Monday 30 November 2009

"I just cannot imagine there is treachery. All I have is memories."

Another Tacky Music Monday, and who better to give us a little lift on a drab morning than that incredibly trashy 80s Eurobeat group The Flirts? These three epitomise one of my favourite eras of music - the poppers-fuelled nights at every gay club in the land were throbbing to this stuff, and we loved it!

Oh, the hair! The choreography! The lyrics... Enjoy!

The Flirts

Sunday 29 November 2009

Your own, your very own...

Before going to the Chris and Richard's wedding reception last night [which was a fab evening - friends, evening wear, posh poofs, drunken uncles, canapés and Ceilidh - a typical society wedding], we had a visit from our mother, whose birthday it was last week. As a treat my sister and I took her to the Players Theatre Victorian Music Hall at Leicester Square Theatre. It was excellent, as always!

Starting with a celebration of St Andrew's Day we were "entertained" by a bagpipe player, but we forgave them this as the show proper began. Opening (of course with the MC and his traditional "patter"), we had a full two hours of top class entertainment, including Players stalwart (and former Crackerjack regular) Jan Hunt, a tap-dancing tribute to Hollywood classic musicals, a portly comedienne from Wolverhampton (who was hilarious), a one-man interpretation of a Victorian melodrama (in which the player played all the parts, villain, girl in peril, mother and policeman), a cruise ship singer who tackled Nessun Dorma (and didn't quite make it), a chorus line of young lasses from drama school, and a lovely trilling singer of sentimental arias.

Mother loved it, we loved it, and for a couple of hours on a miserable Saturday afternoon we were transported back to the halcyon era when the marvellous Good Old Days was essential viewing on the BBC. I wish they'd bring this show back! And why-oh-why has the BBC not put their back catalogue of this series out on DVD? They've probably destroyed the archive I expect. To remind everyone how remarkable this type of entertainment really is, here's a fuzzy old clip of an original programme from 1974...

And here is a very inventive piece called Let's All Go To The Music Hall by a chap who goes by the name of "Ukulele Eric"...

Players Theatre

Saturday 28 November 2009

Oh, you've got the future in your hand (signed, sealed, delivered)

A wonderfully convoluted music post today...

This evening we join our friends Richard and Chris, who are having their Civil Partnership ceremony, for a celebration party at the very swanky Whitehall venue One Great George Street [oo-er, what to wear?].

Today also marks the 80th birthday of Berry Gordy Jr, creator of Motown Records (which itself celebrates fifty years of music next month).

So to link these things together, I chose this number out of the zillions of songs in Motown's back catalogue (but not the Stevie Wonder original, as I'm not keen on him), which seemed appropriate.

Congratulations, boys! And here's the magnificent diva Ruby Turner, just for you...

Friday 27 November 2009

Made it to the top, although the road was steep

The fantabulosa Dame Shirley Bassey is everywhere at the moment, or so it seems. Electric Proms, Paul O'Grady Show, Portrait of the Month at the National Gallery, newspaper interviews, Strictly Come Dancing, Graham Norton Show and Children in Need, not to mention documentaries on Radio 2 and BBC1 (which we have lined up to watch on iPlayer) - whew!

Her new album The Performance is the focus of all this frenetic activity, of course - I pre-ordered the limited edition version box set, and we listened to it the other day. It is a great collection of brand new songs, including ones written for the Great Dame by Gary Barlow, Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall and Manic Street Preachers - and unusually our Shirl has a much more restrained vocal tone on several of these, which takes a little getting used to.

However, trust the Pet Shop Boys to provide the Tiger Bay Belter with a more traditional camp showbiz number! Take it away, Shirl (and happy Friday!)...

Get your copy of The Performance today!

Thursday 26 November 2009

I will see you in the sky, tonight

Happy 70th birthday today to that living embodiment of a "great ball of fire", the eternally sassy Tina Turner!

I have already posted one video of hers this week (with Cher). I have blogged about her before - read my posting from last year.

But in my world, there is always room for a bit more music from the fantastic former Anna Mae Bullock, especially when her special guest is a certain David Bowie...

Wednesday 25 November 2009

And I don't know the answers, 'cause I don't know the questions

Having only heard about the existence of the event the day before yesterday (Paul Burston posted a comment about it on MySpace), I hastily organised tickets to go to the House of Homosexual Culture's "Do You Come Here Often?" event last night at the South Bank. After a clothes shopping in delightful Wood Green (for our first gay wedding bash, to which we are going on Saturday) it was touch and go whether Madame Arcarti would want to go (she hates shopping, and has an early start tomorrow) but since this was an evening focussing on the history of gay clubbing in London, how could we do anything else?

Off we trolled through the drizzle into the bowels of the Festival Hall to the comfy and bijou surroundings of the "Blue Room", which was beginning to fill up as soon as we arrived. Our host Paul B was sparkling from head to toe in sparkly black sequins, and opened proceedings by reading the lyrics of In The Evening by Sheryl Lee Ralph (read my blog about the importance of that particular song).

Without further ado, our guests Tris Penna and Sue Wade entered into a lengthy and educational journey through the way gay nightlife has evolved since the 50s and 60s "hidden" years, when clubbing was basically a refuge, having a bit of a bop to a jukebox behind closed doors in a downstairs bar or coffee shop. In the late 60s, our newly founded emancipation following the legalisation of homosexuality led to the popularity of the famous Lesbian club Gateways (as long as you adhered to their strict "butch and femme" role-playing rules) and gay clubs such as The Catacomb, both on Kings Road.

During the 70s, there was a very slow and gradual relaxation of the "members-only club" tradition, and of course we had the rise of gay Disco, which meant that larger "one-nighters" such as Bolts (which had a home very near where we live now in Harringay) and Bangs (in the Astoria in Charing Cross Road, fore-runner of G-A-Y) could begin to flourish, alongside the emerging leather and "clone" scene, which found a home in The Coleherne in Earls Court and The London Apprentice at Old Street . All are now gone, but one club founded in that decade still survives - Heaven (although according to Tris, it was a vey different and more sleazy place in its early days).

Even into the 80s, Soho was only a minor player in the world of gay nightlife. Heaven was out of the hub of what we now think of as "the gay village" and quite segregated, with its mainly men-only nights. The Fridge in Brixton, Bromptons and the Copacabana in Earls Court and the various clubs under the arches of Kings Cross were ascendant. Blitz Kids and "gender benders" were popularising gay culture in the press. But with immaculate timing, AIDS had begun to make an impact on the gay clubs - particularly the sleazy leather scene.

And then came Trade in Turnmills, which, being off the beaten track and (with a lot of word-of-mouth advertising in the era when dancefloor drugs such as Ecstacy became popular) a very easy-going attitude to what exactly constitutes an "all-night venue", took off massively. Although not without its casualties - for as Tris commented, probably more people were damaged and burned out by the chemical excesses of the late 80s and early 90s than had been directly affected by AIDS over the previous decade.

A direct reaction to these excesses (fuelled by the hedonistic "anything goes" attitude of poly-sexual clubs such as Taboo, which was actually not strictly gay) was the founding of alternative clubs like PopStarz, Kinky Gerlinky and Ducky. But the biggest winners in the 90s were the newly cleaned-up Heaven, which began to attract the glitterati of the time, and latterly G-A-Y, which appealed to a largely squeaky-clean younger crowd and hosted some of the biggest acts around on its stage.

As our speakers observed, however, the age of the "mega-club" and its "mega-star DJs" seems to have petered out somewhat in recent years. For even with a vast variety of drugs and the vastly popular aggregation of gay venues around Vauxhall, it seems that a profusion of smaller club venues and "one-nighters" has begun to emerge once more (possibly in a reaction to recession, as in the early 90s) - in places like Hoxton, and of course Soho.

This was a bit of a "curate's egg" of a discussion, as the speakers veered backwards and forwards between eras, venues, stimulants and perspectives (gay women's and men's experiences), and perhaps some of the details were slightly lost. In their enthusiasm to express how it felt to "be there", and to talk about the people who were responsible for the developments on the scene, we missed where many of these clubs actually were located, for example. However, we were enthralled to hear all these fabulous anecdotes "straight from the horse's mouth", as it were...

But the best was yet to come. In a magnificent finale, and as an acknowledgement of one of the home-grown talents who contributed so much to the gay scene of the 80s, the lovely Miss Hazell Dean took to the stage! We were treated to fabulously belting versions of her gay anthems Who's Leaving Who and Searching, as well as Hi-NRG re-workings of Addicted to Love and the classic We Are Family. She is superb, and her powerful voice has lost none of its impact - brilliant stuff!

I thanked Miss Dean afterwards, and explained to her that it was she who provided the soundtrack to my coming out. As the penny dropped (for both of us) that this was actuallly twenty-five years ago, I decided to casually drop the conversation at this point. Anyhow, here's the lady herself:

Hazell Dean official website

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Just because...'s a grey and miserable day, and we need cheering up (and because Paul Burston is hosting a House of Homosexual Culture event on the history of gay clubbing at the South Bank tonight), here are two of our favourite divas Tina Turner and Cher with their version of that Disco classic Shame Shame Shame - enjoy!

Monday 23 November 2009

Viva la Diva, Viva Victoria, Cleopatra

Just in case anyone thinks I have neglected Tacky Music Monday, here's something that fits the bill perfectly!

Here is a strange cover of the fabulous Dana International song Diva that Madame Acarti stumbled across. It is by the very weird-looking Russian megastar Philipp Kirkorov, former chair of that country's Eurovision Song Contest jury. In Spanish, yet! (Lord knows why...)

Apparently straight (he famously married a television personality eighteen years his senior), Mr Kirkorov counts among his close personal friends (ahem) the Greek hip-swayer Sakis Rouvas and (ahem) Ricky Martin... Enjoy!

Philip Kirkorov on Wikipedia

"Fifty crept up on me like a Catholic priest in a lavatory."

"I’m 50. The shame of it. Too old for Alcopops, too young for Midsomer Murders. This will be an intimate evening – a celebration, no less, of my twenty-five years in the camp spotlight: how I got there and why I refuse to leave."

We went to see Julian Clary's final show in his Lord of the Mince tour last night at the Leicester Square Theatre (“I did Two Gentlemen of Verona here in 1984. They said they were from Verona, anyway”). Celebrating his 50th birthday and 25 years in showbiz, Mr Clary has lost none of his magic touch. "I’m a national trinket," he said - and he's not wrong!

We were in hysterics at times as Julian led us through his achievements over those five decades, including bizarre boyfriends, moving to the country, his best-selling books, caravanning ("I'm really only happy when I'm bent double in a small space washing my hair in recycled urine") and Strictly Come Dancing ("As soon as I pressed my Fred against her Ginger, I could smell triumph"). Oh, and fisting, of course!

Reflecting on his boyfriend’s flaky-skinned eczema, he described life as “like living with a gecko”. Nothing is safe from his sardonic observations - the audience, Dale Winton, Exeter ("shithole"), heterosexuals, his neighbour Paul O'Grady (Julian's impression of him was genius!), the restaurant next door ("I looked through the window and saw a mouse sucking a Rennie") - and he delivers every put down with his customary knowing look, eyebrow raised and deadpan tone of voice. Brilliantly done, and very funny!

The second half is devoted to even more audience humiliation, as Julian reveals his new-found psychic skills ("Madam, I'm getting spiritual vibes that next week you will dye your hair blonde, and it will be a disaster. Oh, sorry, that must have been last week.") Dragging two unsuspecting queens up onto the stage, he subjected them to some mortifying "psychic experiments" including blindfold taste tests and a psychokinetic experiment with a teddy bear. All done in the best possible taste, of course!

As a finale, he brought his dogs Valerie and Jism (!) on stage, much to the delight of the punters. But it wouldn't be Julian without one of his half-spoken "songs", and his closing number You Probably Are Gay was wonderful. Quite rightly, he received a thunderous ovation!

Madame Acarti went along not knowing quite what to expect, and was in fits of laughter all the way through. Last night proved (if any proof were necessary) that Julian Clary is one of the funniest comedians around, and I hope UK television wakes up to the fact and we get more of him on our screens again...

Here's Julian and Paul O'Grady camping it up on the latter's show this year...

Julian Clary offical website

Sunday 22 November 2009

"The melody haunts my reverie, and I am once again with you..."

Here at Dolores Delargo Towers we adore and avidly collect a category of entertainment that comes under the heading of "Sunday Music". And today, on the 110th anniversary of his birth it is time to celebrate one of the great masters of that genre Mr Hoagy Carmichael!

In his eight-decade career as a songwriter Mr Carmichael collaborated with just about everyone who was anyone in the music industry, including his best friend Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby, George Gershwin, Fred Astaire, Yip Harburg, Frank Loesser and long-term musical partner Johnny Mercer.

Hoagy the actor appeared in a number of top Hollywood films, including Topper (with Cary Grant), To Have and Have Not (with Bogart and Bacall) and Young Man With A Horn, the bio-pic of his friend Bix.

By the time of his death in 1981, he was lauded by generations of fans as one of the greatest composers in American history. An incredible career indeed!

Facts about Hoagy Carmichael:
  • He was christened with that peculiar first name because his mother was friendly with a circus troupe called "The Hoaglands".
  • His 1943 song I'm a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with my Honolulu Mama Doin' Those Beat-o, Beat-o Flat-On-My-Seat-o, Hirohito Blues is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the song with the longest title.
  • He composed a song for the original Flintstones cartoon - Yabba-Dabba-Dabba-Dabba-Doo.
  • John Lennon cited Hoagy Carmichael as his favourite songwriter.
Here's the beautifully-crafted tonsils of Nat King Cole crooning Hoagy's classic Stardust:

With another take on the tune, Glenn Miller adds his own inimitable panache with his big band version:

Next we turn to another Carmichael standard Georgia On My Mind, and this lovely version by the incomparable Ray Charles, who made the song his own:

And here Aretha Franklin gives us a brilliant version of Hoagy's torch song Skylark:

Back in 1991, Bette Midler paid tribute to his song Billy-a-Dick in the wonderful film For the Boys (here being used as a soundtrack for some amateur tap-dancers - the only video out there!):

Most remarkably of all, in addition to his jazz/swing/blues standards Hoagy Carmichael also wrote this camp classic for the Marilyn Monroe movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Take it away, Miss Jane Russell!

Hoagy Carmichael biography

Saturday 21 November 2009

Scrunch and diffuse

I love the wonderfully bitchy Dexter Clark (Celebrity Hairdresser) whose blogs have long brightened many a dull day at Dolores Delargo Towers. And so it came to pass that we trouped off to the delightful environs of Highbury Corner (eek!) for the great stylist's long awaited one-man show Sharp Tongs and D-List Bangs the Hen & Chickens Theatre Bar on Highbury Corner in Islington. And we had a hoot!

Rather than just reprise his marvellous video blogs in their entirety, the lovely Dexter gave us a hysterical and seamless insight into his fabulous life, his forthcoming (hilarious) perfume launch, his (secret) charitable work for the Silver Scissors Foundation, his forthcoming biography, and most of all his celebrity clientele.

Katie Price ("Thick Up Top"), Naomi Campbell ("Dangerous Weave"), Kate Moss ("Chemical Streak"), Amy Winehouse ("Camden Belfry"), Terry Wogan ("Painted Shredded Wheat"), Dale Winton ("Black Fuzzy Felt"), Madonna ("Peroxide Raptor") and Kerry Katona ("Council House Bangs") all got the adulation they deserve from their fabulous confidante.

On his celebrity book club - "We give Katie Price the OK magazine to read. I's the only chance she gets to see her kids."

On offering a new treatment at the salon - "It's all about the "youth" in "youth-enasia."

On the suicide of his business partner Giupetto, who hung himself from the chandelier in the kitchen - "I know what you're thinking, but I got the insurance."

Although only a half-hour show, the audience (which included TV and orchestra-conducting celeb Sue Perkins) was rocking with laughter all the way through. The man is a genius, and deserves to go much further than a grotty attic above a student pub in Islington... I really hope he goes on to bigger and better venues!

Friday 20 November 2009

One love

Just because it is a grey and damp morning again, I thought a little pick-me-up was in order. Here's the brilliant new collaboration between dance genius David Guetta and the budding bitch of dance music Estelle - I love this song, and the video is brilliant too. Happy Friday!

Thursday 19 November 2009

Then you came along with your siren song

Lest we forget a largely unheralded gay genius, I thought it appropriate to have a little celebration of the birthday of the late Billy Strayhorn - author of Take the A-Train for Duke Ellington, among many many more classic jazz numbers. And to do so, it is only fitting to post his masterpiece.

Mr Strayhorn (remarkably) wrote Lush Life when he was just eighteen, yet its sophistication and complexity is worthy of much more mature writers. Quite rightly the song has become a true standard, with covers by Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Nancy Wilson, Carmen McRae, Julie London, Linda Ronstadt and Donna Summer.

However, out of all the versions that have been recorded I have made an unusual choice. A rather lovely version by (of all people) Queen Latifah...

I used to visit all the very gay places
Those come-what-may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life from jazz and cocktails

The girls I knew had sad and sullen grey faces
With distingué traces that used to be there
You could see where they'd been washed away
By too many through the day, twelve o'clock tales

Then you came along with your siren song
To tempt me to madness
I thought for a while that your poignant smile
Was tinged with the sadness of a great love for me
Ah yes, I was wrong
Again, I was wrong

Life is lonely again and only last year
Everything seemed so sure
Now life is awful again
A trough full of hearts could only be a bore

A week in Paris could ease the bite of it
All I care is to smile in spite of it

I'll forget you, I will while yet you are still
Burning inside my brain romance is mush
Stifling those who strive

So I'll live a lush life in some small dive
And there I'll be
While I rot with the rest of those
Whose lives are lonely too

Billy Strayhorn biography


"If diva means giving your best, then yes, I guess I am a diva." - Patti LaBelle

As last night we decided to stay in and Madame Arcati was cooking, we decided it was time for a "Diva Music Night", through the medium of YouTube. What fun!

Among the fabulous ladies' videos we played were Florence Ballard, Patti Labelle, Monica Naranjo, Shirley Bassey, Army of Lovers, Loleatta Holloway, Sweet Pussy Pauline, Dusty Springfield, Etta James, Barbara Tucker, Madge, Freemasons featuring Siedah Garrett, Liquid Gold, Sarah Vaughan, Madison Avenue, Ofra Haza, A Taste Of Honey, Jessie Matthews, Marsha Raven, Kylie, Amii Stewart, Basement Jaxx feat. Lisa Kekaula, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Laura Branigan!

And this one. Enjoy three divas - Koko Taylor, Irma Thomas and Ruth Brown -for the price of one (oh, and BB King too of course)...

Wednesday 18 November 2009

"With your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue..."

In 2002 A Hollywood movie producer was planning a film of her book My Life With Dali and wanted Claudia Schiffer to play Amanda Lear. "I ran into Claudia at a restaurant," Lear recalls. "She said, 'I love your book! Who wrote it for you?' I said, 'I did, darling. Who read it to you?' So that was the end of that. They never made the movie."

Today may well mark the 70th (or 68th, or 64th, or as she claims, 61st) birthday of that glamorous and mysterious siren, the model, singer and Dali muse Miss Amanda Lear!

Why the mystery? It is so typical of Miss Lear... For apart from evading questions about her age, the debate remains open as to whether she was actually born a man! Apparently old photographs of the young Alain Tapp do exist, and April Ashley stated publicly that she met him/her before the operation in 1963. Nevertheless, he/she climbed to a position of fame as the companion of Salvador Dali (collector of the exotic for many years) and became a fashion model.

It was at one of these catwalk shows in 1973 that Miss Lear was first spotted by Brian Ferry and she became the cover girl on Roxy Music's seminal For Your Pleasure album. David Bowie (another collector of the exotic) adopted her for his Ziggy Stardust tours, and it was he who encouraged Amanda Lear to become a recording artist in her own right. The rest, as they say is history - to date she has remarkably sold approximately 15 million albums and 25-30 million singles worldwide, and has released two albums this year alone!

After her marriage to Frenchman Alain-Phillippe Malagnac in 1979, she began to vigorously deny her transsexuality and as supposed proof posed nude for several men's magazines. While this certainly proved to her delighted fans that she still had an amazing body despite being in her 40's, her case was always unconvincing and the mystery was enhanced, not completely refuted. Tragedy struck Amanda in December 2000 when her home in France burnt down, killing her husband and destroying many of her and Dali's paintings.

Yet she refused to stop working, and is still a much-loved performer (and "gay icon") today. Happy birthday to a true trooper!

Amanda Lear biography

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Velvet underground

As today marks the 20th anniversary of the "Velvet Revolution" that finally led to the departure of the Communist regime in what was then known as Czechoslovakia, what better way to celebrate that to dig out some of the weird and wonderful music of the Czech Republic?

First up is a charming young lady by the name of Lenka Dusilová (who is so butch she makes Italian singer Gala look like Pixie Lott!):

Of course every country has to have a boy band, and the Czech one is called Lunetic [sic]. They don't seem to get their clothes off much, but it is a cold country...

Now here's a girl who thinks she is one of the Pussycat Dolls - she certainly is bad enough! Even the scandalous Eastern Bloc-voting couldn't scrape Tereza Kerndlová past the semi-finals in Eurovision 2008:

From the ridiculous to the sublime - Lucie Bílá is one of the Czech Republic's most celebrated singers. She has turned her talents to opera, rock and pop, and appears to be quite a dramatic lady indeed:

Of course this little potted tribute could not be complete without an appearance by that amazing performer Karel Gott (Czech megastar of the Cold War era). I have blogged him before on Tacky Music Monday, and it isn't really hard to see why...

Monday 16 November 2009

Bara du och jag

Thanks (once again) to the lovely Henry for drawing my attention to the existence of this wonderful pair of famous Swedes!

Apparently Lili & Susie were the Scandinavian answer to Mel & Kim and had huge success in the 1980s with such unpronounceable hits as Okej Okej and Bara du och jag ("The Two Of Us"). This year they re-formed for the local Melodifestivalen (which is by all accounts a wildly popular junior version of Eurovision). So on this Tacky Music Monday I thought I would (ahem) treat everyone to a slice of their talents...

This couldn't really get more Eighties if it tried:

Oh! The padded shoulders! The hat...

And here they are, bang up-to-date in 2009 and looking like relatives of Pat Butcher...

Sunday 15 November 2009

When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go...

Happy 77th birthday today to the lovely chanteuse Petula Clark CBE, stalwart of that genre known as "MOR"*, and to date the best-selling British female solo recording artist ever!

In a career that began as a child star (alongside Julie Andrews) in 1942, our Pet successfully made the transition to an adult performer, with numerous radio, film and later TV performances. But her greatest commercial success came in the 1960s, when she married and relocated to France. In an unprecedented "dual career", Pet became a wildly successful performer of the beloved French chanson while establishing what became a long and successful English-language singing career in the UK (and later, the US).

She carved her place in history with hit songs like Sailor, Romeo, My Friend the Sea, and of course the mega-hit for which she is most remembered, Downtown. Further collaboration with the composers Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent - including one of my faves Don't Sleep in the Subway - established her success on both sides of the Atlantic and she landed her own show on US TV (and starred in that godawful film Finian's Rainbow).

More recently, Petula Clark has concentrated mainly on the stage, starring in both Sunset Boulevard and Blood Brothers, and continues to tour extensively today.

I love Pet - and we were mightily pissed off to have missed her appearance at Brighton Pride back in 2002. We were there and watched the parade, but decided not to go to Preston Park as a thunderstorm had turned the grass into a quagmire so instead headed back to the pub. It was only later that we discovered that the great lady had braved the elements and appeared on stage after all...

Many happy returns, Pet!

I'm a Woman (with Peggy Lee):

Petula Clark official website

[*MOR = middle of the road, in music]

Saturday 14 November 2009

"They were always having tomato soup and she lost her faith"

We trolled off en masse to windy Southwark last night to see Victoria Wood's Talent at the Menier Chocolate Factory. A very entertaining evening indeed!

Although a bit dated in places (the original "play with music" was written in 1978 and many of the contemporary references in the script remain intact - would many people these days remember Mike and Bernie Winters or the "Oh, Malcolm" Vicks commercial, for instance?), Victoria Wood's wit and penchant for the sardonic quip shine through.

Set in the sleazy world of the Northern night-club scene (so brilliantly captured by the likes of Phoenix Nights), the dreadful stereotypes are all in place: the secretary with ambition but no discernible talent, her fat best friend, the sleazy groping club host, the long-lost rat of an ex-boyfriend, and the dreadful old-school variety acts. From the opening number with the cheesiest "vocal trio" in the world, we retreat to the grotty dressing room for the rest of the drama, as the relationships between the characters unfold.

The players are excellent - Suzie Toase is particularly good as the "fat friend" Maureen, as is Hi De Hi’s Jeffrey Holland as the crappy all-round entertainer, and, surprisingly, ex-Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry as the pervy MC. Shakespearean actor Mark Hadfield is great in the dual role of the (female) bookings organiser and the twitchy side-kick in the dire variety act. The weakest link was surprisingly the lead character Julie, played by Leanne Rowe, who really doesn't quite fit the part that was obviously created for Julie Walters - but fair play, who could?

But is of course for the dialogue that we love Victoria Wood's work. You cannot fault a play that throws out lines like "I thought coq au vin was a fuck in a lorry", "She used to be a nun. They were always having tomato soup and she lost her faith" and "Mine's the white Cortina up against the back wall in the VIP car park. Take your girdle off and bring a tissue." And of course, the songs are brilliant and sometimes poignant as you might expect...

Apparently one song from the show, Fourteen Again, had its lyrics adapted for another tune, Rusholme Ruffians by none other than The Smiths. Morrissey was a great fan of Wood's, and had even proposed marriage to her via the music press (to which she responded "Morrissey and I have been married for 11 months, though due to touring commitments, we have yet to meet.")

Of our evening, one of the most unintentionally hilarious moments was when Sally and Maria popped off for a pee (the show has no interval), but Maria took a wrong turn and ended up trying to get out through the curtains at the side of the seats. Their subsequent enjoyment of the play was rather spoiled after that as they were made to take seats near the (real) exit, and couldn't see the rest of the show properly. Hey ho. All in all, a very enjoyable evening - highly recommended for Victoria Wood fans in particular!

About Talent

Thursday 12 November 2009

Others may have wine, but I have poetry

The smell of ink is intoxicating to me - others may have wine, but I have poetry.
Abbe Yeux-verdi

Last night's Polari Poetry Night was most certainly the busiest since the move to its new home at the beautiful (ahem) and atmospheric (ahem!) Concrete Bar on the South Bank. We arrived in a Byronic mood (I dressed the part anyhow!), and had a bit of a job at first getting seated as every table was full (either with avid Polari-ites, or with Haywood Gallery punters). But we managed to chuck a couple of tardy diners off their table eventually, and settled in for the evening's entertainment.

Paul Burston had told us that Radio 4 were going to be there and planned to include Polari in one of their programmes about language - and indeed we spotted poet and presenter Michael Rosen at the bar.

Our host (Paul) was in a "Stevie Nicks" mood, apparently (to which I responded: "What? A fat hippie?"). Something to do with her singing a song about poetry I believe, and he was wafting a scarf around a lot so I assume it was meant to be a literal interpretation. Once the preamble music was over, without further ado he introduced the ever-lovely Celine to open proceedings with her specially composed Polari song. Paul solemnly recited the lyrics to Abba's The Day Before You Came as an intro, and it was fairly obvious that half the audience had no clue that this was not a poem specially written for the occasion, which was quite funny...

Our first reader of the evening was Catherine Brogan who read some of her wonderful poems about life, love and lesbianism. A Belfast lass, she typically railed against her Catholic upbringing, and got several resounding rounds of applause. As we offered her congratulations on her way back to her seat she told us that she had avoided railing against the BBC, but was sorely tempted to do so as they had barred her from reading one of her gay poems on a recent radio appearance!

During the ciggie break, I got talking to Celine, Dave Ball from Soft Cell, Little Annie's promoter (whose name I forget), Christopher from the similarly-named Polari magazine, and none other than David Hoyle. Never having met him before I only had his (rather aggressive) stage persona upon which to judge the man, and I am not particularly keen on that. However in the flesh he is a gentle, charming man and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to him. Quite a revelation, actually!

After the break it was the turn of the poet-cum-stripper (well not really, but he does like to do his readings shirtless) Trevor Medicine. I last saw him at the Polari Goes East "Stag Party" event last year, and he didn't disappoint last night either. Fast, furious and excellent poetry - this man deserves a publishing deal.

Last but by no means least was the effervescent Caroline Bird, who, despite looking about twelve is an excellent and accomplished poet and writer, and rounded the proceedings off nicely.

And what a surprise for John-John, when he and Celine were interviewed by Michael Rosen and recorded by the BBC crew, speaking a bit of the Polari lingo!

Despite having far too much wine (their other drinks are a bit pricey) and having a head like a boil waiting to pop this morning, it was altogether a great night as usual. And, so a little bird tells me, there may be another move afoot (within the South Bank complex), which can only be a good thing...

The next Polari is "London Night" on 9th December - and I look forward to it!

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Happy birthday ma'am...

To celebrate the 84th birthday today of the beloved comedienne and actress June Whitfield, star of hundreds of top radio and TV shows from The Glums to Hancock to The News Huddlines to Terry & June to Ab Fab, here is a little-known "gem" I have uncovered. Who'd have thought that June and Frankie would do something like this???

We have always loved June, and we recently saw her on stage at The Coliseum in the ENO production of On The Town.

We had the privilege of sitting right in front of this "national treasure" (and Prunella Scales and Timothy West) at Wilton's Music Hall when Roy Hudd was appearing on stage delivering his History Of The Music Hall, and she is every bit the dear, sweet little old lady she appears to be. Gawd bless ya, ma'am...

June Whitfield's long career is outlined on IMDB

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Another great broadcaster is gone

I am extremely sad at the news today of the death of Malcolm Laycock. His Radio 2 show, presented in his inimitably quiet, intelligent style, formed the mainstay of our Sunday nights' entertainment. Concentrating entirely upon the British dance bands and the (mainly) American swing bands of the 20s, 30s and 40s, he provided a step back into an era of glamour and style that we could only dream about. His supreme personal knowledge of the era, and of its musicians and artistes, was second-to-none.

I was outraged (and I was definitely not alone, given the campaign of letters to the Radio 2 controller) at his unceremonious departure from the station earlier this year, following an editorial run-in with the BBC. They had already dictated the removal of the "dance bands" part of his programme before he finally parted company with the station altogether. The BBC claimed it was Malcolm's own decision, and that every attempt had been made to try to get him to stay.

However, here is his statement in response to a fan who questioned whether he actually left "for personal reasons" :
"I was indeed ordered to drop the British dance bands. That was just one part of the long-running disputes I have had with Radio 2. I will not go into the details, but I understand that Radio 2 has said on its ‘message board’ pages that I have left “for personal reasons”. Not so.

"I have issued the following :-

“I am very saddened to have ended my ‘Sunday Night at 10' programmes after 14 years. I did not want to leave but unfortunately Radio 2 was not able to offer me a satisfactory new contract, which left me with no alternative but to withdraw. The music, the musicians and the audiences have been my life and my pleasure since my first big band and swing programmes over 30 years ago. For the moment I shall take a rest and draw breath. But who knows? Sometimes when one door closes, another one opens….!”

Kind regards
Malcolm Laycock
Read Gillian Reynolds' article on the furore in The Telegraph

I have no idea of the circumstances of this great broadcaster's death, nor whether any previously undeclared health issues had any bearing on his departure. All I can say is this is a rather ignominious end to a rather great era of broadcasting. RIP Malcolm.

Read the announcement in Radio Today

Historical Hoff

A double celebration today - not only is it twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that led the sea-change in ending the Cold War, but it is also the 33rd anniversary of the invention of the Jheri Perm (the "curly perm") by the American Jheri Redding, founder of Redken and Nexxus.

And by a strange twist of fate, these two landmarks come together quite neatly in the form of none other than David Hasselhoff!

Famously, The Hoff (uber-hunk star of TV's Knight Rider and Baywatch, m'Lud) complained in an interview with a German magazine that he felt his historic role in bringing down the wall had not been sufficiently recognised. At this point I am trying not to laugh...

Suffice to say, a whole generation of East Germans (whose musical diet at the time must have been most unusual) did indeed idolise the man, and his song Looking for Freedom was a massive hit on both sides of the divide throughout that fateful summer of '89.

So, maybe as well as lauding the role of the German people themselves, or that of President Gorbachev, in the fall of the wall - we should call for The Hoff's legendary influence to be acknowledged once and for all!

From Clint Eastwood to Philip Madoc

Happy 81st birthday today to a maestro of film and television music, Ennio Morricone.

In a career that spans six decades, Morricone started out composing background music for Italian radio shows and progressed to providing accompaniments for songs by artists such as Mario Lanza.

But it was the rise of the "Spaghetti Western", and in particular his collaboration on the movies of Sergio Leone that brought him fame and fortune - films such as A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West were huge successes in the 1960s, and it was Morricone's music that gave them their unique atmosphere.

Remarkably, however, in the UK it was a low-budget BBC Wales drama The Life and Times of David Lloyd George, starring Philip Madoc, that gave him renewed exposure. For one of the surprise hits of the "uber-cool" year 1981 was none other than his theme for that programme, Chi Mai.

Capturing the mood that year for pre-war nostalgia (Brideshead Revisited and the films of Merchant Ivory were also hugely successful), this was possibly the first occasion when scores of Britain's "yoof" actually bought a piece of classical music, and it rocketed to number 2 in the charts. And it is sublime...

Ennio Morricone on Wikipedia

Monday 9 November 2009

Daylight deals a bad hand

A bit of an Oriental feel to this Tacky Music Monday, as we celebrate the (well-hidden) talents of Pink Lady, one of Japan's less - ahem - tasteful exports to the West.

Judging by this "spectacular", I suspect they actually were robots created by some geeks at some Tokyo lab. Enjoy!

Sunday 8 November 2009

Tu es comme le vent qui fait chanter les violons

Happy 74th birthday today to one of the most gorgeous men ever to grace a cinema screen - Alain Delon. One tends to run out of adjectives when describing this man - smouldering, sultry, seductive - he could read the telephone directory in French with that sexy voice and I would be happy!

M. Delon rose to superstardom in France in the 1950s, amid comparisons to James Dean and other Hollywood heartthrobs, and worked with the top producers and directors of his day such as Yves Allégret, Luchino Visconti, Jean-Pierre Melville and René Clément before founding his own production company. Movies such as The Leopard, Plein Soleil, Un Flic, Le Cercle Rouge and Le Samouraï brought him international fame and accolades.

Unsurprisingly his Gallic charm led to many relationships with beautiful women, including Bridget Bardot, Romy Schneider, Nathalie Barthélemy, Mireille Darc, Rosalie van Breemen (and many more, such as co-star Monica Vitti, if rumours are to be believed). He also recorded several songs over the years, including duets with superstars such as Dalida and Shirley Bassey. Despite officially retiring from the big screen he is still in demand, and occasionally makes an appearance on TV or in voice-overs (including the big-screen version of Asterix last year). And despite his age he is still sexy!

Little-known facts about Alain Delon:
  • He was the first actor to play (The Talented Mr) Ripley, in the 1960 film Purple Noon.
  • He had an affair with the legendary chanteuse Nico, and despite denying the fact, it was later proven that her baby was indeed his.
  • His friendship with the Corsican Mafia led to a major scandal when one of his bodyguards was murdered and his body was discovered in Delon's rubbish bin.
  • The Delon name has become a brand in its own right, on a range of products including cologne, wristwatches, clothing, eyewear, stationery and cigarettes.
  • In 1999, he turned his back on France and his cinematic career and is now a Swiss citizen.
Happy birthday, mon cher!

Alain Delon in IMDB

Saturday 7 November 2009

The original version of Rehab

The Amy Winehouse classic as you've probably never heard it before...

Friday 6 November 2009

Very authentic entertainment, indeed

Since our return from Spain, we had loads of recorded telly to catch up with - the BBC4 Art Deco season, Brian Sewell's Grand Tour, and our favourite comedy of the moment Benidorm. We love this programme!

Having spent an inordinate amount of time on the Costas, I can assure you that it isn't really a drama at all, but more like a true-to-life documentary. I can guarantee that we have probably met all the characters at some time or another!

One (very new) character we would really love to meet, however, is "Dirty Diana from Torrevieja". In case you haven't seen it, here is one of the best scenes from the recent series, as Diana (Una Stubbs) enjoys some of the local "entertainment"...Happy Friday!!

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Todos me Miran

We arrived back from Spain in the wee small hours this morning, and today has been very slow - and horridly cold and damp, just to welcome us back. And it gets dark at 4pm... Boo Hoo!

As you might gather we had a marvellous holiday - yet again, a hedonistic exercise of doing very little at all, but doing it to excess (as is our wont).

Beach bar by day in 30C temperatures, cocktails at sunset, siesta, then out till very late indeed in the fleshpots of gay Torremolinos (the La Nogilera complex). Bliss.

We originally planned to stay just seven days in one of the apartments we regularly book, but as this unfortunately coincided with both British half-term and Spanish bank holidays (the Catholics have a two-day religious celebration for both the Day of the Dead - which we mark by Hallowe'en - and All Saints' Day), Madame Acarti and I decided to extend our stay by three days to ensure we got cheaper flights. Our friend Baby Steve's boyfriend Alex who joined us for the first time in Spain works in a school so had to get home, and indeed it cost them an arm and a leg to fly back...

The beach bar we frequent most often in Benalmadena is the Palm 5 (a Dutch bar which, given our love of Amsterdam, may not be entirely surprising), and we have become quite good friends with the owners, manager and staff there. So much so that the owner Adre took the four of us up the mountains on a day trip, to a pretty little pueblo called Mijas. On the way back he took a diversion up some very precipitous roads to the top of the highest mountain in the area, the Cerro del Moro - which caused a lot of screaming from the back seat as Alex is terrified of heights...

Beautiful views, apparently, but at the particular moment of our visit it was shrouded in cloud.

Back on the ground, Adre's wife Monica managed to get us a room for the three extra days in a Dutch aparthotel in the neighbouring resort of La Carihuela, a quaint little place (and almost completely lacking in Brits, which is a blessing sometimes).

As our transfer to the hotel De Klikspaan was Saturday, we ended up in one of the most raucous Dutch parties imaginable - not only was this a Hallowe'en dressing-up do, but also the owner Henk's closing party for the season, with loads of free drink and snacks. He was off touring the Americas, and we basically had the place to ourselves for the next three nights! As you might imagine, the hangover after a Dutch party is something else, but the benefit of peace, quiet and a beautiful balcony right on the seafront more than made up for it.

We almost cried yesterday evening as we sat watching our last beautiful sunset at 7pm before setting off for the dreadful EasyJet journey to come. But we won't dwell on that.

Instead, here's one of the more fabulous pieces of Spanish entertainment we brought back with us - Senors et Senoritas, Gloria Trevi!

Won't somebody help me chase these shadows away?

It is (amazingly) thirty years since a landmark song in gay history was hitting the top of the charts across Europe. Abba (for it is they) embraced the dying embers of the Disco era in late 1979 and decided to go for gold.

Finally acknowledging (perhaps with their Swedish tongues in their cheeks) their massive queeny following that had built up, ever since their satin-and-platformed-glitter-boots arrival on the scene on Eurovision five years previously in 1974 and their drag queen classic Dancing Queen two years afterwards in 1976, they released the most "out gay" single of their career - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).

An eternal staple of bizarre gay club nights thenceforth (until and including the arrival of Hi-NRG in the 80s), this is one helluva "Marmite" tune. You either love it or you hate it. But nevertheless, it survives, and many artistes have decided it is worthy of a cover version (notwithstanding the recent Madonna sample). So without further ado here are a few of them:

First up, someone described as a "guitar virtuoso" with a name that looks like an anagram, Yngwie Malmsteen:

Of course, Erasure did the song greater justice:

Even Benny Benassi gave it a go, with a heavy dance version:

And then there is this loud version by the world famous (in Serbia, possibly?) Doro Pesch and Dirk Bach...

I couldn't let this blog post pass, however, without the original...