In the Loop

It’s been ages, loyal readers, and I’ll tell you for why.....

1. I’ve met someone else. Actually a few other people.

I’ve been writing for other blogs. I know. Brutal. It will never be the same as what we have, but I had to spread my wings a bit. There is a NY based female orientated blog called XOJane, who encourage their writers to be as outrageous and honest as possible. As you can imagine, the quotient of “My vagina and me” posts is high. I got busy writing for them...and for some anonymous blog sites, when I wanted to write about a) sensitive things that my family don’t need to know about and b) controversial things that incited web based backlash, which believe me, is easier to take from faceless internet strangers than friends and colleagues. Remember BGT-gate? Oy. I’m careful where I post my ramblings these days.

2. I’ve been working on a solo project that requires a new website so Strungout has moved

My husband Mr C is a web strategist. Have you watched TwentyTwelve with Hugh Bonneville and Jessica Whatsherchops from Spaced? It often features an uber trendy Soho web design agency called “Perfect Curve” where people ride one speed bikes and wear brightly coloured skinny jeans. My husband works in one of those places, obviously less filled with vacuous tossers than its TV counterpart. His jeans are black and he rides a scooter to his office on Frith St, but otherwise he fits right in. Anyhoo, when I started my solo project in earnest, it became clear that I needed a website. Nothing fancy, just somewhere I can put videos and my blog posts all in the one place. Also, StrungOut was hosted on Tumblr, which, sorry Tumblr, I HATED using. HATED. It was forever crashing and losing entire posts, and I had to get Mr C to embed all my videos, or else embark on a coding course at night school. On his day off, he made me this website. He spent hours moving all my blog posts and embedding things, and the result is what you are looking at right this second. When he’d finished, he spent more crucial hours teaching me how to use it. He really is the dog’s gonads.

3. I’ve recently filmed two wee videos of the aforementioned solo project and have been waiting for the final cut before directing you to the website.

My solo thing, in a nutshell, consists of me, my (new) cello, a DPA microphone and a Boss Loopstation RC-300. I have no idea how this came about, and it’s taken a couple of years to develop into something that can be played in front of fellow humans without inciting ridicule. Like most cellists, I think the cello is the best instrument, of all the instruments. My immediate family, apart from my dad’s wife Jojo, are professional woodwinders. My dad used to scare the living crap out of my baby cousins by playing his contrabassoon when I was young. He’d blow the contra’s lowest note and it would have a similar effect on the toddlers to brown noise, only, instead of poop, tears helplessly spilled from their tiny eyes. Or maybe they were crying because of the poop.....we’ll never know. I thought it was cool, but had no desire to pick one up. Actually, I couldn’t have picked one up. Contrabassoons are enormous and I was three feet tall. When he and my mum divorced, my mum married another contrabassoonist. What are the chances? [Please: no jokes about wood fetishes. That’s my MUM. Have some respect.] So over the years my exposure to bassoon and contra repertoire has been unusually frequent. My mother is an ace flautist and piccolo player. Between her and husband they can cover the entire harmonic range. Despite this, or maybe because of it, I never wanted to become a woodwind player.

In AA, people say they were alcoholics before they picked up a drink. I think I was a cellist before I picked up a cello. (As well as an alcoholic. You can’t win ‘em all.) The only thing I like more than the sound of a cello, is the sound of two cellos, playing at the same time as one another. Sometimes when I’m walking around London with my cello, total strangers accost me at tube stations to tell me how much they love the cello. They’re not bothered if you play it well or not, what they love is the timbre (unpronounceable, wanky word) of the instrument. It sounds like it’s crying, laughing and groaning, like a human. When there is a death, or birth, or other massive emotional moment in a film or TV drama, you can bet your left teste that a cello solo isn’t far away. Sometimes I irritate Mr C by cynically going, “3, 2, 1...” to the inevitable long cello note that accompanies TV death or heartbreak. I am proved right at least 75% of the time. Vampy female characters in movies are often cellists. [To name a few: Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters, Susan Sarandon in The Witches of Eastwick, some blonde bombshell in the Bond film, The Living Daylights, when JB slides down a snowy mountain using the cello case as a makeshift sledge, implausibly using the cello as a bullet shield. I doubt her Allianz policy coughed up afterwards.] Who can forget the competition between Alan Rickman’s cello playing and Juliet Stevenson’s snot in Truly Madly Deeply? There’s something about the cello that reminds people, filmmakers, certainly, of sex and death. I didn’t understand all of that at the tender age of eight, but I knew as soon as I picked up my first half size cello, that I had met my musical match. There would be no brief bagpipe flirtation or a drum kit when I turned fifteen and became inexplicably cross with everybody. This was it.

Playing in my first cello section in the high flying Stockport Youth Orchestra at the age of 12, was a total game changer. I met other cellists, got my geek on over cello repertoire, and not being a natural sportswoman, felt part of a team for the first time in my life. My favourite bits of any piece were when the section had to split in half and play two different parts. I just thought the sound was like nothing on earth. Indeed, those were often the very words the section tutor used to use to describe our efforts.

I haven’t got immediate access to my own cello section who want to necessarily perform music that a) isn’t traditionally classical and b) is not intended for the cello. A loop pedal seemed like the obvious solution.

When I went nuts and took my enforced sabbatical, I couldn’t bear to listen to classical music. In my head I was a failed cellist, destined never to play again. Christ knows, I could have got a job as an actor, such was my penchant for melancholia. Hearing symphonies that I’d limped through drunk because I was so filled with fear on stage honestly made me relive the fight or flight response all over again. I couldn’t bear it. Some of my peers at the time were already on trial with the London Symphony Orchestra or completing their postgraduate studies in Vienna. Meanwhile, I was temping at the Birkenhead JobCentre, off my tits on librium. The feelings of shame and bewilderment were never more acute than when I accidentally heard a snippet of a symphony on Radio 3, or the BBC Proms were on the telly. For two years I listened solely to music I’d never performed. More often than not it was Radiohead, led by the inimitable Thom Yorke. If I wanted to change things up a bit I listened to The Eraser, Thom Yorke’s solo album, which was sounded like Radiohead, only more Radioheady.

When I started playing again, and gradually started earning some money, I started spending bits of it here and there on a DPA (posh) microphone, then an amp, then a little loop pedal. I’d never used one before, but I’d seen this KT Tunstall performance on Jools Holland and thought how incredible she sounded as a one woman band.

The Thom Yorke/Radiohead obsession was going nowhere, even after I manned up and got a bit better. Then, my husband located TY on the Youtube performing live and acoustic on you guessed it, Later...with Jools Holland. The original album version of The Clock is one of my favourite songs of all time. It would be one of my desert island discs, if I wanted to end my days on the desert island weeping, rocking back and forth, with nervous bowels. I never thought I’d hear it so stripped back, just twitchy old TY and his guitar. He doesn’t need any of the album’s drums, synths or drones to sound ominous. He can freak me out all on his own. 

I started to spend entire afternoons dicking about with the loop pedal. It was harder than it looks. It’s really easy to mess up a loop, especially if you’re playing at the same time. After a while I became less malcoordinated and more comfortable using it. I tried Thom’s acoustic version of The Clock, not expecting it to work. It didn’t, for ages. Then I changed bits, rearranged lines in the track and played it so much that my neighbours stopped smiling at me in the communal corridors. A few weeks later the indomitable Chloe Booker, founder and creator of the flourishing concert series Platform 33,  asked me to play and speak at what was formerly 93 Feet East, before it got shut down by the police for being AWASH with narcotics, in place of someone who’d dropped out, which is how all the best opportunities arise, I find. I decided on the day of the gig that I’d loop in public. I’d be a public looper. I wopped out Thom Yorke’s Clock (!) shit scared, and managed not to make an utter balls up of the loops. Our quartet’s agent Emily happened to be in the audience. She goes to dozens of performances and looks after all kinds of artists. She came up to me afterwards and said, “More of that, please.”

It’s taken a while and a loop station upgrade, but now I’m looping all kinds of stuff. I’ve managed to unshackle myself from Radiohead and in my little set there is Jimi Hendrix, Nine Inch Nails and Tinie Tempah, amongst others. I have no idea if it’s any good or not, and for once, I couldn’t give a shite. I’m having a lovely time working out how to play sixteen lines at once.