YORK singer, artist and Ph.D student Alice Wilson will sing with Slack Habits for the last time at their Old White Swan debut in Goodramgate, York, tomorrow before focusing on her solo album.
For the February 22 gig, she steps in for departed lead singer, Marsha Knight, re-joining bassist Iain Marchant, drummer Martin Wilson, guitarist Andy Elmslie and keyboards player Josh Hill, with whom Alice used to perform in an earlier incarnation of the York band.
Alice and songwriter, guitarist and producer Andy Wilson – no relation – are progressing quickly with the album’s recording sessions at his home studio in Holgate, with Andy aiming to have it fully mixed and mastered in time for a March launch.
Alice, nearing 30, says she has “looked to music for escapism for even longer than she has looked to books or alcohol”.
“My first forays were into musical theatre when I was at Millthorpe School, then Fulford Sixth Form,” she reveals, recalling her favourite role being Tallulah in Bugsy Malone when she was 16.
“I did theatre through GCSE to A-level but was heavily tricked into thinking theatre was not a career.”
Instead, Alice has pursued a scholarly path, starting with joint degree honours in anthropology and sociology at Durham University, “so that I could do both science and arts,” she says.
Next came an MA in urban sociology at the University of York, specialising in housing. “I’ve blagged my way into pretty good educational institutions as a result of being a working-class queer,” she says.
“I’m now doing a Ph.D over the next three years, again at the University of York, where I’m trying to make radically affordable houses available for the people who need them.”
As part of her Ph.D in sociology with “heavy fraternisation with environmental science”, Alice is building a tiny house in the garden of her Heslington home, 30 square metres in size.
“You might think it’s a glorified shed, but it’s not that glorified,” she says. “It’s a timber-framed structure with super-insulation made from re-claims from demolition sites.
“Ideally it does inform my Ph.D, so I want to film it in progress, as well as writing a thesis, doing my art and singing all the while – though it all leaves minimal time for singing.”
The tiny house, once complete, will have three rooms downstairs – a main living room, a tiny kitchen and tiny bathroom – and a stepladder will lead to the mezzanine level above: a crawl floor where you can sleep, says Alice. “It qualifies for recreational use, like a summerhouse, so I’ll use it mainly for painting in.”
As her official profile says: “Alice draws and paints @neither.both.illustrations and post pictures of herself at the gym @neither.both. Alice recycles, votes left, and worries about how productive she is being, like all other millennial snowflakes. She hopes you enjoy the ear feel of her voice.”
As Slack Habits’ songwriter, Andy most certainly enjoys that “ear feel of her voice”. “Alice sang with Slack Habits for a while, playing the Blues Bar in Harrogate, the National Harley Davidson Convention, pubs, festivals, Lendal Cellars and the Little Festival of Live Music in York, and being featured on BBC Introducing, before abandoning us to go into academia,” he says.
“But I didn’t want to let her talent go, so ten months ago we started working together again.”
The result is such songs as The Other Woman, Put That Down and Cabaret Queen. “There’s also a mash-up of Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love that turns into Whole Lotta Last Waltz,” says Alice. “That turns it into being a song about domestic violence.”
Andy adds: “I’ve happened to write and produce for three or four female singers in recent years and the songs on Alice’s album tell stories about all kinds of different fictional women, good, happy, sad or bad.
“When I started working with Alice, I was stunned by her talents and charisma but I was also excited by her ability to ‘become’ the characters she sings about. So, it was obvious that she would be the perfect musical partner in an album project that had been brewing for a while.
“Luckily she agreed and now it’s nearly ready. I hope people are going to be moved and entertained by Alice’s ‘other women’.”
All being well, that opportunity should come next month. In the meantime, watch her singing Slack Habits’ “absolute bangers”, ranging from rock and electric blues to smoky ballads, reggae and funk, from 9pm tomorrow (February 22) at the Old White Swan, Goodramgate, York.