Tuesday 31 March 2009

Bennett, Steadman and Orton

Went to see Alan Bennett's Enjoy starring Alison Steadman and David Troughton last night. Our friend Lou had two tickets for her birthday, and after a little wrangling amongst "the gang" I was designated New Best Friend Forever for the evening.

We both mused at the realisation that this was the first play either of us had seen for a long time that wasn't a musical... But what a treat it turned out to be!

The "action" all takes place inside one of the last of the "back-to-backs" in Leeds, amongst the rubble of "slum clearance". Connie (Mam) is going a bit senile, and Dad (Wilf) is a miserable old sod ("since the hit-and run"), and is looking forward to the comforts of a new maisonette (although secretly he would miss the regular caller who supplies him with smutty mags).

Their lives are rudely interrupted by a visitor, a young lady who is apparently "from the Council", tasked with making a day-by-day observation of the lives of these "real people" for some mysterious social record, and it is from this moment on that the farce develops. Of course, the observer - who is not allowed to speak to the couple - is not exactly who she seems. And the "real life" behaviour of Connie, Wilf, and their "personal assistant" (prostitute) daughter Linda is anything but normal...

The plot twists and turns in a manner that would make Joe Orton proud, with some hilarious scenes including Dad's unfortunately premature rigor mortis (well in one part of his body anyhow), the arrival of a neighbour (making up "traditional Northern customs" for the observers) and the eventual revelation that Miss Craig, the visitor, is in fact the couple's long-lost (and to Dad, denied existence) son!

As you would expect, the acting is superb, some of the lines are Alan Bennett at his best ("I keep that toilet like a palace"), and the whole endeavour is a brilliantly woven combination of dark humour, slapstick and gritty observation of a dying way of life.

Highly recommended!

Read Charles Spencer's review in The Telegraph.

Monday 30 March 2009

Pop Trash Addicts Monday

Thanks to the lovely Mike at Pop Trash Addicts, my attention was recently drawn to this previously unfamiliar and wonderful slice of cheesiness, courtesy of one of the trashy obsessions we both share - Miss Raffaella Carra! Check out that lycra...

Sunday 29 March 2009

Gee! I'd like to be - on some marquee, all twinkling lights

Merely because Elaine Paige played one of her songs this morning on her Radio 2 show, my thoughts turn to one of my favourite showbiz artists ever - the fantastic Elaine Stritch!

Still very much in the business (at the age of 83!), Elaine cannot be summed up succinctly - a career that spans seven decades is not to be sniffed at!

Needless to say, the "Grand Dame of Broadway" has worked with them all - Noel Coward, Rogers & Hart, Irving Berlin, Ethel Merman, Jule Styne, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, John Lahr, Hal Prince, and of course Stephen Sondheim. She trained at drama school alongside giants of the acting world, including Marlon Brando (with whom she had a brief, if apparently unconsummated, flirtation) and Bea Arthur.

In the 1970s she moved to the UK, taking up a long residence in one of the suites at the Savoy. It was during this time that she became most famous to British audiences, playing alongside Donald Sinden in the hugely successful ITV comedy Two's Company, and appearing several times on Parkinson, and in Tales of the Unexpected and Jackanory.

After the death of her British husband in 1982, she returned to the US, where she has not stopped working since - a variety of TV shows from The Cosby Show to The Big Gay Sketch Show. And along the way she continued to appear on stage, most notably her award-winning one woman show At Liberty.

It was at the UK run of this show at the Old Vic in 2002 that we were privileged to see the divine Ms Stritch on stage for the first time. Madame Arcati was particularly thrilled, having been a fan of hers since acquiring a copy of her eponymous 1960s album Stritch. And she certainly didn't disappoint! Interspersing songs from her long repertoire with snippets and anecdotes from her life and theatrical career, it was a magical occasion - and a rare opportunity to see a true legend perform.

Here's a few bits and pieces I found, as a tribute to this remarkable lady...

The song EP played this morning on Radio 2:

Here's Elaine in conversation (at a gay centre benefit just last November) with American gossip columnist Liz Smith, known as "The Grand Dame of Dish", with whom Elaine has been friends for decades (see above photo of them as young ladies):

With Millicent Martin, Marian Montgomery and David Kernan in Ned Sherrin's 1979 ITV series Song by Song - a show that I have absolutely no recollection of whatsoever (bizarrely, but then I was merely a teenager, and had yet to really discover my penchant for showtunes):

One of Elaine's classic Sondheim numbers:

And her show-stopper, also one of Sondheim's greatest...

I love this woman!

Elaine Stritch on the Broadway Database

Elaine Stritch on IMDB

Saturday 28 March 2009

Betrothed to laughter

"I was irrevocably betrothed to laughter, the sound of which has always seemed to me to be the most civilized music in the world."

"Contrary to general belief, I do not believe that friends are necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who got there first."

Raconteur, wit, author, playwright, actor, director, multi-linguist, musician and former military batman to David Niven, the wonderful Sir Peter Ustinov died five years ago today...

Born into a bizarre background - his father was the WW2 MI5 agent Baron von Ustinov, his mother a painter and ballet designer, and he could trace his heritage to Russian, French, Italian, German and even Ethiopian nobility - the young Ustinov was destined to become a theatrical individual.

And indeed his tutelage in drama led him to appear in a multitude of major films alongside such top actors as Humphrey Bogart, Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Terence Stamp, Kirk Douglas (in Spartacus) and of course the cavalcade of stars who made up the cast of his blockbuster Agatha Christie movies.

Although he won Best Supporting Actor Oscars for both Spartacus and Topkapi, it is of course for his wily portrayal of Hercule Poirot in the magnificent Death On The Nile and Evil Under The Sun (and in four lesser-known follow-up Christie films) that he became most famous across the globe.

Despite his international renown as goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, Peter Ustinov was adopted by the British public as "a national treasure" largely as a result of his many fascinating and entertaining appearances as a guest on chat shows such as Parkinson, and Parky himself rated him as one of his top five guests - "God's gift to the chat show host".

In an interview, he was once asked what he would like it to say on his tombstone, Ustinov replied "Please keep off the grass".

RIP - a great man.

Peter Ustinov on IMDB

Friday 27 March 2009

Don't have nightmares...

As the tragic news of a Spandau Ballet reunion hit the news this week, Robbie has announced he's back in talks with Take That, and we have suffered recent dreadful comebacks for Boyzone, Sex Pistols, Blur and even The Kinks, I thought it might be an idea to throw a few more suggestions of bands who might be overdue to re-form into the pot (hee hee)...

How about this lot?

Or these?

Or how about...?

And then there's possibly my worst suggestion so far...

Any other contenders?

Don't have nightmares....

Thursday 26 March 2009

At first I was afraid, I was petrified...

We went en masse to see what may well turn out to be the most spectacular, the most uplifting and most fabulous show of my life! Mere words cannot describe the sheer exuberance of the experience - all twelve of us were completely blown away by it, and want to see it again.

Taking the "simple" premise of transferring one of the gayest movies ever Priscilla Queen of The Desert to the stage, the producers and designers have had a field day with this one. No excuse is wasted for a magnificently over-the-top glitteringly costumed dance number - from the opening funeral scene to the Alice Springs cabaret show itself (which is, as anyone familiar with the story knows, is the whole reason these three mismatched drag artistes are travelling across Oz in the first place).

And what dance numbers! A cavalcade of camp disco classics pumps out the theme to the different stages of the story - Don't Leave Me This Way, Go West, Boogie Wonderland, I Will Survive, MacArthur Park, Finally, and songs from Tina Turner, Petula Clark, Joni Mitchell, Cyndi Lauper, and of course Kylie! You will never see costumes and choreography like this in your life...

The dancers are all brilliant, with especial mention for the character players such as the "Tina drag/Miss Understood" and the fat woman in the infamous bar scene. They all have such energy, as they meet the demands of costume change after extravagant costume change without seemingly stopping for breath.

The three divas perpetually suspended above the action are magnificent singers who keep the whole thing together. And of course the Thai bride who does her unspeakable act with ping-pong balls (to the classic Pop Musik incidentally) is a show-stopper.

Tony Sheldon is fantastic as Bernadette the hard-bitten transsexual (complete with a hairdo that looks suspiciously like Madonna's), and, as in the film, gets all the biggest and best lines. Oliver Thornton portrays the ultra-fem, ultra-bitchy Felicia/Adam superbly (and has the most beautiful toned body to boot, even swathed in acres of lurex!). Jason Donovan as Tick/Mitzi may not be the most outrageous, nor the most talented, of the lead trio but his is the most troubled and sombre character to play, and I think he projected all those emotions (while teetering around in the most ridiculous platforms and chiffon) with aplomb. The three stars alone have more than twenty costume changes - some done at lightning-fast speed, each one more extravagant than the last - and they wear it so well...

So who or what is the true star of the show? As well as the exuberance of the lead actors, the energy of the dancers and singers, and the breath-taking costumes, the biggest star has to be Priscilla herself! The centre of most of the action, this million-pound monster bus (complete with its sign "Rear Entry - Upon Request") provides the most spectacular transformations of all. Painting it pink results in a mass of illuminated fairy lights to appear all over its sixty-foot body (which from then on keep changing to suit the mood), the open sided interior is the focus for some of the best scenes, and as for Felicia's sparkling diva moment singing Aida seated on a sparkly shoe on the roof - that has to be seen to be believed!

Oh, and did I mention? It's just a teensy weeny bit camp...

This is a performance no-one should miss. You are absolutely guaranteed to leave feeling happier than you ever thought you would from seeing a show, covered in confetti, dazzled by the biggest glitter-ball in the world, aurally battered by disco songs you had forgotten you really loved, and perhaps for the first time wanting to put on an outrageously over-the-top frock and belt out a medley of Kylie songs from the top of a rock in the middle of the desert... Believe me, you will!

Priscilla - The Musical website

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Ooo, your kisses, sweeter than honey

Happy birthday today to one of the greatest singers of all time, Miss Aretha Franklin!

Rightly lauded throughout her five-decade career as "The Queen of Soul", Aretha has tried her hand at many genres of music, including gospel (her roots), jazz, pop, R&B, disco, and even opera. Always a fighter, she emerged from a lowly background with two teenage pregnancies already behind her, to become a hit recording artist at just 18. But it was to be a further few years before she released the ground-breaking Respect, and became an international sensation. She swiftly followed up this success with classics such as Think, I Say A Little Prayer and Spanish Harlem.

In early 1968 Franklin won her first two Grammies and went on to win eight "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" awards in a row (and eighteen in total), she has been awarded the Kennedy Centre Honour and The Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was the first woman to enter the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, selling millions of records along the way. She has collaborated with the greats of soul and pop, including Otis Redding, Luther Vandross, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, George Benson, Eurythmics, James Brown, George Michael and Lauryn Hill, yet remains very much her own woman, with famous "spats" with Roberta Flack, Beyonce and Tina Turner.

Always larger-than life, Aretha Franklin is a formidable force to be reckoned with, and there is no-one, vocally, these days who can touch her!

Only Aretha could stand in for the magnificent Luciano Pavarotti:

Here she is competing brilliantly with three other great vocalists, Miss Peggy Lee, Miss Sarah Vaughan and Miss Roberta Flack:

And here she beats Mr Tom Jones hands-down:

Aretha Franklin website

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Ooh, I say...

Wonderful news today that the lovely June Brown has received a BAFTA nomination for her part as Dot Cotton in EastEnders.

In real life June is not an East-ender at all. She was born in Suffolk 82 years ago. In her long acting career, she has played on stage Mrs Danvers in a production of Rebecca as well as such classics as An Inspector Calls, The Lion in Winter and A View from the Bridge. On TV, she had minor parts in Dixon Of Dock Green, Angels, Coronation Street, Dr Who, The Bill and The Duchess of Duke Street, among many others. She was also brilliantly cast as Nannie Slagg in Gormenghast!

Inevitably and understandably a bit of a gay icon (she even has a gay club in Cambridge named in honour of Dot, at which she has made several personal appearances), June's portrayal of the uncompromising chain-smoking Dot Cotton has spawned numerous drag impersonations. Yet she made history by being the first and so far only actress to carry an entire episode single handed in the history of British soap, for which she was previously nominated for a BAFTA.

I hope she gets it this time! Here are a few clips from June's screen history as evidence of her skills...

First up that award-nominated Dot Cotton monologue:

Some more of June's best performances:

And of course, here is Alistair McGowan's classic version...

She deserves the accolade of "national treasure, if anyone does!

Monday 23 March 2009

Naughty Girl

As it is a Monday, and I usually feel like posting tacky music, here's one delectable little number from the recent Aussie series Summer Heights High...

Sunday 22 March 2009

Across the River

Our little gang spent a lovely sunny day today walking the South Bank of the river from the Greenland Pier (where we got off the riverboat from London Bridge) through Rotherhithe back to our starting point.

It's all a bit bizarre, this redevelopment lark - everything is so new and so identikit, and even one of the new bridges across a wharf inlet is called the "Barratt Homes" bridge. True to form, our only saving grace (and practically the only actual old buildings apart from converted warehouses) were the pubs. How jolly!

But it is, after all, the joy of walking the Thames that makes living in London so special...

Saturday 21 March 2009

Licenced to thrill

Possessed of one of the most seductive speaking voices in acting history, the lovely Timothy Dalton is - unbelievably! - 65 years old today!

In his long and enviable career, Mr Dalton has played alongside most of the greats of theatre and movies - Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins in The Lion in Winter, Richard Harris, Alec Guinness, Robert Morley, Charles Gray, Dorothy Tutin, Hugh Griffiths, Harry Andrews, Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson amongst them.

Another in a long line of Welsh acting maestros, with his piercing green eyes and 6ft 2" frame Timothy Dalton has always been a commanding (and extremely sexy) figure on screen. I have had a major crush on him for years...

Just check out his debut screen performance:

Of course, the most lucrative role in his four-decade career, and the one for which he is likely to be most remembered worldwide, is his stint as James Bond in the 80s. Licence to Kill was one of the best of the series, as a result:

Inevitably, there are always some less salubrious points in any actor's career. Here are a couple of them...

All jokes about the similarity between these two unappealing meat products, on a postcard to the usual address please...

Timothy Dalton's long career outlined on IMDB

Friday 20 March 2009

A little culture

Loathe though I am to post more than one blog item per day, I couldn't resist this one...

Was HE worth it?

Ten years ago the charts in the UK were a very gay place indeed... I was still living in Plymouth, and one of my "jobs" was to help out the managers of that city's gay bar. Not only did I write a database for their accounts, but I also updated their "Top Ten" jukebox every week. And the hits around at the time certainly were crowd-pleasers!

I was overjoyed to be able to fill the machine with such fluff as The Vengaboys, Steps, 'N Sync (before Justin Trousersnake became an annoying pseudo-R'nB artist, when he was still just an annoyingly chirpy boy-bander) and even B*Witched (what was it with this bizarre spelling of band names?) - all gay, gay, gay (in the homosexualist manner)!

Britney had arrived (with her chicken-heavy first video), Madge was back doing pop rather than sleaze, Whitney was still sober and had stopped releasing wibbly power-ballads, and every dance number appeared to be remixed by Club 69, Almighty and Todd Terry...

But there was one artist who really seemed to embrace this queeny agenda in early 1999. Making her comeback in a shower of glitter, sequins and feathers, with a coterie of the campest gay sing-a-long numbers since the heady days of Hi-NRG and its successor genre "Handbag" - none other than Cher!

[The male lyrics version, of course...]

Thursday 19 March 2009

Boyz Keep Swinging

Yesterday was certainly a busy one - and it has taken several cups of tea and a lazy day to recover...

I met up with John-John at Liverpool Street in the afternoon, and off we went to the "Simply Madonna" exhibition in Brick Lane. [Having recovered from the sight of so many cute "suits" gathered in one place, that is! I love the City...]

The exhibition is a wonderful and comprehensive assemblage of costumes - including that pointy bra, and outfits from Like A Virgin, Material Girl, Evita and from her tours - together with magazine covers, her entire back catalogue of albums, Madge dolls and case after case of souvenirs, autographs and awards. Well worth seeing, in spite of the grim warehouse-like exhibition space of the old Truman Brewery.

Read more about the exhibition

Then it was onwards to Polari. Especially for "Boyz Night", I had a t-shirt printed featuring a great pic of Bowie with William Burroughs, which I thought appropriate. Freedom Bar looked like an advertising campaign for the similarly-named magazine, however... They are "official sponsors" so I suppose it's only fair.

As always, the lovely Dom Agius provided a suitably-themed and eclectic mix of tunes (not often you'll hear Bessie Smith and Lindsey DePaul in the same playlist!), before the readings began with the very first Polari Night unpublished author - John Joseph Bibby (who we had previously seen doing a most unusual "striptease" at the Quentin Crispmas event in December). He proved to be a talented writer, too, with a bizarre tale of a gay drifter and his encounter with a fortune-teller ("The Oracle").

After a short hiatus, we were entertained by Drew Gummerson (above) reading from his new novel Me and Mickie James, a quirky tale about the adventures, life and loves of an aspiring pair of musicians. The fact that Mickie just "happens" to be a hunchback, the boys "happen" to be lovers, and they "happen" to end up in a hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City with a compulsive masturbator might give you an inkling of quite how quirky this tale is!

But this was not half as much of a spectacle as the arrival on stage of the fabulous (and also, surprisingly unsigned) Williams Sisters! I can't really describe this act in its full glory, so here is a little taster...

How can you follow an act of that magnitude? Well, writer and columnist Adam Mars-Jones (below) certainly gave it a try. He began with a fantastic piece from his new book Pilcrow. Written from the perspective of a small boy, it accurately summed up how small boys think about things - in this particular case the "argument between a man and a lady about making pies" (his interpretation of the classic song Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)).

Then he treated us to one of his unpublished works, a much more graphic tale about a sexual encounter between a closeted youth and a biker in the scrubland of Box Hill. It is a shame this fab story has never yet been seen in print (for family reasons, apparently), but hopefully one day it will get the exposure (oo-er) it deserves.

Yet another in a succession of excellent nights courtesy of Paul, Rupert and Dom, and as always they managed to pack out the sizeable Freedom function room - not bad for a midweek cultural event!

Not content with leaving it there (as is our wont) we ended up till the wee small hours in the fabulosa Players' Theatre piano bar - drinking Port of all things... No wonder I've been feeling slightly fragile today.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Twisty and corruptit of the basic English twenty-fido

Council leaders have compiled a banned list of the 200 worst uses of jargon, with "predictors of beaconicity" and "taxonomy" among the worst horrors.

The Local Government Association says such words and phrases must be avoided for staff to "communicate effectively".

Cliches such as "level playing field" and inscrutable terms like "re-baselining" have been prohibited.

LGA chairman Margaret Eaton said: "The public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases. Why do we have to have 'coterminous, stakeholder engagement' when we could just 'talk to people' instead?"

Hoorah! It looks like one of my greatest irritants may finally be tackled...

I have always been a great advocate of clear, plain English - it was my job for many years to try and translate this moronic "management-speak" into a form of words that real people could understand. Not necessarily the "conversational tone" we all adopt here in the blogosphere [itself a jargon term, but quite a cute one], but articles and information that the intended audience might actually read, and in doing so absorb any essential information or messages contained within.

It seems simple really, but somehow the assembled petty minds of the bureaucrats and "consultants" of this world have managed again and again to miss this very important point, and I sometimes despair at the incomprehensible nonsense they produce. More power to the LGA!

Read more on the BBC

The full list of banned words and phrases

The World of Stanley Unwin

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Sláinte ma Cara!

To help celebrate St Paddy's Day (not the "St Guinness" festival that saw loads of drunken yoof take over London last Sunday), here is a little tribute to some of Ireland's most revered exports...

French and Saunders. Of course.

Monday 16 March 2009

I'd rather Jack

Twenty years ago this week, I noticed a change was becoming evident in the British charts. An "underground" phenomenon that had already being doing the rounds for a couple of years, with its infectious bouncy beats and crossover sampling, a mix of electronic music, disco and jazz-funk piano, was causing a sensation.

I first caught onto this new style of dance music - which during the whole of 1989 began to conquer the world in its many forms ("acid house", "garage", "funky house", "handbag") - while I was staying at a friend's place in Kent (many moons away from the backward music scene of Wales), and at that point I realised that "cool" club music had made a comeback, and there was a alternative to the Stock Aitken Waterman years.

Something big was happening, and these tunes were two of its early mainstream successes - soon to be followed by enormous hits for the likes of Deee-Lite, The Shamen and the rest. House was born!

Sunday 15 March 2009

Sun and fun

Spent a fab evening in Dorking to celebrate our friend Lou's birthday, and stayed over.

The sun was so strong in her beer garden this afternoon that I even caught a bit of a tan, and so to celebrate this glorious early Spring, here's a joyful number from the wonderful Army of Lovers...

Saturday 14 March 2009

The quintissential artist

"Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, both young and old shared a little of what he is good at doing."

Happy 76th birthday today to the incredibly talented Quincy Delight Jones.

Quincy began his musical journey as a trumpeter with bandleader Lionel Hampton in the 1950s, and from there soon gained a name for himself as an arranger, working with a cavalcade of the top artists of the day, including Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa and Ray Charles. With this respected career under his belt, he moved on to composing his own music, and was soon snapped up by Hollywood to write film scores, including In The Heat of The Night and The Italian Job.

He continued as an arranger, working with Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald. En route he found time to write the classic Soul Bossa Nova (as featured in Austin Powers), and "discovered" Lesley Gore and wrote It's My Party for her. Whew!

But this prodigious output continued throughout the 70s and 80s, and his success was assured as producer of Michael Jackson's greatest works, including his seminal solo album Off The Wall - a record that sold 20 million copies worldwide and rocketed Quincy Jones into the stratosphere of fame. He went on to produce both the biggest-selling album of all time, Thriller, and Jackson's follow-up Bad.

In the 80s he also had a solo pop career, covering Chaz Jankel's Ai No Corrida and latching onto the jazz-funk groove of the early 80s with Razzamataz, and continues writing, producing and arranging to this day...

A staggering talent!

Quincy Jones website

Friday 13 March 2009

Whip it real good

As the news breaks today that arch surrealists Devo are going to release their first new album in 20 years and will play their entire debut album live in concert in London in May, what better excuse than this to post their all-time classic number, one of my favourite post-punk songs...

Read the article on the BBC

Thursday 12 March 2009

Total war, Martha? Total!

Who knew that Edward Albee was still alive? Celebrating his birthday today, at 81 Albee has certainly earned his title of "America's greatest living playwright".

Adopted by a high society couple as a child, Albee ran away from his constrictive upbringing to join the literary set of New York's Greenwich Village in the 1950s. And his phenomenal legacy began there, with critically-acclaimed works such as Zoo Story and The Death of Bessie Smith. He was awarded the Pulitzer prize for A Delicate Balance, Seascape and Three Tall Women, and continued to produce award-winning plays over five decades, including The American Dream, and most recently with the 2002 hit Broadway and West End play The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?.

"I'm loud, and I'm vulgar, and I wear the pants in this house 'cos God knows, somebody has to! But I'm not a monster, I'm not!!"
But it of course for his masterwork Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? that he is (rightly) most admired and remembered. This tortuous dissection of a stifling relationship between two headstrong (and drunken) characters is held up today as a classic of world drama. It caused massive controversy in the straight-laced early 60s for its uncompromising use of vulgar language and uncomfortable scenes of verbal humiliation and implicit "sexual decadence".

The 1966 film adaptation was a massive success, featuring possibly the very best cinematic performances of all the leading players' careers - Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis and George Segal. All four were nominated for Oscars (the film itself having been nominated in all thirteen eligible categories, unprecedented at the time), and Miss Taylor and Miss Dennis won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively.

In the hands of these masters, the movie is a brilliantly disturbing and engrossing example of modern film noir, as the viewer "eavesdrops" on the agonies of Martha and George's spiteful attacks on each other, and experiences the stifling discomfort of their humiliated guests.

The film, as the play before it, caused uproar in an age when cinema censorship was still rife, and apparently Jack Warner chose to pay a fine of $5,000 in order that it would remain as faithful to the play (with its profanity) as possible. His faith in the project certainly paid off.

Here are just a couple of clips from this, one of my and Madame Acarti's favourite films ever:

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on IMDB

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Following the river of death downstream

Thirty years ago this week, the charts were dominated by one song - Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel. Everyone was sick to death of it, as I recall. I don't know anyone who actually bought it. But there it was, in the words of Phil Oakey "the black hit of space, sucking in the human race."

Evidence - if any were needed - of the eclecticism of music at the time were the "ones that got away"; those that hit the Top 5 in March 1979 but couldn't shift the big 'un.

These included The Jacksons - Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground), Racey - Some Girls, Sex Pistols - Something Else / Friggin' In The Riggin', Sister Sledge - He's The Greatest Dancer , Supertramp - The Logical Song, and this one (amongst my favourites):

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Those who came before me lived through their vocations

I was watching Sky Arts' Songbook featuring Bernard Sumner (of Joy Division and New Order fame) last night, and the interviewer asked where the inspiration for the biggest-selling 12" single of all time Blue Monday came from.

Well, apparently the whole thing was conceived during New Order's first tour as a band after Ian Curtis' suicide and the end of Joy Division, and pays its dues to the influence of the electro gay disco being played in New York in the early 80s.

Take a slice of this:

Mix liberally with a bit of this:

And some of this:

And add a little of this:

And you get this...

Monday 9 March 2009

Everything about it is appealing, everything that traffic will allow

Monday - sun is shining, daffs are up, and my thoughts turn to tacky music again!

We were listening to the fab Paul O'Grady show on Radio 2 yesterday (so much better than Elaine Paige, for whom he is covering for a few weeks), and among his selection of show music he featured this marvellous slice of incredibly bad kitsch.

For some impossible-to-understand reason back in 1979 someone thought it would be a good idea to get the most powerful voice in showbiz Ethel Merman to record a disco album - and a camp cult classic was born. Unsurprisingly, we have a treasured copy on vinyl as well as the CD (and it is always a guaranteed party hit, if only for the guests screaming for it to stop!). I love it...

Ethel Merman Disco Album

Sunday 8 March 2009

And just for a second I thought I remembered you

Happy birthday today to one of my greatest inspirations - Mr Gary Numan.

Why Numan, and not Bowie, Roxy, or Kraftwerk - his own acknowledged biggest influences? I was actually too young to appreciate the coolness of any of them. At the height of their powers in the mid 70s, my world revolved around Top of the Pops, glam (especially Queen), and the emerging "New Wave" and disco sounds.

It was in 1979, after the brief flurry that was Punk had died down, and at a similar time to my obsession with Blondie, that I stumbled upon a performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test by an unknown band called "Tubeway Army". I became absolutely hooked, and I didn't really know why...

Numan's stark, steely presence - like some kind of "space elf" - and his mournful robotic vocals fascinated me. I bought every record (single and LP) he produced, went to see him at the Colston Hall in Bristol on his Telekon tour in '81, and began to model my look and tastes around this new alien synthesizer-driven world of his creation. In night classes, I used his iconic White Album image [above] to screen-print T-shirts, and I craved a diagonal-buttoned jacket like his.

Little did I know at the time how much of a musical sea-change was just around the corner in his wake, with the rise of the Futurist/New Romantic movement I came to embrace. His song Jo The Waiter ["Held me close, behind the door marked 'Gentlemen'"] became a bit of an inspiration during my coming out, too.

His appearance on the music scene ruffled a few long-established feathers. David Bowie famously wanted Gary Numan off the set of the Kenny Everett Show on which they were both scheduled to appear, saying that he didn't know that "cloning was part of the 80s". Miaow. But it was through the "Numan influence" that I, and many others, came to rediscover the ground-breaking music of the original 70s pioneers via our local "Bowie/Roxy nights".

A largely unrecognised legend these days (except perhaps by Richard X), but one dear to my heart:

Gary Numan (born Gary Anthony James Webb, 8th March 1958)

Saturday 7 March 2009

The Sweet Life

Fifty years ago this month, a certain Swedish sexpot by the name of Anita Ekberg splashed around in the Trevi Fountain in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, and one of the iconic female screen images of the 20th century was born.

Read Duncan Kennedy's retrospective on the film.

And of course, "The Sweet Life" has inspired numerous musical tributes over the years. Here is my selection (in the genre we call "tacky", of course). Enjoy...

The utterly camp-as-tits After Dark (from the 2004 Melodifestivalen in Sweden):

Spanish singer Soraya Arnelas's take on the Ryan Paris song:

Finnish entry for Eurovision 1989, Anneli Saaristo:

And finally, Sparks!

Dolce, indeed.

Friday 6 March 2009

It's but a pleasurable means to a measurable end

We went to see the Menier Chocolate Factory's new production of A Little Night Music last night - and what a show!

One of Stephen Sondheim's best works, the concept is relatively simple - a soap-opera plot revolving around generational differences, relationships and sex, all set to 4/4 waltz time. But in the hands of the master of all musicals (and a tremendous cast!) it becomes far more complicated as the lives of the characters unfold, and their various paths criss-cross. Based upon an Ingmar Bergman film, and set in the craziness of the Scandinavian eternal summer, it could hardly be straightforward...

Alexander Hanson is superb as the tormented Frederick, married for almost a year to Ann, a much younger wife who is "unfortunately still a virgin" despite his evident frustration at that fact. Events turn on their head when an old flame, the actress Desiree, comes to town. Brilliantly played by Hannah Waddingham (who was the "Lady of the Lake" in Spamalot), Desiree's reappearance after fourteen years, complete with teenage daughter, throws doubt into Frederick's life. Their duet You Must Meet My Wife is a skilful dissection of the foolishness of the marriage, at the hands of a much older, wiser woman.

Frederick and Desiree's rekindling relationship causes problems for everyone when one of her lovers, the Count (accurately played as a complete madman by Alistair Robins) becomes psychopathically jealous. He uses his long-suffering wife Charlotte (the wonderful Kelly Price) to stir things up by telling the naive Ann about their affair, and she pours her heart out about her own unhappiness in the fabulous number Every Day A Little Death.

Then it all gets really complicated as Desiree talks her mother Madame Armfeldt (played to bitter, imperious perfection by Maureen Lipman, who obviously relishes the part and delivers all the best lines in the show) into hosting a Weekend in the Country, where all the characters are uncomfortably thrown together. Delicious bitchiness ensues as everyone examines their own feelings about each other, and their relationships.

The most famous number of the whole show is of course Send in the Clowns, often treated as a torch song, but here magnificently delivered by Miss Waddingham as the desperate breakdown of a strong woman's defences in the face of a rapidly diminishing chance of happiness with her lost love. Utterly awe-inspiring - I could hardly breathe through her stunning performance.

Miss Lipman's Madame Armfeldt gets her own show-stopper too, of course, as she reminisces about the flimsiness of the sexual morés of the younger generation, compared to the profitable nature of her own affairs, with Liaisons - and she really does deliver it magnificently!

At the villa of the Baron De Signac,
Where I spent a somewhat infamous year,
At the villa of the Baron De Signac
I had ladies in attendance,
Fire-opal pendants...

Liaisons! What's happened to them?
Liaisons today.
Disgraceful! What's become of them?
Some of them
Hardly pay their shoddy way.

What once was a rare champagne
Is now just an amiable hock,
What once was a villa, at least,
Is "digs."
What once was a gown with train
Is now just a simple little frock,
What once was a sumptuous feast
Is figs.
No--not even figs--raisins!
Ah, liaisons!
Now, where was I? Where was I? Oh, yes...

At the palace of the Duke of Ferrara,
Who was prematurely deaf but a dear,
At the palace of the Duke of Ferrara
I acquired some position
Plus a tiny Titian...

Liaisons! What's happened to them?
Liaisons today.
To see them--indiscriminate
Women, it
Pains me more than I can say,
The lack of taste that they display!

Where is style?
Where is skill?
Where is forethought?
Where's discretion of the heart?
Where's passion in the art?
Where's craft?
With a smile
And a will
But with more thought,
I acquired a château
Extravagantly overstaffed.

Too many people muddle sex
With mere desire,
And when emotion intervenes
The nets descend.
It should on no account perplex,
Or worse, inspire;
It's but a pleasurable means
To a measurable end.
Why does no one comprehend?
Let us hope this lunacy's just a trend.
Now where was I? Where was I? Oh, yes...

In the castle of the King of the Belgians,
(We would visit through a false chiffonier)
In the castle of the King of the Belgians
Who, when things got rather touchy,
Deeded me a duchy...

Liaisons! What's happened to them?
Liaisons today.
Untidy! Take my daughter, I
Taught her, I
Tried my best to point the way.
I even named her Desiree.

In a world where the kings are employers,
Where the amateur prevails
And delicacy fails
To pay,
In a world where the princes are lawyers,
What can anyone expect
Except to recollect...

And while the bitterness of the lives of the guests is played out in full, the servants take the opportunity to enjoy themselves. The maid Petra (Kaisa Hammerlund) treats us to her own thoughts on life in the wonderfully bawdy The Miller’s Son, cocking a snook at the inflexibility of the upper classes, and her outlook on sex as a young woman cleverly mirrors yet contrasts the sentiments of the much older Mme Armfeldt:

It's a very short way
From the fling that's for fun
To the thigh pressing un-
Der the table.
It's a very short day
Till you're stuck with just one
Or it has to be done
On the sly.
In the meanwhile,
There are mouths to be kissed
Before mouths to be fed,
And there's many a tryst
And there's many a bed,
There's a lot I'll have missed
But I'll not have been dead
When I die!
And a person should celebrate everything
Passing by.

Many of the complex strands of these bizarre people's lives are drawn together in a denouement that leaves some wounds exposed, but resolves many more. Not a happy ending, nor entirely sad - just A Little Night Music.

We had a great time, and even got the chance to have a little drinkie in the Green Room bar with the whole cast, including Maureen Lipman, afterwards.

I highly recommend everyone to see this show! Although the entire run at the Menier Chocolate Factory sold out within weeks, the show transfers to the Garrick Theatre on 28th March.

No preview videos are available of the Menier cast yet, but here are a few songs from the show:

A Little Night Music at Menier Chocolate Factory

Thursday 5 March 2009

Love Is Called My Old Piano

We have become Piano Bar aficionados!

Spending some time with the family (Madam Arcati's niece and nephew) in the West End last night, we stumbled across the late night piano bar at the New Players' Theatre under the arches opposite Heaven. We hadn't been there for years - but what a find!

Although last night's pianist limited his repertoire to interpretations of MOR music (Police, Elton, Marvin Hamlisch), the atmosphere was great, and we had a fab time. The place has a reputation for attracting thesps and players from all the West End shows, and true to form the place was heaving with bow-tie-wearing orchestra members and chorus boys'n'girls. On certain nights, some of them are tempted up to the piano to do their own songs, and I am certain we will be making this one of our regular haunts in future on the off-chance of catching a performance such as this...

Wednesday 4 March 2009

A most versatile lady

Alas, another of the greats of British comedy has gone.

Joan Turner, an opera-trained singer, DJ and "off-the-wall" comedienne, began her long and tumultuous career with the Crazy Gang (a 1950s anarchic comedy troupe, a sort of combination of Music Hall and The Goons) and was soon taken to the hearts of British audiences. She headlined at a Royal Command Performance above The Beatles, and rapidly became the highest-earning female singer in the UK.

Fame was a double-edged sword for Joan, however, and despite her immense popularity here - with sell-out shows at The Talk Of The Town and her own TV and radio shows - she tried her hand at cracking the American market. This turned out to be a disaster, as her penchant for the good life, vodka and champagne and her terrible temper got the better of her.

She ended up at one point living as a bag lady in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, looking for that "one big break". She was rescued from that fate when the media caught up with her in the US, and she returned to Britain in 2001.

Despite her incredible list of famous friendships (she apparently had affairs with Peter Sellers and Tony Hancock), including Lynda La Plante, she never regained her fame and fortune. She even turned up drunk and fell off the stage at a dinner in her honour in 2003!

Her autobiography I Thought It Grew on Trees, is due to to be published in August this year, and I for one look forward to reading this lady's incredible story in her own words...

Here's a very small sample of the talents of Joan Turner:

Read Joan Turner's obituary in The Guardian

Tuesday 3 March 2009

When you lose control and you got no soul

Good heavens! Can it really be thirty years since this was at Number One in the charts?

Here I lie
In a lost and lonely part of town
Held in time
In a world of tears I slowly drown
Goin' home
I just cant take it all alone
I really should be holding you
Holding you
Loving you loving you

When the feelings gone and you cant go on
Its tragedy
When the morning cries and you don't know why
Its hard to bear
With no-one to love you you're
Goin' nowhere
When you lose control and you got no soul
Its tragedy
When the morning cries and you don't know why
Its hard to bear
With no-one to love you you're
Goin' nowhere

Night and day
There's a burning down inside of me
Burning love
With a yearning that wont let me be
Down I go
And I just cant take it all alone
I really should be holding you
Holding you
Loving you loving you

Monday 2 March 2009

Forever Dusty

I know it is usually Tacky Music Monday, but today is a special anniversary... It is ten years since the world lost that most incredible of singers Dusty Springfield.

Dusty had the most gorgeous singing voice - she had a rare quality that allowed her to tackle such different types of music as that of Bacharach & David, Holland-Dozier-Holland and Jacques Brel in one set, delivering each with a sublime grace that others could rarely match.

She championed the rise to prominence in the UK of Motown, and with her support dozens of black artists including Martha & the Vandellas, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye created a niche for their music in this country long before 60s America would even give them airplay.

Dusty's hidden lesbianism and drink dependency led to other problems that meant even after the massive success of her 60s albums, including one of the most lauded LPs of all time Dusty in Memphis, her career went into a bit of a decline throughout the 70s. With the able assistance of Pet Shop Boys she made a well-deserved comeback in the 1980s, and she was rightly recognised for her lifetime achievements with a series of awards.

Her death was met with huge fan hysteria, her funeral was attended by hundreds of people, the great and the good, and even the Queen said she was 'saddened' to learn that Dusty was dead (she had been due to go to the Palace to receive her OBE on the day she died). I was living in Plymouth at the time, and we all wore black armbands.

Here are just three of my all-time favourite Dusty tracks:

Dusty Springfield, OBE (born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien, 16th April 1939 – 2nd March 1999)

Sunday 1 March 2009

Doing the Lambeth Walk, Oi!

We had a great time at the Modern Music Hall event at the Drill Hall last night!

Organised by the Camden LGBT Forum as a free closing gala for Gay History Month, I was lucky to get tickets before the event was featured in the gay press - which was a good thing as the place was packed!

Our master of ceremonies was the fabulous Luke Meredith, trying his best to give the whole thing an authentic Music Hall feel - although I don't remember Leonard Sachs wearing fishnets and a leather thong on The Good Old Days!

Mr Meredith is superb - not only keeping the evening's entertainment together, but also treating us to a selection of his own songs (including a love song to a Dalek!), and getting the audience to take part in a good old fashioned sing-a-long.

One moody member of the audience complained about the inclusion of The Lambeth Walk "'cos we're North London, innit?" - but I rather think she may have been at the wrong event. And when Mr Meredith cleverly updated the genre with a sing-a-long of Can't Get You Out Of My Head and Parklife I think even the most hardened cynics joined in...

Surprise hit of the night was the very obscure Sjaak van der Bent, who describes himself as an "opera singer extraordinaire, self confessed failed heterosexual". He arrived on stage with a handbag and a fetching frock, and held the audience in raptures with his beautiful voice and off-the-wall repartee.

The (very attractive) Snakeboy treated us to a few bellydance numbers, and there was (unfortunately) some mime - least said soonest mended.

After the break, as well as more mime (someone should tell Divo and Sofia that middle aged women pretending to be black boys wasn't even funny when French & Saunders did it), we were entertained by the most authentic of music hall acts Hilda Eusebio aka "Jack the Drag King in Evolution", and of course our very own budding superstar of the queer cabaret circuit Michael Twaits was absolutely brilliant as always...

All this, and a free buffet afterwards! A really well thought out and impressive evening, in the true spirit of Variety - congratulations to Ingo and the whole Wotever World crew for putting it together, and it is great to see that The Drill Hall is still in business after the Arts Council cut its funding last year...

...and to give a taste of the evening, here's Mr Van der Bent him(her)self: