Tuesday 30 June 2009

Countdown to Pride continues...

To make up for the lack of tacky music yesterday (unless you count Dotty Squires massacring Ivor Novello's song), here's a delightfully tasteful contribution to the countdown to Saturday's Gay Pride...

Monday 29 June 2009

A Welsh gay icon who isn't Shirley Bassey

That iconic Welsh superstar of stage, screen and music Ivor Novello is finally recognised with the unveiling of a statue to him in his native Cardiff.

He has a blue plaque already (on the house of his birth, not far from where I used to live, in Canton and across the road from the long-demolished cottage where (allegedly) a Bishop of Llandaff was once caught in flagrante delicto).

But now the gay genius (who died in 1951) finally has a statue smack-bang in the middle of Cardiff Bay - an area which in his day was notoriously known as "Tiger Bay", the haunt of whores of all sexes. Given his reputation for seduction and sexual proclivity (this is the man who supposedly bedded dozens of famous actors, members of the nobility and politicians - including Winston Churchill), I suppose that's quite fitting really...

Read the whole article on the BBC

Some other Welsh artistes have also done tributes to their fellow countryman by singing some of his classic compositions...

Dorothy Squires - We'll Gather Lilacs [skip to 4:10]

Ivor Novello Appreciation Bureau

Sunday 28 June 2009

Forty years on, and..?

The Stonewall riots are widely described as a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of New York City.

They are frequently cited as the first instance in American history when gays and lesbians fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted homosexuals, and they have become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

Yet, as Haydon Bridge, writing in this week's issue of QX magazine, says:
"When it comes down to it, we know little for certain about one of the most significant events in gay history. Why was The Stonewall Inn raided? Who was there that first night? Who started the riot? Who did what to whom? Opinions differ. We’ll never be sure exactly what happened in Greenwich Village in the summer of 1969 because only one newspaper thought that the whole event was worth recording. That’s not surprising because it was no big deal. New York gay bars were raided all the time. This was also the decade of riots, much bigger ones than the “melée” around The Stonewall Inn. Not only were there no TV crews covering the event, there were hardly any photographers. The news took months to reach the rest of the U.S."
And in the UK, it hardly made an impression at all - coming as it did at a time when decriminalisation of homosexuality had just been achieved here by genteel political means.

Many and varied are the "myths" that surround the events at Stonewall. If everyone who claims to have been there actually was there, the tiny bar and its surrounding streets would have had a crowd the size of an audience at one of Tina Turner's concerts.

As for the link between the news of the death of icon Judy Garland and the heightened emotions of distraught queens being their reasons for rioting, not a single eye-witness recalls Garland's name being discussed. In fact gay activist and pioneer Bob Kohler said:
"When people talk about Judy Garland's death having anything much to do with the riot, that makes me crazy. The street kids faced death every day. They had nothing to lose. And they couldn't have cared less about Judy. We're talking about kids who were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Judy Garland was the middle-aged darling of the middle-class gays. I get upset about this because it trivializes the whole thing."
In his foreword to Philip Core's brilliant book Camp - The Lie That Tells The Truth (one of my favourite books of all time - available on Amazon), George Melly says:
"It should not be forgotten, particularly by the macho-clones with their short hair and big boots, that when, in Greenwich Village, for the first time and without precedent, a group of effeminate little queens refused to accept the police's casual invasion of one of their bars, they repelled them, not with knuckle-dusters or karate blows but with hand-bags!"
A wonderful piece written in defence of "camp" against the bigotry of certain types of "straight-acting" queers and assimilationists maybe, but even Gorgeous George was working on second-hand anecdotal evidence. For even now no-one is really certain whether it was in fact the "effeminate little queens", or even the drag queens, who fought back first - or was it the dykes?

Trannies certainly were prominent in the struggle, as witnesses confirm:
"An officer shoved a transvestite, who responded by hitting him on the head with her purse as the crowd began to boo", "Fights erupted with the transvestites, who wouldn't go into the patrol wagon", and "All I could see about who was fighting was that it was transvestites and they were fighting furiously".

But what was the legacy of the riots? A united front? A world gay rights movement? Although it was probably as a direct consequence of those events that forty years ago queer activist organisations such as the Gay Liberation Front and in the UK the Campaign for Homosexual Equality were founded (and it is certainly the reason why Pride marches are held at this time of year), not everyone in the gay community considered the revolt a positive development.

To many older gays and many members of the Mattachine Society [an organisation that worked throughout the 1960s in the US to promote homosexuals as no different from heterosexuals; its equivalent here in the UK was ‎the Homosexual Law Reform Society] the display of violence and effeminate behaviour was embarrassing. An early gay rights pioneer Randy Wicker even went as far as to say that the
"screaming queens forming chorus lines and kicking went against everything that I wanted people to think about homosexuals ... that we were a bunch of drag queens in the Village acting disorderly and tacky and cheap."
And gay and lesbian rights activist Jean O'Leary certainly made her feelings clear subsequently, deriding transvestites and drag queens for mocking women as entertainment - to the point that transgender activist Sylvia Rivera and "freedom fighter for men who dress as women" Lee Brewster felt prompted to storm Ms O'Leary's stage shouting "You go to bars because of what drag queens did for you, and these bitches tell us to quit being ourselves!"

In truth, there has always been a divide in opinion between lobbyists such as the UK's Stonewall group (yes, it was named after the riot) and those such as Peter Tatchell, who says in an article in yesterday's Times:
"We had a beautiful dream, but it is fading fast. In the 40 years since Stonewall, there has been a massive retreat from the ideals and vision of the early gay liberation pioneers. Most gay people no longer question the values, laws and institutions of mainstream society. They are content to settle for equal rights within the status quo. Conservatism and respectability have taken over the gay movement. In the late 1960s, we saw the family as a patriarchal prison that enslaves women, gays and children. Four decades later, the focus of most gay campaigners is on safe, cuddly issues like civil partnerships and adoption. Gay people are increasingly reluctant to rock the boat and more than happy to embrace traditional heterosexual aspirations."
There are still many, many battles to be fought for the rights of gay people (in the West as well as in more repressive regimes across the world), and there are still many people whose attitudes need to be changed - both straight and gay!

Public mass events like the Gay Pride parade must still be seen as a political statement, not just a fluffy carnival. I may be wearing feathers, fouf and faff next Saturday, but I am there every year (along with thousands of other gay people) in order to make certain that the media and the public realise:

"We're here, we're queer - get used to it!!".

Saturday 27 June 2009

Gay icon overload!

What can I say about a show that features not one but two international gay icons sharing a stage? We went to see Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli appearing together last night - of course, not the ladies themselves but the masterful and award-winning Steven Brinberg (Barbra) and Rick Skye (Liza).

It was a fantastic show! After opening with a typical Broadway duet between the two divas, Mr Brinberg took centre stage, and with an uncanny eye for detail (with all the careful hair flicking, stuttering and pomposity for which Miss Streisand is famous) led us through a beautifully sung, hilarious and OTT session of the grand dame's hits and repartee.

At one stage he morphed from Babs into Cher, Eartha, Bette Davis, Lena Horne and even Susan Boyle(!) and back again, and concluded the glittering set with the duet You Don't Bring Me Flowers, singing both the Streisand and Neil Diamond parts simultaneously. Superb.

After the break, it was the turn of the magnificent Mr Skye as Liza - appearing from the wings into the glittering spotlight (much to the joy of our friend David, when he/she ruffled his hair!).

Attacking the role with amazing energy, Rick takes uproarious twists on a whole raft of Liza's classic songs, some of which we had seen in his previous show A Slice o'Minnelli - including My Roller Chair and his very funny version of Aznavour's mawkish Quiet Love, complete with cod sign language - and some we had not, including a tribute to Betty Ford.

Not only a great singer, Mr Skye also take the micky out of Liza's endless anecdotes about her "Mama" and "Papa" and her "best friends", and can't resist several sideswipes at Lorna Luft (and her show "Songs My Mother Taught My More Talented Sister While I Was Sat In The Kitchen").

Ending all too soon (apparently there are two shows on at the Leicester Square Theatre in one night) with another duet - in which Rick/Liza managed to drown out Steven/Barbra alarmingly - this was nevertheless a superb night, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world!

Thursday 25 June 2009

Pride, striptease and Jesus's skid-mark

Despite the warm weather that evidently keeps even the stalwart literary queens away from events in downstairs bars mid-week, a reasonably healthy crowd eventually turned up for Paul Burston's Polari "Love & Pride Night" last night, making for yet another excellent evening's entertainment.

True to the theme, I dug out my historic collection of Gay Pride badges dating back to 1991 to celebrate the occasion.

Once the music and the cocktails flowed sufficiently, it was time for the readers to take the stage. First up, VG (Val) Lee read another hilarious story from her anthology As You Step Outside, this time about the dressing of her mother's body for the funeral, and the strange mix of emotions this brings out. I love her writing (having heard her first at Polari "Stalkers' Night" back in January), and this tale was enough to persuade me to buy the book - get your copy from Amazon today!

Val, Maureen and friend

Maureen Duffy, explaining that publishers prefer authors to read from their latest works (and fighting the microphone that has a mind of its own), took us through a piece from hers - The Orpheus Trail - a revelation by an eminent archaeologist that his forbidden feelings for a young Arab boy had discredited his career, yet provided him with something worthwhile (and entirely innocent) in the process - a feeling of love. Check out Maureen's website for more...

After a break, it was the turn of the boys. Anthony McDonald read from his new sequel to his bestseller Adam, titled Blue Sky Adam, and chose a charming extract about the awkward meeting again of two teenage lovers after a period of time; their circumstances may have changed but their feelings for each other evidently have not. Read an extract on Amazon.

Paul followed, with a hilarious excerpt from his early work Shameless evoked a fabulous (and ever-so-slightly familiar) scenario, as early 90s queens, popping pills and dancing in a tent at Gay Pride, confuse the real meaning of "pride" with the party and the music - the drugs may have changed, but the shallowness of queens today has not!

Michael Arditti (losing the battle with the dodgy microphone) read acapella (with his marvellous vocal projection) a fascinating extract from his latest The Enemy Of The Good, a complex story about the trials and tribulations of a very mixed-up family and their clash with faith, sex, death and relationships - and in this piece the desire of an HIV-positive man to conceive a baby with his dead brother's widow, and the tragic realisation that he cannot do this, even for love. The Enemy of The Good on Amazon

But before our top billing reader Dan Mathews (activist and vice chairman of anti-fur campaigners PETA) took to the stage, it was time for a special treat as our host (and stripper for the evening) made his own very special commitment to the cause:

Dan, an imposing figure, took us through parts of his memoir about campaigning and the trouble it can get you into. Not only did he harbour a long-standing notion that in order to back up PETA's claim that Jesus was indeed a vegetarian someone should ask to test the "skiddy" on the Turin Shroud (!!), but surprisingly (unsurprisingly, some might say, given the previous anecdote) he was once committed to a mental asylum in France for his views.

He obviously survived the experience, and was thankfully here to tell the tale. Committed: A Rabble-rouser's Memoir is available on Amazon.

Despite not exactly being surrounded by the coterie of megastars we had hoped for (Tasty Tim is no substitute for the rumoured Chrissie Hynde or Kate Moss in my book!!), Dan is a charming man, circulating the room afterwards and talking to everyone, including Christopher Bryant of Polari Magazine, who was thrilled to arrange an interview for a future issue of the mag. I finished off having a couple of drinkies afterwards with Mr Bryant - a lovely chap - and in all, had a superb evening!

Roll on Polari "Porn Night" on 15th July!!


Wednesday 24 June 2009

Rejoice in the gay way

As tonight's Polari theme is "Love & Pride Night", I just had to share this little understated video with the world - and henceforth the official countdown to Pride 2009 on July 4th begins...

Tuesday 23 June 2009

A legend

Forty years ago yesterday, the legend that was Judy Garland died in a hotel in London. Say no more.

Monday 22 June 2009

It doesn't get much tackier than this...

A truly tacky moment in musical history came in the early 80s when Puerto Rico launched possibly the worst boy band in the world - and this is how (the definitely heterosexual) Ricky Martin made his musical debut [second video, pink shirt]! Terrifying...

Sunday 21 June 2009

Ethel Merman, beard hair and frankfurter sandwiches

We are well overdue for a celebration of one of my favourite divas - the wonderful Varla Jean Merman, "lovechild of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine"(!)

Varla, aka Jeffery Robinson, is an award-winning international drag star, with hit shows such as Varla Jean Merman Loves A Foreign Tongue, Anatomically Incorrect, I'm Not Paying For This, Girl With A Pearl Necklace, An Act Of Love, Under A Big Top, Holiday Ham!, All Washed Up! and The Very Worst of Varla Jean Merman (the last of which hit London, and we inadvertently managed to miss it, but we have the album).

I love his/her vulgar innuendo-driven humour - a bit like a more glamorous Joan Rivers, but with the ability to sing (and move her face!). Here are just a couple of samples of the bizarre talent of this marvellous diva...

Varla's website

Saturday 20 June 2009

"If you're going to be a degenerate, you might as well be a lady about it"

Happy birthday today to the wonderful Olympia Dukakis, one of my favourite actresses. This lady is one of a rare breed, for if ever I see her name in the credits, I know that a film is going to have at least one scene worth watching!

Although her film career stretches all the way back to the 1960s, it was really only in the 80s that the world took notice of this feisty little Greek mama, in films such as Moonstruck and Steel Magnolias.

But it is for her Emmy-award-winning performance as the enigmatic Mrs Madrigal in Tales of the City that we love her the most, of course (although I must admit her cameo in Jeffrey as the proud mother of the "pre-operative transsexual lesbian son" is perhaps one of my personal favourites!). Here are a few small clips of the talent that is Olympia Dukakis...

Olympia Dukakis on IMDB

Friday 19 June 2009

Guaranteed to jolly up your weekend!

As it is a sunny Friday, with the possibility of a warm weekend to come, I thought I'd post something to boost our spirits.

And who better to do this than the lovely Mitzi Gaynor?

Thursday 18 June 2009

Frozen vampires and the strange ladies of Whitby

Another fab time at Polari "Supernatural Night" last night (despite mourning the departure of the lovely DJ Dom) - suitably-themed spooky music from Paul Burston, happy hour cocktails, and a bevy of brilliant writers reading their most ghoulish works for our delectation...

Opening the show, Mathilde Madden read an extract from one of her "slash" erotic novels - a genre that has women writing graphic sex, including gay sex, for the benefit of other women. Her tale was of a reluctant werewolf who transforms from human to beast whenever he cums, but now manages to curtail this transmogrification with the aid of a silver collar that is enchanted by witches. In this extract, our (anti-)hero manages to service all twenty-seven nubile members of the Vix coven without becoming hairy and howling at the moon, just knackered, so something worked... The Silver Collar on Amazon

Poet Mark Walton read some of his works, including a chillingly incisive observation about a friend taking up with the wrong company, Vampires ("they will suck you dry"), written especially for this evening. I bought a copy of his first anthology of poetry Frostbitten on the strength of that alone (even though that particular poem isn't in the book). He was ably followed by Kristina Lloyd, another "slash" writer, whose icy tale of encounters with vampires in the frozen Arctic made our blood run cold - deep dark stuff indeed! Vampire's Heart is part of the compilation Lust Bites, available on Amazon.

Our headline guest Paul Magrs (pronounced "Mars") has a long history of published works, novels and short stories - including some spin-off books from the Dr Who TV series - and he read for us an extract from one of his hilarious books about the adventures of Brenda and Effie, two most unusual old ladies of Whitby. Not only do our two heroines get themselves involved in all kinds of sinister supernatural adventures ("Mr Danby and his Deadly Boutique", a demonic local radio phone-in show, the evil Mrs Claus at the Christmas Hotel, a convention of elderly ex-superheroes - gripping stuff!), but Brenda has a secret - she is a 200-year-old "Bride of Frankenstein" creation from various mis-matched body parts...

Read an extract of his novel Something Borrowed on Amazon

As Paul Burston succinctly put it, in a review he did in The Independent on Sunday a few years ago:
"Gothic horror and situation comedy don't always mix well. The danger is that everything is reduced to camp. Added to this, Magrs brings a large helping of pathos as Brenda's back-story is laid bare. To pull all this off at all takes some doing. To pull it off so well takes the combined talents of Alan Bennett, Angela Carter and The League of Gentlemen."
As you can imagine, we were transfixed!

Another great night's entertainment (if somewhat curtailed by the fact that another performer was scheduled to appear immediately following Polari, so we were unceremoniously encouraged to clear the room almost bang on 10pm...)

Still, if rumours are to be confirmed, there are bigger and better things afoot for Polari in the near future - and not just next week's "Love and Pride Night" (with Maureen Duffy, Michael Arditti, VG Lee and Dan Mathews of PETA ).

Polari is collaborating with The House of Homosexual Culture again at the London Literature Festival at the South Bank next month on two events which we have booked to attend - "Love and Marriage" and the Stonewall 40th anniversary event.


Wednesday 17 June 2009

A feast of Divas

We went to see the rather faboo Christine Pedi [from Forbidden Broadway] in her one-woman show Great Dames last night, largely on the recommendation of the owner of Dress Circle theatrical music shop [The most homosexual place on earth!], and we weren't disappointed!

A show dedicated to the ladies of the musical stage was almost guaranteed to appeal, of course, but we were thrilled at what a brilliant mimic she is. She opens with the most captivating take on Julie Andrews (a feat that not many impersonators can manage), and isn't afraid to take the mickey (affectionately, of course) out of the great lady's inability to reach the high notes any more. As she sings songs from Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady, Miss Pedi wonders what Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand and Patti Lupone might do if they were asked to play Eliza Doolittle - and sends them all up hilariously in the process.

Not content with providing us with alternative leading ladies for My Fair Lady, the "fantasy cast lists" get wilder. How about Chicago starring Angela Lansbury? Or maybe Bernadette Peters or Elaine Stritch? Miss Pedi captures the particular nuances of all these ladies with hilarious and sometimes cruelly accurate imitations.

Barbra Streisand (over)doing I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts? Brilliant! Carol Channing, Eartha Kitt, Joan Rivers? She does them all...

The show has some interludes of Miss Pedi singing classics in her own smoky jazz voice, but it is her comic impressions that really make the show special. One sketch had us in fits - an imagined musical version of the death of Anna Karenina (under a train) complete with a Russian version of On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe ("The Abkhazia, Tsiblisi and the Kiev line"): "Do you hear that whistle down the line…?". Genius stuff.

Her best (and most cruel) impression, however, has to be Liza Minelli, complete with all her nervous tics and "best friend in all the world" (everyone is her best friend of course) routines. Performing the songs of Abba in the style of Kander and Ebb, she captures both the skill and the ridiculousness of the great diva with hilarious results!

As a grand finale Miss Pedi recalls seeing the great Eartha Kitt singing I Will Survive and proceeds to demonstrate how she and others would do it - Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn all make an appearance - and the audience was in fits of laughter right to the end.

Here's the lady herself, performing a show in New York:

If you're a fan of great musical divas, if you like brilliant comedy in an intimate theatre, or if you are feeling down and need a real pick-me-up evening I highly recommend this show. We loved it!

Jermyn Street Theatre

Tuesday 16 June 2009

La vie moderne

Lest anyone think that my entire life is dictated by birthdays, anniversaries and obscure European pseudo divas, here is a selection of artist(e)s who particularly interest me at the moment...

Mr Patrick Wolf is an eccentric character with a "look" based partly upon a certain Mr (Steve) Strange and partly upon Miss (Shirley) Manson, yet with a voice reminiscent of Mr (Ian) McCulloch or perhaps Mr (Neil) Hannon. He has spectacularly failed to achieve major commercial success so far - despite widespread adulation among fans and critics alike - so let's hope that this rather good tune and video will prove his turning point...

Miss (Roisin) Murphy, however, is a far less fragile and ephemeral character. Having already had a modicum of chart and dancefloor success as a part of Moloko, her bizarre music has caught the ears of American audiences as well as European, and yet she has not lost that individuality that makes her stand out among the general hoi-polloi...

And to complete this triumvirate of British Isles favourites, Miss Ellis-Bextor may well be more of an "aloof" than an eccentric, and more "unusual" than she is "art-form", but this collaboration with the fine gentlemen of the Freemasons more than confirms her position as "Une Icône Gai"!

Monday 15 June 2009

Oh, those Ukrainians

Courtesy (again) of the lovely Teddi, I was introduced to this spectacularly camp diva. With her own particular brand of tackiness, here's Svetlana Loboda!

But why confine yourself to one weird kitsch Ukrainian wannabe diva, when you can have two? Meet Asiya Akhat (with what seems to be an uncredited cameo by Elton John)...

Sunday 14 June 2009

Nobody does it like...

Today would have been the 80th birthday of the fabulous composer, songwriter, and jazz pianist Cy Coleman.

In a career that spanned eight decades (from his debut as a child piano prodigy), Cy wrote dozens of songs and shows for some of the greats, including Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, Gwen Verdon, Shirley MacLaine and Tony Bennett. Among the standards Cy wrote were such wonderful songs as Witchcraft, The Best Is Yet To Come, Nobody Does It Like Me and Hey, Look Me Over.

But it was his partnership with the magnificent grande dame of American theatre Dorothy Fields that produced the masterpiece for which he is most remembered (and one of my favourite musicals ever) - Sweet Charity. Although he continued to write, produce and perform right up until his unexpected death in 2004, he could never quite match the eternal success of this classic!

Here are a few samples of the prodigious musical talent of Cy Coleman...

Read Cy Coleman's entry in the Internet Broadway Database

Saturday 13 June 2009

I said, REACH!

Ten years ago, this piece of unabashed pop fluff was the UK's Number One, and a nation groaned at the continued dominance of cheesy music...

Much, much better was this one...

A sing-a-long anthem that has extra meaning for us, remembering parties at The Angel in Stratford, and of course the "CK Sunday" drag show at Halfway to Heaven...

Have a good weekend!

Friday 12 June 2009

Just my little tribute...

Happy birthday this weekend to Malcom McDowell, menacing star of such cult movies as Lindsay Anderson's If..., Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, and, er, the notorious 70s "erotic" film Caligula!

According to Total Movie & Entertainment Weekly:
The original premise behind Caligula - the brainchild of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione - was to combine graphic sex and violence with artful, intelligent film-making. But somewhere along the line, despite Gore Vidal's screenplay [NB - Vidal later had his name removed from the credits] and the star power of Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole [NB - all of whom later expressed regret at having been involved], groundbreaking cinema got lost amidst gratuitous smut.

When presented with a cut of the film, Guccione sensed this and decided to appease the "raincoat crowd". So off he went with a camera and a couple of "Penthouse Pets". The result is some of the most bizarre and realistic sex ever captured on film - mainstream or otherwise. Women fellate midgets, the obese serve as orgy centrepieces, and the aforementioned Pets romp from sex scene to sex scene. Art it isn't, but it's awfully mesmerising.
I have never seen this movie, nor do I think I ever will, but from I, Claudius through this film to the Pet Shop Boys' Closer to Heaven musical, the gory story of the mad Emperor Caligula proves endlessly fascinating.

The story of the movie Caligula

The Wikipedia entry for the real Emperor Caligula

Thursday 11 June 2009

Well, what would you do with 5,000 fingers?

Possibly one of the most bizarre films I have never seen, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T was written by none other than Dr. Seuss himself, and his musical score was nominated for an Oscar in 1953.

Among its surreal sets and over-the-top fantastical storyline, here is one of the campest musical numbers ever, featuring the film's villain Dr. Terwilliker getting dressed to conduct his 500-boy piano symphony (well, who wouldn't?). Enjoy!

It seems fairly obvious that this film was destined to become a cult - and its influences can be seen in films such as Willy Wonka, and in modern characters like Mr Burns in The Simpsons. [Incidentally, Dr. T is played by Hans Conried, who was the voice of Captain Hook in the animated Peter Pan.]

There is currently a Broadway musical of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T in development with a new score by Glen Roven, who has a long history of musical arrangements for theatre and TV, working with (among others) Comden & Green, Liza Minelli, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis; he conducted the inaugural concerts for Presidents Clinton and Bush, and also worked on the production of the ill-fated "sexual musical" Let My People Come (from which we have the very strange soundtrack!).

I wait with trepidation for Tim Burton to catch on to this one...

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Is this a lasting treasure, or just a moment's pleasure?

Many happy returns to Shirley Alston, lead singer of 60s girlie band The Shirelles.

At the time The Shirelles began, there was quite a flurry of vocal harmony girl groups around - mainly due to the influence of the magnificent (and now jailed for murder) Phil Spector and his Wall Of Sound.

Somehow these girls managed to carve out a unique place in that pantheon, and were the first to have a Number 1 hit in the US, mainly by being given some of the best songs to sing - and because of their fabulous natural talents, too, of course.

Shirelles trivia:
  • The young Dionne Warwick got her first break as singer with The Shirelles when members of the group went off to get married.
  • The group provided several songs for the riotous comedy film It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
  • Shirelles songs have been covered by The Beatles, Manfred Mann, Mamas & The Papas and even Amy Winehouse.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Ugly, ugly Irma!

Sometimes in a room when I'm on a show they'll say "Are you the gay Lois Bromfield?" as if there's another one that might be heterosexual and married in Orange County. I say, Yeah, and they say, "Oh, oh, OK."

Let us celebrate today the lovely Lois Bromfield, comedienne, actress, writer and producer of shows like Roseanne and Grace Under Fire.

One of those rare breeds - an out lesbian in Hollywoodland - Lois was born in Canada and began her career as a stand-up comedian.

But this is undoubtedly her finest hour - I laughed until the tears ran down my face:

Read an interview with Lois

Monday 8 June 2009

How I wish we could get TV like this

Today I have a rare treat for tacky music fans. The weird world of Italian Saturday night television is legendary, and has thrown up (!) some real gems of musical kitsch.

So much so in fact that I couldn't choose between two examples of this high art, so just had to post them both...

Sunday 7 June 2009

How life should be

This is how Madam Arcati and I prefer to spend our Sundays...

Saturday 6 June 2009

"Remember - I'm the pretty one!"

Very many happy returns to the fantabulosa and multi-talented Harvey Fierstein, who celebrates his birthday today!

Harvey is probably best known for his trademark gravelly voice and for his outrageous role as the drag queen Arnold in the brilliant Torch Song Trilogy. But how many people really appreciate the breadth of his talents?

He not only wrote and directed the original trilogy of plays upon which that film was based, but also wrote the book and lyrics for Jerry Herman's musical of La Cage Aux Folles, and not only is he a character actor on the big screen (in films such as Mrs Doubtfire and Independence Day) and on TV (including Cheers and voices for The Simpsons and Family Guy), but was the original Edna Turnblad in the Broadway musical Hairspray, wrote and performed in his own one-man stand-up comedy show This Is Not Going To Be Be Pretty, and also writes and campaigns regularly on gay rights issues. Whew!

Born and brought up in a liberal Jewish family in Brooklyn, Harvey ironically made his acting debut in Andy Warhol's play Pork... His theatre career blossomed from there, and he has the accolade of being the only individual other than the wonderful Tommy Tune to win Tony Awards in four different categories. His latest play A Catered Affair was a critical, if not commercial, success on Broadway, and I hope it comes to the West End some day.

He is a remarkable man - I love Harvey Fierstein!

As "Virginia Ham" - Love For Sale:

As "Edna Turnblad":

And here is a monologue that everyone should listen to!

Harvey Forbes Fierstein (born 6th June 1954)

Friday 5 June 2009

A foggy day...

Ten years ago the world lost one of the greatest vocal stylists of the 20th century, Mel Tormé.

Nicknamed "The Velvet Fog", his smooth style was equally suited to swing, jazz and crooning, and he certainly gave rivals like Nat King Cole and Dean Martin a run for their money when it came to interpreting the classics. In later years, he stuck mainly to the "scat" jazz style, and kept on performing at festivals across the world until the end.

Perfect music for a Friday!

Mel Tormé biography

Thursday 4 June 2009

And California dreamin' is becomin' a reality...

Happy 65th birthday today to Michelle Phillips - the "pretty one" in the fantastic Mamas & The Papas.

Epitomising all that was great and dreamy about the optimistic late 60s hippy/folk musical era, I have always loved the vocal harmonies and uplifting songs of the Mamas & The Papas - Monday, Monday, Creeque Alley, California Dreaming, Dedicated To The One I Love, Dream a Little Dream of Me, classics every one.

Inevitably, most of the media focus was on Mama Cass - the hard-drinking, oversized earth mother (and inspiration for later generations of big girl singers right up to Beth Ditto today) - but without the rest of the Mamas & The Papas her later solo career was a pale imitation.

Admittedly, Michelle's affair with band member Denny Doherty while still married to John Phillips (whose previous marriage she had been party to breaking up) may have contributed to their professional split, but her vocals always complimented Cass's perfectly.

The only surviving founder member of the group, Michelle went on to carve for herself a successful acting career on the big screen and on TV, appearing in both Knots Landing and Beverly Hills 90210.

But it is for her contribution to the sublimely summery sound of the Mamas & The Papas that we remain eternally grateful...

And here, inevitably, is the excellent French & Saunders skit:

Mamas & The Papas on Wikipedia

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Bailando fix

It may be a little late this week for my regular tacky music post, but I cannot let this opportunity pass. The lovely Mike at Pop Trash Addicts has introduced me to this fine example of Spanish culture, and I think it only appropriate to share it and cheer us all up now the sun's gone in...

Tuesday 2 June 2009

From Drags To Riches

One of Britain's most treasured entertainers, the most glamorous drag queen ever Danny LaRue is dead.
Noel Coward called him: "The most professional, the most witty...and the most utterly charming man in the business."

Dame Anna Neagle called Danny La Rue "One of the kindest and most generous men I've ever met".

Remarking on his talents as an entertainer, Bob Hope called him "The most glamorous woman in the world".

In the foreword to his best-selling autobiography, From Drags to Riches, actor Donald Sinden described Danny as "truly original".
And indeed he was. Born in Dublin, evacuated to Devon during the war, Danny began his entertainment career in Royal Navy Concert parties. On returning to civvies, his debut in the West End was in revue, alongside long-term friend Barbara Windsor.

After many years in panto and spectacular burlesque-style shows he eventually opened his own nightclub, which was such a success he attracted many of the biggest names of the 60s - including Judy Garland, Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLean, Dorothy Squires, Shirley Bassey, Noel Coward, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elizabeth Taylor and even Princess Margaret (who notoriously performed on stage with Danny and walked in on him naked in his dressing room!).

We have an original LP recording of one of his shows at "Danny's Club", and quite clearly heard in the audience is our Babs Windsor, her unmistakable laugh contributing to the rapturous audience appreciation of the grand dame's talents.

Always true to the traditions of Music Hall and the "old school" art of female impersonation, Danny wore the biggest and most outrageous frocks (the envy of any drag queen), yet made sure his audience knew that under the feathers and the sequins it was a "bloke" who was performing.

His biggest coup was the starring role as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly! - the first "comic in a frock" (his choice of words) to do so - and of course he was an enduringly popular choice for Royal Variety Performances (both The Queen Mother and HM The Queen were big fans, apparently!).

Madame Arcati remembers his star quality first hand (while working at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth); when the stage manager refused to let Danny's hideous toy dog backstage he dismissed him imperiously with, "No dog - no show!" We last saw him (as a man) at the tribute show for John Inman a couple of years ago, and he looked frail then. Apparently he had been very ill for years, and even had to cancel some shows (unheard of for Danny La Rue!).

RIP - a legend. There will never be another like him.

From Drags to Riches: My Autobiography by Danny LaRue.

Monday 1 June 2009

Books, booze and buxom drag

What a fab day yesterday! I went along to Prowler in Soho to listen to Paul Burston reading from his best-seller The Gay Divorcee, knowing that quite a few people on MySpace were also going to be there to give support.

Read my review on Amazon

I got chatting to Clayton and boyf Jorge, "Dexter Clark - Celebrity Hairdresser" (who is working on a one-man show, coming to a theatre near you soon), and met up with Ange, Tony, Yvonne, Roland and Dino.

There weren't that many other people apart from MySpacers in the audience, but as it was such a scorching day I had no doubt that most queens would be sunbathing somewhere...

So, once Paul had read one of the more salacious pieces from his book (appropriate really - the blow-by-blow account of an orgy, in a setting surrounded by posh pants and poppers), and Yvonne had presented Paul with a chocolate champagne bottle, everyone who hadn't already got a copy had their books signed, and some klutz managed to break a camera (me - oops, sorry Tony!) we decided the best option was to troll off to Tesco for booze and join the shirtless hordes (and Ginger Dave) in Soho Square.

After an hour of gossip, sunshine and "spot the hairdresser", Ange had to go but the rest of us decided to catch the last part of the drag show at Halfway to Heaven. And what good timing! We caught Mrs Moore's last two numbers - fab as always - and the Abba/Erasure finalé from Crystal and Kelly, which is guaranteed to put everyone in a good mood.

Not content with leaving it there, I ended up joining Tony again and Grumpy later on for a few bevvies and more drag in The Old Ship in Limehouse. We had thought Yvonne and Dino would join us, but evidently the journey to the wilds of the East End was a step too far...

All in all a grand day out, Gromit!