Interviews
INTERVIEW: RUTH of BIMBO SPAM

I first met Ruth back in the 90s, I was about 12 years old and my Mum had dragged me along to an art project at the YMCA in Kingswood, Bristol. Ruth was the ‘artist in charge’ and I seem to recall that I thought she was very cool.

Jump forward to 2006. I’m sat in Patrick Duff’s living room attending his songwriting group for the first time. Opposite me is a woman whose face is strikingly familiar. The morning session (by morning I really mean lunchtime by the time everyone had settled down) turns out to be more of a group therapy where each person talks about their past week which normally included a good moan or a cry about something or other. As soon as I heard Ruth’s name everything clicked into place.

During a break I mentioned my Mum and the art project we did many moons ago. Her face lit up and we’ve been friends ever since. You’ll find me performing with Ruth in the coming months as part of her band Bimbo Spam.

I asked Ruth a few questions about her life, her music and art. Here’s what she said…

Cat On The Wall: Please tell us a little about yourself…

Ruth: I grew up in the Midlands in a town called Tamworth at a time when there was very high unemployment. The one thing that had a bit of spirit was the local music scene so I grew up watching bands, falling in love with my fair share of bass players & spending all my pocket money on records. I left home at 19 and went to study fine art up in Newcastle upon Tyne, I got very disillusioned. I thought it should be about creativity and magic and it turned out to be all about marketing and strategy. I was too much of a dreamer at that point to be cynical enough to embrace the wonders of the postmodern capitalist extravaganza.
I worked for a touring theatre company based in London, carved marionettes in Cornwall and became a drug addict in Bristol which did wonders for my cynicism. These days I grow vegetables and make up songs with my friends.

COTW: You were quite a late starter on the guitar. What made you decide to pick it up and start writing your own music?

R: I was living in a hostel in Bristol and trying to find a way to get off drugs. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do instead so I bought a bass guitar from my friends brother & started to teach myself to play it. The bass resonated inside me and filled the hollow aching space left by the drugs and the rhythms hypnotised and soothed me. I got a job as a barmaid doing the graveyard shift and Saturday nights and there was all this out of date booze left behind by the previous landlord, my boss said I could have it so I used it to pay an alcoholic friend of mine to give me bass lessons, which seems a bit wrong now but it was so right at the time. The first song I wrote was with the bass, it was a song called ‘Liar’ about the end of a relationship. Its difficult writing songs with the bass as the melodies are different so I had been doing a’capella or working with other guitarists. My friend Dan gave me his old electric guitar & I started messing about with it through my bass amp and then wrote a bunch of songs as I learned a few chords. I think having strengthened up my little finger playing bass really helped me coz I was able to squeeze a lot of variation from one chord.

COTW: Lyrics play a big part in your songs. What is the writing process? What inspires you?

R:I had always written poems, stories & bits of lyric since I was a kid. I had written stuff on scraps of paper, backs of envelopes and receipts and would leave them lying on the floor. Every now & then when I tidied up I would find these words and didn’t want to throw them away so I poked them through a gap into the drawer of this little filing cabinet I have. I never opened the drawer, just poked things in. I started going to a songwriting group in Bristol and when I mentioned about the filing cabinet they persuaded me to open it & I bought a book and copied all the words into it. There were bits of songs there & I still find inspiration in some of the things I wrote then. Sometimes a song comes out all in one go when I hear a melody. I write mostly from personal experience, I am inspired by the places I have been and the people I have known. I often get a couple of lines in my head repeating like a mantra and then it takes a while for the rest of the song to turn up.

COTW: First and foremost you are an artist. Are you working on any projects at the moment?

R:I suppose Bimbo Spam is a project but if you mean painting and sculpture, yes I have a studio and I am working on a sculpture installation involving plaster models of human foetus’s and salvaged televisions. I showed a piece in a café a couple of years ago and it got taken down because someone complained that it put them off their dinner. I am also painting battle scarred butterflies and human hearts on rusty metal panels.

COTW: Do you have a preferred format?

RP:
No, whatever is to hand

COTW: Bimbo Spam is a very original name for a band. What inspired this name?

R: Its actually a song lyric from a Captain Beefheart song called ‘the dust blows forward and the dust blows back’, he says, ‘me and my girlfriend, Bimbo Limbo Spam’.

COTW: Do you enjoy performing live? Any memorable experiences?

R:Yeah I do quite like it. The worst was playing to a bunch of people who were there for the DJ’s who were on after me, there was no monitor an stage and all I could hear was people talking, I couldn’t hear myself at all and they all had their backs to me, it was awful. The best is when people come up to me afterwards and remember my lyrics after they hear the songs for the first time, that’s an amazing compliment.

COTW: Is there anyone you’d like to work with musically? Any artists you’d like to collaborate with?

R: I dunno, Amy Winehouse to sing ‘Monkey’ or ‘Tick Tock’ maybe. . . that would be funny, I like working with friends because its fun, I would hate to lose the fun from what I do. There are bands or individuals or producers that I really admire, or whose sound I love and I am always open to collaboration and to hear my songs evolve in different ways. I have worked with people who have put a spin on a song that I didn’t like & I felt that they didn’t get where I was coming from. I want to be true to my songs and honour their spirit. I have a friend who was in a couple of pretty good bands in the eighties and nineties and I would have loved him to produce my album. I used to think he was a shaman and I went out to visit him in Colombia when he moved there from Cornwall, Christmas and New Year 1999-2000, I was there for a month, he’s been out there ever since, I don’t think he’s coming back !! Open to offers.

COTW: Do you remember the last dream you had?

R:No. I’m pretty sure I dream every night though and do remember them occasionally. I went to see a psychotherapist once and he asked me to write down my dreams so I kept a notebook by my bed and for a week I wrote them down the second I woke up before they faded. He asked me to choose one and interpret it. I stopped writing them down after that. I like to leave them where they are, I think they are doing fine without me poking about in them.

COTW: What are your plans for the near future?

R:going to bed x

Jo Whitby

http://www.myspace.com/bimbospam

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