“I’m a lesbian and our guitarist has one hand”

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PinkNews.co.uk’s Katherine Knowles meets a band proudly challenging physical, emotional and musical barriers.

“We’re all equal here, man” says Jackie Romeu, the lead singer of new band Nelson Romeu. “I’m a lesbian and our guitarist only has one hand!”

“People always want to know how he plays the guitar with one hand. All I can say is, he’s always had one arm with not all his fingers, so he just has got by over the years. He lays the guitar on a piano stand and strums away. He makes his own path, you know what I’m saying?”

Actually, it’s sometimes not easy to understand what Jackie is saying. Her rather aggressive tone, and speed-talking that almost defies shorthand, is all a little intense for first thing on a Monday morning. Yet intensity and Jackie have long been companions.

“We both write the songs for the band, and they’re based on what we’re going through. Actually when we first started this band it was because another band I was in fell apart when our manager died. Oh and the guitarist from that band died too. A lot of my songs were about those kind of intense feelings. We were gutted, man. Totally. And the other songs I was writing were pretty depressing too – they were about heartache and heartbreak, relationships, girlfriends who fuck you around, that sort of thing.

“Actually, though, my songs are a bit more upbeat now. I wouldn’t describe all our music as depressing. It’s a combination of rocky punky, indie, electronica. It kind of defies categorization, you know? I’ve been in a relationship for 2 years now and I’m really happy, so I think that comes through in the music. I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about politics too, and the fucked up state of the World. Like a protest. My latest song is called Turn Off The News. The message is the world is full of miserable stuff, so don’t watch it on TV, right? Turn off the news!”

Isn’t that less of a protest song and more of an ode to apathy, I wonder, but Jackie has already moved on.

“I started writing songs when I was 12. I had a keyboard. I never had any lessons or anything. I taught myself. Well, I had piano lessons, I suppose, but I wasn’t big on reading music and I gave up after a year. So I really felt it and went with it.

“I knew I was gay when I was 10,11, and I was too scared to tell people at school. I didn’t get bullied exactly, but it wasn’t good either. I hated school. Music was an escape for me.

“I came out when I left school, when I was 16. It had a big affect on my music. I mean, I could write “girl” instead of “boy” in my songs, and all my emotions just came pouring out!

“I don’t have any issues with religion. My Mum’s a Catholic, but she doesn’t really believe it all. I mean, she goes to church and she took me to church when I was growing up, but not properly or anything. Fuck no. I did get baptised and confirmed though. I was confirmed when I was 13, which was after I knew that I was gay. I wasn’t really thinking about it, really. I’m not religious. Just because you’re confirmed doesn’t mean you’re a Catholic. Nah. I don’t believe it.

“So now I’m with my band, Nelson Romeu, and my girlfriend saw about this competition, the Emergenza Music Unsigned Festival. It’s a worldwide thing, yeah?”

How many other bands entered? I probe.

“Well, probably lots. Hundreds? There were heats and semis, and we’re been up against at least 12 bands.

“What happens is, the audience have to vote and the most popular band goes through, oh, that and there’s a band vote too. Well, we knew that we didn’t have a lot of fans because we’re so new, but we thought fuck it we might as well go and enjoy ourselves. Anyway, other band’s fans voted for us and we’re through to the final!

“We’re not a gay band. We want to appeal to as many markets as we can. I think music gets a bit scean-y sometimes. It’s all about how you look. I don’t look like Brittany Spears. I don’t know any gay women who look like her! That’s such a heterosexual image. It’s bullshit.

“That’s why myspace is so great. We might even release our own record on our own label if no one signs us soon. We’ll start the download revolution! Well, join it anyway!”

So off I go to the website to listen to sound clips, and what do you know? The band is good. Really good.

Sounding not unlike Lulu on gusts of helium, Jackie’s vocals are a total surprise. At times spiky and cutting, at others sweet and melodious, resting voluptuously on dreamy strings, or bouncing along to rock tracks in the perkiest, bubbliest way imaginable. All the tracks on the website sound fabulous!

A lesson in letting the music do the talking, I think.

The final of the band competition will take place on Sunday 23rd July at the LAZ Astoria.