Be's UK Tour
So I won a grant and decided to use the money to plan a tour in the UK.
I took the trip with my partner in life and music, Asha Santee.
Here’s the what happened.
DC → London. April 15. 2016
Pack asha’s Cajon (wooden box drum) full of clothes.
Back my suitcase full of equipment, merch, some clothes.
Long flight. Movies. Snacks.
So excited to breathe the air. To feel the ground.
Maybe it won’t feel different at all, but we just can’t wait.
Immigration. Long line.
Walk up to a young immigration officer with flawless eyeliner, long dark hair, serious eyes. Pakistani maybe.
Why are you traveling to the UK?
To play music.
Are you selling tickets?
How many shows?
Do you have a work visa?
You know you need a work visa for this?
This could be a problem.
So. What’s the worst that could happen?
We could send you on a flight back to the US.
I need you to wait in this holding area while I speak with someone.
Asha and I walk to a roped-off pen between lines of people. We sit in silence for a moment.
Now I am crying. Sobbing. What am I doing with my life? Did I actually spend all the grant money to fly a million miles away? What if they send us back? Why didn’t we say we were fucking tourists?
This wasn’t worth it.
Why didn’t I just buy a new camera? Or a nice lens.
Why is my “career” an endless string of leaps-of-faith?
This definitely wasn’t worth it.
Asha takes my face in her hands and says something wise and calm and perfect.
I’m still crying.
But now I’m distracted by Asha and wonderful she is.
Serious eyes returns. Leads us back to her station. Asha and I look at her, then each other.
I hold my breath.
The officer stamps our passports.
Giddy. Almost skipping with our luggage.
Uber pool. Me, Asha share the car with a white British woman.
The driver helps white lady with her bag.
Driver watches us lift our bags into the car.
Is this racism?
What does racism look like here?
Don’t think about it.
Look out the window and see what this country looks like. You’re here.
Gray buildings. White buildings.
Pull up to a beautiful, simple row house.
Nick! A six-foot something dude in his forties? Greets us at the door.
His hair stands up everywhere. He looks artsy. Or crazy. But nice.
I’d sent notes back and forth with Nick for weeks. From the notes, I got the impression that Nick was very friendly and very excited to have us as his first airbnb guests.
And he was.
Nick doesn’t stop smiling. Or talking. Or giving advice about South London.
His flat is gorgeous.
Sunlight, simple, small splashes of color.
He gives us a hand-drawn map, two subway cards and two cups of black tea. Perfect.
Rain. Drizzle. Mist.
Cars jetting down narrow streets.
Brixton village open market.
Delicious lamb. Beer.
Asha and I look at one another and smile.
Walk out into the gray evening.
Drizzled on, damp and happy.
London. April 16. 2016
Sleep until noon. My body has no idea what time it is.
Nick makes us more tea.
I look for cumin in the cupboard.
Use the leftover lamb to make my new culinary invention-lambled eggs.
Listen to BBC music radio.
Walk around Brixton.
Go to the Chip Shop: a hip-hop shrine of a restaurant specializing in fish and chips.
(Murials of Biggie, Tupac, Ice-Tea, etc litter the walls with a classy black and white theme)
Order fish and chips and beer.
*Later we learn the difference between the more traditional “chip”, a thick chunky cut of the potato, vs the more modern interpretation-which is really just a french fry.
I am a French fry lover, so I’m happy with the modern spin.
Back to the flat.
London. April 17. 2016
Wake at noon again.
We have our first set today!
Leave our lovely Air Bnb host Nick for another flat in Brixton.
I’d been emailing someone called Yvonne for a couple months before the trip.
I got an email one day simply stating “I’ve found a flat for you in the UK.”
Yvonne had heard my music before and she had a friend with a spare room
-they offered to host us.
Before this email, I didn’t know who Yvonne was.
I didn’t know if she trustworthy or insane.
She didn’t know if we were murderers. But. I guess we both had a bit of faith.
We knock at the door and Yvonne, a beautiful salt and pepper short-hair, tattooed (don’t want to use the word butch because some people hate the word), masculine leaning woman with a gorgeous smile opens the door.
Yvonne leads us up the narrow staircase to her friend Armelle’s place.
Armelle, we soon learn, lives like a Disney Princess.
There are small synthetic pansies sprouting from every corner of the place.
Everything is white or pale blue or pink.
Everything is neat, and pretty and magical.
Most importantly, it is comfortable and it is free and we are both so grateful.
We melt into the couch, plug in the adapter powerstrip and get to planning our route to the first show on the tour.
Walk into a warehouse space.
You can tell from the feel of the place, it’s full of family.
It feels like home.
It’s Stacie G!
*Stacie is a gorgeous, glowing woman with long locks and a sparkly smile. We met her last year in Durham. She’s lived in Germany, the US and now she lives here. And she’s brilliant.
Stacie is selling “don’t touch my hair” tees and totes.
Meet Xana the event organizer and Kyoko, a fellow musician from DC.
Ask Kyoko to play with us tomorrow night, she seems into it.
Take the stage.
I am oddly calm as I start singing.
Usually, I get very nervous before a show. Angsty, rude, sweaty.
I worry about being judged, being mediocre, messing something up.
I figured my anxiety would be worse here, performing for a bunch of British strangers. But it wasn’t. Maybe because these are strangers. Felt like I could completely bomb and it wouldn’t matter because I’m basically on the moon. And that feels amazing.
So I sing.
The audience is quiet, still. Barely swaying in the darkness.
From the stage, I’m not sure if they’re confused, or into it.
Just sing, be.
Just have fun.
After my set, I meet the folks in the audience.
I meet some folks who know my music, and some who don’t. All warm and gracious people, all happy to be there. Happy to share space.
My first experience with what I decided to call quiet london love.
Maybe quiet because they’re polite, or because they’re attentive, or both-but underneath the quiet is a warmth and sincerity that I’ve never experienced at home. They are open.
I never want to get on stage to be an entertainer, or a cheap magician spitting tricks at people.
Ideally, I’d like to share energy and stories, and if there’s no love-it feels empty.
And tOnight felt full.
Asha and I return to Brixton round midnight.
After walking for blocks looking for hot food, we settle for chicken sandwiches from Morley’s- a fast food joint comparable to an old school macdonald’s, or coming to america’s McDowell’s.
Not a healthy choice, but a satisfying one. And the fries were delicious.
London April 18, 2016
Four months back, I booked a space at Whirled Cinema, a beautiful old brick tunnel-turned- screening space in Brixton. Again, taking a bit of a risk-because (be, you don’t know anyone in London...what are you doing planning events in a country you’ve never been to?).
I searched for a couple weeks online. Looking for screening spaces in London. Finding a space, looking at photographs, googling the address to see if it was accessible, getting a quote, requesting a date. It was tedious.
I found the perfect space and sent the rental fee from my living room in DC.
Hadn’t got the grant money yet. No plane tickets. No place to stay.
But SOMEHOW, we’re screening my film on the 18th of April!
It definitely wasn’t cheap, but it I sold tickets online, and it paid for itself a month before the event.
Most of the day I spent attempting to find an amp for the musical portion of the event.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been sound system-less hours before a show, so I know the moves.
Call everyone you know.
Ask them to call everyone they know.
Check AV rental houses nearby.
Don’t freak out.
Something will stick.
We arrive at the space. It is glorious! The shape really pulls you in. There’s a bar in the corner, nice lighting. The projector’s images are vivid, the sound is crispy. All the colors, textures, sounds were there. Nothing lost. Perfect.
Suddenly the tunnel rumbles ominously like thunder. This, we learn occurs every 10 minutes when a train passes by, which makes me a little nervous-but at this point, I’m more worried about the amp.
Put on the new King album.
Folks file in.
A train thunders by.
Asha smiles at me.
Everyone is quiet.
Kyoko, the musician we met last night arrives.
AND she is toting an AMP!
Asha, Kyoko and I set up the sound.
Everything is ready.
I stand awkwardly in front of the screen.
My name is Be Steadwell, I’m the writer, director of Vow of Silence. We’re going to play the film now, and sing some songs afterward. Does that sound good?
We play the film. Which actually pairs perfectly with scary thunder sounds.
Following the film, Asha and I come to stage and sing.
More quiet London love.
And after a while, I ask Kyoko to come sing.
I have never heard Kyoko play in my life.
She’ about to play a set at an event I organized in London.
Of course, she is brilliant. She plays electric guitar and sings.
Her lyricism is subtle and so relatable that you have to say Yea or hmm every now and then.
She plays a few more and Asha and I finish with another set.
Sing worthy, blind, witch, bad, who have I become.
Some new, some old songs from the repertoire.
Before the show,
Everyone was quiet.
After the show.
Everyone introduces themselves.
I’ve been listening to your music for five years.
I’ve been listening since the lost bois.
I never heard your music, my friend forced me to come, but I loved it.
We drove 8 hours from Whales for this show. Want to smoke a joint with us?
Yvonne is there with our host Armelle, who is as beautiful and magical as her aesthetic implied. She is French-Algerian with long dark hair and piercing eyes. She thanks us for the show.
Ash and I decide to walk back to the flat.
It’s late again, but instead of Morley’s this time-we get some eggs, spinach, bacon chips and beer from the store.
Late night snacks.
London April 19th, 2016
No shows today.
I’m really not the tourist type. I like to pretend I live places.
But there’s some weird feeling of pressure to do fancy things when you’re that far away.
So today is tourist time.
We take the train to King’s Cross to visit platform 9 ¾. If you don’t know, you better ask somebody nerdy.
So at the platform they have a cart with an owl cage half protruding from the wall and the Harry Potter shop has a photographer set up taking photos of people.
Asha and I get in a small line, watching folks get their photos taken.
There is a party of young Japanese women. There are some Americans, there is a French couple. THere are people from everywhere, people of every age in this line. There are grown-ass people there by themselves to take this photo and be a part of this world.
All so excited for Harry Potter.
*Harry Potter was the first-ever book I read by choice. And as someone who was placed in “special ed” in elementary school, that kid who learned to read real late, who was virtually afraid of books-this world really was magic to me.
I put on my green Slytherin scarf, Asha asks for the Gryffindor scarf. And WE DUEL.
Walk to Camden. Pass by the scores of tourist shops, find some artist stands.
Functioning vintage cameras, leather hand-stitched pouches, cigars.
The scent of food leads us to an insane number of street food stands.
Both proud fat girls and food lovers, Asha and I are in agony over the choices.
Crepes, or roti, or burgers, or curry, quinoa bowl, falafel, paella??!!
Asha picks the shrimp burger.
We walk along the canal and find a good spot to sit and admire the houseboats bobbing in the water as we eat.
Now a thirty minute walk along the zoo path to Stacie’s place.
Stacie’s flat opens to the coziest meditation corner-full of pillows, surrounded by windows.
Asha and I are exhausted. Feet swollen, backs aching, shoulders tight.
Stacie brings us black tea and leaves us to rest up.
When she returns, she brings home-cooked tuna steaks, quinoa with kale and a bottle of white wine.
Our first home-cooked meal in London is magnificent.
We all talk queer life abroad. We talk Beyonce, Jay Z. We talk exes. Talk poly. Talk feminism. Talk about Stacie’s plan to host Black women’s yoga retreats around the world.
Now rum and juice.
Ash and I head home.
London. April 20, 2016.
Wake up late again, not quite on UK time, not sure where are souls think they are.
Today is our gig at The Ritzy. It’s a lineup of eight artists including myself. The venue is a little bar above an old cinema.
We arrive early for soundcheck.
Sounds pretty good.
Folks file in.
This crowd is mostly white, and nearly all straight folks.
Same goes for the musicians.
No shade, it’s just a shift from the past few gigs.
The first act is George Pelham. Pelham is pretty white boy (*England seems to have a plethora of twenty-something pretty white boys, it’s a blast) with a beautiful voice and guitar skills for days. Each act that follows is like this. CRAZY guitar skills, great voice, great lyricism.
I didn’t have much time to be nervous, I am so blown away by every act.
Not an exaggeration. I’ve never seen so many incredible musicians in one place.
Asha and I go up to play. By this point, the back of the house is noisy and a bit roudy. Folks toting pints of beer, laughing heartily.
It can be fun to play against a rowdy crowd. It pushes me harder. It forces me to connect deeper to the story of the song. It can also feel like trash. Or a bit of both.
Start at the beginning. Worthy. The house focuses in. Quiet, and patient. They listen.
This quiet love is officially more than coincidence. It is pattern.
It is as if you can feel a tide change in the room. Everything sort of slows to a crawl.
After the set, I see an old buddy in the audience. NIEL! Neil was my tutor in highschool, then a teacher at my high school.
This gentleman made some sense of math and science to a teenaged Bekah Steadwell, no small feat I’d say. Now he’s the head of a math department at a school in London. GO Neil!
We have a beer, catch up and both feel a little older. But in a good way I think.
One of those moments where you have to shake your head and say “wow. Time.”
Or something like that.
London → Leeds. April 21, 2016
Eat delicious ramen at a Brixton spot.
Train to Victoria.
Walk to the bus station.
Get on the bus and snag a spot at a table.
If you want to know what male privilege feels like, sit across from this dude I sat across from on the megabus to Leeds.
This man stretched his elbows across the table until we’re nearly kissing on the lips. His yawns are like shout/barks. His feet, legs are splayed open wide, feet all over the place, and moving so much that I am becoming a contortionist in order to avoid an unintentional game of footsie and CREEPY leg foreplay.
For four hours in traffic.
Possibly the lowest point of the entire trip.
Luckily, the bus stops an hour outside of Leeds, and this man leaves the bus.
Asha and I switch to ordinary seats.
No strangers to nearly make out with or unintentionally scissor.
And beyond the rolling hills, yellow flowers, sheep, and belted galloway cows-on the horizon we spot a tiny rainbow cloud. Not a rainbow behind a cloud. Or a cloud near a rainbow. It was a rainbowcloud. Like the rainbow only existed within this little white cloud. It was nice.
I glance at my phone. Why are there photos of Prince everywhere?
Asha looks at me.
Prince is dead.
We sit in silence for a long moment.
In disbelief, or denial.
When people ask me that question “what musicians inspire you?” Prince has always been on the list. Not just his music, but his refusal to adhere to one genre, one medium, one gender presentation. His willingness to be so different.
It hasn’t all sunk in. It won’t for a while But Asha and I hold hands and talk it out.
For the rest of the trip, we will take his spirit with us.
As the bus arrives in Leeds, Ingi and Zane are waiting at the station.
They are both bursting with energy. Ingi is bespeckled with shoulder length locks, a small boyish build and one of those winter hats with the yarn ball on top. INgi is from Leeds. Her accent is a bit different from what we’ve heard in London and she uses a lot more little colloquialisms in her speech. Occasionally she says “innit”, which the tourist in me gets excited about. Zane has long dark wavy mermaid hair and dreaming eyes.
*Ingi and I were put in contact through the Leeds Queer Film festival (*my first international screening for Vow in 2014). Essentially Ingi had been listening to my music and was generous enough to host me and organize the Leeds show.
They walk us to a Thai spot in the area.
Leeds looks is a small city. Like DC.
City things, with little corners of character and small town scattered here and there.
Zane and Ingi live in a tall row house. Zane makes Asha black tea and her first crumpet with Nutella. Zane and Ingi clarify the fact that crumpets are not supposed to be eaten with nutella. It’s butter or jam only, but tonight-we’re breaking the rules.
I notice a hand-made Hufflepuff poster hanging from the mantel.
Zane made it. Zane and Ingi are Hufflepuffs-they know this because they’ve taken the Pottermore quiz. Zane explains the basics of the Hogwarts houses. What each house is known for, the pros and cons of each type. This is basically the other astrology.
So of course, Asha and I MUST take this quiz. Asha thinks she’s Gryffindor. Because she is brave and has a heart of gold and all that jazz. I know I’m Slytherin. Because whatever, too badass and fierce to be in any other house.
The quiz asks things like “the moon or the sun?” And “what kind of instrument most pleases your ear?” And “Which nightmare would frighten you most?” Asha takes time with her quiz. Racking her brain to consider which answer best suits her. Cup of tea and a crumpet later, we learn Asha’s fate.
I take my quiz quickly. I’m pretty impulsive, and I usually know what I want right away. Plus, I already know I’m Slytherin. Then, the result pops up.
MF Ravenclaw. No way.
Zane attempts to ease the blow. Listing the admirable qualities of the RC. Womp. I’m done today. All my evil magic dreams have been dashed.
Ash and I go the bedroom.
I play Prince covers on Ingi’s guitar until I fall asleep.
Leeds. April 22, 2016
Start the day with a proper English breakfast by Zane.
Hashbrowns, fried eggs, tomatoes with mushrooms, toast, beans, and veggie sausage (a slight alteration, they house is full of vegetarians).
And more tea.
A bit of time before the show, we head to the Urban Farm to hang out with some creatures.
Goats, sheep, donkeys and such. Nice piece of country.
I walk with Asha to feed a daffodil to one of the bunnies.
I wish we spent some time on the countryside. A village or something. We could dream of owning some land and having the beautiful, colorful queer community we’re all dreaming of.
I want to see the English countryside.
Next time. Asha says. We’ll see it next time.
We arrive at Wharf Chambers, the venue for the night. It’s darkish, smells like beer, but it’s warm and cozy in a way. It’s kind of like a punky queer country pub.
The show starts with Jasmine Kennedy. She rocks a long puff ponytail, a flannel and an old electric guitar. Jasmine is magnificent. She sounds like Nick Drake and Irish soul and camomile tea and rainy days. Her music is so subtle and quiet and the audience listens with bated breath. You could hear a beer open in that room. Quiet London love.
Next, Ingi and her bandmate Beth take the stage. They sing trade the guitar and harmonies seamlessly. Asha and I are baffled. Ingi just finished her science degree at University. JUst. She took her last test TODAY. Beth works full time. They just “play sometimes” for fun. These women play guitar better than half the guitar players I’ve met. Their harmonies and arrangements are craaazy.
Xana is next. She plays on the Boss RC-505, the newer, sexier sibling of my loop pedal and when she drops her beat-I’m finally convinced I should cut into my last bit of money and get one. She’s fierce and she spits from the heart. Storytelling on queerness, having parents from the Caribbean, about how certain people expect her to “speak proper english”.
Ash and I take the stage and swim in the warmth of the room. We take a moment to sing “Doves Cry” together.
After the show, Ash and I meet folks by the merch table.
I got to meet one insane individual who flew from Germany to come to the show, and her girlfriend. They were both a little annoyed that I didn’t play a full show, BUt so grateful and kind.
Prince. The Spice girls.
Rolled cigarettes on the patio.
A story about a pet bear who learns to open beer bottles and soon becomes the drunken menace of a hippie village in Austria. Told by a very attractive androgynous austrian woman with a face so serious-everyone believed her.