Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Doris Duke - I'm a loser

Back when I was at journalism school, one of our coursework assignments was to write a short blurb for a fictional Top 50 of overlooked album gems for Q Magazine.
At the time I had just discovered Doris Duke.
The record was one of those 80's vinyl re-issues of which my dad bought many. Thin folder after thin folder of seriously classic rhythm and blues, soul (in the true musical sense of the word) and jazz.When I was a baby I probably heard them all, but finding something for yourself makes you listen differently.
I had just bought myself a vintage 60's record player at the car boot sale for £20 and spent days and days going through my dad's record collection.
I listened to albums by The Spaniels and Slim and Slam - familiar from a much-loved compilation tape my mum made for me that I listened to for years before my brother accidentaly recorded over bits of it.
And I found plenty of new stuff, some of which wasn't worth bothering with. I learnt a lot about music from my dad, but his taste has always been ecclectic to the extreme and some of his records are just too weird for me.
But discovering Doris Duke was a revelation. She was raw in a way I completely understood. The other great female singers like Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone, with their astounding voices and great swells of anger and tenderness, had always felt a bit distant. But Doris Duke felt close for some reason I couldn't pin down. Perhaps it was just because this was a singer I was able to discover for myself, who hadn't been tainted by advertising rights, film soundtracks, dodgy tributes or general overexposure. 
For about three weeks I was completely obsessed. And then I reached the point where I had overplayed her and the obsession quickly faded. I don't know if anyone needs to listen to that much raw emotion on a regular basis however well it's expressed. And so I kind of put Doris to one side.
Sometimes though, it seems like there's a conspiracy to make you remember something you shouldn't have forgotten. I walked past an open door and heard a snippet of my favourite of her songs, Feet start walking. A couple of days later I searched for it on Youtube and immersed myself in the comfort blanket of her anger.
And then today I was looking through my old emails and uncovered that bit of coursework.
Reading my old writing aways makes me cringe, but here it is:

I’m A Loser
Doris Duke (Canyon) 1970

Occasionally an album gets forgotten through no fault of its own. I’m A Loser was described as one of the greatest ever soul albums on release but the distributing record label, Canyon, quickly collapsed, denying Doris Duke commercial success and a rightful place in the pantheon of soul sisters.

Born Doris Curry in 1943, Duke cut her teeth in gospel groups before she found herself singing back-up vocals for, among others, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Nina Simone. Her own album would prove to be a lyrically rawer affair than any of these female vocalists had delivered.

Teaming up with prolific songwriter and producer Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams, Doris found a new voice. Even now, the bitterly confessional and self-deprecating style of songs like “He’s Gone”, “Feet Start Walking” and “I Don’t Care Anymore” is a shock.

The single, To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman), made the billboard charts in the US. Critic Dave Godin, the man behind the success of soul in the UK, called the album the finest soul record of all time. Doris went on to record another album with Swamp Dogg on the Mankind label but nothing has been heard from her since 1981.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Tweed Run London 2012 - Fortnum & Mason hampers, handmade tweed capes and Graham Coxon

Just over a week ago on May 6th I took part in the London Tweed Run.

For those not in the know, the Tweed Run is an annual event that involves gathering together a large group of vintage bike enthusiasts and people who enjoy a good opportunity to dress up and going on a 15 mile bike ride around some of the more central parts of London.
We gathered in front of the Albert Memorial for a group photograph before setting off and then discovered that the other half of the gorup were doing the same thing on the other side of the Albert Hall...
This was the fourth Tweed Run - there were two last year but one was sponsored by Ralph Lauren's Rugby brand and I'm not sure if it counts. I've wanted to part of it since seeing pictures of the first one and this year was lucky enough to be invited as a friend as her plus one.

At the moment though, I do not own a bike. A plan was hatched to borrow my mothers 1980s ladies road bike, which she has recently had retrofitted with an electic motor. It is not a thing of beauty, but it is reliable. For someone as unfit as I am the battery was also welcome back up plan for the ride home. The route was a closely guarded secret so we had no idea how far from home we would all end up.

For an event as style conscious as the Tweed Run, something had to be done about the bike. So we decorated it. Luckily the Jubillee celebrations are almost upon us and there is a proliferation of Union Jack paraphenalia in Poundland. We wrapped the bike frame in some blush coloured lace found in mum's attic and attached fake flowers to it using cable ties. Union Jack cushion covers were attached to the rack at the back, to which we also added my Fortnum & Mason hamper, which was filled with an anorak in case of rain, a blanket, a large can of hairspray and a few other useful bits and pieces.

The bike mid-decoration
The wire front basket, which contains the bike's battery in its hideous black vinyl bag, was disguised with more lace and flowers and then wrapped up with a big red organza bow, treading that very fine line between ebullient and bad taste.

The bike in action - picture via the Tweed Run Facebook page
Thankfully none of this fell off during the ride, which took us from Kensington through Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly, Parliament and then to the Imperial War Museum for a very welcome tea break complete with games and a good old fashioned tombola.

Then through the back streets of Bermondsey and back over the river via Tower Bridge, past St Pauls and the bells rang out (a really special moment for most of us I think) and then up to Clerkenwell for whisky and gingers at the very friendly but slightly overwhelmed The Blacksmith and Toffeemaker pub.

Along the way we were joined by Graham Coxon, who carried a toy pig in his bicycle basket - as you do - and then presented the awards for best dressed man and woman (dapper dame) at the pub.

The line up for dapper dame
Graham Coxon presents the award to Pandora, a truly dseserving winner whose outfit was entirely homemade!
I was extremely proud to win the award for best dressed bike! I was presented with a beautiful brown leather saddle bag by the charming founder of Pashley Bikes. It's my favourite ever trophy (it helps that it smells like a tack room - one of my all time favourite scents).

Receiving my prize! Image via the Tweed Run Facebook page
But it's hard to decide what the best part of the day actually was (it certainly wasn't discovering I had forgotten my door key and having to ride up to Nottinghill to get the spare pair from the boy - my poor aching thighs were on the verge of revolt by that point).

As we cycled up the mall - a 400 strong flotilla of English eccentrics, vintage enthusiasts and bike nerds - I realised I'd never seen so many people in London look so happy. The tourists looked like Christmas had come early, and it did actually feel a little like that. Bus and taxi drivers suspended their default grumpiness and a few of them actually laughed, despite having to wait for us to pass. It probably helped that a lot of the men doffed their hats as the cycled past to say thank you.

I can honestly say that I haven't done something that joyful in a long time - and certainly never had so much fun on a bike. And I also used the run as a chance to raise some money for my charity of choice - Safe Haven Childrens Trust. You can still donate via my JustGiving page if you would like to help.

I didn't take many photos on the acual ride - I was too busy enjoying myself - but here's a few I snapped on the old iPhone at the initial gatheirng point just off Exhibition Road.

The chap on the left won the best dressed male category
I've been slightly reliving the whole experience over the past few days by reading everyone else's blogs (the one that sums it up best for me is by Jenni Yesterday) and catching up with all the Tweets from the day. I've put them all together using Storify, which has turned the whole thing into a Tweed Run live blog complete with pictures so you can get a bit of a sense of how it all unfolded if you're interested.There are also some rather jolly images on the Tweed Run Facebook page.

My outfit (on the left):

Tweed jacket by Armani (found at Kilburn car boot sale)
Waxed cotton circle skirt by River Island
Vintage silk shirt (found at Traid in Kilburn)
Vintage fox fur stole  found at Wills Moody Jumble Sale)
Vintage Cacharel diamante brooch (via eBay)
Hair bow (found at Wills Moody Jumble Sale)
Brogues by Office (found at Kilburn car boot sale)

All bike decorations found at Poundland and Harlesden and Kilburn car boot sales

p.s. If you spot any pictures of me in full get up during your web browsing, please let me know!