Thursday 28 February 2013

Brassy Bernie


The very lovely Miss Bernadette Peters, proponent of the brassy musical belter tradition pioneered by Miss Merman and Miss Stritch, is 65 years old!

Here she is, giving it her all on a TV special way back in 1970 - and she's still at it (perhaps not so energetically) today...

Bernadette Peters (born Bernadette Lazzara, 28th February 1948)

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Get Hur! - our history interpreted

Ably steered once more by our genial host and all-round expert in gay antiquity Egyptologist John J Johnston, last night's Camden & Islington LGBT History Month event Every Good Thing at the wondrous Petrie Museum was sheer joy...

The premise of the evening was that a selection of hand-picked LGBT figures from the world of arts and academia were invited to speak a little about the stories behind their chosen objects from the museum's collection. A very clever way to introduce a number of wonderfully enlightening discussions about our gay antecedents - some of the stories familiar, some less so. [And many of which will appear, or indeed have already appeared, in the Dolores Delargo Towers Museum of Camp as time goes on.]

Opening the selection, the very charming actor and comedian Tom Allen chose a very tiny alabaster head of a sculpture of Alexander the Great. That led us into an examination of the passionate love between the young world-conqueror and his lover and general Hephaestion, on whose death was honoured by Alexander as a Divine Hero. At the time of his own death eight months later, Alexander was still planning lasting monuments to Hephaestion's memory, and, it has been written that the Emperor's own premature death was partly brought on by his inconsolable grief at his loss.

Writer James Goss (who has worked on various Dr Who and Torchwood-related media for several years) chose the object that gave us perhaps the most wonderfully camp back-story of the lot. The subject, another tiny head from a tiny statue, was of an Old Kingdom Pharaoh of whom we had never heard before - Pepi II, whose nocturnal wanderings to visit his burly lover, General Sisene, complete with a "shag-ladder", were fabulous - and the discussion had the whole audience laughing.

Taking a step away from face-to-face conversation, Director of Camden LGBT Forum Lou Hart had given her apologies as she was double-booked with conflicting History Month events - but nonetheless recorded her insights into her choice of a frieze of Akhenaten, the radical and later vilified Pharaoh who, with his wife Nefertiti and quite possibly his male lover Smenkhkare after her death, dragged a reluctant Egypt away from the old gods towards his own brand of sun-worship. Lou's analysis of the peculiarly androgynous way Akhenaten is usually portrayed, and the unconventionally sensual depiction of his domestic set-ups, surmised that he may have deliberately or otherwise conveyed a trans- or at the very least a "fey" and unmasculine gender identity. Interesting stuff, indeed...

The (rather cute, Madam Arcati and I thought) Public Astronomer Marek Kukula, true to his profession, chose the shadow clock of Senenu, who was a mystic, a scientist and scribe at the highly camp cross-dressing court of the female Pharoah Hatshepsut, an era shrouded in conspiracy and naughty goings-on.

It was time for another pre-recorded topic, as Mr Johnson proudly introduced an audio recording from Professor of Gay and Lesbian Studies at Nottingham Trent University Gregory Woods, who used the statue of Antinous that adorns the main University College London (UCL) building upon whose campus the Petrie Museum resides to open the topic of that doomed boy, favourite and beloved of Emperor Hadrian. Was he a self-sacrifice for the continued health and prosperity of his God-Emperor lover? Was the frenzy that surrounded his ascendancy to the role of deity a major factor in the rabid homophobia of the Christians who took over Rome not long afterwards? The questions perpetuate his adoration by gays even to this day. [I have, of course, written of Antinous before (following last year's History Month event at the museum) - see here and here.]

Next up, artist Andrew Prior has apparently been so inspired by the beautiful boys (and girls) depicted on the sarcophagi of the later Romano-Egyptian era that he has produced several works of his own based upon their style - and very camp they are too! Check them out on his website.

Returning to a favourite gay historical theme, child prodigy pianist Mark Viner chose a coin from the reign of Emperor Hadrian to focus on the hysteria of the way the burly world leader expressed his grief over the death of Antinous, the raising of an entire city in his name (that continued to worship him long after Christianity had become the Empire's official religion) and the numerous incarnations of the beautiful one's image that survived long after other, older, deities had been disregarded (often re-named and re-designated as being of other historical figures).

On the home stretch of the discussion, the editor of Gay Star News Tris Reid-Smith chose a rather fabulous piece - an ancient and fragile segment of papyrus that told the myth of Seth and Horus, the original brawling gay bitches (and uncle and nephew), whose ninety-year war for the throne of the King of the Gods culminated in a rather fab seduction - "how lovely your backside is!" says Seth to Horus - and a spunk-fest that decides the contest once and for all in young Horus's favour. You'd have to hear it to believe it, and this was written in around 1850 BC!

Our final guest, another Dr Who and Torchwood writer Joseph Lidster chose a little pink hippo amulet, which, continuing the story Tris Reid-Smith had set up, illustrated another aspect of the battle between Seth and Horus, whereby they transmogrify into hippos - whose own behaviour includes the victor in battle "mounting" the loser as part of their submission routine. Even in nature, it seems...

But now the academic stuff drew to a close, and it was time for the most wonderful treat - a live performance by our dear gay icon Bette Bourne [who today I have made our latest "exhibit" in the Dolores Delargo Towers Museum of Camp] and his partner of 37 years Paul Shaw, who masterfully performed one of their classic "interpretative" pieces "Get Hur!"!

True to the night's theme, the piece (very) roughly followed the gay love story of Hadrian and Antinous, and included a hilarious audience-participation sketch Titty-bum, titty-bum, bum, bum (to the tune of the William Tell Overture). Truly, truly awesome to behold - and a perfect finale to a brilliant evening!

Petrie Museum

Camden and Islington LGBT History Month

Bette Bourne over at the Dolores Delargo Towers Museum of Camp


The slew of Fashion Weeks so far and even the Oscars red carpet parade being somewhat uninspiring, methinks it's time for a little bit of fashionable excess...

Enter The World of Luxuria!

[music by Nicolas Errera - La Party]

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Fanny (and Stella) by gaslight

"Gay history, as generally told, is a history of criminality, repression and punishment but, actually, gay history is also the history of people who fall in love, people who go out and have sex with each other, people who create a sub-culture and who form an identity. And that’s really what I wanted to write about, although the story in the book is framed within the context of a criminal trial.”

What a wonderfully entertaining man Mr Neil McKenna is! We turned out en masse on Monday night to listen to this esteemed researcher and writer - as he launched his long-awaited tome Fanny and Stella - The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England, at Islington Central Library, as part of Camden & Islington LGBT History Month.
"The year 1869 had not been kind to young Mr Ernest Boulton who generally preferred to call himself – or herself – Stella.

In fact, 1869 had been decidedly cruel, beginning with Stella's startling discovery of a brazen and heartless infidelity on the part of her caro sposo, Lord Arthur Clinton, with none other than her best friend – and beloved sister – Mr Frederick Park, who generally preferred to be called Fanny. It had, according to Lord Arthur, only happened once. But once was enough. Of course, Stella blamed Fanny. Arthur was easily led and it was not the first time he had had his head turned by the tricks and wiles of a designing and unscrupulous young man dressed in women's clothes, as Stella now thought of Fanny.

It was a bitter blow. There had been tears, tantrums, scenes and slappings. Arthur was devastated and appalled. Fanny could only hang her head in shame and beg Stella's forgiveness. But Stella was adamant. She renounced her husband, disowned her sister and did what all sensible married women should do in such circumstances: she went home to her mamma in Peckham Rye."

Reading a couple of extracts from the book, he went into detail about the tawdry circumstances of the lives and the arrest of the two "ladies", and explained why he had chosen to write about their story. “I don’t think you can ever have too much camp,” he said. “Bring back camp.”

“I had wanted to write a book which was going to be completely gay. I was fed up with writing stuff that had to be seen through a prism of heterosexuality. I just thought I’m going to go for it. I’m going to write a book that is totally and completely gay. I’m going to call Fanny and Stella ‘she’ because that was what they called themselves… and that was a little bit of a sticking point again at various stages of the publication process. I much preferred to call them ‘she’ and that was a battle I won.

I think it’s quite new and quite exciting for Faber to publish a rip-roaringly gay, unmediated, utterly-butterly book about gay men, drag, bottoms, fucking and cock-sucking.

I wrote the book because I’d finished my book on Oscar Wilde and I was looking for another subject. I had mentioned Fanny and Stella in the Oscar Wilde book and I wondered if there was any mileage in them.

I discovered there was a full trial transcript in the National Archive, put together with maybe 30 or 40 depositions and maybe 30 or 40 letters. It’s remarkable, because most Victorian trials don’t survive. Sometimes there’s a shorthand account of a trial or part of a trial but, usually, we’ve only got fragments. I think that’s because the Public Record Office was bombed in the War and lots of stuff was destroyed. But also lots of stuff was never kept. It was never considered important to keep. So I’m very grateful to the the succession of people at the National Archive who thought this was – maybe – important to keep."

Despite being accused in court of "conspiracy to solicit, induce, procure and endeavour to persuade persons unknown to commit buggery", the two were never convicted in what became the cause celebre of the tabloids of the day - getting more column inches than the Franco-Prussian War, apparently. But why the hoo-ha? And why were they acquitted?

As Mark Simpson, writing in The Independent said: "the very obviousness and shamelessness of Stella and Fanny's (deliciously outrageous) behaviour was presented as proof that they could not possibly be guilty. Which, in a strange, 20th-century gay pride sense, was sort of true."

I have, needless to say, written of the lovely Fanny and Stella before - check out my entry in the Dolores Delargo Towers Museum of Camp from March 2012.

It remains a magnificent story - and one I can't wait to read (Mr McKenna signed us a copy on the night)! Here is just a taster:

An utterly captivating evening!

Read more and purchase the book from Mr McKenna's website.

Monday 25 February 2013

Only Gold

Proving that even at the age of 76 there are very few pairs of lungs to match hers, our glittering Patron Saint Dame Shirley Bassey belted out her trademark Goldfinger as part of last night's Oscars tribute to 50 years of James Bond.

Wow... No wonder she received a standing ovation.

Oscars winners in full

Schlager lout

Who would have thought that a man previously only known to most of us (outside Germany) as a source of mirth, for the type of kitsch album cover I might normally feature in my recurring "On the Jukebox" feature over at The Dolores Delargo Towers Museum of Camp, would suddenly make a (controversial) comeback in 2013?

From the Guardian:
Heino, instantly recognisable by his blond hair and trademark sunglasses worn to hide bulging eyes caused by a thyroid condition, is best known as the baritone singer of Schlager – schmaltzy German folk songs that propelled him to fame in the 1960s and 70s.

Having laid low for years, at the age of 74 he is suddenly back, breaking sales records and securing his place in German cultural history with a new album.

Backed by an intensive PR campaign and a new wardrobe of skinny jeans and studded leather jacket, Mit freundlichen Grüßen (All the Very Best) has taken him into new realms. The album contains cover versions of punk, hip-hop and hard-rock hits – to the disgust of many of the bands who originally performed them. Since its release this month it has been legally downloaded more than any other German album and has sold tens of thousands of copies.

The musician has been touring Germany in a Heinomobile, a Mercedes S-class limousine embellished with his blond-haired skull logo. He has been invited to perform at Wacken Open Air, the world's largest heavy metal festival, but in order to keep old fans on board, insists he will continue singing the ever-popular Schlager.
Just in case anyone is in any doubt about his magnificent talent - on this Tacky Music Monday we can cheer ourselves up as we head into another chilly week in work with this legendary performance:

And the controversy? It seems the traditionally leftist Guardian has got its knickers in a twist over the singer's supposed "right-wing leanings", although in the article cited above he just comes across as a thoroughly unpleasant man, not the new Führer...

More Heino

Sunday 24 February 2013

Well your mama don't know where your sister done go

Convoluted connections, #482 in a series...

This week we said farewell to yet another childhood hero, the animator who created the cartoon Roobarb and Custard, Bob Godfrey. Here's the unforgettable theme:

We also lost the great Ray Cusick, the creator of the scariest villains in TV history - The Daleks from Dr Who:

Such sad pieces of news, linked together for me by memories of a single year - 1974.

That was the year I started "big school", the year Roobarb first appeared, the year they killed off Jon Pertwee as Dr Who, to be replaced by Tom Baker... and the year that Glam Rock really took over our world.

In this week 39 years ago alone, the UK charts not only featured some major artists who had embraced the genre - Bowie and Bolan - but also Alvin Stardust, Mud, Sweet, Cozy Powell, Bay City Rollers - and, at Number 1, the fabulous Suzi Quatro!

Ah, memories...

Welcome to 'The Dive'!

Well, at the age of five they can do their jive
Down in Devil Gate Drive
And at the age of six they're gonna get their kicks
Down in Devil Gate Drive
Well your mama don't know where your sister done go
She gone down to the Drive. She's the star of the show
And let her move on up. Let her come let her go.
She can jive
Down in Devil Gate Drive

So come alive. Come alive
Down in Devil Gate Drive
So come alive. Come alive
Down in Devil Gate...down in Devil Gate
Down in Devil Gate Drive
Down in Devil Gate...down in Devil Gate
Down in Devil Gate Drive

When they reach their teens, that's when they all get mean
Down in Devil Gate Drive
When I was sweet sisteen I was the jukebox queen
Down in Devil Gate Drive
I lead the angel pack on the road to sin
Knock down the gates!
Let me in. Let me in
Don't mess me 'round, cause you know where I've been
To 'The Dive' down in Devil Gate Drive

So come alive. Come alive
Down in Devil Gate Drive
So come alive. Come alive
Down in Devil Gate...down in Devil Gate
Down in Devil Gate Drive
Down in Devil Gate...down in Devil Gate
Down in Devil Gate Drive

Well your mama don't know where your sister done go
She goes down to the Drive. She's the star of the show
Let her move on up. Let her come let her go.
She can jive
Down in Devil Gate Drive

I hope you're all dancing along!

Suzi Quatro official website

Magnificent balls

The Rainbow Flag flew proudly above Islington Town Hall, as the light faded and we waited in the pub opposite for the doors to open at the Assembly Hall on Friday - for the event of the season, the Big Bang Ball (the celebration party for Camden and Islington LGBT History Month)!

Opening the show, the London Gay Big Band were brilliant, and kept the party going with - ahem! - a swing...

Hils and History Boy took full advantage of the dance class.

The effervescent Mrs Moore was our MC for the evening - and had us once again in stitches with her impromptu banter, and in awe of her fab singing voice.

The DJ, Ian James, was gorgeous.

Rights campaigner Father Bernard Lynch, Trustee and Co-Chair of Camden LGBT Forum, addressed the audience with a straight-from-the-hip rallying cry about the importance of LGBT History Month.

Our headline act was the Lesbian New Romantic tribute band, the wittily-named Joanne Joanne, who weren't bad at all actually - even if some of the tracks they chose were somewhat obscure ("We don't do Rio" is their mantra, apparently). They did do this one, however, Girls on Film:

Everyone - including LGBT royalty such as the marvellous Al Pillay - seemed to be enjoying themselves, and considering it was a cold miserable day in February, around 120 people in attendance - many of them in the most outrageous Sci-Fi-theme costumes - was quite a good turnout methinks.

In all, as balls go, full and satisfying!

Saturday 23 February 2013

Pop-up people

On Thursday evening, as part of Camden and Islington LGBT History Month, Paul Burston agreed to bring his own particular brand of literary joie-de-vivre to Waterstones bookshop at Islington Green, as we eagerly took our places amongst the Kathy Lettes and Philippa Gregorys for a "Pop-Up Polari" - the peripatetic version of our regular "peerless gay literary salon".

Mr B opened the show with a nod to Gay History Month and the important role gay writers have to play, despite the difficulty of getting their voices heard (published) in this day and age. And thus he handed the baton over to the winner of 2012's "Polari First Book Prize", the lovely DJ (Diane) Connell.

And what a way to start - as Diane read a very funny extract from her soon-to-be-a-movie Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar, in which the eponymous teenage hero decides that in order to look cool and stylish at a party he would act butch like his sister (throwing a bottle out of the window), and use some sticky mud from the garden as a substitute for hair-gel - with inevitably disastrous consequences! She is such a wonderful storyteller...

Our very own fave "journo-slut" Alex Hopkins, once more resplendent in his trademark stilettos, read a couple of dark extracts from his unpublished semi-autobiography, focusing on his relationship with his father and the way it influenced his future relationships. Utterly absorbing, these snippets into his life left us all wanting more!

But, inevitably, the star of the show was dear VG (Val) Lee - who could read the telephone directory and would still have us in stitches. Explaining that writing erotica did not come naturally to her ("crochet, yes"), she nevertheless entertained us to her one short story in that genre ( A Slice of Melon):
When Kelly said, “Fancy a shag?” Laura replied, “Don’t mind if I do,” which seemed to satisfy Kelly, although Laura wasn’t too happy with her own choice of words.

"Don’t mind if I do" was what Norma Next Door said to offers of tea, cake, Pringles, and Bacardi and Coke. Fortunately Kelly didn’t know Norma Next Door.
Her second piece was from Shush (both stories are in her anthology As You Step Outside), about the hilarious mishaps of going to the cinema with a rather noisy friend.

Paul continued his theme about the obstacles faced by gay writers as we entered the question and answer section of the evening. We were rather impressed that there were quite a few people in attendance (and not all Polari-ites such as me, John-John, little Tony and Emma), and some very interesting discussions arose in the debate - the impact of digital publishing on the power of the traditional publishing houses, the ascendancy of "safe names" in gay publishing such as Sarah Waters and Alan Hollinghurst possibly at the expense of new talent, and whether there is value in bookshops maintaining a specific LGBT section on their shelves.

A very enjoyable evening, as ever, and one we rounded off in a rather splendid old Victorian pub in trendy Camden Passage...

When my chance came to be king

I'm having a bit of a slow start today after the fantabulosa Big Bang Ball last night. Here's something soothing.

Today the one-time "Most Beautiful Man In The World" David Sylvian of Japan fame celebrates his 55th birthday [gulp!].

This magnificent number Ghosts remains the song for which he will most be remembered - and I adore it.

When the room is quiet
The daylight almost gone
It seems there's something I should know
Well I ought to leave but the rain it never stops
And I've no particular place to go

Just when I think I'm winning
When I've broken every door
The ghosts of my life blow wilder than before
Just when I thought I could not be stopped
When my chance came to be king
The ghosts of my life blew wilder than the wind

Well I'm feeling nervous
Now I find myself alone
The simple life's no longer there
Once I was so sure
Now the doubt inside my mind
Comes and goes but leads nowhere

Just when I think I'm winning
When I've broken every door
The ghosts of my life blow wilder than before
Just when I thought I could not be stopped
When my chance came to be king
The ghosts of my life blew wilder than the wind

Mr Sylvian, after Japan split up, carved himself a bit of a niche in arty circles, famously collaborating with the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Holger Czukay, Robert Fripp and Talvin Singh. He was due to tour again last year, but this was cancelled due to his ill-health. David's latest "experimental" album in collaboration with Stephan Mathieu, Wandermüde was released at the end of January 2013.

David Sylvian (born David Alan Batt, 23rd February 1958)

Friday 22 February 2013

Got to know, I

It's almost over...

The first week back in work after a holiday is always excruciating, but we went to a "Pop-up Polari" last night, and tonight we have "The Big Bang Ball" to celebrate LGBT History Month, so all is well with the world.

To bring us suitably into a party spirit, here's the lovely Cheryl Lynn and her Studio 54 classic Got To Be Real (as interpreted with the aid of the Soul Train dancers, of course):

Thank Disco It's Friday! Have a good one...

Thursday 21 February 2013

I got my neck, I got my boobies

"There's no excuse for the young people not knowing who the heroes and heroines are or were."

We celebrate the 80th anniversary today of the birth of another Patron Saint here at Dolores Delargo Towers, Miss Nina Simone!

A unique talent, staunch rights campaigner, all-round "difficult" diva, Miss Simone effortlessly created a sound all of her own that left a shining legacy on music for eternity. Irreplaceable.

As a little tribute here are some diverse examples of the lovely lady's work.

First up, a rare one from the archives, and a song I should live by:

Next, a favourite oddity:

And to conclude, an all-time classic:

Read my tribute on the 75th anniversary of her birth back in 2008.

Nina Simone, aka Eunice Kathleen Waymon (21st February 1933 – 21st April 2003)

Miss Fisher, I presume?

It is set in the Roaring Twenties (albeit in Melbourne, Australia), with a feisty flapper heroine of independent means. It has the most beautiful Art Deco settings, costumes and music. It has hunky men, moody policemen, and preposterously unbelievable murder mysteries that would make Agatha Christie blush - it even has Miriam Margolyes, for heaven's sake!

It's as camp as tits - our latest televisual obsession, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries:

According to the blurb: "Phryne (pronounced Fry-nee) Fisher is a glamorous and thoroughly modern woman of the 1920s. Our lady sleuth sashays through the back lanes and jazz clubs of Melbourne, fighting injustice with her pearl-handled pistol and her dagger sharp wit." And that's just the half of it...

The show is currently showing on (of all places - we never usually watch it) Alibi TV channel in the UK. Catch it if you can!

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Solitary brother

It's another fabulous at 50 birthday today - none other than the (once) gorgeous Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel, better known as Seal!

Half Nigerian, part Brazilian, part-Londoner, Seal is probably as well known for his relationship with supermodel Heidi Klum (now sadly over) as much as his tunes - many of them favourites - including Crazy, A Kiss from a Rose, and this one (with Adamski), Killer:

And it is a killer tune...

Many happy returns!

Seal official Tumblr

Thought for the day

London Fashion Week in The Telegraph

Monday 18 February 2013

Good Life no more

Very sad news just in: today we bid a fond farewell to one of Britain's best-loved actors, Richard Briers CBE, star of The Good Life - and everything from Jackanory to Shakespeare - who has died aged 79.

RIP yet another piece of my childhood.

Richard Briers

Stop! I'm spinning like a top

And so, with a sick feeling in our hearts, it is time to set aside all thoughts of our lovely holiday in Benalmadena (home of the above rather wonderfully riesgo statue), and steel ourselves for a return to work. Bleuuuurgh.

Well, on this Tacky Music Monday, not quite:

Long may the lovely Las Seventies continue to save our sanity!