HOW WE MET; BRIX SMITH AND KATIE PUCKRIK
Sunday 04 January 1998
Brix Smith: I first met Katie when we were performing in Michael Clark's I Am Curious Orange in 1988. The Fall was doing the music, and Katie was one of the dancers. She had long, lovely, red, red hair, a cute, cheeky face, and she was American. Fifty per cent of the time I steer away from other Americans, but she was very bright and cool and kitsch and post-modern, and we just bonded.
The tour was an amazing thing to be part of, it lasted six weeks and we played in Amsterdam and at the Edinburgh Festival as well as Sadler's Wells. That was a complete blast, but my personal life wasn't going too well. During the tour my marriage to Mark ended. On the one hand it was incredibly hard for me to keep going and put on a brave face when I knew the cracks were happening; but at the same time there were these loving, supportive people around me, like Katie, who neutralised the hell. When I confided in Katie, I was very embarrassed that everything was going wrong. Mark and I were this couple, right - the couple - and everything was really Sonny and Cher. But underneath I was thinking, shit, what is going to happen?
After the tour Katie and I drifted apart for a while, until we met again by accident at auditions for The Word. That was a great surprise. At that point in my life I was going through another huge relationship-and-music thing, with Nigel. His career was skyrocketing, while I'd left The Fall and was doing solo stuff. It was very intense and crazed work-wise, and I wasn't 100 per cent there at The Word audition. I would have liked to present it, but in retrospect Katie was the right person for the job.
The best thing, though, would have been us doing it together. It would have been so much fun, we wind each other up and inspire each other to go further. She gets my brain going, she reminds me of a lot of weird things about growing up in America. She's sharp, sharp as a tack. Not everyone is sharp, well-read and adorable with it, so with her it's utterly charming and annihilating.
Me and Katie are physically similar, and we're mistaken for sisters all the time. I am a competitive person, but I'm happy for her and want her to do brilliantly - I don't feel jealousy. There have been people in my life with whom I've been intensely competitive. But she's not the kind of person who steals from me. That just drives me up the wall: when people take your look, or clothes, or the sound you're doing. I say: "I did it first and I can do it better, I can reinvent it." With Katie, even though being up for the same job was a test, I'm solid enough as a person that I can see why they chose her and be happy for her. I just took my life in a different direction.
Even though we don't see each other sometimes for months, we know we can still pick up at the same level of friendship, and we've never fallen out. There was one massive gap when I went back to America for four years after I left The Fall. I went to LA to get completely away from music. I acted in commercials and soap operas and did a play. All of a sudden I got the taste for music back again. Courtney Love asked me to play bass in her band, so I went up to Seattle to rehearse. She's another extremely smart girl, scary smart. Then Mark Smith called the same week saying: "Come back to the band, I'll give you anything you want." I decided to go back to The Fall for a while because it's the real thing, they begat everything else.
I feel Katie and I will definitely still be friends in 10 years time. I would love to work with her, that would be the best. To do a fun show about interesting, weird, bizarre girl-things. You could say we're good examples of Girl Power, whatever that is. We're examples of what women can do and achieve and still be good friends and have good hearts. The media loves to see two women as rivals, like Linda Evans and Joan Collins in the Dynasty cat fight, but we'd never do that.
Katie Puckrik: When we were doing I Am Curious Orange I noticed Brix right away because she was American, and when you're in a strange land you derive great comfort from hearing a familiar accent. I felt uncertain because it was such a cool-seeming scene. I knew I was a good dancer but didn't know if I was cool, hip or a good enough party-er. There was Michael Clark and Leigh Bowery and all these desperately fashionable folk. Brix was on top of a giant papier mache Big Mac, rocking out with a guitar in her pink tights, ballet slippers and mini-skirt. She was small, and had this beautiful, open face. She draws you in with a very innocent kind of charisma, not a manipulative one. I thought: "She's in with the in- crowd, but she's being nice to me."
At one point we were dancing on stage in a disco scene, and because the electronic music was so loud you could talk on stage without the audience hearing. I could smell a delicious scent wafting over me and said, "Mmm, who smells really good?" and I heard Brix's little, girlish voice saying: "I think it's me." I said: "Is it Chanel?" "No, it's by Clarins. Come up to my dressing-room afterwards." So after the show I went up there. She was so warm and welcoming. She told me to turn around. I was wearing my strappy leotard and she slapped all this Clarins lotion on my back and rubbed it in. As a dancer you really like to be touched, and it was so nice she did that - dove right in.
Brix was breaking up really painfully with Mark at the time, it was all going down the tube. I was flattered that she could confide in me, and trusted me enough to tell me how unhappy she was. You feel you're always having a pyjama party with her, she shares secrets.
After that we didn't see each other until we both auditioned for The Word. We arrived at this open call in London where 500 people were auditioning. I was a bit of a shrinking violet because I thought everyone was full of shit and trying to be loud, getting their face up on camera. But Brix was really charismatic. At one point everyone had to say something about themselves and she said: "I'm Brix, I'm a Scorpio, and Scorpios are very sexual." I remember thinking: "God, this girl is going for it." She was oozing it, baby: projectile sexing-up the crowd. I reminded her of that recently and she was excruciatingly embarrassed!
I never felt competitive with her because when we met she was clearly in a band and I was dancing. We were both small and American and we delighted in our similarities. Obviously auditioning for a major TV show is a different situation, but I felt positive that I'd get the job. I was at a time in my life when I'd gotten out of an unhappy relationship with a boyfriend and I was surging with power and energy. I felt very clear. I hate competitiveness. I'm happily ambitious, I know what I'm good at and what my goals are, but I don't like that unhappy jealous feeling. I don't have that with Brix. What I like about our friendship is that we're very relaxed with each other, I don't have to prove anything. As I've done TV work I realise how that changes the way people react to you. They try to impress you by acting all snide. They play games. Brix doesn't. She's had success on her own terms and in her own field. Although there is a crossover - we have complementary abilities and can flow into each other's lives and professions.
A significant factor in our friendship is that, despite long spaces between meeting each other, we just click right in, there's no awkwardness. When I met her again after she came back from LA, she was walking down Fulham Road with her dog Grommit, a funny smooshed-up overly upholstered dog with wrinkles in its skin - a pillow on a lead. She hugged me hello and immediately invited me to a party. I love that she's very open. I don't know how she's maintained that, being in Britain and the career she's in. London makes you shut down, whereas in the States I am more open and chatty to strangers. Brix has a childlike openness that brings out the positive side in me here.
I find her inspiring, she reinforces my sense of self. That's what friends do. They're not a mirror image, but they show you an image of you that you could be. I've always been a big proponent of women empowering each other. That quality is friendship - seeing that everything's within you anyway, it just needs to be coaxed out - that's what Girl Power is all about. The biggest comfort and joy in my life comes from my female friends. I'm going to sound like Julio Iglesias here, but women are so beautiful, all different kinds of beauty, I love them all and as for Brix, I have yet to see an obnoxious side. Especially while she feeds me cakes and champagne, that can't be bad.
Katie Puckrik's memoirs, `Shooting From the Lip' (Headline, pounds 12.99), will be published in October.
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