Kirsty Allison talks about COLD LIPS, her new spoken-word, fashion zine, a spin off of her ‘already infamous’ Sylvia Plath Fan Club…
Three weeks before its collision with London Fashion Week, I was in Rough Trade East, with black coffees, toast, and a grateful slave/university-placement intern. I had a half-booked bill for the Sylvia Plath Fan Club, an anti-literary night I started late last year at the Arts Club East members’ club, above a strip joint in Shoreditch. I say anti-literary, but I mean pure literature – risky and wild.
Lisa Moorish, sometime muse to Liam Gallagher and Peter Doherty, having kids with both, has ruled the stage, performing lyrics as spoken word, as has Erik Stein from the synth-Lynchian band, a Cult With No Name. Gail Porter read so bravely, for the first time, from her new Girl Interrupted-style memoir. We’ve had poems from singers Gil De Ray, and Kelli Ali, plus those more restricted by the myriad of black on white: poets Ana Sefer, Win Harms, Tim Wells, and Lana Citron, plus Martine McDonagh (manager of the band James, the first time around, even drawing their logo). I wanted this next meeting, at the Library in Covent Garden, to be busy. I had the usual residents, and Johny Brown, who’s used to singing, with folk-punk purists, The Band of Holy Joy. This was the first time he’d read on stage, from his new book full of short plays he’d put on Radio Joy with Inga Tillere. Nina Antonia, who’s written about Johnny Thunders and edits for Peter Doherty was up for it. Tony White was also booked to recite a project he’d done with Gibby Haynes from The Butthole Surfers. Good people. l needed merchandise and had been toying with doing a fanzine, so pulled open a flyer pack and started drawing a flatplan on the back. I’ve worked as a journalist since I was a teenager, deadlines do it for me, three weeks seemed possible, and what started as excerpts of performers’ works, soon expanded to a fantasy of a publication, featuring people I couldn’t get mainstream commissions on. People that inspire me, who refuse to accept existing media paradigms.
I called the printer I’d worked with on the Making Something Out Of Nothing book I wrote for Red Gallery last year, and we plotted a 48-page zine made with four different types of paper (wanting it to reflect the spirit of the Paris uprisings and Situationists, with a tough cardboard cover like early editions of i-D). I was going to have to use my overdraft to make it happen. I went out with a former editor of Sniffin’ Glue, and Flexipop, in my early twenties, so, combine that with an unhealthy regard for the underground resistance printer in Barbarella, and a change in personal circumstances, it was kinda in my blood to create this collage of people. In the last year, cool kids like Scarlet Carlos-Clarke, Rebecca Maybury have started their own zines, the timing felt good. It also prevented the threat of getting a real job for another month. I drafted an editorial on my phone, saying print has never been more needed, as digital gets so industrialised, monitored and commerce-centric, there are ever more pricks to kick against. A week prior to lift off, the zine had a title – my mother giggled and told me she didn’t want me to explain it.
As my dear slave (who has a name, Rikki Li) battled through transcriptions (one very imaginatively of Lee Scratch Perry, for my DJ Magazine deadline, where I edit the films, books and arts, and another: a three hour conversation with Berlin-based mega-createur, Danielle De Picciotto, which became the key feature, I edited her 30 pages to four…), I’d now announced this baby’s arrival on Facebook, so it had to happen – I was receiving an overwhelming sense of love. What began as a nod of approval from the artist, Duggie Fields, whom I lunch with regularly, suggesting it was a good time to do something new, I’d got to a point of it being the only option. I’d met with The Literary Platform on several occasions in the run-up to the Sylvia Plath Fan Club, when I was still working hard on completing my first novel (which the agent Sarah Such has just taken on), their professional encouragement has also been a huge part of these projects. But I realised I couldn’t do everything myself for my invented deadline, which was now COLD LIPS x SYLVIA PLATH CLUB at the Library… so started calling in help – collecting words, editing words, accepting offers from musicians to interview each other, commissioning Rachel Almeida to speak with Joseph Coward, begging illustrators like Martin Kingdom, and Le Gun, to donate original work, and scooped the first publication of artist Sue Webster’s Teenage Banshee poem, The Birthday Party. She’d been working on it for a year. I wanted her on the cover – fighting. A diverse set of alternative role models. I also put together a shoot, with clothes from some great designers, such as Renli Su, Kitty Joseph, Berthold. That meant finding a decent stylist, the amazing fashion editor, Nickque Patterson, and super-talented, mellow-as-gold photographer, Jason McGlade (Italian Vogue, Freestyle). Although I spend much time writing alone, I love to support the dreams of the wild, and pull people together for good times (I once had a DJ band with Irvine Welsh called the Disco Queens…). Meeting with Nickque at Hoi Polloi to go through the shoot, he started Snapchatting Lola Coca, as she sat eating in her own booth – he was showing me her Bad Girlfriend video – and I was so happy she wanted to get involved. And Glass, the band came down to the shoot (alongside around 14 others) the living-doll of a modern, ascending singer, Jessica Winter also agreed to play at the party. It was gonna be so good!
COLD LIPS now feels like less of an accidental pregnancy, it’s something that’s been gestating for years. At a private view, one of my fave painters, Mark Jones showed me a pic on his phone of something he was working on – it was perfect: an unapologetically naked woman, vulva proud. Rachel Megawhat kindly took a better picture of Jones’ painting at his studio. I’d been on the case of the installation artist, Carolina Mizrahi, when the amazing photographer, David Reed offered to go and shoot her show in the Cotswolds at the Bay Gallery. Writing rolled in. It was magical – and very very very fast. It wasn’t until I admitted defeat against becoming an overnight genius on Adobe InDesign that I messaged Kedge, the art director I’d worked with on the Red book, who comes out of the Tomato collective (Underworld’s design group), that the thing went to a whole new level: I had a few days before it was due at the printers. But he was up for it. And wow – he and his designers, Ed Rivers and Laurence Dorrington, went to town – and their freedom and experimentalism from our collective brief led me to send an email reading: ‘I think I just came,’ when I saw the first drafts. The printer kindly let us push the deadline into the weekend, dropping issues, literally hot off the presses, after the doors had opened to the launch where Gil De Ray and Feral is MC Kinky DJed between the performers, and London Fields Brewery micro-brewery generously provided beers. The maverick PR, Lilith Busfeld stepped in, and it was on the front page of fashion wires. They called it a consumer title, and although I’m battling from the bottom, distributing from the back of my BMX (to The Photographer’s Gallery, The Society Club in Cheshire Street, Burley Fisher in Dalston, the Forge in Shoreditch, Good News in Berwick Street), I’m making sales online, www.coldlips.co.uk too, going all over the UK, but also the States, Norway, Seoul – everywhere – it fills me with pleasure to wrap them up, in semi-crazed Japanese magazines and gaffa-tape – proper punk – with a free badge, and some of the most brilliant supporters share its arrival on social media. I feel COLD LIPS is going to become a quarterly, I’m extremely proud of the light and pure breath it offers. It’s the same feeling of gratitude I get from all the souls that come together at the Sylvia Plath Fan Club each month.
The margins are more valuable then ever. And if it only funds a few Moleskines, or burns out like a supernova, if the amazing people inside COLD LIPS allow others, even momentarily, to value what’s important, inside, why not? I am DIYing it all, playing it by ear. COLD LIPS, like its title, is exposed and raw. Good things are done naked, and it’s like diving into glacial, dawn waters.
The fifth meeting of the Sylvia Plath Fan Club is on Thursday 24th March and features Dave Barbarossa (drummer for Bow Wow Wow, and Adam Ant), Bruno Wizard (The Homosexuals), Stuart Evers, Leila Segal and Emily Harrison (plus residents, Kirsty Allison and Gary Fairfull). Cold Lips will be available.