Pop Stars Don’t Wear Jeans

In 1996 Sony gave me 90k to record an album and another 90k to be me. My manager and I had a thing about multiple of nines. That’s why we went for 180k rather than 200k. We made a similar deal with the publisher. Nine is still my favourite number. I hate even numbers. Four being the worst of a bad bunch.

Sony gave me a house and bought me a recording studio. In my bedroom was a 24 track recording studio. I fed the wires down the chimney to the living room below, and covered the walls in thick curtains to keep the noise form spilling out onto the street. At night I sang my lead vocals with the company of the red flashing record light and the green lights of the compressors. I needed the confidence to be vulnerable, and I only had that kind of confidence when I was alone.

I called my microphones ears and had a lot of them. Each vocal was sung into a different one. I was obsessed with getting a warm full fat sound for the acoustic guitars.  The album was recorded in 8 weeks, mixed at Olympic Studios –  by Jeremy Wheatley who’d been trained under one of my favourite mixers, Mark Spike Spent –  then released a few months later.

It was unusual for a company as big as Sony to give an artist so much artistic freedom. At the time I was told that I had more artistic freedom than Michael Jackson. This was told to me in a “it shouldn’t really happen kind of way, don’t quite know how you slipped under the radar.” kind of way.

Then the predictable story began. Mike Sault, the man who had signed me, left to work for a publishing company. No one knew what to do with me. I was taken out for lunches in Soho with potential new A&R men. The one I liked was Rob Stringer. But he was too busy running his label and looking after the Manics. Also, I don’t think that girl’s music interested him. My art director, who had become my good friend, said, “Let’s face it, they’re all a bunch of idiots,” He was referring to the marketing woman who stroked the cardboard cover of my single and said it reminded her of pubic hair, and when she asked me what I was going to wear for my video, and I replied “Jeans,” looked horrified and said, “Pop stars don’t wear jeans.”

I wanted to be free and creative and I thought that’s what music was and when I realised it wasn’t I felt as if I’d walked into the wrong room. I realised the music business wasn’t so much about making music but about being strategic and clever. And I wasn’t clever. I was embarrassingly naive. I’d expected the Sony  offices to be a creative space with pianos and paintings. I couldn’t understand why it looked like an insurance office.  I think it was only when I was standing in amongst the grey drabness that I understood why the most successful artists are the ones who can’t really sing.

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My Life Given Back To Me By A Pig

Many people have asked me why I’ve been away from music so long. This blog post is the answer.

My body has an over active immune system that attacks it’s own organs. This has resulted in my thyroid no longer working. For the last five years I’ve passed myself like a parcel from one endocrinologist to another hoping that one of them will prescribe me a natural thyroid medicine made from dessicated pig thyroid that could make me feel better. The Levothyroxine they have prescribed me hasn’t stopped my hair from falling out, my weight from increasing or the feeling of perpetual jetlag. To do things takes the energy of an aeroplane but I have the energy of a paper plane.

This is the conversation I have every three months with my endocrinologist.

“You feeling better?” asks the latest one (or the one before that or the one before the one before that.)

“Still feel like shit.” ( sometimes I’m more polite and explanatory in my response.)

“The dosage is correct now so we don’t understand why you’re still not feeling well… Maybe it’s something else… Maybe it’s not your thyroid. Maybe it’s your lifestyle.”

“Lifestyle?”

Ever since the disease developed I’ve lived the life of a librarian.

Today I was told I have a heart murmur and high liver enzymes which need to be investigated so I have more letters and appointments and hospitals to go and see. I don’t know what any of this means but as I sit in Starbucks sipping  my latte and shivering in my coat – even though it’s the height of summer –  I feel as if my life is nearly over. Not in a oh my God,  I’m about to die way. But in a I’m too young to spend so much time in hospitals kind of way. My illness has reduced me to a passenger. I can’t  follow the Nike ad and Just Do It.

Each endocrinologist has frustrated me by never saying no and never saying yes when I ask to be prescribed the natural thyroid therefore giving me a hope that maybe they will. But now that I’ve jumped through the hoop of a stronger and stronger dose of Levothyroxine, I realise it’s futile. I didn’t even bother asking this time.

There’s a three-month waiting list to see the private doctor that’s been recommended to me by a friend. His consulting room is in Brussels, which means I have to FedEx my blood and urine to Brussels, and then a month later I’m travelling on the rickety tram further and further into the suburbs of Brussels. I get lost. My friend – who can speak French – had assured me that everyone can speak English in Brussels but this clearly isn’t true. As I raid my brain for a remnant of school French, what comes out of my mouth is the Saturday morning Chinese I’m studying. Finally I find an estate agent who speaks English and she directs me to the surgery.

The blood test in the UK is three lines long where as the one in Brussels is two A4 pages. In preparation for being poked and prodded I’m wearing the correct underwear (not too sexy, not to shabby) . It’s a double appointment and I get sleepy. The doctor prescribes me the natural thyroid I’ve wanted for five years, together with some hormones and minerals that my blood is deficient in. I feel like a drug’s mule as I move through the Eurostar customs. I’m worried that the drugs won’t work. Maybe the London endocrinologists are right.

It takes three months for me to switch over completely and for those three months I do a Qigong that Yan Lei teaches me, then as my energy increases I start to exercise, something I could never do on Levothyroxine. If I ran for twenty minutes, my body would feel like lead and I’d have to sleep for an hour after. But by the end of the three months I can run up and down Parliament Hill and do 45 minute kung fu circuit training with Yan Lei.

And I still have energy.

And my hair has stopped falling out.

And I no longer need to sleep nine hours at night and two hours in the day.

The jet lag I’ve had for more than five years has gone.

I don’t know what to do with all this time.

All this energy.

All this hair.

It sounds funny to say this…. but my life has been given back to me by a bunch of pigs.

And I’m so grateful to them.

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The Drugs Do Work

The songs we’re recording are: Things That We Repeat.  Animals. Hotel. But I Feel Alright… It’s not just lack of money that’s making us record as quickly as possible, it’s also because I don’t want to have time to think and allow the itch of dissatisfaction to enter. If I scratch the itch then I self-destruct.

The backing tracks are done in a day (Howard Monk on drums and Jonny Bridgwood on double bass), guitars in a day, vocals & backing vocals in a day. Sean comes down to add some guitars and Pete plays everything else, effortlessly swapping from mandolin to acoustic to electric  to banjo to vibes. Andy, the engineer, gets confused with what he calls my random references and says he’s recording blind. He complains that I sing too much and Pete plays too much guitar.  But whatever he says, the music is taking shape.

In the evenings the street fills up with a heavy narcotic incense that spills out of the Nigerian Church Of Freedom. A choir of voices and the rhythm of African drums pour through the open windows of the industrial unit. Andy’s pissed off that the place he decided to build his recording studio in has turned into a ghetto for God but I like it.

As I wait for him to tune his synth, put the rubbish in the chute then give me a lift to Canada Water , church goers spill onto the street, some of them dressed in billowing white gowns. I’m the only white person and the only non-believer in this sea of black and they walk past me as if I’m a ghost. They come here to sing to God and I come here to sing into my beat up old East German Neumann. They sing for salvation and I sing for what? I sing because I can. I’m elated. The world is not crashing. The drugs. Are. Finally. Working.

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The Bolleteri Tennis Academy

“…every endeavor pursued with passion produces a successful outcome regardless of the result. For it is not about winning or losing – rather, the effort put forward in producing the outcome.”

It’s weird that the very second I’m about to start writing with Sean, Pete emails me some chords. For months I’ve been badgering him to send me chords, “You’re a really good guitarist….why can’t you write songs?”

I even went round to his house and we sat for three glum hours trying to come up with something. Then we gave up and he made me a fish finger sandwich.

While I wait for his ideas to import into Garageband, I remember the last time I wrote songs and took them to my publisher to see what he thought.

“It sounds like you’re not enjoying it anymore,” said the A&R guy.

He was right. I’d allowed myself to get sucked into the music industry and I was no longer making music for myself. This had never happened to me before. People used to ask me, so how did you get a record deal with Sony as if I’d landed some dream job. But I never had any ambition to get a record deal, I just wanted to record some songs and at the time the only way to do that was to get a record deal.

Back then I was insecure &

young &

surrounded by strange people.

That didn’t help.

No one gave me any words of advice.

They watched me step myself off a tall building and fall very slowly through the air.

It was what was expected of me.

It’s just I didn’t realise at the time.

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My Disastrous Co-write With 50 Cent

The adverts for a songwriter haven’t worked so I phone and email everyone I know asking them if they know any songwriters. In Hobgoblins, I stare at an Appalachian dulcimer and wonder if I could learn how to play it therefore eradicating the need for a co-writer. I write a song with the 50 cent backing track of Window Shopping that I download from iTunes. I even go to see my acupuncturist at her traditional Chinese music lesson in the Chinese Community Centre in Gerard Street to see if I can work with a musician from there. She gives me a hug and a biscuit and afterwards we go for Dim Sum.  She says I should sing because it’s good for my Lung Qi.  I tell her it was okay before when I was doing it for a laugh. I learned If I Were A Boy in Chinese and sang it at some Chinese New Year Parties & was given the nickname The Beijing Beyonce. But now I want to do it for real.

Then someone gives me a number for a songwriter called Sean Redmond. We meet in a pub, talk for a bit then go to his flat which is just round the corner, next to the wig shop and opposite Paris Fashions. By the sickly green flashing sauna sign, Sean searches for his keys then using the light of our cell phones to guide us, we stumble down the stairs and into his basement bedsit. The bed part is divided by a clothing rail with predominately leopard skin dresses that I presume are not his. A kebab shop’s ventilator blows cooking fat through his one window. Even though it’s only 4pm I can hear a couple fucking in the room above.

Placing my blue carrier bag on the floor, I hope the blood from the sheep’s head I’ve just bought for Yan Lei won’t leak onto his carpet. Sean clears some clutter from the sofa then sits on a chair opposite. It’s a large black office chair with a wheel missing. As he starts tuning his guitar he tells me he found it on the street. I shiver and button my coat and think maybe it’s too late for me to get back into music.

I run a business now and it has definitely changed my mind. I never used to think about money but now I’m always thinking: but how can this make money? And this isn’t the way to think about music. You have to do what you love and if it makes money then it makes money and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. You have to be Naïve and Hopeful and Childish and Insanely Stupid. And this is why I’m not sure if I can do it any more. My mind is weighed down by lists and the hundred emails clogging my inbox and Joe the forwarder from Chicago who left a message for me to call him. There’s a problem with the import to the States.  Crate loads of Yan Lei’s Qigong books are sitting in a warehouse and they need to be moved quickly or I’ll have to pay a fine.

Sean starts to play me stuff, idea after idea, and it all goes away; the fucking upstairs, the cold, the bloody sheep’s head, the problems in Chicago. And I begin to understand why he can bare to live here. Music: it’s the Ultimate Drug.

He glances up from his guitar. “Which ones do you like then?”

I dive into my coat pocket, retrieve my iPhone and balance it on my knee. “Let me record them all and see what I can come up with.”

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I bet Liam Gallagher Doesn’t Wear Diamante Eyelashes

I can’t play any instruments and I don’t have a co-songwriter to work with, which is why I’m at Café Otto watching a naked man turn his back to the audience, bend to touch his toes and insert a plastic fish up his arse. He puts his hands behind his back and places a silver platter below the fish so it looks as if it’s just about to be dished up at a dinner party. To the left of him a blindfolded Japanese man plays piano. His playing is quite good so a few days later I arrange to go to his flat. Maybe he can be my new co-songwriter.

He’s cute and sexy and skinny. His shoulder length black hair keeps falling onto his face and he wears a white T-shirt and Elvis Jesus jeans, which he later confesses he bought for a fiver from Oxfam. His flat is painted white and has a futon, an upright piano, Macbook, pot of Nivea cream, couple of books in Japanese, and him sitting opposite and making me the best green tea I’ve had since coming back from China. When he asks me what I thought of the show, I tell him I’m not into performance art. He says that when he was in Japan he studied Butou and No but he knows it can’t make money which is why he wants to get involved with other stuff. Then he pushes his hair behind his ears and starts playing the piano. But everything he plays sounds like Eric Satie.

I go to gigs four nights a week. Stand in the corner with a glass of coke warming in my hand. Post ads on NME online and Gumtree. Trawl through link after link in the black hole of MySpace. The more I search, the more desperate I become. What if I can never find anyone? What if I do find someone and my music ends up sounding as bad as theirs and I’m also as blissfully unaware as them?

“Sorry I’m late. Had to empty my bowels in McDonald’s toilet before I came here,” says the first musician I’ve agreed to meet in a rehearsal room in King’s Cross. I can’t remember if he’s from Gumtree or NME. The next person arrives with a guitar, chapped lips and fingerless gloves. I don’t know why but we both feel intensely nervous as if we’re on a blind date. We can’t even look at each other. I shouldn’t compare songwriting to sex but there has to be a spark otherwise it’s just notes with no meaning, an exchange of bodily fluids with no passion.

After meeting five people and being stood up by three I meet my boyfriend, Yan Lei, at the Sichuan café and fill myself with my favourite food; fish-fragrant aubergine. I stir the thick dark sauce into the rice and spoon it hungrily into my mouth while Yan Lei has an argument with the waitress because she forgets to bring his beef noodles. I try to follow their Chinese words then drift off and think about when I was signed to Sony. They used to send me a driver when I had to be on the TV, and inevitably we’d get stuck in traffic and my driver would tell me about the problems he was having with his wife.  Then, just as we were nearing the TV station, he’d say ‘You know that Oasis?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah.’ And he’d shake his head and say, ‘Nightmare… Always at least two hours late.’ And I remember thinking to myself; I’m just too well behaved to make it in the music business. Here I am, on time, giving marriage guidance counseling to the driver, my eyes weighed down with diamante eyelashes. I bet Liam Gallagher doesn’t wear diamante eyelashes. And I began to wonder what I’d look like in a parka.

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Sex Tapes

I haven’t done music for a long time. It’s felt as if someone died and they’re still sleeping in my living room and I trip over them every time I go to put the kettle on. My first and only co-writer was also my boyfriend. He was always playing the guitar and I was always singing. I’d be sitting on the kitchen table, swinging my legs, and every now and again he’d stop playing to baste the chicken roasting in the oven. That’s how we became accidental songwriters.

But when I took our songs to a record company, he went ballistic, and said I might as well have taken a Video of us Fucking to the record company because it was That Personal. I couldn’t see how a song we’d written together was the same as a video of us fucking each other so I didn’t listen to him. I got us a manager, who got us a record deal with Sony and a publishing deal with Chrysalis. But my boyfriend never forgave me for taking our songs and selling them so after recording an album, we split.

Since that time I haven’t had anything to do with music apart from I’ve never stopped listening to it. I’m one of those people who spend most of their time with a pair of  dirty white iPod earphones stuck in my ears. Music is the soundtrack to nearly everything I do.

And last night I dreamt about making music again. It woke me up, got me out of bed and made me lean out of the window. Then I told myself I was having an Anvil Moment and I Really Should Go Back To Bed.

But crawling back to bed didn’t make any difference. I still couldn’t sleep. It was at around four in the morning that I decided I had to make music again.

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