Monday, 25 January 2016

Fact or Facebook?

  My Facebook feed is ever awash with performers' posts along the lines of:
  Sparkly privileged little me got a standing ovation at all seventy-six gigs I ran between on Saturday, and everyone said I was the best ever, jinx, bewitched, no comebacks.  
  Perhaps the posts are a cry against what Hazlitt described:
  [Creative people] in general (poor devils) I am afraid are not a long-lived race.  They break up commonly about forty, their spirits giving way with the disappointment of their hopes of excellence, or their want of encouragement for that which they have attained, their plans disconcerted, and their affairs irretrievable; and in this state of mortification and embarrassment (more or less prolonged and aggravated) they are either starved or drink themselves to death. 
  But even so it's good to admit that some gigs are just okay - or bad, even. 
  Or that you aspire to be better. 
  Or that you feel what Harold Bloom calls "the anxiety of influence". 

  I first felt the anxiety of influence when I was four singing at the Ponderosa in Portsmouth. I got less applause for "Paper Roses" than did the troupe of all singing, all dancing animal puppets featuring Ernie Emu belting out "Anything you can do, I can do Better" while Geraldine Giraffe behind took her knickers off. 
  My singing as one of the two Hammerstein Chanters at Southwark Cathedral never had the saccharine, sentimental quality that I strove for, always the hackle-raising elemental. I'd toured with my country and western singer father for eight years or so by that time. Yodelling had given me a nightmarish upper-extension: I could sing "Let the Bright Seraphim" the Dame Joan Sutherland way. And in more general terms the songs of the old west had given my singing a strident mawkishness, being, as they are, all about failed crops, failed mines, failed marriages, failed nuns, phantom cowboys, phantom cows, phantom Delias (not Smith); homesickness, yellow sickness, black vomit sickness, rotanny sickness, rabies, ear-bitings and saddlesore. Set to tunes that sound like they might once been Welsh hymns before being mashed with blues and dixieland jazz. All sung by me in a tassel-sleeved suit of many daffodils, suede pixie boots and with a Hitler comb-across. 
  So, for a start at Southwark Cathedral, my white surplice garment was me dressing-down. Or at least it was before the Chapter put out the decree that each choir mum was henceforth to take over the washing of her respective son's surplice, and mine overdid things with the Dolly Blue whitener. I glowed radioactively in the light from the north chancel window. Three Shakers thought I was a divine visitation and dropped to the flagstones in possessed convulsions. The chapter went back to doing the choir laundry themselves when the rumour started that the Shakers were threatening to prosecute for A.B.H. 
  And according to Cyril, one of the choir gentleman from that time, my treble voice was: 'Not the prettiest, perhaps, in quality,' Cyril, clumps of grey hair, immaculate tweeds, glinting bifocals, was buying me a beer in the Wheatsheaf after my Those you once Loved now have Dropped Balls lunchtime recital back at Southwark in nineteen ninety. 'In the prettiness of tone aspect you were no Symes, Hagyard or Godfrey, all those Dulwich boys. Pure, piping ethereal tones were not you. Where were you from, again, memory eludes? Kennington.  Oh.  But you had all the trills and runs and top notes one could ever need. And your sense of drama was so highly developed. I remember Provost Frankham saying that when you sang about that putative dove's nest in the wilderness, one could virtually see the weave of soft twigs; and one knew that the nest would never see eggs; that it was - as he put it - to be a flameless pyre. I suppose it was that dramatic flair that made them give you all those big, tricky things to master?'
  Belting out the two bloody top Bs in Haydn's Saint NIcholas Mass for a full house because we had a visiting Archbishop on Easter Day; or Britten's Te Deum at a candle-blazing state occasion midweek - when all I hankered after was to be given the solo "My Voice Shalt Thou Hear Betimes Oh Lord", in Wesley's Praise the Lord Oh My Soul. At a common or garden Evensong. With a congregation of barely more than Jim the verger, Betty from the Chapter House and the large, elderly woman dressed as a Victorian bridesmaid, who trailed clouds of talc, sang twitteringly along, and had to dose herself with smelling salts whenever she caught us laughing at her. 

  I still feel the failure of never getting that Wesley solo.
  But in life you can either fake your Facebookiana or deal with real relative failure. 
  In my show I'm part classical singer. At Guildhall we were made to study this singer, Rosa Ponselle: 
  Rosa Ponselle singing Elvira's aria from Verdi's Ernani
  Then I'm part character-comic.  And Joyce Grenfell is a character-comic: 
  Joyce Grenfell in her Terrible Worrier monologue
  Lastly, I'm part classical-ballerina, meant to have had the same schooling as: 
  Uliana Lopatkina in the Black Swan solo
  And talking specifically of the ballerina part of my show, I decided I must lose weight for the sake of my aging knees. I got some diet and exercise tips from Jamie-Ray Hartshorne:


                                            Oh, do stop! 
  Depending on my mood Ponselle, Grenfell, Lopatkina and Hartshorne above are either revered inspirations or horrendous fuckfaces. In none of their specific fields, let alone all, can I remotely cut it.
  'Cutting?'  Jamie-Ray jokily responded to my wailing. 'Babe, you're not remotely at the cutting stage.'  
  Cutting is what bodybuilders do before a competition, apparently. 
  'Good few stone to go before you get to that, Iestyn.'
  Oh, ha ha...
  But I won't get there.  in any of it. No. I'm simply having a good old go, no more and no less. 
  And that's just fine. 

  Right, logging onto Facebook now to post: 
  OMG, sparklicious, privilegious and humbling gratitude - on Saturday, they stood up!!!' #showgirl #ovationaryplebs #starfuckmeanyone?
  Of course failing to mention that they were standing up simply to get off the train... 



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