Bacchus and The March Violets: An Interview with Rosie Garland

interview by jane ormerod

great weather's Jane Ormerod catches up with I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand contributor Rosie Garland.

Great Weather for Media vine
Great Weather for Media vine
Rosie Garland - March Violets
Rosie Garland - March Violets

JO: As lead vocalist of The March Violets, tell us a little about the band. I’m excited to realize I probably saw you support The Sisters of Mercy in Brighton in the early ‘80s.

RG: You saw us with The Sisters of Mercy in the 80s? Amazing! Along with The Sisters, The March Violets were one of the first drum-machine based bands of the 1980s, part of a Northern UK musical movement that had its roots well and truly in Punk. We were wild, grungy and goddam it, wore too much black. The Violets were unusual in that we had a male and a female singer fronting the band, my partner in crime being the incredibly talented lyricist Si Denbigh. The Violets Part 1 took a bow in 1986. Original members Si, Tom Ashton (guitars) and I kept loosely in touch over the years. In 2006 the loosely tightened up, and the rest is history. We decided to put on a Homecoming gig in 2007. It started as a one-off, but several things happened. Firstly, hundreds of people turned up, delighted to see us back on stage, none of them shy about showing their appreciation, and demanding that we did more gigs. Added to that, we realised we had new songs bursting out of us. In fact—our first album for 30 years has just been released: Made Glorious. Check the website for a download!

JO:  Novels, poetry, essays...When and why did you start? What is the link to your music career?

 RG: I've been writing and performing for as long as I can remember. There's not a time when I wasn't creating stories—in fact I have this little tin of miniature books I wrote for my dolls. As for performing, earliest performance memory is playing an Elf Queen in school at the age of five. I never looked back. That evolved into forming a band at the age of 15 with the other weird kids in my school. We played metal covers and were absolutely awful. The first song I ever sang onstage was Black Sabbath's Paranoid. I loved every minute.

JO:  You also perform under the name Rosie Lugosi. Who is this Rosie and how does she differ?

RG: Simply put, the ever-dastardly Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen is a stage persona, an alter-ego. Six foot tall in six-inch stilettos, clad in sparkly corset, top hat, fangs and hoisted cleavage, she gets to say all the things nice girls are not supposed to say, wear the things nice girls aren't supposed to wear. She's an exaggerated (honest!) part of me, but equally she isn't the whole. As you can imagine, she's quite demanding, so there's a clear demarcation line between how I am on-stage compared to off-stage. When Rosie Lugosi is put back in the dressing up box I re-emerge as Rosie Garland. Who is "me"—writer of novels and poetry and singer in The March Violets.

JO: You have one hell of a blockbuster poem in the recent great weather for MEDIA anthology I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand. What is the history of this work?

RG: Thank you! That's so encouraging, especially as it was rejected by a few publications. Bacchus (Michelangelo, Bargello) is an example of a poem that needed to find someone who "got" it. This is why I encourage fellow-writers not to be too discouraged by rejection. If one publication doesn't like your poem, it means that maybe it just hasn't found its right home yet. I was inspired by seeing Michelangelo's statue of Bacchus on a recent trip to Florence. It's quite something: he's a beautiful young man, staggering under the effects of one too many amphoras of wine. It also matters that he was created by a gay artist. Bacchus being the god of drunkenness, I imagined talking to him on the morning after the night before, and him telling me about his massive hangover.

JO: We have a terrific event at The Castle Hotel in Manchester on Thursday January 29th 2015. What can the audience expect from you and the other performers—BigCharlie Poet, Cathy Bryant, Maya Chowdhry, Jackie Hagan, Kieren King, Sarah Miller, Steph Pike, Gerry Potter, and Rebecca Audra Smith?

RG: Manchester is blessed with an amazing variety of fantastically talented spoken word artists. Time constraints mean that we can only showcase a small selection on the 29th—but the audience can expect a smorgasbord of tasty spoken word and poetry. And all in the wonderful atmosphere of The Castle Hotel on Oldham Street in the Northern Quarter. We’ll be in the recently rediscovered original nineteenth century performance space at the back of the pub.

JO: As a frequent visitor to New York City, how does the spoken word scene here compare to that in the UK?

RG: As mentioned above, Manchester is home to a thriving spoken word / literary / musical / theatrical / performance scene and it's great to make links with such an artistically vibrant city as New York. Long may that continue and grow. Added to that, NYC just happens to be one of my favourite cities on the planet. Personally, I love poems that make a connection. Style is far less important than the poet's ability to reach me with their story, without getting preachy or shouty. Poetry is universal, which is why I love it so much.

JO: Any advice for new and emerging poets and writers? Is there anything you wish you’d been told?

 RG: Write from passion, rather than a desire to be rich and famous. Write because you need to tell your stories, whatever they are. Write, even when people tell you no-one wants to listen. Especially when people tell you no-one wants to listen. Someone out there loves your work. Maybe they just haven't seen it yet. So keep sending it out into the world. Like I said above, not everyone "likes" my poem Bacchus. I don’t expect them to. All that matters is that it finds the folk who do. In addition, writing can feel very lonely. When it comes down to it, it's you, on your own, in a room with a pencil. So make links with other writers. Go to readings, support the writing community. Talk and share with each other. Get all the feedback you can to make your writing as good as it possibly can be. And keep going!

JO: Finally, what’s next for Rosie Garland? 

Rosie Garland
Rosie Garland

RG: My second novel, Vixen, is out in paperback in February 2015 (HarperCollins UK). Set in the south west of England at the time of the 1349 Plague, it tells how a mysterious visitor turns the lives of the villagers upside down. After that, a USA tour with The March Violets. In 2014 we toured the West Coast from Seattle to LA—the plan is to head to the East Coast in 2015. Keep an eye on our website! Plus, I’m working on my next novel. It's at that early stage where it's an unwieldy heap of words and I go through phases of thinking that it's complete rubbish. Luckily I am working with a very encouraging editor. Like I said above, make links with other creative folk. Check out www.rosiegarland.com—I’m already looking forward to getting back to NYC as soon as I can!

Rosie Garland in The March Violets  photo credit: Neil Chapman / Unholy Racket

Rosie Lugosi photo credit: Holly Fairclough

Rosie in Whitby photo credit: Rachel Saunders

great weather for MEDIA Spoken Word Extravaganza featuring BigCharlie Poet, Cathy Bryant, Maya Chowdhry, Rosie Garland, Jackie Hagan, Kieren King, Sarah Miller, Jane Ormerod, Steph Pike, Gerry Potter, and Rebecca Audra Smith. 

THURSDAY JANUARY 29TH 2015

The Castle Hotel, 66 Oldham Street, Manchester M4 1LE

7:30 pm

FREE! 

Full info, bios, directions

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Submissions for great weather for MEDIA’s anthologies  open October 15  to January 15 each year.