Marcus Reeves interview
Marcus Reeves may perform as The Singing Christmas Tree, but he's nobody's puppet.
Now that panto season is over, Marcus Reeves is putting away his Singing Christmas Tree costume. Luckily he has plenty of other talents. As a singer-songwriter and cabaret artist, he has performed at venues including the Royal Festival Hall and sung alongside Mercury Prize winners Elbow, jazz-improvisation icon Bobby McFerrin and UK jazz man Ian Shaw.
The Singing Christmas Tree - what possessed you?
'A few years back I was invited to entertain the punters at the House of Homosexual Culture Christmas Fayre, and Timberlina suggested I do it in costume. Cue one very long night as me and my mum sat up with baubles, thread and a Hula Hoop. We're now on to tree number three! After a few too many sherries to celebrate a gig at the Southbank Centre, the original costume went one way on a night bus and I went another. Costume two was thrown together the next day from all the green things I could find at American Apparel so I wouldn't have to play Duckie in my knickers. Quoting Mama Reeves, if I lose this one, I can bloody well make the next one myself!'
You studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design before becoming a performer.
Why the change?
'I originally wanted to be a visual artist and I wasn't half bad at textiles. Sadly I didn't impress the people in control of the fine art textiles course at Goldsmiths when I applied, so I decided to try my hand at my other passions - performing and writing. The result was a series of disastrous day jobs and a schizophrenic career that has so far included stand-up, songwriting, panto, cabaret and playing a drunk in a ballet!'
How would you describe your act?
'The Singing Christmas Tree aside, in my musical life I'd like to see myself as the bastard son of Bowie, Bolan and Boy George. I've certainly studied them all with magpie eyes. Recent audiences have compared my live appearances to Brel, Piaf and even Lady Gaga - though I don't get my muff out as much as she does!'
Who influenced you?
'In my early teens, I was obsessed with Take That, but after a few years
I saw sense and discovered Bowie. David McAlmont broke through around the same time and has been a beacon ever since. Then Neil Diamond appeared on my horizon in my twenties and I was hooked - though I think it was his sequinned blouses as much as
How important is it to be out?
'The recent teen suicides in America brought home to me the importance of being a visible gay artist. I felt very alienated growing up gay. And having been subjected to homophobic abuse myself, I think there's still a long way for us to go in this country in terms of education about equality. Often we operate in a bubble that can disguise the sad fact that prejudice is alive and thriving all around us. If I can give someone hope by expressing the truth of my feelings and stories in my work, even if that makes me less “marketable”, that's far more valuable than being the sexless puppet of a record company or having my career and credibility battered to death on some TV talent show.'
What are your plans for 2011?
'In 2009 I wrote and toured “three zero” - a retrospective multimedia show looking back at my first 30 years. My musical director Michael Roulston and I will be releasing the songs from that in the spring and I'm working on material for my debut solo album for release in the winter. I'm also working on a play, “Single Numbers Only”, and a new gay musical called “Three Little Words”. My choir The Quicksilver Singers will be performing at a fundraiser for Positive East on January 22 and I'm looking forward to more gigs later in the year.'