GIR JUST WANTS TO HAVE FUN
"Watching her on stage - minutes after we've sunk the last dregs of our house white - you sense that the strictness of Angela Penhaligon's childhood gave her playfulness the necessary push. It sent her imagination into overdrive. Her enthusiasm to explore all forms of music is rare these days, especially in an industry fronted by artfully miserable hipsters, trained to look bored stiff of living the dream. Piney is their antithesis. She is an artist who enthuses about "doing this for fun", who's happiest when ransacking her toybox of tunes and ideas. And that's why Angela became Piney Gir"
Jude Rogers interviews Eclectic Minx of the moment Piney Gir for 3AM.
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It's 9.05pm on this side of Kingsland Road and we've drained the last traces of drink from our glasses. The cheerful young woman sitting opposite me, clad in riding jacket, frilly shirt and jodhpurs, is on stage on the other side at 9.30pm. "Let's share another glass of wine", she whispers through a cheeky smile, settling her slim limbs into the booth. "I can't have a whole one, but I hate being at the venue early - it gets me nervous". 25 minutes later, after dancing through the Shoreditch traffic, Piney Gir dances onto the stage, knocking out a fiery set of Go-Gos pop, Dolly Parton country, '60s rock 'n'roll, dirty Depeche mode electronica and seductive balladry. Add to that a cover of Que Sera Sera that morphs into Girl, a ballsy riot grrl rant, and a take on My Generation , sung through a megaphone. It's impossible not to like her.
Piney Gir is the alter-ego of Angela Penhaligon, the busiest woman in London when it comes to the rollercoaster of the independent music scene. She released her first album this summer, the eccentrically titled Peakahokahoo, a perfect pop record that plays with genres and styles with cheek, sparkle and wit. She calls the Piney style "electro-country big band - that just about covers it". She's a member of garage band The Schla La Las (who recently supported the 5-6-7-8s), The Orff Orchestra (an orchestra made up of toy instruments) and the recently inaugurated Fun-Sized Lions, a collective inspired by Japanese synth-pop and sitar music. She runs nights at local clubs ("because I don't have space in my flat"); Disco Bingo and Wired Women being two of her recent outings. She also holds down a full-time job. Despite a schedule that would buckle the toughest workaholic, she wears it very well.
Not ignoring her sweet, down-to-earth demeanour, there's something otherworldly about Piney. This isn't surprising if you consider her upbringing. Born in Kansas City, she was raised by a strict Pentecostal father who banned television, pop music and other trappings of the modern world from the family home. Instead, Jesus communes and music lessons were order of the day. When her father was away, her more liberal mother would treat them to "sin nights", where they'd stuff pizzas down their necks and giggle guiltily through episodes of The Muppets and The Dukes Of Hazzard. Unsurprisingly, her parents separated in her teens, and suddenly a whole new world opened up to her.
"I was Sandra Dee", Piney chuckles. "I'd been to a special Christian school where my friends were just as sheltered as me. Everyone was nice to each other, like Ned Flanders in the Simpsons or the Stepford Wives. Then Mom and I moved and I started hearing the music that kids listened to in the outside world - rock 'n' roll, hip hop." She widens her eyes. "I'd think - my God! Am I going to hell?" She bought her first album, Depeche Mode's Music For The Masses, and fast became a fan of The Pixies and Guns 'n' Roses. "Guns 'n' Roses!" she sighs dreamily. "One of the first naughty bands I loved". I remember the version of Sweet Child O' Mine she did with her old band, Vic Twenty, a gentle take on the headbanging anthem. "A good song is a good song, isn't it?" she grins. "It's silly to just like this music, or that music. It's not healthy".
You can see this broad logic working across all of Piney's projects. After arriving in London six years ago, Vic Twenty were her first big band, comprising Piney on vocals (and ancient Casio synthesiser) alongside Adrian Morris. Their perfectly honed electronic kitsch paid homage to the early Commodore computer they were named after - especially on the brilliant 8 Bit Hit - as much as it gave weight to their G'n'R cover. Piney and Adrian parted company in 2003, and soonafter Truck Records offered her a solo deal. At this point, Piney's interest in other styles went nuclear. Listening to Peakahokahoo, you hear country's dust sweep through Greetings, Salutations, Goodbye, gothic creepiness wrapping itself around Creature, bareknuckle punk race through Jezebel and bubblegum burst around the nursery rhymes of Janet Schmanet. Musicians rarely embrace the different possibilities and modes of music as fully as this. Peakahokahoo's scope is also bolstered by its welter of collaborators, from producers A Scholar and A Physician to Erasure's backing singers Val and Marie and Simple Kid, with whom Piney duets on *Nightsong*. "He was a receptionist where I work", says Piney. "I called him up about a duet on the off-chance, and he did it." It's a great call-and-response song, full of lyrical nudges and winks - "I'd like to spend the night - do you think that'd be all right?" - which sits right in the middle of the Piney Gir musical axis, perched between its distant co-ordinates of dark sleaze and pop sugar. It also captures Piney's playfulness perfectly.
Watching her on stage - minutes after we've sunk the last dregs of our house white - you sense that the strictness of Angela Penhaligon's childhood gave this playfulness the necessary push. It sent her imagination into overdrive. Her enthusiasm to explore all forms of music is rare these days, especially in an industry fronted by artfully miserable hipsters, trained to look bored stiff of living the dream. Piney is their antithesis. She is an artist who enthuses about "doing this for fun", who's happiest when ransacking her toybox of tunes and ideas. And that's why Angela became Piney Gir, the name she used to call herself as a toddler. "When people asked me my name when I was little, I'd say Piney - no-one knew why. The 'Gir' was me trying to say girl." Thanks to Peakahokahoo, be glad that Piney Gir lives, sings and dances again. She may be older and wiser - and more schooled in the art of writing pop than she was in her infancy - but she's still a breath of fresh air. She's also the ambassador for fun that music desperately needs.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
In her twilight hours, Jude Rogers is 3AM's Music Editor. Principally a Staff Writer for the perennially fabulous Word magazine, she fills her spare moments as a Film Reviewer for Channel 4 and Editor of the quarterly ode to London, Smoke: A London Peculiar.