Rip the knickers off London and you’ll find gender-fluid gold, not dreary X-Factor clones! See, London’s not just a place, it’s an idea, inspiration, and way of life! Oh, and not just tedious, straight-living breeder lives – London, my dears, is arguably the world capital of killer diversity! Quite simply, it’s a city throbbing with a unique pulse found nowhere else, and London, unarguably, epitomises the German word
zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. And guess what? Right here, right now, we’re blessed with the pansexual Hostess with the Mostess, San-Franciscan uber-diva Holly Penfield!
Quintessentially American, so naturally extrovert and gregarious – think Katherine Ryan on crystal meth – Holly’s a living lifestyle transplant, importing San Franciscan exuberance in gorgeously digestible chunks for famished Brits!
Never scoped Holly on your Gaydar feeds? My God, you will! Scene queens, of course, will remember Holly’s awesome, kitsch-bitch residencies at the infamous Shadow Lounge and the Savoy Hotel, Oscar Wilde’s favourite, f*ck-buddy pad with twink partner Bosie!
If marginally older than Gaga, but easily predating and exceeding her in pumping charisma, song-writing chops and artistic extravagance, Holly must be seen to be believed. Working audiences with the assured, erotic prowl of a five-star cougar firing on every cylinder, she’s stunningly reclaimed her fabulous forties as an avant-garde hunting-ground for her restless, ever expanding muse.
If normally known to fans as a jazz and show-tune diva, French-kissing the ghost of her idol Judy Garland with a swooning, soothing breathiness that instantly sparks mass, spontaneous orgasms in the audience, the real Holly’s far more exotic, as radical in her image overhauls as Bowie himself.
And – make no mistake – Holly’s kaleidoscopic changes have been noted by the great and the good, from Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones to the haughty Simon Cowell himself, who famously described her as ‘a cross between Bowie and Minelli.’
He’s not wrong. This time around, Holly’s pressed the eject on her previous selves, and re-embraced the ferocious, challenging and musically precocious rock ‘n’ roll singer she started as. Imagine a furious mash-up of Billie Eilish and Lilly Allen and you’ll be half-way there, but new material – jaw-droppingly showcased in her new, Tree Woman – has a growl, grit and passionate ache of raw experience only Holly’s lifetime of exotic excess can give.
Shrewdly – and fittingly – Holly’s chosen to unleash her devastating lyricism on March 8th, International Women’s Day, highlighting not only her adoration of her own sex but also –like Marlene Dietrich – all the thrilling, sensual possibilities beyond outdated gender limits.
Which, naturally, brings us to another crucial aspect of Holly’s nuclear stage charisma; physicality. Sure, there’s an old opera queen cliché that ‘the show’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings”, and while that’s fine for opera, where it’s outstanding vocal technique that counts, rock ‘n’ roll lives and dies by gob-smacking visuals!
Just think; where would Prince, Jagger, and Bowie have been without iconic looks that instantly seared their brand into the collective consciousness? And it’s a no-brainer that to move, entice, seduce and beguile on stage, guys and girls must be super-fit and shockingly ripped.
No problems there for Holly. Toned tighter than an Olympic gymnast, she uncoils herself on stage like a hyperactive whirling dervish, the watching eyes of the audience instantly super-glued to her contagious exuberance. Better yet – even in a set as short as an hour – she executes bravura costume changes as startling as a Surrealist Hall of Mirrors.
There’s full-bodied skeleton suits, self-made hats crowned with stuffed owls that Alexander McQueen would double-take at, and random collisions of mediaeval chain-mail and boho chic Kate Moss would kill for!
Then there are the songs, light-years removed from paid-by-the-word pop drivel, and easily on par with Tom Waits, Noel Coward and Bjork at her quirkiest. No lightweight tales of easy shagging, obsession and resentment – virtually the sole subject matter of grime, drill and rap – Holly, instead, reveals tender moments of loss, acceptance, mortality and life-long, awe-inspiring love. This is the work of an artist quite simply at the peak of her powers, delivered with a remarkable voice that’s a virtuoso master-class in pitch, phrasing and the one quality shockingly absent in current pop-pap – conviction.
In that respect, Tree Woman’s as instantly addictive as some new, unknown Class A drug – you just have to have more! Simply clip on your ear-phones, and step into the singular, sonic soundscapes Holly’s thrillingly staked claim to. There’s the swooning, gypsy waltz of La Recoleta, the stomping, rockabilly shuffle of Diggin’ It, the sultry, insidious seduction of Love Dance, Tree Woman’s bravura engagement with mortality, and the devastating, emotional tsunamis of Stay with Me and The Last Enemy.
And sure, there are further jewels in Tree Woman’s embarrassment of riches, but arguably, they’re best sampled live, from the full, onstage, undeniable mystique of Holly herself. Why wait? Quite perfectly, Holly’s chosen to launch Tree Woman at London’s legendary and iconic 100 Club in Oxford Street, the absolute Ground Zero of cutting-edge, musical maverick dissent since the venue opened.
The flashpoint of Mod – all bug-eyed, feral and sexually insatiable, sartorially immaculate kids on speed – the 100 Club also nurtured the blues, Flower Power and Punk, and – if there’s any justice in Heaven – the ghosts of Muddy Waters, Brian Jones and Sid Vicious will be fist-bumping fellow-traveller Holly on her gig ight!
Our advice? Run, do not walk, to your keyboard ASAP, and lock down tickets now – this is one Tree Woman about to bloom in all her gorgeous, gender-fluid glory!
This Sunday, March 8th @ The 100 Club Oxford Street. Tickets: 100 Club