Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Bedsit-land, my only home

Timeslip moment again.

For the last time this year, we've hitched a ride with the Time Bandits all the way back to 1981 - the year of New Romantics, Bucks Fizz, Charles and Diana, the Space Shuttle, Brideshead Revisited, Ronald Reagan, John Lennon, Vienna, the "Yorkshire Ripper" trial, Danger Mouse, John McEnroe, Brixton riots, Ghost Town, The Humber Bridge, Kim Wilde, Bette Davis Eyes, London Marathon, Greenham Common, Toyah, Bob Champion, Gregory's Girl, Indiana Jones, Shakin' Stevens, Moira Stuart, Game For a Laugh, Ian Botham, Kenny Everett, Stars on 45, Chariots of Fire, the Sinclair ZX81, the Birdie Song, the NatWest Tower, Chi Mai, Bob Marley, IRA hunger strikes, Smokey Robinson, Aneka, Rupert Murdoch, Dynasty, the SDP, Hazel O'Connor, Coe vs Ovett, Anwar Sadat, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Adam and the Ants, Ken and Deirdre, me leaving school, and much, much more besides...

In the news headlines in December '81: the coldest temperatures and heaviest snow-falls since the 1870s across the whole country, the first cases of AIDS diagnosed in the UK, endless speculation about the death of Natalie Wood, the Penlee lifeboat disaster, the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador that left 800 dead, martial law imposed in Poland in resistance to the rise of Solidarity, and the election of Arthur Scargill as President of the National Union of Mineworkers. In our cinemas: Gallipoli; Lady Chatterley's Lover; The Fox and the Hound. On telly: A Fine Romance; The Borgias; Kessler.

And in our charts this week forty years ago? That old Latin smoothie Julio Iglesias was celebrating his first and only week at the pinnacle; also present and correct were Miss Diana Ross, Queen and David Bowie, Earth Wind and Fire, the naffest-of-the-naff Modern Romance, and (aargh!) Cliff Richard. But then, there were these classics:

A favourite wank fantasy shirt...

...and an icon:

However... just crashed into the Top Ten was this one, destined to sweep all before it and grab the coveted Xmas #1 slot!

Ah, happy memories. I was eighteen.

Monday, 6 December 2021

Turkey Pulp?

I need an extra coffee "hit" to wake up on such a dark and gloomy morning - and WTF happened to another weekend?!

Hey ho. Sharing this day with a miscellany of "names" including Agnes Moorehead, Dave Brubeck, Osbert Sitwell, Jonathan King, Henryk Górecki, King Henry VI, Lynn Fontanne, Will Hay, Nick Park, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Ira Gershwin, it would have been the 90th birthday today of an old fave - the first "exhibit" in the Dolores Delargo Towers Museum of Camp, no less - "Turkey's answer to Liberace", Zeki Müren!

On this Tacky Music Monday, in this clip he appears to be inviting the viewer into his wardrobe [closet?] - maybe this is a "ululating version" of I Am What I Am..?

Much more fun is this clever mash-up, between the "coiffeured one" and the theme from Pulp Fiction (Miserlou)!

That should help with the waking-up process...

Have a good week, dear reader.

Zeki Müren (6th December 1931 – 24th September 1996)

[More Zeki here]

Sunday, 5 December 2021

A mattress of one's own, literary Lesbians, popperbating - we're gonna do it anyway!

Braving the cold and drear that this time of year always brings, John-John and I trolled into town on Wednesday for the last shout of "London's premier gay literary salon", Polari, in 2021 - the culmination of its fourteenth year, indeed. Our hostess-with-the-mostest Paul Burston took to the stage at Heaven nightclub to the strains of I'm Still Here by Eartha Kitt. A tribute to Stephen Sondheim, but also by way of an introduction to his personal recollections - on this World AIDS Day - of the struggles he and fellow campaigners of the early '80s encountered, in those terrifying early days, to get recognition and viable medical assistance for gay men in the "firing line" of that pandemic; and with the huge emotional strain of all the losses we all suffered.

Read the full piece at Paul's blog.

Taking up the baton the marvellous Neil Bartlett, a genius of the literary world and a Polari stalwart, read an extract from his recently published collection of tales (all stories based upon his imagined histories of various places he has lived) Address Book - a hugely emotional and touching recollection of a grimly homophobic era, revolving around the sheer joy and freedom a "queer dancing-queen” in 1987 feels when he finally gets “a room of one’s fucking own” and, braving all the public hatred, abuse, stigma and discrimination he endures on a daily basis, goes to buy his own, his very first, mattress. It sounds mundane, but by gawd, the tears were rolling down my face. I love Neil Bartlett's writing!

Here he is, talking about the book and how he came to write it.

Purchase your copy from Inkandescent Books.

It is always a joy to hear our next reader Diana Souhami - even if this time round, she read from prompt cards throughout - with her encyclopaedic knowledge of the lives and loves of historial Lesbians. She read for us a synopsis of her magnum opus No Modernism Without Lesbians, as here:

Weirdly, other than our readers, Paul B and the ever-lovely Justin David, there were no regulars with which to shmooze during the break, so with a top-up of booze and a fag - time for part 2...

A former journalist, writer Adam Zmith recently produced his first book Deep Sniff, an in-depth history of Amyl Nitrite - better known as poppers - and its interwoven connection with the LGBT community. It's a convoluted tale, indeed! None other than the brilliant fellow author Jonathan Kemp reviewed it for Queer Guru, so I'll let him take up the tale:

From their humble beginnings in mid-nineteenth century, introduced as a source of relief for angina sufferers, to their ubiquity within gay life, from dancefloor to bedroom, Zmith recounts it all with lusty relish. He introduces us to Antoine Jérome Balard of Montpellier, France, the man who started it all when, in 1844, he passed nitrogen fumes through amyl alcohol and discovered that inhaling the resulting pungent vapour caused his face to redden and dilated his blood vessels, lowering his blood pressure. At the time, he couldn’t think what earthly use it would be, but twenty-two years later, a young Scotsman, Thomas Lauder Brunton, used the vapour to relieve his angina patients’ pain. Pretty soon, it was being sold in small glass vials that you ‘popped’ to release the fumes.

Recounting poppers’ history is interesting enough in itself but understanding their place in history is where Zmith excels. Using episodes in the history of poppers, he explores, imagines and extrapolates on, among other things, gender norms, popperbators, science fiction, and the AIDS crisis. He adorns his book with gems of stories – like that of Roland Chemist on Praed Street near Paddington Station, London, who sold 185,700 ampoules of amyl nitrite in one year, compared to Boots Chemists in Piccadilly who sold around 288 ampoules. We learn about W. Jay Freezer the man who marketed poppers to gay men specifically – establishing the magazine Drummer to serve as a platform for advertising the product to its hedonistic readers. He dreamed of poppers being sold alongside shampoo and nail polish remover in supermarkets. Then, of course, AIDS hit, and anything associated with pleasure-seeking were shunned. For a while, amyl nitrite was considered the cause of what became known as HIV.

There’s a rich diversity of ideas, facts and musings here. Alongside an account of popperbating and a section on queer utopias as imagined by sci-fi writers, there’s a chapter on the police raids in 1986/87 on London’s iconic queer heritage public house, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, to seize the poppers being sold there. The seven uniformed officers wore unnecessary surgical gloves. In protest at their provocative prophylactics, Lily Savage, who was on stage at the time, gave the Old Bill a Scouse mouthful and told the crowd to riot, earning herself a night in the cell.

Fascinating stuff - I need a sniff now!

Then, in a flurry of chiffon and attitude - it was time for our "headline act"...

Son of a Tutu, for it is he/she/they, is an award-winning drag queen and LGBTQ+ activist (who also landed a role in the film version of Everyone's Talking About Jamie). She chose her songs carefully for the occasion - recalling Neil Bartlett's piece about gay men being verbally abused by straight strangers, she said she needed to sing Sweet Caroline "to reclaim it from the football thugs".

And, reminding the audience of the fact that Labi Siffre's anthem of resistance was not, in fact, to do with racial discrimination (despite it being adopted by anti-apartheid campaigners), but about his own life experiences as a gay man, this:

​Not a dry eye in the house.

And, with the customary curtain call, that was it for the year...

We look forward to the treats in store in 2022 - we love Polari!

The most wonderful time of the year...

Happy Krampusnacht!

More on Krampus, from National Geographic

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Sondheim of the Day finale - Side by Side by Sondheim and other random oddities

As introductions to the magnificent repertoire of Stephen Sondheim go, I must admit that Side By Side By Sondheim is possibly the finest. As I mentioned way back in chapter #1 of this rambling (more than a) week-long series of tributes to The Maestro, it was through listening to Madam Acarti's double CD of said classic revue - the brainchild of That Was The Week That Was producer Ned Sherrin, in response to a commission from none other than Dame Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth back in 1976 - that I gathered an understanding, and a nuanced appreciation, of the work of a true genius in the world of musical theatre. Basically, before that point I knew the song Send in the Clowns and the "hits" from West Side Story, and that was just about it.

Gathering the brilliantly talented combo of Sondheimites Julia McKenzie, Millicent Martin and David Kernan together, with connecting narration from Mr Sherrin himself, the revue covers everything from the popular and the well-known, to more obscure and rare numbers by The Maestro.

From Company there's the eponymous number Company, The Little Things You Do Together, Another Hundred People, (Not) Getting Married Today, Barcelona, You Could Drive a Person Crazy and Side By Side By Side. From Follies, there's Bring on the Girls, Ah, Paree!, Buddy's Blues, Broadway Baby, Losing My Mind, [David Kernan's "gay" version of] Could I Leave You? and I'm Still Here. From Gypsy, If Momma Was Married and You Gotta Get a Gimmick; and from West Side Story, A Boy Like That/ I Have a Love.

Then there's the less well-known ones - some of which have become firm favourites here at Dolores Delargo Towers, such as this one from the film The Seven Percent Solution [originally sung by our Patron Saint Régine; here done rather differently]:

Even more obscure, this one came from a weird-sounding US television show called Evening Primrose, about drop-outs who live in a department store [very 1967!]:

This one is from Do I Hear a Waltz?, with music by Richard Rodgers:

The next two were dropped from (respectively) Company, and from Follies:

From Anyone Can Whistle, the title song and this:

And, from a show that hasn't played in London since 2003, Pacific Overtures, this:

Leaving the best to last, however - also included in the melange was another particular favorite of ours, a song that was written for yet another revue [bizarrely based on Mad Magazine; a collaboration with Richard Rodgers' daughter Mary] - here as part two of a faboo skit by Kit and the Widow [Part one being just too good not to feature!]:

We went to se a revival of the show at "the Venue" (now The Leicester Square Theatre) - gosh! - fourteen years ago, which we thought was faboo, if not a patch on the original (what could be?)

Read more about Side by Side by Sondheim at Sondheim.com

In 1992, combined pressures from Cameron Mackintosh and Julia McKenzie persuaded Mr Sondheim to do a "updated version" of the 1976 classic.

Titled Putting It Together, it actually only featured four songs from Side by Side (Marry Me a Little, You Could Drive a Person Crazy - this time in first person "I" - (Not) Getting Married Today and Could I Leave You?). From A Little Night Music it featured Every Day a Little Death (with another song dropped from most performances of that show My Husband the Pig), Now, Night Waltzes, Country House, Bang and The Miller's Son; from Company, Have I Got a Girl for You, Sorry-Grateful and Being Alive; Pretty Women and Sweet Polly Plunkett from Sweeney Todd; Hello Little Girl from Into The Woods; and The Gun Song from Assassins.

Also woven into the mix were songs from a Sondheim show we've never been to see A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, including my fave:

From another Sondheim show we've never seen Sunday in the Park with George, the number that inspired the revue's title...

...and two from Dick Tracy:

More about Putting It Together

The revue also featured numbers from a couple of productions that we did actually go and see...

Merrily We Roll Along is a very clever conceit - based as it is on a satirical play from the Depression era by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, the show's narrative runs entirely in reverse; from the opening scenes of embittered individuals, forcibly and callously cast aside by the lead character (and former friend) Franklin Shepard in his quest for fortune and success, to the closing ensemble numbers where the group are all young and idealistic and very much a "gang" of like-minded characters just setting out on their uncertain destinies.

We and our own "gang" went to see it in its Olivier-award-winning revival by Sondheimite Maria Friedman at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2013.

It is a phenomenal show, with a clutch of excellent songs, such as these...

And then, there's this - a genuinely heart-wrenching number if ever there was one!

[Another one of Sondheim's that's become a bit of a "standard" in its own right, and has been recorded by Bernadette Peters, Judy Collins, La Streisand, Mandy Patinkin, Cleo Laine and even Jane McDonald]

Read a rather good article about the show by arts professor Laurence Maslon, or else Wikipedia

And the other show?

It's probably more famous for this number than anything...

...it's a musical "freely adapted from" the writings of the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, involving the God of Wine Dionysus, Hades and the resurrected spirits of George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare - The Frogs. Again, only Stephen Sondheim could have possibly come up with this idea!

We caught it at its first UK production since the 1990s (and its West End première; bearing in mind this was a show that begain its life - in a swimming pool in Yale University with Meryl Streep among its cast - in 1974) at the bijou Jermyn Street Theatre in 2017. Ever since then, "Brek-kek-kek-kek" has become a bit of mantra for us - it made such an impression! Here's some grainy footage of the faboo Nathan Lane in (I believe) his own revised production in 2004:

All about The Frogs at Music Theatre International

And finally...

...the best tribute a Maestro could expect:

RIP, Stephen Joshua Sondheim (22nd March 1930 – 26th November 2021)

[The final one of a series of tributes I have posted to Mr Sondheim this week.]
Previous "Sondheim of the Day" entries:

Friday, 3 December 2021

Sondheim(s) of the Day - Into The Woods, Road Show

I have no clue what drugs they were on at the time, but somewhere down the line The Maestro got together with screenwriter/librettist James Lapine (with whom he worked on Sunday in the Park With George) and together they conjured up - erm - a mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella, with parodic lyrics and a plethora of rollicking tunes, that could be interpreted as a parable about AIDS at the height of that deadly pandemic! Gulp.

Yet. It. Works.

Here are just some of the marvellous, sometimes sinister - and often very funny - numbers from the show...

The "weepie"...

[see also Cleo Laine's version]

We went to see this masterpiece in the perfect surroundings of the wind-swept Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, surrounded by nature's own addition to the plot, trees, way back in 2010. With a cast that featured Hannah Waddingham (as above), Michael Xavier, Jenna Russell, and a giant voiced by Dame Judi Dench, needless to say it was utterly stunning - and won a well-deserved Olivier Award. We never bothered to go and see the film with Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, however - maybe one day...

All about Into the Woods at The Guide to Musical theatre.

In contrast to Into The Woods, Sondheim's third collaboration with librettist John Weidman (after Pacific Overtures and Assassins), Road Show is a far more pragmatic affair, if (typically) not-as-straightforward-as-it-first-appears. It also had a long and painful gestation - The Maestro first sketched some ideas for a musical based upon the (glamourised) lives of a real-life pair of pioneering brothers Addison and Wilson Mizner, whose multiple busness ventures and adventures in early 20th century America had been captured in two best-selling (and partly fictitious) books by Cleveland Amory and Alva Johnston, in the early 1950s. The ideas didn't even begin to take shape properly, however, until 1999, when it first premiered as Wise Guys. It was re-written and appeared re-titled as Bounce in 2003, then finally (again tweaked) as Road Show in 2008.

The first of Sondheim's musicals to feature a homosexual relationship at the core of the story, the plot was summed up by Mark Shenton in Playbill thus: "...the boom-and-bust true story of ... "two of the most colourful and outrageous fortune-seekers in American history.” From panning for gold in Alaska to building the city of Boca Raton in Florida, both were driven by the need to succeed – at whatever cost. Unfortunately, this left them with a trail of debts, disastrous relationships (including their own as brothers) and unfulfilled dreams." We went to see it at its premiere (outside the US), atarring David Bedella, Michael Jibson and Jon Robyns, at The Menier Chocolate Factory (again) in 2011 - and loved it. I still have (somewhere) one of the prop "dollar bills" that "the brothers" ostentatiously scattered all over the theatre at the end! Here are just some of the show's great numbers:

I adore that song...

Road Show on Wikipedia.

RIP, Stephen Joshua Sondheim (22nd March 1930 – 26th November 2021)

[One of a series of tributes I will be posting to Mr Sondheim this week.]
Previous "Sondheim of the Day" entries:

Together forever with you

Heavens! You know you're getting old when you discover that the toothsome Mike Stock (of Stock, Aitken, Waterman fame - on the left in the pic below - before they split up) is seventy years old today!

There is only one thing for it - to get the party started in preparation for a cold weekend ahead; let's have a double-bill of favourites from that dynamic trio to dance away our aches and pains [and apologies in advance for the double-helping of Sinitta; shit happens]!

Thank Disco "The Hit Factory" It's Friday! Have a great weekend, dear reader!

#1 tracklist:

  • Kylie Minogue - I Should Be So Lucky (Extended Mix)
  • Rick Astley - Together Forever (Lover's Leap Extended Remix)
  • Bananarama - Love In First Degree (Jailers Version)
  • Sinitta - Cross My Broken Heart (Cupid's Avenging Mix)
  • Sonia - Never Stop Me Loving You (Extended Mix)

#2 tracklist:

  • Kylie Minogue - Hand On Your Heart
  • Hazell Dean - Who's Leaving Who
  • Jason Donovan - Hang On To Your Love
  • Donna Summer - This Time I Know Its For Real/li>
  • Mel & Kim - That's The Way It Is
  • Bananarama - I Can't Help It
  • Sinitta - Cross My Broken Heart
  • Rick Astley - Whenever You Need Somebody
  • Sabrina - All Of Me
  • Debbie Harry - In Love With Love