Writer & Stand-Up Viv Groskop: Laughter Lines

Catching The Comet'sTailThis week, Catching the Comet’s Tail features writer and stand-up Viv Groskop. Her memoir ‘I Laughed I Cried: How One Woman Took on Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life’ is based on the diaries she kept during a marathon run of 100 stand-up gigs in 100 nights. The story of Groskop’s whirlwind entrance into the world of stand-up comedy  is also a moving and inspiring tale of motherhood, mid-life, following your dreams and the addictive qualities of Diet Coke. Viv is taking a live version of the book to the Edinburgh Fringe in August and if you get a chance to see her perform, you’ll be witnessing one of the rising stars of British stand-up. Also, she’s one of the few people on the planet capable of recounting the entire history of feminism in rap form.

Viv_GroskopViv on creativity

“I know this is really pathetic but I am slightly embarrassed by the grandiosity of words like “creativity” and “muse”. And I generally take a step back from someone who defines themselves as an “artist”. Unless they are Salvador Dali. I think sometimes these terms can put people off making stuff up and getting the job done (which is all “creativity” really is). That said, I am going to say something truly and massively pretentious: the root of the word “creative” comes from the Latin “believe” (“creo”). And if you want to create anything – if you want to do anything at all, really — it helps if you believe in yourself and in what you are doing. Now please excuse me whilst I go and take a call on my lobster telephone.”

 Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early literary and comedy influences?

“I initially wanted to be a nurse. Then I wanted to be a teacher. But then around the age of six I started watching a lot of television and reading a lot of books and suddenly I wanted to perform or write. This is fortunate as I would have been an “angel of death” nurse and a “why are you so stupid?” teacher. There’s a whole section in I Laughed, I Cried about watching Doris Schwartz (Valerie Landsburg) in Fame. She was the geeky one who wasn’t pretty enough to be an actress so decided to become a stand-up. I was obsessed with her in the early 1980s. Doris downgraded from actress to stand-up. I downgraded from stand-up to writer. Because even writing seemed like an impossible thing for me to do. I really had no idea how to go about doing any of these things. Which is probably why it has taken me until the age of forty to start a lot of the stuff I should have started a long time ago.”

How long did it take to put together I Laughed, I Cried

“I had an impulse to do 100 gigs in 100 nights long before I decided that I wanted to write about it. And even after I had done it, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to put it out there as a story in a book. I had found myself in a strange and unique position in my mid thirties: I could change direction in my life if I wanted to (because I’m freelance as a writer) without completely up-ending my life. Once I realised that, I started to perform comedy because I did not have an excuse not to. My progress was agonisingly slow, though, because life was always getting in the way. I needed a push and a fixed time frame to push me up to 100 gigs. I didn’t want to feel that I had to write about it. And I didn’t know if I would want to write about it, especially if it failed and (spoiler alert) I didn’t get to the end of the 100 gigs. I got a deal to write the book (through a literary agent) about six months after I finished the 100 gigs and I wrote the book in the next nine months, based on extensive diaries I had written during the process.

I still don’t know if I should have written about it. As the book doesn’t make me across as (a) a very nice person or (b) a very good stand-up. In my defence it all happened in 2011 and I can pretend that was a very long time ago.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what is guaranteed to kill it?

“The internet both kills and inspires everything. I waste millions of hours on Twitter, Facebook and aimless Google searches. I had to go to a library with no Wifi in order to get the book finished. I’m always researching these “block-your-social-media” apps you can put on your computer. But I know it would be pointless as I get most of my ideas and my information from the internet as well as all the distraction and wasted time. I think it’s a pretty good trade-off, to be honest. I’m constantly collecting ideas and chasing stories without having any idea whether they will lead to anything. They might turn into a phrase in a joke or a magazine article or the germ of another book or an idea that I can pass on to someone else who could make something better out of it than I can.”

What do you do when you feel blocked creatively?

“I find that I get less blocked the more things I work on. I have a lot of things on the go at once and usually they require different skills. I do a lot of book reviewing and that means sorting through books and ideas and publication dates. I perform at a lot of events and that means rehearsing and memorising stuff. And I’m putting together the programme for next year’s Independent Bath Literature Festival which means coming up with original and exciting ideas and getting people together who don’t necessarily want to leave their room. If I’m not making much progress in one area, I just move to another for a while. By the time I get back to what I started on, I can see it with fresh eyes. (Also I pay for childcare by the hour and this is extremely motivating.)”

Is there a collaborative element to your work or do you prefer to work alone?

“I hated working with other people for many years. I nearly killed people when I worked in magazine and newspaper offices in my mid twenties. I am a born freelancer. In recent years, though, I’ve changed. I am marginally less childish and more curious. I love performing improv and that has really changed how I relate to other people. In improv you have to say “yes, and…” to everything. You can’t block the other person or shout them down or contradict their ideas. (Which would be my natural inclination in most situations. Like I said, I am a really nice person.) After about three years of performing improv, I find that I am genuinely interested in what other people think, often especially if I disagree with them.”

Please talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to create…

Viv Groskop workspace“I do most of my writing on a MacBook Air sitting on my bed or at the kitchen table. I lost my “office” to a child’s room a long time ago. There is no such thing as an ideal writing environment and seeking it out only wastes time which you could use to write. I write on the Notes function on my phone. I write on receipts. I have written on train tickets, on my hand and on toilet paper (Soviet toilet paper is particularly effective). If you have a good idea or a turn of phrase, write it down and put it somewhere. It might come in handy. (Also, you might lose it. But that doesn’t matter. If it’s really important, it will find a way back to you.) Maybe I would be a better writer if I had the perfect room or silence or many more hours of childcare paid for by a wealthy benefactor. But things are how they are and you have to work around them. If you waited for the ideal conditions, you wouldn’t do anything at all.”

Do you have a daily routine when you are writing? 

“I don’t really believe in routine. When you have the chance to work, work. I do find that if I can get up really early, I can get loads done in the hours before anyone else is awake and before there is much going on internet-wise. Sadly, I am hopeless at getting up early so this is not a great solution.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity? 

“Being a parent really changed everything for me and made me much more proactive and efficient at everything. It’s partly the practical side of things: if you’re going to pay someone else to look after your kids so that you can work, then you had better bloody well do some work. But it’s partly a more nebulous, kick-ass thing. I began to think, “You brought these children into the world. You better show them what it’s like to live life to the full. Otherwise what’s the point?” I am still reticent about a lot of things and scared of a lot of things. But having children has meant that I really care a lot less about the things that don’t matter. (Like what “other people” think about you — who are they anyway?) Without my children and my husband, I would never have done stand-up, I would never have discovered improv and I would be some kind of weird, alcoholic, depressed and repressed hack from hell. Having a miscarriage between my second and third child was probably the best thing that ever happened to me: it made me realise that life is short and precious and you’re not in control of anything.”

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process and tell us about it. 

Viv Groskops fish“This is an “articulated fish” which belonged to my grandma, Vera. She made a real point of referring to it as an “articulated fish”. (Its scales actually move so that it wiggles when you touch it.) There was a vogue for them in the 1970s and my grandma used to wear one on a long pendant over a stripy boatneck sweater with nylon “slacks”. I always associate it with her. She had an incredible enthusiasm for life and was a real one for just keeping going no matter what. I don’t wear it all the time but sometimes I put it on just so that I can feel like I’ve got a bit of her about me. It’s not magic but it’s nice and wiggly and sometimes you just need a bit of a wiggle.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master? 

“I love acting, I love clowning, I love singing, I love trying to find out about what makes audiences fall under the spell of what’s happening in front of them. I used to play the piano as a child and I miss that. If I could start all over again there’s so much I would do. I would train my voice. I’d learn to do accents properly. I would go to RADA, darling. Instead I read a lot of books about the Meisner technique (it’s an acting thing, a bit like method acting) and I’m a member of the Actors’ Centre. I occasionally go to auditions for roles which require “plus size” ladies. (I’m not joking, it’s a whole genre. I almost got a really big role for a diabetes medication commercial.)”

What are you working on next?

“I’ve got a work-in-progress show of the book, I Laughed, I Cried, at the Funny Women Pop-Up Fringe in Edinburgh on August 18 and 19. I still haven’t worked out if there’s a way of talking about stand-up in the context of a comedy show. I guess I’ll find out on those two nights. We’re also taking Upstairs Downton: The Improvised Episode to The Hive at Edinburgh with Heroes of the Free Fringe. It’s a Downton Abbey spoof in full period costume. All the people in it are amazing and come up with the most extraordinary things. It’s going to be the most fun. In the autumn I’ve got more shows based on the book across the UK. And there’s the small matter of about 180 events to put together for the Independent Bath Literature Festival 2014. I’d better get in some extra Diet Coke.”

I laughed I cried cover Viv Groskop’s book I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took on Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life is out now published by Orion. You can follow Viv on Twitter, Facebook or visit her website. You can book tickets to see I Laughed, I Cried in Edinburgh 18 and 19 August: 10.40pm or to see Upstairs Downton in Edinburgh, 1-25 August, 5pm at The Hive, click here

 

Artist Sandra Turnbull: Sense and Sensuality

Catching The Comet'sTailThis week, Catching the Comet’s Tail hosts artist Sandra Turnbull.  A group show,”I Love You Because,” featuring 40 artist’s interpretations of Elvis, opens next week in London and includes Turnbull’s work. Prior to becoming an artist, Sandra co-managed the band Eurythmics and, after many years of nurturing the creativity of others, she has finally come to honour her own talents. A disclaimer: Sandra introduced me to my husband and once painted a picture of my bottom; two things I am immensely happy about. Check out this website to see the full scope of Turnbull’s vivid, sensual work.

Sandra Turnbull

Photo of Sandra Turnbull by Robert Goldstein

Sandra on creativity…

“My creativity  usually resides in my guts but it changes. When I was working on All About Eve, an exhibition about girls who work in the sex industry, it was in my gut and my nether regions!  My current body of work, The Buddhas, is in my heart and soul.

I reckon I channel. Thoughts come from… who knows where?  The muse visits me in surprising ways; in my sleep it leaves an imprint of an idea to paint. I wake with a vivid colour  and often a finished painting  just floating behind my eyes. After the idea, I look for a model to make it real. My best friend Jay has a great body and has made many appearances  in my work. My mate Jane also  crept into  several early water paintings. My partner Robert [Goldstein, ph0tographer] has a striking face, perfect to paint.  I don’t take too much credit for what I do. I put in the experiences, then some divine force charges through me and spews out images – it’s a compulsion – I don’t have a choice.

‘A Painting is never finished, it just stops in interesting places,’ my Godson Mickey said to me  a few years ago and I wrote it on the wall of my studio in black felt tip as an inspiration . My creative process has no censorship .

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early artistic influences?

“I was sent to dancing school most days from 2 years old. My parents didn’t know what to do with all my energy and dancing  became an obsession .  I ran away from home at 16 to join a dance troupe and that became my life. When I gave up  professional dancing,  I took up painting to fill the  creative void .  It was at this time that Hyper Kinetics was born and I became  one half of the management team for Eurythmics.  My dad, Annie Lennox, Joan Rhodes, Picasso, Robert Goldstein, all made me think I could do anything, either by example or by encouragement. So if I had a creative idea, I just went right out and made it happen.”

Please describe how  you put together the piece for the Elvis exhibition and say a little about solo projects you’re currently developing.

“The curator Harry Pye asked me to get involved with the Elvis show in early 201.3 I threw myself at it and finished the piece in March. It is almost as I envisaged it . That’s how it works for me . I conjure up a colour  get the ground prepared and then imagine what the finished painting looks like and go from there. In parallel,  I am working on the Buddha Series so I could only see Elvis as a Buddha, crossed-legged with the American flag pressing through his face. I loved painting Elvis. It made such a change from the Buddhas.  Before I paint, I do lots of visual research so I looked at every photo ever taken of Elvis and a lot of his impersonators… How do they get away with it ?!

Good Luck Buddha

One of Sandra’s Buddha Series

“I went to China in 2010 and came back needing to paint Buddhas. I was surprised how Buddhism is treated like superstition. Catholicism is the new religion there, crosses have replaced the Buddhas. I have painted 23 or 24 Buddhas. I sold a few and now I make prints and sell those so I can save the originals for a show next year.  I have another idea on the go too; Cut and Paste  which involves a central life-size image, surrounded by  collage. I am now obsessed with collecting magazines and own 10 pairs of scissors in all sizes… it’s my Blue Peter moment.”

How do you know when a painting is finished?

“I can kiss the lips of my painting – that’s when I know it’s finished. Weird I know, but it’s a fact. ”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what is guaranteed to kill it?

“I am inspired by vivid colour, sexy bodies, music, wide open spaces, depression, dreaming, and I’m uninspired by tiredness, idiots and anger.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore and what do you do when you feel blocked?

“I have never felt painting is a chore, thank God . A challenge yes, often, but that’s half the fun .

If I am ever blocked I paint pictures on boxes. My friends save boxes for me;  chocolate…shoe…biscuit…soap… any old box, large or small,  and I paint naked people on them … that usually gets the juices flowing and opens a few portals.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work or do you prefer to create alone?

“I work alone, I’m not keen on input. Robert might make a suggestion for a painting and I kindly suggest he might like to do that himself. I have been know to take the odd title he suggests for a piece of work though 🙂

Sandra Turnbull StudioPlease talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to create. 

“I have my studio at The Chocolate Factory N22 and have been there since 1999. I only paint there and it is my favourite place (see left).

My  heavenly studio is set up so I can walk in and not even bother to take my coat off and start painting . I’m usually working on 2 or 3 pieces at the same time so, whichever grabs me first, I start. It’s compulsive behaviour. Sometimes I am so into it that I forget to put music on. Other times I walk in, put a track on, start painting and play the same track on repeat all day. Sometimes I cry to the music I am playing and that affects the work. I eat a lot of crisps when I’m working. ”

Do you have a daily routine when you are painting and what is it like?  

I’m a daytime creator.  I plan my diary so I have carved out times to paint. I switch on during the drive to my studio.  My life is like an army manoeuver: I teach pilates full time, I’m a governor at a local special school, I train in marshall arts, yoga and weights, and this is apart from relationships and responsibilities with the home, family and friends. I have to plan or  it would all go pear-shaped very quickly.

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process…

Sandra Turnbull TalismanHere are three objects (see right):

1. My iphone doc…music is a driving force.

2. The palette of Joan Rhodes. Joan was the first person to encourage me to paint . She just said ,’Do It Sandra, put your work on the wall.’

3. The saying of Tom Waites: ‘You must risk something that matters’ – how true.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master? 

“Acting … I love acting . I did a course through Central St Martins in London and then a performance  at The Old Red Lion last year and, by all accounts, I was very good .  It was completely exhilarating and I will definitely do it again.”

 What are you working on next?

Buddhas – lots of them.

ElBuddha

ElBuddha by Sandra Turnbull

“I Love You Because”, a group show featuring 40 artists interpretations of Elvis curated by Harry Pye and Chloe Mortimer opens with a Private View on July 18th 6.30pm – 9pm at the A-Side B-Side Gallery, 5 to 9 Amhurst Terrace, London E8 2BT (The gallery is open Thurs to Sun, 12 till 6pm).

To find out more about Sandra, please visit her website, follow her on Twitter or check out her Facebook Page.

Musician Amanda Palmer: Spontaneous Intimacy

This week’s Catching the Comet’s Tail interview features musician, artist, and all-round creative maverick Amanda Palmer who is currently in the UK with her band Grand Theft Orchestra. You may know Amanda from her inspiring TED talk on The Art of Asking and if you want to hear a song about relationships that will bring you to your knees, check out The Bed Song. Amanda’s latest album ‘Theatre is Evil’, is available now.

Amanda Palmer

Amanda photo by Tracy Graham

Amanda on creativity… do you have a muse?

“I find it incredibly hard to be disciplined when there’s not an immediate reward in the form of a connection. Blogging and tweeting have contributed to the death of my songwriting, because I can present the same images and ideas that I used to squeeze into songwriting into immediately presentable images for an immediate crowd. My desire for spontaneous intimacy and instant gratification is the muse itself. I’m in the process of trying to figure out how to turn that driving desire back into art now that I’ve become a full-time comminucation-holic. If I had to name the part of my body which contains the art-making fire, it’s in the touch of the hand of another person. I feel most inspired when I feel the most connected.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who or what were your early creative influences?

“I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to grow up to be an art-maker of some sort. It was there at the beginning.My creative adventures were absolutely encouraged even if they weren’t understood. My household was very literal: my mother was a computer programmer, and my step-father was a physicist. The only time the family stereo was played was at Christmas.

My sister and I created worlds of sound behind our bedroom doors. She cranked Rush and U2 and Guns N’ Roses and tried to learn drums and I listened to The Beatles, The Legendary Pink Dots and Nick Cave and fiddled with my four-track. Learning about metaphor was what I craved; I felt very isolated at home and at school and tended to gravitate towards anything that looked artistic, different, outside. I still feel like the people who influenced me most weren’t the ones who taught me the craft of making art, but those who taught me the art of being human. The craft of songwriting mostly came to me through records and tapes, copying, listening, attempting. My college years were infamously dark, and I stopped writing for the entire four years, but I was lucky enough to be exposed to some wonderful things; German culture (where I lived for a year) experimental music and performance art (I’d never heard of Robert Wilson before college) and an expansion of the idea of art itself.”

How long did it take to write Theatre is Evil? Can you recall the first spark of inspiration and is the finished work what you originally envisioned? 

“Every time I make a record, I look at the collection of songs in my drawers that I haven’t recorded yet. Most had been written within the past few years, but some were ten years old (like Berlin, I wrote when I was in my mid-twenties). I’ve never attacked the making of a record as a single project in itself (with the exception of Evelyn Evelyn, which was a start-to-finish concept record). I usually look at the making of a record as a bucket landmark into which I dump everything I’m currently doing. And when I look at the pile of songs that are going to land in the bucket, it dictates a series of choices. Band or no band? What kind of tour? How to put it out and promote it? Every single one has a different path, and I don’t plan it ahead of time, I chase after it.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity, no matter what? And what, if anything, is guaranteed to kill it?

“Being in front of people inspires me to want to make things for them. If I’m in isolation for too long, I forget the purpose of making art, which is (for me) to share it. Usually, when I haven’t written music in a long time, it’s a show or event that will kick my ass into writing, because I’ll be inspired by the idea that I can immediately share the work. I make fast, and I share fast, and that’s the way I’ve always liked it. Long projects with delayed gratification are harder for me. I don’t like to perfect. I don’t like to wait. But I’ve also tried to harness that as a power, not a weakness.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore?

“Creating things is ALWAYS a chore. I’ve always been terribly undisciplined at finishing things, ever since I was fourteen and started writing songs. And the songwriters and book-writers that I know will usually agree with this: work is work. Work is not fun. That’s why it’s work. I love having written. I love the feeling of having created something great. And I’ll often even love the high of penning a good lyric and tapping into the kind of creative mood where the chords and words flow easily and it doesn’t feel difficult. But getting my ass in the chair has NEVER been easy. That’s why having deadlines, constructs, albums, and demands from the outside is good for me. That forces me to sit and focus.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work? 

“Collaboration depends on the project. When I’m writing the structure and lyrics of a personal song, I have no desire to collaborate. Not with another songwriter, not with the band, not with an arranger, nothing. But once the skeleton is locked, I’m very happy to collaborate and give the skeleton a new wrap of flesh or a new gender. As long as the internal structure keeps its integrity. Making the Evelyn Evelyn record with Jason Webley was a fantastic departure for me, because we literally penned the songs sitting side by side, discussing changes, lyrics, ideas, lengths, and the sorts of things I usually never share with another brain. It was really enjoyable.

When I was making Theatre is Evil, I brought the songs as solo piano tunes to the band (Michael, Chad and Jherek) first, and we worked out the arrangements for all their instruments over a long series of rehearsals and shows. Chad would program a synth sound and I would tweak it. Michael would try out a drum rhythm and Jherek would move it to the left or right. Everybody weighed in on the sounds and feel of the instruments. This was something I would have found almost impossible to sit through ten years ago. The nature of my songs is so personal that I used to feel the need to control every single detail of the presentation. Now I don’t feel as attached to a song once I’ve written it, and I can hold it at arms length and view it as a malleable piece of art. But it took me years to get to that place.”

Please provide a photograph of and talk a bit about the environment you most like be in to create… do you prefer the city or the countryside?

“The Dresden Dolls went to the Catskill mountains to track our second record, and I have never been quite so freaked out as I was that week. The isolation of being on a mountain in the woods brought up something very dark and lonely for me. I woke up early every morning just so I could drive 45 minutes to Woodstock in order to sit in a cafe listening to sounds of humanity, just so I wouldn’t go crazy for the rest of the day. Everyone else was happy as a clam to be in a nice, isolated retreat spot. I just wanted to escape. I think I thrive on the energy of humanity and when I detached from the sounds of life, I wither. I was like that as a child, as well. I split my time as a kid between the quiet, woodland suburbs of Boston with my mom and my dad’s Manhattan apartment.

Amanda Palmer writing space

In the suburbs, I had terrible insomnia and couldn’t sleep because the silence terrified me. In the city, with the window open next to my bed and the sounds of traffic and sirens and yelling floating in through the window, I felt utterly calm and at peace. That being said, I like going to the countryside to recharge and think, and some of my best song ideas have grown out of retreats to the wilderness. But for actual living and working, the city wins. I also have a very hard time with cold weather. I avoid it like the plague, because it just ensaddens me and drains my will to live.

Here’s a photo (see right) of a tomb in a graveyard near the house I grew up in. I went there before visiting my parents for their birthdays, took my ukulele, and tried to write.”

Do you have a daily routine around your creative process?  

“I’m much more of a mid-afternoon and evening person when it comes to creating. Late nights my brain tends to be very fried. My best ideas often slide in upon waking and I make sure I have a paper and pen by the bed at all times to catch stray thoughts and lyrics. But in general, I have no routine at all. I try to carve out time when as song hits, knowing that my ability to be disciplined is going to mean the difference between the song either being born or vanishing.”

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process and tell us about it. Perhaps you have a talisman of some kind that connects to your work? 

Amanda Palmer lucky note“I lose things so easily that I can’t have a talisman. Objects of sentimentality tend to only cause me pain in their loss. But I do like this piece of paper I keep taped above the piano in my apartment. (See below right). It was mailed to me from one of my best friends after he went off to college and I was still in high school. We’d had long rambling talks about discipline and writing and frustration earlier that summer. And he mailed me a letter that was just a white piece of paper with a single line written on it, in white pen that said:

“Amanda, it is saturday morning, and I find myself wondering: are you composing a song or having a bite to eat? Joshua”

He’s now a tenured professor of philosophy at Yale. He didn’t bother with eating. I did.”

Which other creative art form outside the ones you are known for do you wish you could master or do more of?

“I’m not a bad visual artist and I sometimes wish I’d spent more time synthesizing my own artwork into my album art. I may start doing that more.

For the album Kickstarter, one of the backer levels was called “I Sharpie You”. I’d already been playing a game with the fans where they’d upload a black and white photo of themselves and I’d pick a random one, draw it in sharpie within 15 minutes and upload it back to them. About six people ordered this level on Kickstarter and the results were beautiful. I really loved being able to draw people and turn on that part of my brain. So I may spend more time refining my drawing-hand. I’d also love to learn how to play the piano for real. I’ve been meaning to do that for YEARS.”

Please tell us a bit about the upcoming UK live shows and say which environment inspires you more, the studio or the stage?

“They’re both inspiring in different ways. The studio is all about blocking out the outside world and focusing focusing focusing on the songs and the sounds with a microscope.

This tour we’re about to embark on is a postponed tour – it was supposed to happen in the spring but I wound up cancelling it because a friend of mine stateside got sick with cancer and I wanted to be with him during treatment. The last tour we were on, right after the album came out, evolved over the course of a few months and we started with a lot of bells and whistles that we gradually dropped because they were either too expensive, too cumbersome, or just plain unnecessary. By the time we got to the last leg of our last tour, we were extremely tight as a band and pretty much taking the stage with no frills, screaming and wailing with a minimum of distractions. The stage is a good place for me, I feel totally comfortable up there. But I also tend to overdo it and exhaust my reserves pretty quickly. After thirteen years of touring, you’d think I’d figure out how to pace myself, but I’m an idiot that way.”

What are you working on next?

“I can honestly say, and it’s sort of overwhelmingly wonderful, that I don’t know what I’m doing next. I have missed working on theater, and I may turn back to my roots and work on some theatrical projects. I miss that world. I’m also very interested to see where my songwriting takes me and I think I’m going to follow it instead of force it. I’ve been writing less and less songs over the years and I’m not sure if that’s a sign that I need to kick up the discipline or let go of the notion that this is the main way I make art. I may just rent a little flat in Camden, close enough to a good cafe and bar, and see what happens. Maybe sitting and waiting for something to appear is the best path when you’ve spent too many years running with two suitcases in each hand…”

Theatre is EvilTheatre is Evil is available now on Amanda’s website. You can follow Amanda on Twitter or check our her Facebook Page.  European tour tickets including July 12th at London’s Roundhouse are on sale here. Go, go go!

Let’s Get Naked

Sara Bran Running Free

I’m totally about to run naked and free… honest.

Let’s get naked.

These words, at one time, would not have caused me too much fuss. I have lived in California baby, oh yes, and experienced my fair share of communal hot tubs. (The story of the hot tub, the floating cucumber and the Elvis glasses is a whole other blog post). But these days, the way I feel about getting naked or even wearing a swim suit is quite similar to how I would feel if someone offered me some pins to stick in my eyes.

When, oh when did this happen?  Okay, so I resemble a clove-pitted ham in my M&S briefs, but I call myself a feminist for flip’s sake. Moi sans clothing just ain’t what it used to be, but mind you, nor is Radio One. Why aren’t I walking my big fat talk? My own poor sense of body image irritates the hell out of me, so I have been in search of a remedy for a condition I call Noddy Horror.

As a result of my extensive research, I can offer the following to you, my fellow dreader-of-the-beach:

1. Be honest, do you really want to work that hard?

It has been good to realise that most of my friends who look holy-moly-awesome-fab in the body department work hard at it. Like, really hard. Like, more than I would ever want to work hard at anything except perhaps my marriage to Ryan Gosling. They have also not had children, and are wealthy or time rich, or both.  They prioritise fitness, I prioritise observing the fitness of others (mainly the male tennis players at Wimbledon).

2. Make a note of the practical benefits

I now consider it useful that I can keep spare change in the cavernous crevices of my cellulite. I for one will never find myself without £1 for the parking meter, no siree!  Also, if I am on a large ship and we hit an iceberg and are plunged into unforgiving freezing waters, I’m far more likely to survive due to my padding. Also, my breasts will totes help me float. Others may even be able to use me as some sort of raft thus making me actually quite heroic.

3. Get some perspective

I have stopped looking at magazines/TV/adverts that suggest I need to ‘get my beach body ready’ and begun to appreciate the fact that I have two arms, two legs and a functioning brain. Seriously, what right do I have to bemoan my wibbles when I a) can’t be arsed to do more than a paltry sun salute every now and then and b) am lucky enough to still have all my bits and wits?

4. Take a look at the real people

The greatest antidote to Noddy Horror is to go to your local swimming pool and take a look around, take a long, cold, hard look around. See the normal people? See the pitted, chthonian, Jabba-mass of humanity and remember, it’s not us, it’s them. It’s the freak show going on in the halls of Conde Nast that is ugly; them with their airbrushes and their banquets of lettuce, cocaine and Camel Lights.

So, you know, let’s run free, run naked, let’s let it all hang out this summer people.  Please don’t leave me alone in this or I’ll be arrested.

20 Things I Want My Teenage Daughter to Know – Notes From a Menopausal Mum

Reblogging this today…just because I can 🙂

Sara Bran

1.Choose a personal theme tune early on and stick with it. This is extremely useful for the cinematic enhancement of dramatic life moments such as break-ups, anniversaries and celebrations. It will also provide comfort during time spent on runways waiting for Easy Jet flights to take off (approx. 98 hours in the average lifetime),  childbirth and terrible sex. My theme tune for example, is Saturday Night Fever and when my daughters were born, there was only wah-wah guitar in my head. That and the vision John Travolta’s white nylon-clad buttocks. But that’s Pethidine for you.

2. Enjoy those perky nugga nuggas. One day you will be able to tune into Radio 4 with them.

3. Laugh often. Some day this will be accompanied by small amounts of wee.

4. Whereas I could floss my teeth with your underwear, you could raise a small family of baboons in mine.

5. When…

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Tribal Motherhood: The Day I Realised I am a Wanker Mum

Campervan

Organic Camper Van Mum Tribe: Fully Paid Member

The playground is the most tribal place I have ever been, and I’m not talking about the children. The first time you enter a school yard as an adult, you may feel naked and small all over again just like you did as a child. Perhaps, like me, you will come over all foetal and experience flashbacks,  huddling up on a bench, hiding and snotting yourself into the nylon sleeve of a kindly dinner lady while Goliath-sized boys play football two inches from your face.

The thing we don’t anticipate about school when we become parents is that we have to learn, all over again, how to navigate the disorienting waters of playground politics, staffroom statesmanship and results-oriented hysteria. But here’s the thing; it is all much easier if you are part of a clique team. Therefore, all parents are advised to find a playground tribe. These are parents paddling the same kind of canoe in roughly the same direction on vaguely the same river as you.

After a few weeks in the playground, you will start to notice other parents who clearly drink the same amount of caffeine and who are in a similar state of disarray/grooming as you. This is the first sign that they may be a kindred soul. An affinity will develop. You will start to chat and find that you share the same thoughts on what time it is ok to have a V&T (7pm if you must know) and you will begin to rely on each other for support and practical help. Others will join and you will feel that you have found a kind of tribe bonded by shared experience, this journey with your children that lasts for years. It is only in retrospect you will learn that it is more akin to being on a submarine with a bunch of people who, like you, are ever-so-slightly doomed to never resurface. Nevertheless, if you find a parental tribe, however small, cling to them, cling to them like badly flipped pancakes on a suburban kitchen ceiling.

There is an assumed ‘tribe of motherhood’, but actually, there are so many variations, interpretations and individual experiences of bringing children into and up in the world, that giving birth in itself is not a unifying experience. Perhaps the huge disparity between mothering styles and expectations is one of the reasons we still command so little political power. Nowhere are the differences between us more apparent than the playground, the first place you see a lot of mothers in one place after the labour ward if, like me, you studiously avoided hell ‘mother/toddler’ groups.

Hovering near the limescale-ridden playground drinks fountain which acts as an equivalent of the water-cooler at work, you can get a sense of the extraordinary scope of mum tribes. Like a binocularless playground twitcher, you’ll catch sightings of No Stains Mums (aka. OCD mums), Rock n‘ Roll Mums (who miraculously still seem to go out in the evenings), Overly-Attached Mums (child wrapped around each leg, usually on the verge of tears), No Boundaries Mums (their children wrapped around other people’s legs, other people in tears), Organic Camper Van Mums  (weirdly calm – possibly on valium), Perpetually More Exhausted Than Anyone Else Mums (husbands do even less than yours),  On the Verge Mums (their volcanic anger festers like an abscess) and the scariest of all, The Four Mothers of the Apocalypse aka Judgmental Mums (these are the ones you bump into just as you give your child a blue ice cream as a bribe to stop them shouting “cock” at everyone).  You won’t even catch a glimpse of the Mysterious Mums except at the Christmas fair. Sighting of these mothers is rare; they’re like endangered and magnificent snow leopards. They not only work full-time, but are statistically likely to still be doing more housework than their partners.  The list of parent tribes is endless and this doesn’t even include the religious, gender-based and cultural subsets such as Freelance Meedyah Dads, Vicar Flirts and The Women of the Sad Eyes whose  private histories are hidden beneath their many skirts.

I thought I vacillated between the Camper Van and On the Verge tribes until one day,  I realised I am part of a whole other mummy tribe…

It was a beautiful autumn morning; a gorgeous low sun filtered through the trees of my local park where I was walking. The occasional horse chestnut descended into the leaves with a thud, cobwebs glistened, busy London squirrels made winter plans. A pregnant friend called me on my mobile. She was having a serious wobble about the huge life-change ahead of her. “I mean…” she sobbed down the phone. “I mean, I just can’t bear to become one of those middle-class wanker mums pushing their baby around the park in a Bugaboo wearing Birkenstocks, sipping lattes and spending all day pureeing organic vegetables. I mean… I just can’t bear it.”

“Er…no… that won’t happen to you, you’ll be fine,” I said reassuringly, looking down at my powder-blue Birkenstocks. I dropped my mobile back into my handbag which dangled off the handles of an orange Bugaboo, a monstrous four-wheel-drive type of pram that cost more than our car (it was a gift I might add).  I decided not to pop into Gail’s for a latte after all. Instead, I pulled an organic apple from my ‘I Love Kensal Rise’ reusable shopping bag and crunched into it ruefully. So that’s it, I thought, I am a Wanker Mum.

Musician KT Tunstall: Desert Boots

Catching The Comet'sTailI am delighted to welcome singer/songwriter KT Tunstall to Catching the Comet’s Tail. KT’s new album, Invisible Empire// Crescent Moon, is as haunting and plaintive a record as you’ll ever hear, capturing a unique time in the singer’s life. Recorded over twenty days in the middle of the Arizona desert, Invisible Empire is musically stripped down, as emotionally raw and vast as the landscape which spawned it. Yep, it’s a good one, perhaps even her best yet.

KT on creativity… 

KT Tunstall Portrait“I’ve mostly felt like a conduit for songs, although that has shifted on  Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon. It has presented a new process of deeper personal expression which feels much more internal this time.

I’ve always called myself a ‘lightning bolt’ writer. The idea comes very quickly and strongly. I can’t schedule when to write, it pretty much comes when it chooses. I do have muses, often they inspire more than one song.

If I had to choose a physical place where my creativity resides, I’ve always had a sensation that it is about 4 feet above my head, moving past at great speed, like a wispy river.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early creative influences?

“I had pretty free reign as a child to try whatever I wanted, as long as I promised to put some effort in. No-one else in my family was inclined towards playing instruments or performing, so I was the black sheep. I asked for a piano at age 4, and took up stage acting at 8. I was a tap-dancer, played classical flute also, and always loved art. Music and creative writing always felt like a world I belonged to from when I was very small. Music in particular felt like a language I understood.

I wanted to be an actress from the age of 8, but as soon as I taught myself guitar and started song-writing at 15, I became much more interested in writing my own material and being in charge of my own path.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t dreaming of living a life based around creating and performing. I wasn’t into listening to music until into my mid teens, but when I was small I loved the Sesame Street and Muppet Show music which I still think is exceptional. I was also a big fan of Roald Dhal and Dr Seuss, and still am.”

How long have you been working on your current album and can you recall the first spark of inspiration and is the finished work what you first envisioned? If the original concept has changed, in what ways? How do you know when a record is finished?

“My new album took 20 days to record in 2012; 10 days in April, and 10 days in November/December. It was all recorded in live takes to old reel-to-reel tape in Tucson, Arizona. It was heavily inspired by meeting and working with Howe Gelb, frontman of the band Giant Sand, who produced the album with me. His invitation to go out to the desert started the creative process. Being there shaped it greatly also. He has a great maverick attitude to life in general which permeated the music. There was no great album vision, just a desire to make simple, rich recordings of live performances, drawing out as much emotion as possible.

I was also inspired by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins’ gorgeous album Diamond Mine. It’s a stunning record, and renewed my love of, and faith in, beauty and simplicity.

I am fascinated by the notion of ‘finishing’ creative work. The only way I can describe it is that you just somehow know in your belly. I always feel a bump of excitement when I feel the realisation that something is finished. I asked a German artist friend of mine, Jonas Burgert, the same thing as he makes huge, very intricate work. He said the same; ‘you just know’.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity, no matter what and what, if anything, is guaranteed to kill it?

“Landscape and travel have always been a great creative catalysts for me.

As for killing it, being around people and cities all the time. I need space and time to myself to write. And someone attempting to tell me what to do is never helpful.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore? What do you do when you feel blocked creatively?

“Creating is always pretty thrilling for me, but I only ever attempt it when I’m feeling inspired. I think if I had to write to timetable, I’d go off it pretty quickly. Making something where there was nothing feels like a wonderful, alchemical process for me. If it felt like a chore, I’d have to assume that whatever I was making wasn’t worth it. I do believe that the nature of the spirit and energy used to make something remains part of it.

I’ve never felt ‘blocked’ as such, I have just had to wait longer at times for new material to arrive. If nothing is coming, I leave it until it does. The longest I go without writing is when I’m I tour, so it can be months at a time. But often that long break leads to a concentrated output of work; I wrote the first half of the new album, probably 8 or 9 songs in total, in two months after a long period of not writing.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work? Please say something about how you involve others in your creative process  or do you prefer to work alone?

“If I had to choose, I would write alone. I don’t feel as able to replicate the deeper relationship I have with work that is 100% my own when it comes to collaborative work. I didn’t write with anyone else for 10 years, and when I first moved to London my publisher asked me to try out co-writing. A lot of it was soulless and depressing, but I did develop two or three really cherished partnerships with writers that I love and trust, so anything I do with them I know will be great quality in my mind. I find collaborating useful if I am in a lazy phase, it often kick-starts my creative brain again.”

Please talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to create. 

“Most importantly, I like to be alone. I usually write at home. I need it to be quiet, so seclusion is definitely key.

My favourite writing situation would be a great view of the sea, or empty landscape, or being able to see the stars at night. I imagine a little house perched on top of an inaccessible cliff…bliss.

There is a particular table at The Wolseley, a posh restaurant in London, which I love sitting at on my own and writing in my journal. I feel like I’m watching a Peter Greenaway film and can sit there for hours.”

Do you have a daily routine when you are creating a project? 

“I’m not a fan of routine. It’s taken me a long time to respect my process, and realise when it is happening that it is important and deserves space and time, rather than feeling like I’m just dicking about and could be doing something more useful. These days, I allow myself time, and a lot of tea! I relax into it, let myself drift, and don’t get worried if things don’t get finished in one go.

I used to mostly write late at night as there’s no disturbance, but I am much more of a daytime writer now. I still occasionally have to get out of bed in the dark if I have a really good melody and lyric idea as I never remember music the next morning.”

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process and tell us about it.

KT Tunstall's Boots“Every time I release an album, I have a main pair of shoes that I will wear to play that music in. I find that it makes a real difference to how I feel when I play, what I wear on my feet. I stamp a lot, and use my feet with my equipment. I remember once needing to change my shoes on stage about 4 songs into my gig because I was so aware that I wasn’t wearing the right ones.

This is the first album where I’ve engaged fully with using image to express myself. It’s been an important step forward for me, feeling that the imagery is meaningful to the same degree as the music. In the past it has always been secondary. These are the boots that will see me through this new album.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master or have you mastered another that we don’t know about yet?

“I am writing a film script at the moment which I’m enjoying as much as song-writing. I’ve always enjoyed visual lyrics, so script writing takes me right into the heart of that.”

Please say as much or as little as you’d like about your next project and the stage you are at with it.

“It’s an animated film script which myself and my friend and collaborator Jim Abbiss have concocted. It started as a music project, which then became a soundtrack. We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now and have just finished the first draft, so we’re excited to move on to the next stage of seeing it become a reality.

Although we’re having so much fun writing it, we don’t actually want to finish it…”

Invisible Empire/Crescent MoonKT’s new album Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon is out now. You can follow KT on Twitter, find her on Facebook or check out her website here.