Tonight the show Biding Time (Remix) comes to Eden Court in Inverness. It was back in 2012, that A Band Called Quinn came up with the much-praised multimedia show with theatre director Ben Harrison, who is co-artistic director of Scottish theatre company Grid Iron. The show is a take of its own – using the band’s singer Louise Quinn’ experience of being signed to a major record label while she was still very young – on Pippa Bailey’s global theatre project called Biding Time, looking at the experience of women in the entertainment industry. The band has also released a single with a video which includes footage from the show which features silent disco headphones and a big white rabbit... Below Louise Quinn, the singer and frontwoman of the band, talks about the show and what she is also working on outside the show.
Q What are you doing today?
Louise: "I’m going to work with some seven to 10 year olds in Springburn – they are super-talented. Their imaginations are incredible, so it’s always fun. But I always have to have chocolate after it!
"But I do lots of songwriting projects with lots of different groups. I did a programme called Aspiring Women and it was run by Jobs And Business Glasgow. It was with young women from the North of Glasgow and they were just trying to build up their confidence and self esteem. It has been so successful – and it has been brilliant to be part of that. To see the progress of these young women and write songs with them as well – they really get that format of the pop song and really engage with it and loved the chance to put their words out there. Then – it’s great – you put the songs up on Soundcloud on the internet and that challenges other people’s perceptions of these young women.
"I take them into the studio at Gorbals Sound – it’s New Rhythms for Glasgow that I work with. We take them into a studio and that is a brilliant experience as well. They have the headphones on, they are all round the mike. I guess because I have been so used to recording and performing for most of my life, I forget how daunting it is. The girls are quite terrified at first but soon they really love it. They start going ‘We have to sing as a group!’ and then they are elbowing each other out of the way by the end!"
Q It sounds as if it is all different from your own early experiences as a singer?
Louise: "I’d only played 10 gigs with my band and I was very young when we were snapped up by Sony. At that point, you think you’ve won the lottery, but what they don’t tell you is that 99 per cent of people who get to that stage – fail.
"It’s the only industry that has a 99 per cent fail rate.
"I’d never flown before and I remember us landing at Norway and smelling the Spanish moss and thinking ‘This isn’t East Kilbride!’.
"It was a total rollercoaster and it was a pretty amazing experience too. But I was quite damaged afterwards.
"I guess that’s the part of all those kind of processes, like X Factor and everything. People don’t see the damage left behind or see the people that are discarded. So Biding Time (Remix) is very literally based on that, though I can’t remember a giant white rabbit being around ..."
Q How did you put the show together – and where did the white rabbit come from?
Louise: "We were working from Pippa Bailey’s original idea. I said to Pippa that I liked her script. For her, it’s not about writing a great play, for her it’s more about activism and exploring roles for women and the environment. Also drawing attention to poorer parts of the world within theatre and making it more inclusive – those are Pippa’s aims. So when she approached me with her play, I said ‘I like it but I’d like to take this idea and just mash it up and remix it – just take the themes really’.
"But there was a rabbit that ran through her script. Just one stage direction – ‘A giant rabbit passes through’.
"So when we were devising the show with the director Ben Harrison, we realised that – having to overcome all these hurdles – we thought it would be good if there was a character who could represent tdifferent stages and to be there to lead the character on. You’re never quite sure if he’s the heroine’s friend. He’s quite playful, but you never know whose bidding he’s doing. Or whose side he’s on, he’s very ambiguous. It’s a really demanding role for the actor because he’s having to reflect all the characters coming up onscreen as well as all the other stuff he’s got to do – and it’s quite a warm costume as well.
"I guess ultimately he is a side of the main character as well – almost the other side to her. "
Q Is that you Louise in the "bunny ballerina" costume in the poster?
Louise: Yes, the bunny ballerina is. When we were shooting the pictures that day, we were on a piece of land with a castle on it in Ayrshire where Mary Queen Of Scots stayed. We had an actress dressed as a ballet dancer, but we’d done so much that day that I thought ‘I can’t ask her to do more, I will have to get the costume on myself!’.
But it’s a great image.
"When I write songs, I just hear everything as it should be. So for this show, I was getting the watercolours out and sketching the costumes and all the characters. Then the costume lady was saying ‘You’ve done all my work for me!’.
But it was brilliant because I just gave them the watercolours and the costume people and make-up people just created everything. For the poster, I just thought ‘It has to tell people it’s a bunny ballerina and she’s in a field’ and I think people thought I’d just lost it by then.! It’s quite good to see the poster.
"For the show, we did a filming shoot in a valley – where the rabbit is walking down a path. It’s near the A83, beside The Rest And Be Thankful at Glen Crow. There’s a private bit just over a mile long, so the rabbit starts walking from up at the top.
"There’s a burger van up there – the man that day gave us some free burgers – but there were loads of tourists getting off buses to take pictures and we were doing the rabbit shot at that point. I thought ‘They will be thinking this is what happens in Scotland’."
Q Is it hard getting the full Biding Time (Remix) production on the road?
Louise: "We are able to recreate the whole thing, though it is quite complicated and it has been difficult trying to replicate each set at each venue on the tour so people have the whole experience. They can walk around the set – and the audience all have silent disco head sets on. It has been used in performance pieces before, but not with a band. It’s a silent gig in a theatre context."
Q What has been the response to the show since it was first seen?
Louise: "It’s been amazing! The first night we did it we got four star reviews straight away and the audience thought it was amazing I think because it was so immersive and because it is based on real experience. People seemed to really connect with it. Women said to us ‘I’ve been here before, trying to get somewhere in a man’s world, it’s harder and you’ve got to overcome those hurdles’.
"But I think everyone can relate to that journey of chasing a dream and maybe not quite getting what you want, but getting what you need.
"I guess it’s got a lot of heart. I mean literally – there’s a lamb’s heart in it! We’re just waiting to get them delivered and I’m not looking forward to it!
"On paper it sounds as if it’s going to be a complete mess of a show, but at the heart of it, it’s got a lot of integrity and I think that is what people connect with. We’ve had an amazing response from all age groups – including young people, who have grown up with the whole X Factor culture.
"I go into primary schools and at first they think ‘Oh, who’s that loser?’
"Then I play them one of our songs, The Glimmer Song, which was used as an STV advert. They see the video and it’s like ‘You’re on STV!’.
"I feel as if I own STV after that.
"Then they are like ‘What can you help me do?’ then next thing it’s ‘Can you make me famous?’.
"And we go ‘No, we’re going to write a song’. It’s good fun and they enjoy doing it, not because Simon Cowell is going to step out of a cupboard and say ‘It’s YOU, you’re going to be next!’."
Q You were in an art performance group as well as a band in the early days?
Louise: "The last time we were up at Eden Court is when it all started because we did a show called Club Tromolo which was like a cabaret. It had all these different characters like Jazz Badger – a badger playing jazz, a psychic and Frank Percy who oversaw the club. I went to the Conservatoire – or RSAMD (Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) as it was called then – and was signed to the record label when I was there. I was due to go into my third year so I was already on this journey.
"The whole thing with being signed to Sony happened and that was an intense coupled of years. After that I came out the other side and thought ‘What am I going to do now?’.
"But all the time I had been working with Mischief La Bas who were a surrealist interventionist company who did performance, things like The Cleaning Elvis Company, so my brain got hard-wired for nonsense!
"I couldn’t do anything straight like straight music or anything! This surreal thing has to come into it.
"Their motto is ‘Gently warping the underlay of society’.
"We knew lots of people who worked for Mischief and had lots of ideas. We started doing Club Tromolo and it just evolved into quite a crazy night, quite legendary now."
Q You have drag king Diane Torr taking part in the show?
Louise: "Diane Torr will not be there, but is in the film She is amazing and is also in our latest video as well which includes footage from the show and is called Forget About It. It’s got lots of characters from the show in it – and a couple of bunny ballerinas as well. Diane’s great and does some brilliant dancing.
"When we were writing the show, this Mr Big the record label boss character came up and he was an amalgamation of lots of people around during the time I was signed to Sony.
"I just thought ‘Diane Torr has to play this guy’.
"She had been involved in Club Tromolo and I’m glad we got her on board because she totally makes the show. The show isn’t preachy or telling people what to think, but there is a big theme about the experience of women.
Q How did you come across Pippa Bailey (whose original show Biding Time inspired the Remix version)?
Louise: "She was at a conference with Matt Linton from Vanishing Point and we had done Beggar’s Opera. Matt was telling Pippa all about that and she said ‘I have to get in touch with Louise’. So she did.
"It’s funny, our bass player has still never been to see anything at the theatre, but he’s been in two shows. All our actor friends are up in arms.’We can’t get any work but he’s in all these shows’.
"It’s funny the path we’ve taken, from being a band at gigs to doing all this crazy stuff."
Q You were also part of the Lyceum’s Beggar’s Opera production that proved quite controversial – was it fun to do?
Louise: "It was quite scary because although I had been to drama school, I hadn’t done any acting on stage – I’d done stuff with Mischief La Bas, but I was writing those scripts as I went along. But to do something like, this is what is supposed to happen – ‘You’re supposed to be here saying this!’, that was quite scary.
"I think Matt Linton (the director from avant garde theatre company Vanishing Point) took a bit of a risk using us and obviously it was hugely controversial. Some people reviewed it with one star, five from others. And it got the most reviews ever on the Lyceum website with people going ‘This is outrageous’ or ‘I absolutely love this’.But I think that is why they asked Matt to do it, to rock things up a wee bit – and he certainly did that!"
Q Biding Time (Remix) director Ben Harrison directed a play up here called Factor 9 by the Dogstar Theatre Company, what is he like to work with?
Louise: He’s very well respected and anyone I’ve known who works with Ben has huge amounts of admiration for him. He had been interested in Pippa’s project for quite a while. We met and I think he wmight have been a bit worried about the production, but I said: "I’m fom the music world, so if it goes really wrong we’re off the hook!"
Q Being aware of that, does that spur you on to prove something?
Louise: "I’m quite like that I’m quite contrary, it gets me in a lot of trouble. I’ve always doing things to make life more difficult than it is."
Q Ian Rankin wrote the notes for the Beggar’s Opera production you did, any plans to work with him again?
Louise: "We met him last year. He is a great supporter of Scottish bandsand yesterday he was retweeting stuff for us, helping promote us. He saw us play at the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh as well. I was surprised when someone was asking Ian at a writers’ group what he listened to and he mentioned our new album. I keep trying to convince him to do some spoken word for us – I think that would be really good."
Q Does Biding Time have a life beyond the tour – are you doing it anywhere else?
Louise: "It’s been selected for Made In Scotland and we’ve been invited to go to New York, but that depends on funding. I am doing a five-minute piece for The Great Yes No Debate which I think will be quite controversial. I look forward to shaking things up with that. I’m not sure when it’s going to be broadcast – and I’m not sure whether I’m going to be doing it live!
"The band’s playing at the Kelvingrove Gardens as part of the Commonwealth Games. We’re doing a completely unplugged gig with Kelvingrove Theatre, in complete contrast to the tour. And I think I’ve got another songwriting project with some of the young women from the north of Glasgow – it will be with the Glasgow Girls Club set up in Maryhill."
Biding Time (Remix) is on tonight (Friday) at Eden Court at 8pm. To see more, go to the website: www.bidingtimeremix.com