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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

I knew we were in for a giggle and a night of surprises even before the first contestant pitched up on stage in a bikini with a large painted shark’s head over her own, whilst her mate – painted blue – followed behind wafting metres of turquoise cloth around. And the audience piling into the Globe Theatre for this Miss World contest would have shone in a Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton film. My teenage daughter, spotting me before I left the house sporting a bright pink sequinned mini-dress – “Mum, you can’t go out in that, you look like a prostitute” – would have been gratified to see that in this crowd I was both soberly and conservatively dressed.

This Miss World contest was clearly not the one that everyone bar the occupants of a working-men’s club circa 1970 was glad to see the back of. It was in fact The Alternative Miss World Contest, an event taking place for the last 40 years on and off – and the brainchild of the sculptor and designer Andrew Logan. This year’s theme was neon. The stage was bright, Andrew Logan and Grayson Perry our perfect hosts were even brighter, in fluorescent yellows and pinks and greens.

There were three categories: day-wear, swimwear and evening wear. ‘Miss Who Gives Fuck’ was a game show complete with a neon-signed booth containing a contestant. Another, ‘Miss Three Sheets To The Wind’ came out with a huge champagne bottle on his head, sporting three plastic sheets and his friend operating a fan. Some were brilliant constructions of light and image, others insane and huge plastic creations. A giant plastic octopus hogged the stage during the swim­wear section. One Miss’s evening wear was a circular table set for dinner for six and he was in the middle sporting a huge lit chandelier on his head. The whole thing was so brilliantly bonkers and exuberantly creative it was liberating. The show set your mind free and made you laugh.

Surrounded by this creativity and authentic expression and sensing the work that it took to realise it, you were swept up in the exuberance, the fun and the freedom it brought, the sense of tolerance and community and celebration. I realised that it’s when creativity springs from an authentic place, from somewhere in our soul, our true self beneath our egos, that it really expresses something unique and universal and connects us all as human beings.

Musicians whose creativity springs from their authentic selves are often consigned to struggle along the byways and backwaters of popular culture because they are not following the herd. The short-term mentality underpinning the music business shuns the unique and honest in favour of the imitation and the tried and tested.

The Alternative Miss World made me think we don’t need X-Factor or any of those dull platforms of mediocrity and marketing. What we want is an Alternative Eurovision Song Contest. And if any of its contestants, on being asked what they would do if they won, replied as one Miss did to Andrew Logan that night “Well I’d be so grateful for the support the audience has given, I’d give everyone here sexual favours,” it might be an event that ran and ran. Just sayin’…

[I’m sure if the planners of Sidmouth Festival are reading this they’re already on the case…Ed.]

Elizabeth Kinder


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