Wednesday, 26 November 2014

You can't dance in a long dress

Anna Mae Bullock.

Mrs Tina Bach.

She's 75, you know...

"As I grew up, I learned what worked for me. That's where the short dresses came from. And you can't dance in a long dress."

"I used to hate my work, hated that sexy image, hated those pictures of me on stage, hated that big raunchy person. On stage, I'm acting the whole time I'm there. As soon as I get out of those songs, I'm Tina again."

"I believe that a lot of how you look is to do with how you feel about yourself and your life. Happiness is the greatest beauty secret."

"My legacy is that I stayed on course... from the beginning to the end, because I believed in something inside of me."

"I will never give in to old age until I become old. And I'm not old yet!"

Tina Turner (born 26th November 1939)

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Get back, JoJo!

Sad news from The Guardian:
Nestled in the heart of Soho in central London sits a small, unimpressive looking venue. Push your way through the double doors beneath a seedy flashing neon sign, however, and you encounter a plush world of opulence, red velvet curtains and Art Deco mirrors.

Until recently, the crowd filling the dance floor was as likely to be clad in baseball caps and chains as burlesque basques and feathers, but Madame Jojo’s - home to some of London’s most diverse nightlife for more than half a century - has now shut down for good.

News that Westminster council had revoked its license this week following an incident outside the club has been greeted with disbelief, both by those who have hosted nights at the venue for years and the many loyal punters who flocked there every week in search of the quirkier side of London’s club scene.

Supporters of Madame Jojo’s say that the closure is part of the council’s drive to gentrify Soho, which is robbing the area of its unique atmosphere and heritage in the process.

The venue, known to many as the home of burlesque and cabaret in Soho, hosted some of the earliest gigs played by bands such as The xx and Anna Calvi, and Lorde played her first UK show there. It was also the focal point of Michael Winterbottom’s 2013 film The Look Of Love, in which Steve Coogan plays Paul Raymond, the Soho porn baron who owned and ran Madame Jojo’s in the 1960s.
Home for many years to quirky club and music nights Tranny Shack (UK), Cabaret Roulette, White Heat, Queerly Out and House of Burlesque, this is yet another sad loss to Soho, formerly the bustling heart of our slowly-but-surely being sanitised capital...


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Fashion is the way you walk, talk dance and prance

From the comprehensive guide to everything you ever needed to know about the decade that created "posing", Shapers of the 80s, a marvellous article first published in 1981:

Who are the New Romantics, what are their sounds, and how do they dance?

The new dances
Four basic styles have emerged since disco went elektro. They owe more to stylish swaying motions than pelvic gyrations. Control is essential: the chin provides a focus; footwork is immaculate. Above all these are personality dances where your own variation wins.

1 ELEKTRO HUSTLE Easiest style, solo or for two. Began with Moroder’s The Chase as development of The Hustle (1976). Lots of posy swaying. Variations include high steps, waxed feet and jelly knees. The Ballet Sway is the live concert variation for a restricted space near the stage, featuring wobbly heads and twitching shoulders. Devoted audiences move as one when syncopating the from-the-waist, sway-and-pause-and…

2 THE ROBOT Self-centred hi-tech technique for the committed non-dancer. Features raised elbows, hand-passes and other frozen extremities. Ideal with Kraftwerk. For obsessive posers and geeks.

3 THE WARREN STREET JIVE For born dancers and style-leaders such as the Blitz Kids of Warren Street. Adapted jive with exaggerated added sway and knees rising to waist level, while partners keep both hands clasped to each other’s. Ideal to Don Armando’s I’m An Indian Too. Variations include reverse kicks, jack-in-box bounces, giant whiplashes. Measured not frantic, yet exhausting to watch.

4 THE GROUCHO French import that arrived with the Ze label from the Bains Douches club in Paris. Learn with B52s: knee bends on beat, rise and fall, moving knees and shoulders in opposite directions. A cross between Groucho Marx’s famous creep and Cossack leg-kicks while crouching. Exposes dancer to ridicule unless ultra-cool.

The Look
“Style is not what you wear but the way you wear it. Fashion is the way you walk, talk dance and prance,” says Perry Haines, editor of i-D, the movement’s magazine. Hairstyles are a focus, and anything that breaks the rules of fashion: blue lips or an 18-inch rise on trousers. Take a theme – and twist it. And never copy anyone else (even Steve Strange). Strange says: “Within days of my Bonnie Prince Charlie look appearing in NME, I passed myself three times in King’s Road. So I dropped it right away. The idea is to express your own individuality and ‘fancy dress’ is not the answer. Dressing up for me is a way of life; everyone should experiment for themselves.” Since Strange can’t please all sorts, three basic camps have emerged:

1 ROMANTIC From the wilder elements to the outer limits. Colour comes first. Choose from pirate/minstrel/doxey/nymphet etc. Ingredients: make-up, scarves attached randomly, rags in hair, doublets, breeches, cocktail dresses, old lace. Girls favour through-the-hedge-backwards hairstyles or straight tonsures. DIY or shop at PX, Axiom, World’s End, Kahn & Bell, Martin Degville, Judi Frankland, Stephen Linard, Stephen Jones hats.

2 THE BIG MAN The Rusty Egan broad-shouldered 40s suit, silk printed ties, fob-chains, no sideburns, Brylcreem. Favoured by former soul boys. Partners wear rock’n’roll party frocks (from Costumes Set The Mood in Kensington Market).

3 POST MODERNE Progressive art tunics in neutral colours or black. Severe, understated, geometric, includes unisex dress/tabards. Bespoke from new generation of designers: Melissa Caplan (who dresses Toyah Willcox), Willy Brown, Simon Withers. For none but the brave.
Ah, memories...

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The last great Grandee?

"The Curse of Dolores Delargo Towers"?

A mere three weeks after I featured the remarkably eccentric (and plastic-surgery-addicted) María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart, Silva, Falcó y Gurtubay over at my Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle blog, the old dear has folded her mantilla away for the last time, and flamenco-ed off this mortal coil.

Considering only three years ago she married (against her family's wishes) a man 25 years her junior, I am bagging a ring-side seat for the forthcoming (inevitable) battle over her will (despite her public statement that she had rescinded any personal claim to her fortune)...

Five times a duchess, 18 times a marchioness, 18 times a countess, 14 times a Spanish grandee and once a viscountess; possible contender to the throne of Scotland, and the richest noble in Spain - RIP The Duchess of Alba (28th March 1926 – 20th November 2014).

Monday, 17 November 2014

My dreams

I hear you say "Why?"

Always "Why?"

You see things; and you say "Why?"

But I dream things that never were; and I say "Why not?"

George Bernard Shaw - Back to Methuselah

Friday, 7 November 2014

Oh no, how will we cope..?

It's the last episode of this series of Downton Abbey on Sunday!

Good job some queens are keeping the spirit alive...

And dykes..

...and even Cecil Beaton's channelling Lady Mary!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Don't walk away, Renée

Today, I read an article on the generally marvellous Dangerous Minds website about a drag queen with a long and illustrious history - Miss Ricky Renée, star of stage and screen (she was "Elke", one of the "Kit-Kat Girls" in Cabaret).

I was, however, somewhat confused that the article's author Martin Schneider felt it necessary to write...
"Ricky grew up in Florida but quickly made his way to NYC and then London and the European continent after that. Information about him isn’t the easiest to come by. It’s telling that there is an entry for him at, the German Wikipedia, but none whatsoever at the English-language Wikipedia."
...especially as Mr Schneider's subsequent painstaking translation of said German Wikipedia entry merely summarises the wealth of biographical information about the career of Miss Renée that is readily available on the artiste's own website (to which the author had helpfully given a link earlier in his article).

Furthermore, Mr Schneider concludes: "I’m a little obsessed with Ricky. If you know anything about him and his act, by all means write a comment!" I have not done so yet, but on a cursory Google search I managed to find a fascinating back-story to this mythical creature and her eponymous "Ricky Renée's Club" in London's West End.

If Mr Schneider had done the same as I, he would have come across the website of a wonderful old queen called Eric Lindsay, co-founder (among other such extravaganzas) of the Casino de Paris in Denman Street just off Piccadilly Circus - one of the earliest striptease clubs in Soho in the 50s which, in addition to the girls and the occasional celeb in the audience, also boasted the first male stripper, and "the first nude knife throwing act on a revolving wheel, called Jacqueline and Ruger." Mr Lindsay himself, true to his camp theatrical roots, ended up becoming a glitzy showbiz stage magician called "Zee" who hob-nobbed with the likes of Liberace, Danny La Rue and Mae West.

It was a particular blog article of Eric's from May 2013, about his attempt to launch a new club near the Theatre Royal Drury Lane back in 1965 - originally to be named in honour of the esteemed drag queen Sonne Teal, who was tragically killed in a plane crash on her way to the UK to open the joint - that gave me loads of "gen" on Miss Renée's time in London. Here are some extracts:
We couldn’t stop the building, it had gone too far. Too much money was already involved. We were truly up the creek without a paddle! Who could possibly take Sonne’s place? There were the French female Impersonators, but none of them spoke English well enough to banter with an audience. There was an American drag act called Ricky Renée who had worked at Al Burnet’s "Stork Club" in Swallow Street for quite a while a few years before and whom Sonne had talked about favourably as they had worked together at the "82 Club" in New York. Maybe he would be interested?

Ricky was working in a night club in Berlin at the time. Apparently he had been there for a number of years. It seemed that he had made Berlin his home. So we rang him and explained our situation, telling him the full story of poor Sonne. Was he interested in coming back to London and fronting a night club with his name as "Ricky Renée’s"?

Ricky had worked with Teddy Green when he was at the "Stork Club" and he was happy working with him again, so he was engaged. We also engaged Maria Charles, Melvyn Hayes and Anne Hamilton, all West End performers, plus a few other dancers and singers.

All the costumes were designed and made by Dougie Darnell, who made exclusively for Shirley Bassey. So you see we had the best of everything. There was no expense spared. When the club was finished it looked beautiful, the furnishing, the exotic glass dance floor and the wonderful colour of the room. It was just the way I imagined a night club should look.

The only thing missing were the customers! Where were they? We had hoped for a phenomenal success, but it just wasn’t to be. Whoever came to the club adored the show and came back many times. The show was great and Ricky Renée was fantastic in his own way, although he wasn’t a Sonne Teal, but there just weren’t enough customers.

Well, after about six months we admitted that we had made a big mistake and decided to call it a day. We had to close "Ricky Renée’s". The place was a flop!

Ricky Renée went on to further success and later appeared in the film “Cabaret” and is still working, I believe, back in Berlin.
And indeed, as Miss Renée's own website confirms, she still is.

The point (I think) of Mr Schneider's Dangerous Minds article was to showcase a rather marvellous bit of British Pathé footage all about "Ricky Renée's Club" and the lady's "quick-change" act:

[Mr Lindsay, who also features said video in his blog, directs his readers in addition to the Pathé website, where another video of out-takes shows more of the club itself.]

And here again is the estimable Ricky Renée, on stage in her adopted home of Germany (in a video posted in 2012!):

Ricky Renée official website

And, as a final footnote - find more on Ricky Renée at the absolutely indispensable Queer Music Heritage website. Of course.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Debbie the débutante

A small selection of images from the forthcoming exhibition of photography by former "Mr Debbie Harry", Chris Stein.

Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie, and The Advent of Punk is at Somerset House in London from 5th November 2014 to 25th January 2015. A must-see, methinks!

More photos from the exhibition on The Guardian website.