Dynamic duo Penny Arcade and David Hoyle onstage causing chaos at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern
On 21 June 2012 I attended the final night of David Hoyle's triumphant latest residency (entitled Pandregina: a programme of 'entertainment' for the post-political, pre-apocalyptic age) at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern. I went with Rachael Halliwell, Allan Taylor (who "transcends gender", by the way. At least that’s what Hoyle announced from the stage when he saw him) and Steve Millar. Bravely, we sat right by the front.
It was a spectacular night of performance art royalty. As well as Hoyle (on typically ferocious and scathing form) there were several special guests: porn star Ashley Ryder (who screened an eye-popping / eye-watering hardcore short film), Sjaak van Der Bent (who merits comparison to Klaus Nomi) and Al Pillay (who sang some spine-tingling torch songs).
I was especially keen to see New York underground theatre legend Penny Arcade again, who’s currently in town with her one-woman show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! I’ve long been a fan of this tiny, volcanic force-of-nature – she’s the she-wolf/ earth mother / Anna Magnani of performance art. (Last Spring when Penny was in town sorting out the red tape for bringing Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! to London we liaised about me interviewing her for Nude magazine. Sadly in the end her schedule didn't permit it).
In Penny’s volatile performance piece she was “in-character” as tragic Andy Warhol Superstar Andrea Feldman. (Unstable and drug-addled poor little rich girl and Max’s Kansas City habitué Feldman committed suicide aged 24 in 1972. She was a totally idiosyncratic and unforgettable raspy-voiced comedienne and screen presence in the films Imitation of Christ (1967), Trash (1970) and Heat (1972).)
Afterwards, Hoyle invited Penny back again and it was just the two of them riffing onstage together. They were brilliant and lacerating. Hoyle was asking her about how New York has changed for her over the decades, which led to a discussion about gentrification. New York hasn’t been the edgy centre of bohemia now for years, Penny argued. She sang the praises of London, saying this is now the artistic world centre. Hoyle talked about how the middle classes all want to move into the city centres because they’re buzzing, cosmopolitan and happening – and then they complain about the noise of bars and nightclubs keeping them and their children awake, and campaign to get them closed! This led to a lamentation about middle class people and their precious children. Penny explained when she sees them on the street she wants to scream, “Your children AREN’T special!”
At the end for the finale everyone came back out and sang “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” together. Then Hoyle serenaded each of them with a long, drawn-out and eerie “You Made Me Love You” (when he sings that jazz standard, he makes it sound like the music a stalker hears in their head).
Viva the avant-garde!
I managed to snap a few photos ...
Further reading: check out some photos I took of Penny Arcade onstage at the club night Duckie at The Royal Vauxhall in April 2011 here
This Wednesday night Dr Sketchy at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern featured two Dr Sketchy doyennes: bad girl of cabaret emcee Ophelia Bitz and bump-and-grind artisteCherry Shakewell. The outrageous Ophelia was on especially raunchy form. “I am and probably will Ophelia Bitz,” she introduced herself. Sporting an especially short micro mini-dress, she apologised in advance to the audience members by the front of the stage if they copped an eyeful of more than they bargained for. Truly, she is the Tallulah Bankhead du nos jours.
Cherry Shakewell’s act incorporated a bubble machine, and her spectacular green and gold outfit and headdress evoked an under-the-sea vibe, implying sexy mermaids, a Sea Queen or (as Cherry herself described it) Lady Neptune. (Unfortunately there was no one taking photos tonight, but Cherry looked a lot like this ... in fact, this tune was the cue for the bubble machine to start).
Ophelia used this as inspiration for suggesting themes when people drew Cherry. She paraphrased a line from a song in The Little Mermaid (“It’s better down where it’s wetter”) in a way that Disney almost certainly didn’t have in mind. Another of her suggestions was “Something Fishy, Starring Cherry Shakewell.”
I haven’t made any serious technical blunders in a while, so I guess I was overdue for one. There was a horrifying moment at the beginning of the night when I botched Ophelia’s music cue. Because there was just one model and burlesque performer this night, Ophelia treated the audience to a few songs from her cabaret repertoire. When she arrived and said her musical backing was on her iPhone rather than on a CD, my heart sank. I don’t have an iPhone myself so am panicky and unfamiliar with operating ‘em. And even at the best of times, I screw up musical cues (just ask poor long-suffering Claire Benjamin/Freuda Kahlo!). Ophelia quickly ran through with me what her musical cue would be but I still completely misunderstood it (I thought she was singing a song at the end of the night, not right after she introduced herself at the start!). So she stood there staring at me from the stage when her music was due to kick in, and I was staring back at her blankly before I realised, Oh! She means now! Luckily, Ophelia is such a seasoned and unruffled pro we quickly got back on track and she rocked the house with her first song.
Needless to say, we mostly get a great crowd at Dr Sketchy nights: fun, open, talented, smart, perhaps a bit drunk – and always respectful of the performers. Wednesday night we had a garrulous group of newbies (apparently some gals from the office on a night out) who were pounding back glasses of rosé or something and seemed not to be au fait with basic etiquette about not talking while a performer is singing (and bear in mind the RVT is a small venue, so it was right in Ophelia’s face). To her credit, Ophelia rose above it and handled it in her stride (well, she did tell them to shut up mid-song), but it made my blood boil. Obviously these are the same ilk of people who probably talk and text all through films, too. It’s unlikely any of them will read this, but seriously ladies – STFU!
Musically, it didn’t occur to me until midway through Cherry’s first pose I should try to play some underwater/sea-related music. Doh! I quickly remedied that by slapping on "Atlantis" by high emperor of Mondo Exotica, Les Baxter. Elsewhere, while she posed I cranked up cooing sex kitten tunes by Cherry’s platinum blonde spiritual predecessors like Mamie Van Doren, Brigitte Bardot, Jayne Mansfield and (token redhead) Ann-Margret. I decided long ago that “Cherry” by The Jive Bombers is Cherry’s unofficial theme song. For me Cherry’s 1960s go-go dancer look (tousled blonde mane, frosted pale lipstick, false eyelashes like thick black tarantulas) always suggests Nancy Sinatra and Russ Meyer’s sexploitation masterpiece (and what John Waters calls “beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made”) Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (Of the trio of homicidal, vengeful go-go dancers, Cherry most resembles the fun-loving blonde femme one, Billie).
I corralled some friends into coming to this Dr Sketchy: Christopher, Paul (these two used to be in art-punk band Matron together) and Ilana. (Ilana in fact won one of the main prizes at the end. Ophelia couldn’t decipher the signature scrawled at the bottom of Ilana’s sketch and announced her as “Lana”). After Dr Sketchy itself was pretty much over, I dashed outside where the three of them were standing smoking cigarettes like a bunch of delinquents. I said I’d just play one or two more songs to wind things up then I’d be free to join them. They had the nerve to say No, they’re going back in and they want to listen to me play more. So I continued DJ’ing for another 25 minutes or so for their pleasure while they drank beer. What can you do with people like that, huh?
Simba - Les Baxter Run - Jeri Southern Cocktail for Two - Cliff Duphiney If I Love Ya Then I Need Ya, If I Need Ya Then I Wantcha Around - Eartha Kitt Love is Comin' My Way - Myrna March Trash Can - Ken Williams Madness - The Rhythm Rockers What Do You Think I Am? Ike and Tina Turner Rompin' - Jerry Warren Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo I Want Your Love - The Cruisers Good and Bad - The Gauchos Pink Champagne - The Tyrones Heartbreak Hotel - Buddy Love Surfing Snow Matador - Mickey and Ludella Shomblar - Sheriff and The Revels Intoxica - The Centurions Fever - Nancy Sit It - The Regal-Aires Scorpion - Jimmy McConville Miss Irene - Ginny Kennedy Night Scene - The Rumblers Mambo Baby - Ruth Brown I Learn a Merengue, Mama - Robert Mitchum Wimoweh - Yma Sumac Esquerita and the Voola - Esquerita Delilah Jones - The Thunderbirds Little Miss Understood - Connie Stevens Beaver Shot - Hollywood Hurricanes Drummin' Up a Storm - Sandy Nelson Suey - Jayne Mansfield Atlantis - Les Baxter Boots - Nero and The Gladiators Let Me Entertain You - Ann-Margret Harlem Nocturne - The Viscounts Handclapping Time - The Fabulous Raiders Margaya - The Fender Four Chop Suey Rock'n'Roll - The Instrumentals Kruschev Twist - Melvin Gayle Ain't That Loving You, Baby - The Earls of Suave Comin' Home, Baby - The Delmonas Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran Bombie - Johnnie Sharp and the Yellow Jackets I Was Born to Cry - Johnny Thunders Lucille - Little Richard Tall Cool One - The Wailers I Gotta Get Out of This Town - Nancy Sinatra Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The Bostweeds Woman - Empress of Fur Cherry - The Jive Bombers Angel Face - Billy Fury Je Me Donne A Qui Me Plait - Brigitte Bardot Crawlin' - The Untouchables The Girl Who Invented Rock'n'Roll - Mamie Van Doren Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies Vesuvius - The Revels Beat Girl - Adam Faith No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia Breathless - Arlie Neaville Torture Rock - Rockin' Belmarx Drive, Daddy, Drive - Little Sylvia Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks The Chicken Scratch - The Commandos Chicken Shack - Ike and Tina Turner
Over the recent Diamond Jubilee weekend I posted on Facebook a Youtube clip of archetypal punkette Jordan snarling / ineptly lip-synching her way through a a crotch-thrusting, panty-flashing performance of “Rule Britannia” from underground filmmaker Derek Jarman's 1978 cult art film Jubilee. “This is the closest I get to embracing the Jubilee spirit", I explained. Jarman’s nihilistic punk epic is pretty damn incomprehensible (and was loathed by most punks at the time), but has some vivid snatches and indelible images – the most memorable of which is probably Jordan (one of the true, pioneering movers and shakers of early UK punk, a muse to Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren as well as Jarman, and the original one-woman Sex Pistol) doing stripper squats in a novelty plastic union flag tabard, her white marshmallow thighs (think plump young Dietrich as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel) encased in green stockings.
Weirdly enough, just four days after posting that Facebook status update, I met Jordan herself at the launch party for Simon Barker’s exhibit and accompanying book, Punk’s Dead. For once in my life, I didn’t bring my bleedin’ digital camera, and I don’t have a smartphone – so there are no photos to document this historic encounter! But Jordan autographed a postcard for me. She turned me around and wrote it against my back, gripping my shoulder with her free hand – which melted my teenage punk heart! She’s 57-years old now, silver-haired, mumsy, looks a bit like Su Pollard and radiates unaffected charisma and easy-going, down to earth warmth. We only spoke briefly as she was surrounded by other admirers eager for her attention. I managed to ask her about the striking trademark Cubist mask of make-up she used to wear, saying it looked Picasso-esque. She smilingly explained that’s close, but her true inspiration was the painter Mondrian: she’d wanted to transform her face into a Mondrian painting. Simon Barker himself was in attendance (wearing an immaculate olive green Westwood suit), but the unofficial hostess seemed to be Jordan: everyone at the party gravitated towards her. Happy to stand in front of Barker’s smoldering portraits of her youthful self from 35 years earlier, pose for photos and sign autographs, you can see what would’ve entranced the likes of Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious in the 1970s. What a woman.
/ The postcard Jordan autographed for me. (No, I don't have a scanner) /
To briefly put her into context: If the 1970s London punk subculture had an “It girl”, it was Jordan. Born Pamela Rooke in 1955 in the seaside resort town of Seaford, East Sussex, her startling, idiosyncratic sense of style made her a natural employee selling kinky latex bondage wear at Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s outrageous boutique Sex on London’s King Road when they unleashed it in 1975. It was a perfect fit, as Jon Savage recalls in his definitive 1991 punk history England’s Dreaming. “(Jordan) was a living advertisement for the new shop, having turned her own body into an art object.” With her chalk-white face, no eyebrows, black raccoon-like eye liner, gravity-defying post-Bride of Frankenstein platinum blonde beehive and confrontational demeanour, Jordan was like the ethos of McLaren and Westwood’s Sex concept made voluptuous flesh. Amongst Barker’s photos are some stunning dual portraits of Jordan and Siouxsie Sioux together; by comparison, Jordan makes even stunning young ice princess Siouxsie look relatively normal. (The extremity of Jordan’s look is also almost Divine-like: I can remember John Waters admitting he used to keep a photo of Jordan pinned to the bulletin board above his writing desk for inspiration).
/ Punk pin-up Jordan (this photo not by Simon Barker) /
/ Bertie Berlin and Jordan by Simon Barker /
Sex was the epicenter of the emerging punk scene, from where McLaren engineered the creation of its “house band” the Sex Pistols. (Johnny Rotten famously auditioned for the band by caterwauling along to Alice Cooper’s “Eighteen” on the shop’s vintage jukebox). Jordan was virtually the fifth Pistol: at their riotous early gigs, her scantily-clad presence by the front of the stage attracted as much press attention as the band itself. From there, she parlayed her notoriety and striking appearance into roles in the Derek Jarman films Sebastian (1976) and Jubilee (1978). After a brief stint managing Adam and The Ants early in their career, Jordan then exiled herself from punk by the early 1980s, ultimately returning to her native South coast. (She’s been quoted as saying that punk died for her when The Pistols broke up). By then her niche as one of punk’s true fashion icons was already secure. (I hate the word "icon" and rarely use it, but it's fitting here). It was obviously a wise choice, as today Jordan exudes serenity and contentment. These days she works as a veterinary nurse and breeds Burmese cats. (I have friends who also breed pure-bred cats. They report Jordan is frequently sighted at cat shows).
About Simon Barker: As part of the Bromley Contingent, the early, stylish Sex Pistols acolytes who would take the train from the suburbs into central London to attend their gigs, Barker (then nick-named simply “Six”) was a key scene-maker and witness. Luckily for us he also took along his el cheapo, no-frills instant camera with him everywhere (mostly the St James Hotel in London, seemingly various grotty squats) documenting the embryonic punk milieu. At the time, Barker was simply taking shots of his friends at play. Seen today, the photos compiled in Punk’s Dead are compelling documents of the era and compare favourably with the portraits of Nan Goldin, or Billy Name’s 1960s shots of the Andy Warhol Superstars.
/ Mirror, mirror: Siouxsie by Simon Barker at the St James Hotel applying her trademark eye make-up /
Other faces from the party I recognized: Boy George (very aloof; he kept his dark sunglasses clamped on), Marco Pirroni from Adam and The Ants and fashion model Sara Stockbridge. (Stockbridge was pretty much the official “face” of Vivienne Westwood throughout the 1980s. She’s still strikingly beautiful all these years later, with legs like a race horse and punkily tousled pink hair. Read an interview with Stockwell and see some iconic photos of her modelling Westwood on this excellent fashion blog).
/ Photo by Antony Simpson: Simon Barker in the Westwood suit in the centre. That's me on the right texting my friends that they should be here /
Anyway, it was a great night: I drank PINTS of excellent free white wine (hey, I made some donations when I got a re-fill), Barker’s grainy and intimate photos are incredible artifacts (heaven in particular if you’re a hardcore Siouxsie and The Banshees fan like me) and the coffee table book itself is pretty damn covetable. Even better, my friend Antony Simpson was there telling me filthy insider gossip from back in the day. (And no, I’m not repeating it here!).
/ This guy looks too cheap to buy a book ... But now you know what to get me for Christmas this year. (Photo by Antony Simpson) /
Further reading: The official Punk's Dead website. Nice piece in The Independent. According to this great blog, Simon Barker was in a prickly and uncooperative mood. Punk antagonism lives on!
This Dr Sketchy (at The Paradise in Kensal Green for the first time in ages) boasted vampirically elegant Dusty Limits as master of ceremonies and two models and burlesque performers, Kiki Kaboom and Frankie Von Flirter.
I hadn’t DJ’d at the Paradise in so long it was like I’d developed amnesia: I’d forgotten everything I ever knew about using the decks there! At one stage I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t get any audio out of my headphones and called a Paradise employee over. Of course it was a simple thing I’d forgotten which I really should know by now – boy, was my face red! Luckily I got back on track after that.
It was a blast to work with Kiki Kaboom (international sex kitten, showgirl deluxe, winner of London Cabaret Awards 2012: Best Burlesque Performer) again, albeit briefly (she split immediately afterwards, as she’s recuperating from laser eye surgery). Kiki’s a gal who appreciates a single entendre (who doesn’t?), so I made sure to drop in “My Pussy Belongs to Daddy” by queen of risqué songs, Faye Richmonde, during her pose (her other adult novelty “hits” include “Tony’s Got Hot Nuts” and “Where Can I Find a Cherry for My Banana Split?”).
Music for newcomer Frankie Von Flirter posed a bit more of a challenge: she did a drag king performance to a medley from the Top Gun soundtrack (1980s power ballads ahoy!). So for her poses, I went for a gender-fucked approach (songs about men by Denise Darcel, Mamie Van Doren and Lizabeth Scott; a military / sadomasochistic twist via Mildred Bailey’s “I’d Love to Take Orders from You”). Later on when Dusty was standing next to me in the DJ booth, he realised something was stuck to the bottom of his shoe -- it was Frankie's Tom Selleck-style fake moustache! How we laughed.
I have bad news about my own club night Lobotomy Room: it never happened, and it looks unlikely to happen at all now (at least for the foreseeable future). In a nutshell: the venue where it was supposed to happen had chronic licensing problems (no music licence and the local council seemed reluctant to issue them one), and my contact who wanted to put me on in the first place doesn’t work there anymore anyway! At some point I might think about approaching other venues, but for now, I’m putting the Lobotomy Room concept on mothballs and licking my wounds.
In the meantime, who doesn’t feel cheered up looking at photos of Jayne Mansfield? Like I’ve said before, Mansfield was the punk Marilyn Monroe who died for our sins. Check out At Home with Jayne Mansfield, in which we see a typical day (in 1956 when she was still on the ascent) in the life of a starlet. Her hectic schedule encompasses making breakfast (while pouting), kissing her pet Chihuahua on the lips, checking on her young daughter (whom she doesn't kiss), combing her platinum blonde hair, being interviewed, and then finally back in bed in her babydoll negligee answering fan mail and autographing photos. Phew! Exhausting.
More recommended reading: one of my all-time favourite blogs is Jim Linderman’s Vintage Sleaze. Read his haunting and melancholy account of the hard times of long-forgotten one-time Russ Meyer model and burlesque “lost girl” Lilly La Mont. “A slightly gap-toothed Half-Native American stripper, prostitute, model and B-girl from the 1950s ...”, La Mont declined into alcoholism and then seemingly vanished off the radar, a casualty of the glamour jungle. Hopefully someone will get in touch with Linderman and fill in the gaps with an update of whatever happened to Lilly La Mont. Maybe she’s someone’s grandma living happily in the suburbs. It seems more likely her days ended like an especially grim chapter of Hollywood Babylon or a James Ellroy novel.
Post modern tribute: pin-ups of Lilly La Mont as re-interpreted by Mexican tattooist and outsider artist Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez (aka Dr Lakra)
Voodoo Dreams / Voodoo - Les Baxter Monkey Bird - The Revels Babalu - Yma Sumac Tequila - Stan Kenton and His Orchestra I Learn a Merengue, Mama - Robert Mitchum St Louis Blues - Eartha Kitt Jungle Drums - Earl Bostic Good and Bad - The Gauchos It Ain't to Play with - Sheryl Crowley House Party - The Instrumentals You Can't Put Me Down - Esquerita Whirlwind - Ray Morton and The Temp-Tones Wine Spo-Li-Ol-Li - The 5 Strings Can Your Hossie Do the Dog? Del Raney's Umbrellas Work with It - Que Martin When I Get Low, I Get High - Florence Joelle One More Beer - The Earls of Suave Yogi - The Bill Black Combo Pink Champagne - The Tyrones Intoxica - The Revels The Flirt - Shirley and Lee Margaya - The Fender Four Makin' Out - Jody Reynolds My Pussy Belongs to Daddy - Faye Richmonde Crawlin' - The Untouchables The Coo - Wayne Cochrane Drive-In - The Jaguars Give Me Love - Lena Horne The Stripper - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack) The Good Life - Ann-Margret Baby, Baby All The Time - Julie London Black Tarantula - Jody Reynolds Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades Chop Suey Rock - The Instrumentals Drive Daddy Drive - Little Sylvia Shomblar - Sheriff and The Ravels Fever - Nancy Sit Tall Cool One - The Wailers Mondo Moodo - The Earls of Suave I'd Love to Take Orders from You - Mildred Bailey Drummin' Up a Storm - Sandy Nelson Hand Clapping Time - The Fabulous Raiders Every Man is a Stupid Man - Denise Darcel Separate the Men from the Boys - Mamie Van Doren Men - Lizabeth Scott Love for Sale - Hildegard Knef Boots - Nero and The Gladiators Elle est terrible - Johnny Hallyday The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran Beat Girl - Adam Faith Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley Moi je joue - Brigitte Bardot