FEATURE LOUISE RENNISON
Alastair Mabbott meets LOUISE RENNISON, whose . reminiscences of the 605 and 703 have already supplied her With material for two one-woman shows.
have had a lot of press people pick up
on the groupie thing — “Well, you
slept with so-and-so” — and I did have
some kind of liaisons with relatively
famous people. But the point is it
wasn’t really like that. They were accessible, and anybody thought they could be like they were. Everybody purported to be an artist of one type or another, everybody that I knew anyway, and actually had quite a good chance of becoming one in’ those times.’
It took Louise Rennison longer than some, but she’s a performer of growing stature, treading the boards at this year’s Fringe with her autobiographical one-woman show Stevie Wonder Felt My Face - part two, Bob Marley’s Gardener Sold My Friend, has already been seen down south — and recording it for BBC Scotland’s Edinburgh Nights.
Stevie Wonder Felt My Face starts off in Leeds in the 605, with a working-class family emigrating to New Zealand, ‘just when things were most exciting here’ , and charts young Louise’s return to Britain in 1969, when she settled in North London.
‘In the course of it, I accidentally come across some quite well-known people. Partly because it was that sort of era, when I lived in Notting Hill Gate and it was very easy. You know, Bryan Ferry lived around the comer, and I used to follow him into the Chemist’s to see what kind of cosmetics he bought — spot cream, actually — and the Stones and all that. It was very easy to go to parties where they happened to be.’
Into her life and, therefore, her art, strolled such luminaries as Ferry, Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, Pete Townshend, Honor Blackman, Tim Currie and Stevie Wonder-who, being ‘almost a
16 The List 28 August — 10 September 1992
contemporary’ of Rennison’s, was already something of a hero. Their introduction came courtesy of a journalist friend who in the show goes under the name of Scoop.
‘He said a friend of his was in Stevie Wonder’s backing band and they were having a party in the Kensington Hilton and Stevie would be there. However, when we got there, it was obvious that this guy had no idea who Scoop was. Anyway, we got in and it was full of people hanging out and smoking dope and it was very embarrassing because they thought I was kind of “the chick” — brought up for the lads — and I don’t think they were very keen!’ she laughs. ‘That made it even worse! So Stevie wanted to be introduced to me and that is how he felt my face. Lingered rather too long on my nose, I thought.
‘It wasn’t a big deal, really,’ she says, attempting to deﬂate the accusations of shameless social climbing which will no doubt be levelled at her. ‘There’ll be people who’ll say, “I lived in Notting Hill and Shepherd’s Bush and I never met so and so.” But it’s a mixture of accident and availability, and interest. Was I pushy? No, I don’t think I cared, really. I think that was the key to it.’
The rock-star shindig era was followed by a geographical spreading of wings, involving adventures like a trip to Jamaica, the scene of the Bob Marley’s gardener incident, and a ‘female Jack Kerouac’ trek across America.
Then, after a spell in journalism, Rennison found a place as a mature student on an Expressive Arts course in Brighton.
‘It was a very 60$ course: we spent a lot of time changing into insects and doing fire performances outside. So when I came out of college. I did performance-based things like The National Review Of Live Art. It
was interesting sometimes, but I got fed up of seeing naked men wrap themselves in cellophane. There were certain recurring themes you didn’t ever want to see again. It kind of metamorphosed from that into a cabaret group called Women With Beards, a rather strident feminist group. This was around ’86, ’87, and we wore DM5 and beards. It was a laugh, but I didn’t fancy soapboxing it any more. Ironically, one of the girls left to get married!’
Stevie Wonder Felt My Face and the sequel had their genesis at a dinner party where she and some old girlfriends began to reminisce.
‘I can’t remember the actual anecdote, but none of us could believe that we’d all been so dim. It was something like . . .’ Rennison lets slip the name of a well-known journalist, which can’t be repeated here. ‘He was an artist, supposedly, and this friend of mine ended up going round to his house so that he could paint her naked, and she was telling us about the things he got her to do. And this girl must have been in her 203, and we couldn’t believe we were so dim that we would fall for all this. I’d been round to some complete stranger’s house, this girlfriend and I had done psychedelic dancing. He painted us with body paint and we did this in his front room.’ She shakes with laughter. ‘And he told us it was some sort of exhibition, I don’t know. We never saw him again.’
Times have changed, and people with it. Rennison was depressed by the lack of radicalism she saw in the students in Brighton, and their pessimism compared to how she’d felt when she was their age. And the people she used to bump into at North London parties have changed too.
‘They’re all so precious now. So middle-class. Mick Jagger. Bryan Ferry — Christ! Everybody seems to get straight with age, don’t they?’
Does that worry her?
‘Yeah, actually. I mean, I don’t care what choices people make, but they tend to make
‘Stevie (Wonder) wanted to be introduced to me, and that is how he felt my face. Lingered rathertoo long on my nose, I
it the rule, which is a bit boring for everybody else.‘
Fame itself, she claims, has never particularly fascinated her, but she would like her shows to succeed for the opportunities it would give her and her writing partner James Poulter to have their scripts taken more seriously. Having the attention of the media and public to be able to ‘say good things’ ranks far above mere celebrity.
‘I used to feel,’ she concludes, ‘that telling stories about your life was a bit indulgent when there’s so much else going on, but it does cheer people up. It’s connecting with other human beings, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.’
Stevie Wonder Felt My Face (Fringe) Louise Rennison, Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) 226 2428, 28—30Aug, 4pm, £7 (£6); 31 Aug—5 Sep, 4pm, £6 (£5). It is also broadcast on BBC2 on 28 Aug.