Edinburgh Fringe 2022
The Bleeding Obvious
What happens when you tumble out of the big pink closet and across the LGBTQ+ spectrum in a sprawling queer heap? Well, life is never quite as straight as it seems. Yorkshire lesbian Jessica Rowbottom (aka The Bleeding Obvious) endeavours to describe the experience with original songs and tales which are sometimes funny, occasionally poignant, frequently emotional, usually queer – and it's probably the only show with the lyrics 'demisexual panromantic polyamorous androgyne'!
Hi Jessica, thanks for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping?
Really good thanks! Excited and nervous and bouncy and argh in equal measure. Two weeks to go, good grief isn’t it intense? Thank goodness for tea - do you want a cup of tea? There’s enough in the pot.
What does it mean to you to bring The Bleeding Obvious to Edinburgh Fringe and Underbelly this summer?
In a word: “squee!” (laughs)
7 years ago I was hooked up with a girlfriend who lived in Edinburgh, she was big on taking me to the touristy stuff and of course we did the Fringe. I recall standing in The Pleasance and saying to her, “I’m going to do this one day” - well here I am!
I think it really hit me properly in June: I came up to the city for a weekend with a friend who was getting married - I was the token lesbian in the stag party. I stood in Bristo Square and suddenly it was “oh holy heck what have I done, this is mad!”. Good-mad though, definitely good-mad.
How have your previews been going ahead of your Fringe run?
Surprisingly good, thanks!
The first preview was in my home-town of Wakefield with a friendly audience at The Red Shed, a venue which has played host to loads of Edinburgh performers over the years from the likes of Mark Thomas, they really know what they’re on about. It went really well, enough suggestions to stop me getting complacent but a brilliant night nonetheless.
Then last week I did one at L Fest (a lesbian festival in Wales) and it went down an absolute storm: a couple of ladies came and found me after the show and said it was one of the best things they’d seen that weekend! Honestly that validation was worth it alone but after that I ended up in the bar doing shots with a different couple who had fun too.
No script tweaks that time either, I’ll definitely chalk that up as a win!
The third preview’s in Leeds just before I head up to Scotland. We’ll see how that goes but I’m cautiously optimistic.
What makes Edinburgh Fringe so special?
I mean, it’s Edinburgh isn’t it! It’s the pinnacle, everyone knows it. You say “I’m doing Edinburgh Fringe" and folk go “Oh my god really? That’s next-level!”.
Then they realise my show’s on at Underbelly and it’s all “What?! How the hell did you end up there? That’s a proper venue!” Thanks mate. (laughs)
You call yourself a self-confessed ‘queerdo’, what does this mean?
Hah! That came from the Rainbow Heart tour I did in 2017, it’s a portmanteau of “queer weirdo”. The three of us performing on that tour were “weirdo, queerdo and token cishet” - I was the queerdo and it stuck. It seems as good a self-description as any...
What are you hoping to take away from your time at the Fringe?
Community. It’s a huge opportunity to meet other performers, show people, arts professionals, maybe an agent or two. Being a one-woman act can be quite isolating and lonely sometimes so I’m making a point of seeing shows which have been recommended by the FemiFringe folk. That way I can have that link with similar female and non-binary artists.
I compere a comedy night in Wakefield called Sips & Giggles so I’ll be background-scouting for acts to bring to that, too.
Can you tell me a little bit about The Bleeding Obvious, how did this show come about?
Without giving too much of the show away I’ve spent most of my life in some sort of LGBTQ+ identity flux. This is the musical story of how I found a label and why it was important. On the way we amble through reactions from family and friends, dating disasters, straight people at Pride, trans toilet panics, and growing up in the 80s with Section 28 (the clause prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality in schools).
As you emerge out of the big pink closet – or in my case falling out of it noisily and making right old mess – people say the same things to you, the same responses, we all have our own coming-out narrative but there’s a lot of crossover between experiences. Audience members frequently see themselves reflected in the show.
It’s happy-joy positive, but with bits of fun and sadness and “what the hell” and “did that just happen to me”.
Oh and it’s got a melodica called Sven in it. And a party popper.
"Being a solo artist and self-promoter has its benefits too: I get to develop The Bleeding Obvious how I want to without justifying it too much."
How much has the performing The Bleeding Obvious changed since its debut?
Originally The Bleeding Obvious was purely a musical act where I only planned to do one live show but then I got the bug for performance! As time went on, talky bits were introduced which led to an element of activism, a narrative emerged and I’d spend longer and longer introducing the songs. Bits of comedy were introduced as light relief, other anecdotes and tales so that’s where I am now.
Of course, if you haven’t seen The Bleeding Obvious for a couple of years you might not realise there’s a story arc now… the reaction is usually positive though.
What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from sharing The Bleeding Obvious with your audiences?
Don’t judge success solely based on audience reactions during the show, I learned that at an early stage. The person who might be deep in thought and hardly reacting may have just had an epiphany.
Couple of examples: there was one show I did where a huge bloke in tattoos collared me and “wanted a word” after spending the whole show glaring, massive biker dude type at a festival. It turned out he was really struggling with his own gender identity but wouldn’t talk to his peers, we chatted for quite a while.
Another time some gender-critical folk showed up – it’s a side-effect of activism I suppose – and it unexpectedly clicked something for them, it helped them understand the gender side of things a bit more. Hearts and minds, you know?
What does The Bleeding Obvious say about you and the type of cabaret you want to create?
It’s not quite comedy and not quite standup and not quite theatre and not quite a gig – it’s cabaret in the original sense of the word. A proper mish-mash of styles reflected in the different genres of music you’ll find in the show. I used to put the genre as “schizophonic” when I started out!
Being a solo artist and self-promoter has its benefits too: I get to develop The Bleeding Obvious how I want to without justifying it too much. If it doesn’t work I can change direction quickly with the look, the lights, the music and the words.
The flip-side of that freedom is it can be quite hard to describe because you can’t really pigeonhole any of it: for instance I’ll say “cabaret” and a lot of venues will think it’s drag, I say “musical show” and they’ll try and direct me to the nearest theatre.
Are there plans for a 3rd album and will there be merch?
Yeah, there’s a third album in progress called “Dirty Blonde” – it just needs mixing! I did intend on sorting it out this summer but then Edinburgh got in the way… (laughs) Once I’ve finished the Fringe run I’ll be back in the studio to get the last few bits done, promise! I mean, it’s only four years late.
Hmm. Maybe November. Maybe. Performing the songs is so much more fun anyway - quite a few are in the show.
There’ll probably be other merch around the same time - I’m always giving badges away at shows for instance.
Have you always had a passion for cabaret?
Back at school I’d go up to the music block and spend my lunchtimes banging out show-tunes on the piano, sometimes with a few friends singing along, so I guess I have, yes. I didn’t know it was called cabaret at the time though.
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer any emerging cabaret performer?
For goodness’ sake have fun! It carries through into your performance if you’re enjoying it. Took me years to work that one out.
Oh and drink plenty of tea.
And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from The Bleeding Obvious?
“I get it now! And dayummm those songs were catchy!”