This Wednesday (10 Oct) the mighty Timberlina and his friend Craig White present the Queer Song Book at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Featuring exclusive performances, this fascinating event explores the songs that spoke to the LGBT+ performers when young. Dave Cross spoke to Timberlina and Craig to find out more.
Hi Timberlina, where did the idea for Queer Song Book come from?
Timberlina: Well, the concept was introduced to me by my friend Craig White, who’s really the brains behind this project. He was aware of a project in Canada with the same name that brought together classical musicians and artists to collaborate, make music and share different queer life experiences. Then Jonny Woo started a Queer Songbook event which was more of a review with him and Rudi Douglas, the pianist at The Glory a while back.
But that’s a different format to this event…
In our case, it’s about the songs that in one way or another sum up our queer experience, emancipation if you will? Or those songs that led us to triumph over torment. For me, it was walking along the greensward of Frinton-on-sea as a moody queer teenager with my headphones in listening to the Pet Shop Boys, Bjork and Kylie, which made me feel not alone, despite the fact I still couldn’t quite put my feelings into words, let alone my musical tastes. Music and songs are amazing when they articulate relatable feelings, because you don’t feel alone. I liked the idea of using the term ‘mixtape’, because that’s what each event is – a live mix tape of personal Queerstory.
Craig, tell us your side of this story?
Craig: I’ve been exploring this whole “queer songs” thing since about 2004 and putting on gigs. I was aware of lots of queer friends making music and of bands who spoke to that part of me, and often articulated something I couldn’t for myself. For example, I was a total Scissor Sisters fan boy during their first UK tour… I also went to Berlin to see them and hang out… But what goes on tour stays on tour. They were making great music, having rampant success and everyone was falling in love with their music and energy – yet they were being very very out, which is the opposite of what we’re told the music industry expects or demands. Like queerness is a poison to reaching a wider audience. When I started putting on gigs it was about replicating that attitude: we’re making music, we’re great at it, and we’re not afraid to be visible.
The concept of ‘queer music’ can have different meanings, there are songs and acts that are popular with us LGBT folk, like ABBA or Madonna for example or there are acts that are out and gay such as Erasure or Years and Years or songs about being gay… What’s the definition for this night?
Timberlina: Well basically the brief we gave our invited guests was ‘what song sums up your personal queer experience’ and it was actually really interesting how immediately this had resonance and what people came back with….
Craig: It’s entirely personal. What I’m hoping for is our guests bring us a song which set them alight or made them realise their feelings weren’t just shared by others, but were absolutely worth writing songs about. Popular songs. Song on the radio. Songs giving them the link to a world beyond their teenage bedroom. I’ve never been interested in Madonna or Kylie. My queer icons as a teen were PJ Harvey and Suede. The first time I heard Suede’s The Drowners (“We kissed in his room to a popular tune”) I was saved. But I know for at least one of the guests they’re having fun with the idea and presenting something that’s straight out of the Bible. So whilst it’s personal, at the same time it’s about sharing our experiences and musical worlds and then performing together. An act of community communion if you will.
Can you tell us what will happen on the night?
Craig: We have three acts, two guests per act. They have a chat with Timberlina about their chosen song, exploring why they’ve chosen it, when they first heard it, who they were when they first heard it – very Desert Island Discs. Then we perform it. The house band is half-classical, half-rock, so violins, oboe, French horn, plus drums, keys, bass and guitar. The idea is we achieve a degree of intimacy whilst still having a lot of impact.
And can you tell us who are the performers?
Timberlina: It’s amazing actually, we have Jody Gadsden from Autoheart, prolifically talented busker Jayne Snow, Dan Gillespie Sells from The Feeling (who also wrote the music for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), Queen of Teen author Juno Dawson, the dreamy Roni Guetta and the legend that is David McAlmont… Yes, all in the same room.
Without giving away any of the songs, were you surprised by any of the choices?
Craig: Totally. I’m delighted how absolutely wrong I’ve been in guessing what they’d choose. I did guess Juno’s, but then we used to share a house and DJ together so I know her playlists very well!
Can you pick one song that would be in your Queer Song Book?
Timberlina: Obsession by Animotion. I had the single on seven inch which I bashed to pieces. No, let’s say Venus as a Boy by Bjork.
Craig: The Drowners by Suede, but as I’ve said that already, I’ll instead pick I Want To Be Free by Toyah. I was obsessed with her as a kid. A very gay kid.
Advance tickets are £7 from vauxhalltavern.com
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, SE11.