Sunday, 1 March 2015

Jimmy, Judy, Al, Ida, Kimmy, a whore and me



What a momentous evening the end-of-LGBT-History-Month Gala Ball turned out to be!

We (John-John, Mark, Hils, Crog and I) were already excited at the prospect of seeing our headliner Jimmy Somerville - and, of course, about having another bloody brilliant excuse for dressing-up (one of the original things about the evening was to "come as your favourite historical character"; this had disappeared from the publicity by the time the flyers were out, but we didn't care). Hils dressed in full Suffragette uniform, Crog as Kemel Ataturk crossed with the shopkeeper from Mr Benn, I was some kind of meld between Lord Foppington and a Liberace impersonator, John-John came as Mr Humphries (hee hee) and Mark as a version of Liza Minnelli...







Our venue was the eccentric and twee Conway Hall, home to The Ethical Society, Darwinists, Humanists and every other sort of radical anti-establishment intellectual cause. Its great hall, stripped of furniture, looked even more impressive than I remembered it [the majority of events I've been to here have been in the somewhat "schoolroom-like" antechambers], and the capacity crowd represented a fine cross-section of ages, sexes, sexualities, gender identities, colours and creeds, as one would expect.



Opening the proceedings was our MC for the opening segments of the evening, the irrepressible "Whore of Hampstead Heath" Sandra, who warmed the audience up as only she can (and also in the process made a very welcome announcement that after her recent health scare, she is now "cancer-free"). Entertaining as Sandra is, of course, as was Trudy Hewson's poetry, it was when she got the crowd to part down the middle that we realised that a real star was in the building - and about to make a spectacular entrance.



Mzz Kimberley (for it was she) practically exploded into the room, sashaying up and down among the delighted crowd, exercising her phenomenal tonsils on (most appropriately) Dame Shirley Bassey's History Repeating. Taking to the stage itself (with difficulty, up the steep proscenium steps - although thankfully she didn't "do a Madonna"), she continued to wow the crowd on big numbers like Aretha's Reach.

She is utterly amazing, and we were gob-smacked. Here she is at another show singing Papa Told Me Not To Come:



How does one follow an extravaganza like that? With a former Music Hall singer whose repertoire includes urban vibes, innit!



Of course, we were overjoyed that our favourite purveyor of "Artificial Hip Hop" Ida Barr was on the bill. She made such an impression on our gang when we first saw her on stage that Hils and Crog even hired her to perform at their wedding! Naturally, she had the crowd singing along and completely nonplussed (a medley of the hymn Jerusalem with Nicki Minaj, anyone?) in turn.

In case anyone wants to understand just what the bloody hell I am on about, here's Ida's new song BPM:



"Use your culture, or lose your culture!"



The remarkable Al Pillay is a stalwart of old-school campaigning, a former pop star and television actor, and a brilliant show-person. At last year's Ball, he/she saved the day with a buzzing high-energy set of dancy numbers. This year he/she was more in the mood for some rallying protest songs, and we were treated to such crowd-pleasers as The Times They Are A-Changin’ and some dire words of warning about the dangers of complacency about voting in this election year.

Brilliant - and a perfect lead-in to the thing most people were waiting for - the appearance on stage of the legendary (and surprisingly sexy) Jimmy Somerville! I nearly died (this was the first time I have ever seen him live).



Being a very special one-off appearance for LGBT History Month, he simply had to perform many a gay boy's anthem (including mine) Smalltown Boy, and, this being only a short set, he concluded with the song that had the whole room jumping up and down - Don't Leave Me This Way. But in between, he spoke movingly and at length about his own experiences of being young, gay and radical in the 80s, of being part of the movement that spawned Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (see my blog about the story behind the movie Pride), and the sense of loss he felt when his good friend Mark Ashton of that group became one of the early casualties of the terrifying AIDS epidemic. And then, he sang a number that he admitted he hadn't sung for over a decade...

Like a bolt from the blue, the lyrics started: "I never cried the way I cried over you." I could feel the wave of emotion across the audience as those of us who had been there, who had actually suffered those losses as Jimmy had, began to cry; hearing his treasured classic For A Friend for the first time in years. Tears were streaming down my cheeks: "As I watch the sun go down, watching the world fade away, All the memories of you come rushing back to me." We hugged, strangers united in our collective memories. This is our history. This was needed.





I was, however, immensely glad for the relief of that Thelma Houston gay anthem, and the chance for a good old rollicking bop.

Jimmy Somerville, I love you.



I felt sorry for Camden's very own top-drawer drag legend Earl Grey. For, once those people who only came to see Jimmy had left en masse, and Al Pillay had done the raffle (which always takes ages), there was quite a depleted audience for his superb "Judy Garland" act. But my heavens, it was worth it - he flawlessly captures every tic, every movement, every inflection of the Original Gay Icon (note the capitals), and should be far more highly recognised for it than, say, the eternally dreary Rufus Wainwright.

With the closing hour thrown over to the campest-of-camp disco and pop, courtesy of DJs Jonathan Kemp, Sadie Frost and Alexander Price, we were sated.





This was one fantastic evening! Nigel, Tessa and the gang at Camden LGBT Forum did us proud.

10 comments:

  1. how funny. i KNEW an ida barr. wish i had a photo of her. poor dear, she was a classmates mother and looked a lot like an infamous boston drag queen from the old days, sylvia sidney. ida was cross-eyed and had a problem with her tongue.

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    1. Good to know she's still working. Jx

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  2. Sounds like an amazing evening and your blog is the next best thing to being there x

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    1. I wish you had been - it was absolutely wonderful. Jx

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  3. A fab evening indeed. A great mix of fun and memories. It could only have been improved if everyone had dressed to the theme, but we five held up our end! :-).

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    1. Didn't we just?!

      As you say, a really thought-provoking evening - and bloody good fun, to boot! Glad you and Crog were there, dear. Jx

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    2. Thanks sweetie. We wouldn't miss it for the world. We want to become known as "that straight couple who always turn up in fancy dress" ;-)

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    3. Let me let you into a secret: you already are! :-)
      Jx

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  4. Great post - I swear I almost heard Mr Somerville sing these songs...

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    1. His voice is still as brilliant as ever - and, yes - still ringing in my ears as we speak... Jx

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