FOOL BRITANNIA: SHEFFIELD ARTIST TSARZI ON NEW SHOW ‘GONE TO THE DOGS’
Words: Tom Bell
Photography: Barbora Cetlova (@barkaphotographysheffield) shot at The WareHouse, Yellow Arch
Exposed meets Sarah Sharp, stage name Tsarzi. Religiously experimental and eloquently spoken, the artist waxed lyrical about upcoming show Gone to the Dogs and the forlorn alter-ego Lady Britannia who’ll be taking to the stage at Yellow Arch next month.
Your show is ‘an affectionally nightmarish reflection on Britain’s Imperial Nostalgia and obsession with the war(s) presented by a faded Britannia’. How is your show both ‘Nightmarish’ and ‘Affectionate’?
It sums up my style essentially. I had been doing it in a smaller way before now and I think because of time over lockdown and the new studio space I’ve had the chance to properly sing out and find out more about the sound I’m making. I have quite a theatrical, operatic voice which has gotten bigger and when I sang, I found the songs I’d been singing leant increasingly towards nightmarish ends as I’ve been able to exaggerate the extremities of my voice. It’s nightmarish as I found myself ventriloquising a lot; I allowed myself to have a theme and a concept meaning I could ventriloquise all these different voices. I’ve worked in rough pubs and listened in to conversations where there are extracts spoken from the Daily Mail. The main song ‘This Is England’, which tops the show, is quite demonic and frenzied and portrayed through me as this faded Britannia.
The show is affectionate as it isn’t just me standing there and ranting at people – e.g., ‘Tories are bad’ etc. It has more of an amused, darkly humorous element within. I find a lot of affection with all the portraits I do of people and therefore why there is a lot of tenderness and sadness within the show.
‘Britain’s Imperial Nostalgia and obsession with the war(s)’: what motivated you to do a piece on this topic?
For me, post-Brexit opened a schism. My personal experiences such as working in pubs, being on buses, my family etc, meant I could overhear conversations and see how people were living in cocoons before the result. It created the awareness of this gap and the awareness that we were splitting. At the end of 2019, I was thinking about what I should release, and I’d finished a song called ‘This Is England’. It’s a mad, very weird song but I could instantly see it’s a fun song which I could centre around a figure and talk about the empire. Lockdown happened and I feared people would forget about Brexit, but instead, people started using rhetoric about covid like we were at war and this Blitz spirit emerged about us always winning. The virus doesn’t care!
In some ways, this period was a gift, as for the last two years I’ve been able to see this story unravel. We’re in an interesting space on the concept of ourselves and what makes England. I’ve been getting back into learning about history, and I realised that we have always been like this since the empire – e.g., the identity of England and the notion of exceptionalism. The show features a whole war section with themes based on Last Night of the Proms and Purcell’s aria which they play at the Cenotaph and is based in Greek myth. We are so steeped in war and tradition and the idea of how things are memorialised and what makes an Englishman.
There’s a teaser YouTube clip of one of your songs called ‘Lady of Shallot’, which will be in your show. It’s very unique with just you and a looper. Can we expect to see more experimentation like that?
There are some wonderful sounds that are produced from my new kit, the Nord keyboard. It’s a weighted 88 key piano that can split the sections, so I can layer piano, bringing sounds in and out and setting up weird segments. There’s a lot of vocal looping, strange pedal/voice effects and audio effects to mirror the radio. There is some violin, too!
We’re in an interesting space on the concept of ourselves and what makes England. I’ve been getting back into learning about history, and I realised that we have always been like this since the empire – e.g., the identity of England and the notion of exceptionalism. The show features a whole war section with themes based on Last Night of the Proms and Purcell’s aria which they play at the Cenotaph and is based in Greek myth. We are so steeped in war and tradition and the idea of how things are memorialised and what makes an Englishman.
What has influenced this new sound?
Over lockdown, I think that everyone has been given the chance to reset and rethink and I felt like I was becoming a little stagnant in what I was doing. Lockdown gave me the chance to retreat into this self-directed learning space. It gave me a chance to reconnect with myself. I’ve now become a Radio 3 girl! There’s been a lot of influences such as the haunting sounds of ‘Long Lankin’ from the Wainwright Sisters and other stuff which has been brewing in the background, ready to enter my songs. Scott Walker is my hero and having the studio space has allowed me to go full operatic. I felt that I’ve become a hermit over the last 2 years and that’s why the show is very relevant because she is like that, too!
The character is a ‘faded Britannia who sits in her shabby bedsit’. (What an intro!) ‘She sings in grief and forgotten glory’. Who is this person and why is she so depressed?
She is an image and an idea of an empire. She embodies the people and voices that I hear: “We won the war”, “We used to be great” and “We’re British” are phrases that I can’t understand. I had to make these phrases look like a person (Britannia), a person who is feeling a bit cast off, very resentful of the world but she’s scared to go out in it. She’s half a prophetess figure, as she sees what’s going on, but also a neglected priestess because no one is paying her homage. She is part of a forgotten age. She’s stuck in the past, which I feel like a lot. There’s the constant threat of missing out but not having the wherewithal to go out and address it. It’s predominantly a case of seeing what she is like when she is in front of people. Everything I do will be done with a slight wink to the audience!
Do your personal experiences link in with her perspectives?
I don’t think my experiences link in with her perspectives as she allows me to ventriloquise things that I hear and the feelings that are present in a room. My first album is so much from my perspective and was a way of dealing with things. The show allows me to give voice to things I don’t agree with but notice. The idea isn’t that I change between her on stage; I come on stage as her and that’s that. The character allows you to open yourself up without you having to come in with a political agenda. There’s something very freeing about it.
‘Gone to the Dogs’, the artist’s show joining songs and theatre in a wonderful summation of her lockdown creativity, heads to Yellow Arch Studios on Saturday 7th May. Tickets are available here and you can get a 20% discount using the code BRITEXPOSED at checkout.