Do More Magazine: Polly & the Billets Doux Interview

This interview was originally published on Do More Magazine. I spoke to front-woman Polly Perry of Polly and the Billets Doux ahead of their UK tour.

I also reviewed their new album. It’s a good, soothing listen.

MoneyTree

Congratulations with Money Tree! With such a combination of genres and influences audible in the band’s sound, I’m assuming music has always been a prominent factor in your life?

Yes, of course! Though I never studied music at school or college… One had to choose between art and music. I wanted to do both. I grew up listening to my parents massively eclectic record collection, anything from Ian Dury, Gong, Nina Simone, Fairport Convention, X Ray Spex, all sorts! My Nan was a singer in the War, so whenever I see her we duet 40’s sentimental songs.

What were your primary inspirations (lyrical or otherwise) when writing Money Tree?

Money Tree was inspired by the Northern Poet Tony Harrison. We tour a lot in the north of England which we love. The lyrics are inspired by the images and places we have been and also a book called the Sisters Brothers by Jonathan DeWitt.

Are there any specific themes or concepts behind the album? Or perhaps every song has a unique thought or story behind it?

I would say that we enjoy the diversity of the songs but there is generally a strong sense of struggle, death and travel. Money Tree features our first murder ballad in Calico Blankets, heavily story based, inspired by the weather. It was a truly freezing cold day and Steeny was feeling gloomy.

Do you have any favourite songs on the album?

That’s tough, but probably ‘Black Crow’ because I love the rhythm, the darkness and the birds. Steeny likes them all and can’t choose between them but loves playing ‘Black Crow’ live. Dan says they are all too different to select one favourite and loves all of them, particularly the driving energy of ‘My Father’s House’. And Ben loves ‘Old Virginia’, because after years of bringing the accordion to the recording studio, we finally buckled and allowed him to play it!

Are there any particular songs on Money Tree that you’re expecting to go down particularly well live? Or that you’re especially excited to perform live?

Black Crow’ – we love performing it! The rhythm bestrides four triplets and 3/4 straight so it’s super fun to play and great to dance to.

Between releasing your début album and EP you’ve toured extensively and performed at several UK festivals like Glastonbury, Green Man and The Big Chill. But if you could pick one highlight of the band’s career so far, what would it be and why?

Touring Ireland was a major highlight for us. We had never really been there before and had an incredible time! We met some of the warmest, most hospitable and fun people.

Touring can be tough for some. Do you enjoy the touring lifestyle?

I enjoy the parts where we visit new places and go to interesting museums. I am very much an outdoors girl and so I find sitting in the van for hours can drive me crazy. But if I get the opportunity to set off across a field for a walk and get a bit muddy I can keep relatively sane.

Have you played anywhere in the UK where the audience are particularly enthusiastic/appreciative of the band?

We haven’t yet had underwear thrown at us. But a gentleman once bought me a necklace and a man last night made us some personalised wooden toys! A man has also had some of our lyrics tattooed on his chest. In terms of whooping and hollering… The Ceilidh Place in Scotland.

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Q&A with Gary Stringer of Reef and StringerBessant

This Q&A is pulled from a little phone interview I conducted back in 2011 with Gary Stringer – frontman of the band Reef and currently StringerBessant.

It will always stick out in my mind because it was my first time interviewing somebody ‘famous’ and also because I forgot to press Record and had to phone him back post-interview and politely ask if he would be so kind as to do it again…

He was a cool guy – which was fortunate for me, really. I won’t be making that mistake again!

The transcript was published in a Bournemouth newspaper for whom I was completing work experience at the time. Reef were set to perform at a local music festival that summer.

After a string of successful shows after your band’s reformation in 2010, you’re playing again in Bournemouth this weekend. How do you feel about that?

Yeah I’m really glad we’re coming to Bournemouth. I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve played some really good gigs and they have always been well supported when we come to Bournemouth. So yeah I’m really stoked about it.

Did the reformation of Reef last year change the group dynamics in any way?

No, not really. We didn’t have much time to think about it as we were all concentrating on different things and when we finally got to rehearsals we suddenly realised that ‘Oh my god, this could be awful’.  But it was absolutely fine.

From the first show it was obvious that everybody had that fire in their belly that the group have always had. We have always felt comfortable with our performance and I think it has something to do with having that spring in your step and fire in your belly, and not just playing the songs like you’d hear them on a CD, but actually perform the songs for the audience that you’re playing in front of.

Ten years ago Reef played in Bournemouth in aid of Surfers Against Sewage. Are green or environmental issues something you feel strongly about?

Sure yeah, we’ve played a handful of gigs for these sort of things over the years. This year we’ve done a couple of gigs for Surfer’s Against Sewage. Previously we performed at Lusty Glaze and also played the Boardmasters which is supporting Surfers Against Sewage.

Who would you say are the majority of fans who flock to you gigs since Reef have reformed? Are they mostly fans from the nineties or more recent admirers?

I would think that there’s plenty of people who came first time around, so there will be plenty of thirty-somethings and yeah a few younger and older people as well.

During your time in Bournemouth, do you plan on checking out many of the other bands playing at Musicosity festival?

As of yet we don’t really know what our schedule is going to be like but I think we’re going to spend the night. So we’ll see what happens, but yeah it would be good to check out some of the other bands.

You’ve shared the stage with a number of big names but who would you say has been the biggest or best artist you’ve performed with?

Without a doubt it would have to be Paul Weller. He looked after us so well and when we were just starting. He treated us with a huge amount of respect and we walked away from it having learnt a lot about him and the way that he interacted with us was incredible. So yeah, top man.

Have you got any favourite memories from your musical career or any specific performances that stand out?

Yeah, well playing at Glastonbury has always been very special. I’m from Glastonbury so it was quite incredible and also just things that ten years ago we might have taken for granted, you know. We did a TV show in London and got on a private jet flying over to Denmark to play a show the same night. If you look at our schedule from 1997 it’s pretty incredible really, you know? We were doing Spain and then we’d be going to Norway, then be in Glasgow the next day, which probably would have meant flying through London.

It was just crazy, crazy times really. But yeah playing Glastonbury festival, especially the first time. I can remember turning up with my shorts on in the sun and had a really cool time, you know, and playing the festival that I had attended as a youngster, it was great.

What have you currently got planned for your acoustic project StringerBessant?

We’re gonna make another record, so we’re gonna work until the end of October. We’ve got UK shows lined up and we’re gonna go to New York for a week or so. Then we’ll probably call it quits and take a breather and then go write another record. 

Band Q&A with Witch Cult

Witch Cult have now disbanded but in their brief lifetime managed to gather a reputable amount of fascinated followers. I interviewed vocalist Dean after their European tour just under a year ago.

witchcult

How did you become involved with powerviolence?

I’ve been a music nerd since I was super young and I’ve always dug deep into music I was interested in. I was always searching for faster and more extreme forms of punk and hardcore, and PV is definitely one of, if not, the most extreme sub-genre.

How would you describe the underground scene, in the UK or otherwise?

At times it can be the most rewarding and comforting thing, somewhere I can relate, find like-minded views and be exposed to some incredible music. Other times it sickens me, goes against a lot of what I stand for and I question why I have any involvement with something that seems so far from what I was looking for. It’s only ever as good as the people involved.

Any specific messages you are trying to convey?

You Are Nothing Special. I think one theme that has come up in my/our lyrics a good few times is a general distaste for discrimination and prejudice. We have songs that are against homophobia, transphobia, sexism, nationalism and religious bigotry. These are just things that I or whoever has written the songs are angry about.

Are there any thoughts you are trying to provoke from those who listen?

I have never thought about it like that. I guess we focus more on making music we are pleased with than trying to get a reaction from an unknown listener. Music is a very subjective thing, I don’t think I’d know how to go about provoking a universal reaction.

Do you, or any other members of Witch Cult, have any personal beliefs that are fundamental to the music? Does your veganism or personal lifestyle choices influence your lyrics for example?

First and foremost, I think that if we were all everyday people who always fitted in with their surroundings we wouldn’t be drawn towards music like this. It’s music for freaks, weirdos and losers, so I think feeling a bit like that is pretty fundamental. Veganism has yet to enter my lyrics as I want to wait until I have something that puts my feelings accurately. A couple of songs touch on Straight Edge, but not in a preaching manner, those songs concern my relationships with other humans due to being edge, and another on my opinions of what Straight Edge is sometimes turned into.

Did any of the countries on tour have a strong underground scene that was particularly appreciative of the band?

I had heard that the Czech Republic loves fast music, and that was confirmed at our Prague show. A lot of people thanked us for coming the further we got into Eastern Europe as not many bands go there apparently. We were thanked in Turkey a lot too, I was told Witch Cult was the first PV band to go there.

What do you think fans get out of live shows?

10 minutes of unpleasant music.

Interview with Artist Chantal Poppy Elwood

“I think I’m one of the only people from uni still doing art exhibitions. There’s only a few of us,” explains Chantal Poppy Elwood one afternoon during her two-week exhibition in Christchurch. “A few [fellow students] are doing MA’s and stuff and maybe doing exhibitions on the side, but I want to continue with this because so many people have told me not to. It feels a bit wrong, but it’s right.”

If you’re wondering why it feels wrong for this Fine Art graduate of Bath Spa University to pursue her goal in creating and showcasing her painting, all is told by Chantal who informs me that, as a student, her practices were discouraged from the start by college and university tutors. “They didn’t like me painting in general. They’d rather I do media, videos and graphic design. And that stuff interests me a lot, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I felt like when I was painting, that was what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m supposed to do in life, is paint, and they just kept telling me that I shouldn’t paint any more, that I’m not a painter and that I can’t paint. It kind of spurred me on a bit actually. I was quite rebellious then,” she laughs.

Admirably Chantal continued to stay true to her early convictions and keep painting, despite the opinions of her educational advisers. Surely it would become difficult not to doubt yourself under chronic pressure from your professional superiors? Yet Chantal assures me that it’s not these opinions which matter to her. “I don’t care about what certain people think, you know, like strangers. But with friends and family I think it’s really important that they like your work. It’s encouragement.

“If everyone told me that my work was crap every day, I don’t think I’d do it any more.  That means I must be quite concerned [about what people think], but I’ve still got those people who are encouraging me, so it’s all fine. Even if it’s just a couple of people that’s fine by me, I’ll just keep going.”

As Chantal pro-actively sets out to gain exposure for her art through solo exhibitions and gallery spots across the South, it’s easy to understand why support and encouragement from family and close friends is so valued. Thankfully the ambition to create emotive and engaging work from the outset is very much alive and Chantal’s appreciation for her close circle of allies seems indicative of an artist who wishes to create work that’s personal, truthful and a well articulated manifestation of her thoughts, as opposed to superficial, socially pleasing art to get eaten up by the masses.

chantalelwood

Chantal reveals how, while the desire to create and sell paintings remains firmly intact, a singular or consistent message is yet to be established throughout her work and that she feels as though she is still finding herself artistically. Of course this is not out of the ordinary at such an early stage and such initial creative turmoil experienced by so many young artists may in itself be evident in Chantal’s enigmatic paintings, particularly her self portraits. When questioned further about this fascination with portraits, Chantal goes on to outline the link between the subject and a specific psychological process – of self exploration or analysis: “I think self portraits, specifically, interest me even more than just portraits because painting yourself is such a task and the way you portray yourself says a lot about you and what you think about yourself and what you think about the world.

“I think I look at myself as a bit of a joke and I do a bit of theatre and make it a bit more dramatic. I paint myself but with stupid expressions on my face and stupid make up and stupid hair. I don’t really know if it is judging my mental state. It probably says a lot about my mental state though.”

The paintings are cryptic, beautifully vivid displays centred on female portraits, usually of herself, friends or anyone willing to have their photograph taken. To me, Chantal’s work brings to mind specific emotional states that often reference darker issues.

As well as these personal explorations, it seems that broader subject matter is becoming more visible, specifically in relation to society and politics. Chantal’s recent trip to Russia and the imprisonment of three Pussy Riot members inspired the piece ‘Pussy Riot’. “That’s the only political painting I’ve done. It wasn’t actually meant to be political at all; I just wanted to paint pictures of… Ah well it was actually. When I went to Russia there were so many people who just can’t – don’t have an opinion. They get brushed over – with the girls and them getting arrested. I looked at a lot of Russian propaganda posters. There’s one, I don’t know how to pronounce it, but it means ‘Don’t speak’ in Russian and had a woman with her finger across her lips and that’s what inspired me to do that particular painting.”

The decision to highlight such topics and portray the women involved in a particular way, as victims for example, suggests a developing social commentary throughout Chantal’s work.

“I’ve done one about eating disorders and models – ish, not directly. It’s not directly linked to eating disorders as such, but I was looking at pictures of women in magazines and then I would paint them. Then I would paint the word ‘pressure’ on their neck and have all this gloomy background and have her crying.

“One of my biggest things in life is that I absolutely hate what people expect of everyone, you know? What they expect of young people and what we’re supposed to do, what we’re supposed to look like, what we’re supposed to eat, what we’re supposed to wear. I wanna convey more and more of that in my future paintings. I wanna put more of a clear message forward.”

Perhaps these new messages could be interpreted as a young woman’s attempt at making sense of themselves and their place in the modern world. So far, remaining true to her creative instincts has proved to be beneficial to Chantal’s artistic development and in light of her future goals and inspirations it’s safe to assume that any new ideas will only enrich an already promising body of work.

Feature: Oxjam Bournemouth 2011

(Photos: Tim Churchill)

When shaping people’s behaviour or even their way of life, music can be extraordinarily effective. Whether you prefer acoustic, electro or metal, music has always been a phenomenally influential medium, with the potential to bring out the best in people. So pair the act of gig-going with the knowledge that every penny spent will contribute to saving lives across the world and you’re set to triumph. The launch night for Oxjam Bournemouth 2011 is just around the corner and it’s the perfect opportunity to embrace your local music scene and aid communities who desperately need Oxfam’s help.

The Oxjam music festivals are entirely the work of volunteers and encompass hundreds of events across the UK in separate regions. These have helped raise more than £1.5 million for Oxfam, since the first festival in 2006. Oxfam priorities in providing aid to those affected by emergencies, funding long-term projects to combat poverty and campaigning around the world for change from leaders.

Last year Bournemouth saw its first ever Oxjam event which brought together a variety of local musicians, multiple venues and of course the paying customers, whose attendance resulted in thousands being raised – the fifth highest amount of every regional team in the country. Not bad! Of course the time and energy of the local Oxjam volunteers made this achievement possible.

Trail blazer for Bournemouth town is Oxjam regional manager Tony Foster. When Oxfam approached him at the start of 2010 with the proposition of organising an Oxjam festival he gladly accepted, describing the decision as a “no brainer”. Hard at work, Tony is an example of an individual who’s every ounce of time and energy is manifested in to something they’re passionate about and for the benefit of others.  As a dedicated music promoter in the Bournemouth area and editor of local music website – bhone.co.uk, he is well familiarised with the local scene and particularly experienced in organising fundraising gigs. “It’s just a simple way of raising several hundred pounds and, for a bigger event, several thousand pounds!” he explains. You could say that he was the perfect candidate to take the reins of an enormous project like Oxjam. “I really enjoy doing it and I don’t see any negatives. Oxjam is obviously a bigger thing entirely than just putting on a gig and just raising money for charity. But yeah I’ve always really enjoyed it. Like I say, it makes music promotion worthwhile really.

“What we want to try to encourage this year is for people to walk from venue to venue checking out the bands. It’s supposed to be a bit like The Camden Crawl, where you buy a wristband and go from venue to venue. So if one venue, say, is playing jazz, one venue is playing metal, one venue is playing hip-hop, it’s quite rare that you’re gonna get people enjoying, you know… [All genres]. So what we want to try to do is make each venue appealing to everyone.” Careful planning is in order then to ensure everybody will check out a mixture of venues over The Takeover Weekend, as well as stick around certain venues and perhaps witness performances from bands they wouldn’t normally have tried. 

The Neon Tigers

One thing is certain and it’s that Oxjam Bournemouth 2010 received a positive response from local bands following the events. Jon Kearley, guitarist for alternative rock outfit The Neon Tigers, says: “Oxjam was fantastic and we thoroughly enjoyed playing it last year! Everyone present seemed to be having a great time and there was a nice sense of community amongst the bands playing. We were lucky enough to play two events for it, a Thursday fundraiser at O’Neill’s and the Sunday of the Takeover Weekend at the Old Firestation. Both were really enjoyable gigs and the crowds at both were really vocal and supportive.

“We’d definitely be up for playing it again this year so hopefully they will ask us back. Anything that helps bring the local music scene together and does it for a great cause has to be good!”

It’s not just musicians who will be performing either. Other entertainment is lined up for Oxjam 2011 including burlesque shows, poetry, a selection of DJs and who knows what else Tony and his team will throw in to the mix? “It will be primarily live music, but we could have done some comedy last year” Tony said, “I’d like to include some comedy this year.” With this amount of enthusiasm from the volunteers and artists alike, this year’s Oxjam is already set to be very enjoyable, highly rewarding and memorable experience for everyone involved.

The launch night is scheduled for Saturday 7 May, from 3pm until midnight at Chaplins/Cellar Bar in Boscombe and will involve live bands and DJs. By attending the upcoming fundraisers and gigs over the Takeover Weekend in October, you’ll not only be supporting local talent, but contributing to the saviour of international communities that are desperate for aid. Since dozens of other regional teams taking part, don’t let Bournemouth be put to shame. Come together and experience the diversity and talent that this town has to offer.

Life Behind the Lens: Interview with Photographer Nathan Eames

Whilst at university I undertook work experience with a local newspaper/magazine that sadly no longer exists. I wrote a lot of articles during my short time there but this was my first ever by-line.

nathaneames

For local photographer, Nathan Eames, life is pretty sweet. Soon to be married and having built up a successful career that allows him to travel to an array of beautiful Dorset locations, as well as work from home and spend time with his seventeen-month-old daughter, many would be envious. In fact, Nathan is now really coming in to his own with the pursuit of Eames Photographer – his recent work which he believes truly reflects his new-found personal style and flair.

However, it hasn’t been an easy journey by any means. “The fact that I can work from home looking after my child and do what I want – I’ve worked hard to get to that point” he explains. Almost driving himself to a heart attack at the age of twenty-three from overworking, past creative restrictions and present increasing competition have all been concerns for Nathan. Yet ultimately it seems that the love of his art is what has allowed him to overcome these testing times.

This love for photography has its roots in childhood, when Nathan used to photograph his skateboarding friends. “I can remember freezing the action and getting the tricks where they were nice and high. So then I showed my mates and remember them being thrilled.” His passion led him through university to running several studios across the south coast. Unfortunately this is where the sheer stress levels resulted in Nathan’s health scare. So naturally, a drastic change was required.

It was later, whilst working in a school environment, that Nathan learnt to deal with children specifically, a talent which would prove useful throughout his career. Despite this, Nathan expresses how the opportunity to flourish creatively was still jarred: “being in a school scenario, you’ve gotta get that kid smiling within twenty seconds. So I’d be photographing nearly a thousand kids a day. It’s monotonous, there’s no craft involved apart from the speed and getting the smile. It’s the same photo over and over again.”

Nevertheless, a talent for photographing both children and adults alike emerged, which is evident in Nathan’s current work including ‘Libra Photographics’ with a primary focus on weddings. When asked what it is about the subject of wedding that he enjoys, he explains how it’s the creative freedom that he longed for for so long, as opposed to having somebody breathe down his neck. Similarly, his newest projects allow him to take advantage of living in Bournemouth and experiment with surrounding locations, his favourites including Hengistbury Head, Shell Bay and the bluebell meadows of Wimborne.

At times Nathan’s career still has its difficulties, in an industry where so many individuals are pursuing photography as a weekend hobby for lower prices and with affordable hi-tech cameras on the market. “Everyone can get a camera that you can just press a button and it will do everything for you now. But as a professional photographer I’ve got to do something slightly different to that because you’re not going to pay for something that you could do yourself.”

So how does one tackle this issue? “I will edit them [photographs], as I used to in the dark room, and add my magic to them. That’s the direction I’m going – is making sure I’m ahead of the game and doing it in a style that’s different to everybody else.” Clearly it’s this genuine appreciation of photography as an art form, from choosing the initial subject or location to editing the final product, which defines Nathan Eames as a credit to his profession.

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