Sunday, 17 March 2013

Beware of normal looking folk at garden centres!

We busked at the Farmers Market outside Cheddar Garden Centre for two and a half hours. The drizzle of motorised persons were hanging on to their pensions for dear life, as we raised a princely sum of £6 in the hat. With petrol cost, my spinach slice and getting a flat and having to spend £54 on a new tyre, it cost us a fair bit to have the pleasure of busking today.

The upside was that it was a glorious sunshiny day enabling both Nick and myself to acquire the designer, half a bright-pink-face-look to perfection. Somerset was utterly breath-taking, with it's idyllic vistas stretching as far as the eye can see. As I lay back on the soft grassy verge at the side of the road, inhaling the freshly crushed wild garlic (tenderly crushed by my bulk) and admiring Nick's tyre changing technique, I thought, "mmm lets have hummus with crushed roasted cumin seeds and masses of garlic tonight". (Because that is the way a woman's brain works in those circumstances!)

At the Garden Centre earlier, a couple in their mid 70's stopped to talk at us. The man held Nick captive with his seamlessly linked health issues and inconsequential anecdotes. His introduction into his world was, "I play the guitar but I ripped my hand open recently, the machine pushed the flesh back from my knuckles to my wrist ... etc".

Having heard all her husband has to say many times before, Mrs seized her opportunity to corner me, "We've been coming up from Penzance to holiday in Somerset for 30 years". Noting their strong Northern accents, I asked, "Do you not want to visit your Hovis Land"? She told me they left there 30 years ago and will never go back. They had lived in a small village near Leicestershire but it had become over-run with 'Pakis' (she said this like they had been hit by the plaque).

She went on (oblivious of my aghast expression) saying that they had built mosques everywhere (I imagined them the size of telephone boxes, on every street corner). "We were surrounded by them and their mosques and were being kept awake with their wailing all through the night and then when our kids went to school there was more of them than our own so we had to escape down to Cornwall with our kids to get away from them!"

("Lucky for them", I uttered under my breath). I wondered if over the past 30 years, she had frequently regaled her festering woe to strangers at Garden Centre's and such like. I looked at her beige normality. I was speechless. Her dirty money - all 20 pence of it - mingled with the coins in my faux-fur leopard beret.

Friday, 8 March 2013

THE VOICE series 3 and ME!

Unfortunately for me, it began and ended at The Blind Auditions as no chairs turned for my voice. Then today, 5 days before the final programme of auditions, I am finally told I didn't make the cut! I am a bit gob-smacked as I know for sure that I was a lot better than many of the other singers I have seen on the new series. I was told that they are unable to accommodate everyone filmed in the series "This is no reflection on you or your audition just the fact that we have not got enough time within the series to accommodate all the talented individuals that tried out for the show at the initial Blind Auditions stage"

I was so certain that I would be on the programme that I had prepared this blog about my experience of the day. Right now I am thinking it was because the coaches were so bland and un-entertaining during my performance and as the programme is largely about them (than anyone's voice) it would not have made good viewing. They did and said none of the playful things I have seen them doing on this series. But I was not dull. I was very playful and funny during the chat afterwards. I don't have celebrity reverence, I spoke to them as the equals they are. I was probably the only rejected singer who burst into the backstage room afterwards singing opera. I was not destroyed remotely by the judges refusal and was worried my family might think I was. I didn't want this artificial situation to getter the better of me or them! The day had been incredibly stressful for us all. They were shunted from room to room towards the final audition bit and not being able to be in the audience they watched on a TV in a room in the bowels of Media City, with camera's glued to their faces! With the tension mounting (stress cold-sore's erupting on Nick's mouth and my daughter almost having a meltdown of nerves on my behalf), they were urged to build up the drama!

However, the whole exhilarating, surreal, fun and nerve-wracking experience was brilliant. I was put so far out of my comfort zone that it has encouraged me to expand my horizons and not be so afraid to take on more uncomfortable challenges. I am delighted that out of the 30.000 singers that auditioned, I made it as far as the 124 that took part in The Blind Auditions.

Thursday the 13th of December was the first day of the blind recordings and was also my allotted day to shine! Throughout the day I felt like I was operating from another sphere. Like a set of scales with equal amounts of terror and calm on either side I was that thin line in the middle and during the time I was on the stage I had a kind of amnesia and directly afterwards I could barely recall the experience. On the way home that icy night (where even the Manchester canals were frozen over) my family had to recount everything to me bit by bit. I had to re-watch it through their ears and eyes and put all the fragments together from their experience. After I had sung my song on stage, there was a very long conversation between the judges and myself and during that part (once the terror of the song itself was over) I felt at ease in myself, so it was odd that I blanked everything immediately afterwards! It was quite honestly one of the most surreal experiences of my life!

As I entered the stage the audience were in darkness and the lighting on me was dazzlingly bright. I had been uneasy that with nervous shaky legs I would fall down the clear perspex steps that led onto the stage, but I arrived at the microphone intact. The anticipating silence of the audience seemed amplified, like a massive wasp loose in the room. Directly in my view were the backs of 4 chairs concealing the 4 well known faces. As there is no count in from the band, I stood there not knowing when they would strike up. I didn’t know where to breathe. I felt like a rabbit in headlights. Suddenly I was sure I had no voice. But then like an out of body experience I heard my voice coming in on cue and delivering the first line. (Apparently at this point Jesse said, "I can't tell if it is a man or a woman?"). Suddenly I became desperate to swallow but all moisture had drained from my throat that had become sandpaper. I panicked that now I would certainly fuck it all up!! Voices in my head were babbling escape routes at me and the distraction of them caused what sounded like a bum note which led to a ‘bum note panic’ and my inner head mistress reprimanded me. “You fool!" she scolded, "How could you let yourself go out of tune in a one and a half minute performance!” (Nick said afterwards that he never heard me go out of tune - but never had my senses been on such excruciating alert) My many years in this profession must have thrown me into automatic pilot as (like an out of body experience) I could hear Joanna was still singing. I have no idea if I was at 50% or 75% of how I knew I could sing this song. I would never have expected 100% from myself under such nerve-wracking circumstances and I won’t know until I see the programme (at the same time as 12 million others) whether my performance was mediocre or good.

(Ha! See, when I wrote this I was so sure I would get to be seen by 12 million people and now I will never even know myself if I was as good as I would have liked to have been!! )

A couple of days previously I’d had a quick dress rehearsal with the house band on the actual stage. Each of us contestants gets to run through our song 3 times so the sound-man can get the balance right. The first time through was truncated because the bandleader took me by surprise by suddenly playing trumpet lines where there would have been vocal gaps in the original recording of the song. I was singing my own version of this song and had added embellishments in those areas, so his soloing at the same time I was singing was very disconcerting. I had to stop the band and ask him if he would stop blowing his horn!

All us singers had to adjust to the slightly dislocated foldback that we were hearing through a semi circle sound grid around the edge of the stage. When the judges sing on the show they do so with in-ear monitors, (possibly with pitch notes given to them). I am not sure why they should get this unfair advantage. We had to adjust to a slight vocal delay and pull out everything we have within 1 minute and 30 seconds. This kind of performing requires a vocal sprinter and I generally use the first song to get my bearings and then I am in my stride. I was though, very appreciative of the lovely audience, as even in this altered state of consciousness, I could feel tremendous warmth and encouragement coming from them. (If placards of were being held up to them, they worked!)

In the lead up to the blinds all us singers had some short sessions with singing coaches that are part of The Voice production team. Although the sessions were only around 15 minutes, this had been helpful and between a lovely woman (whose profession had been in West End Musicals) and Nick (my partner in life and music) I had some useful advice that I took on board and developed. The singing teacher had felt I should really bring out the playful aspect of the song, saying I should play with the innuendo when I sing "is what I came for" and even on the day of the recording was suggesting I move around the stage pointing at different men in the audience and directing the song at them. This frolicsome approach doesn’t come naturally to me, so I didn’t do it. She saw the song working with a more playful, burlesque performance but that is so not my style. She said that if I 'played' to the audience the judges will feel the buzz coming off them and will respond to that. I think I felt there was enough sauce in the song without me lathering on more than was necessary. I think I performed it with the amount of wit that felt natural to me.

I had noticed how in the 1st series chairs were likely to turn the moment females let rip into big longheld notes and especially if they were loaded with ornamentation. For some reason this rule applied less to the male contestants. With the exception of Adele modern R&B singing leaves me numb. I would always choose Dusty Springfield's soulful composure over Christina Aguilera's fog horn gymnastics. I could have gone loud (and ye olde style) tricksy but I chose to do something more Nina Simone-ish with a 50's cabaret song .

So there I was, in this dislocated and dreamlike state, I had crossed the most dynamic part of the song and was on the home run and I just knew that no chair was going to turn now. I was momentarily thrown with disappointment and even the “Oh no” in my head was a cartoon-like, deep, slowed down muffle! Then I heard the song ending. A big applause. Phew! Never had one and a half minutes been so endless and so fast at the same time!

Odd to see those 4 chairs turn slowly in unison and 4 joyless faces looking at me very seriously. I felt like a naughty schoolgirl who had been told to stand up in assembly for her misconduct. On their part though, they could hardly be slapping their thighs with glee when they are the arbiters of shattering dreams of success! I broke the ice first by saying “I think your buttons were broken”. I still couldn’t read their deadpan faces and so it occurred to me that “maybe they think I am being serious!!” I think I said it again, smiling harder and Tom said, with a deadpan expression, “must be". Then I made a faux pas, because I spontaneously went down the steps to talk with the coaches on their level. They looked askance, infact Jesse looked pissed off and told me I had to stay up on the stage. I began to find this all mildly entertaining and started to giggle because the judges looked so un-amused.

Back in my rightful spot on the stage Jesse started the dialogue with something to the effect of “I didn’t press my button because am not into Cabaret". Then Tom Jones reiterated her sentiment with something like “ Ditto that - I don’t want cabaret either”. Was not Sir Tom a Cabaret singer in the height of his pop success? Was he embarrassed and wanting to be in Jesse's hip young crew by saying that? I wonder why ‘cabaret’ was such a dirty word and why it shouldn’t be a consideration on The Voice? (A programme that in itself is a form of Cabaret) I felt I had given this 50’s show-tune an original bluesy take. (See podcast below) In my opinion it was classy kitsch (which I love) but did they hear it as a cruise ship performance? Maybe the song was so far out of their musical catalogue that they didn’t get it’s style?

I said to them that I thought it was funny they should class me as that, as I certainly wasn’t known as a 'cabaret' singer. If I wasn’t a cabaret singer then why did I choose that song, they asked. I told them that my first choice had been to perform Big Mama Thorton’s, Hound Dog. Nick had recorded a backing track for me with big 70's synths and a great swaggering groove and I had hoped this juxtaposition would have represented me more wholly in terms of where I am as a singer and producer. I hoped that Will.I.Am would have heard something exciting in this contrast of retro and new. I had used this Hound Dog backing in my auditions and it was the singing coach’s favourite audition piece. But Whatever Lola Wants was the production team favourite. I had sung it in the second part of the Cardiff audition and it had got me this far in the game. I love this song too and I think the Voice team felt it added a different style from the other contestants. It is interesting; did the genre of the song block the judges hearing of my voice? In retrospect I don’t think that Jesse, Will or Danny had ever heard it before and so that probably didn’t do me any favours as Jesse couldn't mouth along. I actually seriously wonder whether Tom knew it either because if he did he would now I had made it my own. The house band played the song straight but Nick and I had prepared a version of it with a great 70’s funk groove and that would have possibly taken the judges off the scent of Cabaret. By the way, I am not saying any of this in a big-headed way.

Apart from Will.I.Am, who seemed a wee bit more attentive, I felt the other judges to be very downbeat and impassive. Danny never said a single word throughout and just looked a bit constipated. When all the chairs turned around there was a greyness about the coaches that took me aback. (I am not counting the baked bean, latex, tan radiating from Tom’s face here) My partner Nick, daughter Moomie and nieces Bala and Rosa were with me on that day. They watched my performance on TV from the backstage room. They said that throughout my singing there was no expression other than complete boredom on the judges’ faces! They were stationary, unaffected by the rhythm and they didn't even look at each-other. We are all really keen to see if they edit in more animated expressions from other performances as their total indifference will not make entertaining viewing.

(Except that that ain't gonna happen now!)

During the after song chat on the stage I wanted to say to the judges that I embrace all kinds of singing but instead (typically of me) I announced "I am not a one horse town!" (Meaning to say “I am not a one trick pony’). I continued with, “Er .. that’s not the expression is it?” I am by nature, a light-hearted and friendly person, so I was relieved to feel a rapport with the audience, they seemed to be right with me in spirit and amused by my scattiness. Jesse replied icily with no hint of amusement and what looked like a revolting taste of Cockney in her mouth, “You don’t want to be that!” (Btw - I love Cockneys - just couldn't resit that! Jesse is always going on about singers diction when hers needs attention:~P)

Tom used his stock phrase of, “You have to choose a song you can put your heart and soul into”. I felt (as much as I could under the circumstances) that I had to put my heart and soul into Lola. I always put my heart and soul into every song I sing. I expressed to the judges that I probably put more heart and soul into our own songs. (Although I don't know why I said that it's not true - defensiveness maybe. Original songs were not allowed during The Blinds part of The Voice). Jesse then put me on the spot by saying “sing us one of your own songs”. Blood drained from my ankles but I took the challenge and said something like, ”this is one that was used in a worldwide TV advert” and sang the opening of a song of ours called Bellissimo, but I was so nervous I forgot a few words. My family said that when I sang this it was the only moment Jesse's expression slightly softened. Also after that Will.I.Am, who had not spoken a word, joined in with the conversation.

The first thing he said was “I should have turned around’. (Nick yelling backstage “It’s too late to say that now!!”) He went on to suggest how, with me in his team, he could have taken old blues and rock and roll songs and given them a new production twist. Which was what I had had in mind if he were to have turned for me. So I replied to Will that I was very embracing of new musical challenges and very experimental, at which point the audience let out a huge "ooohh-er' of innuendo, which was really funny and certainly made me laugh.

As our very long chat was coming to its end, Tom said, to reassure me, something to the effect of "Well is only us 4". So I replied, "you 4 and this huge wonderful audience in front of me", which gave them another opportunity to cheer and applaud.

As I left the stage I first went to shake Danny’s hand. His handshake was limp and unconnected and so was the expression in his eyes. Next Tom. I was appreciative that he was the main one consistently conversing with me during the chat and he seemed to have warmed up a tad. He was also the only one who actually said something about my voice. Although to be told "You have a good voice' is neither here nor there really. I was later told that as I moved on from Jesse she turned to Danny and said, “I thought she was going to punch you!” I found this a bizarre thing for her to say as I would not have remotely come across as a thug. I shook Will’s hand and he repeated to me that he should have turned around and I garbled something like “check out our music at”! (Which, of course he will never do!) Apart from Will these celebrities seemed less alluring in the flesh, drab even (but then I have never been awestruck by fame, we are all members of the same sports club - The Human Race :~)

I had hoped for either Tom or Will to turn. I said in my interview with Reggie Yates that I wanted Tom to turn and throw his panties at me! I knew I would not appeal to Jesse, or Danny (who had the air of a man just woken from a 20 year sleep). As a kid I was besotted by the song Delilah whenever it came on the radio. I really like Tom's distinctive voice and that for over half a century he is still singing as well as ever. And yes he is a bronzed corn-fed iconic legend of British pop. I had imagined us duetting ‘Sex-Bomb’ and showing how the oldies' can still pack a punch! I also thought we (Ilya) could get a foot in the door writing some great blues songs for his next album! Oh yes had I covered all bases in my day-schemings and dreamings! Anyway, now I think he is a phoney arse! This time last year I knew nothing of Will.I.Am. Although I think his music is horrible, I am drawn to him as a person. To me he is the most enigmatic of the coaches, he has a big personality and playful life-force that is attractive. With his production skills I felt sure we could have made a great creative team but alas … it was not to be. I was so close and yet so incredibly far.

A post note : I thought participants would get £500 each on the day of actual filming but I apparently read the contract wrong and payments only start when the battles begin. For a programme that pulls in such a huge audience I am not sure I think this is fair play!

Below is a film we made around a year ago of What Ever Lola Wants. This was made to get us some private function work. Further down are podcasts of the 3 songs I prepared to perform on the voice. They sent a list of 200 songs to choose from and Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime was from the list. You could then add 2 of your won choice, which I did as almost all the songs were not my kind of thing.

Whatever Lola Wants Lola Gets.