April 16, 2018 § Leave a comment
There’s a reason why there was no blogging for the rest of 2017…or for the beginning of 2018, and I think it’s a good one: I’ve been on book tour, on album tour – and writing and speaking everywhere else but here. Only so many hours in the day – and a lot to try to remember – but I’m finally remembering to fill everyone in on the blog.
2017 was UK based: book festivals, community events, training days, university conferences, scratch nights and book shops. The kind of things I’ve been talking about – trans lives, gender, change and hope – are all featured in the BBC Radio 4 show below – and in the accompanying article.
For the Photographer’s Gallery, I wrote about the challenge of the cis gaze – in the street, and backwards and forwards in time:
And for the Barbican: the struggle to understand other trans people without collapsing their realities into our own.
The highlight of 2018 so far has to be the trip to Sydney to speak to the All About Women feminist festival as part of a trans panel featuring Sally Goldner, Jordan Raskopoulos, and Eddie Ayres. I’m still processing how transformative the whole experience was – but the panel is on YouTube for all who want it:
And I had the best interview experience ever with SBS…
The rest of 2018 is shaping up to be just as full: shooting an art project with Daniel Barter, recording the audiobook for Trans Like Me in May, getting ready for American publication in June , preparing for the most ambitious Transpose ever in December, and gigging/speaking around the country. And trying to finish my PhD.
Twitter and Facebook are best for more regular news – but I’ll try to update here more often. Enormous thanks to everyone who’s read this far – and in particular the people who’ve been reading for years, and the book besides. Onwards and upwards. And, finally, in white tie and tails…
March 16, 2016 § 1 Comment
UPDATE: It’s funded! Thank you all so, so much. Come Home will come out at the beginning of November 2016 – available on my website, iTunes, Amazon, and for free on Spotify. Hoping to do you proud.
A few things have changed since then – a few things haven’t. I have a book coming out this year – I’m (slowly) getting used to being on television, to pitching shows for national venues, to giving speeches and papers and interviews.
The things which haven’t: being trans, being a trans artist, is all too often seen as an exploitable hook rather than an aspect of self to be respected. I would rather play community shows where I’m not paid but I am heard, than succumb to the offers to appear on reality TV where I know I’d be used for other people’s profit. I don’t want to sell my pre-transition photos, and I don’t want to be reduced to a sob story or someone to be pitied. I don’t want that for myself, and I don’t want it for the message it would send about trans people, about our shared lives, the shared understanding of those lives.
But when you don’t want to play the mainstream media game, it’s harder to get your voice heard – and harder to get projects publicised and funded. I’m not saying this to ask for sympathy – far from it – but to say that, as an independent trans artist, the work I make is founded in my idea of community and, in turn, relies on my community for support. I’m not claiming to be perfect – but I’m trying my best. I know that that’s appreciated by more than a few people – and I want to give more.
New track ‘Teachers’ – live from The Colour House Theatre
Come Home is my third studio album, and my first album about love. Reviewers have called my previous work ‘atmospheric’ (The Advocate), ‘ethereal’ (Polari) and ‘achingly beautiful’ (For Folk’s Sake) – I’ve tried to be all of those things with Come Home, but rawer, realer and more vulnerable than I’ve let myself be before. We’ve recorded the music: vocals, harpsichord, grand piano and acoustic bass. Now we just have to mix, master, create the art, pay the licensing fees, put it all together and print copies.
Writing that number down is scary, to say the least – but I think, I hope, it’s possible.
£1000 is 200 pre-orders of the £5 digital download – which works out to 4% of subscribers to this blog.
£5 is how much a pint of lager will cost you at the pub around the corner from me – and my self-esteem is just good enough to assure you that you’ll get more for your money with my album than you will with a London pint.
There are other options, of course: discounted lessons (I specialise in composition and training trans voices), merch and private gigs.
You – Aether (2014)
If any of my music or writing has touched you in the past then please – take a chance on Come Home. I’m doing my absolute best to make it the best I’ve done so far. But I can’t do it alone.
My previous albums are on Spotify
You can read what my fans have to say here
Thank you for listening – in all the different ways
April 22, 2015 § 2 Comments
…is a pretty big day for me. UK people, please read on – non-UK people, I hope I’ll get to see you sometime in the next couple of years.
This Saturday I’ll be gigging at Whitechapel’s Rhythm Factory – with songs from my next album, Coming Home. Terrifying and exciting in equal measures. This is a really important gig for me – professionally and personally – and if you’ve ever listened to a track (if you haven’t, listen here), or thought you might like to check out my music, if you had the time – the time is now.
I know money is ludicrously tight for a lot of people right now – so entry is pay what you can. If that’s nothing then that’s cool. If you’ve magically managed to find a high paying job, we’d really appreciate a generally emptying out of the pockets. I’m performing with two ridiculously talented, moving acts – Seth Corbin and Daniel Versus the World – it’s going to be furious, cathartic, romantic – just very special.
Doors at 7pm – come Sing Your Rage with us. And please spread the word – word of mouth is what indie artists live and die on. We’re singing this for you.
January 10, 2015 § 4 Comments
This Sunday, 8pm GMT – I’m performing a free live-streamed gig at
Why tune in? Three reasons:
- This is what the critics have to say:“The music was faultless. Mesmerising, beautiful, emotional and raw.” – DIVA
“…a powerful combination of intensely personal lyrics, CN’s skill at the piano and an ethereal voice. The musical arrangements are moving and immersive, the words deeply poetic – elusive and allusive – offering something new on each occasion; it is rare to find lyrics of this depth and quality. Aether is an album from an artist who is not only an incredibly talented singer and pianist but also someone aware of the power and subtlety of language.” – Polari magazine
“When it comes to describing CN Lester’s music, there aren’t enough adjectives synonymous with ‘gorgeous’. We’re only resisting that much maligned phrase ‘achingly beautiful’ by sitting on our hands.” – For Folk’s Sake
- This is what my fans have to say:
“Heart-wrenchingly beautiful songs from a phenomenally talented singer. If you can listen to this without tearing up at least a little then you’re made of sterner stuff than me.”
“Beautiful, stunning, disarming.”
“Deeply moving, imaginative, transformative”
- If you’re a reader of this blog, then I think you might well like my music – not just like it, but maybe want to support it. I like to make songs that you can think over, think with – and those kinds of songs – particularly from a trans singer – need all the word of mouth help they can get. I can make you a deal: I have the music – give me 45 minutes of your time. I promise I’ll make it worth your while.
September 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
…to let you know that, with the academic year starting, I have space for three more students – who wants in?
For those of you who only know me as a blogger, or an alt. musician – like most freelance musicians, I also teach – voice, piano and composition. There’s more information on my classical training/career and alternative career on my website, but the short version:
- I received my Bachelor of Music from King’s College London, and my Master of Music from Goldsmith’s. Vocal training with Alison Wells, Cameron Burns, Dai Miller and Emma Kirkby.
- I’ve been teaching for more than ten years now – beginning informally, with choir coaching and student support when I was a student myself, and more formally for the past six years.
- I teach all ages (youngest so far has been 4 years old, and the oldest 60), and absolute beginners to those preparing for university/higher grades/diploma. My teaching style is very much focused on foundational technique, with genre requirements/requests led by my students.
- I have a particular interest in helping trans people to train their voices – on or off hormone treatments.
- A lot of work with my students focuses on bodily and mental relaxation and confidence, and just generally having a lovely time making noises. I’m a firm believer in the ethos that music is every human’s birthright – and I love helping people explore their musical possibilities.
- I teach from my home in Zone 2 South London – £30 for an hour’s lesson.
If that sounds like something you might be interested in – or if you know someone who might be interested – do drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you – regular blogging resumes next week.
May 29, 2014 § 3 Comments
Saturday June 7th – 4:30pm arrival, shooting between 5-7pm
Hackney Picture House
270 Mare St, London E8 1HE
Because I wanted to make a video to give something back to the people who have given so much to me. Because I’m sick of videos pretending to be diverse by hiring over-represented groups to pretend to be under-represented groups. Because we wanted to make a positive stand against bullying, against stereotypes, against reductionism – and, instead, celebrate our unique beauty.
The premise is very simple – we’re going to gather together in a gig-like setting – I’ll bring speakers and a mic, and sing my best to you (although we might have to repeat the same song over and over again). We all – myself included – have a piece of card we hold. On one side is written a word/phrase that the world has called us – something that doesn’t fit – something that hurt – something that needs to stop. On the other we write a word/phrase that DOES describe us – something we’re proud of, something we claim as our own.
I wanted to make a video about the power of naming yourself, without apology. And I wanted to buy you all a drink while I did it.
You in? Email me at email@example.com – we’re going to have a blast.
May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
In which I am interviewed by More Than the Music and talk industry, activism, TERFs, misgendering and being a bit sadcore.
May 4, 2014 § 4 Comments
Aether title track is now available as a free download.
I recommend listening late in the evening in the open air, glass of wine in hand.
Hope you enjoy it – thank you.
April 4, 2014 § 3 Comments
…the astonishing beauty of Lester’s vocals – DIVA
Aether is an album that demands your attention with the kind of songwriting and arrangements that truly reach into the deepest part of those lucky enough to have discovered it. Compelling, sometimes utterly disarming, Aether is a profoundly personal offering that needs to be heard. – So So Gay
Aether is one of those albums where you want to turn all the lights off and just let the music wash over you. You can drown in it. – Cheryl Morgan
Three more gigs and the preview tour for Aether will be over. Lying in the ocean at night, performing for film festival crowds, cars and trains and cars and trains and swimming pool shoots and sleeping under the piano in the studio – I’ve gotten a little lost and wrong in the making of this, but in the most wonderful way.
I have quite a number of exciting plans stuffed up my sleeves for the summer. Do keep your ears pricked for news of the next music video call out.
But, most of all, thank you.
January 28, 2014 § 3 Comments
I find it desperately hard, asking people for money – even though I’m asking in exchange for goods and services – even though I know that the product is worth it – even though (without claiming to be a woman) I think that some of the fantastic argument here could apply.
Hard not only because of cultural conditioning around money, but hard specifically because it feels like admitting that I’ve failed in not being able to do it without the help. And pretending that that’s not the case can feel a great deal easier, because there are things I’d rather forget, about why this industry is so difficult, not just in general, but in particular.
I don’t know any artist from a marginalised group who isn’t wary of being accused of playing the ‘…..’ card – but I have yet to meet an artist from a marginalised group who hasn’t been affected by the bigotry of the mainstream in some way. It’s certainly been the case for me – and, yet, I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t want to be accused of being weak, I don’t want to be accused of using it as an excuse, I don’t want people to think that I lack the talent to make it and, therefore, seek to blame a struggle to be heard on others. I know that I benefit because I’m white, because I’m thin, because my disabilities aren’t visible. But, to be honest – my alternative work in the last three years in more mainstream spaces has been hard.
It’s the managers telling you they’d love to work with you – you’re so talented – but you’re too different to sell. One manager in particular was very keen – until I refused to go down the ‘sell sob story with before and after pictures to tabloid’ route. It’s being asked to pretend that I’m a girl. It’s the constant misgendering. It’s the deliberate cruelty of certain MCs with something to prove. It’s knowing that there are performance environments it’s not fair to ask my fans to come into, because they’ll be misgendered, insulted, ill-treated. It’s being ignored as a musician, because being trans negates everything else about me, in the eyes of people who still see being trans as some kind of unfortunate freakshow.
It’s one of the reasons why I organise so many events on my own, with artists I respect, enjoy, admire. It’s the reason why performing in more alternative spaces is so much more comfortable. But, and this is the point that feels almost impossible to say – it does mean that I make a lot less money from my alternative music than some people think I do. Most gigs I play are for travel expenses only, if that. I try to play as many free and low cost gigs as possible, because god knows our community faces terrible problems with both employment and benefits. I organise fundraisers. I give away music.
I’m not trying to say that I don’t love doing that – I’m not trying to guilt-trip anyone, or claim that my life is a terrible hardship – it’s not, and I love my career, my audience, with a deep passion. But, I guess, what I am trying to say is – I can’t do this on my own. And I would really, really appreciate your help.
I know that money is tight for any awful lot of people – it’s tight for me, and I’m luckier than most when it comes to economic security. But if you have valued the work I’ve done for free over the past couple of years – if you read this blog, or my other articles, or come to Transpose, or download my songs – I would be so grateful if you could lend me a hand – in return for more music, or a gig of your own, or some beautiful artwork.
I’m prouder of Aether than almost anything else I’ve ever done – I just hope that you’ll share it with me, and let me keep making music for the people I care about (which, to be fair, is most people).
I’m now I’m going to disappear, and feel embarrassed somewhere else. Thank you.