Sep 282014
 

I know, I know, there was a decided absence of wittering last Sunday.  Please accept my apologies.  The past few weeks have been hectic – for “hectic” read “bonkers” – beyond belief and last Sunday was the last day of the Looe Music Festival and the only day on which I was free to please myself as to what I did.

Two women in 50s retro frocks

Sara & Wednesday ready to party on the beach.

It has to be said that when I had my shop, The March Hare in East Looe, I loathed the Festival Weekend as it invariably had a negative impact on my trade.  The town is full of people intent on watching top class bands and shoppers give it a wide berth.  Frankly, nobody who is attending a music festival for the purpose of making merry, is going to go into a little boutique and order a bespoke frock on the spur of the moment; it’s just not happening.  I know of other Looe businesses who also find Festival Weekend very difficult from a financial point of view, mainly shops with more expensive offerings than the usual “pasties and tat” and cafes and restaurants, who find their afternoon and evening takings down by about 10%, as people party on the beach and then wander back to their base camps via the pubs and the imported food stands along the fish quay.  But – and it’s a big but – having now seen the Festival from the other side, it does bring more business into the town than it scares away,  hopefully gives the town a higher profile and may well entice the Festival goers back at other times of the year to hopefully patronise the shops and restaurants they didn’t have the time or inclination to visit during the festivities.  The organisers are intent on bringing top class music and extending the season of the town and that is exactly what they do, although they can’t please everyone given the demographic and the actual layout of the town.  What I also noticed was the thousands and thousands of very happy faces, the friendly atmosphere and the complete lack of trouble.  And that’s priceless.

“But what on earth was Miss Wednesday doing at a “music festival?” I hear you ask.  It doesn’t really sit with her public image, does it?  The wellies, the mud, the – gasp – general public.  Surely Miss W’s idea of hell on earth.  And yes, you’d be right in thinking that.  Absolutely bang on.  Will she be attending Glastonbury next year?  Unlikely.  But Looe doesn’t have mud.  And she wasn’t camping but staying with her good friend and partner in crime, Miss Sara.

In the words of the, er, immortal Jethro, “What ‘appened was…”  Miss Wednesday’s alter ego (ie, me!) was persuaded by a customer to revive her musical career.  When I made some frocks and a skirt for the organiser of the Looe Music Festival, the rather incredible Tanya Brittain, I had no idea what it was she did. We were introduced by Miss Sara as she knew Tanya wanted some frocks for performing with her newly formed folk collective, The Changing Room.  That I could help with.  What I hadn’t expected was the little question posed by Tanya on her way out, being, “The harpist we used on the EP isn’t available for the opening gig of the LMF, do you fancy doing it?”  What?!  Are you kidding?  I haven’t played in 18 months!  I’m retired!  But she sent me MP3s of the music and I was hooked and found myself imported into a group of incredibly talented, very professional and really, really nice musicians.  It has been an utterly surreal experience to all of a sudden be playing music with other people who really love the music and are very, very good at it but who also have a complete lack of ego and Just Get On With It.

Folk collective The Changing Room on stage

The Changing Room on the Groundworks stage at the Looe Music Festival. Photo by Jim Peters Photography.

We hadn’t actually played together until a couple of hours before the opening gig and rehearsal wasn’t going particularly brilliantly when we were requested to go down to the quay for a photocall.

Woman in 1950s frock being filmed by TV camera

Festival organiser, Tanya Brittain, being interviewed by ITV wearing a WM ‘Verity’. Photo by Elina Kansikas.

Tanya was interviewed for the tellybox and then we were all asked if we’d mind getting on to the Erin, a beautiful old Cornish Lugger (fishing boat) for some pictures and for ITV to record.  That was the most nerveracking part of the entire weekend, as I had to get on and off a boat in the harbour, whilst wearing high heels and a frock and petticoat and carrying a harp.  I entrusted the harp (my little Salvi Eire) to the lovely Lisa from Excess Energy Communications and took my life in my hands.  It all worked out and the ensuing “performance” was one of the best experiences of my entire life.  The world faded away and there was just the four of us, Tanya, Sam Kelly, Jamie Francis and the random harpist they found in a hedge (me!) playing together.  I still get goosebumps thinking about it.  Everything else paled into insignificance.  The pictures were quite nice, too, as my face is hidden!  Tanya and I were both wearing WM frocks for the performances, which kept the demanding Miss Wednesday happy and my father is delighted that the viciously expensive stringy things that have been gathering dust under my staircase for 18 months are now being used again.

Folk collective The Changing Room playing on board a fishing boat

The Changing Room folk collective playing on board the Erin. Photo by Dom Moore Photography.

Obviously, not all the members of The Changing Room are clad in Wednesday March garments.  Miss Wednesday is working on this but so far neither Sam or Jamie seem particularly keen on frocking up.  Funny, that…

Meanwhile, I have a lot of music to arrange for harp in preparation for recording the remainder of The Changing Room’s album next month.  Which isn’t very far away.  But don’t worry, the frocks will keep coming.  A whole load of fabrics have just been purchased for your delight and delectation and the tailoring course has started.  It’s all go!

Oh, and the Petticoat Club are meeting up this week.  At least twice.  That could be messy…

 

 

Miss Wednesday Likes A Challenge

 Costuming, Frocks, Wednesday March  Comments Off on Miss Wednesday Likes A Challenge
Aug 312014
 

Back in the days of owning The March Hare in Looe, I used to hear a fair number of slightly puzzled people outside the shop window commenting, “Is it a fancy dress shop?”  Well, yes, some of the dresses are pretty fancy…  This scenario could go one of two ways; either I bridled with outrage and poured another gin or I shrieked with laughter and, yes, usually poured another gin.  On one occasion, I stuck my head around the door, smiled sweetly and said, “And you’ve come as…?” because the “offender” was just so badly dressed that I simply couldn’t resist.  Ah, happy days…

I also have plenty of customers who come to me because they are going to a party with a retro theme, usually wartime or 1950s, and need help or inspiration.  Quite often they’ll utter the legend, “I don’t want to spend much” and then be so overcome with delight when I produce a frock that makes them look better than they had imagined possible that they spend a fair old whack of money and announce their intention to come back for more and wear retro styles “every day”.   Proper job!

But then there are the “other” customers.  The “special” customers.  The ones who feel that I am the one to help them with their “project”.   No, not those customers, I’m talking costuming.  And I’m smiling, because costuming is fun, majorly creative and challenging.  I love it.  Bring it on!  The main constraint is usually budget but on a decent project that just adds to the challenge.

Back in 2011, I was approached by a good friend about a frock for her to wear for a storytelling epic, Return to Lyonesse, and so the Drowned Dress was created.  The brief had been “colours of the storm, forests under the sea, strawberries under the sea, Celtic/mediaeval, a bit Pre-Raphaelitey…”.  Fabulous.  The first ideas involved vast amounts of embroidery and a projected cost of about £16,000 with a lead time of, er, probably at least a century.  So we shelved that and went fabric shopping.  The resulting haul of shot taffeta and dreamy Liberty-print silk chiffon removed the requirement for embroidery as the art nouveau motifs on the chiffon provided the imagery of the drowned forest and the hugely talented Claire Morris of Rowanberry Designs created the perfect glass strawberry beads to take care of that part.

Harpist wearing purple mediaeval style frock

The lovely Barbara Griggs on stage in Callington.

It was a wonderful project to work on and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Harpists do enjoying giving me a challenge as I’ve also been called upon by one to recreate a “Regency Wonderbra”, ie a the piece of Regency underpinning that created the shelf-like bust so evident in portraits and costume dramas of that period.  Corsetry is fun and whilst I don’t usually make “normal” corsetry – I can source excellent examples off the peg to fit most people – I do enjoy doing historical corsetry, which can’t just be bought ready made and is essential to give the correct shape and look for serious reenactors and historic productions.

But the latest brief is something else.  It involves, once again, a harpist (honestly, all you have to do is lift a rock around here and out crawls a bird with a cheese grater masquerading as a musical instrument) and the theme of “Celts and Cowboys”.  It’s a Cornish event so images of Cornish tartan are scrolling through my brain, whilst the budget screams in panic because even the poly-cotton varieties don’t come cheap.  Obviously Dolly Parton is in the mix, although the performer in question isn’t what you’d call “well endowed” in that region (in fact, if you patted her on the back in the dark to find out which way she’s facing, you’d probably be none the wiser).  Cowboy boots?  Celtic ribbons?  Colours?  There’s a kind of sea and fishing element, too.  Oh, and a lead time of, er, just under three weeks with all the stuff for the Goodwood Revival to be done for the preceding weekend.  No pressure, then.

But guess what?  Challenge accepted.  Watch this space.  Oh, and there may be colourful language and some screaming.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you…