Sunday 30 November 2008

Oh The Fairies

Oh, the Fairies, whoa, the Fairies
Nothing but splendour and feminine gender.
Oh, the Fairies, whoa, the Fairies
Oh for the wing of a Fairy Queen.

We went to a matinee Music Hall show by the Players Theatre company today, and what a fantastic time we had...With sing-along songs such as Daisy Daisy and Hold Your Hand Out You Naughty Boy, performed by some true stalwarts of the theatre, we were in our element!

With what must possibly have been the oldest audience in the world ever - just by walking into the theatre we managed to lower the average age by about twenty years - it was a miracle there was any audience interaction at all, but everybody joined in to the best of their ability. Half of them didn't need the song sheets, as they probably remembered the songs from the first time around.

The Players Theatre has been going since 1936, and is a camp old institution. Indeed the company's traditional opening number is a song called Oh, the Fairies. Its original home was under the Villiers Street arches opposite gay mega-club Heaven, but despite losing that premises they have maintained the traditions made famous on the BBC in The Good Old Days ever since.

There were some great performances indeed - especially Mr Peter John's rendition of Nobody Loves a Fairy When She's Forty - and to celebrate I found a version of this that is startlingly similar:

Saturday 29 November 2008

Everybody would like to be Cary Grant

On this day in 1986, the world lost one of its greatest stars, Cary Grant.

Born Archie Leach in Bristol, he began his showbiz career in an acrobatic Music Hall troupe before being selected for a screen test by a Hollywood agent. But, remarkably it was the diva Mae West who was responsible for the real launch of his career. Ignoring his lack of film experience she famously said, "If he can talk, I'll take him."

Effortlessly stylish, beautiful to behold and fiercely independent, Cary Grant refused to be owned by any one studio - an unprecedented move for a budding actor in the mogul-dominated movie business of the 1930s, and one that led him to pick and choose the films he wanted to appear in, working particularly closely with Alfred Hitchcock.

And he certainly wasn't short of offers - he famously turned down roles in blockbusters such as A Star is Born, Roman Holiday and even James Bond. The offers weren't confined to films either. He was apparently one of Howard Hughes' sexual conquests, and he was rumoured to have been in a relationship with Randolph Scott.

He was famously obsessed with Sophia Loren, but their liaison was doomed before it began, largely due to her loyalty to Carlo Ponti. He ended up marrying five times, once to the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton.

He left showbiz once the romantic lead roles began to dry up, yet remained one of the world's best loved actors until his death. Once told by an interviewer: "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant", Grant is said to have replied, "So would I." A true star!

Cary Grant on IMDB

Friday 28 November 2008

Paris in the Spring, a-haaaa

Continuing my quest to entertain the masses with a selection of weird music (it's a great hobby), here's a couple of numbers by the lovely Jonathan & Darlene Edwards.

Jonathan and Darlene were the alter egos of top US singer Jo Stafford and her orchestra leader husband Paul Weston. Both superb musicians in their own right, they created the talentless cabaret duo as a party piece to entertain their friends, but they soon developed a successful recording career of their own - and in turn influenced such later talents as Les Dawson and even Kiki & Herb...

Jonathan & Darlene on MySpace

Thursday 27 November 2008

Camp bedfellows indeed

It's not until you gather together a selection of personal tastes collected in one place at one time, that the proverbial penny drops how eclectic your taste really is... And so it was, as I spent some time today (off work suffering with this dreaded lurgy) adding onto VisiTrax the latest set of CDs we have accumulated.

There they lay, the weird and the wonderful - Leona Anderson's Music to Suffer By, Beryl Reid's Music Hall Singalong, a 3 CD collection of Brigitte Bardot, four CDs of Jonathan & Darlene Edwards, Duffo's Ground Control to Frank Sinatra, Disco Tex & the Sex-o-Lettes, Bonzo Dog Band, Carol Channing, Mel Brooks and Eartha Kitt - all of them crying out for attention (which they will all get, in turn).

And on it went - Frankie Goes to Hollywood remixed, Tony Randall's Warm & Wavery, a "New Beat" compilation from 1987, Ernie Kovacs' Record Collection, Peter Wyngarde, Miss Kittin & The Hacker, Anna Russell and DiscolongaMax...

I am exhausted. But it is a most peculiar thing to behold once the titles appear in their alphabetically ordered columns in the database.

In the words of George Melly (in his preface to the fabulous book, and my eternal inspiration, Camp - The Lie That Tells The Truth by Philip Core):

"As someone wrote about an obituary column, it is extraordinary the way people die, (for here substitute "camp it up") in alphabetical order.

"Where else would one find Caravaggio and Barbara Cartland or Cardinal Newman adjacent to Beverley Nichols? Camp bedfellows indeed!"

Wednesday 26 November 2008

You’re not Sydney Tafler, I’m not Dirk Bogarde

Out of my sick-bed and onto the sofa - the best therapy I can get is to watch old black and white movies. Lucky we have Passport to Pimlico to rely on (and a selection of other Ealing comedies and Margaret Rutherford films)...

Here's a taster:

Passport to Pimlico BFI entry

This film is a great joy - anything that has Stanley Holloway, Hermione Baddely, Charles Hawtrey, Margaret Rutherford and Sydney Tafler in it must be good!

And so this song comes to mind. (It must be the Lemsip...)

Common as Muck
You're not Bridget Bardot, I'm not Jack Palance.
I'm not Shirley Temple by any circumstance,
Or Fred Astaire

You're not Sydney Tafler, I'm not Dirk Bogarde.
I'm not very stylish and you're not avant garde,
Or Lionel Blair

We're as common as muck.
Bonne chance, viel glück, good luck
Where bold is beautiful we don't give a damn
Luvva duck, we're as common as muck.

You're not Victor Hugo, I'm not Patience Strong,
I'm not Rodney Rygate or Yvonne Goolagong.
Shirley Abicair, Oh!

I'm not Nellie Melba, you're not Nellie Dean
We do our best endeavours to keep our doobries clean
Because we care!

We're as common as muck.
Buona fortuna, vayas con Dios, good luck!
Where bold is beautiful we don't give a damn.
Luvva duck, we're as common as muck.

We're as common as muck.
Bonne chance, viel glück, good luck!
Where bold is beautiful we don't give a damn.
Luvva duck! We're as common as muck.

PS If anyone knows who Rodney Rygate is, I'd be grateful for the information...

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Norwegian Wood

Mischief strikes me again as the news headlines are full of the Boy George Norwegian whore blackmail story. So I just had to post this.

and this...

[NB Samtykkende" = "consensual" in Norwegian.]

Monday 24 November 2008


It is the 45th anniversary of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President John F Kennedy, changed the course of American politics and destroyed the world's optimism that there could be a swift end to the Cold War.

To mark the occasion here's a little sample of songs from Stephen Sondheim's lauded but commercially unsuccessful musical Assassins. A weird choice of theme for a musical, it was based around the story of Oswald and other gun-toting mad people who either shot or attempted to shoot US Presidents.

The show was unfortunate in its timing. It was first released in 1990, an era of gung-ho George Bush Snr politics and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, and later attempts to revive it were hit by the events of 11th September 2001. It hasn't been on stage since, and I have never seen it, but any excuse for a bit of Sondheim...

Sunday 23 November 2008

His world is a strangely refined and beautiful one

"His world is a strangely refined and beautiful one, which must be explored slowly, and with a curiosity which will, little by little, give way to admiration and love."

Ah, Romain de Tirtoff... Who? I hear you ask.

Yet, 116 years since his birth into a prestigious aristocratic St Petersburg family, we still adore this enigmatic man and his work. Having designed his first successful costume design at the age of five, at age 19 the young Romain left home and moved to Paris where he became a junior designer with the esteemed couturier Paul Poiret.

There, partly to save his estranged family from shame, and partly as a camp construct that suited the decadence of that era, he chose thenceforth to be known by the French pronunciation of his initials - and thus was born the genius known as Erté.

From his early years learning from the masters in their art, the apprentice soon eclipsed his tutors to become the most famous designer of them all - often referred to as the "Father of Art Deco". For the next 22 years he gained fame and fortune creating cover art and illustrations for the magazine Harper's Bazaar, designing 250 covers and numerous drawings for its fashion pages. After a brief move to Hollywood where he designed sets for flamboyant silent films including Ben Hur, Erté left the magazine to create sets and costumes for theatre and opera. He often modelled them himself...

Erté designed the most over-the-top extravagant costumes and stage sets for Diaghilev's wildly successful Ballets Russes, for the Folies-Bergère in Paris and for George White's Scandals in New York, utilising colours, fabrics, jewels, textures and sinuous lines unprecedented in the theatre. For the next 40 years, he dressed the greatest and most stylish stars of the day, including Josephine Baker, Marion Davies, Lillian Gish, Mata Hari and Anna Pavlova.

His images of impossibly tall, slender, uncompromisingly glamorous female forms continue to be wildly popular today - largely thanks to the "rediscovery" of Erté by London art dealer Eric Estorick in 1967 - and exhibitions, lithographs, books and other reproductions of his work still sell to millions. Indeed, flushed by the revival of his fame, Erté carried on working until his death in 1990, at the age of 97.

Of the three Erté prints we have in our collection, perhaps the most iconic is Symphony in Black - an image that these days may be found on gifts, cards and even wrapping paper, and must rank as one of the most popular fashion drawings ever...

Erté was indeed a genius.

Homoerotica in Erté designs

Saturday 22 November 2008

So, farewell then...

The papers are filled today with various accounts from "friends close to the couple" about the true reasons for the Madge'n'Guy divorce.

Having had a bit of a crush on the lovely Mr Ritchie for many years I just wonder which lucky bitch will end up grabbing this rather lovely (and now available) hunk next?

Lowering the tone somewhat, too mark this momentous occasion here's a tasteful little fan "tribute"...

Friday 21 November 2008

World’s greatest tap dancer

The lovely Eleanor Powell was born on this date 96 years ago.

Always a better partner to Fred Astaire than his more famous pairing with Ginger Rogers, Eleanor was indeed born to dance, discovered as she was as part of the Vaudeville Kiddie revue.

She was without a doubt the greatest female tap dancer on screen during the heyday of 30s and 40s musicals, and as well as Astaire, she co-starred with leading men such as Jimmy Stewart, Robert Taylor, Nelson Eddy, and Robert Young. Her shining star faded towards the end of the decade, as more and more parts passed over to newer talents such as Judy Garland.

She married one of her co-stars Glenn Ford and eventually retired from showbiz, only returning briefly in cameo parts in films with novelty stars like Esther Williams, and occasionally on TV variety shows.

Watching her stupendous dancing skills always cheers me up, and here's some examples, starting with a classic:

Possibly my favourite Art Deco cinematic moment:

And a well-constructed video mash-up of the more - ahem - unexpected kind:

Eleanor Torrey Powell (21st November 1912 – 11th February 1982)

Thursday 20 November 2008

Oh, Mama!

My obsession with the weird, wonderful and bizarre was well and truly piqued today as I spotted amongst the coverage of the launch of the Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman film Australia, one of that country's more colourful cultural icons hove in front of the cameras.

Maria Venuti is apparently a popular entertainer, singer, actress and television personality - and what a personality... Looking for all the world like some bizarre cross between Nancy Walker, Cleo Rocos and Dusty "O", this is one larger-than-life lady! Among her "classic" film roles are appearances in the delightfully-titled Fistful of Flies and Fat Pizza...

With her huge bazookas, lip gloss and boas, she really deserves to be better known in the UK - Jeremy Joseph, are you listening?

MP3: Maria Venuti sings Just One Of Those Things

And the lady on stage...

All about Maria Venuti

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Three cheers and dammit!

With the "risk of redundancy" situation in work getting even more difficult, and my employers telling me I am not "matched" to a job I already do, I'm with Shirley MacLaine on this one...

I've run the gamut, A to Z;
Three cheers and dammit, C'est la vie.
I got through all of last year, and I'm here!
Lord knows, at least I was there, and I'm here!
Look who's here! I'm still here!!

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Don’t Cry Out Loud

We finally caught up with the last of the series Beautiful People last night, and I can't resist giving yet another round of applause for this fantastic show! It more than accurately portrays the experiences I, and many other gay boys, went through as a camp youngster growing up in parochial small-town hell.

Based on the life of Simon Doonan, this is the work of an effete genius, and I can't wait to read his autobiography...

Previous blog

Original blog

Monday 17 November 2008

We’re Pirates of the Sea

A little mischief engulfed me when I read this story. Apparently, pirates have seized a giant Saudi-owned oil tanker in the Indian Ocean off the Kenyan coast and are steering it towards Somalia. Although I am certain this is no laughing matter for the people on board, I couldn't resist...

Sunday 16 November 2008


Here's a convoluted example of the way my mind works. All over the press, radio and the web there's loads of reviews of the new film about terrorism in 70s Germany The Baader Meinhof Complex.

Thinking back I remembered a TV series from about 20 years ago that featured the gang - its graphic opening titles featured a notorious scene of a woman pushing a pram, forcing a car to stop. [A portrayal of the kidnap (and later the murder) of one of Germany's top businessmen Hanns-Martin Schleyer.]

I knew the series featured as its star the lovely Miranda Richardson, and after a bit of digging around I found it - the six-part BBC series called Die Kinder combined Miranda played an ex-Red Brigade member whose past catches up with her when her own children are kidnapped and held for ransom.

Unfortunately this excellent series has never made it to DVD so despite a lot of searching on the web, there are no clips available. If anyone has a copy, I'd be very keen to see it again!

But it gives me an excuse (as if any were needed) to feature some of the lovely Ms Richardson's memorable screen moments...

Saturday 15 November 2008

Justin Timberlake’s dick

As the world yawns at the news of a new collaboration between spoilt brat Rihanna and the ever edible Justin Timberlake, I thought I'd post a little something that he recorded that is much more interesting...

Rihanna and Justin on A Socialite Life

Friday 14 November 2008

The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice

Coco Hernandez: [the girls are fighting over Leroy]
"You know what they say? The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice."
Hilary van Doren: "Yes, but who wants diabetes?"

Amazingly it is five years to the day since the death of Gene Anthony Ray, most famously known as Leroy in both Fame the movie and the TV series.

Always the "naughty boy", on screen and off, Leroy was THE dancer amongst the Kids. With his ultra tight shorts and cheeky smile, I had a massive crush on him in what I continually refer to as my "wilderness years" before I came out!

Unfortunately the adage "Fame Hurts" proved to be all too true for Gene. Drink and drugs played a huge part in his life, and after he was sacked from the TV show for continually turning up late for recordings he never attained that level of success again, struggling to get parts in music videos and commercials.

Never out nor "outed", he sadly died very young (he was only 41) of a stroke. It was implied, but never proved, that his early death was as a result of complications of being HIV+. And in his obituaries, it was observed "he never married".

A sad end for a beautiful man.

Gene Anthony Ray obituary in The Times

Thursday 13 November 2008

Bona to varda your fab cartzo

Another fab time was had by all at the first anniversary of Polari last night. And with a flair befitting such an august institution, the literary bent chosen for the occasion was every boy and girl's favourite subject - PORN!

Hosted by the porn-bedecked Paul Burston (he sews the cock-pics on himself you know), our evening's readings were kicked off in great style by the larger-than-life Jacqui Applebee, who describes herself as "a black bisexual woman, who breaks down barriers with smut".

And she certainly lived up to her description, with a smattering of one of her lesbian fantasy stories and a great poem about orgasm - which got the audience (of both sexes) twitching, and no mistake!

Jacqueline ApplebeeWriting in Shadows

Our shining star, however, was the lovely Rupert Smith, appearing last night as his pornographic author alter ego James Lear ("James - my middle name. Lear - because I was Amanda Lear's first husband.").

Not only did he read his first smutty passage (from The Secret Tunnel) entirely in Polari, but, after a rather wonderfully graphic extract (from The Back Passage) about cottaging we were treated to a lascivious flash of his impressive golden winged phallus. This of course was the recent trophy he received as James Lear at the Erotic Awards 2008.

Rupert Smith on porn, as featured in The Independent

Celine cooled the throbbing groins with her own particular brand of smut, singing a couple of numbers from her Music Hall repertoire, to the delight of the well-fed audience (thanks to the Trash Palace for feeding us!)

And, sated with lust of the ear, superb writing and superb company, we trolled downstairs to sample the disco-licious delights of Paul's DJ set (having already whooped with joy at DJ Dom Agius's Baccara'n'Grace Jones extravaganza at the beginning of the evening).

Unfortunately, the dance floor appeared to be lit by the kind of fluorescent bulbs that wouldn't look out of place in a dentist's surgery, and every seat in the house had been dragged to the centre of the floor by what seemed to be the entire population of Fiorenza, complete with shopping bags and animated non-stop talking over every track. Realising that this was not going to descend into a sticky-floored disco dream as on previous occasions, we ended up sadly finishing off our gins far too early and heading for the Tube...

However, the night was fantabulosa - and I look forward to the next one (Bloggers' Night!!) in December starring Dirty White Boy author Clayton Littlewood.

I love Clay's writing, and I am almost finished reading the book - I hope there will be a second one soon so I can learn more about his early sexual encounters on Weston-Super-Mare pier...


["Bona to varda your fab cartzo" - Polari slang = "lovely to see your great cock"]

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Boyband meets boy

As much as I dislike their smarmy cynical brand of music, full kudos goes today to Boyzone who have become the first boy band to feature a gay couple in their video.

The very lovely pocket-sized Stephen Gately, who appears in the video for Better in a love scene with a man, says "I just think it's just a beautiful video and I think it works superbly for the song. I'm hoping this video will have a good, positive, all-round reaction."

Not ground-breaking or particularly shocking (although I hate to think what Mein Kampf - sorry - The Daily Mail will make of it), as artists as diverse as Pet Shop Boys and Christina Aguilera have been there before, boy bands appear to be considered differently it seems by music PR men.

So as a statement against intolerance to that strange adulatory girly audience, it is officially a good thing. Shame is is a shit song.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Old Oil

Shock! Horror! Can it really be thirty years since Dallas first arrived on our screens?!

Apparently so as they're celebrating the fact over in the US - and actually, looking at these photos suddenly I believe it. More silicone than Everest Windows...

Dallas Reunion

PS I always preferred Dynasty anyway...

Monday 10 November 2008


Just because I can (and on a day when I've just had my first "consultation" meeting about risk of redundancy, I am not in deep blogging mode at the moment), here's a gratuitous pic of someone called Zac Efron in a shower scene that was apparently cut by Disney from High School Musical 3.

Ahem! What exactly is corrupting about this..?

Apparently the rest of these photos are currently for sale on eBay...

Read more

Sunday 9 November 2008

After a taste of stardom, everything else is poverty

"To be a star is to own the world and all the people in it. After a taste of stardom, everything else is poverty."
Today would have been the 95th birthday of that great star of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Hedy Lamarr. Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna to a Jewish family, she moved to Paris during the rise of the Nazis, where she met Louis B. Mayer. On his insistence she changed her name and thus a classic screen beauty was born!

Hedy Lamarr starred in a number of blockbuster films in the 1940s, with co-stars such as Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper, including the massive Cecil B de Mille classic Samson and Delilah with Victor Mature. Possibly her most glamorous film, however, was the Busby Berkeley extravaganza Ziegfield Girl with James Stewart, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Jackie Cooper and Eve Arden.

As was the pattern at the time, her star eventually began to fade as more, and younger, beauties rose through the studio system to supplant her. She retired from films in the early 1950s, only featuring again in the headlines when she hit hard times and was accused of shoplifting - a scandal that led Andy Warhol to make a cruel short film about her.

Bizarrely she was also an inventor - she patented something called frequency-hopping during the war, a system intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam. The technology is apparently used today in such modern inventions as Wi-Fi connections and cordless phones. Since 2005 on November 9th in German-speaking countries, Inventor's Day has been held in honour of Hedy Lamarr and her invention.

A glittering star indeed!

Hedy Lamarr on IMDB

Hedy Lamarr - from riches to rags

Saturday 8 November 2008

Pleidiol Wyf i’m Gwlad

Having spent the day in Cardiff, courtesy of work (despite just having been put at risk of redundancy), I thought I'd post this as a little reminder of that not everything about my homeland is so bad after all...

Shirley Bassey & Bryn Terfel:

Tom Jones & Cerys Matthews:

A little bit of Road Rage:

And Tom again, with the gorgeous Kelly Jones (no relation):

Makes ya proud...

Pure comedy gold

Hot on the heels of the news that a new Wallace & Gromit is to grace our screens over the festering season comes news of the return of none other than Stanley Baxter!

Read more about the programme Stanley Baxter Now and Then

Probably even more so than Morecambe & Wise and Top of The Pops, the Stanley Baxter Show was the one show we would always look forward to at Xmas! You could rely upon Stanley - with his Hollywood pastiches and endless cross-dressing musical numbers - to provide the right balance of clever and hilarious comedy with glitz and sparkle.

Stanley Baxter learned his trade as part of the Combined Services Entertainment unit during National Service, alongside Kenneth Williams, John Schlesinger, Gordon Jackson and Peter Nichols. What a pedigree!

Never a great looker, he nevertheless transformed himself into these magnificent "ladies" before our eyes far more convincingly than, say, Danny LaRue (who was a bit too "me, me, me") or The Two Ronnies (who dragged up purely for the laughs). And not forgetting his brilliantly camp takes on Upstairs Downstairs and even HM The Queen...

As a child I loved him! (Says a lot in hindsight, really.)

Stanley Baxter biography

Thursday 6 November 2008

Happiness is Ray Conniff

On what would have been the 92nd birthday of the ultimate king of MOR music Ray Conniff, I couldn't let this opportunity pass.

Known for his use of human voices in place of instruments in his recordings, Ray and his ever-changing band of squeaky-clean singers were a staple diet of the type of music aficionado who actually bought album collections from the Readers' Digest, and for whom Woolworths' MFP Classics were too racy!

Here are just some examples of the cheesy "light music" for which Ray was so notorious, sorry famous...

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Boy, have we got a vacation for you

Sad news of the death of Michael Crichton, the author famous for penning several blockbusters that later became massive movies, such as The Andromeda Strain, Congo and of course Jurassic Park.

A little-known fact about the man is that he was a fully qualified medical doctor, and it was this expertise and his love of science that was behind a lot of his writing and movie making.

My personal favourite Crichton tale was one of the earliest that he himself adapted for the big screen - Westworld. The tale of an executive team-building exercise at a Wild West theme park that goes horribly wrong; the icy performance of Yul Brynner as he ruthlessly stalks the hapless Richard Benjamin is an image that still startles me to this day...

RIP to a great storyteller.

Michael Crichton obituary

Tuesday 4 November 2008

You make me wanna shout

Happy 60th birthday yesterday to that "National Treasure"™, Marie MacDonald McLaughlin Lawrie, known to the world as Lulu.

In an amazing five-decade career that began when the lady was a wee bairn of 15, Lulu has made a big impact on both sides of the Atlantic with her original "white soul" voice, her effervescent personality and her sense of humour (often the "foil" for French & Saunders and other comedians).

Probably due to that very ability to take the piss out of herself, and her innate sense of showbiz style, she has carved a niche as a bit of a gay icon. From her early collaborations with David Bowie and Elton John, to her work on behalf of the latter's AIDS Foundation, via some very camp appearances with Take That and on stage at G.A.Y., she has always been seen as our ally. She was married to society hairdresser John Frieda for heaven's sake! And since that marriage broke down, our Lulu has admirably attracted a succession of men many years her junior.

All hail the little Glasgow girl with the big voice!

Article in the Glasgow Evening Times

Lulu on MySpace

Monday 3 November 2008

Nightingale of the Andes

Sad news (as the lovely Rupert Smith informed me today) - the most extraordinary diva of them all Yma Sumac is dead.

Yma Sumac was always shrouded in mystery. She claimed to be a direct descendant of Atahualpa, Peru's last Incan emperor, and changed her name from Imma Sumack to the more exotic Yma Sumac to go along with the myth that was being created around her. Her career began in South America as a part of something called "The Inka Taky Trio", with her then husband, bandleader Moises Vivanco, but once they moved to New York the lady's enigmatic talents were soon snapped up. Indeed Yma Sumac's first album Voice of the Xtabay in 1950 sold over 100,000 copies, and a legend was born.

Famed for her five octave vocal range, Yma Sumac certainly appeared to use every octave to its fullest - and sometimes it seems she does so in every song! Quite rightly lauded for these incredible talents, she went on to become an international sensation, thrilling audiences in not just the US but Russia and Western Europe too.

I have three of her five major albums in my collection - courtesy of our friend Alistair, who introduced me to this particular diva few years back. She was experiencing at the time a bit of a revival due to the 90s fad for "lounge" music, but nothing quite prepared me for the full gamut of whoops, coloratura and Grace Jones-level alto and below that she could perform...

I was honestly unaware what actually happened to her - whether she was dead or alive - until Rupert's news. A sad loss - there will never be another!

This is a marvellous recording of Yma Sumac at her very best:

And this is possibly my favourite song of hers:

On this one, as our friend Alistair commented, she does rather look like part of a sketch by Stanley Baxter:

To finish, here's another clip of the lady, with some rare footage of Yma in her later years:

Rupert Smith on Yma Sumac

Yma Sumac obituary in the LA Times

Yma Sumac website

Sunday 2 November 2008

Hello, Sailor

Trawling the website of Homotopia, a highlight of the Liverpool City of Culture [sic] celebrations, I came across this fascinating piece about an exhibition based on the lives and experiences of gay seamen (fnaar fnaar), particularly in the Merchant Navy.

Contrary to the opinions of some militant gays out there, who only want to see gay men portrayed as "straight acting" and attack camp as a sign of "weakness", these are the stories of real men, real heroes - serving their country in the face of war by day, and donning feathers and spangles by night!

I especially loved the maps the boys painstakingly drew up for each port they visited - charting the clubs, bars and cottages worth visiting across the world. And the fact that they gave their quarters nicknames such as "Balmoral" (where the queen lives) made me hoot!

I really hope that the lovely Jo Stanley realises her ambition, and this exhibition does go on tour. I would be fascinated to see it make an appearance in Greenwich Maritime Museum...

Saturday 1 November 2008

Everything’s ankle straps, Marabou, Shalimar

We all turned out for the new Playhouse Theatre run of La Cage Aux Folles last night to help celebrate our friend John-John 's birthday. We had been to see the original run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and at the time I predicted this would get to the West End - so how did the two compare?

Read my review

Well, when we saw the original, the star Douglas Hodge was unwell so we didn't experience his take on the part [it was "played to quivering perfection by (the understudy) Spencer Stafford", as I said in my blog]. So it was a bit of a surprise to find Mr Hodge had decided to play Albin/Zaza as a sort of Alan Carr/Dick Emery character...

This was disconcerting, to say the least, and inevitably meant that much of the subtlety and pathos of the show was lost. As the gurning, stereotypical gay (and particularly "telly star gay" - Barrymore, Carr, Norton) humour went on, the largely ignorant audience bayed with laughter at the visual gags, and missed the subtlety of important parts of the story.

Personally I was fuming when Hodge threw in a "chase me, chase me" gag into what should have been a far more interesting scene about the relationship between Georges and Albin. [I hate Duncan Norvelle and his brand of "playing-to-the-tabloids" homophobia, and cannot see why doing this kind of impression is in any way relevant to the show.]

And in consequence of this "dumbing-down" we sometimes felt that the general sympathies of the audience lay with the machinations of the erstwhile son rather than the put-upon gay "parents".

Anyway, in its favour this production does have its merits. Much of the brilliance of the DV8 production remains intact - the "birdcage" dance choreography, in particular the scene where Albin stirs the cocktail as the dancers whirl about him, for example. Douglas Hodge, when he stops playing up for laughs, is vocally superb in his big numbers - I Am What I Am, and The Best Of Times in particular.

And as Michael Billington in his Guardian review says, "Denis Lawson may not possess the massive dignity that Philip Quast originally brought to the role of Georges", but he is remarkable in revealing his singing and dancing talents, which we all found impressive.

The ultimate conclusion that everyone came to after the "post-match analysis" that accompanies these occasions, is that Jerry Herman is a genius, La Cage Aux Folles is one of the best musicals of all time, and if this had been the first time we'd seen the show in its current form, we would have thought it marvellous. Had we not been spoiled by seeing it first at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and had we not had to put up with the stupid drunken ignorant West End audience, it would have been a far better night. But all-in-all it was great fun and worth seeing nonetheless!

A Little More Mascara
Once again I'm a little depressed by the tired old face that I see,
Once again it is time to be someone, who's anyone other than me.
With the rare combination of girlish excitement and manly restraint,
I position my precious assortment of pencils and powders and paint.

So whenever I feel that my place in the world is beginning to crash,
I apply one great stroke of Mascara to my rather limp upper lash.
And I can cope again, Good God! There's hope again!

When life is a real bitch again, and my old sense of humour has up, and gone
It's time for the big switch again, I put a little more Mascara on.
When I count my crow's feet again, and tired of this perpetual marathon,
I put down the loo-seat again, and put a little more Mascara on.

And ev'rything's sparkle dust, bugle beads, ostrich plumes,
When it's a beaded lash that you look through,
'Cause when I feel glamorous, elegant, beautiful,
The world that I'm looking at's beautiful too!

When my little road has a few bumps again,
And I need something level to lean upon,
I put on my sling pumps again,
And wham! This ugly duckling is a swan!
So when my spirit starts to sag,
I hustle out my highest drag,
And put a little more mascara on.

And everything's ankle straps, Marabou, Shalimar!
It's worth sucking in my gut, and girdling my rear.
'Cause ev'rything's ravishing, sensual, fabulous!
When Albin is tucked away, and, ZaZa is here!

When everything slides down the old tubes again,
And when my self esteem has begun to drift,
I strap on my fake boobs again,
And literally give myself a lift.
So when it's cold and when it's bleak,
I simply rouge the other cheek,
For I can face another day
In slipper satin lingerie.

To make depression disappear,
I screw some rhinestones on my ear,
And put my brooches and tiara,
And a little more mascara on

Sparkle dust, bugle beads,
Ankle straps, Marabou...On! Ankle straps, Marabou,
Ostrich plumes, Shalimar,
Ravishing, fabulous, on! Ravishing, fabulous, on!

La Cage Aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre