Monday 31 August 2009

Drug-f***ed Dolly Birds

My word! If yesterday's blog could be considered somehow tacky, this celebration of Bank Holiday Tacky Music Monday must top it...

Questions: Is there a reason why they arrive in some bizarre whirling mess of statues? What is wrong with their hairdresser? Why is that woman on the left standing still? Is it because she can't actually focus? What is that weird thing on the cheek of the woman on the right? Have they been dressed by a blind person? All these conundrums... (I love it!!)

Sunday 30 August 2009

Doobie-doobie dum dum

It's a long weekend, and many people are going to be out there celebrating - picnics, barbecues, day trips etc. So so let's whip up a party mood with the eternally chirpy King Cousins, and this happy little number.

All together now...!

Saturday 29 August 2009

What a difference SHE made...

"She could take the melody in her hand, hold it like an egg, crack it open, fry it, let it sizzle, reconstruct it, put the egg back in the box and back in the refrigerator and you would've still understood every single syllable." - Quincy Jones

Eighty-five years ago today the phenomenon that was Dinah Washington was born.

The former Ruth Jones took the music world by storm with her crystal clear, multi-range vocals - perfectly suited to jazz, blues, torch songs and big band music alike. She worked over the years with the top names in the industry, including Lionel Hampton, Louis Jordan, Brook Benton and the erstwhile Quincy Jones, and was certainly an influence on later artists like Aretha Franklin (and all other blues and soul artistes thereafter).

Remarkably, by the time of her accidental death in 1963 from an overdose of sleeping pills at the age of 39, she had already had seven husbands and recorded a back catalogue of fabulous music of which many artists would have been proud. One can only imagine what more delights Miss Washington would have given the world had she lived longer...

And of course, a record for which she is perhaps most famous these days (written by the Master, Noel Coward):

Dinah Washington on Wikipedia

Friday 28 August 2009

Happy Friday

Don't let it rain on your parade this weekend!

Thursday 27 August 2009

That's MISS Holloway to you!

Twenty years ago the UK Top Ten - despite the great movements in House/Dance, Madchester and Electronic music at the time - was not particularly brilliant, as the first five prove:

  • 1 Swing the Mood - Jive Bunny And The Mastermixers
  • 2 Ride on Time - Black Box
  • 3 I Just Don't Have The Heart - Cliff Richard
  • 4 Poison - Alice Cooper
  • 5 Toy Soldiers - Martika
The prize for the next few weeks was to go to Black Box - which was indeed the best track of the five - who went on to hold the Number 1 spot for six weeks.

However even back then I was annoyed with them, because I loved the brilliant Loleatta Holloway. I felt it was shameful that this gaggle of Italians were trying to pass off their skinny model "singer" as the actual vocalist, when it was blatantly obvious she had nothing to do with the recording at all and it was Miss Holloway's vocals that they used.

For the sake of a comparison here are the two tracks - first Ride On Time by Black Box:

And here is the original (which I am aware has by now had more outings than a nursing home):

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby

Yesterday was the centenary of the birth of legendary tap-dancer, singer and actress Ruby Keeler.

Though often cast as the romantic lead opposite Dick Powell in movies such as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933, Miss Keeler was in fact married to Al Jolson for many years, until their well-publicised divorce in 1942 (which affected her so badly she retired from showbiz).

She stayed away from the limelight until the 1960s, and during the 1970s starred in a hugely successful Broadway revival of No, No Nanette, which also proved to be the last success of her long-time collaborator, choreographer Busby Berkeley.

And what collaborations they were!

Ethel Ruby Keeler (25th August 1909 – 28th February 1993)

Tuesday 25 August 2009

You're looking swell, Dolly

We went to see the revival of an old classic at the Open Air Theatre last night, and it was a great evening.

Hello Dolly! is an odd show, based on an odd story by Thornton Wilder about a scheming match-maker and her influence on the sensibilities of small-town America. Indeed, I never got on with the glossy MegaBabs screen version (possibly because of my aversion to Michael Crawford). However, this production was superb!

In the beautifully atmospheric surroundings of Regent's Park (with no rain, again, so our picnic wasn't washed out), the set is wonderfully old-fashioned and conveys both the fustiness of (unmarried "half-millionaire") Horace Vandergelder's hay and feed emporium and the glamorous New York settings in which the wide-eyed characters find themselves.

Remarkably, the show's lesser-known songs come across better in this production than I remember in the film - It Takes A Woman, Put On Your Sunday Clothes (complete with a choreographed evocation of a train journey) and Before The Parade Passes By were all brilliantly done!

In the second half the schemes that Dolly Levi has put into place, both for herself and for others, begin to come to fruition in a hilarious melange. Possibly the best scene in the whole show is the superbly performed Waiters' Galop in the restaurant, with acrobatic waiters dancing attendance, the out-of-town boys trying desperately to work out how to pay for the extravagant meal to which they have brought their dates (widowed hat-maker Irene and her assistant Minnie) on one side of the stage, and the thoroughly embarrassed Mr Vandergelder attempting to calm his own dinner companion (Ernestina Money) down as she tries to dance the hootchie-cootchie on the other...

Of course this unsuitable dinner guest is all Dolly's work as she wants Horace all to herself, and this is more or less sealed when she arrives at the restaurant, accompanied by the show's triumphal Hello Dolly! number. Chaos takes over as all the guests - including Vandergelder's wayward niece - come into contact with each other, there is a mix-up over paying the bills, and somehow everyone ends up in court.

Inevitably, this being a Jerry Herman musical, everything is resolved in the end. All the star-crossed lovers overcome their problems, and even grumpy old Horace Vandergelder relents and proposes to Dolly. All in all, a superb feel-good show (which is all you can ask for really).

Samantha Spiro was an exuberant Dolly Levi, Allan Corduner a convincingly miserable old sod as Horace, and Josefina Gabrielle was great as the elegant Irene, but it's the superb choreography that really makes the show. Not so surprising when you realise that this is the work of the award-winning Stephen Mear (who also did Crazy For You, Oklahoma, Acorn Antiques The Musical and Mary Poppins among many others in the West End and on Broadway). I highly recommend this show!

Open Air Theatre website

Monday 24 August 2009

The unwanted Jackson

As we wait in increasing horror for her uber-hyped "tribute" single to her dead brother, I thought that on this Tacky Music Monday I would post just a little reminder of why LaToya remains in our hearts as such a beacon of shock and awe, a true example of tastelessness... Indeed, she is the only member of the Jackson tribe to have never scored a hit record, ever.

Saturday 22 August 2009

Pussy in Boots

Happy 84th birthday today to the magnificent Honor Blackman, one of the coolest stars of stage and screen Britain has produced! With her hourglass figure and faultlessly clipped English voice, she is probably most famous for her roles as Pussy Galore in Dr No and Cathy Gale in The Avengers, as well as her feisty appearance in the otherwise dreadful 90s sitcom The Upper Hand. Miss Blackman has had a career that spans six decades, and she's still in demand!

Here's a great fan tribute video, set to her version of Serge Gainsbourg's La Javanaise:

Of course I had to feature the notoriously kitsch Kinky Boots, with Avengers co-star Patrick MacNee:

And only this year, Miss Blackman returned to the spotlight singing this brilliantly tongue-in-cheek melancholy number. Originally intended for Eartha Kitt, when the diva unfortunately died last year apparently Miss Blackman called the composer Adrian Munsey and lyricist Jeff Chegwin (brother of Keith) every day until they agreed for her to record it:

What a woman!

Honor Blackman official website

Friday 21 August 2009

She'll tease you, she'll unease you, all the better just to please you

Happy 65th birthday today to one of the lesser-known stalwarts of the music scene in the USA, Jackie DeShannon!

Born the humbly-named Sharon Lee Myers, Miss De Shannon was a major collaborator over the years with such diverse artists as Ry Cooder, Randy Newman and Van Morrison, supported the Beatles on their first American tour in 1964, dated Elvis Presley AND Jimmy Page, and on the way wrote songs for Marianne Faithfull, The Byrds and Irma Thomas, had some hits of her own such as Bacharach & David's What The World Needs Now Is Love, and wrote When You Walk in the Room for The Searchers... Whew!

As if that weren't exhausting enough, back in the 1980s it was with Miss DeShannon's song that Kim Carnes conquered the musical world...

Jackie DeShannon official website

Thursday 20 August 2009

A sad reflection

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Marchioness tragedy. On 20 August 1989, this packed pleasure cruiser collided with the dredger Bowbelle beneath Southwark bridge in London.

I have a bizarre memory of the occasion, despite not being in London at the time of the disaster, as a friend of mine at the time (and lodger) back in Cardiff was very close to the gay club promoter and DJ Colin Peters whose boyfriend and mother were both killed on that fateful night.

During the 1980s, gay club nights Bang! and Propaganda were run by Colin (one of whose DJs at that time was a certain Jeremy Joseph), and following his death his brother Jamie took over. A few years afterwards (through the same Welsh friend) I met Jamie and his girlfriend while he was DJ-ing at The Fridge. Sadly, I was told some time later that Jamie, too, had died, and no-one was sure whether it was an accidental overdose, or a delayed reaction to his terrible loss (suicide)...

The tragic death of 51 (mostly young) passengers and crew - on a celebratory party to celebrate the 26th birthday of millionaire banker Antonio Vasconcellos - led to demands for a fundamental review of emergency search and rescue cover on the River Thames. The late Eileen Dallaglio, mother of rugby star Lawrence, was among the family members who successfully battled for changes in the law after her daughter was killed (aged only 19, the youngest to die), which led to the establishment of RNLI lifeboat coverage of the Thames for the first time.

Yet the survivors of the Marchioness have never really been awarded a just conclusion to their tragedy. Evidence found that hands and other body parts had been removed from the bodies at the time of the crash. The skipper of the dredger Bowbelle that ploughed into the smaller boat was proven to be drunk and negligent, and not on watch for small boats in its path, yet was acquitted and retained his licence. The proprietors of the pleasure boat itself were never found culpable of anything despite the fact that no-one was allegedly on lookout duty at the time when the dredger was hoving down upon them. So in my view, justice has yet to be done.

Regardless of all of that, this was a terribly sad chapter in London's history, and one which we should all remember.

Marchioness memorial service

Wednesday 19 August 2009

A most influential salonniere

“My life has been too exciting, too wonderful, to let anything else, and that includes acting, come first.”

Sometimes you read about someone who has died, aged 98, and you think - "who the hell was she, and why does she deserve an obituary in the New York Times, for heaven's sake?".

However when I read about the death of the actress and Balmain model Ruth Ford, I suddenly realised why this lady was quite so significant. For, following her fantastically unsuccessful film career, Miss Ford (who had been married to Dr Mabuse actor Peter van Eyck, and later Mildred Pierce star Zachary Scott) created what would appear to be one of the campest theatrical "salons" in New York.

In the unlikely setting of her apartment in the (in)famous Dakota Building, she hosted parties attended by such luminaries as Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Terrence McNally and Truman Capote - just imagine a single room that could possibly hold all those queens together!

But most exciting of all, it was in Ruth Ford's apartment that a young Stephen Sondheim was first introduced to Arthur Laurents and, later, to Leonard Bernstein. Together, these three remarkable men came up with one of the best musicals of all time - West Side Story! And it was all down to Miss Ford...

Ruth Ford obituary

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Your love gives me such a thrill, but your love won't pay my bills

Thirty years ago this month, we were all listening to this wonderful little number - and the lyrics are as true today as they were way back then...

But what happened to the icy-cool Deborah Evans-Stickland, she of the aloof vocal style and superb dress sense?

Well apparently she now works as a psychotherapist, but back in 2003 she re-emerged on a collaboration album by none other than DJ and producer Richard X, singing two great numbers - Walk On By and Lemon/Lime. Some great talents never go away...


Monday 17 August 2009

Femininity, indeed...

Ah, how I look forward to Tacky Music Mondays...

It doesn't get much tackier than this little gem from someone called Donna Theodore:

Sunday 16 August 2009

A town so smart it's spelling starts with: C - H - I - C... Chic!

Many happy returns today to the lovely Lesley Anne Warren, dancer, actress and - at the age of 62 - still a beautiful lady.

It is for one major (Oscar-winning) role that we particularly love Miss Warren - and here she is as "Norma" in one of my favourite movies, Victor Victoria:

Lesley Ann Warren on IMDB

Saturday 15 August 2009

Pretty for Me

As it is Saturday, and I am in the mood for some dancing boys, I make no excuse for posting a little Chita Rivera!

Friday 14 August 2009

Who you calling sorry looking?

Happy birthday today to the fabulous Antonio Fargas, probably best known for his role as the super-fly Huggy Bear in Starsky & Hutch, as well as any number of "blaxploitation" movies in the 1970s.

By far my favourite role of his was as the irrepressibly camp yet streetwise "Lindy" in the 1976 movie Car Wash. For not only was his one of the earliest portrayals of an out gay character many people had seen in a mainstream movie, he was also not required to meet a tragic end, nor be sidelined into a background role (hairdresser, waiter, etc.) as had so many gay parts in films before.

Far from it! For me, he delivers possibly one of the best gay put-downs in cinema history...
Lindy: "I'm so tired of you running off at your mouth it's getting me down honey. Why don't you just leave? And be an assassin? Or is the only thing you're good at shooting off is your big mouth?"
Duane: "Will you please get out of my face you sorry looking faggot."
Lindy: "Who you calling sorry looking?"
[Everybody laughs]
Duane: "Can't ya'll see she ain't funny?"
[Laughter stops]
Duane: "She's just another poor example of how the system is destroying our men."
Lindy: "Honey, I'm more man than you'll ever be and more woman than you'll ever get!"
[Fingers - Snap! Snap!]
Genius! And just because I am now reminded of that wonderful film, here's the equally brilliant title song:

Antonio Fargas website

Thursday 13 August 2009

I can change your temperature from hot to cold

As we celebrate the 90th birthday of the phenomenal legend George Shearing (read my blog for the great man's birthday last year), I have discovered a most spectacular version of one of the jazz standards that George made his own.

I'm sure he was quite happy when Miss Betty Grable decided to put some of her singular va-va-voom into How come you do me like you do?...

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Queen of the Zeedijk

We had a fantastic, if exhausting, long weekend in Amsterdam for my birthday. It is very familiar teritory for me - possibly my 31st visit(!) - but this time we had a virgin with us! It was great fun showing Steve's "Houseboy" Alex the sights with which we are very familiar, and discovering some new ones too!

One of our great discoveries this time was the fact that one of the oldest gay bars in the world has re-opened for business after 26 years of being preserved as a virtual museum...

The legendary Cafe 't Mandje was originally founded in 1927 and run by one of the most loved characters in the area, Bet van Beeren, who bought it from her uncle and began running it as her own unique venue.

One of the most courageous pioneers of gay and lesbian liberation, in her leather jacket Bet would roar through Amsterdam on her bike with her latest flame riding on the back, and openly welcomed gay men and women in her establishment. All kinds came to 't Mandje - prostitutes, pimps, sailors, variety artists and tourists.

Bet was referred to as the “Queen of Zeedijk” and was known all over Amsterdam as well as across the Netherlands. She was entertaining and welcoming and enjoyed using the bar as her stage through some difficult periods, including the Nazi occupation during WW2 and hiding Jews from the SS patrols.

't Mandje was one of the first cafes where gays and lesbians could socialise freely - although smooching and same-sex dancing was not allowed, except on the Queen's Birthday. An owl sits behind the bar with little lights in its eyes dating back to the time when it was used as a signal to play it “straight” in case the police or suspicious stranger walked into the bar.

Most interestingly there was a tradition that people would leave something behind when they visited the bar: a ribbon, a pin, or in some cases, a necktie. She would cut them off of men, often with a butcher's knife(!). The ties were then be hung around the bar, and many of them are still there to this day.

In 1967, Bet died and was laid out on the billiard table in the bar for three days so that people could pay their respects. Bet’s younger sister Greet took over the bar and ran it for fourteen years, until the struggle with running the business in what was then a bit of a rough area (even for Amsterdam) became too much for her. Yet she refused to let the bar be taken over by developers, and it remained perfectly preserved until 2008 when after Greet's death, her niece re-opened it for business.

So important was the site, however, that part of the bar has been reconstructed at the Amsterdam Historical Museum, including the scissored ties on the ceiling, photo collages and the doodles and cards left by customers.

It is indeed a wonderful place to discover - so atmospheric! Most of the decor in the bar itself remains as it was in Bet and Greet's day, but the postcards and messages have been carefully photocopied onto wallpaper, and many of the original framed photos and cuttings are now copies.

The landlady (Bet and Greet's niece) was very friendly and welcoming, and when we were there a drag queen arrived with what was obviously a gay history walking party, who all did a toast to Bet and to the bar - and to the pioneering work that this woman began for gay and lesbian rights more than eighty years ago!

Recently, Bet van Beeren and 't Mandje were featured in a documentary series on the history of Amsterdam on Dutch TV. The video is all in Dutch (of course), but it is fascinating to view nonetheless.

[If it doesn't play, click here]

[2021 UPDATE - all one from the interwebs]

Cafe 't Mandje website (in Dutch)

Thursday 6 August 2009

Geef mij maar Amsterdam

To conclude this few days of "Amsterdam Specialities", here is probably the best-loved singer of them all... So revered is Johnny Jordaan in Amsterdam that he has a whole Plein named after him, complete with a statue (later joined by those of fellow musical legends Tante Leen, Manke Nelis and Johnny Meyer).

Not really so surprising, as most (if not all) the great man's wonderful sing-a-long numbers are indeed dedicated to our favourite city...

"Normal" service will resume next Tuesday...

Wednesday 5 August 2009

All I know is that to me, you look like you're havin' fun

In the middle of our countdown to Amsterdam, I just had to wish many happy returns to the singular genius that is Pete Burns who celebrates(?) his 50th birthday today! Heavens... So to mark this significant moment, here are just a few of my personal favourites from his tumultuous career:

I went wild when I first heard this song way back in 1984 (when I was still slowly edging my way out of the closet). Having known of Pete from his early days with his blood red contact lenses as part of "Nightmares in Wax" (thanks to the saintly John Peel), this was a true departure into the world of dance music. Twisted dance music, naturally. It suited my "coming-out" summer perfectly...

Evidently, however, I was not alone in getting excited about the fantabulosa image and sound that Mr Burns and the boys had created. A collaboration with Stock Aitken & Waterman was inevitable in the mid-1980s - and this fantastic song launched the notorious megastar we love today upon an unsuspecting world (and on the gay club dancefloor of Cardiff), thank goodness!

Much more recently (after a lot of changes in Pete's eccentric life, including superstardom in Japan and a slow decline into the tabloid gossip columns), there came this collaboration with another pair of musical talents who are always ahead of the game. Another of my favourites!

Happy birthday to a true icon.

We like a Dutch Topper

I cannot let a week focussing on Dutch music pass by without mentioning the incredible phenomenon that is De Toppers. Formed in 2005 by established "national treasures" the singers René Froger, Gordon Heuckeroth and Gerard Joling, this three-man extravaganza sold out a series of concerts in the gigantic 70,000-seater Amsterdam Arena stadium (home of AFC Ajax) for four years on the trot.

It's probably equivalent to a teaming of say, Paul Nicholas, Julian Clary and Bruce Forsyth selling out the O2!

With its irresistibly uber-camp combination of outrageous costumes, fireworks, glitter, dancing boys (and girls), and medleys of popular Dutch and English songs (inevitably of the cheesy variety), the Toppers Live! show is certainly nothing if not spectacular.

We always said we would love to go to one of their shows, but our personal favourite Gerard left the "band" last year just before they unsuccessfully entered this year's Eurovision Song Contest, and (despite his being replaced by Jeroen van der Boom) we're not sure whether the magic will be quite the same without his magnificent cape...

De Toppers

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Travels with my Aunt

In Amsterdam, the ladies of a certain age are all of a particular breed - big, bold and fearsome. We call them "toilet ladies", basically because no matter where you are, whether it be gay bar, McDonalds or department store, there will always be a stern lady demanding twenty cents before you can even dream of going for a pee.

Occasionally this type of lady even appears in popular music, and top of the list has to be the late, great and formidable Tante Leen! Not only would you not cross this woman, but you will sing along and clap or else... We love her!

Tante Leen

Monday 3 August 2009

Frivool muziek op Maandag

As well as their traditional musicians, a selection of whom I'm posting this week, the Dutch have a particular penchant for Eurovision. We're never quite sure whether this is because they have a similar ironic piss-taking view of this annual spectacle as we (the Brits) have, or whether they genuinely love it, but the punters in certain bars go wild when Eurovision numbers are played.

Anyway, over the years the Dutch have provided some spectacularly tacky entries. Especially this one from 1975 (which won!)...

And one dedicated Eurovision fan has done a compilation of his/her own Top Ten... Enjoy!

Sunday 2 August 2009

Van je pingelepingelepingelepingelepong

Continuing this mini-series on Dutch singers we know and love, today it's the turn of the vivacious and energetic cabaret and musical star Jasperina de Jong, whose De Wandelclub is an enduring Amsterdam sing-a-long classic, and a great favourite of ours....

And here's a wonderful selection of clips from her one-woman show:

Jasperina de Jong on Discogs

Saturday 1 August 2009

Dansende paarden, de draaimolen draait

As the countdown to our annual pilgrimage to Amsterdam for my birthday begins in earnest, I thought I'd share some of the music of the Netherlands.

As well as the obvious pleasures of the flesh and senses for which Amsterdam is notorious, there are a couple of bars that we particularly love going to - notably Montmartre and Cafe Rouge [no relation to the bistro chain over here!] - for the music. Their playlist is traditional Dutch and Eurovision oompah, sing-along stuff - combine that with daily two-for-one Happy Hours, and you'd be hard pushed to find a more enjoyable way to spend an evening. I can't wait!

The first of our best-loved Dutch singers is the wonderful Liesbeth List, the Netherlands' top chanteuse, with a triptych of her greatest hits, beginning with our very favourite Kinderen een Kwartje - all together, now!

Here, she's in a more mellow mood:

And finally, in a far more sinister frame of mind, a dramatic number from 1985:

Liesbeth List on Wikipedia