I was born feet first at midnight with a caul which was said to indicate a child of mystery and magic, A puny miserable lactose intolerant creature I spent the first year of my life in hospital, puking and unable to thrive.
My mother had a wonderful statuesque figure and after selling her rings to pay bills decided to be a nude photographer’s model in order to be able to keep me alive. As I reached twelve months, she was told to take me home as they did not believe I would survive. She met a woman on the steps of the hospital who recommended unpasteurized donkey’s milk and that turned out to be the nectar of life for me.
Like many children of the 50s, we ate dinner plus a pudding. And my Mom was a good wholesome yummy cook. Macaroni cheese, cottage pie, French toast and syrup, white bread with butter and apricot jam and peanut butter. Rice pudding, trifles, ice cream and chocolate sauce. A starch. a protein and a veg then pudding and lots of full cream milk to drink.
We were fairly active and played outside, as well as cards and board games, drawing and painting. We also did cultural activities and had weekend drives and generally a good family life with mom, dad three siblings and a bunch of assorted pets.
A shilling a week provided for sweets on a Friday at the local café. Penny chocolates were my personal favourite. Everything went well up until my 13th Birthday when I was sent away to boarding school.
I thought it was going to be a great adventure but loathed every second of it. The restrictions and rules and the emotional trauma, which took place around leaving my family.
So I filled the empty spaces in my heart with Romany creams and gained 15 kg in one term. During a three month period, I became a little barrel on legs. In addition, my skin stretched suddenly and I had livid stretch marks on my breasts, stomach and thighs.
Although outwardly the comic and the card, inwardly I was deeply unhappy. Alas, the more I expanded the less visible and loveable I felt. I fell for a gorgeous Portuguese young man but it was unrequited and that made me feel even worse.
Sport was a nightmare as was the gym. Chafing thighs and plus I felt like a mammoth. A year later, my family moved to the area and I was released from prison but continued on through my teenage years being plump.
Around 15 when I left school, I started smoking and taking Nobese, a diet appetite suppressant and Veinoids to lose weight. And so began the see-saw and metabolism destroying journey of the next 30 years. Weight watchers, Weighless, the Dr Atkins diet revolution. Bran and yoghurt.
Yes, I did lose weight. I also fainted often and regained those same15kgs over and over again. I got married at 23 stopped smoking and entered a new phase of more-than- plump. My husband loved me and we were social. I worked hard in the beauty sales industry and we built a life and everything that goes with it.
My mom, my gran and my aunt came and co-lived with us and everything was hunky-dory. At 36 I fell pregnant with our first and only child. Fast forward with motherhood and a career and an extended family. I gradually got heavier year by year. I had already decided that was it, no more dieting. Thirty years followed with me holding onto my “baby fat”’ and eventually weighing in at just under 100kg which was way too heavy for a small163cm frame.
I moved to Cape Town, got divorced six years ago after 39 years and my former husband died three years ago. Had seven moves and then on my 64th Birthday, my new partner and I set a goal to lose ten kilos as an incentive to go on a cruise. The biggest loser would sponsor the other. Being competitive by nature, this turned out a grand idea.
I had also been to a seminar when I was 61 and set a five year ahead goal to reach a target 30 kilos or almost five stone lighter. We did a firewalk, which helped imprint this intention.
How did I lose this 30 kilos? First of all, I took a product called Wondernut that is an emetic. Because I had lost the same 15 kilos again and again. I started noticing my clothes were looser on me. I felt more energetic so I started walking every other day – 5,000 steps on my phone. As well as drinking warm lemon juice every day and consciously drinking more water.
I found that my sweet tooth started to go away. And I was eating three meals a day rather than snacking. That helped with weight loss and stabilised my moods. The latter was slow as I travel and socialise a lot.
A year later, I had lost ten kilos even with an erratic lifestyle. I feel so much more comfortable in my body.
After a few more months of losing weight, I went out and bought new clothes from exchange shops. At the end of 18 months, I could swap size 22 clothes for size 12 ones.
This was just fantastic. I started yoga and Body20, a modality with an electrode enhanced jacket that gives the equivalent to a five-hour work out in 20 minutes. I am a star pupil!
I just enjoy my life so much more. And my relationship with my body is so enhanced. No chafing thighs, no puddles under my breasts. I buy new underwear and feel so much sexier.
Have I changed as a person? Am I happier? Did I have body shame? No to all of those. I just feel healthier and better. I eat what I like without the devouring urge. Hurrah.
The end result is at 67, I am now 30 kilos lighter, exactly the amount, I wrote down in my forward vision. The new partner is no more, The body is lean and gorgeously toned. I have been at this weight for over a year now, I walk, hike, I love life and wear stylish clothes. I am fit and healthy. My inner being is now my outer JOY. For me, everyone is perfect just the way they are but for me, this does feel better.
Peter Harrison, 81, tells the story of how he and his wife, Vivien, 78, set up a fantastically successful series of classical music concerts. In their local village church. Sir Karl Jenkins, the classical composer is bringing the world premiere of his new work there on November 29th.
This is the story of an unexpected later-life vocation that has transformed my life. Alongside my wife Vivien, I am the co-founder of registered charity Grayshott Concerts, a classical music concert series established in 2004. I have no musical qualifications, but the sheer joy of sharing live classical music with others and creating a legacy for my community has culminated this year in bringing the world premiere of the new work by Sir Karl Jenkins, the world’s most-performed living composer, to a small village on the Hampshire-Surrey borders.
In 2003, our daughter married at our local village church, St Luke’s in Grayshott. We wanted a choir to perform during the service and lead the singing, not least as St Luke’s is a relatively large church and a big space to fill. I had been a chorister at school and university, and evidently had more important duties to perform on the day as the father of the bride, but we successfully recruited a host of singing locals and the ceremony was beautiful.
The following year, the church was appealing for funds and we rallied the same choir to put on a paid performance. The result? £3,500 raised for the church and much local acclaim which prompted people to ask us when the next concert would be, and so Grayshott Concerts was born.
The marketeer in me could see that there was clearly an appetite for high-quality classical performance in the very local area, but my musical knowledge and education are limited. I had sung in amateur choirs since my school days and have always enjoyed listening to classical music but have never played an instrument or performed myself, nor has my wife. We are however great believers in the power of positivity and take an “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” approach to most challenges.
Having decided to create an ongoing programme of classical concerts, we needed to find performers to fit the bill. As a starting point, Vivien and I compiled a wish list of our personal favourites. And then went about tracking them down to ask them to forego more familiar venues like the Royal Albert Hall to instead come and perform at our village church!
Amazingly, several of them said yes! Along came London Mozart Players, Chloe Hanslip, Howard Shelley, Tasmin Little, Alison Balsom, Nicola Benedetti, The Sixteen Choir and others. Sir Karl Jenkins had been on our list for some time, so when we learned that he would be visiting the area one particular weekend, we engineered a meeting where we could quickly tell him about our concerts and ask him to get involved.
He also said yes! In 2007 he became our Patron and since then we have commissioned him to write several works including The Healer: A Cantata for St Luke to celebrate our tenth anniversary in 2014. He has also composed a shorter piece for Shoshanah Sievers, a young and very talented local violinist that we have supported since the age of six with opportunities to give public performances.
From two performances that first year, the programme has grown to include five or six every year, and every event has been a sell-out. This has encouraged us to stage bigger concerts with major works including symphonies, oratorios and operas. We have also invested in staging and a permanent lighting rig and screen systems in the church. But of course, none of that comes cheap so, alongside the visible activity of promoting the concerts, Vivien and I have invested a huge amount of time in securing additional funding from individual and corporate sponsors and grants.
Unsurprisingly, by 2009 Grayshott Concerts was taking up so much of our time that we decided to wind up our business in order to concentrate fully on it. In 2011, Grayshott Concerts became a registered charity so we now work with a board of trustees, which has enabled us to benefit not only from a wider pool of volunteers to manage the programme but also claim tax benefits through Gift Aid. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to bring the local community of all ages more closely together through the joy of music.
We have invited children from the local primary school to sing at several concerts (including the Karl Jenkins compositions), and members of our house orchestra, the London Mozart Players, regularly visit the local care home to entertain residents in between rehearsals. We’ve also extended the social aspect of the concerts by adding on pre-concert suppers, hosted at a nearby restaurant which has always sponsored every event.
This year we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of Grayshott Concerts. Quite a milestone, and one that we are tremendously excited to be marking with the world premiere of Sir Karl’s newest work, Miserere: Songs of Mercy and Redemption, on 29th November. We have managed to recreate the exact line-up of performers featured on the newly-released CD including Polyphony Choir, Britten Sinfonia Orchestra, international counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, cellist Abel Selaocoe, former Royal Harpist Catrin Finch and percussionist Zands Duggan, conducted by Stephen Layton.
As with all of our concerts and events, it’s a sell-out – in fact, it’s our fastest selling performance to date with all tickets selling out in just two days. And that will take some beating.
Writer, Dominique Afacan and photographer, Helen Cathcart are both in their late 30s, in 2015 they launched the website be-bolder.com which featured inspiring people Over-70. Their mission is to change perceptions around growing older and they’ve spent the last few years interviewing funky, interesting Over-70s. Recently, they published a book – Bolder – Life Lessons from People Older & Wiser Than You.
So you and Helen are in your late 30s – how did you think of this idea re Bolder, your website?
The honest answer is that, despite our relatively young age, we were both scared of ageing. The message from society was that time was running out – we were constantly being reminded of our biological clocks, we were sold creams and potions that promised to ‘turn back the clock,’ and the conversations we had about growing old tended to be shrouded in negativity. Somewhere, deep down, we knew our fear was wrong. We met interesting and inspiring older people all the time! So we decided to do something about it – and Bolder was born.
Do people think it’s a little strange for you both at 30 to be engaging with age?
Not at all. Having interviewed 50 people over the age of 70 for the website and the book, it is clear that we are far more concerned about getting older than the people we speak to. There’s a lot of fear about the future at our age, whereas most of the people we speak to for Bolder are having the time of their lives and have let go of a lot of the worries and panics that we have every day.
What is the concept around Bolder?
The idea is that we interview a collection of stereotype-shattering people over the age of 70 and feature their stories on the site together with a beautiful portrait. We both normally go along and meet each person together as we get such a lot from these meetings. We’ll often stick around a lot longer than we planned – we sat drinking Guinness with Eve Branson in her garden after her interview!
Why is it important to you? And how do younger people respond?
We really want to show the positives of getting older and change the narrative around what it means to age. Ageing is a privilege after all and we are all lucky to be doing it every hour, every day – if we’re lucky.
How did you decide to make it for Over-70s?
When we started, we decided that 70 was the age we both felt was officially ‘old.’ We’ve since seen the error of our ways and know better than to stereotype or categorise by age at all, but that’s the truth!
And what about the book? How did that come about? Of course, Helen is a photographer which is handy?
We always suspected that the interviews and beautiful photos would come across well in print. We were lucky enough that Hardie Grant (our publisher) spotted that potential too!
Why is the idea that older people are educating younger ones?
The reason we chose that strapline (life lessons from people older and wiser than you) is because we learnt so much from our subjects along the way. Alongside all the interviews in the book, we provide commentary on what the two of us have learnt about everything from love and health to success and regrets through the project. We really wanted to share that wisdom with our peers.
How did you go about finding these fabulous people over 70?
It was surprisingly easy! There are plenty of inspiring older people out there, it’s just that so often nobody is listening to them or giving them space in the media. Even the famous people we included were happy to take part – Michel Roux even invited us to his villa in the south of France and gave us an afternoon of his time – followed by a bottle of Bollinger in his garden!
I’d like to hear about Sue Plumtree, 72, who is a Over-50s Love Coach?
Sue was great. After decades in an unhappy marriage she found the strength to leave and start over. She’s a fantastic example of what it means to be ‘bolder.’ As she says, many people over a certain age just submit to being unhappy in a happy marriage because they can’t bear to face up to the years they have already wasted. But being brave really paid off for her; she not only found true love, but has started a new career and has a new enthusiasm for life.
And Eddy Diget the 73 year old personal trainer?
We met Eddy in the gym where he works and he ended up giving me a training session! He was far fitter than me! When we started Bolder we wanted to find people who drank gallons of wine or smoked 50 fags and were still going strong. But the reality is that most of the people we met looked after themselves, both mentally and physically. I think some of that has rubbed off on us.
Which story and person were you personally moved by?
I don’t think I can pick one! But our cover star Muffie Grieve always resonates with us as we met her over in New Zealand when we were at the wedding of our friend who designed Bolder (both the website and the book) for us. So it felt like this brilliant serendipity of what happens when three friends come together on a creative project. Muffie is a force of nature; at 87 she’s just got remarried, she’s learning Spanish and she plays championship tennis!
Are you carrying on finding people for more books?
Absolutely! We are always looking for more people! This project is by no means a one-off or a book project that is now and dusted. It is a passion project that breathes life into us and I can’t imagine either of us wanting to stop doing it.
SERENA CONSTANCE interviews with Cammie Toloui, co-founder of 80s feminist rap band, the Yeastie Girlz.
It’s a muggy Friday night in August, and on the spur of the moment, I’ve made it to the last Haiku Hands UK tour gig in the intimate venue above the Hope and Ruin bar in Brighton. I’m not disappointed by the energy these three Australian female rappers (sisters Claire and Mie Nakazawa, with Beatrice Lewis) unleashed into a mixed audience of all ages. I can still bump, grind and squat at the front with great energy. Just the tonic I needed after a stressful week, though my thighs are groaning the next day.
Coming out of the Peaches mould of electro hip hop and dance-pop, Haiku Hands are a feisty act with lyrics full of attitude and girl power. They get the whole crowd dancing. Together with their local Brighton support act, rapper Boudicca, the show contains a sense of energetic empowerment in these uncertain times, when modern pressures on young women are affecting their mental health more than ever. We need girl bands like this.
On the walk home, I’m thinking about the history of female singers in hip-hop, rap, and other genres. Before Haiku Hands, Peaches and Pussy Riot, when I was a teenager in the early to mid-80s, I was riding the wave of post-punk and new wave bands fronted by women with attitude, who were blazing a trail through a sexist, male-dominated industry. On the UK music scene, The Slits and the Au Pairs made me feel strong. They were singing about the reality of sex and female bodies from a women’s perspective, not through the male gaze. Hell yeah! Their music is still as powerful today with Peaches and Pussy Riot taking the genre further.
In 1987, the year I started university, hip hop was big but so male. I remember going to see the Beastie Boys and Run DMC at the Brixton Academy, on their infamous tour featuring a giant inflatable penis and caged female strippers. (Peaches does it so much better with her feminist twist.) On the other side of the Atlantic, three young women at Berkeley were performing their response to the white male hip hop explosion. Although I hadn’t heard of the Yeastie Girlz at the time (too busy raving in fields), I met one of the founding members, Cammie Toloui, when she stood up to rap at a monthly Sunday gathering of Guerrilla Poets in Lewes, performing an acapella Yeast Power. As she had the whole pub crowd cheering, I realised just how relevant her music and lyrics are for women now as they were thirty years ago.
Cammie is a professional photographer, as well as a rapper, and also runs a massage treatment centre in Lewes. I wanted to know more of Cammie’s story, so caught up with her for an interview in her studio, on how the DIY band ethos of the Yeastie Girlz emerged.
“I was a teenager growing up in the San Francisco bay area. In the town of Berkeley, there was a magazine called MAXIMUMROCKNROLL and the editors had found a great venue on Gilman Street for young bands to play. We would all volunteer to help run the nights, and it was an incredible community. Not long after it opened, there was a big 4th July music festival; the trouble was all the bands were boys. My friend Jane came up to me and Joyce and said we have to do something about this. There are just too many boys on stage. Usually female bands were lumped all together in one line up, instead of integrating and mixing us up. Jane sat down and quickly wrote this rap Yeast Power. In between bands, we just jumped on stage, grabbed the mic, shouting “we’ve just written this song and want you to listen”:
We’re the Yeastie Girlz and we’ve got yeast power, we don’t shave our armpits and we don’t shower…
“We were terrified, but we sang it and jumped off the stage. It was so scary but kind of exciting too. We were 18, fresh out of high school. We’d sing as a bit of a joke, standing around the club, from time to time. Then the editor of MAXIMUMROCKNROLL was going to put out a 7 inch EP of all the bands that performed at Gilman Street and included us. We recorded as an acapella rap, it was about the lyrics and the attitude. Then the name came up; the Beastie Boys had just burst onto the scene but their songs were kind of rapey, so we said we’re the Yeastie Girlz. We started to write more songs and add to the performance. We’d get speculums and explain to the women in the audience how to use them.”
This made me think of Annie Sprinkle’s sex-positive feminist performances where she’d use a speculum on herself and invite the audience to look at her cervix. I asked Cammie more about this part of their act:
“ I wanted to educate. I’d worked out you could play the cardboard tube of a tampon applicator as an instrument, so I figured out how to play songs such as Iron Man on it. I’d get on stage and play this thing, sometimes throwing a whole bunch out into the mostly male audience. It was very feminist; we’d be teaching women how to defend themselves too. Most of the guys would be totally embarrassed, as we’d be singing about our periods, cunnilingus, yeast infections and so on. We were throwing it back into the faces of these punk guys who thought they were so tough; we’d freak them out! Most were great, but some just couldn’t handle it. However, the club was very open-minded; we wanted to talk to women but also shock the guys!
“In 1988 we went on tour as a joke; Joyce had moved to a squat in Amsterdam and Jayne moved to New York. I asked my friend Kate to join the band. We went over to Amsterdam separately and did European tours with Joyce; we’d just show up, no music, just our voices. Most people didn’t know what we were singing about but occasionally they would because of the international reach of MAXIMUMROCKNROLL. We were trying to sell our demo tape too, so we dipped tampons into fake blood and put them in with the tapes so people would have to pull them out. We were really challenging guys’ attitudes to women and our bodily functions.
I kept a scrapbook with all the comments and material we created. All our memorabilia is now in a feminist archive at Harvard.
“By the late 80s, we’d split, as everybody had moved and were focused on different things. Then in 1991 we were contacted by a band called Consolidated. They were an indy dance band and wanted us to feature on their album. They sent us their music and we thought yeah, we could do ‘You Suck’ to this one. We recorded in the studio – me, Kate and Wendy O. It became a dance hit, even to this day people tell me they’ve heard it or we get some royalties from radio airplay. “
I ask Cammie where she saw Yeastie Girlz within the feminist history of rap and dance music.
“We were pre-Riot Grrl and there were lots of female punk bands before us that set the stage; we weren’t breaking totally new ground, but every movement since has pushed it forward. To talk about your pussy, your periods and yeast infections was new. I look at other bands now like Pussy Riot and think wow, it’s really evolved. At the time, with what we were doing, we’d really taken the subject to a new level.”
As women, we have come a long way in terms of openly discussing periods and our power over our own bodies. with movements such as the campaign to end period poverty and group performances by artists within the Menstranauts collective founded by Dr Marisa Carnesky. I asked Cammie if she’d be performing more Yeastie Girlz:
“We’ve occasionally performed over the years, sometimes sitting down to write new songs. Now that all of us are going through perimenopause or are in menopause, we’ve got lots more to sing about. I feel there are people who are writing and performing about this now. For instance, whenever I see Pussy Riot – not that they are menopausal, but they are even more forceful and radical – I have so much respect for them; they are incredible. I look at them and think the world doesn’t really need the Yeastie Girlz anymore! I’d like to think the three of us would get together to write a couple of menopause songs – that would be hilarious.”
I wonder what Cammie’s now older wiser menopausal self would now say to her 18-year-old self. She laughs:
“Go girl! I don’t have any regrets. I’ve lived a full life as I could. We started the Yeastie Girlz when I was 18, but then in 1991, I became a peep show dancer at the feminist strip club The Lusty Lady in San Francisco. I was studying photojournalism at Uni and really needed more money to fund all the costs involved. I didn’t expect to stay as long as I did there – three years – but the work turned into a photojournalism project. I was documenting clients who agreed to be photographed. In fact, more people know me for the photos that came out of the Lusty Lady, as I’ve exhibited in galleries and museums all over the world.”
Having danced briefly at the Raymond Revue Bar in Soho back in 1998 – the now-defunct club had just celebrated its 40th anniversary – I became interested in sex-positive, feminist performers such as Annie Sprinkle. Co-incidentally I also have a copy of The Lusty Lady by Erika Langley on my bookshelf. I ask Cammie how receptive Lewes is to this aspect of her creative career:
“I did a presentation with photos from the Lusty Lady era at the Westgate Chapel in Lewes. The audience was really surprised and enthusiastic, and I’ve had lots of positive feedback. I think people here see me as a mild-mannered massage therapist; they don’t tend to see me as a Yeastie Girl or a Lusty Lady!”
I’m glad that Cammie has stepped out of her Yeastie Girlz closet, and am looking forward to her latest creative project. You can view her photos at www.cammiet.com and find more about her current photography service.
Lucy O’Brien, 58, is a writer and academic. She has written for NME and City Limits as well as the Guardian etc. She has published various books including Madonna: Like an Icon. She has just updated and re-released her biography of Dusty Springfield – Dusty.
What attracted you to writing this biography of Dusty in the first place in the late 80s?
I interviewed Dusty in 1988 when Phonogram released The Silver Collection, a sumptuous greatest hits album. I’ve interviewed quite a few musicians and artists and she stood out – for her Goonish humour and her original responses. She didn’t trot out a PR spiel, and she thought carefully about each question I asked. I think that summed up her approach to life and music. She never sang the obvious, and she made each song her own. The angle I took with the piece was that Dusty was ‘Queen of the Mods’. She had a cool mod sensibility, and was a regular on the 60s pop show Ready Steady Go!
I did the interview for City Limits magazine, and shortly after it was published an editor at Sidgwick & Jackson wrote to me saying, ‘Would you like to do a biography of Dusty?’ I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t published a book at that point, and it was a great opportunity.
Can you tell us something about that initial undertaking and the process around it?
Ooh, it felt arduous at first. I’d never written a book before…but then I realised that it was like a string of articles put together as chapters, with a linking theme. The next challenge was tracking down interviewees, people who knew her and had worked with her. In the late 80s there was no internet, so I had to use a lot of snail mail, do a lot of phone calls and face-to-face interviews. I also spent time in the US, travelling to New York, Memphis, Nashville and LA, interviewing friends and musicians she had worked with. There was a mystery around her at that point, because she moved to America in 1970 and disappeared from the scene. No one really knew what had happened to her…and I had to somehow piece the story together. All I had to go on was a trickle of articles in back issues of NME, and some press around the time she visited the UK for a ‘comeback’ tour in 1978. It was like doing detective work.
How has Dusty’s image changed now in this LBGTQ-aware era?
She has become an LGBTQ icon. She was in the closet as a lesbian in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Being out and gay on the pop scene was tantamount to commercial suicide (and to an extent it still is). She had to invent boyfriends and live a life in public that felt artificial. In private she had a very active love life and used to go to lesbian clubs like Gateways, and had a legion of gay male admirers, some of whom used to enjoy dressing up in her gowns!
What did you find challenging about the writing of it?
The main challenge in the late 80s was what I couldn’t put into the book. It was read by lawyers, and I couldn’t write about Dusty’s lesbianism. I could only hint that she was bisexual, because she had said once or twice during interviews ‘I’m just as easily swayed by a woman as a man.’
I loved writing about her music, her childhood, the 1960s pop scene, and all her soulful influences. But I had to be careful when discussing her mental health issues and her drug use – she hadn’t talked about these things in our interview, and they were not in the public domain.
Would it have been different writing it now with the internet?
Writing a biography now is a very different process – it takes half the time. You can get in touch with people much more quickly via the internet, you can do Skype interviews, and there is SO much more information at your fingertips. However, you still have to fact check. And there is no substitute for physically travelling to a place and breathing in the air and absorbing the atmosphere, and talking to people face to face. Old-fashioned physical research gives you much more emotional information about a person’s life. The internet is very flat, gossipy and superficial. For instance, I learned so much about Dusty’s experience recording Dusty in Memphis when I actually went to the rundown studio in Memphis where she recorded it. And feeling the close-knit cameraderie of the Nashville music scene, or, by contrast, the alienation of those sun-baked LA freeways.
Tell us something about the interviews you did? For instance, with Pat Rhodes her longstanding assistant? Or others that stand out?
I loved meeting her 1960s manager Vic Billings – he was a camp impresario of the old school, a real gent, and hilariously funny. Also her Philips producer Ivor Raymonde, (whose son Simon was part of that amazing post-punk band Cocteau Twins). Ivor was dashing, dedicated, and very good at explaining why Dusty stood out from the other 1960s beat girls like Lulu and Cilla Black.
I also remember interviewing the Dusty In Memphis producers – Jerry Wexler (so articulate, yet a little exasperated with Dusty), Arif Mardin (he drove me through Manhattan in his enormous station wagon and talked about Dusty’s instinct for soul music), and Tom Dowd (who gave me funny anecdotes about her tottering into the studio with her beehive and gown ‘made up like a Southern lady’). Sadly, all of those wonderful people have passed away, so I’m thankful I was able to capture their words and memories.
Dusty’s assistant Pat Rhodes was also helpful, giving me insight into Dusty’s childhood – her vivacious, slightly unhinged Irish mother, her shy, lumbering father, and brother Tom, who formed folk act the Springfields with Dusty in the late 1950s. Pat was a constant in Dusty’s life, and she has been really supportive of the book, at each stage.
This publication is updated – could you tell us something about that?
What’s good with this publication is I have been able to use some of the interview material that was out of bounds in the first edition. I can be much more frank about her lesbian relationships, and her struggles with mental health and addiction. It’s enabled me to go into her story in greater depth, and really explore the full impact of her legacy. I was able to interview her former lover Julie Felix, who told me a lot about the tensions of their secret relationship in the 1960s. I also talked to Pat, and Dusty’s close friend, the singer Simon Bell, about the last five years of Dusty’s life after she got the cancer diagnosis. They both spent a lot of time caring for her, staying at her house in Henley. It was reassuring to know that Dusty’s dry wit and humour stayed with her to the end.
And I interviewed playwright and TV scriptwriter Jonathan Harvey, who wrote the recent Dusty musical. He gave me a fresh perspective on her music, her psychological struggles, and her legacy as a gay icon.
Was there anything that shocked you when researching Dusty or Mary O’Brien’s life?
I never forget talking to Brooks Arthur, producer of Dusty’s ill-fated, unreleased 1973 album Longing. ‘She wasn’t handling her New York trip very well. Something had begun to tumble,’ he said to me in an interview for the first edition of my book. He was hushed and close to tears when he talked about how she attempted suicide. He had to take her to hospital, and was devastated that he couldn’t take ‘good enough care of her.’ I was also shocked when talking to her US manager Howard Portugais, about how she tumbled so badly through drink and drug use, that she ended up with no money, living in a ‘halfway house’ in LA. I had no idea things had got that bad. I felt enormous sympathy for her, and realised then what a fragile character she was.
Did you understand Dusty’s mental health problems any better at the end of this research?
Yes…that she was a bit like Amy Winehouse in the way she had to fight personal demons just to sing. She was her own worst critic, and had such a harsh opinion of herself. Yet she created such vulnerable, beautiful music. So much more is understood now about mental health. Many musicians struggle with it, and the music industry, with its punishing schedules of touring and promotion, can make someone’s mental health much worse. Dusty suffered from having to hide her true sexuality, and she battled anxiety and depression. However, as Jonathan Harvey says, what’s so inspiring about Dusty’s story is how in the end she made a brilliantly successful comeback with the Pet Shop Boys. And although she died young at 59, she found happiness and peace of mind at the end of her life.
I hadn’t realised what happened to her in South Africa and how she took that stand that made her controversial at the time, she wouldn’t play to segregated audiences in 1964? Good on her. Max Bygraves wasn’t too pleased!
Yes, Dusty was close friends with the Motown crew, particularly Martha Reeves. She was a huge supporter of the civil rights struggle, and was utterly opposed to playing to segregated audiences. However, Dusty really paid for that – many of her peers (like Max Bygraves) criticised her, saying she shouldn’t mix politics with showbusiness. A question was even raised in Parliament, asking whether a pop star should get involved and speak out against apartheid. Times really have changed.
And what about that beehive? What did it represent for her?
Dusty modelled her look on drag queens. She was never particularly comfortable being a typical girl, so she created a style that was hyper-feminine and over-the-top, with the panda-eye make up and the huge beehive. The queens loved it. I explore this in the book, how there was a split between the real-life Mary O’Brien and the stage persona Dusty Springfield. After a while, though, this split triggered a psychological crisis, and Dusty felt dominated by the alter ego she had created.
And the Lady? Her reputation wasn’t always great with musicians? And she was known to throw things around in her dressing room?
Dusty had a fiery temper. She had a ‘difficult reputation’, but many argue in the book that she had this reputation just because she was a woman making demands in the studio, and not accepting second best from the musicians she worked with. She was a hard taskmaster…and she fell out with a few musicians – notably jazz drummer Buddy Rich. They got into an argument and she whacked him round the head, sending his toupe flying.
She also liked to release tension by throwing food and crockery around her dressing room. She says that she always cleared it up!
Why did she disappear in the 70s in the US?
Dusty adored US soul music, and wanted to perform and record in America. She was also fascinated by American culture and Hollywood films, so moving to the US in the 70s was like the fulfilment of a childhood dream. Unfortunately it was also her undoing. The US music industry then was still very segregated, and they couldn’t understand or market a white English woman singing soul music. Also, as her backing singer Doris Troy said, there was a lot of cocaine around – ‘the devil’s dandruff was rulin’.’
And did she ever find a good gay relationship or was her family Catholicism always at play in the background?
Dusty was inhibited by her Catholic upbringing, and found it hard to form lasting relationships. However, she had a long-term lover in the 1960s, artist-singer Norma Tanega. And she lived with a number of lovely women in LA. Pat says that towards the end of her life Dusty was single, and more devoted to her cats. It was simpler that way.
How was your interview with her in the late 80s?
I really enjoyed talking to Dusty. She was an original thinker with a nice turn-of-phrase. I always remember her talking about how being a female performer involved ‘such a lot of upkeep. All those hair extensions…’ And she enthused about Sinead O’Connor saying, ‘Where were women like her in my day? She’s young, Irish and so talented.’ She was analytical, and she KNEW her music. I would love to have known her as a friend, and to have her perspective on pop music now.
Dusty: The Classic Biography, by Lucy O’Brien is out on August 22nd
* Lucy is featured with writer Julie Hammil at The Rock N Roll Book Club event ‘Madonna and Dusty: Icons of Song’, London Dublin Castle, on September 4th. For tickets and info: https://www.wegottickets.com/event/476707
‘You must have a very small heart to only love one man, all your life.’
The gravelly voiced actor, Lionel Stander, who was in London during 1965, working with Roman Polanski in the film Cul-de-Sac, first took me to meet Jay and Fran Landesman.
‘They’ve recently arrived from New York with their two young sons Cosmo and Miles. They’re a great couple, you’ll love them,’ he said, adding, ‘they have an open marriage.’
Fran, he told me, was a well-known lyricist, having penned such evergreens as The Ballad of the Sad Young Men, and Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. Whereas Jay’s multi-fold talents, Lionel explained, were mainly channelled into the Art of Living.
We found Jay, wearing skin-tight black faux-leather trousers and a very crumpled denim shirt, outside his house in Duncan Terrace in Islington. He was solemnly engaged in a not-so-serious conversation with the street cleaner whom he introduced to us as ‘The Demon Sweeper.’ Then he held out an elegant hand to shake mine and presented himself with the words, ‘Stan Stunning, I’m deeply superficial and superficially deep, sweetheart.’
His brown hair fell to his chin and there was a twinkle in his inquisitive, dark eyes that suggested he was always ready to play. I was instantly attracted to this charming eccentric who verged on the surreal.
His invitation into the sitting room of the terraced Georgian house was prefixed with the warning, ‘My wife will probably join us in a minute. Don’t mind if she’s not very friendly, her moods can be heavy. But I’m working on improving her character.’
Just then Fran, with a short crop of rich auburn hair, cut by Vidal Sassoon, sallied in. She was adorned with many glass, plastic and Bakelite jewels, which perfectly matched the colour-coordinated flowing clothes that draped themselves sexily around her slender body.
In a light mood, she shrugged her husband’s remark off with: ‘I heard that! It’s true. I know I’m spoilt rotten and my tongue can be acid. But it’s not my fault, it’s the devil that makes me do it,’ she said, scrutinising me with her topaz eyes, and then smiled.
‘Great to see you, Lionel. I see that as usual, you’re in the company of a beautiful woman. Sorry, this room is such a mess chaps, but then, as you know, I’ve never believed that cleanliness is next to godliness.’
‘She doesn’t have too many serious beliefs,’ her husband informed us, as he gave her a hug.
‘Well, for sure, I believe it’s all bound to end in tears,’ she retorted. A shadow of gloom swept over her animated face. Then added; ‘I’ll get some tea and I’ve just made these great hash cookies. Better than Alice B Toklas’ recipe. They’re strong, so watch your appetite.’
My eyes wandered over the sprawling room on whose fading-yellow walls artworks by talented friends rubbed frames with high-priced paintings, international bric-a-brac and Victorian pub mirrors. Bohemia sprouted from every corner of the room. An old dentist’s chair was by the window. The keys of the old piano needed tuning, the plants needed watering, the vinyls needed to be put back into their sleeves, everything needed dusting. Clearly, no one cared.
The kitchen, with its large, old-fashioned black and white enamelled gas cooker, was at the far end of the room. A glass door opened from it onto a small wood platform, steps led down to an unkempt garden.
As we lounged, sipping tea and nibbling at hash cookies, on a mattress covered with a worn Moroccan carpet piled with colourful cushions, our stoned chatter was punctuated with laughs. I felt I was, at last, where I belonged. Until then, I’d believed hippies were supposed to be young, untogether, unsuccessful, uneducated and hard-up. But Jay and Fran, an obviously classy, brilliant, talented and well-to-do couple, were leading an unconventional lifestyle, which was exactly to my taste.
I had come home.
Fran invited me upstairs to see her bedroom. It was bathed in a soft light that was seeping in through the two broad sash windows, which overlooked the huge trees in the park across the way.
Every space was filled – the cloudy-grey walls were covered with pictures, paintings, photographs, bangles, beads and wood trays decked with fluorescent butterfly wings under glass. All the lovely objects she’d collected were on display. Mementos of her past holding her present life together. Above the solid wood wardrobe between the windows, her mother’s portrait looked sternly down on shelves creaking with books. A chaise longue covered in fading blue satin was piled with pink and purple feather boas.
The mirror above the marble mantelpiece atop the fireplace was framed with postcards from long-standing friends and pictures of past and present lovers. A note on it read- ‘DON’T TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY’.
Satin dressing gowns and silk kimonos hung on the large bi-fold door that opened to the bathroom.
Her bedside table was crowded with knick-knacks: lustrous lipsticks, burnished rings, Bakelite boxes, French glitter and pills for all seasons. A Kodak film can packed with Thai grass.
A canopy made from an embroidered Chinese shawl hung over the generous bed; a large mirror served as its headboard.
Subsequently, I learnt that Fran spent countless hours on her bed. She read on her bed, watched TV on her bed, napped (often) on her bed. Propped up on a mound of pillows covered in exotic fabrics, she did her sewing and patchwork on the bed. She entertained on her bed; put makeup on, on her bed; got stoned on her bed; received lovers on her bed and wrote world-renowned songs on her bed.
‘Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.’
Carl Gustav Jung
One didn’t necessarily have to be famous to frequent the Landesmans, but you had to be amusing given that the main proclivity at Duncan Terrace was the pursuit of fun. Nothing put a light in Jay’s eyes as much as the prospect of revelry.
Out-of-town friends often stayed in one of the many rooms and parties were organised for them. A stream of articulate friends poured in through the yellow front door. There were heavyweights like Norman Mailer, R.D. Laing and Tom Waits. That merry prankster Ken Kesey danced cowboy style with Christine Keeler, who, looking at the spice rack in the kitchen, asked in a bemused fashion, ‘Who are Rosemary and Marjoram?’ A story Fran never tired of telling. There were the writers Chandler Brossard, Anatole Boyard, and the comedian Tommy Smothers, who was rated to be a great lover by the many women he bedded. The writer, performer and poet, Michael Horovitz, who founded the New Departures publication and the Poetry Olympics, was a frequent visitor. As was Jim Haynes, who co-founded the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the counter-cultural Arts Lab; as well as the satirist, Peter Cook, famed for the television show, Beyond the Fringe, who was as funny off stage as on. The entrepreneurial Sam brothers turned us onto macrobiotics, and brown rice was now on our menu. Carolyn Cassady charmed with tales of her life with husband Neil and lover Jack Kerouac; the uber-feminist, Betty Friedan, never cracked a smile. Beautiful young women sang Fran’s songs, talented men played the piano, until Ralph Ortiz created a happening with his Piano Destruction Concert as he hacked their old piano to bits.
‘You need to get a new one immediately, Jay,’ cried Fran, who hadn’t thought this destruction a good idea.
‘Your wish is my command, my Jewish Princess,’ replied her husband and bought another piano.
Fran was nifty at the cooker, Jay mixed the best martinis, the grass was from Thailand, the hash from Morocco, the acid on a direct express line from Timothy Leary. The ecstasy count was high and it was the ecstasy count that counted in Duncan Terrace.
There I heard Germaine Greer tell a story. ‘I was in New York a few winters ago, walking down a freezing street when this hobo approached me and mumbled, ‘I wn shuk ya cnt.’ What did you say, my man? I asked. ‘I wan shuk yo cnt.’ I still couldn’t understand him and I said, speak up my man, make yourself clear. So he said, ‘I wanna suck your cunt.’’ I looked at this poor creature, there in the dirty snow, and overwhelmed by compassion said: ‘And so you shall my man. I pulled up my skirt.’
We were never sure whether it was a true account or a tale told for our amusement. But knowing Germaine for the giant she is, she very likely gave the bum an unforgettable Christmas gift.
Mish Aminoff Moon, 61, is a photographer and a member of AoA. Here she describes what she does. She was born in London into a tight-knit Persian Jewish Community and brought up in a multilingual household which alternated between English, Farsi and Hebrew.
‘When I’m walking around a city and suddenly notice something that sparks my interest, I feel a combination of freedom, concentration, stimulation and harmony. There’s a choice be made, to take a photograph of this image regardless of whether or not I think it will work. That is part of the freedom: the experimenting. My eye and approach are influenced by a love of art history and painting. Prior to studying Photographic Theory & Practice at The University of Westminster, I graduated in History of Art at Sussex University but my interest – as evidenced in my old diaries – started much earlier. As a young teenager going to art galleries and museums was a gateway into an exciting world. I now believe I can experience the exciting, the beautiful, and ultimately my quest for seeing art on my everyday wanderings.’
This project is about reading. She found a photo of her maternal grandfather reading after work on his balcony in Tel Aviv and the project progressed from there.
Looking through old photos from before I was born I found another informal photograph of family members reading newspapers. Here are Matt and Pauline reading their papers in the back garden in Stamford Hill, circa early 1950s:
However, the tendency was that reading matter was used as props in formal studio portraiture. Below, my father in 1930:
Another relative – my father’s cousin Haji-Ben who was based in Milan – with an open book as a prop. His direct gaze and grown-up cross-legged position contribute to the quasi adult composure of the portrait:
And below another studio portrait of my aunt Hannah, this time hand-coloured, with a large open picture book as a prop. I can’t make out the illustration, but it seems like a grand scale documentary image, not what I’d expect from the context!
A posed photograph of me in my bedroom when i was about 3 or 4, taken by my father. This was part of a series of photos he took of me in my room; one at my dressing table, another chatting on a toy phone. I find it interesting that the bookshelf in my room is filled with his old Penguin paperbacks, possibly deemed unsuitable for display in any other part of the house?
When my own children were born I took lots of photographs documenting their everyday experiences and family life; I was interested in capturing moments that I considered significant. The photograph below was taken in 1990 after a particularly sleepless night; Rafi finally asleep on his father’s right thigh and an open book in Josh’s left hand:
And one from the mid-90s of Josh reading one of his old Tintin books to the boys:
Dan occupying himself reading the Zelda manual on our regular Sunday morning brunch outings to Bar Italia in Soho
Some more from Bar Italia – my mother used to say that I always had a book on me everywhere I went. Nowadays it tends to be a Kindle, but here’s proof that it was a habit that continued into adulthood. A portrait of me framed on the mirrored wall, part of a semi-permanent wall display of “regulars” at Bar Italia. I don’t remember the name of the photographer but I remember posing for her back in 2009. Here I am taking a photo of the portrait of me with my book, sitting at the bar counter:
The photo below was taken outside Bar Italia; I like it because if you look carefully you can see a luminous image of a man with long white hair – looking like a biblical representation of God in sunglasses. It happens to be the Brazilian musical Hermeto Pascoal, who is rather amazing, and definitely a jazz master if not a god!
Travelling further afield, here’s another café reader, taken the other week in a February sun-drenched Campo Santo Stefano in Venice:
And at this Tel Aviv café back in 2014, a Hebrew newspaper is used to block out the bright February sun:
On the first day of my first trip to Japan in 2006 I was excited to snap a detail of my Manga-reading fellow passenger on the Tokyo Metro:
I took that trip with my younger son Dan who was 13 at the time. The photo below was taken one night by Dan – I’m reading a book by Haruki Murakami, in my new Japanese glasses:
I like the parallel activity of these bespectacled book browsers in a Parisian gallery shop:
Next up are a couple of images taken on London Underground. I loved the intimacy of this elderly couple sharing their art magazine:
This dapper gentleman in a corduroy suit and coordinating tan accessories was reading a book called The Tao of Physics:
Next a couple of diary-like images, the first documenting my ora dell’aperitivo ritual, complete with Campari, pistachio nuts and tapas like snacks and obscure Kyrgyz-translated book:
And on a relaxed Saturday morning my husband Stephen gets some tips on power from GQ magazine:
Ollie Moore is 58 and a saxophonist who used to be in the very funky Pigbag. Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag was No 3 in the singles chart in April 1982. Here he explains how it all happened. Let’s go down this 70s and 80s lane…
It’s important to say that the song was written collectively, as that was always the way we worked as a band so everyone had an equal input to the music that evolved.
I think it’s fair to say that Pigbag, the band, and Papa’s got a brand new Pigbag were inseparable in many people’s view.
I will endeavour to explain my part in how this tune came to be.
As I am the only remaining member to live in Bristol, this is entirely from my perspective and, inevitably, this is linked to how my career in music started.
My father wanted me to learn the clarinet whilst at Bristol Grammar School, and my Uncle, who played clarinet in the London Symphony Orchestra, sourced a reasonable student model for me to play. I still remember the pleasing smell of the instrument in its furry case with its cork and woodiness.
Any pleasant associations with this intriguing instrument were soon to be dashed by an abusive, bad-tempered teacher called Mr Stone. I was 12 years old.
He was a lumbering figure of a man who stood at about six foot three and wore a suit several sizes too small for him. He also drove a three-wheeled Reliant Robin car, in which he looked ridiculous. A bulging leather briefcase completed the dishevelled look.
He would ‘correct’ my mistakes with a thrust of the base of the clarinet upwards against my teeth. If I made a squeak or played a wrong note, his face bulged and turned puce in colour, as if he were about to burst a blood vessel, as he spat angry words in disgust at my incompetence.
Consequently after a few lessons with this monstrous man, I stopped going altogether.
I didn’t tell my father who was Head of Music at BBC Bristol until the end of term.
My parents were divorced by the time I reached 18. The family house was sold and I went to live with my father, who had bought a flat in Clifton.
It was now 1979. I had finished an intensive one year A level course in Birmingham, where I had lived with my grandmother, in her large house where she rented out rooms to overseas students plus an Indian family who lived at the top in a self contained flat. It was very multicultural, and she was featured in an article in the BIrmingham Mail, where she was described as Mrs United Nations. This was 1970s Birmingham where the English population weren’t very tolerant of ‘foreigners’.
So I was now back in Bristol, armed with three O level passes, two of which I had already!
So I now had an O level in Law. Let’s just say I did a lot of socialising and didn’t quite knuckle down to study, despite my dear Gran’s best efforts.
I sold my year old motorcycle, which I had saved up to buy, as the insurance had risen drastically, and bought a car for £95. I then bought a Martin Tenor saxophone in silver from the music store in Hotwells. It cost £240. I was over the moon and excited about learning how to play it…BY MYSELF!
I had already met Simon Underwood, bass player with the Pop Group. At their gigs. I knew the lead singer, Mark Stewart, as we had been at the same school together. Simon was becoming disillusioned with the band, and the inevitable clashes, personal and musical, had come to the fore. It was time for him to move on.
He was becoming more and more interested in jazz and world music, and was eager to experiment in that direction. He shared a lot of this music and I was eager to lap it up. I ended up buying a lot of records from him and from Tony’s record store at Focus in Clifton village. Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Fela Kuti, Chico Freeman, Funkadelic, James Brown, and of course, the totally out there Sun Ra and his Arkestra.
Unfortunately, my father wasn’t very keen on me playing the sax in his flat, and I had several complaints from an elderly retired Austrian doctor, who lived in the flat below.
A toilet roll stuffed down the bell of the saxophone wasn’t a very effective mute. Luckily, I was able to move in with old school friend Rich Beal, artist, singer and songwriter with Head and Pregnant. It was a tiny room at the top of the house in Regent St, Clifton.
Friends who lived in a basement flat let me use their cellar to practice, so there was of not so much likelihood of upsetting the neighbours.
This was just a temporary move until I moved into a squat in Hotwells. This was called Trinity Rooms and was a great place (and free!) to live, as there was a rehearsal room there where we could play pretty much whenever we wanted.
It also had an empty church hall out the back with a great natural reverb echo.
My first band was called Fish Food, featuring the now sadly departed, hugely talented and eccentric singer/poet Andy Fairley, who went on to record with the mighty Adrian Sherwood and On U Sound. Howard Purse was on guitar, Daniel Swan, former Cortinas drummer, also featured. The Cortinas were the first proper punk band I ever saw. They supported the Damned at Malvern Winter Gardens in 1976. They were riveting.
The first gig I played was at the Granary in Bristol on Welsh Back. A band called Double Vision were playing, featuring Melanie Dicks on vocals (Bristol City manager Alan Dicks’ daughter!). Rob Merrill was on drums. I ended up on stage with Mark Stewart who was singing a version of Max Romeo’s Chase the devil. I had been playing sax for about 3 months now! A little while later, I hitched up to Hitchin in Hertfordshire and played with the Pop Group. On this occasion they had two drummers, Bruce Smith and Brian Nevill who later joined Pigbag after Chip had left in 1982.
By this time, my dedication to practice and playing had paid off and I was quite proficient at navigating the full range of the horn. Although later in the summer of 1982, Pigbag played at Bracknell Jazz Festival on the same stage as jazz heroes Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell with Nana Vasconcelos.
A subsequent review in the Guardian described my saxophone tone as like being in an Iron foundry!
In the spring of 1980, I was jamming with Simon, and we had been put in touch with some guys in Cheltenham who had heard that Simon had left the Pop Group and asked if he would be interested in playing with them. We would go up to Cheltenham and play in a place called Beech House in a room with black walls. Sadly early recordings of these sessions were lost from an Akai reel to reel tape recorder.
These sessions were where Papa was born and it would go on for about 20 minutes in a frenzy of percussion, including frying pans and horns!
The band was James Johnstone and Chip Carpenter, who were in a punk band called Hardware. Roger Freeman was on timbales and percussion and Chris Hamlin on congas and clarinet. Myself and Simon Underwood. Chris Lee was on trumpet.
After a few months in the summer, I decided to head off to France to look for an adventure while working picking fruit. I took the saxophone with me. Janine Rainforth’s father – Janine would go on to form Maximum Joy – had a house near Avignon and there was a possibility of some work. It didn’t work out. I don’t think he was overly impressed with our work ethic.
I returned some six weeks later on the day the Pop Group played their last gig at a huge CND rally in Trafalgar Square on 26/10/1980. Coming back to Bristol things had moved on and Pigbag had played their first gig supporting the Slits at Romeo and Juliet’s. Fortunately I was welcomed back to the fold.
Dick O Dell had approached Simon with a view to managing us and he wanted to record Papa.
We rehearsed at Janine’s dad’s house in a village outside Keynsham, called Burnett, near Bristol.
I remember that it was the day that John Lennon was shot and killed in New York by Mark Chapman. 8th December 1980.
My first gig with the band was at a Bristol Recorder event at the Anson Rooms at Bristol University. We were supposed to be top of the bill.
But the other acts, including the Electric Guitars, played over their allocated times and we were left with 20 minutes before the curfew. The porters turned the power off and we carried on acoustically, banging frying pans and blasting away on the horns for a good 20 minutes longer.
We continued rehearsing with a view to arranging Papa to around 3 and a half minutes. This took place in Cheltenham and we were booked in to the studio in Berry St. Studios in Clerkenwell, London. This was March of 1981. Legendary film- maker and documenter of the punk movement Don Letts was there with his video camera.
He filmed us as we recorded it. Unfortunately, the story goes that he didn’t actually have any film in the camera. I’ve never seen any footage.
As we were still raw, rough, self-taught musicians high on energy, we didn’t have a grasp of bar lengths and sections so when it came to recording the solos it was decided that Roger would stand in front of us with a stopwatch and after one minute of free blowing he signalled us to end!
Dick O Dell, in what turned out to be a very shrewd move, withheld the release after a year or so of regularly selling 1000 or so singles weekly and attaining top position in the independent charts of the time. The strategy worked, and in the summer of 1982, the single entered the top 40 playlist and Radio 1 had to give it airplay. The pre-order sales had built up over six weeks or so. At that time, the chart positions were based on weekly sales. We got to number 30, then number 9, then number 3. We were denied the number 1 slot by Bucks Fizz and Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder with Ebony and Ivory.
I remember it well, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, on the green outside my flat, listening to the radio, hearing the chart countdown. Happy times.
I’d particularly like to thank my clarinet teacher, Mr Stone because my experience with him directly led to me teaching myself the sax.
At work, a few days ago, one of my colleagues introduced me to two other workers at Bristol docks. ‘Do you know who this is? Do you remember Pigbag?’ ‘Yeah’, one of the guys, who was about my age, replied. ‘My mate was the only one who could dance to that song.’
There had been some discussion about whether or not we should do TOTPs. We were concerned about ‘selling out’. Fortunately we decided to do it. Roger Freeman wasn’t happy though, as he claimed we had told him that he couldn’t wear his donkey jacket, which he always wore. He decided not to appear and subsequently left the band.
That was a shame. He is a very talented musician and taught himself trombone in a short space of time. He played a solo on the 12 inch extended version of the song.
My only regret now is that we didn’t include the single on our debut album.
Our reasoning was that we wanted people to hear new material as we felt we had moved on since recording Papa and people could hear it by buying the single.
One of my most enduring memories was supporting the Specials at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park – later to become infamous as a mosque where the radical Muslim Abu Hamsa made his hate speeches. The Specials had just written Ghost town and were playing it in the sound check with the great late Rico Rodriguez on trombone. Wafts of ganja smoke drifted out from the open door of the dressing room as the legendary trombonist warmed up on his instrument.
We were very nervous to be playing in front of a huge crowd of mods and Skinheads and ended up playing at nearly twice the tempo. Jerry Dammers was grinning at the side of the stage, encouraging us on. We were on for about 25 minutes.
After a couple of numbers one of the youths at the front shouted ‘Oi, what’s the name of the band? The single wasn’t in the charts at this time.James Johnstone guitarist, percussionist and keyboards player, leant forward and politely said; ‘Pigbag. What? Pigshit?’
We were then met with chants of ‘PIGSHIT’ after each number. I think they enjoyed it really though…
Jenny Gordon is an artist and filmmaker who has a son called Gabriel Bisset-Smith. She is black and her son is white. Or they are both mixed race? Her son has written a lively play Whitewash about race, skin colour and gentrification. It’s on at the Soho Theatre in London until July 27th. Book here – https://sohotheatre.com/
How did Whitewash evolve?
Basically through situations and conversations my son and I have had over the years revolving aroundrace and the differences of our skin colour. Then, he decided that he wanted to make them into a play that explores mixed raced identity and housing in London.
Could you explain the name – I guess it’s a play on words re London and race, and also something to do with white privilege?
Yeah, it has a few different meaning really, like the word itself. It’s to do with the white privilege of the main character but also the whitewashing of London.
Were you actually involved before your son wrote it?
It is based on our life and his upbringing so in a way ‘yes’. And he has been involved with my housing situation which has been part of the motivation to write this!
Did he interview you in order to use your experience?
He didn’t have to interview me because we have an on-going dialogue.
How do you feel about being at the centre of this play?
Initially I found it quite stressful as I’m very private about my personal life so it was odd having people think the play is real when it’s just inspired by some real events. But I’m getting use to it now.
And has it affected your relationship with your son, Gabriel?
The whole experience has been really positive for our relationship. We are always very supportive of each other as my son I are very close and we get on really well. I understand what he is doing and it’s been great collaborating with him as I did the painting for the show and he’s a dream to work with.
I noticed you refer to yourself as black and the publicity from the Soho theatre says mixed race?
I refer to myself as black but for the clarity of the story the publicity says mixed race.
How was it being a black mother with a white baby/son/child? In the public arena? And what does that say about us as a society?
When Gabriel was born the first thing I said to the doctor was – ‘Is he going to go darker?’ and the answer was ‘no’. If I hadn’t seen him come out I would have thought they had made a mistake, so it took me a while to bond with him. He was very blond with ringlets and blue eyes and people always thought I was the nanny or minder, and sometimes people would argue with me that he couldn’t be my son.
It became very tiring so I just went with it, which made me take a step back. I didn’t really talk about it – so I would just laugh it off but I think it had aneffect on me.
I’m not sure what it says about society but it madeit much harder if you were different in any way out of the norm.People thought they had a right to comment on it? Nowadays it’s probably more hidden.
Have we improved or gone backwards?
With Trump and the possibility of Boris Johnson becoming a Prime Minister, I feel that these are quite risky times and there is a feeling that we could be going backwards in terms of being a woman andrace.
There’s a lot of focus on white privilege these days? Is that good?
Yes, I think it’s a good thing that white people are made aware of their privilege. It’s been there forever but they are really only becoming aware of it now. And it means people like me have a clearerunderstanding of why we get shut out of opportunities.
How is it a love letter to London?
It celebrates what is great about this city. Clubbing, art, diversity and over the course of 30 years. But it also questions what’s happening to it.
How has your own attitude to race changed?
My attitude to race has changed for the better. It’s so much better for me now than when I wasgrowing up. I had a lot of racial abuse wherever I went. I had to be aware of which places that I couldgo to socialise, where I looked for work and education. Now it’s so much more cosmopolitan with so many more inter-racial relationships. I don’t suffer any open outward racism anymore.
What was it like being a young artist in the 80s and 90s in London? How did you survive?
I lived in Culross Buildings in Kings Cross, which could be a bit edgy, with drug addicts and prostitutes. I had a free studio in the same building as my flat and a communal hall where we would hold celebrations and parties. I would go for meetings with gallery owners and with quite a few of them I had bad experiences.I was invited for meetings on the basis of my paintings. However when they saw me, they kept me waiting for hours and then said my work was too controversial for their gallery. I found this experience to be very disheartening and as a result it made me less confident to promote myself as an artist in the ‘art world’.
I also had a part-time job working in a nursery where my kids went and I used to do a vintage stall down Portabello Road. Soho was my go-to-place for socialising at The French, Colony or Gerry’s.
We created a haven in the Victorian buildings and cobbled streets, which were used as film sets for films like Charlie Chaplin and Mike Leigh’s High Hopes. It was a really great artistic communitywhere you felt safe and protected as everyone looked out for each other.
Overall we could be more creative and less money-dependant. I had great support from family, friends and neighbours. It could be tough but we always had lots of fun and good memories of a London that no longer exists.
One of the themes in the play is social housing and how that is changing? I think you have personal experience of that?
I think social housing is coming to an end. It’s more like social cleansing, which I am experiencing myself at this point in my life. They are trying to re–develop where I am living now. It always starts with small damp issues which are never proven and leads to demolition and an uncertain future.