Trans and non-binary compilation album for National Theatre of Scotland.
As part of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Adam World Choir, I had the opportunity to curate and produce a compilation album of music submitted by choir members from around the world. I got to work with some fantastic transgender and non-binary artists, each with their own story, perspective and style of music. I also included two of my own tracks, one produced specially for the album (‘Lottery Of Birth’), the other (‘Ugly Betty’) produced under my trans alter-ego Jenni Bluish as part of Jenni’s No Fury EP.
As part of this project, I also performed and spoke on the panel via video link at NTS’s “Beyond The Binary” symposium.
Started in late 2013, I found myself wanting to write some darker, heavier music again. Also, while at the time I was focused on teaching and had no intention of going back on the road to be an active musician again, I did want to go through the processes of making an independent record to a commercial level in order to keep my skills up.
Initially called Falanta Arbo, the project underwent a series of experimental name changes before settling on Player Versus X? (or PvX?) . It wasn’t originally meant to be a one man project, but my home and work schedule at the time made it difficult to schedule collaborative sessions, so I ended up putting it together on my laptop as and when I could. Stylistically I started out with an intention of making electronic aggrotech style music with added guitars, but gradually developed into a guitar led metal style. It got me practicing again; this material included some technical challenges I hadn’t faced before, particularly in relation to the vocal range between clean and screamed vocals. It took me about a year to get a handle on the sound – my students often reported seeing me mouthing angrily when driving my car (I do a lot of practice there).
I released the initial demo tracks on Bandcamp as I went, before finally compiling the mixed and mastered versions into the six track PvX EP which I released in June 2015.
A planned follow up entitled “This Is Fal” is currently work-in-progress. I’d planned to release it in 2016, but personal circumstances changed those plans and led me to focus on other projects. It may or may not see the light of day now.
As part of our 2004 illusion act Devilish Deeds we created a number of different characters to perform as, but the one that ended up sticking was a drag escape artist by the name of Helen Held (The Girl No Man Can Hold).
Helen was originally an anarchic punk rock character, with rock guitar soundtrack and a masked leather clad assistant named Helle Augen. After a while though I developed the character into a Bunty-esque retro heroine inspired by Pearl White, mixing escapes and illusions with old vaudeville and music hall songs and eccentric stories.
Helen was great fun to play and write for and went much further as an act than I ever expected.
Below are three vintage comic songs recorded as Helen, along with YouTube footage of a straightjacket routine entitled “The Ballad Of Mary Jones”.
This is a collection of miscellaneous recordings I produced for various media and performance projects between 2002 and 2008.
The Cloud Princess
I composed this piece years ago and have used it as background music for various purposes since. This particular version, realised entirely by midi using the Roland Juno D soundboard, was built around an anime-type imagining of a fairytale clockwork kingdom above the clouds.
I have a lifelong interest in magic and stage illusion and in 2004 I began working on an illusion act with a dancer friend, culminating in a performance at the inaugural Theatre Tent at Hyde Park Unity Day in Leeds. Our best routine was a sword box routine we named the Needles Of Bellachina, this track was part of the incidental music for that routine. The vocal sample is of ‘Gorgeous George’ Gillette, flamboyant manager of the British masked wrestler Kendo Nagasaki. This is a nod to another of my lifelong fandoms, the world of professional wrestling.
This was the theme song from a series of videos, the extended mix was so the music could be played behind longer sequences without looping. The title was inspired by a quote from Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ series of graphic novels, “Desire could never be satisfied with just one gender”.
When I joined, Teresa Dead and Corin Zero, the nucleus of the band that would become Zeitgeist Zero (along with bassist Sarah Tonin), had already written the bulk of their first album, requiring me to add in additional keyboard, percussion and violin parts. Sarah left shortly after I joined, leaving us to operate as a 3 piece.
What I learned from Zeitgeist Zero was a new level of discipline and professionalism; singer Teresa is a fiercely passionate frontwoman, lyricist and promoter while guitarist Corin is a meticulous technician and perfectionist in everything he does. Neither of them were prepared to cut any corners in pursuit of their vision and would do whatever it took secure the right information, collaborators and equipment to make every project as good as it could be. The first album received attention around Europe and scored us an appearance at the Wave Gothik Treffen festival in Leipzig. Soon our live shows developed to include customised video projections.
The second album “Dead To The World” was a total collaboration between the three of us and took us all to a new level both musically and in production techniques. I played keyboards, bass and drums on the record, which was mixed by H.I.M./Depeche Mode/Clan of Xymox producer John Fryer.
I left the band just before the album was released, but stuck around long enough to finish recording it. I regret that wasn’t around to help promote the album we’d worked so hard on together, but things were happening in my life at the time that meant it was time to move on. After my departure, the band continued with a new line-up and are now a five piece, an accomplished live act and have just released their third album “Ghosts Of Victory”. You can find their official website here.
Felicia Devile was a gothic drag act and an (affectionate) parody of the esoteric witchy goth music I was listening to at the time. The band Excretia consisted of Felicia, her partner Darrell Pthisis and drum machine Rabid Bats and was named after the detritus of the forest floor (Felicia would accept no other definition of the word).
Despite the crumminess of the act I got to try some new things with the music, combining open distorted guitar parts with programmed textures and operatic falsetto vocals. A recorded masterpiece it wasn’t and Felicia’s live appearances were very much what they were, but she was my first femme performance persona and a lot of fun to play.
2001’s “Sick Parody Of Normality” was my first solo album as Quicksand Kerry, a name which I ended up sticking with for my heavier, more anarchic projects. For Sick Parody I made a conscious effort to strip back the jazz influences in favour of a rawer electro punk sound, though the main shift in focus was that I began writing the lyrics before the music (I’d previously worked the other way around), so the music supported the attitude of the vocals. The record was synth based, though I frequently performed acoustic versions live. “I’m Smiling”, a dark jazzy talk-sung story with a singalong chorus, became my signature song.
The second album as Quicksand Kerry, “The Holodeck Will Be Society’s Last Invention”, was lost shortly after completion due to a chronic hard disk failure coupled with the harsh discovery that DVDRs were not as reliable a backup medium as I had previously thought. Some songs survived and I have toyed with the idea of recreating the rest of the album since, but as an album is so tied to your experience at a particular time I ultimately decided against it. By the time of this record, I had begun featuring guitars more and more – “Music Kept Me Sane” was my keyboards, drums and vocals combined with guitar parts and a fine solo supplied by ‘Electric’ James Martin, who I had played with in his band The Ladykillers, but after that I began playing my own guitar parts and solos.
Sometime around 1999 I developed tendonitis and couldn’t play for a while, so I started to focus on singing and sequencing while I healed. Possibly due to the stress of being out of action, my writing took a darker turn as I beg
an exploring the more gothic end of music. Though I’d always had a liking for darker and rockier music until then I’d been too busy with jazz to really explore it – given Leeds’ place in the history of goth culture I was in the right place to explore the scene.
“Ending” was my first effort at a goth album and was released by Peoplesound. Some of it is scarily dark in the wrong way (I was in a bad place mentally at the time) and musically it was still a bit too jazzy and quirky for the intended style, but I think the better tracks have a certain charm. The follow-up was 2000’s “Submission EP”, which was written specially for a festival performance in Birmingham.
When I first went to Leeds in 1995, my Dad and I were sat in a pub on the Meanwood Road when a man approached us carrying a clutch of brown paper bags and a pencil.
“Hi, I’m Mik Artistik”, he said. “I draw people on paper bags”.
I later discovered that in addition to his portraiture endeavors Mik was a jazz-punk poet who came to jam sessions and open mics to perform self-penned classics like “Somebody Stole My Plants”, “A Little Bit Of Elvis In All Of Us” and “Crooklock Don’t Work Anymore”. I got a scratch band together of musicians from the Duck and Drake jazz sessions (Al Morrison on guitar, Loz on bass and Sam Hobbs on drums, with myself on piano) and went with Mik into a rehearsal studio where we spent two hours jamming songs to a pair of ambient mics and a tape deck, resulting in the never-properly-released album “Mik Is Rock”.
Since then Mik’s fame has spread beyond the confines of Yorkshire and he is now something of a cult figure across the UK and a regular favourite at the Glastonbury festival with his band the Ego Trip. You can follow his adventures here .
After college I joined blues guitarist and singer James O’Hara, who was forming a new line-up for his band The Detonators, alongside Richard Ormrod and Gideon Marcus. James gave me my first serious experience of life on the road; I became used to not sleeping a great deal (or when I did, between speakers in the back of the van) while touring gigs and festivals throughout the UK and Ireland. As well as being a fantastic singer and guitarist and a mine of information on all things blues, James is one of the hardest working musicians I’ve known (and there are a lot of candidates for that title), who would think nothing of driving the hire van for six hours from Leeds to Cornwall, unloading, getting changed, performing and driving back as the morning sun rose to get an hour’s sleep before taking the hire van back.
I recorded two unreleased albums with The Detonators (‘Make Up Your Mind’ and ‘Covers’) and contributed original songs. James is still going strong and can be reached here .