An interview with Ellyott

 

I now have a copy of Curve magazine with my article on Ellyott. It’s been shortened a bit, unsurprisingly, due to lack of space, but it’s come out well (apart from Curve’s insistence on calling Ellyott ‘Ezzer’ for much of the piece – their doing, not mine) – Ellyott gets to say plenty. What follows are the bits that didn’t make it into the article. I thought the material was too good – and important – to not see the light of day. Some pieces are straight from my interview with her, others are from the original article. The result is inevitably a bit of a jigsaw, but I hope it makes interesting reading.

JT: “While most of the songs are in Hebrew, three are in English. Was there any particular reason for that? [Was it a matter of communicating these songs to a wider/different audience?]”

E: “I have been writing in both English and Hebrew my whole life, I feel both languages are my lovers, and this is the only field where I care to be polygamous. Some songs declare themselves in a certain language, and I just let them drive me, happy to ride shotgun, and let the song unroll.”

The loss of Ellyott’s father in 2010, as well as other members of her family in the holocaust, are clearly evident in the songs and among the sleeve notes are dedications to Queer activists John Edward Campbell and Tutu Tedder, along with Sister George’s bass player Lisa Cook, all of whom have passed on. As loss was the driving force behind the album’s creation, it was perhaps inevitable that it was a central theme.

While Ellyott wrote most of the lyrics, she also took the opportunity to arrange music to a poem written by Ester Raab, the sister of Ellyott’s grandfather, (‘A Song For The Mediterranean’), and covered one of Israel’s best known children’s songs.

E: “I recorded ‘My Dad’ as a requiem to my father. I actually recorded it the week my dad died and you can hear my voice breaking up at the end of the song. This, for many people here, has been the best loved song of the album and has been played here a lot. People really relate to my version.”

I had hoped that life as a Queer artist in the UK would be somewhat easier than in Israel [where her songs were banned in the 1980s and she was front page news as the first out-dyke artist in the country], but evidently I was wrong, as Ellyott is quick to point out.

E: “I thought it would be easier in London but actually it wasn’t. Sister George was allowed its fifteen minutes of fame as ‘Queer Punk Badass Gang’. We were on the cover of the New Musical Express, but were not taken seriously as musicians, which is a shame as I feel our later songs were far better than our debut album. We broke up when the others in the band thought I was trying to get U2’s scout to sign me as a solo artist, when he came to see us. Needless to say, it was never so. But we broke up and I never got to talk it out and make up, as our bass player Lisa Cook died a few years back, and it broke my heart that I never got to sort it out. Lisa was fierce, I admired her greatly.”

Despite her misgivings about the UK’s attitude to Sister George (and I can testify to the songwriting leaps the band made during their career), Ellyott has fond memories of its Queercore scene.

E: “Queercore was a beautifully exciting wave of energy. I feel lucky to have been a part of it. I guess I always will be, among other things. We all needed to be heard, and so took up the space and made sure the world heard us. This much hasn’t changed. People who are different still have that need to be counted, to express their wants and pains and joys. I just choose other genres of music to do it in nowadays.”

And part of that change of direction, musically speaking, is Ellyott’s hugely successful career as a DJ, although her playlist certainly has its punk ethics.

E: “I DJ house and techno music, and I infuse it with bits of spoken word and speeches of the likes of Gloria Steinem and Patti Smith. My heart is still a big, raw, pulsing mass of sound and energy. How I express myself might be different, but singing with my guitar or DJ-ing my tracks is all one and the same. I get to DJ to tens of thousands of people in Tel-Aviv’s Pride, for example, or as a resident of the country’s biggest gay party, Forever Tel-Aviv, and I love every second of it. I am more exposed as a singer, and find it easier to whip people into a frenzy when I DJ, but the two are very similar, the thrill of performing is the same. I have been doing it for nearly 30 years, and I am addicted to the buzz.”

Perhaps 5772 is as much about celebrating life as it is about loss – love and family are ever present in the songs. It has its sadness, but also its optimism, its acknowledgment that life continues, despite everything. Ellyott has a strength that is difficult not to take heart from. She has lost none of the fire she had when I knew her decades ago but she appears to be happier, and the self-assuredness of maturity and motherhood is reflected in her song writing.

Curve magazine now available

 

My article on Ellyott is included in the June issue of Curve, which is now available. I haven’t seen the magazine, so I have no idea if the piece has been edited or shortened (it could have been much longer – Ellyott always did have plenty to say), but I hope to see a version of it soon.

Never forget the dream element

UNIT Rock In Opposition Front

UNIT have just released a new album, Rock In Opposition Phase 5, and the booklet includes some more of my bird photography. I was not expecting this, so was very happy to get a copy at the weekend. Now the weather is more settled, I am trying to get more photographs for the band’s future releases (and just this morning have had a photoshoot with a bold jackdaw just outside my window). I’m proud to be associated with UNIT.

The article on Ellyott Ben Ezzer is now finished and Curve magazine will be publishing the article in their June issue. Ellyott’s answers to my questions were well worth waiting for and make her album (5772) even more moving. She’s as much a force to be reckoned with as she ever was, and I’m glad that a Western magazine will feature someone with such a high profile in a different culture.

Chapel Carn Brea House

The Man Who Builds The Ruins has now been drafted and I’m in the process of re-writing it. The end of the story, which I was having difficulty ‘seeing’, came to me after repeated plays of the Electric Sewer Age album. I found that there was, of course, only one ending for the story, or rather, one place in which to leave it. It often feels to me that a story is not so much ‘made up’ as the writer having tuned in to something happening Elsewhere and it’s a matter of writing it down accurately. Thanks to Danny Hyde and the late Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson for inspiration.

Darker skies over Penzance

Zennor Road landscape

2014CE has begun in the most positive of ways: the literary journal Storylandia (which published The Falling Man a while back and which includes The Ferocious Night in its Spring 2014 issue) is moving to single author issues later this year and seems keen to do one featuring my work. The plan would possibly be to publish the novelette Theophany plus a selection of short stories. I wrote a lot last year and have a couple of stories that I’ve been holding back for… Something. Perhaps this is what I was waiting for. This project is immensely exciting but it’s not a done deal – but whatever the outcome, thanks to editor Ginger Mayerson for having such faith in what I do.

This changes my plans for the next while at least: I want to make sure I’m completely happy with the stories I’ll be submitting and so the two stories I’m currently working on (Rebecca Shadow and another new one, Completion) will have to be put aside for now. The interview with Ellyott Ben Ezzer has been delayed while she organises a house move, but I’ll continue and complete the article as soon as Ellyott’s back in touch.

Stargazing in my part of town is now a little easier: the huge lights that the local supermarket were flooding the area with, all night every night, have now been switched off after the shop closes each evening. After a long while of inertia and assuming that no one ever listens to complaints, I emailed the supermarket’s head office and asked if the lights could be dimmed or, preferably, switched off. Light pollution and wasted energy are two issues this particular supermarket would probably claim to be interested in, ethically speaking, so it’s great to see them backing up their slogans. Such actions are tiny steps but nevertheless worthwhile.

And, inspired by events taking place at the BFI,  I’ve also asked the Penwith Film Society if they’ve any plans to mark the 20th anniversary of Derek Jarman’s death with some of his films. They’re keen to do so, if some are available in digital format – apparently many cinemas no longer own film projectors. I’d love to see a selection of Jarman’s stuff – both full-length and shorts – again. He’s been a huge influence on me over the years and, for the wider world, events like this should not be confined to London.

At the death of 2013CE

UNIT cd cover

As 2013 – a year where utter disaster has rocked myself and almost everyone around me – shudders its last, a few plans are showing progress. First of all, as the photo above shows, UNIT’s new album, The Colours of Life, has just been released. It includes the reworked version of The Wasteland mentioned here a while back, a track which appeared on The Apostles/The Joy of Living e.p. Death To Wacky Pop, which appeared back in 1986, plus the bird photographs that I have recently taken for the band.

I am currently in the process of conducting an interview by email of Ellyott Ben Ezzer, which may appear in Curve magazine. The feature will focus on Ellyott’s impressive solo album, 5772, released in May 2013. The article is already part-written, as I have been familiar with Ellyott’s work for many years, and I’m looking forward to completing it. As far as fiction is concerned, Rebecca Shadow is being extensively re-written in order to base it closer to home (in every respect) – fantastique things happening in the deprived ex-industrial heartland of Cornwall is more exciting and relevant to me than having them happen a step away from the world (or this one, at any rate).

Penzance at 4.51 pm, Winter Solstice 2013

Penzance at 4.51 pm, Winter Solstice 2013

Back in 2002, I attended an event by most of the anarchist punk band Crass at
the South Bank, London. For the sake of completion, I have included a link to Barbelith Webzine, which published the review I wrote just after the event.

“Everything is a Time Machine!”

Ellyott Scotsgay 2

Various works are in progress and so here is an update of sorts: From The Bones has undergone an extensive amount of re-writing and is in the right place to start submitting to magazines. Probably! You have to get to a certain point with writing (or anything else) where things have to be left, or else spend forever tweaking it, and wisdom is in knowing when to stop. The second ‘modern fairy tale’ I’ve written over the summer, Widdershins, is also finished, I think. I needed to step away from horror for a short time to explore other things and with these two stories I believe I’ve managed it. They both have meaning without moralising and – possibly – could be read to children. The title of this entry, by the way, is a quote by Jacob Skiddaw, the grandfather of Charlotte Skiddaw. Wise words, I hope. Grave Goods – the full-on horror story mentioned a while back – is beginning its submission trek. It was fun to write, an intense few days of getting the main body of the story down followed by a couple of weeks of re-writing. At under 4000 words, it’s the shortest piece I’ve written in a very long while, but that should open up the market as far as submissions are concerned. And I’ve just begun another new story, which is definitely in the horror/dark fantasy camp. Working title Rebecca Shadow and The Winter House, although it’s likely to change. It’s set – or at least begins – in Cumbria. The short time I spent in the county earlier this year has had a massive influence.

In an attempt to communicate somewhat more with the outside world, I’ve been back in contact with Ellyott Ben Ezzer, Israeli singer and DJ, who fronted the fantastic London Queercore band Sister George in the mid-1990s. I sent her copies of the photos I took of the band at one of their gigs (The Water Rats, a pub in Kings Cross, London). One has appeared on their Facebook site, and it’s possible others may appear there soon (the photo above was originally published in Scotsgay, along with the feature I did on the band shortly before they broke up). And Unit are using some of my photography of birds on a forthcoming album cover/booklet. This on-going project had me chasing a flock of Greenfinches around St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly last week and managing to photograph none of them, but I’m getting some decent shots of other birds.