For Under the Mistletoe


If I was a full-time blogger I would have photographed my record player covered in tinsel (it’s red and white anyway), but I’m not, so you’ll have to trust me. This is kind of a weird title for a blog post but hear me out! We’re all very familiar with Christmas music as it’s been blaring out of most shops since August, but there are some absolutely cracking tunes out there that don’t get enough airplay and I’d like to introduce them to you.

Seeing as my job for about 3 months has been curating the best Christmas songs for this event I thought I’d share some of the underrated festive (and suggestive) hits. I’ve also made a playlist featuring these songs as well as youtube links for individual songs in this post, so if you have Spotify you can listen and save along. So here we go with the top bangers for banging! (Sorry)

The Man With The Bag – Jane Monheit

This isn’t the original version, but it’s certainly my favourite. Jane has quite a soft voice and her cool delivery on a relatively fussy tune makes for a song full of anticipation. Perfect for a cheeky party peck.

The Christmas Song – Chicago

Lay those funk grooves down, boys!! This is such an overproduced arrangement of this song but I LOVE it! It’s so different from the original and there are some banging horn lines on this track. A good one for all those festive lounge parties you’ll be hosting in your penthouse flat. (?)

Back Door Santa – Clarence Carter

I don’t know if it’s the overly suggestive lyrics (“I ain’t like the Old Saint Nick… he don’t come but once a year”), the sleazy horns, the fat funk guitar in the background or the honky-tonk keyboard… but this song is SO hot. It’s just an absolute banger of a song. I’ll actually be singing this on Sunday (for Quizmas) in full bed voice, so wish me luck with those frustrated growl sounds! *gulp*

I’ll Be Home For Christmas – The Carpenters

It basically invites you under the mistletoe, it’s that sweet and coy. Believe me, as somebody who has studied Disney music to academic level over the last 7 years, the production on this value of the popular festive ballad is PURE 50s Disney. The choir, the high winds and strings, the percussion. It sounds like it’s from a vintage Disney Christmas film that never got made. Add in Karen’s super-sultry voice and it’s a Christmas winner.

This Christmas – Donny Hathaway

I love this song. Donny has the best voice ever, or at least one of the sexiest voices ever. It’s so warm! His voice is like a brandy for the soul: add in how desperately he wants to have a good christmas with you and his talk of “carolling” through the night and it’s just a deeply sensual christmas tune. Cracking horn line too. This is another one I’ve been learning for Sunday so let’s REALLY cross our fingers I can channel my inner goddess for the whole set!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Pearl Bailey & Hot Lips Page

Before you skip over this really overplayed/over-covered song, give this 1949 recording a go. It is HILARIOUS, I absolutely love it. There’s just so much character and atmosphere in the song! The ad-libs from both performers are hilarious, and Pearl is just such a sassy broad (there’s no other word for it) that it really makes the song. There are several times they almost miss the cue to sing because of the crazy improv over the top. I think my favourite bit is right at the end where she says “I don’t got no fur coat or nothing, I really can’t”, and then about 10 seconds later “I’ll tell her to go about her business” with a clear smirk. Brilliant.

Ole Santa – Dinah Washington

Dinah can’t help but sound sultry, and though this song is ostensibly about waiting for Santa to arrive, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to imagine Dinah, dressed in feathered gown, sat at the dressing table and gazing longingly out of the window waiting for her guy to arrive.

Let’s Make Christmas Merry Baby – Amos Milburn

The gentle piano suggest a late-night home alone, the slightly fuzzy production suggest a couple of egg-nogs, and the lyrics suggest… well, what don’t they suggest? He wants to slide our chimney and fill our stockings full of toys! Oh Amos. There’s even a sultry sax solo. It’s all very, very mistletoe.

Dear Mrs Claus – The Barr Brothers

What girl doesn’t want to be wooed at Christmas time? Promises of gifts, holding our hands and distracting the elves for the night, it’s all very sweet and coy. 6/8 is by far the sexiest time signature and the innocent vocal delivery coupled with the humming harmonies in the back, leading into a well-placed guitar solo make this perfect mistletoe fodder. Probably in front of a log fire. Maybe even in matching Christmas pjs. Adultery never seemed so sweet.

I’d Like You For Christmas – Julie London

Julie London has such a soft and sultry voice anyway that she could probably sing the phonebook and it would sound perfect under the mistletoe. But this sweet ballad has some well placed syncopated backing vocals (god knows I love a thought-out backing vocal) and coupled with the high melodies it’s all very intimate and delicate. More of a prolonged smooch than a quick peck under the mistletoe.

Trim Your Tree – Jimmy Butler

This is so, so, so deeply unromantic. But it’s just so hilarious I had to include it in case you hadn’t heard it. The lyrics are ridiculous, the musicians sound like they’re having a ball – the keys player is loving it – and Jimmy is just absolutely going for it on the vocals. Have a sleazy Christmas!

So there you go. A very brief guide to some of my favourite christmas tunes! I haven’t done many music-based posts but this could have been a LOT longer, so let me know if you’d like to hear more.



This is a song I wrote in the summer. Like most of my songs, it’s about a situation I didn’t understand which I mentioned in passing at the time. There was a lot going on. I wrote the lyrics when I was still optimistic about the situation, but I wrote the music later when I knew where I stood.

I thought about typing the full lyrics out into this blog post but I think it’s better to just listen and interpret them yourself. Thank you if you do listen and please let me know what you think!


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If you’re not familiar with my project Quizcats, Quizcats is a 10 piece band and we put on events that combine live-band karaoke with a pub quiz. The nights are themed (films, musicals, 90s etc) and end up superfun in a silly, easy way: dancing, costumes, prizes for best team name and so on. I spend most of my time working on Quizcats – sorting all aspects of the show and promoting it.

Next Sunday we’re doing a Christmas themed show, Quizmas. I am SO excited!! I didn’t think I could get through this month without telling you about it – it’s been my sole focus for so many weeks and I’ve dedicated myself to the project. This show has a few festive surprises – we have a Christmassy photobooth (I’m secretly jealous I can’t get involved with this!) and the rest of the band (the 9 guys in the pictures) will all be dressed in seasonal attire, complete with me in a ridiculous Santa dress. I can’t wait to see what the audience wear!

We get a lot of comments from the audience on how much fun they have and I think it’s genuinely because (as cheesey as it sounds) we, the band, have so much fun on stage. I put in a lot (a LOT) of unpaid hours to the job, but the minute I get into rehearsals with the guys or up on stage with Chris it’s like I’m having the time of my life. The shows are at the forefront of my mind for such a long time, occupying so much stress and toil, but on the night I just basically go on stage and have a ball.I think the place I’m really happiest is performing in front of an audience and the Quizcats boys are just such an awesome bunch, every show we do feels like we’re just hanging out and having a great time. To have an entire audience join in dancing along and cheering with you is indescribably fun!

I’ll definitely share some pictures of the event itself once it’s happened! If you’re London based and want to come then use the code “TapeParade” for 40% off tickets. And let me know so I can come and say hello! #Quizmas :)




PeteFest orange festival pete handley ginger music bodle street greenPeteFest orange festival pete handley ginger music bodle street greenPeteFest orange festival pete handley ginger music bodle street greenPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest is a festival which was created in honour of my friend Pete who died last year. I’ve posted quite a lot on Pete so long-time readers (thanks both of you) will be familiar with this part of my life, and if you’re following me on social media you probably saw me posting bits last weekend.

Pete’s wonderful parents had already told us: no sadness. The weekend was not for mourning, for grieving, for tears and choking up. The weekend was for celebrating, for smiling, for fun. For embracing and for making a lot of noise. For beer, for sunshine, for cake and for getting involved.

Everything there has said repeatedly; it was awesome. The music was diverse and interesting, the sun was shining, the people were friendly, the pints were flowing. The theme was orange; orange bunting, orange shirts, orange and ginger cake, ginger beer, orange balloons, orange ribbons. Even on an aesthetic level it made the whole weekend brighter; my camera got confused by the higher than usual levels of orange and tried to contort everything into being sepia. 

Pete’s family are to be hugely commended for the festival as a whole. Their attitude and determination really dictated the whole festival; I don’t think a single minute passed without seeing smiles and hearing laughter; people dancing, joking, making friends, catching up or sharing a moment. To have a space to meet people we otherwise would not have met without having to outright make a big emotional deal out of it, is amazing. The organisers put in months of work and it really showed.IMG_0063james and laila WOLF PACKPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefeststeph laila tapeparade petefest pete handley blog festivalPeteFest orange festival pete handley ginger music bodle street greenPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestI lost 3 people close to me last year, all unexpectedly and all in their 20’s. Pete’s passing is the only one that has caused people to come together; creating festivals, awards, legacies. I’m not done posting about it or figuring it out (will I ever be?) but that’s not what PeteFest was for. PeteFest was for being happy.

For me, it was a weekend of confronting truths and being surrounded by friends. I intersected with the festival in a lot of ways and it was hard not to see what was happening through those multiple filters: I attended the festival, I played a (small) part in organising it, I performed several times under several guises, I helped promote it, I manned the social media and I made a small attempt to document it with my camera. I was a weak link; I turned in some truly awful performances which I subsequently felt disgusted about, and I also got very drunk. Luckily I had all my friends around. Besides, any festival that ends with the barmen buying you a pint is a success Pete too would have approved of.

I wrote so recently about my wonderful friends and they were all there at PeteFest. I had my closest friends from school days. I had James and Danilo, the remaining pillars of my personal and irreparably broken triumvirate. I had the people I think of as family and I had my actual family, however that goes down. I’m perennially the one with my crap least together, but for my part I fell asleep surrounded by all my oldest and dearest friends; all the people who know me best and care for me most sleeping in the same tent. I remember thinking as I fell asleep; if I don’t feel safe here and now, where and when will I? And that was PeteFest.PeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefest

Alongside the festival there is also an award set up in Pete’s memory. You can read more about it here. I know a couple of you have written to me in the past that you were so moved by previous blogs that you decided to donate, and I can’t tell you how much that means to me. That I have readers I have never met who are so kind and generous and giving is really incredible. Thank you so, so much for your support and for your love.

Pete further discussed in these posts: 1, 2, 3, 4.

I’ve shared mostly photos of my friends and myself on this blog as I thought it would be weird to share photos of people I don’t know on a personal blog; but it’s weirder I feel that way as a) all the photos are mine and b) they’re all publically on the internet anyway. So if you’d like to see more they are all up on this page. If you’re in one of these photos and don’t want to be – please let me know and I shall remove it immediately. steph laila tapeparade petefest pete handley blog festivalPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefest


finished quizney 2 poster


As I said in my post the other week I’ve decided to try and share more of my work! My big focus at the moment is Quizney – a live band karaoke and pub quiz event based on Disney. Our next event is Sunday 15th so it’s Valentines themed (red sequin dress; check) and we’ve moved to a new venue: Proud Camden. It’s one of the more fun places I partied at during my teens so playing there is like closing that little loop in my life!

I’m not the hugest Disney fan in the world so it’s always novel having to immerse myself in the Disney world for each event! Having the chance to study the music in depth is really much more interesting – I studied music for film and musical theatre at Masters Level so analysing the scores and songs of Disney films is hugely satisfying for my inner geek.
Quiz Cats
Most of my time this week has been based around scheduling promotion, learning the songs, choreographing dances and rehearsing the band. I like to think that despite the poor track record of women writing music for the films (Frozen is the first film to have songs or music written by a woman – Frozen! In 2013!!!) I’m flying the flag by directing and leading the whole night (incidentally the only female in the group). My favourite songs from our upcoming set have to be the Hercules and Aristocats soundtrack – motown and jazz inspired, respectively. They’re just such fun to play!

If you’re in London on the 15th and would like to come then you can get tickets here – you’ll get to hear my host voice…!

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Quiz CatsQuiz Cats

Kate Bush

kate bush hammersmith apollo 2014 outside before the dawn queues opening nightkate bush getting ready tickets and outfit choices tape parade tapeparade blogkate bush getting ready tickets and outfit choices
kate bush hammersmith apollo 2014 outside before the dawn queues opening night tapeparade blog
Last Tuesday I was sat in Hammersmith Apollo watching my favourite living female artist on stage. After a 35 year stage hiatus, Kate is back. Kate Bush represents so many things to me. An artist who isn’t afraid of books, history and academia as song topics. An artist who makes uncompromising visuals to accompany her art. An artist unafraid of seeming a bit weird. An artist who embraces her voice and her instrument, however unorthodox soprano and piano may be. A woman who embraces being a woman in a mans world. A woman who doesn’t get her kit off but instead sings about sex in an intimate, adult way. She just represents so much to me that I’d like to one day represent to somebody else; the music we make is very different but I feel a sense of kinship with her story-telling, her looping vocals, her layered music, her piano-playing and her poetic lyrics.

I’ve long been dancing around my room (and later on stage) to the songs of “Auntie Kate” so naturally snapped up tickets to Before The Dawn – I’m going to a further 2 concerts of the run including the closing night! I took along my two favourite people and wore all my favourite clothes. It was amazing. Thank you Auntie Kate, and see you again soon.

Due to the no video and photo message Kate posted I’m offering you a video of myself performing Kate instead!

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kate bush hammersmith apollo 2014 outside before the dawn queues opening night
kate bush hammersmith apollo 2014 outside before the dawn queues opening night
kate bush getting ready tickets and outfit choices tape parade tapeparade blogkate bush getting ready tickets and outfit choices tape parade tapeparade blog


dance rehearsals for hot body rubString rehearsals, cello, violin, guitarDem BonesJames bass mustard jumper, red trousers, Vault, rehearsals BodyHitting hammers for music on bench with George, did you see me dance?

I absolutely love rehearsals. Orchestral rehearsals, where you can go and sit in a room with 30 other people and forget everything outside the room in order to focus purely on the music in front of you. Band rehearsals, where I know James will be able to translate the inarticulate jumble of notes I can already hear in my own brain. WOLF PACK rehearsals, where not only do I get to air all my ideas about staging and music but I get to do it with a group of people who love and understand me and will therefore keep me in check from becoming a tidal wave of confusion. Theatre rehearsals, where I get to learn so much about another art form that so interests me from people whose knowledge of an audience and communication far surpasses my own. Dress rehearsals, the final pitstop before the event where you can start to anticipate how the whole performance will feel once you’ve added an audience and a ton of adrenaline into the mix.
I’m lucky that most of the time I’m rehearsing with like-minded people who end up becoming close friends. It makes such a difference to collaborate creatively with people who you know and trust. The saying goes that “life is not a dress rehearsal” but I disagree; you could argue that our whole lives act as a rehearsal for what comes next. We are all constantly learning and progressing: finding out how things work, how things feel, how we react to certain things and how to communicate and present ourselves to the world.

Pete, cat in the hat, Tjusad rehearsals, me on keyboardcontinued Dance rehearsals with Dan and LailaLaila, Emily, cello case, rehearsing, lovely headlighting, rig, rehearsals, VAULT, StudioRob, Danilo, Laura, guitar, flute, actor, VAULT
Skeleton danceViola, bassoon, dance, George

The last three weeks.

The JabberwockBeware the JabberwockJamesC'est BonWuthering HeightsA new tomorrowWuthering Wuthering WutheringThe JabberwockTeam Captain Spleen during BODY
The last three weeks of my life have been dominated by a week of concerts at VAULT festival by WOLF PACK. WOLF PACK is a performance and music group I set up two years ago. Initially I set it up as a way to get through my horrific postgraduate degree but it quickly became a creative outlet for the ideas I had in my head and a platform where I could create the kind of performances I wanted to be involved in. My favourite events as a teenager were immersive theatre productions, exhibitions of performance art, small, intimate gigs and surreal plays. WOLF PACK is a combination of all those things.

We performed two different shows over the week, BODY and TEXT. For TEXT (above) we all dressed as literary characters (see how many you can guess from the photos) and for BODY (below) we all took on slightly different personas within a gameshow environment; alongside our cheesy gameshow host were two team captains (including me), a doctor, a nurse, a few sports nuts and a naked guy.
We had so many wonderful audience responses and many great nights out at the festival during our time performing there. I’m so grateful to VAULT for inviting us to play at their wonderful festival! If you’re interested you can find out more about the project here and VAULT festival is on for another three weeks so get on down there if you haven’t already…

Hot Body Rub performance PowSeven Nation Army at VAULTPresenting a gameshowCorporelSeven Nation ArmyReaching up for The Danilo