token girl: like a girl, but better

Thursday, 31 March 2005

Sick of ebay and tired of rip-off vintage rags? Me too.

I wrote this earlier in the week for Leonie. Then last night I met another Anna(-)Marie who thrifts professionally for her vintage shop on ebay. She was wearing Chanel pumps and a silky-soft peach-coloured top. She was inspired.

Ebay never really happened for me. At least not as far as my wardrobe goes. I've had it with the amateur copywriters and faux-fash jargon. One more ill-fitting frock and it would've been keyboard out the window. But that's another story.

Charity emporiums hold for me an allure that the standard high street outlet simply cannot touch, and that is of the one-of-a-kind, cut-price bargain. When shopping, I try to get into a 'special occasion' frame of mind to help me focus. I start the day as if it’s 1988 and I have to buy an outfit for a wedding reception. No one wears occasion outfits more than once or twice and charity shops are full of hardly-worn neglected items, such as cocktail dresses, veiled bonnets, fancy heels and matching handbags. We’ve all heard urban myths about picking up Prada sweaters for £10 in Sue Ryder, but for me, it’s all about the quirky one-off.

Here are some tried-and-testeds:

Oxfam, 52 Goodge Street, London W1T 4LZ. Tel: 020 7636 7311
Located on what I like to think of as the Golden Goodge Street Strip, this branch sprawls across two floors, and takes donations from some of London's most affluent neighbourhoods. Don't let that put you off. Bargain-hunters have tough competition from the hawk-eyed staff at the vintage boutique located on the opposite side of the street.
One bored lunch hour I picked up the kind of frock that Baby would have worn pirouetting into Johnny's arms in Dirty Dancing. I looked left and right and slipped into the changing cubicle. The top was jersey with spaghetti straps with a bodice that stretched into a perfect tiered ra-ra skirt. At £4.99 it was a steal, even though I knew I’d never wear it. When I got home I chopped the dress in two, ditched the top and sewed a waistband for the skirt. Ta-da.
Best for: After dark dresses, suits, woven hold-alls, beads, bangles and books.
See also: Notting Hill Housing Trust, 24 Goodge Street. Tel: 020 7636 4201; YMCA, 22 Goodge Street. Tel: 020 7323 5073.

TRAID, 59-71 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 6HY. Tel: 020 7328 1453. Branches London-wide.
TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development) offers a unique twist on the traditional bric-a-brac charity shop format. It's difficult not to feel overwhelmed by this rainbow-swept warehouse, but garments are helpfully arranged according to colour, style and fabric. It's the reconditioned garments that make the TRAID experience unique with customised one-offs alongside the regular cast-offs. It's ace for bold statements that can be worn once and then chucked back into the wardrobe. Be prepared to pay more for the handmade items.
Best for: Crafty hats, t-shirts.

Geranium Shop for the Blind, 4 George Street, Marylebone, London W1U 3QU. Tel: 020 7935 1790
Discreetly tucked behind Oxford Street, this is a tiny trinkety treasure trove and its contents are necessarily esoteric. While West End lunch-breakers are looting the Salvation Army on Princes Street, take a peek in here for bygone glitz and sequined evening wear of the Old School variety. Always worth a look.
Best for: Broaches, clutch bags, photograph frames.
See also: Greater London Fund for the Blind, 4 George St, London, W1U 3QU Tel: 020 7935 1790; Relief Fund for Romania 54-62, Regent St, London, W1B 5RE Tel: 020 7437 6978; Salvation Army, 9 Princes Street, London W1B 2LL. Tel: 020 7495 3958.

Oxfam, 99 Ealing Broadway, London, W13 9BP. Tel: 020 8579 2896
On a rainy afternoon head to the suburbs for charity shops stocking generous donations from prosperous donors. At this branch I was delighted to find an excellent selection of luggage. Think Grace Kelly's overnight bag as Lisa in Rear Window. I picked up a near-perfect vanity case exploding with utility and desirability for just £6.99.
Best for: Bags, shoes, luggage and literature.
See also: Crouch End, Highgate, Hampstead.

St Luke's Hospice Charity Shop, 145 Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware, HA8 5EJ. Tel: 020 8381 1022
Just 15 minutes on the Northern Line from Camden, Burnt Oak is a prime rummaging location. There's a ragbag of curious outlets along the Broadway, from the usual Oxfam to the more niche FARA Charity Shop. It helps that there are no fashionable pretensions in this part of London. Look for accessories from the Thatcher era and hunt for hidden gems amongst the tat.
Best for: Coloured Italian leather handbags, collectibles and pulp fiction.
See also: FARA Charity Shop, 13 Watling Avenue, Edgware, Middlesex HA8 0LQ. Tel: 020 8952 2885

Wednesday, 30 March 2005

shimmy shimmy chalets

‘Someone told us earlier that we look like a cross between Dorian from Birds of a Feather and Bet Lynch.’
The Chalet girls, resplendent in tiger stripes, mirrored shades and bee-hived black dos are on stage at the Buffalo Bar. Less a cross between faded eighties glamourpusses, more the illogical conclusion to a Bis-Stereolab-Le Tigre evolution, there hasn’t been a band this kitschly colourful since Kenickie imploded on stage at the Astoria and put away their platform heels. I think anachronistically of words like pizzazz, panache and finesse and gawp.
Three days later and The Chalets clutch water bottles and shiver in the reeking indie den that is the Dublin Castle, the scene of another debauched Night Before that saw them take showtime inspiration from Liza Minnelli in Cabaret. Stepping out in bowler hats, bowties and spats they ended up, Paula Cullen (vocals/keyboards/glockenspiel/cool white boots) laughs, ‘looking more like Playboy bunnies.’
Alongside her round the table sit Caoimhe Derwin (keyboards/vocals/glockenspiel/tap dancer), Dylan Roche (drums/hair/make-up), Chris Judge (bass/vocals/creates the artwork that screams ‘Merchandise me!’) and Enda Loughman (guitar/vocals/single boy). During what some would no doubt call a 'whirlwind' 2005 the Dublin quintet have already toured with Art Brut and The Subways. It's with the 'likeminded' artrock jokers that they have particularly bonded, pooling resources at the end of every night on tour so that no band member was left sans biere. They've just finished a solo circuit round north London culminating, appropriately at the Camden Crawl and they'll be back in town for more soon.
At first glance The Chalets form a cynical coupling. Until the boys seduced the girls in 2003, they admit that they were 'making really bad, really horrible music' as an all-boy guitar trio. They hooked up through friends, their mutual love of electro-pop, forgotten girl bands and Daniel Clowes’ aesthetic vision making for the perfect match.
'We were looking for two nice girls - but we found them,' Dylan deadpans. Such verbal play is typical of a band who'd have me believe that they were named in remembrance of a skiing accident on a snowy mountaintop in Switzerland rather than after a wicked weekend at All Tomorrow’s Parties. Mischief flickers across the table.
As a five-piece, The Chalets have sparred and sparkled their way through three EPs of vodka-drenched ditties. Now signed to Setanta and with an album (which they reveal may or may not be called 'Check In’) almost in the leopard print shoulder bag, they’ve given up their day jobs in fashion/hair/whatever and returned to the parental manors to dedicate themselves to fulfilling the indie dream.
It is The Chalets’ boy-girl dynamic that lends their songs a flavour of flirtation which sometimes borders on conflict. Part lust, part loathing, they soundtrack hangovers to nights spent too long at the bar, dancing on slippery floors and leaving the club too late. In 'Theme from the Chalets' the girls ask ‘Why did we come here? That boy is a nerd,’ while in 'Sexy Mistake' they drip with remorse, 'What did I just say? I will regret this everyday'. Somehow their sweetly harmonised vocals belie the cartoon violence and last orders shenanigans of the lyrics to songs like ‘Love Punch’. But just what is all this fighting about?
Paula says, ‘We just kind of ham it (their familial banter) up a bit in the songs. I mean, we love each other really.’
The Chalets is the perfect place to stay.

Tuesday, 29 March 2005

it's indie rock'n'roll for me

I'm far too old and disinterested to start entering NME-letters page (it's not called angst anymore) duels. But this article really hit me where it hurts. Torn between the melodic indie summercore of the Killers and the irresistibly shallow posing of the Bravery, I let my mind be made up on the dancefloors of indie London over the holiday weekend. The truth is that the Bravery are over-exposed and, when you pick away that impeccable electro-indie-goth veneer there's nothing there. No transvesite exes, no suitcases in the doorway, champagne in the parlour or whatever Brandon's singing about on this one, just half-arsed ripoff songs. Still have the hots for them though, innit.


BRANDON FLOWERS has branded THE BRAVERY as imitators of his band THE KILLERS.

Talking to MTV, the singer claimed that bands like The Bravery have only been signed on the back of The Killers’ success, and questioned the New Yorkers’ musical motivation.

"Look at a band like The Bravery. They're signed because we're a band," Flowers declared. "I've heard rumours about [members of] that band being in a different kind of band, and how do you defend that? If you say, 'My heart really belongs to what I'm doing now,' but you used to be in a ska band. I can see The Strokes play or Franz Ferdinand play and it's real, and I haven't gotten that from The Bravery. I think people will see through them."

Flowers also explained that fellow bands are not the only ones trying to benefit from The Killers’ success, revealing that the band’s old drummer is now suing him.

The old sticksman wrote Flowers a "a really terrible e-mail" claiming to have written ‘Mr Brightside’.

"This guy who was in my band a long time ago is trying to sue us," he said. "We wrote 'Mr Brightside' a long, long time ago, when we had a different drummer. He had nothing to do with it, but his wife is a lawyer, so she just sent a letter to our lawyer. Wow. You always hear about people coming out of the woodwork once you get big, but this is ... wow."

The Killers are now planning a US tour, but have confirmed they have been working on new material.

"One new song is called 'Where Is She', it's got a great feel, some great harmonies on it. We didn't do enough harmonies on our first album, so you're gonna hear more of that on the second album — those Police-esque harmonies," Flowers explained. "And we're playing other new songs — 'Higher And Higher', 'Daddy's Eyes', 'It's Only Natural' — that will make it onto the second album. You can't drift too far off the first record, but these songs are what the new album will sound like. A bit more organic, with organs and pianos. We don't want to be 'that [synth] band' forever. We'll let someone else be that."

Sunday, 20 March 2005

plug in baby

Imagine a hen night hosted by Tracy Emin and soundtracked by Kathleen Hanna. Or a tea party with friends where all the waitresses are fembots. Imagine one candlelit evening spent sipping wine with your friends, listening to ladies on their laptops and dames behind the decks. Curated by electro-country chanteuse Piney Gir (née Angela Penhaligon) and occasional Chick on Speed and robotic humanoid Anat Ben David, Wired Women is a monthly night at the Spitz, showcasing all that’s delightful and deviant in lady-led machine-music.

When Piney and Anat played on the same bill at occasional avant-nighterie Kosmishe last year, it was, remembers Piney, ‘amazing. Here we were, women, doing our electronic thing, and the crowd just loved it. We realised that this was something special.’

In response they got together and organised the Fair Sex Fair at 93 Feet East, a day of short films and live music performed by them and their friends. The Spitz asked them to make the event monthly and in September the first Wired Women got plugged in.

Where the traditional electronica evening might stroke chins and furrow brows, Wired Women will drop jaws and twitch smiles. So it’s a bit different then. Piney explains, ‘We’re bridging the gap between art and rock’n’roll and we’re doing it with an awareness of a woman’s role in those worlds.’ Recent line-ups have seen solo outings for indie heroines Ann Shenton (Add N to X), Ana da Silva (ex-Raincoats) and Cosey Fanni Tutti (Throbbing Gristle), alongside performances by experimental young artists from across the globe. And of course the audience is occasionally treated to a set from one of the curators themselves.

‘We’re trying to push some boundaries here, to make people think, and challenge the listener to pay attention,’ says Piney, ‘I think it’s refreshing!’