Doris Day Can Fuck Off - Greg McLaren interview
2011 Edinburgh Festival show based on singing to strangers
This article is from 2011.
Performer Greg McLaren has created a Fringe show about spending a month singing to cyclists, buskers and traffic wardens. But why is he so hostile to the artist formerly known as Doris Mary Ann Kappelhof? Jonny Ensall finds out
It’s a sunny Saturday in Stoke Newington, North London, and I’m competing in my very first ‘allotment Olympics’. Specifically, a shot putt event that swaps the usual metal balls for hefty, organic potatoes. The games have been organised by Stoke Newington International Airport – the collective name taken by the group of artists, musicians and performers who have colonised the warehouses that overlook the small alley in which I’m about to throw. The studio spaces around are used by, among others, comedians Josie Long and Will 'Jackson’s Way' Adamsdale – an Edinburgh comedy award nominee and winner respectively. I feel a degree of pressure. I launch my spud. It narrowly avoids a parked hatchback and rolls into an unconvincing fourth place. I shrug, but there’s a round of applause.
This is the sort of supportive environment that Greg McLaren is used to working in. The performer behind the antagonistically-named Fringe show Doris Day Can Fuck Off lives by the Airport space, and catalysed the formation of this loose collective three years ago. It’s a group whose identity he still struggles to define. ‘We’re not a theatre company. Although we are a theatre company. We’re basically a youth club for grown-ups – no don’t print that.’
The vitriol in his 2011 Fringe show can be explained by the fact that it was developed away from the good clean fun of the Airport, over a two-week residency in chilly Cambridge, during which time McLaren pushed the boundaries of an idea: everything that he would usually say to people, he would instead sing. Not only that, but he would attempt to draw people into singing with him.
‘I don’t blame people for not taking it up,’ he says of the Cantabrigians’ unenthusiastic response. ‘In public people are quite keen to stick to their usual script. It’s the same as someone talking quite loudly on a train – it can annoy people. You’re pulling the usual social context out of shape and it’s just uncomfortable.’
Over a month of trying McLaren had little-to-no response singing to cyclists, professors … even buskers. Still, he has managed to build the experience into a one-man Fringe show about the joy of opening his throat. He also recorded the few people who didn’t just ignore him, and now uses some of these samples on stage – the natural melody of a traffic warden’s speech becomes, for example, the musical basis of a ballad. It gives McLaren some solace to sing over the strangers’ words. ‘Taking it back to the studio and working it into a song made me feel like there was, in the end, this posthumous relationship with him. I see it as a sort of duet really.’
And what about his relationship with Doris Day? Is that irretrievably broken?
‘Well, Doris Day doesn’t exist. It’s a stage name. Her real name is Doris Mary Ann Kappelhof. Quite often in interviews she would say, “Oh I’m just Doris Mary Ann Kappelhof, from Minnesota. All that Doris Day stuff, that’s a different person.” I think it’s OK for the character of Doris Day – the avatar – to fuck off. Especially because she embodies the idea that singing and song is no longer something that everyone can do. That’s something that the X-Factor has helped make happen.
‘One of the things I’ve realised is that it’s unusual to hear singing from a real mouth that’s not attached to any kind of financial transaction. There is a link between music and money that it would be useful if we could uncouple.’
McLaren might think it’s OK to give the symbolic finger to all that Doris Day represents, but Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t. The show’s Facebook page was taken down recently because it contravened community guidelines. McLaren is unphased. ‘I’ve put a lot of work into it, and I stand by it – even the title.’ Even in the face of Zuckerberg’s corporate might? ‘Yeah, well he can fuck off an' all.’
Doris Day Can Fuck Off, Zoo Southside, 662 6892, 5–29 Aug (not 16), 6.15pm, £9 (£7).