Friday, 2 December 2011

Mari Wilson Interview

Often imitated but never bettered, Mari Wilson's beehive ranks among the most iconic hairstyles of the eighties. In the decade that taste forgot, only Annie Lennox's flame-haired crop and Boy George's androgyne dreadlocks commanded more column inches.

Mari burst onto our teatime TV screens in 1982 like a bolt from the blue. Not because of her camp-as-Chrimbo backing band The Wilsations (though 'Hank', 'Curt' and 'Wilbur' weren't exactly an eyesore) - no, it was that foot-high beehive teamed with floor-length lame on 'Top of The Pops that made the 27-year old an instant star. And it didn't hurt that her song 'Just What I Always Wanted' was an irresistible slice of retro-pop that wouldn't have seemed out of place on the Sweet Charity soundtrack.

"People just weren't dressing up then!" Mari remembers when I chat to her in a Clerkenwell studio. "It was just after punk, and it was really unusual that I was dressed to the nines with a 12-piece band. And then afterwards of course there were The Eurythmics and ABC - bands that were all about dressing up."

And while Mari never had the shock-value of Pete Burns or Adam Ant, she was no stranger to controversy, with the Daily Mail (quelle surprise!) cattily remarking "Mari is dogged by the fact that her hairstyle has always been bigger than her recording successes.' Ouch. But for better or worse, everyone was talking about her.

And then, after a Smash Hits cover and string of Top 40 hits, she did the unthinkable. "In 1985, I walked away from my record contract. And it's usually them dropping the artists! But I was really unhappy, and I wouldn't make the high-energy Hazell Dean records that they wanted.'

Now at the age of 57, Mari's plunging her energies into two wildly different projects: a witty dance single 'O.I.C.' with London producer BoiSounds, and a stripped down covers record to be released in early 2012. She now lives in Crouch End, London with her 14-year old daughter, and, free from the manipulation of record company bigwigs, she's able to pick and choose her projects. And although her hair-hopping up-do has been replaced with a sleek bob, she'll always be Queen Of The Beehive. Just don't try to get between her and her Bristows.

So how much hairspray did you used to get though?

We ordered it in crates! We used this brand called Bristows, and it stunk! To begin with I did it myself, and then when I got more well-known my hairdresser Peter started to travel with me everywhere. The bigger I got, the bigger the beehive got - just like Amy Winehouse's! When we went to tour America, they tried to stop us taking our crate on the plane, and I said "[gasps] we have to, we have to!" They let us in the end!

Did you wear a hair piece?

No, it was all my own hair, all of it. Peter used to put heated rollers in, spraying as he wrapped the hair around them. And then the rollers would come out, and it would backcomb it all until I looked like Eraserhead! And then he would sculpt it. It was amazing, really. In fact, I met Joanna Lumley a couple of years ago….

Well she did Patsy in Ab Fab, who had an incredible beehive as well.

Exactly! Someone introduced us, and she said 'Mari Wilson? I bow at your feet! You're the one with the real beehive - how could mine compare?' [laughs]

Have you ever had drag queens doing you?

Oh yeah! And I've had male fans in the eighties that would come to the gigs in beehives, dressed up as me!

And how did they look?

Not great, to be honest! But I'm quite happy for people to send me up.

Well, that's something I've always liked about you. I was watching the video for 'Just What I Always Wanted' earlier, and there's a bit on Brighton pier where a boy looks at the candyfloss, then the beehive, and he's like 'huh?'

Oh yes! [laughs] I quite like camping it up and having a laugh.

And what about your new record? Why did you want to do an album of covers?

Well, for the past few years I've been gigging with just two musicians - I call it Mari Wilson's Threesome! And it's a very torchey kind of performance, and totally different from my last album 'Emotional Glamour', which was very sixties and very produced. So I thought it was about time I recorded these songs. And although they're covers, every song is completely different from the original.

You slow it down?

Yes. I've done 'They Don't Know' by Kirsty MacColl, and 'Don't Get Me Wong' by The Pretenders - which has such beautiful lyrics. When you slow it down, you can really hear the poetry. And I've covered a song by a new artist that I love called Caitlin Rose.

Oh, wasn't she discovered on Youtube?

I didn't know that! But isn't everyone these days? I think that record companies are very much involved with making it look like that.

There's always been myth-making around artists though.

Oh yeah, and that's part of the fun! I remember in 1982, my manager Tot Taylor called up the Evening Standard and told them that David Bowie had been spotted in HMV buying a Mari Wilson record - and they printed it! And why not? I quite like the whole fantasy thing, that's exciting for me. I don't mind all that.

An edit of this interview originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Beige

Sunday, 7 August 2011

ICONIC: Winona Ryder

Isn't it everyone's dream to have eternal youth? Dorian Gray sells his soul for it, Michael Jackson built Neverland in an attempt to cling on to it, and 'Winona Ryder' made a whole career out of it.

Contrary to popular belief, 'Winona Ryder' only lived from 1986 to 2001, when her star was tragically extinguished by an unfortunate brush with reality in Saks Fifth Avenue, Beverly Hills. The incident left Ms Ryder fighting for her life and her career, but the outcome was not positive. She enjoyed just fifteen years under the Hollywood sun.

The slim-limbed and fresh-faced Winona, who was born with the surname Horowitz, was one of our last great actresses. Her star was born on the back of a small but hugely significant role in the football comedy Lucas in 1986. As Corey Haim's best friend she shone with winsome charm amidst a rabble of teen co-stars (among them Charlie Sheen), and even when puffing on a clarinet maintained dignity and grace.

The rebirth of Winona Horowitz as 'Winona Ryder' ranks with the greatest of Tinseltown transformations, like the legends Norma Jeane (Marylin Monroe) and Audrey Ruston (Audrey Hepburn) before her. Winona's entrance to this Hollywood pantheon of stars came just a decade before it was brought to ruins by the Internet and reality television shows in the late nineties.

Winona's 'type' was The Hyperbolic Heroine: a regular kind of person multiplied by ten. When faced with an alienating high school clique in Heathers, Ms Ryder takes the drastic measure of poisoning her best frenemy with bleach before blowing up the school. The rebellious daughter to Cher's hip-swinging beehived Mom in Mermaids? A retreat into devout Catholicism is really our young heroine's only option. And as a misfit teen in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, founding a sanctuary for farm animals and casual goth styling will surely help with the playground teasing.

Throughout her defining roles she remained a beacon of dewy insouciance and an immortal vision of youth, but the tragedy of 'Winona Ryder' is that she never reached adulthood. As she entered her thirties, she was still playing a closeted sorority leader in love with Rachel in Friends ('I can still hear the coconuts knocking together!'), and the high-school cool girl subjecting a 46-year old ex-junkie to a makeover in Strangers With Candy.

'Winona Ryder''s death-by-shoplifting is to Hollywood what Macbeth is to theatre, a cursed legend only referred to in pseudonym or hushed tones. Alas, her last great performance – on the witness stand – was not captured on celluloid, and she was consigned to the Hollywood scrap heap.

After noncommittally haunting The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and A Scanner Darkly, the ghost of 'Winona Ryder' horrifically returned in Darren Aranofsky's Black Swan last year. As the washed-up ballerina Beth Macintyre, Winona rattles through the picture like an unhinged poltergeist, a psychobiddy caricature of middle-age. Like Bette Davis as Baby Jane before her, she is a spectre of youth; art and life were never so cruelly and deliciously intertwined. 'Did you suck his cock?' she drunkenly slurs at Natalie Portman before throwing herself in front of a car. Winona's visage, once the face that launched a thousand scripts, is brutally torn to shreds by her own fair hand. 'I'm nothing!' she cries, stabbing her porcelain cheek with a nailfile. 'Nothing!' she shrieks, writhing and foaming at the mouth. She lays down dead, finally exorcised.

As Jocelyn Wildenstein discovered and continues to discover on a daily basis, the elixir of youth is a double-edged sword. What Winona Horowitz does now is neither here nor there; like River Phoenix before her, 'Winona Ryder' never grew up.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Stevie Nicks - In Your Dreams Review

Joni may have turned to jazz, but in her seventh solo album Stevie's sticking to her folk-rock guns. There's nothing here to rival the bootylicious swagger of Edge of Seventeen, but Stevie's self-consciously witchy chanteuserie remains incomparable. Plundering Edgar Allen Poe in Annabel Lee and, bizarrely, Twilight: New Moon in Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream), Stevie reworks occultist narratives into driving pop melodies. The album's best song is the sparse ballad For What It's Worth, the swansong of an impossible relationship and the song that she needed to live through addiction and heartbreak to write. In more ways than one, it's the record of a lifetime.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

You can be in Mel Merio's new video, if you like

"I'm so tired, I didn't go to bed till 6!' Viennese pop star Mel Merio exclaimed when I met her at her London show earlier this year. Oh, raving till the early hours? In fact, no. "My housemates were having a party and they kept me up - I just wanted to go to sleep!"

Not that you'd assume such a homebody from her music. Her first single 'Lovemore' was a sublime slice of Roisin Murphy-esque glacial Italo, and now Mel returns with a collaborative video project for her new single 'What's The Big Deal'.

01 What's The Big Deal (Original) by Sainted PR

“We want to give you the possibility to present yourself in this video," says Mel. "You’ll need to sing along or lip synch, but also feel free to write your stage-name, website, slogans or whatever you want on a poster, your clothes or even on your body."

If you want to join the likes of confirmed contributors Amanda Lepore and Peaches in the video, here's what you need to do:

1) Film yourself in hi-res singing along to 'What's the Big Deal'. The lyrics are here.
2) upload the whole, uncompressed file to Sendspace
3) Set the recipient's email to


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Boys' Own Story: Interview with Nico Muhly

For Nico Muhly, there are two types of people: those that are good at being online, and those that are bad at being online. 'I live a life which is basically online/offline all the time,' the 29-year old composer says from his apartment on the Northern fringes of Chinatown, New York. 'I heard a report on the radio two days ago about how young people have different online and offline identities, and you think 'hmm, kind of...' But there's a huge permeability there.'

Nico has a deft hand at merging the esoteric and the ultra-modern. In addition to releasing his own acclaimed, genre-eschewing modern classical releases Speaks Volumes (2007) and Mothertongue (2008), in recent years Nico has become the most sought-after collaborator for indie bands experimenting with orchestral arrangements. Anthony Hegarty, Jonsi, Grizzly Bear? Check, check check. Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson? He's known them for years. Bjork? Duh. Essentially, he’s the Nicki Minaj of the classical world.

For the past two years, Nico has been working on Two Boys, an opera about gay cyber-homicide that opens in London this month and will transfer to New York in 2014. The piece is loosely based on a notorious 1990s internet murder which happened in Manchester.

'The opera begins with the fact that there's a boy that's been stabbed, and another boy who's been seen stabbing him on camera,' he explains. 'And there's a policewoman who has to figure out how and why this happened; she's essentially a creature of the analogue world, and we trace her journey into understanding what the dangers, possibilities and ecstatic moments of a life online could mean.'

The policewoman, played by the 'wonderful' Susan Bickley, uncovers a digital world previously unknown to her, where physical location is irrelevant and identity mutable.

Two Boys

'I think one of the things the Internet does is de-specify people,' Nico says. 'You can be chatting with someone that’s saying they're in London, but actually they're in Singapore and a different gender and the wrong age. When the boys are IM-ing in Two Boys and one says 'what do you look like?' all of a sudden there's a picture of a girl. That moment is an intimacy; it also happens to be a lie. To me, that is an enormously exciting dramatic moment, and it reminds me of the shifting identities in Mozart or Rossini, and which you see as long as there’s been opera.’

If anyone was going to transpose the old world of opera into a digital context it would be Nico. He talks enthusiastically and expansively, casually littering his conversation with polysyllabic bon mots and Classical references, with his tone falling somewhere between music dork and old-school camp.

The latter is not particularly surprising, given his upbringing surrounded by gay separatists. 'It's fair to say that my parents were pretty bohemian, and some of my Mom's best friends were Radical Faeries,' he says nonchalantly. 'It was a very queer-normative household in a genuine sense. It didn't feel different.'

But amid the 'strange polygamist configurations' that went on, the 11 year-old Nico took to his piano and joined a boys' choir. 'It was incredibly rigorous,' he recalls of the Tudor hymns that he memorised as a boy. 'But if your mind is open to it, it can turn very quickly into an academic pursuit while never abandoning the beauty of it. I feel like if you're gonna know a thing, you might as well know it to the bottom of it.'

There’s a frenetic energy to his conversation which perhaps goes some way to explaining his extraordinary work output. I wonder aloud where his drive comes from. 'At the moment there's this unspeakable debate about whether gays should be in the military in America, which is so crazy on a really fundamental level. If you're putting a flaw on someone's willingness to perform a public service you're basically saying they're not citizens! So for me as an artist, I feel an especial drive to achieve consistent excellence, just to prove that I am citizen of something, if not the country where I live.'

After all, the majority of Nico's indie-world collaborations have been with gay musicians. 'I sometimes find myself in these weird situations, where the only answer is just this weird queer supremacy, where you just think 'let straight people be late for the bus, and let straight people not know their music, and all us queens are gonna get our shit done.' It doesn't mean anything, it just means that it's done! There's no connotation except the fact that we're awesome.'

Like the narrative of Two Boys, Nico's story bridges the gap between analogue and digital: bookishly steeped in tradition and literary references, but constantly travelling and tied to his iPhone. Throughout our conversation, an image of him struggling with opera manuscripts on the seat-back table of an aeroplane keeps popping into my mind.

After our conversation I get home and check Facebook. I have a Friend Request from Nico. "I'M E STALKING YOU!' reads the message. I'd expect nothing less. Say what you like about Nico Muhly, but this queen is getting his shit done.

An edited version of this article appeared in the June issue of Attitude.

Jessica 6 - See The Light Review

The offshoot of New York nu-disco darlings Hercules and Love Affair, Jessica 6 delve into soul and synthpop on their mesmerising debut. Trans frontwoman Nomi Ruiz is a 21st century Amanda Lear, giving the three-piece's oft-eerie electronica a liberal coating of androgyne honey. Album highlight is reunion with past collaborator Antony Hegarty Prisoner of Love, where the chilling refrain 'why was I born only to be a slave?' takes the clipped strings and Game Boy bloops into 4am anti-anthem territory. The early-90s RnB groove of Freak The Night sounds like a lost Babyface production, while In The Heat shimmers with the instantly-timeless feel of a disco floorfiller. Forget Hercules, this is your new love affair.


Bon Iver - Bon Iver Review

Past collabs with Kanye and Nicki aside, no-one trades in six-stringed falsetto isolation like Justin Vernon (a.k.a. Bon Iver). Marching drums on opener Perth pummel us into vulnerability, but the emotional soccer-punch is in the spare, looping instrumentation, which veers from glitchy feedback to Orinoco Flows ambience. As in life, the heartbreak's in the things that can't be said. Breathtaking.