Interview: Lorraine Bowen celebrates material world in Polyester Fiesta!
Fabric-loving funny woman and pal of Billy Bragg hits Glasgay!
You may not be aware but this year is the 70th anniversary of polyester. Yup, that’s right- the fabric responsible for some of the strangest, best and undeniably worst looks of the past half-decade is in its twilight years and musician/comedienne Lorraine Bowen is celebrating its legacy at Glasgay! with her show, Polyester Fiesta!. The chucklesome domestic goddess, favourite of Woman’s Hour and lover of Casio keys explains to The List just what’s so special about a simple piece of cloth.
Tell us a bit about the show
It’s a catwalk cabaret - a completely unique thing that I have certainly never seen before. I’ve been to fashion shows and cabaret shows but I thought it would be interesting to mix the two together because catwalks are normally so very, very serious. There’s usually thin, nigh anorexic models walking up and down but that’s definitely not the case with ours. I started researching polyester and found out that It was invented in 1941 in Manchester and thought that needed to be celebrated, so we’re doing it through Polyester Fiesta!. I had a bunion operation in January and had my foot up for six weeks, so it was the perfect down time to get out my old charity shop records and write a show.
Are you strutting up and down the catwalk all by yourself?
Thankfully not. Normally I do a solo show and I’ve been up to Glasgow loads of times and performed at Glasgay! before but Polyester Fiesta has been a unique experience for me, because there are five of us involved. Two dancers, in the style of Kays Catalogue models; a geeky scientist who explains the technical aspects and a wardrobe mistress behind the scenes to suit us all up because we’ve got four massive suitcases of polyester outfits to bring up on the plane with us. We’re not like real models - we’ve all got a bit of flab.
Where have the outfits come from?
It’s my personal collection, built up from years of collecting. They’re quite wild - from house coats to gold trousers. I’ve always loved the futuristic materials and fabrics that you used to get. Outfits in the ‘60s were very embossed, very 3D. We’re living in the Primark era and it’s horrible! Nowadays, materials are all quite boring and drab. All the outfits are original, vintage clothes, so it’s very genuine. They weren’t invented to be funny. Some of these clothes were serious but they just seem some wonderfully funny now.
And what about the songs?
I’ve made five albums and the songs fit really well with the polyester theme, so it’s a collection of my hits. I sing while the girls and the scientist dance. I’m from a music background. I did a degree in music, I play loads and instruments and have been in lots of different bands. I got an amazing opportunity to perform around the world in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with Billy Bragg. I learned so much from him but he eventually said, ‘You have to go solo’, so I turned to vintage, cabaret style to go with my indie, weird pop personality.
Best things about polyester?
It’s crease free. It’s durable. But as it’s mainly made of oil, and that will be running out soon, your own polyester items will become more and more valuable. Check your cupboards.
Lorraine Bowen’s Polyester Fiesta!, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 552 4267, Fri 4 Nov, £14 (£10), 10pm.