- Tell us more about yourself. What do you do and how long you’ve been working in this industry?
I’m a quirky musical performer who writes her own songs. I prance about the stage singing/playing my music, showing off my 1960s outfits and space-age costumes, and get everyone joining in! I’ve been doing this for AGES! Started about 32 years ago!
In that time, I’ve written 6 CDs, performed at hundreds of festivals, written a children’s book and an accompanying CD (The Crumble Lady published by Candyjar books), and got hundreds of fans who love my catchy lyrics and tunes! I’ve made a living from being musical and kind of funnyl.
Three years ago, at the tender age of 53, I sold my soul to the Cowell Empire and entered for Britain’s Got Talent. I came out the other side with a Golden Buzzer from the mighty David Walliams!
Still at it at the age of 57! Ha ha!
- Who did you want to be when you were a kid?
When I was a teenager I wanted to be the musical geniuses Marc Bolan and David Bowie were. I wanted to have the eccentricity and hilarity of the women characters I enjoyed in the Carry-On films (fave being Esma Cannon). I also wanted the haphazardness of Tommy Cooper, the campness of Kenneth Williams and the elegance of Julie Christie! Well, one can dream, can’t they!
As a girl in the 1960s/1970s, you didn’t think about the future as you do now. I was brought up in Gloucestershire, firstly in a caravan and then on a 60s estate. Inspiration wasn’t on the cards and schooling was pretty limited.
It was only when my parents moved to Essex that the opportunities soured. I got the chance to go to a new school, learn the clarinet, sing in choirs, sit my exams and eventually be the first in the family to get a degree! A music degree – fancy that!
I went for my first Melody Maker audition to be a pop star when I was 21 and… was told that I was too old! Ha ha!
- What was your ‘punch in the stomach’ or when did you first realise that this is going to become your career?
In the 1980s I was in lots of bands in London. Then in 1988, I got the most fabulous opportunity to audition to be Billy Bragg’s pianist. It was for his Workers Playtime Tour starting in Leeds and going all over Europe. I got the job! And I wasn’t just touring with him, I was also being educated in ‘how to be a professional pop star.’ Billy Bragg is the most hardworking performer and a brilliant leader.
I learnt about sound checking on stadium stages, recording for TV, touring for hours in a cramped bus, knowing when to speak and when to shut up and how to perform in front of thousands of fans. After the tour, he encouraged me to send him some songs that I’d written. So I did that. He then said to get some solo gigs. And I did that too.
It was exciting being out there on my own and I know that I would have never done all that without the push. But I enjoyed it and got the feedback that I had lots to offer as a solo performer.
I don’t think women feel that entitlement to be on stage like men do. It takes more of a push for us to get up there.
- What were the 3 biggest obstacles in pursuit of your career?
- In my first band, the cellist and I had to go to a lawyer to get some publishing points. I remember that as my first ‘fight’ to get what I believed belonged to me. Since then I’ve never skipped a payment to the Musicians Union and I’m up to date on all form-filling for the royalties that are owed to me. Being a musician/performer isn’t just about the glamour – there’s a lot of admin too!
- Very early on in my solo career, I was heckled at the Glastonbury Festival comedy stage. That caused a lot of anxiety. Though that same year, I went on a ‘Nervousness Workshop’ at Goldsmiths College and was cured of most of it. I’ve now got a few tips and tricks for getting on stage and I share them with my students and colleagues. It came in very useful during Britain’s Got Talent when I had to perform in front of 13 million people watching the show live.
- An obstacle could have been not having a record company, agent or management but it wasn’t. In the end, I did most of it myself. Having read The Little Red Hen constantly as a child, I just got on with it.
I was lucky that technology has made it possible for me to create my own record company – Sequin Skirt, release 6 albums, CDs, music and YouTube videos. Every time I’ve earned a bit of money I’ve put it into recording another song, paying all sorts of collaborative musicians and a mastering engineer. I’m now proud of my recordings and I think they sound just how I wanted them to sound!
- Where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration comes from the minutiae of everyday life, from clean sheets to bicycle adventures, from making crumble on a Sunday afternoon to eating pizzas or even dancing around in space!
The hoards of ideas fill my notebooks and with the inspiration from lyrics come snippets of tunes. The tunes then haunt me so that they have to be written down. To write a song is like doing the most cryptic crossword – writing the least amount of words to say the most amount of emotion. It’s a great moment when you get the exact rhyme and the number of syllables to fit the tune or vice versa.
- What challenges do you face in this industry as a ‘50+ artist’?
I don’t see the challenges of the music industry as an age thing, just as a performer in general. The 90s and the early 2000s were lush with money and funding. There’s a lack of it nowadays, and the arts, on the whole are at the rock bottom in the Tory political agenda. When I visit other countries with more live culture I get quite angry about how culturally poor we are in England!
Being a woman over 50 creates physical challenges and dilemmas such as keeping fit enough to lug my 23kg case on the train! Keeping healthy is key. I suppose changing the set to keep up with your body and diversifying is key too. I haven’t quite got that one yet. The main thing is to keep doing projects in and around your work, like performing, teaching, writing, inventing and inspiring.
Women over 50 are reasonably invisible in the general scheme of things but I feel like I’m part of the NEW generation who are pushing forward that old state of mind. I’ve met many inspirational women in their 60s who are definitely ‘the new 21’!
Men seem to get so grouchy and grumpy as they get older but a lot of women seem to blossom and find new adventures going forward. It’s all exciting these days. There are no rules anymore.
- What advice would you give someone who is about to start their career but is being told that it’s ‘too late’?
Lordy, it’s never too late – look at Beryl Cook, the artist who had her first art exhibition at the age of 50. And I was told I was too old to be a popstar at 21!
Early on in life, people don’t have much to say to create art – you haven’t lived through buckets of trauma and heartache. Much better to create with loads of life experiences.
It’s all about feeling PASSIONATE about getting an idea together. Originality is key and no matter what age you are, if you can create a ‘world’ and invite people in, that’s what counts.
I personally think women in their 50s are the new punks, the new set to break through centuries and decades of oppression – it’s US, it’s HERE, it’s NOW! We are so blinkin’ trendy!
- Do you have any idols and if so, who and why?
Similarly to question 2, women with character and humour are my idols. Esmee from the Carry-On films; Edith Sitwell; Beryl Cook, the women that stuck right out as being quirky, weird, talented and above other human existence.
I was struck by characters as a kid and I still am. Please don’t let characters be bland!
- What’s your life motto?
Be the hostess with the mostess! Be strong, charming and at all times wear your polyester outfits with pride!
And keep learning… I’m learning to machine sew at the moment and have just been on a website software course. Professional development is key!
- You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?
Bright red! Alert and raring to go!