voice on the verge #22: gemma ray
Back in 2003, my ritual fortnightly trawl around London’s secondhand record shops uncovered a promo album packaged somewhat haphazardly in chunky corrugated cardboard that begged to be snaffled and listened to: that album was The Gemma Ray Ritual’s Radiology, and by god it was good. Nothing seemed to come of the album, though, and I never heard of Gemma Ray or her Ritual again, until recently. Released in June, Gemma’s debut solo album The Leader was well received by music critics, who unanimously decided that it proved once and for all that even Essex girls get the blues, and that this Essex girl in particular infuses said blues with wonderful and unmistakable elements of pop and late-night soul. You can hear all those things in her new download-only single, ’Rise Of The Runts’ (out October 13th). Both a bittersweet love song and a call to arms, it’s set in a Pembrokeshire UFO hotspot, tips a hat to Larry David’s cult TV show ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ and comes with a video that’s more than just a little strange. By all means join the revolution, follow The Leader, just read on awhile to find out more about your new figurehead…
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What have you done today to make you feel proud?
Got dressed and left the house.
What is your most loved item of clothing and why is it so treasured?
A mini-dress made from a 1960s pattern by my mum from some curtains I found in a charity shop. It’s my lucky dress.
What was the last good book you read and how did it affect you?
Michael Faber’s ‘Under The Skin’. I can’t explain how it made me feel without ruining it. Read it!
Are you multi-lingual?
I’m trying to learn Welsh at the moment. ‘Hard Shoulder’ off my album is one-third Welsh! I really want to learn some more languages, there must be so many different phonetics I’m missing out on. English isn’t the most mellifluous of languages!
What’s the worst job you’ve ever worked and what was so bad about it?
A travel agents when I was 16. I got paid about £30 a week to get bullied, organise brochures in a cupboard and have my lips and nails forcibly painted bright red. (It was in Essex after all.) I really do hope the women from that shop are in the throes of a long and painful death right now. It put me off getting a job for life (maybe they done me a favour). My favourite was working in a sweet shop with my nan – E numbers and woodbines aplenty!
Do you have a tattoo?
Yes, across my back and on my foot and up my right leg. I got my first one when I was 17 but my foot hurt so bad I felt twisted for inflicting that much pain on myself.
What are your pet hates?
I don’t have any – I like all pets.
What’s your biggest fear?
What’s your favourite quote?
“Get in amongst it” – the Totally Tidy Tours twins.
What’s the biggest problem facing the world today and do you have any ideas on how it could be addressed?
I think that rationing meat could help a lot of important issues like famine, global warming and animal abuse.
What’s your tipple?
White wine if I wanna lose 2 days, Pernod and Coke if I’m playing it safe.
What were you like at school?
Shy but outspoken. I was a model pupil in English and art but I got thrown out of other classes I didn’t like. My friend Hannah was my best friend but I didn’t like anyone else my own age really. I couldn’t wait to leave at 15, I just couldn’t deal with it.
What did you want to be until you decided to become a musician…if you ever did ‘decide’ that is!
A nurse. that’s only other kind of thing I would want to give my life to, because you’re right in there at the crux of humanity for better or worse. Life and death – rock and roll, same principles. It was only a few years ago I applied for the forms but then I balied out. People fascinate me and I love old people especially. And I like the uniform. (But the Victorian ones are the best.)
Which female musicians have most inspired you?
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Patti Smith, Etta James, Odetta, Juliana Hatfield, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Sandy Denny, Edith Piaf…
Which artist would you most like to work with – your dream collaboration?
A male Welsh voice choir is my favourite fantasy at the moment. I’m hoping to get the Llanelli Male Voice Choir in on my next album.
What’s the biggest guilty pleasure in your record collection?
‘My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)’ by En Vogue, but I don’t feel guilty about it! My big sister had that record and I loved it. That’s where my obsession with harmonies began, I reckon.
Tell us about your favourite instrument…
My Harmony Rocket guitar. She’s got the fattest gulping tone you’ll ever hear – and she even sounds great just mic’ed up. I didn’t name her, it didn’t feel right, she’s far more superior than human sentiment.
Do you have an instrument you’d still like to learn? What’s stopping you?
Violin. I played from the age of 7-11 and done loads of grades and stuff, but then I discovered noisy guitars and that part of my brain died. But I really wanna learn again, it’s one of the few instruments that I would like to have lessons for, although most of the time I prefer making the wrong noise on the wrong instrument. I’m saving it ’til I’m 80 though, I reckon it’ll be an elegant instrument to play at that time in life.
What’s your favourite song to cover and why?
‘I Got A Crush On You’ by Ira and George Gershwin. The phrasing and depth of the melody make it my favourite a cappella indulgence that I’ve yet to inflict on anyone except the odd soundman!
If you had to pick one song from your repertoire to represent your entire body of work, which one would you choose and why?
Maybe ‘From The Teeth’ – recorded with a great band a few years back – just ‘cos it feels really gritty and visceral and I always used to feel like it summed up how I felt a lot of the time when I played it live. It’s on 7″ somewhere…
How would you describe your new single in 10 words or less?
The triumph of the underdog with The Ronettes on bv’s.
Would you rather see a ghost or simply have a piece of toast?
Definitely a ghost, toast freaks me out. Any ghost will do, I’m the only person in my family who hasn’t been visited by one yet.
Tick tock, tick tock. What you waiting, what you waiting for?
I’m not waiting, I’m doing.
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‘Rise Of The Runts’
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