Be Bold, Part Seven: Amanda

Everyone hates Amanda Palmer.


boob 2


Even Amanda’s fans hate Amanda Palmer.

afp fan_LI

But…everyone loves Amanda Palmer. Especially her fans.

When still signed to record label Roadrunner, and the sight of her slightly rounded belly in a music video led to the label wanting certain scenes cut, her army of devotees called for a ‘rebellyon’ and bombarded Roadrunner’s social media with pictures of their own squishy, and perfectly normal, tummies.

She one of the biggest artists on Patreon, a ground breaking new method of art patronage, and receives a donation of anything from $1 to $1000 from each of the 11’000 fans who have signed up to support her every time she releases a new ‘thing’ (be it song, album or performance art film).

Palmer is divisive in a way like no other artist. You may not have even heard of her. If you have, it may be for her TED Talk on The Art of Giving (if you have 13 minutes to spare, I highly recommend it, it’s a great watch), or it may be as “Neil Gaiman’s wife”. In some circles, the very fact that a weirdo American art-punk chick with hairy armpits had the audacity to marry handsome British million-selling author Gaiman was enough to draw vicious internet ire. To be fair, Gaiman is himself a black-wearing weirdo gothy-punk writer (with, I imagine, hairy armpits also). But men are allowed to be weird. Women are just supposed to be pretty, right?

Is she simply misunderstood, or an attention seeking narcissist? Or both?

Amanda Fucking Palmer, as she is affectionately known, former member of punk-cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, now solo singer/songwriter and one woman Twitter storm, is a true social media pioneer. From her early DIY days, hand-pressing CDs and updating mailing lists by email and message boards, she has always been directly accessible to her fanbase. She was the first artist to break the $1 million barrier on crowdfunding website Kickstarter, and then drew widespread condemnation in the music industry for putting out a call for musicians to play on her tour for “beer and hugs”. There is no barrier, no security, no filter. She tweets back, she follows conversations in her fan groups on Facebook, she organises ‘ninja’ gigs on street corners, she takes the time to sign, hug and take selfies with the long queue of devoted fans after every live show. To celebrate her Kickstarter record, she even stood naked and let fans sign her body. Her body is something that bothers a lot of people. Her proud nakedness, her body hair (letting it grow under her armpits or shaving it off of her eyebrows), dyeing her hair whilst breastfeeding her son, Palmer has taken criticism for all of these and more. And, in typical post-modern, self-referencing style, she wrote a song about it.

I say grow that shit like a jungle

Give ’em something strong to hold onto

Let it fly in the open wind

If it get too bushy you can trim

They don’t play the song on the radio

They don’t show the tits in the video

They don’t know that we are the media

They don’t know that we start the mania

We Are The media has become a battle cry for Amanda Palmer fans (myself included). Palmer has shown that you don’t need to be part of the music machine to make music. She got her record label to drop her mid-contract, and now releases what she wants, when she wants, direct to the people who want it. Social media, crowdfunding, genuine contact with fans, these are things that she tried telling the record execs were vital to her success, but back in the early Noughties they didn’t want to listen. Website? Who needs a website?

Art is great that way, you can do anything

You can make pop music

You can paint ducks

But if you’re a pop star and you’re a woman

Then it’s much more likely that

People will say your art sucks

There is no denying that her body of work is, at times, problematic. Her “Poem For Dzhokar”, written hastily in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, was both badly-timed and ill-conceived. Her Evelyn Evelyn collaboration with Jason Webley drew condemnation from disability groups for their stereotypical circus freak show performance as conjoined twins. Often criticised for being a privileged white woman who likes to shoot her mouth off, even though plenty of white male rock stars shoot their mouths off in equal measure without drawing half the vitriol.

Prolific and ever changing, like a Madonna for the Buzzfeed generation, Palmer keeps coming back, ignoring the critics, using the media obsession with her body to nourish her art (see her supposedly NSFW video for the beautiful Pink Floyd cover ‘Mother’ where she breast feeds a Trump lookalike), refusing to conform to the traditional role of wife and mother (though she is both). Amanda Palmer is a true autonomous artist.

Her music.

Her body.

Her art.

Her way.



It’s been three years in the making, but I’m proud to announce the release of my debut short fiction collection Food Of The Gods.

If you like your short stories dark, bloody and tasting of chocolate, this is the book for you. Inspired by such legends of fantasy and horror as Neil Gaiman, Bram Stoker, Poppy Z. Brite and H.P. Lovecraft, my writing has been described as “disturbing”, “haunting” and “thought provoking”.

Available now in paperback and for Kindle at Amazon. Click here to buy.


That was the year that was…

As another year hurtles towards its close, I started writing one of those end of year round-ups filled with all the fucking miserable, kick-in-the-snatch, blazing landfill things that have happened in 2017. But we all know the awful stuff going on in the world, and if you don’t know by now, mate, I’m not the one to tell you.

But, despite the creeping feeling that the universe slipped into a black star the day David Bowie died, popping out into a parallel dimension made of dog-shit and racism, the world is still full of amazing, wonderful things to explore and enjoy.

Exhibit a) Music

Music is a huge passion of mine, always has been, and not only is there new music being made EVERY SINGLE DAY, there is a gargantuan back catalogue of every type of music to discover. It is impossible to have heard all the music in the world. But it is fun trying. Listen to something you never thought you would listen to. Jazz, death metal, chamber music, dancehall, Russian folk ballads. Who knows, you might find your new obsession.

Exhibit b) Taking the plunge

This time last year, I had just had my first piece of writing published. My work, my poem, my words, being picked by a total stranger and put into a real book? I was elated. I hoped it was the start of something, after many rejections, and it most certainly was. What a difference a year makes. That stranger took me on as editor (thank you Matty-Bob) and we have since released three more charity anthologies as Burdizzo Books, each one better than the last, and raising money for some well deserved causes. I have had a real book launch for one of these anthologies, where I read my work aloud to human beings for the first time. I have performed at a spoken word night, and to date I have six books on my shelf bearing my name or containing my stories. The next step is to have my own novel published, and I’m working very hard to make this happen. I attended my first Horror Convention, and met some of the loveliest and funniest people in the flesh that I had only had the pleasure of ‘speaking’ to via the interwebs. I have made true friendships through the electronic beeps and boops of social media. And all because I did the thing, took the plunge, and put myself (and my words) out there.


Exhibit c) Helping

I try and do what I can, however small, by giving to charities such as Medecins Sans Frontiers and The Friends of Grenfell, and by giving all proceeds from our books to small independent charities such as NAPAC (supporting survivors of child abuse) and Resources for Autism. I also try and raise awareness of political issues via the Ungagged podcast, who took me on as regular contributor this year. It gives me an outlet for the frustration I feel as I watch the world around me. You can help in so many ways at this time of year: give to food banks, wrap presents for children in refuges, donate clothes and blankets to the homeless. You could just try and be friendly to someone you don’t know. It might make all the difference. This is the hardest season for so many people, and just letting a friend know you are there for them is a much better gift than book tokens (although, don’t get me wrong, book tokens are fucking awesome).

Exhibit d) Family

Family doesn’t have to be “family”. It can be friends. It can be neighbours. It can be work colleagues. It can be people you have never actually met who live 3000 miles away but have been there for you at 2am when you are having a crisis. They say “Hell is other people” but I’ve always believed the meaning of life is other people. I don’t mean other people are the only thing that can give your life meaning, but imagine how bleak life would be if you had no-one. Ever. Yes, solitude is nice, but learning about other people, how they think, what makes them tick, recommending things you like, taking recommendations from them, hearing their stories for the first time, creating in-jokes and shared histories. It’s what everything is about, for me.

So, yes, for a multitude of reasons, 2017 can drink my bin-juice. But there are still so many things to be positive about. If you find the world overwhelming, keep it small, keep it personal, and look for the good people in your life that keep you smiling. Your kids, your budgie, your mate down the road, your mate on another continent, whoever it is, and cherish them.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas wherever you are, and a hope for a Happy and Peaceful New Year xxx


I Found This

Looking through some old folders recently, I came across the opening of a YA novel that I started and abandoned. This used to be quite a common thing for me, starting a novel or short story, writing two chapters and then giving up. It’s only been in the last 2 years that I have actually finished what I started, and lo and behold, I started to get things published!

So this is the prologue and first chapter of ‘Sadie Poole’. This was the only title I gave it at the time. Looking back on it now, it’s not terrible, and who knows, I may even finish it one day.

Sadie Poole by Em Dehaney


The First

The girl is running as fast as she can, running for more than just her life. All she can feel is the dirt and leaves beneath her bare feet, and the branches scratching her face raw. Her arms, wrapped tight around the tiny bundle of rags, are thin and pale. The veins on her breasts are blue, in stark contrast to the blood running down her neck. Her lungs are exploding with pain and she is starting to see stars, as she struggles to breathe. Her fear is a solid mass in her chest.

The hounds are foaming at her scent; fear, blood, milk. She can hear they are closing in on her, she will soon be surrounded. Shouts echo through the wood. The men can smell her too, although they don’t know it, and it is sending them into a frenzy equal to that of their dogs.

Find her. Grab her. Take her. Hurt her.

So she runs on through the trees, under the cover of the dark green forest light, not knowing where she is going, just away. Away from the men and the dogs. Away from the village. Her long skirt catches on a thorn bush and rips, leaving a piece of sky blue cloth hanging. She looks back in a panic, knowing they will find it, showing them which way she has gone. The hounds will take huge lungfuls of her scent again and howl in anticipation of catching her. For a second she imagines herself hiding the bundle safe inside the roots of a tree, and turning to run back towards the men. She sees her flesh being ripped by the dogs, her dress being ripped by the men. She can almost hear the howls of the dogs being drowned by her howls of pain.

But then what would become of her precious bundle? Her unnamed treasure, hidden among the damp and cold roots. All alone. The only way she can guarantee its safety is to keep it close to her heart, where it belongs. Where she belongs. Her daughter, no more than a week old. So small and helpless. Innocent, shining and pure.

Suddenly she is blinded by brilliant sunlight, and falls to her knees in the forest clearing. A small flock of birds rises from the trees, disturbed by the noise of the men hacking their way through the wood, so close now. The cold wet grass of the clearing soaks her knees through her blue skirts and rough  white apron, and she looks down at the long eyelashes and translucent eyelids of her sleeping infant, the only parts visible through her swaddling. The one thing, the only thing she knows to be true is that she could never leave her, never lose her, and never stop loving her.

The sunlight streaming into the clearing glints off the surface of a pond, piercing the girl’s eye.  The water is so still, the overhanging trees and the birds flying above are reflected in such perfection that it looks like there is another sky underneath the water; a whole other world in reverse.

Time slows. The birds on the wing appear to hang mid-air. She walks to the edge of the pond and stares into the water, clinging to her beautiful bundle. Her reflection does not stare back. She knows what to do.


They have been chasing her through the forest in the direction of the clearing, knowing she will be trapped by the hounds on two sides, and the huge pond on the other. Stupid girl, stupid dirty whore, she played right into our hands. It will soon be time to teach her a lesson.

 With a crash the men descend upon the clearing. The dogs let out a cry in unison. They wanted blood. They have been denied their prize.

No girl. No baby.

Just a pond. Perfectly still.



 Chapter One

Sadie Poole stared out of the window of her hotel room. She was on the 20th floor of the Burj al Arab, the most luxurious hotel in the world. Below her lay the lurid waters of the Arabian Gulf and as far the eye could see were hundreds of hotels, shopping malls and sky scrapers of ever increasing size and elaborate design. Beyond this, she knew, was sand. Not that she had seen any of this from the other side of the glass. Sadie Poole was 14 years old, and had travelled the world. She had been to Kinshasa, Hong Kong, Vienna, Istanbul, Mumbai, Cairo, San Francisco, Mexico City, Bangkok, Barcelona and Moscow.  She had flown First Class, Club Class, World Class and Business Class. She had seen the air conditioned leather interiors of a thousand chauffeur driven limos, and stayed in 5, 6, 7 star hotels on every continent. And in every country it was the same, no matter the time zone, temperature or political climate. She stayed within the confines of her hotel room, behind the glass, sterile. The smells, sounds and tastes of these exotic and majestic cities remained a mystery to Sadie. She lived on room service and World Service. The reason for both her extensive travels, and her incarceration on these travels, was her father.

Christopher Poole was an antique dealer, and so the historical cities of the world were his office. He had taken Sadie on his travels with him ever since she could remember. They always booked into the best hotels, where your every whim and desire would be catered for by 24 hour butlers, catering and concierge. But Sadie stayed without her father. He would go “on business” and return after a few days, at which time they would check out of the hotel and return home to London. Christopher Poole never spent one night in any of the luxurious queen sized beds, never washed in the gold plated spa baths, never watched the 50 inch flat screen televisions that rose out of the end of the bed at the touch of a button and never ate the breakfast platters laden with tropical fruit and pastries. Yet he always specified one thing, and if the hotel could not fulfil his request, then they would not stay.

There were to be no full length mirrors anywhere in their rooms.

This eccentricity was happily indulged by the most prestigious hotels around the world, because Christopher Poole paid well and never caused the hotel staff any trouble. Because Christopher Poole, of course, was never there.

Sadie had never seen herself in a full length mirror; her father had enforced this rule so strictly throughout her whole life. “Vanity will be the down fall of man”, was what her father would say. No full length mirrors, and only washing in running water. These were the two iron rods which set the guide for her very existence. They were the only rules enforced by Christopher Poole, either at home or away. Those, and when back at home in London, Sadie was to NEVER enter the basement. This was where her father kept his priceless antiques. What they were exactly, Sadie had no idea. Large wooden  crates and boxes would be delivered at all times of day or night. Sometimes on the back of rusty pick-up trucks driven by Travellers with Brylcreamed hair wearing their uniform of white vests in the summer and Barbour jackets in winter. Sometimes the crates would arrive in the back of huge lorries, that could barely fit down the street that Sadie lived on, driven by faceless men in immaculate cabs with blacked out windows and no writing on the sides of the taught silver sides of their trailers. Sometimes they would turn up jammed into the back of a black cab, and the driver of the taxi would need Sadie’s father to help him to carry the awkward, and clearly very heavy parcel down to the basement, after which Christopher Poole would tip him generously and send him on his way. Once, a strange old man even arrived with a great, thin, flat package wrapped in brown paper tied on the back of his pedal cycle with threadbare bungee cords. Sadie saw him come wobbling and weaving down the street one afternoon, wondering how far across London he had rode with his precarious parcel. He wore no cycle helmet, and had the most impressive moustache Sadie had ever seen – thick, black and glossy, and in such complete contrast with the man’s frazzled white hair, Sadie was sure he had to dye the hairs under his nose, or perhaps paint them with some kind of dark oil. She imagined it would smell like chocolate and sweat.

Sadie longed to leave the confines of her hotel room, as sumptuous as it was. It was so comfortable, so luxurious, so extravagant it made her feel sick and set her teeth on edge, like eating a whole pack of chocolate peanut butter cups in one go. Everything here in Dubai was fake, even the air in the hotel room. Sadie imagined her father out in a souk market, amongst the smoke and the spices, listening to deals shouted in strange tongues.  Sadie often argued with her father about these trips.

“Why do you even bother to take me along with you?”, Sadie would shout. “You never spend any time with me, we never do anything fun, I never see you!”. Christopher Poole would look his daughter in the eye (for they were almost the same height)and say the same thing everytime she questioned these trips; “It’s only because I love you so much that I can’t leave you at home when I’m not there.”


The Hidden Pod…

I’m on the latest Ungagged podcast talking about the previously hidden hatreds seeping out in a post-Brexit, post-Trump world. Plus loads of other left views and excellent independent music.

I’ve been a regular contributor on Ungagged for a while now, and only just getting used to the sound of my own voice!

Source: The Hidden Pod…

If you wanna be my lover…be a decent human being

I like to think most men agree that grabbing a woman by the vagina without asking permission first is not a nice thing to do. Most men would, I hope, agree that forcing parts of yourself into a woman while she is passed out drunk behind a dumpster is also not very nice. Most men don’t lurk about on social media waiting to call women ‘entitled skanks’ and ‘sluts’, telling them they should get cancer or making vile comments about their miscarried babies.


Yeah, the world is full of men who treat women with respect, who never use misogynist language and would never dream of asking for nudes, let alone send a dick-pic. The unsolicited dick-pic has, by the way, become the 21st century equivalent of the flasher in the park. Instead of jumping out of the bushes waggling a shrivelled appendage from beneath a grubby mac, they now get their pervy kicks by sending slightly out of focus photos of their cock and balls to any woman who has had the audacity to exist in a public online forum. Cheap, nasty thrills has to be why they do it. Sending someone a disembodied picture of your wang-doodle (or in most cases just doodle) can’t actually get you anything in return except ignored, blocked or bombarded with pictures of other men’s junk. No how I met your mother story starts with ‘Well, I sent her a poorly lit picture of my semi-erect penis and the rest is history.’

But I digress.

The point is, most guys aren’t misogynistic, rapey arseholes. They are just nice guys. And we all know, nice guys finish last, right?

I read an article today entitled ‘The friend zone isn’t a thing and women don’t owe you shit.’ But, according to a whole bunch of ‘nice guys’ in the comments section, they do. These guys would never call a woman a bitch or wolf-whistle you in the street. They will tell you how they think female stand-up comedians are actually really funny and how much they like the latest Beyonce album because it’s so empowering.  They are just poor, nice guys, telling us how it really is.

“The truth is if we are attracted to a woman, we never want to be just friends.”

Oh, well that’s just rude. I thought we had loads in common. We like the same music/support the same football team/both hate our boss and like to create ever more elaborate comedy scenarios which result in him losing his job. But we can’t be friends because I have lady parts and you don’t think I’m completely ugly. Cheers mate.

“He had a desire for her, she should directly reject him as soon as she knows she doesn’t feel the same way, and have no expectation that he wanted to be friends.”

Yeah women, if a man starts talking to you, instantly assume he wants to have sex with you and then shoot him down in the bluntest way you can.

“Not every compliment is an attempt to sleep with a woman. Some grown ass women could just plain and simply be polite about rejection.”

But wait…didn’t that other nice guy just say…oh, now my silly woman head is confused.

“The friend-zone is not about sex. It is about unrequited love. It’s about a woman being tone deaf about the feelings of a man. I submit that if a man has romantic interest in a woman, then she relegates the man to the friend-zone, she is communicating to him that you are not good enough to be my lover.”

Newsflash my dude, there is no such thing as ‘unrequited love’. You don’t live in a fucking Mediaeval courtly love story. That is infatuation, pure and simple. And it’s all in your head.

This reminded me of someone I once knew. Let’s call him Neil. Neil had been infatuated with a certain girl since school. Nothing more than a few drunken goodnight kisses ever happened between them, but he was her faithful puppy dog. She even drove his car whilst drunk and crashed it. He, of course, took the blame. What a bitch, right? What a prick tease? Stringing poor Neil along like that. He used to ask my advice. I always told him she wasn’t interested in him in that way, and to give it up. He didn’t. He hung around just in case she ever changed her mind and realised she had been in love with him all along. She didn’t. Ever.

But the thing about Neil isn’t that he was treated badly by this particular friend-zoner, it’s that he was also treated like this by his so-called male friends. They kept him around because he gave them lifts and let them take drugs at his parent’s house when they were on holiday, but behind his back they called him a loser and a geek and laughed at how he tried so hard to be like them. He got friend-zoned by his actual friends.

My day got even better, when this little nugget of impacted shit popped up on my Twitter feed.

nice guys

I don’t want to link to the article and give it click-oxygen. You’re clever, if you really want to read it, you’ll find it. I’ve saved you the trouble however, by picking out the choicest cuts of nice-guy wisdom.

‘You had your chance on our first (and only) date. I was wonderful to you, I was a gentleman. I treated you with respect … I didn’t expect anything in return except a chance to win your heart… I’m the man of your dreams, but you couldn’t see that.’

Ahh, he wanted to win my heart, how sweet. I mean sure, he thinks he knows what I want better than I do, but he sounds like a super nice guy.

‘I get it though, now that you’re on the downside of 30, the wrinkles are starting, the body is sagging…I know it was impossible to see that that deadbeat irresponsible jerk was actually a deadbeat irresponsible jerk, but that’s not my problem. While you were waiting for those texts that never came I was busy getting my career in order and maximizing my credit score. Now my biggest issue is deciding which colour Audi I’m going to buy.’

What a catch. How could I have let him slip though my fingers, right ladies?  

Sure, I know “Leo Stevens” probably isn’t real, and none of this ever happened, but if anything that makes it worse. There are plenty of men out there who truly believe they are the nice guys. That they are everything you are looking for and you are going to regret turning them down, because how could you possibly not find them worthy of your affections? How could you not love them? They love you. They really do. Just let them prove it.



Be Bold, Part Six: Polly

Poet, sculptor, poly-instrumentalist, singer, producer, actress, composer. Dorset born Polly Jean Harvey MBE is a true renaissance woman. She is the only artist ever to have won two Mercury Prizes. In her career she has also garnered eight Brit Award nominations, seven Grammy Award nominations and two further Mercury Prize nominations.

Her early works are darkly sexual, presenting a female sexuality that is confrontational and gritty rather than titillating. The cover art for her 1992 debut album Dry shows Harvey’s mouth squished onto a photocopier, as if she is kissing you and you have opened your eyes, catching her in the act.

The cover of 1993’s Rid of Me featured a grimy, black and white photograph of a naked and wet Harvey, flicking her long hair and staring defiantly down the camera lens, her eyebrow arched, a slyly seductive curve on her lip. The eponymous single, a tale of obsessive lust, builds slowly from a quiet, tense, throbbing guitar strum with her breathy, threatening vocals to a cacophonous crescendo and closes with Harvey repeatedly howling the refrain:

Lick my legs I’m on fire

Lick my legs of desire

As well as internal, the physical and the sexual, her early lyrics reference things as diverse as The Bible, English Pagan folk art, Tennessee Williams and Stephen King.

Sheela-na-gig, sheela-na-gig

You exhibitionist

Put money in your idle hole

He said “wash your breasts, I don’t want to be unclean”

He said “please take those dirty pillows away from me”

However, it seems some critics couldn’t separate the poetry from the poet, unable to believe that the lyrics of a female singer/songwriter could possibly be anything other than autobiographical. Harvey said in 1998 “the tortured artist myth is rampant. People paint me as some kind of black witchcraft-practising devil from hell, that I have to be twisted and dark to do what I am doing. It’s a load of rubbish”

Harvey also denies there is a feminist agenda in her songwriting, stating “I don’t even think of myself as being female half the time. When I’m writing songs I never write with gender in mind. I write about people’s relationships to each other. I’m fascinated with things that might be considered repulsive or embarrassing. I like feeling unsettled, unsure.”

And so, from third album To Bring You My Love onwards, we see Harvey switching up her entire sound, look and subject matter for every album. Her back catalogue now transcends genre, it just is PJ Harvey.

She played with the imagery of faded Hollywood glamour and Southern Gothic on To Bring You My Love, recorded a Victorian piano ballad album (White Chalk) and on her sixth studio, Uh Huh Her, Harvey played every instrument apart from drums and was the sole producer. More recently, her inspiration has become more political. In 2013 she released a song in support of Shaker Aamer, the last British citizen to be held at Guantanamo Bay, and her 2011 Mercury Prize winning album Let England Shake is a multi-layered study of British identity and the horrors of war, both modern and historic. It is a stunning album and one I still can’t stop listening to, and every time I listen to it, I find a new reference, a new sample, a new refrain. The lyrics of this album become ever more relevant, as the world lurches towards an unnamed but surely inevitable crisis.

What if I take my problem to the United Nations?


Be Bold, Part Five: MIA

The daughter of a Tamil revolutionary father and a seamstress mother, MIA’s music documents the modern experience of diaspora and the global creative underground. Always a defiantly political artist she uses the imagery of violence, globalisation, war, poverty, human rights abuse, immigration and racial identity. Her neon, DIY guerrilla styling shows the direct influence of both parents, even though her father was absent for most if her life. Like The Clash before her, MIA understands how fashion, the visual representation of your identity, is a political manifestation equal to music, lyrics and videos.

The first Sri-Lankan ever to be nominated for a Grammy, the first person of Asian descent to be nominated for an Oscar and Grammy award in the same year and the only artist in history to receive nominations for an Academy Award, a Grammy, the Brits and the Mercury Prize. MIA’s commercial breakout single Paper Planes went platinum three times over in the US, and at one point it was the seventh best-selling song by a British artist in the digital era. One of the earliest MySpace stars, MIA studied film and design at St Martins College of Art and created the colourful, clashing visuals to match her dancehall/electro/hip-hop sound. Her diverse influences are a product of her life lived in London, Civil War ridden Sri-Lanka and India. MIA is as comfortable sampling bands such as Pixies and The Clash as she is referencing Bollywood or world folk music.

I put people on the map that never seen a map.

Watching MIA performing at the 2009 Grammys on the day her baby was due, a vision in pregnant polka-dots, made me think back to Neneh Cherry busting serious moves on Top Of The Pops in 1988, gold dollar sign necklace swinging proudly over her beautiful baby bump. When MIA sang ‘no-one on the corner has swagger like us’ and the curtain dropped to reveal a back-line of the biggest male starts in modern hip-hop – Jay-Z, Kanye, Lil Wayne, T.I. – it was an electric moment. A British Asian woman up there, killing it with the big-boys.


She has collaborated with Aboriginal teens The Wilcannia Mob and the Nigerian rapper Afrikan Boy. On the flip-side, she co-wrote the song Give Me All Your Luvin’ with Madonna and Nicki Minaj and performed it at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Instead of singing the lyric “shit” in the song, MIA gave the finger to the camera. The N.F.L. responded by filing a lawsuit suing her for millions in damages and demanding a public apology.

They’re basically saying it’s OK for me to promote being sexually exploited as a female, than to display empowerment, female empowerment, through being punk rock. That’s what it boils down to, and I’m being sued for it.

Some have said her politics are naïve and purposely provocative and that she can’t be the champion of the downtrodden and displaced from her current position of privilege. But if you can’t use your privilege to raise uncomfortable issues with those around you who are equally privileged, then it is a waste of platform. As a child whose school was bombed and whose mother was beaten by Government forces, MIA has grown into a woman who will speak her mind about everything, and isn’t afraid of the backlash.


Be Bold, Part Four: Bjork

I have very few regrets in my life. One of them is missing out on seeing Bjork headlining the Phoenix festival in 1996 because I was tripping off my tits and couldn’t find my way out of a two-man tent. To say I am a huge Bjork fan is an understatement. Trying to pick one track for this post is impossible. So I’ve chosen three.

No-one makes music like Bjork. No-one sounds like her, looks like her, performs like her, and no-one ever will. She is a rare gift. Her evolution since she broke onto the scene as part of The Sugarcubes in the 80s has been singularly spectacular and never obvious. Iceland’s biggest superstar, singer, Oscar winning actress, performance artist, instrument creator, producer, DJ. Bjork seems to have a never-ending creative drive, always pushing, always looking for a fresh sound and new aesthetic. She is hands on in the studio, obsessed with the minutiae of the mixing desk. Yes, she has worked with some of the most innovative male producers, directors and designers (Nellee Hooper, Timbaland, Howie B, Guy Sigsworth, Matmos, Michael Gondry, Alexander McQueen) but Bjork remains the creative driving force behind everything. And yet, some people find this hard to believe.

If a guy had done all the strings, all the choir arrangements, and a lot of the production on his album, he would have credit for his work. It’s always like I’m this esoteric creature; that I just turn up and sing and go home. People still don’t seem to take me seriously as a songwriter and arranger and producer.

In the electro-age, music is no longer as straight forward as X played that instrument, Y played this. Especially with music as complex and layered as Bjork’s. There is nothing about her that fits into a safe box, which is why she is often labelled ‘bonkers Bjork’. She is a grown woman, yet is regularly called a ‘pixie’ or ‘elfin’, as if she is stuck in some perpetual mystic childhood. In the early days, her supposed ‘weirdness’ was easy to parody; her iconic hair, her videos, her clothes (such as the famous swan dress she wore to the Oscars). This kept her safe, accessible, chart worthy.

Women in music are allowed to be singer songwriters singing about their boyfriends. If they change the subject matter to atoms, galaxies, activism, nerdy math beat editing or anything else than being performers singing about their loved ones they get criticized. It wasn’t until I shared a heartbreak I got full acceptance from the media.

The heartbreak Bjork is referring to lead to the album Vulnicura. It is a study of the breakdown of her marriage. Lush, cinematic, bleak, intimate and always experimental, what sets this album apart is the creation of whole new ways of experiencing sound and vision. The video for Black Lake was commissioned as an installation in the New York Museum of Modern Arts, the song Mouth Mantra has a video filmed entirely inside Bjork’s mouth as she sings, Stonemilker is a 360 virtual video, and her latest project is a full virtual-reality immersive experience. She has commissioned a series of masks for her performances, each more elaborate and alien than the last, pulsating with light like deep-sea jellyfish or gossamer moth wings quivering with spikes.

 Bjork’s music is geography, it is science, maths, politics, sex, nature, it is animalistic. She creates intimate, dripping sonic jungles and vast, orchestral landscapes. She is a natural feminist, the matriarchal society of Iceland giving her pride, autonomy and respect as a woman, and as a single mother. Her album titles alone speak to a new musical  language she has created: Debut, Post, Homegenic, Vespertine, Medulla, Volta, Biophilia, Vulnicura.

She is always bold, ever changing. She is, to put it simply, a genius.


Be Bold, Part Three: Lauryn

Mention Lauryn Hill and many (white) people will say one of two things. ‘Oh didn’t she say some terribly racist thing about white people not buying her music?’ or ‘She was great, but didn’t she go a bit mental and not pay her taxes?’

And herein lies the problem with the way that female artists, and especially Lauryn as a black female artist, are portrayed. It is not the music, the talent, the genius or the creativity that is the focus but the scandal, the shame, the salacious and the downright untrue. Of course Lauryn Hill never said she would rather her children starve than white people buy her music. But this lie serves certain mind sets well, allows them to negate the phenomenal success of a young black woman by calling her a racist.

My emancipation don’t fit your equation.

Yes, it is true that she went to prison for three months for an unpaid tax bill of $1.8 million dollars. All of which she was able to pay back, and had been paid by the time she served her sentence. In an open letter at the time, Hill stated she purposely refused to pay her taxes to a Government that she felt did not represent her or other black people fairly.

While I’m not saying that withholding your taxes as a political decision is right, if it was a political decision, she had a point.

To understand how truly ground breaking Lauryn was, her award winning Miseducation Of…album, released in 1998, held sales records that were not beaten until the pop colossus that is Adele came along and smashed the shit out of everything.

In the hyper-masculine world of hip-hop, Hill didn’t use her sexuality to compete with the boys. She was authentic and never seemed like she was trying to be something she wasn’t. The album itself is both delicate and tough. Heartbreaking and raw, self-assured and forthright, yet never cocky. On the track To Zion, Hill sings of how she was encouraged to abort her first child so it didn’t interfere with the music machine.

Think of your career they said,

Lauryn, baby, use your head.            

In the video for Doo-Wop (That Thing), Hill is quite clearly pregnant with her second child. Can you think of any other stars who have done this? Can you think of any record labels happy for their stars to do this? The music industry has no problem with the heavy sexualisation of music videos, but when it comes to the reality of female reproduction, it gets a bit icky for them.

Hill has been labelled a recluse, much the same way that Kate Bush, for ‘turning her back on the music industry’. Lauryn Hill has six children. Maybe she just thinks it is more important to be a good mother than be on promotional tours and making pop videos. She herself has said she found fame hard to deal with. Most young mums can run to the shops to buy their kid some medicine after being up all night without worrying about having a camera put in their face or being criticised for how their hair or skin looked.

I don’t know the kind of things Lauryn Hill experienced growing up under the scrutiny of the public eye (she was just 21 when The Fugees multi-platinum album The Score was released). Her first love, heartbreak and loss played out through the lens of world touring. Having a baby just as her first solo album dropped. It probably wasn’t the life she had planned for herself. Lauryn Hill is still making music, just on her own terms, outside the corporate oppression of the industry.    

Without Lauryn Hill, there would be no Adele. There would have been no Amy Winehouse. There would be no Beyonce. To this day she is still being sampled by artists like Cardi B and Drake. She was a true innovator and inspiration to all who have come after.