The biography of Lady Geraldine Elliott that comes with this debut album is far more dramatic than anything she could offer musically. In fact, it is the sort of tale you’d expect to see unfolding in an over wrought TV movie – as indeed it might one day, should this record somehow propel her to international fame. Born profoundly deaf, subject to a poor education, married off at sixteen into an abusive relationship, fleeing into poverty and then, in the uplifting third act, having an operation that restored her hearing and introduced her to the joys of music. At which point she… erm… opened the Edinburgh Dolls Hospital, which rather throws the ending of the film, but never mind. I’m sure they could just gloss over that and get straight to her glittering musical career, which she has now – somewhat belatedly – launched alongside her dolls hospital and jewellery business.
This album comes about as a result of her being discovered by a Scottish music impressario, who we can safely assume is Lawrence Riva, the man who produces this album and writes all the songs. Apparently, they met in her shop and one thing led to another. I’m intrigued at how this happened. Did Riva take in a teddy bear for restuffing (researching Lady Geraldine, I found three Scotsman articles in which she warns readers of the dangers of dodgy bear stuffing), only to hear her burst into song as she totted up the bill? I suppose we’ll never know.
Interestingly – and perhaps tellingly – the press release offers no clues as to what musical treats are in store for the listener, only a pointed, and accurate, suggestion that it will not be The Blues. Still, it came as a surprise to play the opening track and find the sort of generic lightweight heavy rock that one might have come across on a low rent 1980s action film or TV show. You can picture the guitarist, bouffant billowing as he steps forward to throw some rock ‘n’ roll shapes as he valiantly solos away, before stepping back to allow Bonnie Tyler or such to once again wow her cruise ship audience with a selection of her biggest hits. This is all well and good with a has-been star of yesteryear reliving past glories to a patiently nostalgic crowd. Lady Geraldine, on the other hand, is a never-was, and because we live in a terrible world, quite probably a never-will-be – though I thoroughly recommend that in the unlikely chance of her turning up to perform at a nightspot near you, you move Heaven and Earth to attend. There is, frankly, no way she won’t be entertaining.
As amusingly unexpected as the music might be, it’s only when the vocals kick in that you’ll really sit up and pay attention. And when I say ‘sit up’, I mean you’ll most likely spit out your drink and fall off your chair. Because this is astounding. My immediate frame of reference was Florence Foster Jenkins, but in fairness, this is at least on nodding acquaintance with a tune – which is the least we might expect, given the existence of autotune and the like. But the vocals continually strain against any traditional sense of melody, instead regularly heading off into the outer limits of musical acceptability, which no amount of echo or burying in the mix can counter. It’s rather like seeing someone who is essentially tone-deaf getting up to do karaoke, and finding that you can’t help but admire the chutzpah involved in such shameless denial. Indeed, if these dated AOR numbers were performed by anyone with a more conventional vocal style, they would be unbearable. But Lady Geraldine – who seems quite a character, frankly – causes these songs to become fascinating and compulsive slices of outsider art.
In a world of bland, overly polished, manufactured and interchangeable pop acts, there’s something rather joyful about vanity projects like this. This is glorious, eccentric, deliciously misguided stuff, and I thoroughly commend it.