Thursday, 23 June 2011

Nina Simone, nude Basques, tutu-wearing lesbians and Andy Bell

We had another fabulous time at "London's peerless gay literary salon" Polari goes Pop last night...

Paul Burston had advertised the special guest appearance of the fantabulosa Andy Bell of Erasure in advance, so inevitably the place was packed to the gunnels. Some people might possibly have expected him to be singing. There were many esteemed regulars there too, including Suzy Feay of the FT and Joe Storey-Scott and his lovely chums, and some irregular faces including the marvellous gay journalist (who has been described as the "skinhead Oscar Wilde") Mark Simpson.

Opening with a bang, we had our only musical artist of the night, the rather fab Norman Feather - a stalwart of the Vauxhall Tavern and Wotever World alternative gay cabaret nights - who, according to his blurb, "writes and performs jaunty songs that celebrate illness, neurosis and death". Indeed, we loved his slightly smutty songs - with titles like The Bugger and The Penis is a Ghost, how could we not? He's quite cute, too..

Mr Feather was followed by Michael Alago, a massive name in the New York music industry. He signed Nina Simone for her final albums, discovered Metallica, and has worked with a bizarre range of people, including Cyndi Lauper, Michael Feinstein and John Lydon. In 2003 he retired from music to take up photography - mainly that type of photography that occupies the hearts and minds of many of the punters of Prowler or Clone Zone. Hunky, nude, male flesh! His Rough Gods and The Brutal Truth are no doubt best sellers at both emporia.

Mr Alago's readings - involving fantasy men, lust and New York, left us panting too...

Next up was a personal favourite, the adorable Sophia Blackwell. I love her!

With her customary chirpy personality, the tutu-wearing(!) Miss B read a few of her prodigious range of pithy poems, many of which she has posted on her MySpace blog for National Poetry Writing Month in May. I particularly liked this one:
Making Mixtapes
I miss them- don't you? Those long Sunday nights
Hanging over the arm of your parents' sofa,
Itchy fingers poised for the end of the track.
A scientist, an explorer, mapping from front to back,
You'd march into that vacuum, that white-noise hiss.
A general, marshalling crashing ranks of rock stars
Serving your quest to get that single kiss.

The language of tapes was all interpretation,
Songs were the flags you hid your face behind,
Your telegraphed semaphore blurring the lines-
Fast-forwarded in a laughable falsetto whine.
Pause, skip, rewind. Tongue-tied, through the wires,
Teasing as only teenagers can be. Hear me,
Pick me. Play. Click. Go. Only connect.

Later, the parties, drunk, hogging the decks,
Your mates opening doors - right, this one next-
The floor a collage of empty, naked cases,
floating liner notes. The whisky poured,
Cards painstakingly written, cartoons drawn,
The music of your spheres a late-night forecast
Wrapping you all against the dark till dawn.

I miss them- don't you? Sure, now it's quick and clean,
No end of space, no ninety-minute calculations,
And yes, there's beauty even in downloaded data,
Your memory banks decanted in an hourglass -
There's still the thought, the careful lettering,
But no matter what, it's not a party thing,
Or a solo labour of love looped on a shoestring.

I miss that kind of love- the fan-dance of belonging,
Hard to see it go. Hard to have your own,
Those tapes as lover's gifts and nothing that'll play them,
The drift of time, and those ridiculous dates-
Mix, '96, '99, 2001 - say them. Come on. Don't grieve
For what you both believed. Play. Go. Fast-forward.
Pause. See that single crooked heart on the sleeve.

From the sublime of Miss Blackwell's "innocent" poetry to the completely unexpected - the Basque performance poet Ernesto Sarezale.

We thought he was just a bit hot at first, but no! He really did strip totally naked to complete his set of readings - ending with this one, called Average:

Bizarre, but entertaining... How on earth do you follow that?!

Mr James Maker is a familiar reader - he entertained us at Polari Goes Pope last year, patent leather stilettos and all! A stunning presence.

His memoir Autofellatio is an exhaustive tale of Mr Maker's journey from punk via The Smiths, to gay goth-glam-rock, to his current (quieter) life in Spain. Great stuff!

Although he didn't actually sing last night, he is rather a fab musician too, so I thought I'd post one of his more atmospheric numbers (it seems appropriate):

So finally we reached the headline spot for Andy Bell - and this is where the reality bit. Hard. I had absolutely no idea (until he approached that stage) that Mr Bell's lover of twenty-three years (and manager) Paul Hickey had experienced a series of devastating, paralysing strokes in a hotel room in America while they were on tour a few years ago. I never guessed that behind the "flibbertygibbet" persona Mr Bell portrays for his adoring public there was such a troubled, caring, loving man who nursed his partner back from what might well have been the brink...

And so it was that Andy stepped in to read a few extracts from Mr Hickey's book (launched especially at last night's Polari) Sometimes: A Life of Loves, Loss and Erasure.

As the synopsis says, "Awakening from a coma to discover he was unable to move, swallow or communicate, he was suddenly forced to take stock of his life of sex, drugs and rock and roll and to rebuild it from scratch. The only way he could communicate in the early stages of his recovery was by writing, and this is his story." And a fabulous and emotional roller-coaster ride his story certainly appears to be - we loved it, and the applause at the end was deafening!

Truly fabulous - and a fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Can't wait for July's Polari, when the long-list of the Polari First Book Prize will be revealed...

Oh, and lest I forget - we wished a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our Ange!


  1. It was a fab-u-lous night, I know I use that word a lot - I should start saying Marvellous instead… but I think Wednesday was my favourite Polari so far - really loved it, and your blog does the evening justice for anyone that couldn't be there - reading this blog is the next best thing.


  2. Loved James Maker's rant about hair do's and don't's … will listen to his song now … not heard any of his music before ...

  3. "Everyone's here, and frightfully gay;
    Nobody cares what people say,
    Though the Riviera
    Seems really much queerer
    Than Rome at it's height!

    On Wednesday night
    I went to a marvellous party
    With Noonoo, and Nana, and Nell!
    It was in the fresh air,
    And we went as we were,
    And we stayed as we were,
    (Which was hell)"


  4. Another great blog Jon. It looks like i missed another fab and interesting Polari




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