oh comely

Give A Little, Gain A Lot: Why Art Social Festival Does More Than Entertain

words Sarah McCoy

13th October 2015

Here at Oh Comely we work with extraordinary people doing extraordinary things; we even get to be involved in their vision. 

At the end of September we grabbed the ladies from The Flower Appreciation Society and Tie Dye High Five, as well as our Associate Editor Jason Ward and laid out a Feast of Creativity at The House of St Barnabas.

The weekend was a vibrant mix of things to do, things to eat, look at, listen to, watch and of course, dance too. But amongst the pizza eating and typewriting was an installation by Hester Reeve with a quiet message of what the festival was all about. And it started with a giant teapot in Soho Square.

The festival shines a light on a problem that many of us walk past everyday but which few of us engage with. There are 10,500 temporary bed spaces in London’s homeless hostels and 14% of people in homeless accommodation are in paid work. The House of St Barnabas is working to increase that number and Art Social is both a celebration of their success and a campaign for helping more – not only into lasting work, but to help gain the top levels of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, the theme for this year’s festival.

This October, The House of St Barnabas’ not-for-profit members’ club is celebrating its second anniversary: two years of social change, fairer employment, challenging stereotypes and redefining the members’ club model by promoting values of openness and inclusivity.

When the club opened its doors in October 2013, something unique and radical was born. The imposing and historic building, beautiful interiors, delicious food and drinks menu and impressive art collection immediately denote luxury and quality, while the integration of the Employment Academy creates a place that improves people’s lives, bringing members together through a common purpose of believing in a fairer society.

It is this symbiosis that sets The House of St Barnabas apart, and generates a different kind of membership pool - an outward looking group of people who want to see real social change.

The House of St Barnabas

Recipe Friday: Cornershop Cookbook's Spamen

words Tamara Vos

8th October 2015

For The Cornershop Cookbook's second Recipe Friday instalment, they give us this: Spamen (or spam ramen). We'll eat our hats if this meal doesn't become a staple in your ready-in-minutes supper repetoire. 

This meal is the ultimate marriage of cornershop convenience foods. If spam seems one step away from an All Day Breakfast in a tin and therefore too much for you to countenance, you could substitute hot dogs, sliced into slim diagonal wedges. Firm tofu is a good and, dare we say, rather elegant vegetarian alternative. A couple of spring onions can stand in place if you can't find a leek. 

You Will Need: 

½ red chilli
½ leek
½ garlic clove
1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
1.5 piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp sesame oil
1 x 200g tin spam
½ chicken stock cube or jelly stock pot
620ml boiling water
1 packet (around 80–90g) instant ramen noodles
½ tsp fish sauce
1 x 6-minute boiled egg, cooled slightly, then peeled and halved, to serve
Garlic Chilli Oil, to serve 

One. Seed and thinly slice the chilli, thinly slice the leek and mince or crush the garlic.

Two. Combine the chilli, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and the sesame oil in a dish. Remove the spam from its tin (follow the instructions on the side, or, if you’re anything like us, you may end up frantically beating the tin with a rolling pin to try and coax the meat out). Cut off three 1cm-thick slices of spam (keep the rest in the fridge for later), add to the chilli mix and turn to coat all over, then leave to marinate for 15 minutes.

Three. Place a frying pan on medium heat and fry the spam slices in the marinade until crisp and browned on both sides.

Four. Meanwhile, add the chicken stock cube and boiling water to a small-ish saucepan along with the noodles, and cook on a medium to high heat. When the noodles begin to collapse out of their block form, add the sliced leek and grated ginger. Cook until the noodles are fully done and the stock has reduced a little – a few minutes.

Five. Season with the remaining soy sauce and the fish sauce. Add to a bowl and top with the crispy spam, the halved egg, and some garlic chilli oil.

The Cornershop Cookbook by Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing is out now. 

The Body: a Celebration and a Party

words Sarah McCoy, illustration Marie Gardeski

7th October 2015

Issue 27 landed on doormats this week: The Body Issue. Except it isn’t an issue, it’s a celebration! And all celebrations require parties. Join us on Friday 16th October at 7pm as we take over the newest location of Tina We Salute You on the Olympic Park to rejoice in all the bizarre and wonderful things our bodies can do.

We’ll be joined by Sophie Scott, knitwear designer, who will be teaching us how to knit our very own muff-warmers--sorry, merkins--just in time for winter.

Meet some of the readers who featured in the magazine and see Varosha Lamb’s painted portraits of the women from the shoot.

Discover the white shirts that are made for every woman by London based in-grid who will be offering a 15% discount on their classic creations.

And above all just come and have a jolly good time.

Tickets include entry, a drink and goodie bag including materials to make your merkin. We will also be selling the magazine for anyone who hasn’t got their hands on it just yet.

Tina We Salute You, 2 Olympic Park Avenue, E20 1FT. Get your tickets here.



An Interview with Girlpool

words Linnea Enstrom, portrait Mafalda Silva

5th October 2015

The experience of girlhood is avidly documented, fictionalised and capitalised on, yet it rarely shakes you in the way that LA duo Girlpool manages to.

Their debut album Before The World Was Big, released in June this year, questions identity, sexuality and coming of age with poetic lyrical depth and uncompromising imagery, like on the fourth track Chinatown: “Come down and visit with me / I’m lying dead on my knees / Do you feel restless when you realise you’re alive?”

Emotional honesty, intensified by their raw vocals, sung in unison, and simple two-chord melodies, is always at the core of their songs. It’s hard to imagine their music without it. Just like Girlpool breathes the artistry - and friendship - of two seemingly inseparable people, Cleo Tucker (guitar) and Harmony Tividad (bass).

Watching the band live at London’s Scala recently, the last gig of their UK tour, felt like standing beneath a wire walker you know won’t fall. Without banging drums or keys, the music becomes vulnerable, sincere, and forms a bond with the crowd. Which is why humanity felt pretty doomed to fail when, during their closing song Cherry Picking, someone shouts “You have nice tits” at the stage. The next day, Harmony tweets about the incident, calling it “isolating and awful”. The feminist poignancy of one of their earlier tracks, Slutmouth, is terribly sad, but seems all the more crucial for it: “I go to work everyday / Just to be slutshamed one day”.

I speak to Girlpool ahead of their performance at Scala. Cleo is ill and coughing and I’m told I have to keep it short. In a red coloured booth looking down at the stage, we quickly delve into the development of their creative bond, minimalism and why vulnerability is so important.

What have you been up to since your album was released?

Cleo: We’ve just been touring a bunch. Hanging out and playing shows. Since the record came out we did a tour with Frankie Cosmos and now, as we’re here, we’re going to do some stuff with Stephen Steinbrink.

What did you find in each other creatively, from the beginning, that felt right?

Harmony: We had similar intentions in terms of what we wanted to make and that was really powerful and cool to experience, so we pursued it. It was just a feeling. 

Cleo: We wanted the lyrics to be really important. We had a clear, minimalist vision of how we wanted to be as straightforward and pure with it as possible. Initially we thought about getting a drummer, but we just didn’t know who would be on the same wavelength, so we stuck with just the two of us and it has been very special.

In one of your previous interviews you talk about vulnerability as something powerful. Why are you drawn to it?

Cleo: I think vulnerability can facilitate closeness between people. It’s a pure way to be. We started the project with the intention of being as honest and forward with each other as possible. We wanted it to be as close as possible to what we felt - really concentrated music. Vulnerability is something that comes out of being honest and confronting yourself.

Have you been able to be honest with each other the whole way through?

Harmony: Yeah, I think we bring it out of each other. There just isn’t any other way to be. We are generally very straightforward and emotionally aware of ourselves and people around us, so to not bring those feelings out of each other would be impossible.

Cleo: When we first started Girlpool we grew much closer because we were spending more time together, writing and making music. When you start to get to know a person you get to know the things you have in common and the things you don’t align with. We both made conscious decisions and efforts to identify our differences and embrace them and understand them, which I feel is something I’ve rarely done before. That made us really comfortable and strengthened our writing process. We were able to accept the differences that might have scared us initially.

How would you describe your writing process?

Harmony: We’re constantly communicating about how we’re doing in our lives. Usually we start with a lyric or a melodic idea. If we talk about something, we’re like “how can we articulate this musically?” It can go in any direction within that, starting with chords or whatever. It’s about the most most natural way of getting there and feeling comfortable.

Have you had an interest in writing before or has that developed with the band?

Cleo: We’re both written on our own, but we’ve never collaborated with anybody else in this way, writing words together. It’s just an entirely different exercise. It’s about sharing an idea with another person and then exploring it with them, becoming sensitive to… it’s hard to articulate… like you become more malleable to be able to… I don’t know, how do you explain it?

Harmony: It’s like if you have a hat of ideas and words and they’re all really soft and delicate. You pick them out and see what’s yours and what isn’t yours and you have to be extra careful with those that aren’t yours.

Do you take on the other person’s emotions and experiences?

Cleo: We never try to wear each other’s feelings, but we try to…

Harmony: … find ourselves in the feeling.

Cleo: We try to understand it.

Harmony: It’s about finding words that capture two different ideas.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

Cleo: We have written some new stuff. We’re always talking and drawing and thinking

What do you draw?

Cleo: Harmony makes cool comics. I like to doodle and draw weird things. I’m really into blank contours right now.

Does the different mediums of art you use inform each other?

Harmony: It all informs itself. It’s like a giant painting, everything that you make is part of you. It all goes back and forth. It can’t be articulated or understood entirely. Art is like empathy. It goes deep, like brainwaves, water shaking. We just want to be able to create freely and not feel confined by anything.

Dressed as a Girl: In Conversation with London Drag Legend Jonny Woo

words Aimee-Lee Abraham

2nd October 2015

Today marks the release of Colin Rothbart’s fly-on-the-wall documentary of London’s East London drag scene: Dressed as a Girl. In its depiction of the dizzying highs and devastating lows encountered along the way to cult superstardom, the film is unflinchingly honest, capturing a world where Queens fight to pretend “everything is fabulous… and no one is ill” while battling an array of personal and collective demons.

Having been at the forefront of the Shoreditch scene for over twenty years, Jonny Wooacts both as the film’s narrator and a primary subject. We sat down with him ahead of the frockumentary’s release to talk about drag, debauchery and the families we choose. Spoiler: it turns out they’re just as dysfunctional as the ones we’re born into.

Six years’ worth of footage was condensed into just two hours, and the narrative jumps very quickly from hilarity to heartache. How was it for you to watch yourself developing on-screen in such a measurable and visceral way?

For all of us there’s a great deal of revelation, especially with the benefit of hindsight. What’s great about the film is that it’s real; people aren’t trying to act up or be relentlessly positive for the camera. It’s not a sycophantic representation of drag that tries to falsely portray us as one big happy family. Thereis a real sense of camaraderie and community running throughout the scene, but the people within it exist as complex beings. Their relationships change and ebb and flow. There’s ambition, there’s disappointment, there’s friendship, and there are strains on those friendships. It’s messy.

It made for pretty difficult viewing at times.

Some parts are uncomfortable to watch. I felt like I was on trial at the premiere, up to be judged by a hundred people. Ultimately the film only presents a snapshot of each of our personalities, and we knew what was coming when we granted Colin access to our lives. We accept that as his subjects. The presentation is fair but it’s not wholly rounded. Certain segments make me wince, but when you look back on life as a whole it can all be a bit cringe-worthy. Audiences have appreciated that honesty so far.

Despite the conflict you’ve mentioned, there was a real sense of solidarity, and it was touching to see you all raising funds for Amber to have gender re-assignment surgery. On film we see some members of the public scoff at the validity of the cause, but it was such a transformative and redemptive experience for her.

Exactly. On screen it’s all dressed up as bit of outrageous fun, which it was, but these are real fundraisers with the power to affect real lives. Of course there are more pressing issues in the world, but if we want to raise money to help out a friend in need then that’s absolutely our business.

Dressed as a Girl goes beyond the humour and superficiality featured in glamorous mainstream shows like Ru-Paul’s Drag Race. Do you think it serves up an alternative version of the art form?

We all enjoy the liberation of dressing up, but we don’t all have this big, instantaneous personality change the moment the drag goes on, which you sometimes see in more mainstream drag. What characterises our drag is that you see the person underneath. The make-up and hair goes on and it generally falls off before the night is over, leaving you half made-up and half undone. You’re exposed, and the real person and the artifice are all kind of mixed together.

The film frequently references personal tragedy and substance abuse: Scottee reveals that his mother once stopped to pick up whisky while driving him to hospital in the middle of an asthma attack, and you discuss your own battles with alcohol. How has your life changed since sobriety?

It’s a miracle that I managed to do what I did for so long. I used to come home on a Monday morning and hibernate until Thursday. I was absolutely living for the weekend, I didn’t know how to stop, and I eventually suffered multiple organ failure. I don’t drink or do drugs any more and I have so much more time to keep up with my career and the business.

What’s next for you?

I have a few ongoing projects. As well as co-managing The Glory, I’m doing a rock-theatre show based around Lou Reed’s Transformeralbum and I have my East London Lecture which, to put simply, explores gentrification in the area.

As someone who has lived in East London for twenty years, are you nostalgic about the way things used to be?

I have this big hang-up with what I think is the overuse of the word 'gentrification’. I remember sitting in Geography class when I was fourteen learning about how it was just a natural evolution that occurred within urban settings, and change is certainly synonymous with the area. I don’t think East London has lost its sense of individualism or its sense of community. You only have to walk through London Fields or Victoria Park to see the an entire cross-section of the city enjoying the same beautiful facilities. The parks here really are the most fantastic things. They’re melting pots. I am proud to be a Londoner, and even prouder to be giving back through the business.

Dressed as a Girl is out in cinemas now, and released on DVD and On-Demand on the 7th of December from Peccadillo Pictures

Oh Comely Issue 27's Guest Illustrator Marie Gardeski

words Rosanna Durham

1st October 2015

Each issue of Oh Comely, we take great pleasure in inviting a Guest Illustrator onto the team. They work on a series of original briefs fitting the theme of the issue, and bring their unique aestheitc to Oh Comely's pages. 

Issue 27, out now, is no different. Themed on 'Body' it was always going to be a challenge to find an illustrator who explored this most sensitive of subjects in an unexpected and canny way. In the hands of illustrator Marie Gardeski, reader, you're in for a treat. 

Based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Marie's work is subversive, humuorous and always unexpected. Think Beatrice Potter after dark. Over her four hand-drawn illustrations, she takes us right back to the days of childhood, exploring how toys and dolls become assembled in the mix-and-match imagination of childhood. Her fleshy characters take on personalities that are larger than life and all the more stranger. 

Read our full interview with Marie Gardeski, and see her Oh Comely illustrations in issue 27, out now.

Recipe Friday: Cornershop Cookbook's Spicy Fish Stew

words Tamara Vos

1st October 2015

For October's Recipe Friday, we're excited to feature recipes from the newly released Cornershop Cookbook, written by Sophie Missing and Caroline Craig.

Whilst project-recipes are all well and good, they often call for several hours of cooking time and a list of ingredients as long as your arm when often, all we want after a long day at work is a quick and easy meal using ingredients that are easily picked up on the way home. Enter the Cornershop Cookbook. The recipes in this beautiful book celebrate the wealth of meals that can be created from a quick jaunt to your local cornershop, and offer so much inspiration that you'll never have to settle for a third-night-running of pesto pasta again. 

First up: Spicy Fish Stew. 

Plantain, a relative of the banana, acts as a delicious mouth coolant in this recipe, much as lassi or yoghurt would in Indian cooking. We serve our plantain sliced and fried, which caramelises the flesh. This spicy tomato sauce is adaptable and can be used with any fish you wish. If your local mini supermarket serves tuna steaks, for example (ethically sourced of course), then pounce on them and simply fry separately in oil and serve just cooked with the sauce spooned on top.

You Will Need: 

1–2 tbsp olive oil
4 salmon fillets, skin on
juice of 1 lime
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp dried thyme
2 Scotch bonnet chillies (removed at the end of cooking) or 1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
150g long-grain rice
15g butter
2 ripe plantains, peeled and sliced into rounds
salt, to taste

One. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pan (big enough to accommodate all the pieces of fish) on a medium to high heat, then flash-fry the salmon for a few minutes, skin side down, until you see some colour. Remove the fish to a plate and squeeze a little lime juice over, then set to one side and keep warm. Turn the heat down to low.

Two. Finely chop the onion and add to the pan you cooked the fish in with the remaining oil, if needed. Leave the onion to soften, while you slice the garlic. When the onion is going translucent and a little brown in bits, add the garlic and cook for about a minute, before pouring over the tomatoes. Stir in the tomato purée and then add the black pepper, sugar, thyme and a generous amount of salt. Add the chillies and leave to reduce and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Three. Once your sauce is on, cook the rice according to the packet instructions, then drain (if necessary). About 5 minutes before you are ready to serve, add the butter to a frying pan and add the plantain slices. Fry until golden and crispy on the outside.

Four. Return the salmon to the pan with the tomato sauce to finish cooking through for a few minutes, then squeeze over some more lime juice.

Five. Serve the fish fillets and tomato sauce with the rice and plantain on warmed plates, discarding the Scotch bonnet chillies, if using.

Photo: Charlotte Bland

Giveaway: Three DVD Copies of L'Eclisse

words Oh Comely

1st October 2015

If you love sumptuous 60s European cinema and winning things then we have a competition for you!

To mark this week's release of the digital restoration of Michelangelo Antonioni's enigmatic, existential 1962 drama L'Eclisse on DVD and Blu-ray, we're giving away 3 Blu-ray copies of the film. In addition we have a fabulous main prize: a bundle of classic 60s films courtesy of Studiocanal. As well as a copy of L'Eclisse, the bundle includes:
The Servant
The Accident
Far From the Madding Crowd
Billy Liar
Peeping Tom
In order to be in with a chance to win, all you have to do is comment on our Facebook post with your favourite European movie, and what you like about it. For example, our associate editor Jason has always had a soft spot for Werner Herzog's documentary The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, which contains sky-flying sequences that he finds wondrous and breathtaking.
We'll announce the winners on Monday 5th Oct. Bon chance!