If the Whisky Doll House is rocking, don’t bother knocking – just head on in to see London’s finest forum for female singers and performers covering a wide spectrum of musical styles and talents.
The Whisky Doll House is presented weekly, from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday evenings, at the Talbot St. Whisky House. The event is curated by noted London singer Laura Gagnon, who is also currently performing with the McCartney Years. Besides the all-female demographic of performers, the fact that it is a curated group sets this event apart from other open mic formats.
“I’m doing this in a different way than most people are doing their open mic. I’m picking and choosing who I want to go up and showcase,” Gagnon explained. “And I make sure that people get paid something – I don’t want to not pay an artist. I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I hate it with a passion.”
Every week, you can discover something new at the Doll House. Whether your tastes run from classic rock or lean towards classical music, you’re going to find something you like. More importantly, you’ll discover a depth and breadth of female musical talent.
“It’s anybody of a particular type of talent. I’m not just going to throw someone there. You can be any style of music, it doesn’t matter,” she said, alluding to the curated aspect. Performers have to be of a certain quality – but the type of music is unlimited. “I just recently had ‘It’s a String Thing’ in here, so they did a wedding/classical thing. I asked them to play Eleanor Rigby and they did. It was amazing.
“I just hired on a harpist, who will be here in June. I’ve only seen harpist play once in my life, at church. You rarely get to see that out in the open.”
Gagnon also gets a little help from her friends in the industry. Emm Gryner has hosted a Doll House and performed a couple of songs. Sarah Smith also hosted a night. Gagnon said she doesn’t mind sharing the stage, because the Doll House events are all about fostering and promoting a community. And it’s that community that makes the Doll House a priority for her – despite a hectic performing and touring schedule.
“You just do. It’s my baby. The McCartney Years is amazing, I love that job – it’s not really a job. I haven’t had a job in forever because all I do is music and I don’t see music as a job,” she said. “The Doll House is one of my top priorities. I do what I can, however much I can to keep this thing rolling and connecting people with people, artists with artists.
“Eventually I want to start connecting all these artists here with other showcases I’m involved with. If I’m in Sarnia, then I can bring some people here with me to Sarnia. That’s the kind of community I’m trying to build – people helping people; artists helping artists. It’s working out really well.”
The all-female component is integral to the nature of the evening as Gagnon is committed to making this a safe space for women to share their talents in a supporting atmosphere.
“I have not seen anywhere where it’s just females that can play. You rarely see a female go up and play at any sort of open mic,” she said. “So I thought, I know there’s a pile of really good female talent in London and the surrounding area, I’ve got people coming in from Windsor, Chatham, Sarnia to play at this thing here.
“I wanted to give a safe place where they actually get paid as well, because we do the tip jar thing for each individual girl.”
The need for a safe space is something that Gagnon knows all too well, having first-hand experience with the boorishness of bar patrons.
“I used to play in a band with my parents called Mr. E. When I first started with them there were a lot of drunk guys coming up to you, tugging on you, drooling on you or whatever,” Gagnon said. “It gets a little irritating and it makes you very self-conscious.
“You think, ‘I don’t know what to do in this sort of situation.’ I find that with having all females around, that doesn’t happen, which is awesome – it’s really, really awesome. We have each other’s backs.”
And that atmosphere is resonating not just with the community, but with the performers themselves.
“They love it. They want to come back. They message me that night, ‘I loved it, I love performing here. I love the vibe – the place is so positive,” Gagnon said. “I try to keep it positive – everybody hugs everybody and I try to make sure everyone introduces themselves to everybody. If you’re going to do a showcase and you want someone to buy your album or leave a tip, you have to get to know the entire room. My advice to a lot of performers is to command the room – come in and say hello to every single person that you see. It doesn’t matter if you know them or don’t know them. That person could be thinking, ‘I really like that girl. I’m going to go buy her CD.’”
In addition to the full support that the Talbot St. Whisky House provides, the Whisky Doll House has just picked up a major sponsor in Steam Whistle, which is assisting with the event’s marketing. With weekly events already on the table, Gagnon sees the Doll House turning into a ‘mobile home’ for amazing music in the future.
“Where I see this going is an Ontario tour or a Canadian tour – I’m bringing the Doll House on the road. That is my goal,” she said, adding with a laugh. “There’s stuff in the works… I’m not going to let it all out right now, but there’s stuff bubbling up.
“We’re still very fresh, we’re still very new. I want to. I’d love, love, love to have a Doll House stage at Rib Fest, Home County – I’d love to have my own little stage with a banner there.”
Gagnon is quick to attribute much of the Doll House’s success to her three-person team, which helps with social media, sound, and live streaming events. The Doll House also has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – along with a recently launched YouTube page.
And all of this before the showcase’s first birthday, which is already in the works.
“Right now we are working on the one-year anniversary on Nov. 22nd. I’m just nailing down a venue right now, I can’t tell you what it is,” Gagnon explained. “It’ll be in London. What I’m going to do is the morning and afternoon [at the Talbot St. Whisky House], and then the evening at the other place.”
But before that, there are quite a few more Sundays where people can find some of the area’s top talent on stage.
“[You’ll find] quality music and a positive, really happy atmosphere. You don’t get that a lot in other places,” she said. “As soon as you walk in, it’s like a breath of fresh air. That’s the way I like it and that’s the way I keep it. It’s always, ‘Welcome to the Doll House.’”
Photos: Melony Holt
Jay Menard is a corporate communications writer and freelance Arts & Culture writer. See more of his work at www.jaymenard.com.