Lady Annabella Marczewska of Jesmond is a polymath.
DJ, dancer, model, artist and member of punk transgressors Women in Revolt, she recently also made a forage into film, curating a blend of much-loved and occasionally bizarre movies from The Graduate to Rollerball at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema.
Lady Annabella’s persona blends the pared back glamour of Audrey Hepburn with a splash of 60s neon and a touch of eccentric aristocracy that recalls Grey Gardens. While she’s often centre-stage, this unusual figure in the Newcastle scene has rarely been interviewed, preferring to stay silent. But she agreed to talk to Northern Soul. Here’s what she told us.
Guy Mankowski: Where did the whole Lady Annabella Marczewska of Jesmond persona come from?
Lady Annabella: That started with joining the band as the go-go dancer and choosing a stage name/alter ego. When I met Sheena Revolta [singer of Women in Revolt] she made a point about how back in the day, bands like The Rolling Stones would have these aristo-friends that would tag along and party with them, and that was his suggestion. And I’d always loved Lady Miss Kier from Deee-lite and I loved the idea of having ‘Lady’ in the name somewhere.
I was born in Jesmond, raised in Jesmond, left Jesmond, lived in a bunch of other places in Newcastle then came back to Jesmond and have been there since I was 21. My surname is Tate, which is a fine surname but doesn’t have an interesting ring to it. I wanted to use Marczewska at some point, maybe as a business thing. It’s the Polish surname on my mother’s side, but I was dubious as the spelling is so crazy and no one knows how to pronounce or spell it. My grandma is the last remaining Marczewska and I feel like one day, when she’s no longer around, there’ll be no more Marczewskas. So I felt I wanted to take it on, on my own terms. My Polish heritage means a lot to me, so I’m proud to have that.
The idea of this glamorous crazy girl dancing – she wants to tag along with the band and be alongside them dancing with them – that was that really.
GM: What would you say your main influences are?
LA: The main one for me has always been Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the Russ Meyer film. Which I first saw when I was 13 and I thought ‘what the hell is this? I didn’t see it again until I was older, and I got hold of it on DVD when I was 21. Watching it again as a young adult was pretty much the same experience – I obviously ‘got it’ a bit more but I was still just in awe of the outfits, the sets, the dialogue, just the film generally. It’s pure eye candy to me. And ear candy. There was something about that film – this fantasy lifestyle – but it’s all a bit jokey and spoof and tongue-in-cheek. That’s always stayed with me that film.
There are a ton of other things too. Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, this stray waif living in New York, kind of in limbo. Grey Gardens, Elizabeth Taylor, Courtney Love, Joan Collins, Prisoner Cell Block H, Mario Bava films, crappy black and white 60s horror films, Phoebe Buffay. I think like most creative people, I get inspired by the most mundane, tiny things at times, or something big sometimes, it’s just whatever takes my fancy.
GM: As a DJ, who would you say your musical icons are?
LA: Sheena introduced me to punk. I never really got it before, I thought it was lairy and kind of gross. The Sex Pistols, these guys spitting, I found it all a bit vile. I like pretty things, and to me punk wasn’t a pretty thing. And I knew there was a meaning behind it but I wasn’t interested in it. The Women in Revolt members were all 20 years older than me and The Ramones, the New York Dolls, it wasn’t my music at all, it was theirs. My kind of music background was jazz and soul. And a bit of pop of course.
Sometimes I’d be dancing to these punk songs and hearing a crazy organ in my head and the words ‘groovy, groovy baby’, do you know what I mean? I come at it from a more Austin Powers angle. When I started doing the radio shows [Hot Lava] I thought I should continue doing that [the Women in Revolt style of music] rather than just the music I know and the music I’d like to play. So I decided to explore more of a more punky sound, more 60s garage rock, surf, that kind of thing.
As a DJ, in all honesty my musical icons aren’t really necessarily connected at all. The two aren’t really tied up together. I don’t know that I have musical icons. Although since Prince died I have major Prince fever and his music is just so endless and brilliant that I play him a lot these days and I think everyone appreciates it. He’s been a bit of a revelation for me lately in many ways.
When I was a little girl I lived above a pub in Newcastle [The Free Trade Inn in Byker] and there was the most amazing jukebox that played 45s. I grew up with Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Al Green, all the old proper soul, blues and R&B, Chess Records, Stax Records, a bit of Motown. I have jazz pianists and singers in the family so I heard a lot of that growing up. I discovered funk kind of on my own and then with the birth of the internet I went on a sort of odyssey of finding a ton of music from all of these genres that I loved. It was a bit of an obsession.
GM: What plans to you have for Lady Annabella in the future?
I’d like to get into soundtracks for films, and be a music consultant. I’d love to do film. I think that stems from Quentin Tarantino and the Pulp Fiction soundtrack being a big inspiration for me when I was young. How the soundtrack was interspersed with audio from the film, I found that a really interesting album. And he’s such a great picker of songs for films and visuals. Also, restaurants. I’ve got a bit of a bugbear with restaurants. I think someone needs to do better compilations. I’ve been in restaurants and they’re playing Britpop. Now we both love a bit of Britpop but I don’t want to be sat there listening to The Verve and The Drugs Don’t Work. I want to be listening to something jazzy, light and airy. Or maybe something Latino, lovely and instrumental. Something that’s not intrusive. I think in the perfect world, in Annabella’s world all restaurants will play nice jazz.
By Guy Mankowski
Photos by Phil Pounder
Guy Mankowski is a journalist, academic and award-winning novelist who has written about music, dance and politics: www.guymankowski.com