Spindle Log

May 2010, Spindle Magazine Issue 1

Beth Jeans Houghton is not what you’d expect from someone reputedly raised by a pack of albino wolves in Transylvania on stuffed clams and chewing tobacco: nowhere to be seen is the fetid body hair or overgrown claw nails. Instead, this elfin, Sedgwickian blonde is remarkably well-groomed; I would even go so far as to say positively un-feral looking. Nor does she greet us in the guttural half speech of the wolf-child. (At this point I’m beginning to think not everything written on her Myspace biography is entirely true…)

Kooky is the byword for Miss Houghton, this 19-year-old singer-songwriter who trades in whimsy and fey: “I was always really into make believe”.

If you don’t let her Peter Andre imaginings put you off however, you will discover that beyond her forays into the mythological and make believe there lies a talent for creating heart achingly sweet folksy melodies, as Beth and the Hooves of Destiny alternately trip and frolic through delicately tight and fragile harmonies. Her dulcet tones (a stark contrast from her Geordie brogue) are perfectly leant to dreamy tales of childhood sweethearts and dodecahedrons, with the accompaniment from her Hooves of Destiny ranging from the ethereal percussion of the xylophone on Night Swimmer to spirited clapping and the twanging of the banjo on Hot Toast. Her debut EP, Hot Toast Vol 1, could in fact easily be used as the soundtrack to A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Listening, I feel myself increasingly inclined to believe in fairies and start a fervent clapping to keep Tinkerbell alive…

Despite her youth and the fact she‘s only been wielding a guitar for the past few years, Beth’s already supported the likes of Joanna Newsom, Bon Iver and Devendra Banhart. She’s even been compared to Amy Winehouse: granted this may be more about her head adornments… “I had [a wig] I really liked that was called the ‘Dusty Springfield’ wig and it was a massive beehive. Everyone was just like ‘oh it‘s like Amy Winehouse, but blonde’. No. No it isn’t… Amy Winehouse isn’t the first person to have a fucking beehive!” Beth’s big on wigs; she owns eight in total, her favourite one she made herself. They’re all part of an extravagant persona that can be seen strutting the stage in body suits and leopard print and, until recently, six inch platform heels. (The acquisition of a Gibson Les Paul has demanded a greater ability to move around, so the heels have been ditched in favour of bare foot mobility). Don’t expect anything less than decadent, though: watch a Beth Jeans Houghton gig and chances are her loop pedal won‘t be all you go home raving about.

“Last night I wore a dress that I bought for like 50 quid! I can’t believe it, I never spend over like, three pence on clothes, but I bought it from this fancy dress shop in Soho. The title was ‘Pirate Queen’ but I thought it looked more like 17th Century. You know when they had all the powdered wigs and all that? I really like all that, like, what was her name? That French one who was a bit of a slut? Marie Antoinette. I really like that.”

Quoting Jimi Hendrix as her biggest fashion icon and extolling the virtues of tranny chic (“it works for the guys”, she reasons) there’s really very little surprise that Beth, who discovered her talent for fashion design before her music, is so set on incorporating the visual into her act.

“I really like 60s and 70s stuff and just the whole glam rock thing. Everyone used to make such an effort to dress up and now it’s kind of cool not to make an effort. I just think it’s nice to have something interesting to look at. It is a performance; you can listen to the record.” If you were to think this ended with Beth, however, you’d be doing the Hooves of Destiny a great disservice: no one in Beth’s act is safe. “I get my band to wear makeup on stage but it’s literally like fake moustaches and a couple of tears. But they’re very good about that. They had eyes painted on their eyelids and gold leafs on their cheeks.” Woe betide the writer who witnessed this gig and described the boys as “mild-looking indie boys”…

It’s only appropriate that this interview, conducted whilst she has her makeup done, ends with the application of long faux lashes and the donning of her ridiculously oversized, peroxide blonde afro of a wig that equates to roughly a third of her size: how very Marie Antoinette. Or Marge Simpson..

Charmingly contradictory, quintessentially quirky, and rapidly establishing herself as the drag princess of the acoustic folk-pop world, after chatting to Beth I’m only too ready to believe in her fantasy world. However, in the absence of her band sprouting hooves and wings and spiriting me away with them to a Technicolor world, leaving a spray of fairy dust in our wake, I’ll have to content myself with her records: escapism enough.