Jemima Foxtrot at Wilton's Music Hall, May 19th 2016
In episode 2 of our podcast, performance poet and singer Jemima Foxtrot tells a story about growing up in Hebden Bridge, and falling in with a crowd of friends who introduced her to the joys of Funk and Soul.
Here's a transcription of her story:
I'm a bit out of my comfort zone here because I usually do poems, and I've usually remembered them as well, and I haven't remembered this. So...
I'm absolutely honoured to be here, I love this place. It's the first time I've ever been on this stage, and it's just really good, so thanks for having me.
So... this is a story about growing up in Yorkshire, where I'm from; being a teenager, and music really.
I was just 14 and I'd met a couple of lads. We were in Year 10 then, so were about yeah, 14, and we decided to make music together. There was a music room at school, sort of annexed at the back of the dining hall, and we were allowed to use it at lunch times. And we went there every, single, lunchtime. I had a tape of FRANK by Amy Winehouse, and I also had a Greatest Hits of Ella Fitzgerald tape that I found in a charity shop, and I'd listen to it over and over and over again. And when the boys weren't around, when they'd gone to smoke weed or whatever, I would stay in the music room, rewinding it over and over again, and practising the scats...
You might say that copying scats kind of defeats the points of scat. But I did it an awful lot any way.
So it was me, Jimmy and Louis at first, and we were playing covers. Quite a lot of shit covers like Elton John, which I hated. "My gift is my song"... we did that one. Louis was responsible for the cheese. We were going it back then, and we were madly in love in that way that is very specific to children. But he's remained a hefty romantic and he's now got two children.
I was drifting towards a sort of howling sort of music, because I was really in awe of my own voice really loud voice. So I used to like singing stuff like.
'I just wanna make love to you...' and 'Wap ba ba loop bop a wop bam boo'
So we were doing all of that sort of stuff, which was v. enjoyable. And we ran into this guy called Callum. Now I knew Callum a bit from the woodcraft folk. I'm from Hebden Bridge - and that's classic Hebden Bridge - I was in the woodcraft folk. And he was in the junior brass band, and we used to laugh at them every Christmas Eve when they used to play carols in the town square in their stupid little suits.
But also, and much more importantly, he played trombone and sax in this Ska band, in which he was the baby; and he was the year above us, and so that was very exciting.
Rehearsals moved to Louis's parents' front room. We had two guitars, one voice and a trombone, and we were so chuffed with ourselves. I was particularly happy with the brass. So far in my little experience, I had mainly been into music that was pushed on me by my Dad and I do love it still - Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, The Rolling Stones and of course Bob Dylan. Years later, I wrote my English Literature dissertation on Dylan which cemented my love for poetry and music and my fascination between the blurred lines between the two.
So anyway, we needed a drummer. And as some of you may know, good drummers are notoriously hard to find. We sloped around in our weird acoustic brass outfit for a while doing Village Open Mics, pubs and the like. Eventually, Callum said there was this girl in his year, who had a little brother who played the drums. How little? The kid was two school years below us - I think he was 12 years old at the time. We were very, very skeptical, naturally.
We all lived in and around Hebden Bridge in the Pennines, as I said. It's beautiful there - steep sided valleys, dark trees - of course, we didn't really appreciate it back then, all that sort of gasping frantic landscape. And when I go back now, it's just amazing. You should definitely try and go.
So the new potential drummer lived halfway up the really steep hill that went to my house. So we traipsed up there one Wednesday night and we shuffled in. And his parents were all proud and polite, and showed us in and offered us tea. And we went down to the basement where Joe's basic three piece turquoise drumkit was. And I was thinking 'fucking hell'.
Anyway, I'm sure you know what happens next. He FUCKING INCREDIBLE. Oh my God. I'd never seen anything like it. I was blown away. So he was in. And we started going up there regularly to practice, and of course we became really good friends. As you'll have noticed by now, Joe was not your ordinary twelve-year-old. Now I'm going to credit Joe Ackroyd to introducing me - properly introducing me - to the genres that have played a really influential role in my work and in my development as an artist. And the genres that I dance to, to this day, in my bedroom, in clubs, on the streets. The genres I like to attach myself to, and that validate me as a happy and optimistic person.
Funk and Soul.
An ex once said to me that he couldn't listen to a single Funk and Soul song with a female vocal without thinking of me bouncing up and down on a head, dancing, grinning from ear to ear. It's the music that has made me sing
"Oh what a good feeling to feel like I feel. I say oh, what a good feeling to feel like I feel. I say oh, what a good, oh what a good, oh what a good feeling to feel like I feel."
It's the music that's made me sing -
"Hey, I'm a good woman. I'm a good woman. Such a good woman. So don't treat me like dirt".
So it was my eighteenth birthday. We were still in the band by then, four years on. Joe made me a mix CD that he called 'Funk Salad'. He's a bit of a sarcastic and pun-centred guy. It had a big mix of songs on that I would play over and over and love forever. It was all no-nonsense, deep and ravenous female lead singers and so much all-consuming groove. I still have the CD - it moved to Manchester, and then down here to London with me. The band went on to expand - we gained a bassist, James - and we went on to win five days recording time as the prize for coming first in the local 'Battle of the Bands'. We moved on from covers, and, at the risk of blowing our own trumpets, wrote some pretty good pop songs. James and Callum left eventually, so it just became me, Jimmy, Joe and Louis, and on we went.
Pretty early on in the band's career, when we were still doing covers, Joe suggested we do this song. With the most joyful, yearning lyrics. But not only this song - but this specific version of this song. I absolutely fucking loved it. We took it on. I remember finding it hard to do the new version of the vocal on the chorus - I suppose the old one was just so ingrained. I remember saying I just, couldn't, do it! and Joe going, "No! Come On! You can - you HAVE to".
When the track plays you'll notice it starts with a very distinctive drumbeat. Whenever I hear that drumbeat play, I remember Joe, the band... being a teenager in that valley, and soaking up and belting out all that music.
This song showed me that you can take other people's music and make it your own. It showed me the wonder and creativity of the cover version.
I saw Joe, Jimmy and Louis again just last month for not such a happy occasion - a funeral. Our friend Jed died in April, aged 25. It was a glorious day the funeral though - a glorious Yorkshire day. Hot and sunny - I got sunburned really badly whilst drinking outside the pub by the canal. And being with those boys again made me so proud of what we achieved in my time growing up there. Joe lives in Hebden Bridge still, having spent stints in Manchester, but he absolutely monopolises the music scene there. I think he's in about seven bands - and it's only got a population of about ten thousand, so that's pretty good! He's an incredible musician, and now a DJ as well, and he's grown into a man from that 12-year-old with a fantastic talent, and probably the best taste in music that I know. And I feel such a bond to them. The boys in the band.
I don't have many friends left from school, but they remain. And I think they always will. And I'm eternally grateful to Joe, for introducing me to a whole world of music through this song, that has buoyed me up and influenced, not just my work as a poet, but my attitude towards the whole world.
So thanks for listening. Thanks to Joe and to the band. And please sit back and enjoy Spanky Wilson with her wonderful cover of Sunshine of Your Love...