Songstresses and burlesque queens: Five unusual ladies

I’ve had to interview various unusual and creative ladies for magazines and it got me thinking about a few that people may not have heard of, but would like to.

I’m on some pretty heavy painkillers (have a read of my post on endometriosis) so forgive me if I don’t make much sense…

The first two are musical. I like ethereal music ladies such as Bat For Lashes and CocoRosie, and two singers/musicians I came across in the last few years have caught my interest.

Anneka Snip lives in Brighton and has collaborated with electronica artists like Milanese, Blue Daisy and Ital Tek.

Kid A (or Annie T) is an American lady who is currently on tour with Scroobius Pip. Have a listen:

Next up is a cabaret artist known as Missy Macabre. A one woman vintage burlesque freak show, I interviewed her about a short comedy/horror film she appeared in called Annabelle’s Tea Party. Have a look at her in action:

Next we have comedy burlesque performer Fancy Chance. I was sent to review The Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus and she was very entertaining:

In the same show was Lucifire, the lead stunt woman. Amongst other things she ate glass, walked on it and made me chuckle (the gentleman onstage is her husband and fellow performer Professor Tusk):

Just as an added bonus here’s Bat for Lashes doing Horse and I at Shepherd’s Bush, London:

Writing for magazines

I found these articles I wrote back in the mists of time (2007) and thought they were sufficiently entertaining enough to include.

I go into further detail on how to write for magazines in this post here and in my blog Swann’s Shack on The Focus Project. As well as the articles below I’ve reviewed a freaky sideshow, interviewed and written about burlesque dancers, film-makers, tattooists, church renovators (yes, church renovators…for Essex Life) and new hip replacement technology (for a medical magazine…not Just 17).

Needless to say these were for Bizarre. I also collected the voodoo doll ingredients from Camden (I knew pink sparkly beads would look terrifying). Click on them twice to enlarge:

Journalism intern at Bizarre magazine

Want to be a magazine journalist? I did an internship at both Bizarre and Essex Life which has given me useful information to pass on, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know about the catalogue shoot for brown wellies I helped with or the article I wrote about Ladies What Lunch (I coined the term). No, you want to know about toe wrestling and making voodoo dolls.

It’s me!
Writers Denise Stanborough (left) and Alix Fox with a joker
What can I say?

The first thing you need to know about doing a Journalism course that will actually be helpful is that it needs to be accredited by the NCTJ, the National Certificate of Training for Journalists. Oddly enough the best place near me (Braintree, Essex) for this is Harlow College Journalism Centre. It’s got great teachers and facilities at a half decent cost, which was very surprising for a small town I’d never really been to.

During your time off at college you’re expected to contact a magazine (or newspaper, if that’s what you’re doing) and arrange a couple of weeks at least to go be their puppy. You’re probably missing out 100 per cent if you don’t. So, with my pathalogical love for the odd, I trotted along to Bizarre magazine after sending them an explanatory email. I thought about Fortean Times despite not actually believing in any of it but it’s literally just two people at a desk.

Each morning was spent checking over the new photos sent via the website to enter their ongoing alternative model competition Ultra Vixens. My eyes would drift to the stuffed animals on the shelf as I joined the staff around the large table. The room was filled with these tables, each belonging to the staff of a different Dennis Publishing magazine. It could become a problem when Monkey magazine next to us would play music wars, but mostly we all rubbed shoulders in piece like gentle Leviathans.

After adding the model’s pictures my duties included: typing up interviews (which included ‘psychic vampires,’ plus Neil Gaiman and Simon Drake in his House of Magic), going to Camden to find the ingredients for a voodoo doll photo shoot, interviewing Missy Macabre and conducting interviews at the Bizarre Ball, which I did two years running. As I wandered around Camden with my list of stuff for the doll on a warm spring afternoon, I vowed I would never again have a normal job. And I haven’t.

I got to do a surprising amount of writing while I was there, such as the step by step instructions on making a voodoo doll (turned out to be not so scary covered in pink glittery beads) and a review on a sideshow they sent me to one night on Brick Lane, The Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus. I got to see comedy burlesque dancer Fancy Chance and glass eating Lucifire for free, which was very nice.

Cold?

Being an intern is exhausting because you have to be constantly aware of things you could be doing to help or ways of suggesting ideas, plus you have to be open to very last minute suggestions of tasks eg, the afore-mentioned toe wrestle. The man’s toe was enormous. Half the time in the office I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Twins
Twins

The Ball was always lots of fun, I brought along a friend and, as I misguidedly attempted to interview a girl in a gas mask, I turned and found said friend being spanked by a professional dominatrix, beautiful grey underwear on show. We got her card. There’s always a good photo opportunity there and the atmosphere is very friendly, but I’m sure you’ll be devestated to learn that I don’t have any pictures of the man wearing nothing but shoes and a cock ring.

So there we are, the life of an intern. The only thing you can count on is each day being drastically different. Good luck!

In the video below the lovely Alix Fox takes us sword swallowing:

Life Model – A Lesson in Life

I get paid to sleep
I get paid to sleep

What would you consider to be a good job whilst studying for a degree? At the tender age of 20 I found out. Cleaning, bar work; all these things I did, at least for a while. I was terrible. Cleaning wasn’t so bad, but bar work was something else. I enjoy pubs, I still like being in them even though drinking is no longer one of my main pastimes. I like talking to people. However, I did find out that these are not necessarily good things for being a barmaid. You need an ability to add up, for one thing. An ability to remember drink orders for another. One member of staff thought I was so bad she asked me in all seriousness if I was on heroin, so it was clear I would have to do something different.

But what? A shop? It was possible, but again my lack of numerical skills made things difficult. I was living in Bath whilst studying, and managing to find a job in a shop was like looking for gold dust. Every student was making the same searches and all had got there first. However, none of that mattered. One day I managed to find the perfect job, in 2002, and it happened in a pub.

“I’m off to New Zealand, but I just can’t find anyone to cover my classes.” This was Teff, a lady who lived in a boat along the canal. She had striking, angular features and a shaved head. Her clothes were almost as colourful as mine. We were sitting in the beer garden of a pub called the Bell; a friendly relaxing place that often played reggae. Sipping on my cider I asked what she did. “Life modelling” was the unexpected reply. Life modelling? Without asking anything further the words just came out of my mouth.

“I’ll do it.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Yes, I don’t mind, I’ll do it.”

She seemed understandably skeptical. I was a young undergraduate who probably didn’t know much about life, let alone life modeling. However I eventually convinced her otherwise, possibly through desperation both on her part and mine. It was for the art and design section of the same college I studied at. ‘At least I’ll be amongst friends’, I thought.

The day arrived. It was a crisp morning in November, the kind that makes you feel as though it’s spring even though it’s quite cold. I had to be there for 9 AM and I made sure I was up early to have a bath. Forty minutes and a lot of moisturiser later I was ready. I felt excited rather than nervous, although in hindsight I was terrified. I made my way across the picturesque hills of Bath to the life drawing room. The first thing I noticed were the enormous windows. It was a spacious, airy room, with a wooden floor and a number of easels surrounding a long block on which a mattress was placed. I noticed with relief that there were curtains waiting to be pulled.

The teacher arrived first and was very friendly and welcoming, with soft brown eyes and mid length brown hair. Her overall impression was warm. I realised I didn’t know the process, the little details of what was to happen. In a very low voice, as students poured noisily in, I muttered that I hadn’t done it before. I was a nudity virgin. She smiled reassuringly and seemed a little surprised, but lent me a blanket to wrap around myself whilst I made the journey from changing area to mattress. ‘Thank God,’ I thought, I wasn’t ready to sashay amongst the students completely and utterly naked.

I went behind the tall changing stand, which reminded me of cartoons and films from the 40s where you could see the outline of the changing person as they flung undergarments over the top. I didn’t do that, I flung them untidily on the floor. I wrapped myself in the blanket, told myself to stop thinking about it and stepped out as confidently as possible towards the block. A chair had been placed on the mattress. Without catching anyone’s eye, I stepped through the gathered crowd who waited with charcoal in hand, onto the block and into the chair. ‘Ok’ I thought, ‘First part over, weirdest bit yet to come.’

The soft spoken teacher gave me a brief description of how she wanted me. “Sit facing towards the back of the chair with your arms resting on the top,” like some tough guy from American films. Just what was I supposed to do about the fact that I was wrapped in this blanket? I felt I wanted to be absolutely certain I was supposed to be undressed; at this stage I didn’t feel I could cope with the embarrassment if I got it wrong.

“Um…naked?” I asked stupidly. She nodded her head. I breathed in and whipped off my protecting layer. This was it, I had done it. I was nude in a chair, surrounded by people. They were just drawing. They were listening to long descriptions of angles and lines and proportion, and they were just drawing. No one shouted “Oh my God she’s naked!”

I deliberately hadn’t worn my glasses or contacts so that the students would be a distant comforting blur. After a while I began easing into the role, listening carefully to instructions on posture and positioning. I became so at ease that I dozed off during a lying down pose. I was awoken by the sound of my own snores. As I drifted gently back into consciousness, I became aware of three things. Firstly, it was a bit cold. Secondly, I was nude. Thirdly, I wasn’t at home. The jolt back into reality wasn’t as much of a shock as you would expect. It was more of a subtle surprise.

As I twisted myself into several more poses, daydreaming and running entire songs and films through my head to pass the time, my thoughts wandered onto the subject of art and nudity. Why was it acceptable to be nude in front of art classes, even though it’s as much about being paid to be naked as stripping or porn? Maybe the difference was that this was not intentionally to incite sexual thoughts – not that there’s anything wrong with that in my opinion. The naked body is certainly supposed to be one of the hardest things for artists to draw so therefore it makes sense that they should do it. However, how did it come about that public nudity was wrong, and those who decided clothes were too inhibiting were arrested? I myself admit I think the man who liked to ramble up hills naked must have been mad, or at least a bit cold.

Is it because we are so basically self conscious of how we look without the protection of clothing that we think if you’re happy to show off your lumps and bumps you must be a bit bonkers?  There are things about my body I’m very unhappy with, and Teff had things about her body she dislikes I’m sure, and yet in this particular situation we were willing to not care. Why was that, I wondered. Perhaps it’s the strength of a civilised society. After all, if everybody decided to fling their clothes off at every opportunity, where would we be?

So as I lay there, pondering on all these questions, I realised I actually was quite comfortable with my body the way it was. Once the fear of exposure has been removed you just…get on with things. No one is looking at you as critically as you look at yourself, and that in turn made me regard myself differently.

So, after an eventful day, I was thanked by all the students and scheduled to make an appearance the week after. I started collecting other classes as well, and thanked whatever lucky thing it was that I would get paid ten pounds an hour to sit around for three days a week. Nude.

by Stephen Waring