Saturday, 31 October 2015

More on the Use of the Voice

  

   A follow up to:  Keeping your Voice Healthy


Contents:


Breathing and Support Exercises

Speaking Exercises

Singing exercises

Some Thoughts on Learning Songs  

Motivation for doing these Exercises Daily


  
  Breathing and Support Exercises

1.  Get out of breath.  I like to play the game where someone shouts 'Port' and you all run there.  'Starboard'.  'Climb the rigging'  'Scrub the decks'.  That game. Yes, you can play it on your own.  In life, you should develop so many inner resources you could live alone in a bisexual menage a trois.
  2.  Lie on the floor with a book under your head.  Massage your head, neck and shoulders. Put the backs of your hands against your ribs on either side, shoulder blades down, neck free, and inhale to push your hands away from your body.  Put your hands by your sides and imagine that your ribs are making snow angels, one on either side. 
  3.  Go on all fours and imagine you're breathing through your hamstrings. Arch your back, flatten your back.  From your hamstrings you could yawn, laugh, cry, speak, sing, and - here's the one - take the kind of sharp breath in that my plumber mate Jimmy does when he's asked for an estimate.  
  4.  Stand up slowly, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees unlocked.  Put your middle finger tips on your thighs.  Make your neck and shoulders jelly.  If you can see the horizon through a window, look there.  Actually, if you can't, go outside to look at the horizon and register the position of your head when you do.  
  Feel all your toes and both heels on the ground. Imagine you have roots going down into the ground at least twice as far as you are tall.
  Without moving anything other than your facial muscles imagine things on the horizon that you would react to:  with indifference, annoyance, joy, confusion, love, lust, indifference, scorn, revulsion, fear, panic and so on.  Always start with indifference and go back to it between whichever other choices you might make. Oh, and surprise must be included.  As we'll see later.  
  5.  Put your forefinger in the ridge between your bottom lip and your chin.  Relax this ridge while you check how clean your teeth are by circling your tongue around your mouth five times in either direction.  
  6.  Close your eyes and imagine that your forefingers are flirting with each other; first innocently, then getting more and more full on, but never touching. 
  7.  In the position described in number 4 above, make floating snow angels. Therese, soprano, likes to imagine that the angels were singing as they floated. She likes, furthermore, to imagine that they are singing songs to suit her mood. But, see there - the operative word was 'soprano'. Keep the angels afloat while you walk somewhere as though you mean to get there and do something.  While you brace your hands against the wall. While you pick up a chair and put it down again where it ought to been in the first place.       8.  Put your hands flat, fingertips meeting, just above your pelvis.  Breathe into your hands for a silent count of two, hold the breath for a count of four, release the breath for a count of eight.  Then breathe in for a silent count of three.  And so on.  Soprano Graziella Sciutti could do this exercise breathing in for a count of twenty-five.  Her radiologist couldn't get a view past her lungs to her heart to take an X-Ray.
  9.  Suck your finger as though it tasted nice.  
  10. Mime biting a huge apple.  Chew and swallow.  Repeat till you've eaten the whole apple.  
  11.  Imagine you're now going to be sick.  (It was the apple.)  Those muscles now working in your belly are your support muscles.  Engage with them at all times. They're the same muscles you use when you cry, cough, sneeze, laugh, hiccup, excrete and orgasm.  
  
   Speaking Exercises

  1.  In the number 4 above position, breathe into your legs.  Three times, using up all your breath, imagine a silent 'ee' vowel traveling from a point in front of your shins, through your shins and out at the backs. 
  Imitate a vacuum cleaner, with the same movement of the breath. Lips loosely together, the vowel shape a mix of an 'er' and an 'oo'.  Open the vacuum cleaner sound into an  'ah'.  
  2.  Look to the horizon as before, but now with 'surprised' shins.  Recite your chosen Shakespeare text in your shins, the sound being amplified by the rest of your body.  
  3.  Say the cardinal vowels.  You will need to have learnt these at some point from a voice coach.  If there's absolutely no hope of that, the Wikipedia entry, with recordings, is a useful fallback.  
  (And at least with Wikipedia you won't have the Italian coach we had at Guildhall making you repeat 'U' - 'oo' - as in "Oo are yoo?"  Or a French language coach who is virtually deaf. I got nosebleeds bawling my close-mid front rounded vowels across the French lab at her.) 
  4.  Mix and match the cardinal vowels with consonants and consonant clusters. Don't entertain yourself doing this.  To paraphrase the King of Hearts: 'Begin at the beginning with 'b' and go on till you come to the end: then stop.' 
  5.  Imagine you're the wonderful, sadly no longer with us, Geraldine McEwan as E.F.Benson's Lucia.  Find on YouTube the earlier of the two versions of Mapp and Lucia and listen to how McEwan's voice soars and plummets over a huge range. Also notice how still she is as she releases her sound.  Don't imitate her actual pitch, use your own; it's that reveling in a wide range that you're after.  Use speeches or song lyrics. 
  6.  Tongue twisters.  Range further than Peter Piper, Betty's bit of Butter and the one about New York being necessary, please. 
  7.  Ever focussed in your shins, paradoxically, isolate head resonance.  Put your hand flat on the top of your head and speak a speech or some song lyrics until you can feel your hand and nothing else vibrate.  Put your hand loosely over your mouth and repeat.  And once more, hand on your chest.  Moving your hand between all three places to spot-check, speak with all three areas vibrating.  
  Therese, soprano, boasts that she can use head resonance with chest but without middle.  Similarly, there is a Disney a cartoon about Willie, an opera singing whale, who has three vocal cords.  
  8.  Sopranos - even more than tenors - can never quite be hated enough.


  Singing Exercises

  1.  On a middle tending to lower pitch sing the cardinal vowels in turn.  Shins! Go up a semitone and sing them again in reverse order.  And on till you've gone up a fourth, then back to where you started to sing the vowels on a slow trill, twice. So, for example, c/d/c/d/ on i and then c/d/c/d on e and so on.  Don't stop between the vowels.  Once you've sung this slow trill on the notes of the the fourth and fifth, go back to singing on single notes.  Up a fourth and then back down again to start on the trill.  Use this exercise to sing-in your middle octave.  
  Put the vowels that you sing best on either side of weaker ones.
  Sing the vowels on the first three notes of the scale, up and down.  Then up and down four notes. Be aware of the waltz rhythm.  Actually, miss out going up and down the first three notes and go straight from the trill to four notes.  People tend to stick with scales up and down from the third, fifth and ninth.  Don't do that, your voice will get lazy.  Go up to the fourth, the sixth and the tenth. Your voice will waltz, Salsa and Cucaracha and thank you for it. 
  2.  Take an arpeggio apart.  Sing the first two notes on all the vowels in turn, smoothly flowing between the two pitches.  Then three notes.  Then the whole.
  3.  Shins!!
  4.  Replace the words of a song you're working on with the single word 'chocolate'.  Half way through, switch to the word, 'appelle'.  
  5.  Here, use any exercises that you may specifically need to work on.  Otherwise, gradually increase the range used in the above exercises to two octaves.  
  Go to the very bottom of your range and one below it once.  
  Go to the top of your range and one note above it once.  
  Sing some single vowel sounds again going from soft to loud and back again, then from loud to soft and back again.  
  6.  The belt voice in women.  A word of caution, I had to deal with not so much breaks as holes in a number of girl's voices at the Guildford School of Acting last century.  Don't push the belt on too early.  Get the whole voice of a piece, your technique as solid as possible and then start on belt gradually.  Garcia, who invented the laryngoscope, used to teach his female pupils to quack like ducks when he was working with them on the chest register.  I adapted this at GSA, making girls imitate ducks quacking with a strong Bronx accent. I would get them to practise everything in their belt range imitating the duck with the Bronx accent.  
  6.  Centre the voice again with the vowels sung on one note.

  Some Thoughts on  Learning Songs

  1.  Never learn anything from a recording.  You will do an impression of the singer concerned.  Yes you will.  I can always tell when one of my students has learned a song this way.  
  2.  Learn the words and music separately.  There are times when you must stress the words against the music.  For one example:  "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". The musical stress in the first phrase is on 'over'.  But if you were to speak the line stressed this way:  'Somewhere over the rainbow', you would be implying that perhaps there was a place we might have heard of beneath the rainbow, or to the left of the rainbow or opposite it.  
  3.  Speak only the vowel shapes, then speak the text;  speak the consonants only, then speak the text.  
  Now sing the tune to only the vowels; then sing the song; again use only the consonants, then sing the song.  
  4.  There must be a compulsion to sing every line.  Create that for yourself with a thought - inspire yourself.  The word 'inspire' also means, of course, the act of breathing in.  As I breathe in through my shins to sing, I imagine a question that I am compelled to answer with the forthcoming line of the song.  If you don't take the time - and the breath - for these thoughts, the audience can never be with you.  
  The big number in my show My Tutu's Gone AWOL! is the Ivor Novello song, "Fly Home Little Heart".  Here it is as question and answer.
  Q.  Where did this sad thing happen?
  A.  Far, far away
  Q.  That can't be all?
  A.  Where the clouds hover low
  Q.  What sparked the incident?
  A.  I heard a cry like a bird in the snow. 
  Q.  How did you respond?
  A.  Soft was my answer: have comfort, my dear.  Why waste a moment, when April is here?  Fly Home Little Heart.  
  
  This process is different in the special case of lyrics that make up a list. Audrey's song "Somewhere that's Green" from The Little Shop of Horrors for example.  A list is not a list when it's in a speech; each item on the list must be spoken as though it was the only thing the character was going to say on the matter.  In this case, the question would always be the same.  Audrey is compelled to speak by the memories of how she came to first discover and then hanker after each item on her wish-list.  Playing Audrey you need an inventory of backstories for each of those items, as she references lifestyle magazines, celebrity cooks, film stars and so on.  So, here is an excerpt in Q and A form, with a possible Audrey thought for the line. 
  Q.  What is your dream, Audrey?
  A.  A matchbox of our own.  (I call it that because it's detached...)
  Q.  What is your dream, Audrey? 
  A.  A fence of real chain link.  (If I had a fence, I must have a garden, mustn't I?)  
  She must, indeed!  And I would ask an Audrey I was coaching to stress the 'f' of fence and then almost stammer another breath before adding the qualification that her fence would be a fancy one.
  Q.  What is your dream, Audrey?
  A.  A grill out on the patio... (I saw that in an old copy of Homes and Garden in the salon.  I keep sneaking peaks at that photo)
  And so on...
   
  5.  In a speech or song, always ask a question in a speech as though you really don't know the answer.  
  6.  Shins!!!
  
   Motivation for Doing these Exercises Daily

  Bollocks to that. Just practise.  If you're in work, the audience has paid a lot of money to see you at your best.  If you're not in work, then imagine the phone ringing, and you're on tonight!
 You have to be ready.  
 No - not as if.  It happens.  Lotte Lehmann walked offstage in the middle of Rosenkavalier, unable to continue, and was immediately replaced by Hilde Konetzni. Konetzni, who had been watching the performance, was pinned into cloaks snatched from women in the stalls as she ran to the pass door.  When at beginners one of the four Royal Ballet Big Swans suffered a torn calf, she pulled her tutu over her head and threw it to the other three.    
  'Nicola's still here!'  
  Nicola remembers what happened next being like an abduction: one minute she was sitting doing her July tax-return, the next a romantic-length tutu was being forced over her head like a mail bag and she was being dragged to the wings, then pushed onstage.  
  About to perform her first a la seconde, foot to head, she wished she'd had time to put knickers on...
  Yes, those are extreme cases.  Konetzni and knickerless Nicola were physically in the right place at the right time.  So let people know that you are spiritually in the right place at the right time - via social media.  Create the public domain equivalent of - again the Royal Ballet - Adam Cooper.  Still at the Royal Ballet School, he was doing walk-on parts with the company.  Bored standing around at the back of the studio day after day he would put down his spear, grab the nearest girl and learn a dancing role.  The patron saint of understudies smiled on him when all the male dancers cast in the role he happened to learn in the Act Two Pas D'Action role went down like EE broadband - the first cast boy, second cast boy, third cast boy, the boy learning it, the second boy learning it, that boy who would never, ever, have been learning anything but for the insistence of the old queen, heir to a certain insurance dynasty, and whose chequebook was without end.  Adam went on in the Pas D'Action on opening night. 
  So, put your belt register, your jump, your spins, whatever, all over social media.  If there's a role out there now, or in the offing, that requires your USP - usually some freakish high note, has to be said - then that goes straight online.  You have no excuse with social media today.  Diva Anna Stolli remembers last century at GSA, when I would grab her from the cafe and hiss that so and so west end producer was in - her cue to skip apparently unaware down the stairs opposite the staff room belting "Rainbow High" at pitch. 
  See? Always try and know that you're born.
  None of this has anything to do with the motivation malarkey.  Because the motivation malarkey has nothing to do with any of this.  Motivation is an invention of nineteen nineties self-help books.  And I'm a sixties kid.  We were brought up on The Magic Roundabout.  Ermintrude the Cowm believing that she was destined to become a number twelve bus going up and down The Strand, commandeered dinghies, mechanical diggers and Dougal in her quest, never stopping to consider self-motivation; she simply prepared for the day when she would be lowing that hallowed route from Oxford Circus to Dulwich Library. 

  And let's deal finally with the 'muse' brigade.  Performing is a profession. Plumbing is a profession.  My plumber mate Jimmy doesn't need the muse to descend for him to unblock a backed up toilet. He quips that he just needs a mask, very thick gloves and a girlfriend with expensive tastes. 
  
  I wouldn't have made a reference to tastes there...
  

       
  
  
  

  
  

  

Keeping your Voice Healthy

Friday, 30 October 2015

Defending Every Cross: Brand Liam Norval

 

                                                  Liam Norval hosting at Cafe de Paris

 '
  'You were bought for thirty seven thousand?  At what age?'
  'Twelve.  So it had to be a tribunal case.'
  'I should think it would, frankly.'  

  Cocktail in hand, he walks through the VIP bar at the Cafe de Paris.  Loafers, jeans, tweed jacket.  Barber wet shave.  From the patrician features and dark blue eyes he might be the lovechild of Sir Richard Burton. He is actually Welsh; though these days he's more San Fernando than Rhondda Valley. From the walk you know he played football, from the talk - Twitter - you know that these days he spends more of his time fine-dining than running the park.  
  He is now directly beneath a light and I can see how immaculate his hair is. Brushed back with, I just know, something Trumpers of Mayfair in it, not a single strand escaping. Like a coiffed lion.  More Bashful than MGM.when he grins.   
  He wishes me luck with the show and we fist-bump.  Head on one side looking at me, he reminds me that if potential corporate clients give me their business cards, I must show them to him.  
  'We need to keep you gigging in the Seychelles for princes, remember, or here for the oligarchs who we have to talk out of knee-capping Galina.  Jokes.  But I mean glamour. Rather than...'  he stops, shaking his head.  Still no strand of his hair is escaping.  
  Rather than...I guess what he's referring to.  But, thank you, I enjoyed my trip to Port Isaac, invited by the Ladies' Club who had seen me first at Cafe de Paris. I performed for their Homemade Cake Festival, and gleefully let out of the bag during my set how I had witnessed the chairwoman herself arriving in the hall that afternoon with cakes bought at M and S, which she had then frilled with white paper, dotted with almonds and was passing off as self-made.  
  'I'll show you any cards,' I promise.
  He nods and sips his cocktail through a straw, his stance starry, his blue eyes shining.  Any time now, I think, his theme tune will be played through the sound system. 
  He is Liam Norval, PR, the nearest thing to an A-Lister I may ever interview for this blog, Capped for Wales.  Leicester City - 
  'Iestyn!'  Ella Boo breaks into my reverie.  'You're nearest the dressing-room door - can you please ask the other Folly Mixtures to come and do their steam-ironing?'

  'But thirty seven grand, Liam, isn't that a lot for a child football player?'
  'I was bloody good, cheers!  Where were we?' He recaps.  'Millwall at age six to twelve, then West Ham bought me in the tribunal case.  Cos I was so young, and they have to also look into how much training has already been put into you. Then I get the chance with Leicester and go there.  I was also capped for Wales under sixteens, seventeens and eighteens.'
  'Fucking hell!'
  'I was discarded from the Welsh team after yet another big row with Ian Rush.'  
  'About?'
  'I was always into defending every cross, which worked, but there was Rushy telling me I should have run another way, or whatever.  We had a lot of stand up rows, him and me, on the training pitch. I was watching them play recently and noticed that they've decided I was right, and are going with that defending every cross technique.'
  He says this without gloating; he's just noticing. 
  I say, 'I'd have gone on the terraces and led everyone singing "Told you So" to the tune of "Feed the Birds".'
  'So, anyway, so now I'm at Leicester.  I'm eighteen by this time. Then at nineteen I had the injury to my lower back, damaged all the nerve endings.  Couldn't tell anyone, for obvious reasons, but also because I was so homesick at the the time, and if I'd let on I was injured I'd have had to say at the club over the weekend for treatment and not got home to the familys. Basically, with my back the way it was, I was waking up in the morning with pulled quads and hamstrings.'
  'Ouch!'  I yell. 'Did the backs of your legs look like mashed canaries?  Mine did when I tore my hamstring playing the Queen of Hearts in the Asprey's of Bond Street Alice in Wonderland installation.'
  'I tend not to spend much of my day checking out the backs of my legs in mirrors.'
  'I'm sure not.  But, seriously - ouch!'
  'It was more the frustration than the agony,' he insists.  'I was in the first team. And I'd train and play in first gear. I was too worried about getting more injuries. I kept quiet about my back for six months.  They must have thought I'd just got shit.  I was also coming to realise that it was the footballer lifestyle I was more into.  You can't have that and run around a park effectively anyway.  I finally admitted to the manager that I was injured, and Leicester offered me a retirement package.  I went into the Conference League, played for Cambridge; and later captained Bromley Town.'
  'Still injured?'
  'Yeah, but you only have to train twice a week in the Conference.  Semi-pro.' He's silent for a few seconds.  'Only thing I should have done when I was playing at that top level, was take more money off the books.  Joe Cole started that.  My dad was always being offered bribes for me to go and play here and wherever. And we're talking big bucks.  Should have taken it when it was offered.' 
  During his last season with Leicester City, for the shits and giggles, he had started DJing in clubs.  
  'My best mate at the time was at Loughborough University.  He decided he'd put on a night, and I wanted a go on the decks.  We bought stuff at - wait for it - Maplins, had a mix-up.  Pushed on and got a gig at the Box Bar in Beckenham. Hit the ground running; four hundred people in a two hundred capacity venue.'
  Jammy bastard.  At my first post-Edinburgh show the Rothes Hall's chief executive met me at the stage door and said that due to the intimate impact content of my show, he had made the artistic decision to take me out of the barn of the main space, where I might get lost, and put me in the studio.  Actually, he hadn't done that so much as put me in the work in progress space.  No, come again, the cafe bar. The corridor...oh, listen, 'We've put three chairs in your dressing-room, okay?'
  Laughing, Liam says, 'Well if it's any consolation, even though we packed them into the Box Bar, that Beckenham gig was the worst night of my life.  The Maplins stuff had worked fine when we had the mix-up in my mate's garage, but it didn't work in a hot place.  The vinyl wouldn't play.  I was panicking and telling my mate I was never doing this shit again.  Just wanted to walk away from it.  But we pushed on, got a gig at Twisted Glam.  Residency at Red Velvet.  Pacha, Ministry of Sound.  Did a season out in Ibiza, Marbella.  My love of clubs was always about putting on the night.  Twisted Glam got into the west end - house music didn't usually touch the west end - then we did Umbaba.  I was more at home in the west end than anywhere else.  More classy and aspirational clientele.'
  He came to the attention of Nick House, who owned Mahiki and now owns Steam and Rye and DSTRKT.  
  (See, now, I get the 521 BS over to SXMNDHM to shop at WTRS and ...)
  'Hang on a minute, Liam.  I gig at Steam and Rye.  Kelly Brook owns it.'
  'Name above the door.'
  'Really?'  I think for a moment.  'Please tell me Elliot from TOWIE really owns that club in Marbella?  I've tried to go out and gig there.'
  'Talk to me beforehand, how many more times?'
  'You mean Kelly Brooke and Elliot Wright "own" the places, don't you, in the same way that the Banana Splits own the shack on Coney Island with the Dilly Sisters in the cubby hole singing "Taraboomdeay" if Snorky the Elephant opens the correct door?'
  'Possibly.  Listen, Elliot's a good friend of mine.  I'll talk to him about his real place in Lanzarote if you want.  So.  We've established that Kelly Brooke doesn't own Steam and Rye, but Nick House does...'
  Liam stopped playing football altogether when Nick House asked him to head up his west end team. 
  'Twelve clubs, so I was doing two to three venues a night, seven days a week.  Each club had a different guild.'
  Cafe de Paris was one of Liam's clients originally, were enormously impressed by the work he did for them and offered him a job full-time in their marketing and PR department, alongside Keith Moore.  
  'And six years later, here we are.'
  With the modern day equivalent of the Bright Young Things packed into the VIP area or out on the dance floor, with Liam ever solicitous in his hosting.  He would never put Natalia Richardson at a table directly behind the DJ, in the way that his nineteen twenties Cafe counterpart once seated Nancy Mitford behind the band.  
  'Behind the band, darling. The ghastly drear of him, darling.  We left straight away and went to the Ritz!' 
  I ask Liam about MO for promoting. 
  'I've created - this'll sound jokes - a brand around myself.  Brand Liam.  Imagine Brand Galina!'
  We both know that this is too silly for contemplation and go back to discussing Brand Liam.  
  'It's an image I want to put out there of being surrounded by the best dressed.  Fashion, music.  What I like to do is offer myself - '
  'Do you?!' I have a moment of blind hope.  Oh, as you were, that isn't what he means. 
  'I like to offer myself in terms of people wanting to be seen with me.  Buying into the Liam brand.  Mini-mes are rolling around.  Lots of guys have bought into the brand.'
  I met two Liam Mini-Mes in Gloucestershire, when I gigged at a private party for a Camilla something-or-other, who seemed to own all but a few of the horses in Ireland.  I remarked on how similar to Liam's were their clothes, hair and shoes.  
  'How do you know Liam Norval?' one asked in the gushing tones of a brownie thanking Brown Owl awarding her maximum points for sausage cooking.  
  And then there's TOWIE's Bobby Norris.  He's a Liam Mini-Me, definitely.  

  Liam sums up by saying, 'I've melded it all into Brand Cafe de Paris these days.'
  Which is?
  'We rarely have trouble.  We're loyal to people.  We're a safe club.  Look good, drink good, go home safe.'



  
  Talking of which, I'm leaving after the Stage at Cafe de Paris show.  Awash with adrenaline I stop by the bar to show Liam, as promised, the card I've been given by a potential future corporate client.  He looks briefly at the card, then says he'll deal with it for me.  
  'As I'm closest to the bin...'



@liamnorval

@cafedeparis

@madamegalina 






 


Thursday, 29 October 2015

Keeping Your Voice Healthy

  1.  If you don't understand your vocal technique, you won't be able to use it. Speaking and singing really are as simple as breathe, support, imbibe sound; while looking unconcernedly at an imaginary horizon.  Having a perfect technique means that you can produce any note in your range, at any dynamic, at any speed, on any vowel shape, preceded and followed by any consonant or cluster of consonants. Vocal exercises should do no more and no less than facilitate your doing this. 
  For breathing, take a basic posture that's a happy medium between guardsman being square-bashed and camel about to spit, then coax your ribs away from your body and imagine that your lungs are in your shins.  
  For support, I incline to Dame Joan Sutherland's view that it's a lot like being sick.       
  (Just now, recreate the physical process of being sick.  Then think how in reality you wouldn't want to get in the way...)
  For resonance I imagine that I'm drinking my voice, tasting and smelling it as it flows downward. 
  2.  Always warm up before using your voice.  I don't care if you don't think you need to. Don't quote instances of performers saying they don't need to.  Verdi wrote a warm-up fugue every day.  That's good enough for us.  
  3.  Never speak or sing without supporting your sound.  Your whole body must be involved in it.  As examples of ways to describe the sound: flowing, limpid, nuanced and focussed will always be preferable to: Like having rusty Meccano sprocket wheels run up and down my perineum.
  4.  Do your voice work first thing, starting with spoken voice exercises.  If you have nothing to say, you'll have nothing to sing. Whichever exercises you use, start with the physical setup, then breathe into support, exhale from support, speak the neutral vowel shape, open into "ee" then "ah", then use consonants. Go from the beginning of this process when you switch to singing.  
  5.  You are either using your voice in this thoughtful manner, or you're silent.
  6.  Better still, you're asleep. 
  7.  Stop clearing your throat.  If you have chronic catarrh, you may have to give up dairy. Soya milk becomes palatable after three months.  
  8.  When in a theatre company, make your own noise and leave others to make theirs.  I mean this in both the real and in the metaphorical sense.  
  9.  Accept nerves, rather than displace, disguise or tamper with them.  
  10.  Eat healthily - never a main meal within five hours of going to bed - have a bottle of water practically grafted onto your palm, drink alcohol sparingly, don't smoke.
  11.  Remedies for stress include:  cold showers, aerobic exercise, meditation, masturbation, lavender.    
  12.  I agree with Lady Boxe, The Diary of a Provincial Lady, that the saline-douche habit needs to be fully reinstated.  Unless you have glue-ear, or similar.  
  13.  Don't have glue-ear, or similar.
  14.  Cloves are antibacterial.  I suck one morning and evening.  The evening clove helps me become suitably ruminatory watching Judge Judy
  15.  Don't eat Vocalzones/Lockets/Fisherman's Friends or similar. 
  16.  Keep your feet warm and dry and your head cool. Wrap up when leaving a warm backstage area to go out into the cold.  Don't let rain soak you to the skin.  
  17.  Colds season starts when the central heating does.  Counteract drying effects with bowls of water near radiators or wet towels hung over doors.  If you wake up with a dry throat, dunk a sponge in boiling water and hold it to your mouth before starting on your voice work.  
  18.  If you catch cold, first and foremost keep it to yourself.  Don't take over-the-counter drugs to disguise its symptoms.  You're meant to have a temperature, soreness, aches, etc.  Deal with it. A few times a day inhale nearly boiling water - no need, actually, to put anything in it - but stay silent and indoors for at least two hours afterward.  Otherwise, rest and entertain yourself.  Read my blog. Watch Judge Judy.  I would say you can speak and sing if you have to unless your cords are waterlogged.  Keep an eye out for the cold persisting or dropping to your chest, as then you may need to see a doctor.  
  16.  Never read your reviews.  

 
  
  
  

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

All Hail StageFaves.Com!

  

                                       


                                                            Be part of StageFaves

  This week I was expecting certain things to crop up on social media:
  1) People vilifying Germaine Greer.
  2)  Personal trainers advertising programmes designed to pre-buffer you against the effects of the Festive season.
  3)  Photos of people overdoing the halloween costumes.  
  
  And just to put in my tuppence-worth concerning the above:
  1)  There are myriad hues of gender to be brought into the discussion.
  2)  Overeat midway through December - it's our biological imperative, saluting the sun's return or no.
  3)  If you have quite that much time on your hands, perhaps you might do as Judge Judy suggests and replace the central heating in your home with a coke boiler? Then you'll be forced to use your time more usefully shovelling coal.  

  What I wasn't expecting to crop up is something that has given me the strongest feeling of hope since my mother cruelly told me that Nellie the Elephant had agreed to come back to the circus and unpack her trunk.  
  It's StageFaves, the brainchild of Terri Paddock, co-founder with Mark Shenton of the My Theatre Mates online resource.  The MyTheatresMates site

  StageFaves is what I call "lovingly of use". Like Bach's Preludes and Fugues; the wonderful old crustypots' Penguin Guide to Recordings; or Delia Smith helpfully pointing us in the direction of The Flour Advisory Bureau.  
  'Brilliant of Terri Padock creating this!' I said aloud, studying the StageFaves website and reading up on the ethos behind it. 
  Terri says, 'As a self-confessed Twitter addict myself, I am a very firm believer that Twitter - and other social media outlets - go a long way to levelling the playing field, certainly so as a marketing and fan-engagement tool for performers.'
  Yes, she told a performer in no uncertain terms that if she needed to get on Twitter, then...er...she should get on it; but I do love her for satisfying the real need for a StageFaves.  
  Not least because I see a definite correlation between performers being social-media savvy and mediocre on stage.
  The one thing that possibly concerns me about StageFaves is the general public being let loose on the site.  They will need vetting.  But I'm bound to think so, as I once worked front of house at the Royal Opera House and was exposed to the tragi-horror-comedy of ballet regulars.  (Blog to follow on this subject, please? Ed!)
  But for the performers themselves, StageFaves can only be a force for good.
  God, though, these days they don't know they're born, performers!  Guildhall, eighties, it never occurred to poor little me, as it did to some, to wheedle my way around the Student Union and Outside Engagements officers; the sole portals through which paid work came into the college. Back then potential bookers from outside would have had little or no access to performers' profiles.  It was a case of they got what they were given, unless they were specifically wanting Bryn Terfel.   And for we mere mortals at college everything to do with getting work was bewilderment and impossibility.   
  But now there's StageFaves.
  If StageFaves had been around just two years ago, the Dame Trot's Dancer who decided to stay at Musical Theatre College to graduate in July rather than take the long-running contract offered in June, might have tweeted through the site: Thoughts, peeps? and received a deserved barrage of replies along the lines of Are you out of your tiny, bun-headed mind to be even considering staying on at college? It is not a meritocracy out there last time we looked, babe.  Go get the paid job.  

  When I taught singing at the Guildford School of Acting, Gillian Ramsden, head of voice, sent Kate to me for, as she put it, 'the sake of the Iestyn.'  Kate was one of an exceptional year of girls and I was as yet unaware of her.  The other girls were dressy and feisty; Kate was comfy and scurrying.  Two of them had talked their way into agent interest; Kate couldn't make herself heard at the counter of the college cafe.  And there was that one - yes, her! - who had smarmed her way into quite enough leading roles by that stage of the second year; Kate wasn't permanently at the back of the chorus simply because she was short. 
  At her first lesson she sang "The Colours of my Life" (Barnum) and I had a Marchesi/Melba "At last, I've found a star!" moment.  Actually, I had another pupil with an equally stunning voice in that year, Nik Foster; but Nik could look after himself.  And too often did.  I had often to bundle him out of the lunch queue when he was about to kick off again at Dan 'Gobby' Murton.  Or ask him not, as an experiment, to come to singing lessons coked-up.  And perhaps, when the visiting degree examiner voiced the opinion that his "Stars" was vocally gorgeous but a little operatic, he might have refrained from replying, 'Well, you can suck my left testicle.' 
  (Jammy bugger still got a First.)
  My point is that Kate needed someone there at GSA to level the playing field for her, in terms of getting her out there, seen, heard and considered for roles.  'I don't get roles, Iestyn,' I remember her uncharacteristically wailing.  'They don't seem to know I'm even here.  I'm going into my third year and so far it's been a waste of time here!' 
  'Hope springs eternal, Kate,' I said.  'There's a new regime starting in September.'
  If the StageFaves site had existed back then I would have gone there first to research the newly arriving Head of Musical Theatre, Gerry Tebbutt.  As it was, it was a matter of sheer luck that I just happened to be sharing a house in Guildford with Angus Hamilton, who just happened to have been member of Gerry Tebbutt's youth troupe at the Wolsey Theatre.  Angus was able to tell me that Gerry was obsessed with Judy Garland, Ivor Novello and pantomime.  Today, I would root that out of StageFaves.  
  Whichever, armed with the knowledge of Gerry's obsessions, I adjusted Kate's hair, clothes and repertoire accordingly.  
  'Bangs?  Iestyn, I haven't had a fringe since I was six.  My pink duffle coat is warm.  And Guildford, with all the water all over the place, especially passing the mill, is damp.  You said we were doing Fantine this week, not whatever this nonsense is  "My Old Woman's an Awful Boozer!".'
  'Okay, Kate, how about we have another remedial lesson of you trumpeting "Many a New Day" through a Waitrose drinking straw instead?' 
  Gerry cast Kate as Velma in Chicago, Alice in Dick Whittington and in the Ivor Novello revue The Darling of the Gods. 

  Sadly, Kate tweets little these days besides photographs of firemen, kittens and accidents with custard.  
  I'm sending her StageFave's way!

#terripaddock #StageFaves #MyTheatreMates 


  
   

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Shipping Forecast Cabaret, November 4th, The Nines, Peckham, Feat. The Middle-Aged Mermaid


                                                              Photo: James Millar

  My mother, living at the War Museum (wrong) end of the Lambeth Walk, thinks it's common to have curtains pulled right back, always licks her fingers after flicking someone the v-sign; and in the early seventies raided the mahoganyique three-cornered cupboard in the lounge for the hoard of Green Shield Stamps, screamingly roped us all in schlepping them to the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre and cashed in the whole lot for a single bottle of Chanel nail varnish.  
  'Will look stand-out posh, that thick and that colour, now, Iestyn,' she said, gazing down at the bottle in her open palm.  'What's it for?  It's for marking your name clearly and indelibly on your mug, plate, bowl, knife, fork and spoon to take away camping with the cathedral choir, as it asked for in the letter I got. Don't want those posh ones' mothers - Myra Tingle that lives up Denmark Hill - looking down on me!' 
  The Middle-Aged Mermaid, as created and performed by Gareth Edward, finds glamour in the mire in more positive ways.  Gareth is part of Suburbaret (presenting The Suburban Horror Show this Sunday at the Lost Theatre, Wandsworth) and will next appear as Ariel onstage at The Shipping Forecast Cabaret.  Shipping Forecast Facebook page
  Yesterday I found Gareth at his day job in an experimental science laboratory, and we discussed his ongoing exploration of the Ariel character.
  'We have to find our lives, but not in that Disney way,' he began.  'I didn't want the happy ending for her, where the woman had to change.  But then perhaps that's because I didn't have a happy ending of my own.  I had the prince and the castle, in Edinburgh, but the crash meant that I had to come to London for work - and commute to work.  Hence Ariel having the Oyster card dress, designed by Horatio Jones.  There's the ripple-effect that I like as people realise the significance of the dress.'
  Sitting in the RVT I'd thought that the dress night have been made specially for Ariel by Luke Casey Browne at the House of Black, or by Giles Edwin Bishop. Made specially for Ariel, you understand, not Gareth.  I had also joyously believed that earlier in the day Ariel had indeed been ordered out of the Thames by the River Police and forbidden in future to swim up it to gigs.  
  'So then Ariel would definitely need her Oyster card.'  Gareth is chuckling. 'In the happy ever after scenario the prince might give a pearl to his betrothed, but in real life the Oyster card is virtually a tax on living in London.  Every Oyster card has its own story to tell; of sullied glamour.  Ariel mainly uses the northern line - I've also created a character who is the northern line himself, compelte with black makeup, black glitter, black feathers. Ariel knows she has to work and commute, but demands a glamorous costume, hair and music.'

  

                                                  Photo: James Millar

  I wonder if the swim up the Thames is a recurring conceit.  'Or does Ariel use the Oyster card not just for the day job but to get to gigs as well?'
  'She does.  Except they're not gigs per se, as it makes no sense for her to appear onstage as a cabaret act: she has no skill.  One thing I learned from Paul L Martin's Cabaret Singers' Workshop was the prime importance of story.  We know Ariel's previous story, want to know where she's been in the interim.  So these days she's hosting her Middle Aged Mermaid Support Group.  I'm developing this idea for an intimate setting and small audience, who'll all have clipboards.  I just need to right kind of space where it's safe to be experimental, but those are getting fewer and fewer.  The show would be a take on a 12-Step Programme.  Ariel's at the stage where she's respected, people call her madam.  She's made her career in hosting this seminars internationally, but we realise that she hasn't got things together in her own life.  She's not very bright; she's fragile; and people warm to her.'
  In 2016 Ariel will appear in Suburbaret's World Tour of Zone 3.
  And just now I'm ringing my cousin Antony, so far up in the police we must never mention it, to get him to reverse the ruling forbidding Ariel to swim in the Thames.

Gareth Edward's homepage

@gar_edward
  

Monday, 26 October 2015

Adam and the Asbos - EP Launch December 11th, Nambucca, Camden



                                            The Asbos' official site


  At the Wam Bam Club, Cafe de Paris, January 28th, 2012, Lady Alex was about to introduce me. 'Galina, there are red regimental dress jackets to be seen at the far booth stage right.  Have fun!'
  One of the regimental dress jackets was being worn by Royal Marines Band trombonist Theodore Preston.  He was wearing jeans and the wrong shirt with it - frilly fronted.  The hens parties shriekingly liked seeing his underwear, and were clearly thinking he was part of my act. I had to ask him to ignore their encouragement to take the little black pants off, as Cafe de Paris wasn't licensed for nudity. He obligingly put his jeans back on.


  I saw Preston on Camden High Street a couple of times after that night and we'd stop and chat.  He always stood with his arms folded, very still, chuckling, occasionally looking down at the pavement; always dressed in a white t-shirt, leather jacket, bandana and jeans over boots. I remember thinking that the trombone wasn't a sexy enough instrument, surely, to go with his image.
  'Well, at school I wanted to play saxophone,' he said.  'And assumed it was a brass instrument. Clue being: it's made of brass.  So I went into the brass room of the music department. And there the saxophone wasn't, of course.  It's woodwind. But I was so scared of the head mistress, I didn't want to waste any more time, so picked out a trombone.  It's an ill-wind - ho, ho - because at least in the Marines band I escaped the nickname of wood-licker. But, anyway no need to think about matching image to my instrument.'  He gestured down his body.  'You wouldn't play for Beating the Retreat wearing this.'
  When I met him three and bit years later in Pret at St Pancras Station, he was wearing a leather jacket,  Doc Martens Chelsea Boots and a scarlet ribbed sweater.  'West End Boys, East End Girls,' he said, noticing me noticing.  He was hungover, which perhaps explained the fidgeting.  
  He is no longer a trombonist with the Royal Marines Band; he is singer and guitarist with Adam and the Asbos.
  'Actually,' he said, taking the lid off his Vanilla Chai, putting it back on, taking it off, putting it back on.  'I can't have still been in the Marines band that night I got up on stage.  Look at the photo of us.'  I look, but don't see immediately.  'My long hair.'
  He tells me that Adam and the Asbos are the opposite of Coldplay.  'The ethos."When you get what you want but not what you need".  There's the Rolling Stones line: "You can't always get what you want", which is a better outlook. Wanted it, but didn't need it.  You're wasting it.  Life...opportunities.'
  He brings this up on his phone:

  Adam and the Asbos "We're all Going to Die"

   I ask about what he's wearing in the video.  
  'Putting on shows upstairs at the Barfly, in Camden, we all tend to wear sunglasses, indoors, which is a bit Blues Brothers, except they don't wear sequins. Actually, neither do we, but I want to.  The skirt.  I've found that older women have the best opportunities for wardrobe.  Amazing fabrics.  And the cut of their clothes, the big shoulders and that...what's it called...crimplene?'  From the way he's watching me finish writing this, I know that what's coming next will be a quote he wants used.  'What makes a woman of a certain age look great, will make a thrusting renegade look like an Adonis from the future.'  He waits, smiling knowingly, while I get this down exactly.  'The Asbos also want to make a Britain by Bike meets Spinal Tap.  We've been in contact with - what is it, now? - Greenbird. They have resources to make TV, get it to commissioning editors, set it up. Maybe we'll get Hot Vox onboard. They're a promoter of vanity projects in general. Everybody has a band, everybody...well, Hot Vox will hire the room, do the promo, take most of the door. George Galloway was at one of our gigs - because I bumped into Max Keiser in Shoreditch.  I just went up to to the guy: "You're Max Keiser". He says, "Sure I am". So I ask him does he want to be in a rock concert. "Sure I do!" He does Russian finance propaganda. He was giving out his own digital currency at the gig. Bitcoin.  Two hundred thousand followers on Twitter. At the gig he ripped up a twenty pound note and said that money was worthless. It's only value is the trust you put in it. And George Galloway came to the gig - he's aiming to be London Mayor and wants Max Keiser to be his financial advisor.  Wants to put the whole London budget, that's either six or twenty billion, on Bitcoin.  Which is a racket if ever I heard one.  But, apparently, it's more transparent.  All about quantitative easing. The government putting more money into the system to...oh, I don't know. But Max Keiser has a great story about it.'  

The Keiser Report: Quantitative Easing

  Theodore is thoughtful for a few seconds.  'These connections, they've helped only if the context that they give background.  I was in a band managed by Lembit Opik.  You can either play the finance game or complain about it.  I'm aware of my own irony in this respect. Gigging at the True Era Cafe, run by ex-addicts, protesting about Tories and the right to buy issue.  A Tory MP - not Goldsmith, but one of them - has been trying to buy up council flats, raising the rents and then kicking out the tenants.  Well, I felt a bit of a fraud there because before I left the Marine band I got a buy to let mortgage on a flat in Camden; and it's meant I've not had to worry financially.  Cleverly engineered my own trust fund.  Onstage at the True Era Cafe, knowing the community ethos, and what they're about, I did feel a bit of guilt - even though Russell Brand's bought the Cafe.  Or owns it.  Very well associated with it, anyway.  But [he sings] We didn't start the fire! We're not the problem, but neither do we have the solution.  Yes, we do - come to the next gig.  We're gigging all the time!'
  On December the 11th, the band will launch an EP at Nambucca in Camden.  
  'We're all about getting the notes in the right order for that one.  We rushed the last EP out.  My fault.  I didn't know then that putting out something bad is actually not better than having nothing out. Next time will be better...'  He grins. ',,,because it is good.'
  I ask if Lembit will be there to support the Asbos.
  He shakes his head.  'Haven't seen him in years.'

  The latest Asbos video



Sunday, 25 October 2015

Thoughts Suitable for Clock-Change Sunday

  'Tarting up again, showing all the cheap finery.  Think we're going to fall for it.  Every year it happens.  I don't know.'
  This was my aunt Kay, with the glass eye, toby jugs and pug, Mitzi. I thought at first she might have been talking about Brenda Slutty Morgan, who lived in the next street down towards Bargoed station; Brenda deflowered at least three of my male cousins.  
  'Brenda would have her roots touched up by Sheri at number twelve, put on this mauve sequinned boob-tube she had, then make sure she was at her open door as the village boys were coming back from playing their Saturday football.  But all this only if she'd heard they'd won, so would be fired up and one or other of them might want to stop off.'
  Kay didn't seem to be talking about Slutty Brenda this time, however; she was prodding a copy of the Woman's Concerns.  'See?  Shameless.  Think we'll experience lift off of joy, just from a bit of holly and snow around the borders on the cover. Can't wait for the Special Festive Edition, Iestyn,' she sneered.  'Short story about some old girl who's in a pit of depression over having to spend Christmas alone; but who gets befriended on Christmas Eve by a three-legged dog; and as they're walking back from chapel on Christmas morning in the crunch of the newly fallen snow the old woman collapses in the street and you think Aye, aye, someone's overimbibed the communion sherry - but what it is is that she's been riddled with cancer and nobody knew and she dies there in the newly fallen snow. Oh, but hang on, now - what is it that's odd about that very snow?  There's only her tracks are to be seen in it, is what.  No three-legged dog's.  Then the sun strikes through the clouds and picks out the shape of three paw imprints making their way back up to heaven.  And on the page facing the story, to pull out and keep you get a CD of the Salvation Army Band playing Hits from the Hospice - sadly the Fairy of Tact not being around to talk them out of putting that the CD was recorded "live", either.'
  Well, at least they got the recording made.  When we Southwark Cathedral boy trebles sang at an old people's home in Borough one Christmas, that was meant to be recorded as live for later broadcast.  The residents promised that they would be silent during takes; but one pulled a cracker beneath the table; another opened a Christmas card that played "Jingle Bells"; and finally Eric, known to be a trouble-maker, kicked off during "In the Bleak Midwinter" that he knew full well that some lad was singing for posterity, but he had no intention of shutting up and listening till he'd had his entitlement of warmed bloody nuts.
  Kay put the Woman's Concerns to one side and picked up the Evening Echo.  'See, these people know not to gild the lily.'  She smiled approvingly.  'No frills needed because the winter will always bring its own joys for them to report.  The deeper we get into it, the more the excitement mounts.  The thwack of the Evening Echo on the doormat, love, and I'm straight out there and turning to the classifieds, to see which of my friends gave up the fight with the season's vagaries and died in the night.'  She chucked me under the chin. 'Tidy!'

#christmas #obituaries #aunts 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

My Mate Jamie-Ray Hartshorne

  


  I've been noticing that alongside photos of Jamie-Ray being a lead in Altar Boys, creating Change My Body UKTM, working the door at Freedom - and clearly asking people passing by wherever that rockpool may be to snap a double-bicep - this sort of thing is cropping up on his social media:




  We're in The Diner, Jamestown Road, Camden.  He's between tour dates of The Bodyguard, and meetings to discuss sportswear and creatine endorsements.  The latter, he says, being all about making his product better.
  Between sips of his peanut butter milkshake (he's allowing himself dairy today in my honour - I don't quite know how to take that) he says in his soft Brum, 'I've signed up for a major Muay Thai event in Thailand next February.  I'm going up against one of the Thai fighters.  That's the only real way to gain any respect in the fighting world.  That's why you've been noticing the combat photos.  I've been going for training with Muay Thai masters up and down the country during the Bodyguard tour.'
  I say, 'But think of being kicked in the throat - your Top C, Jamie-Ray.'
  He grins.
  'Think of the face then. The modelling.'
  'I only ever get modelling jobs sporadically,' he says.  'I've not got the typical look.'



  'Thing is, Iestyn, I've liked Muay Thai - this'll sound weird - since even before I knew really what it was.'
  This is like me with ballet.  When I first saw Swan Lake in 1983 it was like reacquainting myself with something that I temporarily forgotten.  Jamie-Ray and I first met through ballet, incidentally.  A year or so before today's dinner in The Diner I posted a Facebook call out offering two free tickets for the Boom and Bang Circus at the Hippodrome.  He and I were friends on Facebook through the People You May Know feature - which, cue digression, always puts me in mind of the patrician voiced Alan Keith on Radio 2 Sunday evenings hosting These You Have Loved.  My being as much of a hermit as I possibly can these days really kicked in with that programme - staying home alone to listen to Alan with pleasure welcoming me to his choice of Nimrod, the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" and Acker Bilk.
  Anyway, I put the call out on Facebook and Jamie-Ray messaged asking if he could have the tickets; I left them for him at front of house; and we bonded over this happening:



  'This kid Leon lived on the same estate as me,' Jamie-Ray is continuing the discussion about Muay Thai, 'we must have been maybe eight or nine...maybe ten...and we fought all the time.  And it always tended to be in a very trained-looking way.  And it was always in a specific area - one patch of grass in particular with good views all round, or we'd actually take the trouble to set up a ring.  Our fights were all about the use of the Muy Thai eight limbs.'
  I ask what they are.
  'Knees, legs, feet, elbows.'
  'Those can only half of them.'
  'Look them up, then,'
  I google.  The art of the eight limbs of Muy Thai is defined by the combined use of the knees, shins, feet and elbows.
  'So when aged fourteen or fifteen I watched my first ever Muay Thai I could see the techniques were what I'd always done.  Then fast forward maybe six years and I'm going to Freedom after performances and thought I'd test myself being on the door there.  Way of earning some extra cash when I wasn't in something.  I see being on the door there as real life.  Performing is all about making non-reality a reality and I've always loved doing that.  But I was pulled towards being on the door.  And if that happens, if you feel strongly, you have to just go and do whatever it is.  Like I expect you just went where you were pulled in your career, you've never questioned whatever it was...'
  At his age, early twenties, no, I never questioned wanting to be a Prima Ballerina assoluta.
  'I'd heard about this certificate you needed to have from the SIA [Security Industry Authority] but asked the head doorman at Freedom if he'd take me on without it.  He said "Yeah" but in an obviously Yeeahhhh way.'
  As there wasn't a prayer of being allowed on the door at Freedom without one, then, Jamie-Ray went off and got his SIA licence.  'Everyone there on the course was a good few years older.  It's all about the laws relating to manhandling someone.  Learning how to manhandle them in a lawful way.  Soon as I started at Freedom I didn't need to radio through for backup, but was dragging people up from downstairs on my own.  Not in any kind of wanting to show off how hard I am kind of way, but thinking around the techniques you have to use properly to head off whatever situation it is.  They want to give out to me with the aggression, I'm there giving it back.  But then I can go back into peace.  I've never planned to go out to Thailand next February just for the fight.  Leaving aside the other straight off obvious thing - the fitness side - there's a peace at the depth of the Muay Thai training, a spiritual aspect.  You can't go into the ring being full of anger.  Well, some people do - but your love for the sport must override any potential hatred you might have for the other person.  Same when I'm on the door, I'm not interested in showing off how hard I am.  That's what I mean when I say I can go in there, sort the situation, and then go back to the peace.  I get that from the Muay Thai.  Though I'm a friendly guy anyway.  The Freedom regulars would say that what they know about me isn't "That Jamie-Ray's a fucking twat throwing his punches around" but that I'm a nice guy.'
  They do indeed say that.  Among other things.  When he was at Boom and Bang that Friday there also happened to be a large group of Freedom regulars at the two booths immediately behind him.  From their initial screaming reaction you'd think it was Kylie Minogue I'd just pulled out of the crowd.  Then at curtain down Jamie-Ray was graciousness itself agreeing to show off his triangular abs in a group photo.  He is careful never to go too far in this respect.  When we were initially planning the upcoming ballet photo shoot with him as Madame Galina's partner in Bayadere and Scheherazade, he considered including a few backstage shots, but changed his mind because being seen in a jockstrap might diminish his respectability on the Freedom door.
  Philippe, navy blue Merino M and S sweater tied round his waist - my Nan Silcox would have had something to say about such stretch imperilment - wafted Hugo Boss and Pornstar Martini fumes over me, as he said in tones of hushed awe, 'When we saw who it was, the bouncer at Freedom, we asked the waitress tonight to let us sit in those booths rather than the ones she was taking us to.  You wouldn't believe how he can be at Freedom.  We've seen him deal with terrible people. Sometimes straights get in there; you have to deal.  A headbutting, a few months ago.'  He clutched at me.  'We saw another bouncer on his radio, and then a few seconds later here came the cavalry.'  He was gesturing with his head at Jamie-Ray. 'He has this way of pushing the roughhousers apart and sort of chav-whispering them, and it all stops.'
  This is Jamie-Rays technique of shoving whoever's fighting apart, shouting 'You, no!' at first one then the other, before letting his forearms flop into their shoulders as he says, again to each of them, 'Calm...calm...'
  Sighing, Philippe showed me the photo he had just taken with Jamie-Ray in it.  'Look at that tiny waist and then the way the back goes up and out to the shoulders.
  'Like my cousin Mark,' I said.  'He was a former Mr Wales.'
  I then told Philippe about the hyper-daftest conversation Mark's sister, my cousin Sheri, once had with her school friend Jacqueline about Mark's back.
  'He has the shape of back,' Jacqueline said, 'that you see on a simpled-down drawing of a deer's head, like on deers roaming ahead motorway warning signs.'
  Sheri was taking her driving test at the time.  'It's not a simpled-down drawing of the head, it's a deer frisking sideways.  It's why I've told my mother she can't ever come in the car with me - it always reminds her of Bambi's mother getting shot and she goes hysterical.'
  'Whatever, I've seen a version with it being a simpled-down drawing of the deer's head.'
  'Where?'
  'On a road sign.'
  'No, where have you seen the road sign itself?'
  'Over Tredegar way.'
  Sheri shook her head.  'It's not in my Highway Code.'
  'Maybe your edition's out of date.  You did get it out of the library.  Nan had a book out recently that was so old it had a stamp in it saying not to take it back to the library if it had been exposed to an infectious disease.'
  'The edition's the latest one, Jacqueline, now.  And you can talk about infectious diseases - it's your sister who had the thrush and your mother had to tie her hands to the mattress to stop her scratching in the night, not one of my family.  By the way, did you get her to put yoghurt on like the homeopath said?'
  'Yes, but she said it didn't have any effect.'
  'What flavours did she try?'
  'You could only ever have totally plain, Sheri, as who would want bits in yoghurt they were smearing down there unless they were kinky?'
  Sheri thought for a second.  'Your sister could have put Caramel Muller Light on it, actually, as that doesn't have any bits in it.  It's been specially designed for people who've got so fat the local council have had to intervene and wire their jaws shut.'
  No danger of the council needing to intervene in Jamie-Ray's case.  He was beside Philippe and I now, looking critically down at the photo. 'Need to be more cut to look really good.'
  
  In The Diner in Camden, Jamie-Ray is finishing his peanut butter milkshake and making ready to leave.  Like a child wanting its favourite bedtime story I ask him to, yet again, to do the 'You, stop! You, stop! Calm, calm' manoeuvre.
  In the You, stop! bit the face is always this:



  But in the 'Calm...calm' forearms flopping on shoulders gesture there is, definitely, peace. 

@changemy_body

 @jamieray36