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By Jennifer Bell Company, Oct 16 2014 01:05PM

Claire Skelcey interviews Jenny Bell about Bread & Butter


CS: What drew you to write Bread & Butter? Where did the idea come from?


JB: It grew out of a short piece called Temple Songs, which I created for the good people of the Bristol Temple Quarter. My intention was to celebrate people who work in offices.


The lazy supposition is that offices are boring and corporate and impersonal. Bread & Butter is a show about how they are anything but. They are full of PEOPLE. Offices contain all sorts of adventures; all sorts of secrets. You just don't see them with your eyes.


I think the stoicism is a quality that doesn't get talked about positively much these days, because of the soul-eroding effects of stiff upper-lips and repressed emotions. The thing is, so many people are industrious, hard-working, diligent, and often that means that they have to work on, with a whole host of difficult thoughts and feelings and illnesses and god-knows what else going on at the same time.


I think it's worth talking about the stoical side of offices. Because we care about our work, and we care about our colleagues - even if they might wind us up, or our boss is a bit uptight - there is something important to say the worthy work that goes on, from one desk to another.



CS: Why is the show called Bread & Butter?


JB: Well, of course it's an idiomatic way of describing your day-to-day way of making a living. But aside from that, I was once talking to a friend of mine about types of love. I was saying that I aspire to a no-frills, ordinary, bread and butter kind of love. The kind of understated love that is there, without announcement, for you in the morning. It's more romantic than romantic love somehow. More romantic than marriage. More romantic than promises. It just is. There, attentive, unassuming.


So I wrote a love song called Bread and Butter, about an office worker who is in love, but cannot declare it to his colleague.


In fact I wrote it for someone who I love, who I can't be with. There is a lot to the song that is very real. Probably the simplest song I have ever written, and it contains all the pieces of my unmendable heart.



CS: Do you have a favourite song in the show?


JB: Both Bread and Butter and Jellyfish are intensely personal. Jellyfish is about my childhood, where I still am in many ways. Where we all are in many ways.


I was brought up on Marazion Beach in Cornwall. So was my Grandma Barbara, who died last year. My mum quoted the lyrics of Jellyfish to Grandma as she was dying, because she, like me, had been 4 years old in the sunshine, on that beach.


The following day, after being up all night, exhausted with grief, I went with The Beautiful Machine to be in Freya Billington's film adaptation of Bread & Butter, which features Jellyfish. It was a significant, intense and beautiful time.


CS: Is the concert traditional a cappella?


JB: No.


There are so many types of a cappella, and I'd like to think that this is pretty unusual. It draws on some styles not generally associated with unaccompanied singing, such as dance music, jazz and prog rock. But I'd like to go out on a limb and say that I think it is clearly locating itself in the folk song tradition of telling every day stories through song.


CS: Why should people come and see the show?


JB: Because listening to the voice in this way is deeply life-affirming. Because the singers are so beautiful. Because it celebrates everybody, whether you work in an office or not. And I think that being in the presence of the singers is unforgettable.


CS: What brings you to this point in your career?


JB: A desire to express deeply political and emotionally held beliefs through live performance, film and music.


CS: What are you most proud of?


JB: Surviving trauma. And my excellent son Emanuel.


CS: What makes you an award winning happy person?


JB: Ha. I was awarded that when I was suffering a breakdown. Perhaps because I was suffering a breakdown??!!


I think happiness is about acknowledging sadness, and then working out the best conditions for it to bubble up out of you unexpectedly. I think singing makes people happy, and because I run a lot of choirs, I'm in the lucky position to be able to facilitate that.


I think it's really quite simple:


Eat; drink; sleep; exercise; engage your mind; and laugh at your own farts.


CS: Who are your musical heroes?


JB: ARGH. So many. Okay er, fiirst two that come to mind are Joni Mitchell and King Crimson. Bands I LOVE at the moment are Animal Collective, Dutch Uncles, Adult Jazz, Everything Everything, Angel Olsen, Dirty Projectors and Kate Bush.


CS: What are your three desert island discs?


JB: Too hard. Allegri's Miserere is one. Fester by Dutch Uncles. Something by Joni Mitchell. Maybe Hejira.


CS: Cake or death? (Sorry, Eddie Izzard strikes again!)


JB: Cake is death. Bleurgh.

By Jennifer Bell Company, Oct 16 2014 11:22AM

In the beginning there was Temple Songs.


Temple Songs was a BTQEZ commission that asked a selection of artists in Bristol to make work that engaged with the Bristol Temple Quarter (that bit behind Temple Meads with the river - you know, where Creative Common is, and that silver, wiggly bridge, and all the way along to Paintworks).


Jenny decided to make something for the people who worked there, so she wrote four songs about the the kinds of secret thoughts and feelings that happen every day in offices.


The Beautiful Machine went and did flash performances of individual songs for the BTQ businesses who were up for breaking up their working day with some original music. It was radical, and really exciting.


Jen also created a choreographed piece that stood alone as a little gem of a show, which they performed at Mayfest.


It worked. People loved it. They couldn't stop singing the songs. They asked for more.


So now, there is. Now we have made a full length, choreographed concert, which we are performing at RWA first week of November. We have continued with the in situ performances in offices, but this time, we have invited office staff to join in with us in the show. Jen has been going in and doing singing workshops with the brave souls of some of Bristol's most adventurous businesses.


We have been ridiculously excited to start rehearsing these songs again. Now, with the extra songs, each singer has a lead role - so the piece is already surpassing what we imagined possible.


We have two new singers - the pleasingly alliterative Mella and Ellie - who are just so talented and beautiful. Because we don't act in the show, the personality and conviction of each of the singers is what shapes it. Bread & Butter is quite significantly different to Temple Songs as a result.