Sunday, March 15, 2009


"Oh," said my roomate Maite, "do you know they are thinking of having you in the show?" And so it was that five hours before we were due to go on stage, I was asked to perform as part of the big show that they'd been heavily rehearsing for weeks. The reason for my last minute inclusion? The show fell 10 minutes short of the 50 minutes it needed to be. And so they'd looked around and seen that they already had the components of another song: a poet who hadn't yet earnt her keep and some 'idle' (yeah right) musicians.

Thus it was that at 10 am on Saturday myself, Yao the guzheng (chinese harp) player and Steve the violinist from the Urban Soul Orchestra took over one of the hotel's conference rooms. Normally it would be difficult to write, arrange, rehearse and rebalance the complicated components of a piece for voice, gusheng and violin, all in around 2 hours. Add to this the fact I'd never rehearsed or performed a poem to music before. But somehow we pulled it all together (musicians are amazing people - have you heard me say that before? I shall say it again. Musicians are amazing and talented people and they're good at making poets sound good.)

After a rushed brunch and catchup in town with friends Tom and Paul, I had myself waved through security and pushed my way importantly through the WOMAD plebs to the dressing room with my newly minted backstage/VIP pass. I'd borrowed a dress from the tour manager, Natasha,and 'borrowed' makeup from Maite. So I thought I was sorted - but I wasn't prepared for the attack of nerves that hit as I got up on stage for the sound check and noticed people were already reserving spots.

We were on the Brooklands stage, the second biggest stage of the festival, and by the time we hit the stage after a very busy and complex soundcheck, the crowd streched back beyond the trees - estimates range from 6,000 to 10,000 people. By this time I was feeling wheezy, nauseous and wondering if I should go take a precautionary shit. I wasn't the only one striding around backstage nervously waiting but I was probably the most surprised, as it had been a while since I was nervous before a performance. But this was WOMAD. This was BIG.

Luckily, despite disastrous visions of freezing on stage or having a vocal chord twang, I managed to pull the poem off and was surprised at the warm response afterwards. I'd really tried to 'act' my poem - there's this thing of inhabiting the 'character' of the poem, then of pushing your emotions out at the audience. Musicians do the same thing with their instruments - it's as if the brain inhabits your fingers. For me, I was pushing my mind out across that huge crowd while trying to ignore the fact they were a huge crowd. But really, it felt amazing, in retrospect. Probably the only time I'll ever feel like a rock star. And we even had a CD signing and media interviews afterwards!

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