Bullshit LGBTQ+ Music

The f*ggot debate

It’s that time of year again: straight people demanding the right to sing and play the uncensored version of Fairytale of New York, which contains a homophobic slur.

Huw Lemmey did an excellent piece about it last year:

Well, this is it, from now on. Like the War on Christmas, the faggot debate is set to become a perennial staple of the culture war. Every year column inches will be devoted to it, thinkpieces like this one will be written, people will become more polarised on the issue, and more and more straight people will gleefully sing about faggots, not because they hate queer people but because they’ll be damned if they’ll be told what to do by the ‘woke’ left. Meanwhile more and more queer people will be reminded of those people who do hate them, and everyone will trust each other a little less and the world will get a little bit shittier for everyone. We need, as a culture, to break out of this loop. The problem is, we won’t, until it’s too late.

As for me, I don’t care if you, as a straight person, do or don’t sing the lyric about the faggot, but I would like to live in a society where you’re not desperate to. 


Never boring

I think Pet Shop Boys are one of the greatest singles bands of all time, and I’ve long been drawn to their mix of melancholy and euphoria. Their 1987 chart-topper It’s A Sin remains one of the strangest, most rewarding pop songs ever to reach number one in the UK chart.

It’s also a hell of a record for a confused teenager who’s battling with their identity:

When I look back upon my life
it’s always with a sense of shame
I’ve always been the one to blame
For everything I long to do
no matter when or where or who
has one thing in common too

It’s a sin

Oh man, the times I’ve cried to that one.

If you’re tired of overly worthy rock memoirs, Chris Heath’s two books about Pet Shop Boys touring – Literally and Pet Shop Boys Versus America – are wonderful, waspish and hilarious.

Singer Neil Tennant was a huge influence on me – he was a journalist for Smash Hits, my very favourite magazine – and he coined the term “imperial phase” to describe the temporary period in an artist’s career when they can do no wrong and create incredible things.

Depending on who you ask, the Pet Shop Boys’ imperial phase ended when they released Behaviour. But others think that album was their peak. It certainly included one of their very greatest songs.Writing for The Quietus, Fergal Kinney does a deep dive into a dense, divisive album 30 years after its release.

Show me your Beatles, show me your Bowie, and I will show you ‘Being Boring’. A masterpiece, to be sure, but also something more elusive than that. Entering the charts at 36, ‘Being Boring’ eventually climbed to 20, but its legacy wouldn’t be measured in chart success. It became, for many, a song of a lifetime, and for a generation of LGBT people an essential and early monument to a senseless tragedy.

I’ve seen Pet Shop Boys live a few times and Being Boring makes me cry every time. Just writing about it now has choked me up. It’s a beautiful sad song.

The track’s impressive vocabulary (cache, trepidation, haversack) belies a simply structured lyric – a three act drama that begins with Dowell and Tennant’s childhood, takes in their move to London and ends, as Tennant explained to the Guardian, “looking back at what’s happening, and I’m doing what I’m doing, and he’s dead”. Of course, part of the song’s enduring hold is its resonances well beyond gay life. It looks at the biggest of themes – friendship, loss, the passage of time. Anyone who’s life has involved some degree of escape, some degree of self-actualisation can’t fail to be grabbed a little too tightly by lines such as “I never dreamt that I would get to be/ The creature that I always meant to be.”


Dele Fadele RIP

There’s a lovely and very sad obituary of the late NME writer Dele Fadele in The Guardian. Fadele was an extraordinary writer and the obituary demonstrates how much of an impact he had on people. He certainly had an impact on me: in the 80s and 90s the music press was a lifeline for me, and writers such as Fadele were mesmerising.

The article notes that the decline of the music press, never particularly well paid or suited to longevity, left Fadele with increasing financial problems – he “wasn’t a good salesperson, which is what you have to be to survive as a freelance”; the post-NME success of many ex-writers, few of whom could hold a candle to the likes of Fadele, proves that point.

It’s a hard industry to work in, harder still if you have mental health problems, and it’s a terrible shame to read of Fadele’s worsening health. He was a tremendous writer and by all accounts, a really lovely man who “had the best hugs”. The world’s a sadder place without him.

LGBTQ+ Music

The ego has landed

I’ve always considered myself to be terribly shy. That probably seems weird given that for most of my adult life I’ve been the singer in bands, but performing in front of people was always something I felt forced to do, not something I wanted to do. That’s because I had terrible stage fright, stage fright that sometimes made me physically sick hours before setting off for a venue.

I had the same stage fright in radio studios even after years of doing shows. A different studio or a different presenter would bring the icy-stomach terror right back, as would the slightest hint of a camera: I’m fairly comfortable in front of a microphone but I’m incredibly camera shy.

Not any more.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been the subject of a professional photo shoot, performed in front of cameras for two live-streamed concerts, played some solo songs for a radio session and made a complete fool of myself in front of multiple cameras as my band was filmed for a live video.

It’s been brilliant.

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun.

That’s quite odd, I think. You’d think that as a trans person who really hates their body and how they look the last thing I’d want is to be filmed or photographed. And if I’m honest, I’m not mad keen on seeing the results of the filming or the photography. But I am very much enjoying being filmed and being photographed while I wave my guitar around like I used to wave a badminton racket in my bedroom while pretending I was playing Top of The Pops. It’s as if I’ve spent years pretending to be a recluse like Enya when I was Bono all along.

I think a big part of this is that since coming out, I’ve stopped caring what other people think. That’s partly a survival mechanism – if I worried about what other people might think of me, I’d never leave the flat – but it’s also profoundly liberating. Instead of stage fright I have nervous, puppyish excitement; instead of trying to act cool I’m quite happy to make a complete arse of myself.

And I think that’s a very visible demonstration of where my head’s at right now. I’m more confident than I was, more comfortable in my own skin, less fearful and less apologetic.

In one of the songs we filmed yesterday, “I could never be your girl”, I sing this. And I mean it.

I belong right here, I’m a woman on a mission
I’m not looking for approval 
and I don’t need your permission


LGBTQ+ Music

Come to the fringe

I’ll be joining the line-up of this excellent online music, spoken word and visual arts event on Sunday. I don’t know all the other performers but the ones I do know are brilliant.

This Sunday… @LGBTHealthy and @SomewhereEDI present Queer Fringe – Supporting and celebrating LGBTQ+ artists in Scotland in 2020 and beyond. 15 featured artists! #SomewhereAtTheFringe #SomewhereForUs

Tickets are free from Eventbrite.


Lessons learnt

I volunteer with SWIM, a charity dedicated to equality in music, and their latest wheeze is called Swimspire: members are asked to share any key lessons they’ve learnt, and I’m one of the members they asked.

My four aren’t specifically for music, as I think they apply to work generally:

  • The smartest, most talented people I know have terrible impostor syndrome. Don’t let it limit you.
  • Say yes to the things that scare you. They often turn out to be the best things.
  • Know your worth. Don’t accept toxic behaviour and don’t be the only person in the room who isn’t getting paid.
  • Be the person others want to work with, not the one they whisper about.

Songs from lockdown

One of the things that helped keep me sane during lockdown was writing and performing music, and the Songs From Lockdown project was a big part of that: each week, songwriters would give the group a challenge and we’d go and write songs based on that challenge.

You can listen to all the tracks here, and the first section is a handy selection of highlights. One of my songs, St Luke’s Steps, is included in it.

HAVR · St Luke’s Steps

I like this song a lot: it’s about the transformative power of friendship, and fittingly for a song from a lockdown group it’s about meeting my best friend when lockdown finally allowed that to happen. It’s more of a colour piece than a story: I’m trying to paint a picture of a moment in time. The fact that it’s reminiscent of Glasgow’s famously atmospheric The Blue Nile is entirely deliberate.

What I liked about the group was the way in which it encouraged everyone to think differently. For example, St Luke’s Steps was from a challenge to write about a colour, hence the line “red wine the colour of the dye in our hair”. That was enough to give me the shape of the song I wanted to write.

Here’s another one, No Ties That Bind. The challenge here was to write from somebody else’s perspective, so I chose to inhabit the head of a father disowning his LGBT+ child. It’s not exactly full of laughs but I’m really pleased with the lyrics – “I walk away from my mistakes / I consider you the worst one I ever made… I can’t love what you became / you turned your back on me when you changed the name I gave” – and the vocal.

HAVR · No Ties That Bind

I did a playlist of all my various contributions, which you can find here. They’re all over the shop musically (deliberately): glam rock, goth, jaunty acoustic and even rap. Because of the time constraints, some of them aren’t quite there but some are close to being finished releases; I’m planning to rerecord and release one of them, Got You In My Bones, on our next EP: it’s possibly the most joyful, most pop thing I’ve ever written and it makes me smile and dance around the flat.

HAVR · Got You In My Bones

Why some people can’t sing

I’m a great believer that almost anybody can sing: it’s more of a craft than an art and the more you do it, the better you get. I stumbled across this 2011 piece, which suggests I’m wrong about 5% of people.

NBC News: Why some of us are terrible singers

[A] study found that anywhere from 40 to 62 percent of non-musicians were poor singers, a rate much higher than shown in previous research.

It also found that roughly 20 percent of people can’t sing accurately because they don’t have good control of their vocal muscles. Another 35 percent of poor singers have trouble matching the pitch of their own voice to the same sound heard in other timbres, such as when it’s coming from a trumpet, piano, or a person of the opposite sex. And 5 percent of lousy singers lack the ability to hear differences in pitch or discriminate between two different sounds.


An American icon

Dolly Parton (image: Billboard)

Billboard has published an interesting profile of Dolly Parton, who Wikipedia describes as “an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, actress, author, businesswoman, and humanitarian”. That’s selling her short. She’s an incredible talent, incredibly generous and quite clearly the smartest person in any room.

NME profiled her in 2017:

A ferocious talent who grew up in dire poverty alongside her 11 siblings in a tiny two-room shack, she became – and remains – a powerful entertainment force, as well as a quietly but subversively political one.

Sure, there are the 43 albums, seven Grammys, global record sales of over 100 million, stints as an actress and author and even her own theme park, but she’s also an LGBTQ icon and renowned philanthropist, putting money back into her beloved community and endorsing a whole host of charitable causes. Her theme park, Dollywood, isn’t just a hillbilly Alton Towers; it was built to bring industry to the area she grew up in and create jobs in one of the poorest parts of the United States. Her Imagination Library project has helped to promote child literacy since 1995 by giving over a million free books to kids across the world.

The Billboard piece is primarily about her business empire (Billboard is of course a magazine for and about the music industry) but it’s yet more evidence of what an extraordinary person she is.


“You’re a superhero but some days are Kryptonite”

The final track on our new Messengers EP is called Time Will Put Your Enemies In The Ground. I swithered about releasing a song with that title in the current climate, where body counts are so awful we don’t talk about them any more, but I think people are intelligent enough to understand that the song has nothing to do with what’s going on in the wider world.

Time… is a song of solace for someone going through a hard time.

HAVR · Time Will Put Your Enemies In The Ground

The title was inspired by the famous misquote: “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure”. It’s a good line and often credited to Mark Twain, but the actual words are  slightly different. They’re by the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow. In 1932 he wrote:

All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.

If you’ve ever been bullied or suffered other kinds of cruelty you’ll know the feeling of wishing another human dead. I wanted to take that dark thought and make it into a promise: you will survive this and you will leave your tormentors far behind.

Like a lot of our songs it’s partly autobiographical, and it’s connected to the opening track, Animal. Both songs are about being dehumanised and demonised, but where Animal is about defying hatred Time… is about surviving it.

Lyrically Time… has a lot in common with A Moment of Clarity from our first EP: it’s acknowledging the pain someone feels – “Some days feel like you’re drowning on dry land / the weight so heavy on your shoulders you can barely stand” – and promising them that they will not always feel so sad. “Time will turn everything around / time will put your enemies in the ground.”