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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Alela Diane: An Interview

Portland, Oregon

Written by Katie Weatherall

London has had many guises over the millennia, cheapest website like this and what we Londoners (born and bred in my case) consider essential and iconic about it varies wildly from what foreigners do, buy information pills whether they be from the Welsh borders or much further afield. Some outsiders hate London and all it stands for – everyone knows someone from outside who refuses to ever come to the Big Town because it is so “noisy and dirty, and everyone is so rude”.

Of course it is! It’s a big, bad mess of a place. It’s also much more than the sum of Oxford Street and Madame Tussauds, where lots of visitors start their London experience, missing out on the more personal, human aspect of the city because it’s all just too overwhelming. Admittedly, sometimes London feels like an overpriced dump, but it’s our dump. So how to make outsiders see what we see?

Mayor Boris has issued a competition to ad agencies to give London a new identity, presumably with an eye on the Olympics, and branding agency Moving Brands has decided to take its bid public. It’s inviting submissions from all of us to suggest ideas and images in the hope of coming up with something that’s quintessentially Londonic, something Londoners might actually like and want to look at, as well as luring more tourists to the banks of the Thames. There’s a lot of logos already defining some of London’s attributes, some more popular than others:

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London needs its brand identity to unite all the different facets of city life in the capital. The new face of London can’t be all shiny and perky because we aren’t in America; it shouldn’t be too “yoof” or urban because huge swathes of London is preppy and upper-crust. But we also don’t want to see any references to Shakespeare or any mythical past golden age. London has street markets, opera houses, a Queen, gay clubs, curry houses, Fashion Week, Soho and more scenes than you could count. Why not have a go at designing something that does justice to the London you know and love?

The project is also an interesting peek into the journey a brand goes through during development. Moving Brand’s blog is essentially the brainstorm phase played out in public, where everyone can see the false starts and evolving ideas. There’s quite a few interesting submissions up on their blog already, which could form the basis of the agency’s tender, and they’re getting feedback on everything via Twitter and Facebook. One of these images might become very familiar some time soon.

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Jeans for Genes day was once the highlight of the primary school calendar: one of only a few days when our joyous little selves can don our own clothes and ditch our school uniforms (of course inspiring the mini divas in each of us to spend hours deciding what combo to go with to best impress our school-kid counterparts, order or was that just me?!) Synonymous with freedom, this site equality and embracing the American way of the Western frontier, denim has always held associations with youthful hope. Becoming popular in the James Dean era with 1950s teenagers everywhere, jeans have become symbolic of casual dress, ‘devil-may-care’ attitudes and rebellion. Perhaps that’s why they make an excellent choice for supporting this charity for Genetic Disorders; giving kids a chance to make a difference through self-expression. Whilst providing adults a chance to embrace their inner child, wear their jeans with pride and be optimistic about making a change for a day in our doom-and-gloom world.

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At the same time as raising money for children and families affected by genetic disorders, the charity donates funds to groundbreaking research into cures for the disorders it supports such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. Frequently funding research into many unknown disorders enables small projects to receive help they would scarcely be able to generate on their own. By simply donating a bit of dosh each year to help change a life on Jeans for Genes day millions of people are ‘allowed’ to wear jeans to work and school. And this year is no different, with the event taking place on Friday 2nd October across the country.

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With supporters such as Project Catwalk‘s Nick Ede and Donna Ida, of Dona Ida’s denim boutique, Jeans for Genes is well-known in the fashion world. Frequently running other initiatives to unite the fashion and charity spheres, including a t-shirt design competition at London College of Fashion. This year the competition was won by Asha Joneja, a London College of Fashion student for her gold foil double helix design.

Donna Ida summarises the case for Jeans for Genes rather fittingly: “Fashion speaks to such a wide audience that I thought it important to use that platform to gain awareness for a great charity, and Jeans for Genes was the perfect fit,” using the mass-appeal of the fashion industry to generate money for a good cause, rather than personal profit or greed.

Moreover Jeans for Genes are not the only ones with this attitude. It seems this ethic is spreading at the moment; with other charitable organisations tied to fashion springing up and stomping their heels in the name of raising money. One such event, Fit for a Princess, will be held on 26th September 2009 at the Bentall shopping centre in Kingston. Endeavoring to fuse the worlds of fashion and charity, the shopping centre states that it champions the event because it is giving back to the local community with a kick-ass fashion punch.

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Helena Bonham Carter

The event’s exhibition is run by the Princess Alice Hospice, a local charity with 25 years of experience caring for its patients, providing free, excellent quality support in a modern setting; it’s income is largely generated by charitable donations such as this event promises to secure.

Undeniably, the event has drawn much fashionista support in the form of Twiggy, Trinny Woodall and Fern Cotton. Each celebrity will showcase their personal party outfits in shop windows throughout the centre, promising to exhibit sassy personal styling as well as trend and designer knowledge. Giving a new meaning to the term ‘window shopping’, shoppers will be able to bid on their favourite celebrities’ stylings on eBay from the 19th October. To locate the clothes type ‘fit for a princess’ in to the site’s search engine.

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Fearne Cotton

Key pieces featuring in the exhibition include an Alberta Ferretti sequin skirt and top worn by Helena Bonham-Carter at the Planet of the Apes premier, and a body con dress by current fascination and legend of the eighties, Hervé Leger, donated by Beverly Knight. It seems that fashion, despite its bad rep as heartless and money-grabbing, can also use its power for good… watch this space for more events that Amelia’s Magazine thinks you should be involved with.

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Beverley Knight
Over the last few years, there the British summer has seen the festival crescendo. Featuring initially as a mere whisper in the background of our holiday activities to an overwhelming, generic near inaudible screech with festivals popping up bigger and louder than ever before. We all need to take a long hard look at ourselves and ‘STOP!’ Not everything needs to grow to epic, brand-lavished proportions, things can remain at a small, intimate size. In our economic c*****e (excuse the blasphemy), let’s take it DIY…

An antidote to all things grotesquely commercial, this weekend I ventured to Mellow Croft Farm in the idyllic hills of South Wales to check out the fifth annual CWM event, hosted by South London arts collective, Utrophia.

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In place of queue foreboding portaloos, were handmade huts where excrement was neatly disposed of with a layer of pine needles. To be ethically turned into manure by the landowner in two years time. There was no sign of any beer sponsored, overprized bars. Instead a table offering £2 pints of local ale and organic cider via, at times, an honesty box system. Not to mention the fire-heated open-air bath to wash off the festival fun. But best of all, the festival goers consisted of around 200 like-minded music lovers and the organisers intend to keep it that way.

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“Using the word ‘festival’ to describe these events is debatable, as we like to think they mimic the outdoor gatherings that had occurred pre-Woodstock. You know the ones you never heard of, where folk came from near and far to share their goods and entertain one another, ” says the collective.

Something charming about such an intimate event is that you don’t have that (self-coined) ‘Clashtonbury’ moment, where after desiring no bands all morning, you are forced to choose between seeing your two favourite acts, billed simultaneously. At Cwmback, the schedule was as organic as their cider, with announcements of acts made by a cowbell assisted role call from around the campsite. In between acts, was an obligatory regroup at the bar tent or campfire where gems of entertainment were born out of idle moments; the ‘communal hair washing’ incident and ‘crisp eating to music’ event to name just two.

Rather than a main stage live experience that is more like watching BBC iplayer for all you can see of the bands, Cwmback’s live music setting was built within a snug pine forest which handily provided shelter from the rain when those Welsh skies opened – which they love to do.

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So what of the music? A cast made up mostly of friends of friends, there was an eclectic mix of the obscure to the bizarre, but never a weak link. Jame Dudy Dench delighted on the opening night with a comical Hip-Hopera, more in a vein of a satirical Beastie Boy than R. Kelly. Staying on the ironic end of the spectrum, duo Ginger & Sorrel, opened Sunday night’s entertainment blending Fairground keyboard phrases with beer sipped in comedy timing and a rap about tarpaulin, which was also a component of their outfits.

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Gentleman’s Relish brought an air of Sinatra, if he’d have gotten lost on the way to Vegas and found himself in a sweaty indie club. The lead singer croons over a mire of guitar riffs and in ‘Wolves and Monkeys’, chimpanzee noises.

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The Human Race managed to overcome technical obstacles in the form of a broken amp/guitar and eventual loss bass guitar string mid-performance to deliver a stomping set – nothing like staring into the face of adversity to up your musical prowess.

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The lo-fi element of the weekend came in the form of girl/boy folk duo, Mouth 4 Rusty who had the audience clicking and clapping along to stripped back simple songs of love forlorn.

A personal hightlight were Limn, an instrumental 4-piece who play in a revolving drum/guitar rectangle, communicating in call and response riffs that transport you to an old Batman cartoon series.

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Pop crooner, Mon Fio, was joined by a trombone player in an appropriately, Sunday afternoon, ad hoc fashion from the depths of the pine forest location. Such was the desire for an encore (and hangover), songwriter Jon, simply repeated the last song in the set to an audience who had broken out into a line dancing formation.

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Please paid a fleeting visit to the farm to play a full throttle performance at dusk which had the most timid of music listeners moshing at the front. Festival closer, Pseudo Nippon donned African prints and tropical inspired outfits to screech over a Gameboy backing track, in a Japanese accent and individually hug every member of the audience several times throughout their set. We were charmed.

If you like to enjoy your festival from the confines of your bourgeois motorhome, then this may not be the one for you. If, however, you’ve given up on the scene, loathing everything about Reading Festival and its conglomerate cousins, then Cwmback, because you may well have met your match. Maybe next year avoid the big punchers of the festival circuit, take a leaf out of the Utrophia book and Do It Yourselves.

As previously mentioned in this week’s music listings, you can conveniently find the crop of these bands at Shunt in London Bridge this Friday.

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Raised on a diet of sun-drenched, price rural, buy more about Californian folk, about it Alela Diane came from relative obscurity, initially self-releasing her albums in paper and lace sleeves with hand lettering, before finally getting noticed by the world’s music press. Only to have one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2007 with her debut, ‘Pirate’s Gospel’. Amelia’s Magazine finds out that she’s still keeping it all in her stride, as we chat on the phone with the down to earth lady, from her house in Portland, Oregon, before she crosses the Atlantic to tour her latest release, ‘To Be Still.’ Here’s how it went…

Amelia’s Magazine: After such a successful debut, how does it feel to release an album with all eyes on you?

Alela Diane: Well I guess I don’t always really realise that all eyes are on me if they are. I try to maintain a low profile. But it is nice to put out another record knowing that people are going to hear it.

AM: Are you excited to bring it to the UK?

AD: It will be nice to do a few more dates in the UK… We’ve been on tour so much this year and part of me is, ‘oh I haven’t been home at all’, but… we haven’t done a lot of touring this album in the UK so that’ll be nice. We’ve done lots of UK festivals with this album but not many smaller venues yet.

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AM: Your music lends itself to an intimate setting, do you enjoy those smaller gigs more for that reason?

AD: It’s really difficult to compare the two. They both have a unique energy. At a festival people are out to have a great time. It’s just so different in a smaller venue. I enjoy both. But sometimes you can really get into the feeling of the music in a smaller setting.

AM: There is a fuller arrangement of the tracks on ‘To Be Still’ compared with your first album. Will you be joined by a full band on tour?

AD: I have a drummer and a bass player and back up singers. And my dad is touring with me also, playing electric guitar and mandolin. Yeah it is more full than I’m used to.

AM: Is that something that makes you feel proud to have your dad touring with you?

AD: My dad is an amazing musician and it really is great having him with me. It keeps me grounded. Makes away feel more homey.

AM: Is he responsible for getting you into music and writing it yourself?

AD: When I really started writing songs and began to perform… that was a thing I kind of did on my own. But my whole life growing up with my parents, my dad is a performer so it was a massive part of my upbringing.

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AM: Michael Hurley‘s vocals in ‘Age Old Time’ off the new album really capture the raw, nostalgia present in a lot of your music. Was that a conscious decision?

AD: He was really fitting for that song because I wrote that song about my Grandma’s dad. He’d written all these songs for my grandma when she was little. So the song would resonate we really wanted a voice that sounded from another time. I’d met Michael living in Portland and gave him a record. His voice really captured what that song was about. It was one of those magical little moments of the record.

AM: Tell me about Headless Heroes, it was such a favourite album of mine… Is that ever to be repeated?

AD: I really don’t know. It was one of those somewhat random projects, which I was invited to be a part of and what I did on that project was really just sing. I didn’t have anything to do with picking the songs or really much else other than lending my voice. But it was kind of liberating and a lot of fun to just do it and not be responsible for every other detail of that recording. In some ways it allowed me to just really experiment with my voice and have a great experience. I think I learned a lot from doing it and perhaps in the future I will do more projects like that.

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AM: So back to your own music, do you write mainly at home in Portland, Oregon or on tour? Where is most condusive for you?

AD: For ‘To Be Still’ I wrote most of them when I was living in this little cabin in Nevada City and I wrote some of them up in Portland when I was living there. Lately because I have been on the road so much I have started to write a lot more lyrics without having the chance to develop the songs yet. But I have a bunch of words that are waiting to become songs. And I never did that before. I was writing at home where I could make it a song right away. But I don’t have the time and space to do that on tour because I’m around people all the time or in a van. But in a way it’s nice because it’s given me a chance to really develop the words before they become songs. I think once I’m home after this tour I’ll get chance to find the music and the melodies for them.

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AM: So it sounds like there could be quick turnaround…

AD: Yeah I think so. I’m feeling like there is good stuff there and I can’t wait to develop it.

AM: What do you listen to yourself?

AD: Well… I listen to a lot of older stuff – I guess I’m sitting in front of my vinyl collection right now… the one on the top is a Johnny Cash record.

AM: Which one?

AD: He’s older on the front and it just says CASH… Unchained! Erm… I’ve been pretty into Fleetwood Mac lately and Fairport Convention. I think Sandy Denny has my actual favourite voice. She’s my favourite vocalist.

AM: Is there anything modern that ever catches your ear?

AD: It has been a while… I have friends who I definitely appreciate. My friend Mariee Sioux, I love her music. She does something very different and special. I heard the Fleet Foxes last summer and really, really liked that. For a while I was a bit sceptical because they had been so hyped up and I was like, ‘yeah, yeah.’ But then when I actually heard it, I realised they were very, very talented.

AM: There’s definitely a folk explosion apparent with bands like Fleet Foxes in the US and much in what is coming out of the UK at the moment. Are there any countries that have gripped onto your music that have surprised you?

AD: Yeah. I’ve been a France and lot. And something about my music seems to be really liked in France. I don’t necescarily understand it but I think in a way it is so foreign to them. It’s coming from a place that is so unlike France. The things I sing about…

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AM: Will the next album see any new collaborations?

AD: I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Because I’ve been touring with the band so much… my dad, my good friend Lena sings the back up vocals. She’s been writing a lot of songs. My boyfriend is the bass player in the band and the four of us are starting to collaborate and working on the idea of what we can do writing together. So that is something that may end up happening.

AM: Is that a first for you then?

AD: Up to this point, all the songs have been written by me and then the studio arrangement… The songs come together from an idea from me or an idea from my dad. But the actual writing with a group like that, exploring ideas, I’ve never done that. And the little that we’ve done together is really inspiring and it feels really different and good. So we’ll see what happens. Everybody has a little different of thing to bring to the table and it’s working out to be pretty groovy.

You can catch Alela Diane with dad in tow on her UK tour this month in these places:

Cambridge (09/09),
Bristol (10/09),
Cardiff (11/09),
Exeter (13/09),
Birmingham (16/09),
London (Shepherd’s Bush Empire) (17/09)

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