Audience With…) (http://tomasford.com/). If you like my music, and even if you don’t (are there such people?), I can’t recommend these enough.
So, then. Frank Sinazi’s Das Vegas part two…
Making Betty Grumble look like Audrey Hepburn.
Burlesque featured heavily in the show. I’ve always found burlesque a rather more spiteful and aggressive form of entertainment than is probably intended, although the Das Vegas performers were attempting to subvert and extend the form in some way.
I’ll stress that this is my purely subjective experience; I’m not accusing burlesque performers of misandry! “Spiteful and aggressive, John?” I’m a big fan of the Carry On films and burlesque is in the same silly camp, er, camp, surely? Of course. And I’ve performed nude many times myself. One difference is that as a middle-aged man, I’ve never felt able to tease the audience and don’t feel I have power over them; the spectators are always complicit and see me as a joke, if anything. Burlesque seems (chiefly) predicated on the audience’s desire to see a naked woman. The performer knows that she has something that the audience want to see and so she holds the power. Perhaps she’ll grab a man from the audience, make him kiss her glove and get down on all fours. She can reach into his mind and control him through his own desire. He’s betrayed by his own brain, a victim of his own biology.
Perhaps I’m over-thinking this. I suppose I just feel a bit manipulated. I should also point out that although two of the burlesque artsts invited me to join them on stage - to walk around on all fours or kiss their glove - they accepted my demurral without fuss.
Woman have been objectified for thousands of years, of course, and it’s only reasonable that they turn the weapon of the male gaze on its wielder. They’re reclaiming the gaze, in the same way that words intended to mock and bully, like ‘nerd’ and ‘queer’, have been reclaimed and are now worn as a badge of pride. They’ve taken control of their enemy’s weapon, used it on themselves and become stronger.
I suppose I don’t want to be associated with that gaze, though. I don’t want to be ribbed for objectifiying women, even if it’s a good-natured ribbing. It makes me the enemy of myself. Because I can’t deny that I do objectify women - and doubltess men, too. I’ve thrown my hands up about such things before (http://johncallaghan.co.uk/post/21208771272/on-the-waving-around-of-ones-bits) and didn’t reach a conclusion then, either. People are beautiful, of course, and it is fitting that we find them so. When does that turn into objectification?
One performer in Das Vegas, Emma Maye Gibson, no doubt had all this in mind when she created Betty Grumble (http://bettygrumble.com/BETTYGRUMBLE/HOME.html). She’s a grotesque over-statement of the classic subject of male leering; so made-up she resembles a sick clown and infantilised to the point of idiocy. Her voluptuous figure is used to titilate but any drifting into dreamy idealisation of the female form is subverted by Ms. Gibson throwing women’s visceral nature back at the viewer (literally).
I was probably just a bit tired, though. And maybe jealous - after all, I want to be desired too. But as a man, if I’m ever “lucky enough” to be the focus of admiring objectification, I can don it and shrug it off when I want to be recognised as myself again. I’ve no reason to be angry because I wield the weapon and never have to look down the barrel.
Frank Sinazi - Das Vegas. Part one.
[This review contains very mild SPOILERS for the show.]
The really impressive trick is how he got the traffic lights in there.
The first show I saw at this year’s Fringe was Frank Sinazi’s Das Vegas. As the name suggests, the character is mid-way twixt Sinatra and Hitler. I was very tired and somewhat numb, with all my energy taken up trying to keep a pleasantly blank expression rather than falling asleep. How unfortunate, then, that I ended up in the main front seat visible from the stage. Having my illuminated waxen death-mask face fixedly staring at them throughout didn’t seem to put the performers off, though.
The humour of the show is more complex than the conceit might suggest. The altered lyrics and inter-song banter largely involves Third Reich puns. But what, exactly, is the joke? Some people are amused by the shock value of taboo-breaking, although anyone who comes to a show by an artist called Frank Sinazi surely knows what they’re getting. Maybe it’s the roller-coaster factor - some people like to be shocked and confronted with taboo-breaking in a safe environment with no consequences. And this isn’t the kind of humour which tells the audience to ‘deal with it’ and that they shouldn’t feel threatened by talk about certain uncomfortable topics. Examples of these might be subjects which the mainstream has yet to have fully come to terms with but are increasingly being accepted, such as drug-taking, abortion or homosexuality, at various times. However, Das Vegas’s jokes which seemingly make light of fascism are exploring territory which is thorny for a reason other than a reactionary audience. It’s right to mock Nazism to reduce the credibility of any loons who want to adopt its ideology and iconography. But truly horrendous things were done in Nazism’s name and it remains a threat, so we shouldn’t let our only image of Nazis be Herr Flick from ‘Allo ‘Allo. Some ‘shocking’ humour tames uncomfortable issues and makes them palatable; fascism doesn’t need such treatment.
In short, the show didn’t really tickle my sense of humour, despite my love of puns, but I respect its intentions and feel it was well-performed.
Incidentally, the most deliberately tasteless gag (Anne Frank revealing her concentration camp number) was de-fanged by a sound cue mistake, with her entrance accompanied by The Stripper. The audience had thus already played out a more bleakly challenging scenario than was performed.
There was burlesque too. More on that tomorrow…
I’ve got a lot of verbiage coming up about two Fringe shows, one of which I never even saw. Before that, in this final week of the Fringe, maybe I should rattle through a few other shows that I saw and would recommend, eh?
I got lucky, actually, and every show I attended was enjoyable. I normally try and avoid stand-up comedians, largely because there’s a good chance it will be an hour of tiresome dick/alcohol/excrement/paedophile jokes, but to my delight the stand-up I saw was of high quality and charming. And I even saw a musical, too.
Nothing to do with the shows; it’s just a nice photo of Edinburgh I took.
Greatness awaits Lauren Shearing and Sarah Pearce. Their Bad Advice showcases their wit and charisma. They’re personable, smiley and actually have jokes and everything.
Andrew O’Neill is the Next Big Thing. Any show which references The Caves Of Androzani is very likely to score points with me, especially if the performer has the Seal Of Rassilon tattooed on his arm. These things facilitate that immediate connection which I’m so insistent is a part of stand-up. It’s not a real connection, of course; Mr. O’Neill neither knows or cares who I am. But for the hour of his show, it helps both of us if I can assume that he’s my friend, and he makes it easy.
Apine Horn with Flange Krammer’s show revolves around puns, delivered with shameless gusto. While I’m in a confessional mood, I must admit I had very little change on me when I went to see him, so I shame-facedly was unable to donate much. He deserved more, and his show’s for charity, too.
Reanimator - The Musical gave me much more for my tenner than I was expecting. The front three rows (the “splash zone”) got even more still. It’s the US equivalent of a panto, a grand guinol fluid-fest. It’s like a more hygienic GG Allin gig. In the gents’ afterwards, men drenched from head to toe in gore scrubbed away, crying “it’s not coming off!” It’s not just the melodies that will stay with you. H. P. Lovecraft would be proud.
Your tour guide through Twonky’s Kingdom is Miss Hypnotique’s former bandmate in the Dawn Of The Replicants, Paul Vickers. He proves that in comedy, as with music, ‘personal and idiosyncratic’ does not necessarily mean ‘indulgent and inaccessible’. Cracking and unique stuff.
Official site: http://twonkey.blogspot.co.uk/
Fan site: http://twonkeyland.wordpress.com/
Also unique and idiosyncratic - and very Fringe - is Eggball. At one point the performer adopts the persona of a grumpy Mancunian shark, who I dubbed ‘Shark E. Smith’, to the amusement of nobody.
Roland Rides The Rail’s (sic) takes the form of a lecture from a train-spotting eccentric, who turns out not to be the drab cliche, but an altogether more eccentric eccentric.
The venue is Finnegan’s Wake, which amused me. The Joyce book doesn’t have the apostrophe, you see; the pub having a misplaced apostrophe when the show does too struck me as very apposite, as I explained at tedious length. Until someone pointed out that it got that name because there used to be a ‘dead body’ called Finnegan over the bar. Then the pub burned down, so he’s not there any more. Er.
Helen Keen’s Robot Woman Of Tomorrow show begins with an idea which haunts many a person of my generation - where is the future we were promised? It remains upbeat, though, and is full of thoughtful and cosy humour.
Hiroshi Shimizu, not the film director, has a stand-up show Japanese TerminatoL. He looks resplendant in his distinctive orange tracksuit - say hello if you see him, he’s a very nice chap.
And there were loads of other wonderful-looking acts who were all on at the same time as we were. Maybe next year.
From August 1st - August 13th I was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, performing the Eccentronic show We Won’t Rock You (http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/cabaret/eccentronic-presents-we-won-t-rock-you-free, http://www.eccentronic.co.uk/). Here are some of my thoughts about the other shows.
To illustrate this post, here’s a picture of me camouflaged in a purple suit on a purple background. Can you spot me?
My enduring memory of Edinburgh 2012 will be of the poor chaps and chapettes performing Machinal (http://www.machinal2012.com/). It’s a grim play by Sophie Treadwell about gender issues and capital punishment. Imagine you’re watching Oxford University Dramatic Society’s version: everyone is in 1930s gear with pale faces and the atmosphere is sombre. There’s a poignant scene where one of the characters mournfully asks “listen… can you hear that?” And rather than the reflective silence which was the intention, the audience gets a high-energy techno version of ‘Agadoo’.
Yes, we were next door. The first I knew about the problem was ten minutes before a performance, when OUDS’s apologetic and imploring director came to our set-up to plead with me to reduce the volume. While I was talking to him, an equipment problem meant that our entire sound cut out as we were about to begin. He somehow resisted the urge to say “that’s about the level we’re looking for, thanks!”
I kept the volume at its lowest possible level and it was still audible next door. We were even mentioned in their reviews - not enough detail to put on our posters next year, but still a better write-up than we got in Three Weeks.
It was no-one’s fault, of course. They were simply unlucky that their theatre piece had been scheduled next to rock gig in a nightclub. I re-compressed the sound and noted the correct levels. But with so many different acts using our stage things inevitably got changed. I honestly tried my best to keep everyone happy without compromising our show. One evening my co-performer was unable to hear her cues. Of course, they could hear her cues next door. They were polite about it, although I’m sure a few members of OUDS must have had fantasies about using the electric chairs in their show on their neighbours…
(It’s only occurred to me now that one possible cause was the layout of the speakers at the nightclub; it isn’t just the performance area which has a PA, but also the bar, for instance. Oh well.)
Curiously, the lower volume may have worked in our favour; we had a wider audience demographic than we were expecting, and having a less intense level (and clearer comedy lyrics) meant that the show might have had a larger appeal. We certainly got more enthusiasm from our crowd than I was anticipating. And OUDS can perform in peace once more, now the run of We Won’t Rock You has ended. If this were a comedy script, the act that was replacing us would be My Bloody Valentine, of course.
I even wrote a song expressing my sincere mortification but I’ll wait a little while before posting it anywhere; I wouldn’t want them to think I was taking the mickey. So my apologies to OUDS; I hope the rest of your run brings the house down.
I’ve been producing some music with a talented multi-instrumentalist chap (trumpet in this instance), who was so appalled with the Sellotaped-together nature of my equipment he’s promised to dig up a PC he’d buried in his back garden. (Or something. I think he let a dog play with it. Anyway, it’s apparently still better than the unit I’m using and has a modern extra feature mine lacks, called ‘functioning’, whatever that is.)
Incidentally, he’s thin, with glasses and a shaved head. But he’s in his twenties. He must feel like he’s looking at the picture of Dorian Gray when he looks at me. The track is hush-hush for now but soon an interesting project will be public.
Comedy music work continues on the Edinburgh Fringe run of Eccentronic’s We Won’t Rock You.
Bonus dance music! I’ve collected some of my in-between gubbins while grinding away at the new album (this is not as revolting as it sounds). It includes some fun dance music from a 40th birthday party. The photo above (taken by Elaine Garrod) shows me resplendent in my gold lamé catsuit. This material doubtless won’t get a general release but here’s an amusing excerpt from it. My treat.
(If you can’t see the player, click on the title.)
So where’s my behind-the-scenes video for Phylactery? Where’s this new material I’ve been promising? Well, I’ve been performing at the Brighton Fringe in Eccentronic’s show We Won’t Rock You. This finishes in three days’ time, so I’ve got until then to come up with a new excuse.
To promote the show, I’ve been editing videos.
Socks And Timewasting:
The process has helped me grow as an artist: I’ve learnt new techniques in anger management as I cope with editing software crashing every time I make an edit; the constant surprise which rewards artistic innovation has been found in the variety of unexpected ways the system goes wrong; I’m drinking a lot of tea. Amusingly, this is part of my endeavour to finish projects more rapidly.
I’m told that this is what I should expect from a computer that’s more than three years old. PCs are like pets, apparently; they’re our constant companions and company when we’re lonely. But they age at fast but unpredictable speeds and all too soon we’re having to choose a replacement. I rail against this idea. My music PC is over ten years old, still runs Windows 98, and although it’s by no means perfect it’s more reliable than my whippersnapper machine; once the young cock of the walk, now even that is no spring chicken. Five years old? Why, a human with the equivalent age would resemble Boris Karloff in The Mummy.
I resent the idea that we should resign ourselves to such rapid obselence and decrepitude. I shake my fist impotently against my own aging and peer glumly at each deepening wrinkle; it’s natural that I should mournfully beat my breast when my silicon pet, cradle of my ideas, shows such early senility.
Maybe, like pets and computers, ideas have a different rate of maturation too. Maybe this is the real reason why my projects take so long. They need the right length of time to develop, mature and come to fruition. Maybe they can’t be rushed but I must chaperone them privately until they’re ready to have their debutante ball and are introduced to society, in the hunt for an interested patron. Left too long, the ideas begin their decline and soon are redundant wraiths, signposts to roads only partly taken, the echoing ticks and tocks of wasted time. What’s that in idea years?€
So, anyway, I hope to post that behind-the-scenes video soon.
Here’s the video for my song Phylactery, which is on the Warp 20 box set.
It features Kate Page (nee Newell) who plays woodwind and sings on the track, and Jenny Cobb, who plays violin. The dancers are Victoria Bettelheim and Beata Rzepecka (who also took the GIF photo of me with the tumbling paper in an earlier post).
I’d like to thank everyone who made this with me. They worked very hard and produced something I think is quite special and of which I’m very proud.
Stay tuned for a commentary on the shooting and even a special ‘behind-the-scenes’ video which shows how it was achieved.
Here’s a promotional photo of me in a shopping trolley:
And here’s the cover of my single Every Kiss:
My other job is as an artists’ model. I’ve appeared nude in art installations and performances, in photographs and in public. I was nude during the Saatchi Gallery opening on London’s South Bank (and got to flash Sophie Ellis-Bextor - did you notice how her hair turned white between her first and second albums?). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being without clothes and I have in fact appeared on international TV speaking in defence of a pro-naked protest I was part of.
I try to avoid using nudity in my own musical performances, though. I know it’d be an easy way to get a reaction - and a reputation - but it would be a sign to myself that I’d run out of ideas. I may one day have a wonderful concept that requires being unclothed, but until then I’ll keep the flashing to my electric suit.
The original cover of Every Kiss…
Short Sharp Shock didn’t like that cover and preferred an image I’d taken of a model in the Custard Factory in Birmingham. Should I have put my foot down? Obviously a nude woman is going to attract more attention than a bald bloke in a wedding dress. And by justifying the picture (it’s tasteful and non-titillating) am I simply making excuses for my lack of conviction? I don’t feel I am guilty of objectifying women, but is that obvious from the picture? Am I part of the solution (everyone should be more relaxed about nudity) or part of the problem (everywhere women look they see images of themselves as naked commodities)?
I’m not the only one using female nudity.
Here are videos by Whomadewho: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLu-eKhV5_0
and Clean Bandit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rd0cT7Dnpt8 (about 1’44 in).
Both could be said to be challenging the viewer in some way: Inside World starts off placing the viewer in the position of voyeur and challenges them to enjoy the models’ vulnerability as they parade themselves joylessly for the spectators’ amusement. Towards the end of the video they are more provocative. Is that because the viewer has made their decision to keep watching, and is therefore culpable in objectifying them?
With Clean Bandit the message might be “think electronic music is boring? Think again!” - although I’m not sure anyone actually does nowadays. Look! Electronic music with classical instrumentation! With a stylish video! We’ve got a naked woman, too! Beat that, rock ‘n’ roll! But I suspect the real reason there’s a naked woman in the video is that the cellist is something of an exhibitionist. In this, she is a woman after my own heart. And in all these examples, she’s the only one gazing confidently out and smiling at the viewer. Even Rankin’s photo of a woman in a shopping trolley - where she set up the pose - has a sullen and trapped-looking woman as a commodity rather than the fed-up look I’ve got:
The Whomadewho and Clean Bandit videos could both be said to be suggestive; either camera angles or a conveniently placed violin prevent the viewer seeing ‘the goods’. My EKTAM image is the only example here that has visible full nudity. Similarly, in some art classes I’m asked to keep my boxers on. I don’t like this; it implies that there’s something dangerous, dirty or unwholesome about the hidden areas. One thing I can say in my defence is that there’s no titilating or sexualised aspect to my nude model. But the face is hidden - my subject isn’t being recognised as herself. This is why I’m using the term ‘nude’ rather than ‘naked’. So is she an object?
As you’ll be able to tell from the lack of conclusions I’m drawing, this is a topic I think about a great deal. I’d hope by shamelessly parading around with no clothes on I’m making the world a more relaxed and happier place. But I’d think very carefully before putting another nude woman on a record cover.