First Gig Worst Gig

Tina T'urner Tea Lady

Tina T'urner Tea Lady. Tracey Collins

Many years ago, people didn't properly appreciate musical comedians - or a lot of promoters didn't. Any comic turning up with a guitar, uke, synth, double bass or flugelhorn was likely to be seen as a 'spesh' act and stuck in the middle of the bill, to add a bit of variety, even if they were by far the best thing on.

But as jolly old Bob Dylan once nearly sang, the comedy times, they are a changing. Not only do witty tunesmiths now headline shows and get their own series, but a band like Flight of the Conchords - well, actually the real Flight of the Conchords - are touring huge arenas, including a bunch of dates at the zillion-seat 02.

But how do we hunt down the next wave of harmonious humourists? The sure-fire way to get a head start is via the annual WeGotTickets Musical Comedy Awards, which has a fine history of finding emerging multi-talents: think Frisky & Mannish, Abandoman, Mae Martin and Jay Foreman, for starters.

The MCAs turn 10 this year, and to celebrate they're holding a snazzy bash at London's Underbelly this Saturday night (the 12th). Joining Femmes On The Thames, Stiff & Kitsch and Jollyboat are a couple of acts who've made a big recent leap: The Mash Report's breakout star Rachel Parris, and the ad-boosted duo Flo & Joan. And then there's our guest today, one of those rare performers whose title says more than we ever could: Tina T'urner Tea Lady.

"At the show this weekend, TTTL will be mumbling her way through hit songs such as Goldenpie," says Tina T'urner's alter-ego, Tracey Collins, "shuffling across the stage into the audience in pursuit of pleasure, and serving up a hot pot of simply the best tea in town."

T'urner is currently brewing up a new Edinburgh show, Tina T'urner Tea Lady and Friends, which "imagines alternative life choices for showbiz legends, and we meet the people they surround themselves with." Tina also surrounds herself with balls, at her regular night Steamy Bingo - it's a special act indeed. But where did it start?

Tracey Collins

First gig?

My first TTTL gig was at a venue called Stoke Newington International Airport. My friend Nick Terrific booked me for it in 2012. The club was full to the brim and I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but I had a foldaway tea trolley, a very limp wig and a few songs.

The character was so different to how she is now. I ended the set by squirting whipped cream onto a cake and throwing it into my own face. I instantly loved the play involved with the audience and remember being very surprised that people were laughing. It gave me the nod to keep going with the idea.

Favourite show, ever?

It's hard to choose! But performing at Bestival 2014 was a special standout gig. It was in The Grand Palace of Entertainment tent, the sun was shining and it was full of the most rollicking crowd. After a few songs, I sat on an old sofa chair within the audience, drank tea with them and they could ask Tina anything. It was a luxury to improvise away from the script. We then did the conga outside, rolled around the floor and I left in a sweaty mess.

Tracey Collins

Worst gig?

It was a gig at a private Christmas party in a restaurant without a stage. They were all ignoring the show except for one man who stood up by the stage filming it on his phone. At the end, a woman took my shoe and hid it in her handbag, I had another gig to rush to but couldn't leave until the manager could get it back for me.

What's the weirdest thing you've ever done - or seen - onstage?

I once performed as 'Meatbat'. The idea was Meatloaf, dressed as a bat, singing rock and fighting for justice. I looked ridiculous, padded up wearing a leather jacket with huge bat wings attached. Surprisingly, my Meatloaf impression is the same as my Cher.

I saw a man skipping with an ironing board attached to him at a show recently, that was also weird... but wonderful.

Who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

Luckily, I haven't worked with anybody awful. I'm mostly focused on the tea and refuse to work with people again if they treat me unfairly.

What were you doing pre-Tina?

I was singing for a while. I made pop music in Norway and sang in various bands, but singing as a piano sprawler led me to the world of cabaret and then to character comedy.

Is there one Tina song you've tried adapting, that just doesn't fly?

I've never been able to make River Deep, Mountain High work, which is frustrating as it's an absolute showstopper. I couldn't find a place for it in the set plus the production of the song is so epic and layered, it would work better with a live band.

The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction?

I love the quote "few can resist such bestial power" but post-gig reactions are more "That poor lad didn't know what hit him."

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

I'm loving it! My regular TTTL shows and hosting of Steamy Bingo events allow me to have time out to work on new projects. My friend and I have written a wonderful sitcom set in my hometown of Leicester and I'm enjoying writing the new characters to perform in my Edinburgh show. I'm excited for the future.

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