I write all the time. I’m always scribbling away at something or other. Trouble is I’m not a very good writer. Sometimes I’ll have a flash of genius and be really proud of what’s popped out but for the majority of the time I am a below average writer. I’ll never make a career of this but I enjoy writing and performing so much that I’m gonna keep doing it.
The April writing challenges have really brought things into focus for me. Having to post everyday on a specific topic has been tough going. I didn’t have time to properly think though what I wanted to say so for the most part these A-Z Blogs and the NaPoWriMo posts have been very weak. I know the point of them is not to create perfect posts but to generate pieces that you can work on at a later date.
In the past I’ve had a specific way of working when creating pieces. When performing with Scream Blue Murmur we all tried to tie our work together under a general theme. This gave the work overall focus and also gave us as writers something to research. I’ve done some of the hardest work during those years and created pieces that I’m immensely proud of.
I like to challenge myself and also challenge those that are going to be watching the show. One of the most controversial pieces for me was my version of Strange Fruit. I’d heard the classic versions and while they are amazing in their own right, none of them was ‘doing it’ for me. I knew the history of the song: it was originally written as a poem by a teacher who had been so affected by the lynchings and I felt that I would like to bring it back as poem. But then I also thought I wanted to modernise it to show that the issues of racism and hatred still hadn’t gone away. I added a second verse. I messed about with Garageband and created a beat that I thought was gritty and awful enough to convey what I wanted. We then added a sung loop to break it up. I was happy with the final version. When we performed it at several fringe shows I had created a video feed to go along with it. It was a great conversation starter. So many audience members came up and commented on it. Some said it gave them shivers, some tears, some questioned how a little white girl could dare talk about such a sensitive issue from a bygone time but the important thing was that people talked. It raised an issue and for that I was very proud.
Still I wasn’t a hundred percent happy. I knew the track was good. I knew it was powerful but I knew that being played in a theatre wouldn’t give me the audience reaction I wanted. It needed to be festival tested. We were lucky enough to perform at Electric Picnic that summer. The stage was a cool looking glass box in a good area. Our first gig was in the evening. The sun had set, the sculptures in the arena were lit up with twinkling lights and we were ready to rock. When I looked out over the crowd during Strange Fruit and saw them grooving and dancing it made me so happy I almost cried. This was the reaction I wanted. Sure, I knew we weren’t gonna have any life changing talks at the end of it. No one was going to talk about the poetics or the politics but on a tribal level people were reacting in a way that I always knew they could. I knew that I could reach people on a base level and it reaffirmed for me the sheer power of music.
Have a listen to the track and let me know what you think: