Gemma Kali

Part One: Of Tiny Keys and Big Dreams

When I was three years old my parents bought me my first musical instrument: a very small, red, wooden toy piano. I think it had about a dozen keys on it. I loved it - I would pick out the tunes to nursery rhymes on it (apparently), which I'd then play on the full-sized piano at my grandparents' house whenever we visited them. Once I'd learnt to read and write I spent a lot of time writing stories and poetry, and so it wasn't until the age of eleven that I actually started going to piano lessons. At my lessons I learnt scales and classical pieces; then I'd go home and practise Jean Genie, Maybe I'm a Leo and Ride a White Swan on an old electric guitar with no electrics in it. Which is probably a metaphor for something.
From the age of thirteen I started having guitar lessons. My guitar teacher was a terminal blues addict and without doubt one of the biggest influences on my playing style. During my early teens I was pretty much into anything as long as it had a guitar in it: Deep Purple, T Rex, Black Sabbath, Queen, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Marilyn Manson... you get the idea. Weirdly, though, my first proper musical collaboration sounded more jazz/blues than anything else. A friend from school with a great jazz-style voice would sing songs that we'd written during lunch break, while I nervously strummed guitar chords as accompaniment. I think we only ever performed once, at some music event in our third year. Difficult to say how it went, really. I don't remember any booing though (I'm lookin' at you, Mr. Lewis! Just kidding). I played guitar in my first proper band - there were four of us - about six months after that. Incidentally this was also the first time I worked with Alex Rainbow (he was our drummer, in case you were wondering). We'd meet in one of the music practice rooms in school and play the same cover over and over again. I'm too ashamed to name this cover. There were three-part harmonies involved, for chrissake! Get me drunk (please) and I might tell you. Or just ask Alex (please don't).

Part Two: Of Confusion and Malcontent

Anyways, a string of quite fun but not very successful bands were to follow over the next few years, during which time I was caught between arrogant boyfriends, feuding bandmates and well-meaning but interfering family members, not to forget my own indecisiveness which meant that I allowed myself to be buffeted by other people's opinions. Looking back, I should've just told them all to sod off. I was fed up with the bickering, the constant line-up changes and they way we never seemed to do anything in rehearsals. There were a couple of gigs in amongst all this, which was alright, but that elusive "something" that makes a group more than a fumbling collective of noisy teenagers - the intangible spark that makes a band - just wasn't there. I was frustrated with the way things were (or rather weren't) going, and I didn't know how to fix it. When you find yourself clinging to the few memories of those times when the music actually made you feel good, it's time to do something else.

Part Three: Of Starting Again... and then starting again

Finally, then, I cocked two fingers up at it all and went to uni. During the Christmas party in my first year, I got talking to a second-year called Duncan who, as it transpired, was a drummer. He was currently jamming with a singer-songwriter-guitarist that he'd met at a London rock club; they were sounding like Bon Jovi and looking for a keyboardist. Hmm, I thought, not just another guitar band. I can play piano; how hard can it be? So I went along to audition. I hung around outside North Acton underground station with Duncan for a good half an hour, clutching my keyboard (which, not having a case for it at the time, I had wrapped in two black bin-bags to keep the rain off). Eventually, a very short blond thing ambled up to us, wearing flares and a motheaten band T-shirt (yeah, if moths come in resin form) and carrying a guitar. I turned round and looked into the most dilated pupils I have ever seen on anything still upright. The little stoner was of course Graham. Over the next year we said goodbye to Duncan (and Bon Jovi), got Alex in and (after a succession of bassists) settled on the drummer's little brother, Ed. I found myself playing the guitar more and the keyboard less, and revelled in making both instruments sound as bizarre as possible.

Part Three-Ay: Bonus Musings

Every time I think we may have settled into a genre, something happens to change it all once again - someone's personal angst; a fleeting romance with Eighties' hair-metal; the singer's sudden obsession with hip hop; a drummer getting tabla for his birthday - which (for us, anyway) is a great way for a band to be. When (such as now) I am forced to consider the state of our collective influences, I am put in mind of a sort of primal soup set to simmer (you never know what might bubble up to the surface if you watch for long enough). I'm listening to Motley Crue one day and Flamenco the next - I scold moths for flying too close to the light - I write poems about Locust Overlords and being a bun (which would've been on the last album if it weren't for Graham banning it, the bastard!) - and I think that everything makes some kind of sense somehow, even if you have to look at it sideways.


Pink Floyd
Just when I thought they couldn't get any weirder, someone plays me "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict".

Marcus Aurelius
Roman Emperor during the second century CE. Also a philosopher. Very rare combination, that.

Gaius Valerius Catullus
Roman poet of the first century BCE. Displayed the whole range of human emotions, plus a dirty sense of humour, in 116 poems.

She's gotta get a mention here cos I've, er, 'borrowed' her name. Goddess of destruction, symbol of dissolution, destroyer of ignorance. Wields a bloody sword, carries a demon's severed head, wears a garland of skulls. I like her.

Led Zeppelin
Good balance of "Rock!" and "man, my shoes are talking to me". And that's me sayin' it.
And on the Honours List (you're only allowed five influences, my arse!):

Bill Hicks - if you've read Alex and Graham's influences you'll know who he is by now, and why I couldn't leave him out. Most definitely does NOT suck.

Salvador Dali - surrealist artist. "Over-confident" is putting it politely I think, but you can see why. Floppy clocks!

Nina Simone/Aretha Franklin - without getting too feminist here, I'd feel like a gender-traitor if I didn't mention some inspirational women in my Influences bit. I am forever in awe of anyone, male or female, who can just hook their soul up to their vocal chords like these two do. I can't put it any better than that, that's just what I think when I listen to them sing. There's a few more people I'd like to mention in this category, but that really would be too many.