Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Bow Wow Wow at The Garage on 20 August 2016

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/ The original 1980s line-up of Bow Wow Wow: guitarist Matthew Ashman. bassist Leigh Gorman, vocalist Annabella Lwin and drummer David Barbarossa  /

The last time I saw Bow Wow Wow was in 2012 at The Islington Academy and the line-up featured two of the original members: singer Annabella Lwin and bassist Leigh Gorman. Since then, Annabella and Gorman have clearly fallen-out (Bow Wow Wow was always a rancorous band) and she’s now doing her own incarnation of Bow Wow Wow in which she is the sole originator and is backed by entirely new musicians. (Her version of the band is called Annabella’s Original Bow Wow Wow.  Confusingly, Gorman is continuing with his own edition. Seriously, that would be like Blondie touring without Deborah Harry or The Banshees minus Siouxsie). For all I know a lawsuit has been involved at some point between Gorman and Annabella over ownership of the name. In her between-song banter Saturday night at The Garage Annabella said something along the lines of, “If there are any of my original musicians in the crowd tonight, I hope you understand why I need to do this ...”

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Much as I enjoyed Saturday night, the 2012 gig was infinitely better in musical terms. Bow Wow Wow’s best New Wave-era tunes are catchy and minimalist but deceptively complex and sophisticated with African and Latin polyrhythms and surf guitar influences. It felt like the newbies in the band were loud and powerful, but steamrolled over those nuances.

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The 2012 concert really was a definitive greatest hits performance and I couldn’t complain about the track selections. Last night’s set list was weird and patchy. On plus side: essential stone-cold classics like “C30, C60, C90 Go!”, “Louis Quatorze”, “Mile High Club”, “Aphrodisiac”, “WORK”, “I Want My Baby on Mars”, “Baby Oh No”, “See Jungle (Jungle Boy).” They sounded as sexy, funny, punky and exotic as ever. On the downside: no “Uomo Sex Al Apache” (a 2012 concert highlight), “Elimination Dancing”, “Sexy Eiffel Tower”, "TV Savage" or “Chihuahua”. (To be fair, they seemingly never play “Chihuahua” live. I’d argue that song is Bow Wow Wow’s magnum opus.  I suspect this is because Malcolm McLaren forced Annabella to sing lyrics like “I can’t dance / And I can’t sing / I can’t do anything ...  I’m a rock’n’roll puppet in a band called Bow Wow Wow .. I’m a horrid little idiot / can’t you see ...” etc). They treated “I Want Candy” as the climactic big finale – understandably, because it was their biggest chart hit but it’s not their best song by a long shot (I bet Annabella is secretly sick to death of it).

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Annabella is presumably calling the shots now and she displayed a strange lack of confidence in her own back catalogue. They padded things out with a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” (an interesting experiment to hear that given a Burundi beat / tribal make-over but hardly essential) and then she introduced a brand new song. And with the best will in the world, it wasn’t good. They really tried to sell it, with Annabella delivering it enthusiastically and grinning hard for the duration (and urging us that “it’s available on iTunes and Amazon.com”) and the bassist giving the thumbs-up (cringe!). But it was frankly mediocre, with  a tired eighties slapped-bass funk sound (Pal said it sounded like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers).

Bow Wow Wow 20 August 2016 at The Garage

The charismatic Annabella herself was on great form. At 49 she’s still gorgeous (killer cheekbones, shapely legs), still kinetic (she dances hard the whole time – she’s like a whirling dervish) and her voice is still an alluring girlish punkette coo. Why isn’t Annabella celebrated as one of the great punk frontwomen just a few notches below Siouxsie and Deborah Harry or the equal of Poly Styrene and Ari Upp? I suspect the rockist Mojo generation simply don’t rate Bow Wow Wow.

Bow Wow Wow 20 August at The Garage

Anyway, something was clearly riling Annabella because a few times between songs she demanded, “Am I too old? Do you think I’m too old? I’ve been told I’m too old.” I’d love to know what that was about. (For what it’s worth: considering she was only 14 when she joined Bow Wow Wow, Annabella is substantially younger than most of her post-punk peers).  Her stage-wear was disappointingly lacklustre:  she was wearing one of her own tour merchandise t-shirts! She’d customised it (shredding it up and wearing it backwards) – but still! This is someone who used to wear head-to-toe Vivienne Westwood pirate gear! And her hair was a shiny, jet-black 100% acrylic wig. In 2012 she sported her own hair in long cornrow braids tied with ribbons. The wig was an odd touch. If Annabella was worried about her hair, she should just resurrect her trademark early eighties Mohawk: no woman ever looked more beautiful with a Mohawk than Annabella.

Bow Wow Wow 20 August at The Garage

Similarly, the crowd was a mixed bag: it’s been a while since I’ve been to a gig where the audience was predominantly older first or second-generation punks. Life had clearly been tough on some of these people. As I hoped, some looked great in vintage Vivienne Westwood. But there was a dismaying amount of older guys wearing anoraks, dad jeans and trainers! You’re letting the side down, people!

Playing us out: classic-era Bow Wow Wow captured onstage in 1982.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Reflections on ... Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

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/ The leading ladies of Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965): Haji (as Rosie, seated atop Porsche), Lori Williams (as Billie, in white hotpants) and the mighty Tura Satana (as Varla) /

From the 27 July 2016 Facebook events page:

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence, the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favourite mantle still remains: sex. Violence devours all it touches, its voracious appetite rarely fulfilled. Yet violence doesn’t only destroy – it creates and moulds as well! Let’s examine closely, then, this dangerously evil creation, this new breed, encased and contained within the supple skin of woman… the softness is there, the unmistakable smell of female.  The surface shiny and silken.  The body yielding yet wanton. But a word of caution – handles with care and don’t drop your guard! This rapacious new breed prowls both alone and in packs, operating at any level! Any time! Anywhere! And with anybody! Who are they? One might be your secretary! Your doctor’s receptionist! Or a dancer in a go-go club!”

Yes! The Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies film selection this month is ultimate sexploitation B-movie Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1966). Perhaps cleavage-fixated director Russ Meyer’s defining masterpiece, it follows a trio of vicious thrill-hungry go-go dancers going on a homicidal rampage in the desert.  As cinema’s sleaze maestro John Waters argues, “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is beyond a doubt the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future!”

Waters also describes butch, black-clad gang leader Varla “one of the best villains in screen history.” Varla was, of course, portrayed by the late, great tassel-twirling burlesque queen turned snarling Russ Meyer leading lady Tura Satana (1938-2011). The truly Amazonian Satana’s fierce, exotic beauty and powerful screen presence in Faster ensured her perennial cult status. Satana’s birthday would have been this month (10 July). So let’s celebrate all things Tura in an evening of dames, booze, chains and boots! It will leave a taste of evil in your mouth!

As usual: arrive circa 8 pm to order your drinks and grab the best seats. The film starts at 8:30 pm prompt. The film is FREE and seating is limited. If you’re feeling proactive, contact Fontaine’s to reserve a seat in advance: email ruby@fontaines.bar or call 07718 000546.

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"If you want wild living FAST! And if you want to end up giving your all / That’s because pussycat is living reckless / pussycat is riding high / If you think that you can tame her / Well just you try!”

Spontaneous outbreaks of frantic go-go dancing are encouraged at the FREE 27 July 2016 Lobotomy Room presentation of Russ Meyer’s vicious 1965 sexploitation cult classick Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! downstairs in The Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s!

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This was the most successful and rammed Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies club yet. About 31 attendees were crammed into the Fontaine’s basement Bamboo Lounge – our biggest crowd to date. That may not sound like much, but as far as I knew the place only seated twenty-odd people! I actually had to post an update on Facebook the night before announcing if you hadn’t reserved a seat in advance, not to come to avoid disappointment as we’d reached maximum capacity. Pal and I had to watch the film standing in the DJ booth because there was no seating left!  It’s a real testament to how beloved Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!  remains well into the twenty-first century. Russ Meyer’s fifty-one year old twisted vision about homicidal go-go dancers running amok in the desert is still enflaming (warping? Corrupting?) peoples’ imaginations.

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As usual, I stood up to give a garbled, blurted introduction to the film, incorporating the following fun facts:

The film premiered in Los Angeles on 6 August 1965. Early working titles included The Leather Girls and The Mankillers.  This was veteran sexploitation maestro Russ Meyer’s fourteenth film. At the time Pussycat came and went without making much of an impression:  just another trashy low-budget B-movie for the drive-in and fleapit grindhouse circuit. (Pussycat was one of the rare Meyer films to lose money at the box office). Seen today, Tura Satana’s ferocious performance as Varla is so sensational and screen-scalding it should have heralded film stardom (even if restricted to the realm of B-movies). Instead, she simply resumed her burlesque career and only made a few more scattered minor film appearances. Lori Williams (who plays blonde sex kitten Billie) admitted that when she was getting lots of TV work in the seventies she deleted Pussycat from her résumé because it was embarrassing to be associated with it.

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Pussycat wasn’t properly re-discovered and reappraised until circa the late seventies and early eighties as scabrous young punk Baltimore filmmaker John Waters rose to prominence and began championing it in his interviews. (Waters first saw Pussycat as a teenager at a Baltimore drive-in. Intoxicated, he then dragged Divine with him to see Pussycat again). In Big Bosoms and Square Jaws (Jimmy McDonough’s essential 2005 biography of Russ Meyer), Waters would succinctly nail Pussycat’s weird allure as “a redneck lesbian killer drama, and because it was black-and -white, somehow arty”. In particular, Waters devoted a whole chapter to his to Meyer (and another of his key influences, Herschell Gordon Lewis) in his 1981 book Shock Value: A Tasteful Book about Bad Taste. Waters’ acclaim – plus The Cramps covering The Bostweeds’ theme tune and the advent of home video in the eighties – is when Pussycat’s status as a much-loved cult film revered by punks, gays, trash-hounds and feminists alike truly began.

Satana and Haji were already friends in real life before Pussycat, having worked together as exotic dancers since the early sixties. The explosive opening scene of the three women frantically go-go dancing was filmed at an actual Los Angeles burlesque club called The Pink Pussycat where Haji and Tura worked (the leering, sweaty-faced men shouting, “Go, baby! Go!” were members of the crew).

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Satana was a burlesque dancer for about 18 years, beginning when she was just 15. By all accounts Satana (real name: Suvaki Yamaguchi) endured a tough childhood and spent time in a reform school. Her ancestry was a spicy mixture of Japanese, Filipino and Cheyenne (American Indian) hence her exotic jasmine-scented looks and why she routinely billed herself as “Miss Japan Beautiful” when she was headlining strip clubs. (Tassel-twirling was her speciality).  Reading some of Satana’s more outrageous interviews, you get the impression she never let the truth get in the way of a good story. For example she claimed to have had a lengthy romance with Elvis Presley and that he proposed marriage. Who would know? Is this romance documented in any of the many Presley biographies? (Not that I begrudge her: great stars like Satana are allowed to embellish and self-mythologize as much as they like).

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/ Above: "Miss Japan Beautiful": Young Tura Satana in her striptease days /

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Of the triumvirate, only Lori Williams is still alive: Satana died in 2011 aged 72. Haji died in 2013 aged 67. Williams is now 70.

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“Billie (Lori Williams) is the femme of the group, the main things on her mind being sex and alcohol. In her white short-shorts, halter top and knee-high patent leather go-go boots, Billie is forever breaking into torrid go-go steps whenever trouble arises.” From John Waters’ 1981 book Shock Value: A Tasteful Book about Bad Taste /

For anyone interested: Satana’s bra size at the time of Pussycat was 38DD. Later in life she was 38FF. Unsurprisingly, the bra Satana wears in Pussycat is from Frederick’s of Hollywood – purveyors of glamour wear for the discerning starlet.

Satana made no secret of genuinely loathing Susan Bernard, the 16-year old actress who played perky cry-baby kidnap victim Linda.  For her part, Bernhard admitted she was actively terrified of the imposing Satana. Bernhard’s panic-stricken, tearful reactions are not acting!

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It’s unfair that Satana’s performance sometimes overshadows those of Lori Williams and Haji, who are both excellent. In particular I love Haji’s depiction of tempestuous Rosie and her thick Mexican “Spanglish” comedy accent. (In real life Haji was French-Canadian and hailed from Quebec – the same part of the world as me).  This is also Haji’s original nose in Pussycat and she was never more beautiful. In subsequent films it was dramatically whittled-down to the standard issue “electric plug socket” starlet nose job ubiquitous in the sixties.

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“(Varla’s) girlfriend Rosie (Haji) is a mean Mexican with a weakness for switchblades who emphasises her many moments of disgust by spitting or picking her teeth with whatever is handy.” From John Waters’ 1981 book Shock Value: A Tasteful Book about Bad Taste /

One thing I intended to mention in my introduction but completely forgot: the implied lesbian relationship between Varla and Rosie, which definitely contributes to Pussycat’s reputation as a LGBT favourite.  (Meyer himself would later – accurately - exclaim about Pussycat’s cult followers: “Lesbians and fags are crazy about it.”). Haji would later relate being surprised when Meyer instructed her to look stricken with jealousy and start to cry when she catches Varla making out on in the hay with a man (Paul Trinka as Kirk). Why? Meyer had never once explained to either actress they were meant to be portraying lovers. And that was mid-way through filming! Haji had no objections to playing a lesbian character, she explained - she just would have approached certain scenes differently had she known. In fact maybe Meyer not telling them was a stroke of genius. As a result, the way Varla and Rosie’s relationship is hinted-at as no big deal rather than spelled-out seems coolly nonchalant and modern. I particularly love it when Rosie snaps to attention and lights Varla’s cigarillo for her like a good submissive. No doubt who is the “top” in that couple.

Also intriguingly queer is Meyer’s appreciative filming of muscle-bound Dennis Busch as the simple-minded, childlike brain-damaged brother known as The Vegetable.  Seemingly an equal opportunity perv, Meyer’s camera lingers over Busch’s sculpted beefcake brawn almost as lovingly (lecherously?) as it does over the women’s décolletage in a surprisingly homoerotic manner. (The scene of The Vegetable pumping weights shirtless wouldn’t look out of place in an Athletic Model Guild film. I was curious if the actor Busch had done any homoerotic physique modelling in the fifties or sixties. Surely Bob Mizer would have swooped on him? A Google search didn’t reveal anything (he may have used a different nom de porn for beefcake modelling). In fact, Google revealed virtually nothing about Busch at all. His IMDb bio, for example, consists of precisely one sentence: “Dennis Busch is an actor, known for Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)”. Who was he?). This is interesting because the ultra-conservative Meyer’s treatment of gay, bisexual and transsexual characters is frequently problematic (they usually end up luridly and brutally killed at the end!). But to be fair, he was pioneering for routinely including such characters in the sixties at all when it was far from the norm. And it’s also nice how Meyer allows Billie in that sequence to frankly and unapologetically ogle The Vegetable’s physique and take the lead initiating sex. Take that, “male gaze” theorists!

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I hadn’t actually watched my Pussycat DVD in many few years so it was a great opportunity to re-visit it. This is surely Meyer’s magnum opus. It holds up beautifully: like John Waters has argued, Pussycat “ages like fine wine.” This is exciting virtuoso filmmaking by any standards. Not a single wasted shot, everything stark, primal and minimal. It’s still as intense, perverse, gritty and kinky as the first time I saw it, probably at London’s Scala cinema in the early nineties. (The Scala regularly held Russ Meyer double bills – bliss!).  The terse, hardboiled but campy dialogue is endlessly quotable. I love the opening strip club sequence of the scantily-clad trio frantically doing the Watusi and later how Meyer films them from looming low angles so that they look truly towering, Amazonian and menacing in the stark desert setting.  Pussycat’s influence on Waters’ sensibility is obvious, especially the perfectly-judged broad acting and the way everyone shouts / snarl their lines. (Satana’s sneering, abrasive delivery definitely anticipates Divine as bad girl dawn Davenport in Female Trouble (1974). Not to mention the black liquid eyeliner).

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“She's a cold one, alright… more stallion than mare. Too much for one man to handle.” /

Varla would be Tura Satana’s only major film role. What a powerful presence! And what a performance: Satana goes from initially sexy to monstrous by the conclusion when she’s become an utterly implacable killing machine. Meyer would later admit that he regretted not engaging Satana for more film roles. Maybe other parts would have been anti-climactic anyway? (I have to admit I’ve never seen Satana’s subsequent films The Asto-Zombies (1968) or The Doll Squad (1973)). Ultimately it probably doesn’t really matter: Satana’s one starring role in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! ensured her immortality as cinema’s greatest bad girl.

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Further reading:

I highly recommend you track down Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer by Jimmy McDonough on Amazon.

The Miss Meyer blog is devoted to Russ Meyer, sexploitation, horror, cakes, wrestling and other musings. Check it out here.

On a related note, read my interviews with John Waters and Poison Ivy of The Cramps

My next Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies film club in  the basement Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine's in Dalston is Federico Fellini's swirling decadent masterpiece La Dolce Vita (1960)! Bank Holiday Sunday (28 August). Full details here.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Reflections on ... The Rise, The Fall and The Rise by Brix Smith Start

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/ Portrait of the Author: present-day Brix Smith photographed by Amelia Troubridge /

[I was commissioned to write this book review of Brix Smith Start’s memoirs a while back, it seemingly got “spiked” and rather than let it go to waste I’ve posted it as a blog entry!]

Brix Smith Start has a knack for self-reinvention, from punk guitarist to Shoreditch fashionista and boutique proprietor to TV presenter.  She also seemingly possesses great timing: her autobiography follows on the heels of successful recent efforts by the likes of Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, The Pretenders' frontwoman Chrissie Hynde and Viv Albertine of The Slits. Confessional memoirs by veteran rock chicks are red-hot right now.

Born Laura Salenger in 1962 in Los Angeles to an affluent family with show business connections, as a teenager she embraced punk rock (the nickname “Brixton” came from her love of The Clash song “Guns of Brixton”). Following a whirlwind romance with Mark E Smith (frontman of hard-edged Mancunian band The Fall), in 1983 Brix impulsively marries him, relocates from sun-kissed LA to drab and overcast Manchester and joins his band as guitarist. The book is especially funny describing her horrified culture shock at her new Northern husband’s grimy poverty. (“Mark’s parents suggested we have the reception in the Eagle and Child pub and that we serve sausage rolls, salt and vinegar crisps and pickled onions to our guests,” she shudders).

“The Brix years” were arguably The Fall’s creative and commercial peak.  Her towering, catchy riffs, steeped in surf instrumentals and rockabilly, injected The Falls’ music with a new accessibility. Diminutive, blonde and beautiful, she also added a jolt of Californian glamour to one of the most austere and uncompromising of post-punk bands. The Falls’ artistic zenith would perhaps be in 1988 performing onstage with drag monster Leigh Bowery in queer bad boy of dance Michael Clark’s avant-garde ballet I Am Curious, Orange.  (Brix played guitar while seated atop a giant Pop Art hamburger).

/ Art-rock heaven: The Fall meets Michael Clark /

A volatile musical genius Mark E Smith may be, but he didn’t make for ideal husband material.  Brix depicts him as an unhinged alcoholic and speed freak with an increasingly ugly temper.  Once their romantic and musical partnership imploded (they divorced in 1989), Brix would struggle with low self-esteem, depression, dysfunctional relationships, career disappointments, eating disorders and sleeping pill addiction (very Valley of the Dolls). 

/ One of my favourite Fall songs and videos. The skunk-striped black and white Cruella de Ville hairstyle was one of Brix's best looks /

Her lowest point sees Brix back in Los Angeles and broke after leaving The Fall, unable to play guitar because of painful tendinitis and supporting herself as a waitress while hustling for acting jobs. One night a group of Mancunian musicians recognise her at the restaurant and ask, “Didn’t you used to be Brix Smith?” (To her credit, she replied, “I still am”).

Gossip hounds will find much to savour here. Brix seemingly crossed paths with everyone over the years. Her mother used to work in the television industry. As a child Brix would watch transfixed as Sonny and Cher rehearsed for their TV show (“even in street clothes she radiated glamour ... Cher is my jeans idol”).  As student at Bennington College Brett Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt were fellow pupils in her creative writing class. Later she would rub shoulders with everyone from Morrissey (“he was always so unfriendly, prickly and weird”) to Courtney Love (she almost joined Hole in the nineties) and even Princess Diana (“I’ve rarely seen a woman turn it on the way she did”). And then of course there’s Gok Kwan. Let’s face it: for a generation of gay guys Brix is inevitably best known as co-host of Gok’s Fashion Fix.

For anyone allergic to New Age self-help speak this probably isn’t the book for you (Brix underwent years of therapy and it shows in her writing). But she’s so effervescent and disarmingly likable you can’t help but root for her as Brix – now 53, happily remarried and playing music again - overcomes adversity and ultimately emerges resilient and serene.

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[The Rise, The Fall and The Rise by Brix Smith Start is out now, [published by Faber & Faber]

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Robert Altman's That Cold Day in the Park (1969)

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/ How far will a 32 year-old virgin go to possess a 19 year-old boy? /

Read my review for Loverboy Magazine of Robert Altman’s disturbing, unjustly forgotten 1969 psychodrama That Cold Day in the Park - a horror film about sexual dread and emotional repression - starring Sandy Dennis at her twitchiest. (It was reissued on deluxe dual format by Eureka Entertainment on 20 June 2016). The film would be a profound influence on pioneering Canadian homocore filmmaker Bruce LaBruce (his 1991 film No Skin Off My Ass is a loose remake with added hardcore gay sex). 

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 Further reading: read an analysis of That Cold Day in the Park on the Dreams Are What Le Cinema is For blog.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Lobotomy Room at Fontaine's DJ Set List 24 June 2016

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/ Won't you join me for a cocktail - at Lobotomy Room? /

From the Facebook events page:

Wilder than you can imagine! Explicit beyond belief! Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when incredibly strange dance party Lobotomy Room returns to the Polynesian-style basement Bamboo Lounge of Dalston’s premiere Art Deco vice den Fontaine’s! Friday 24 June! 

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly
booze party! A spectacle of decadence! Bad Music for Bad People! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted Tittyshakers! Punk! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities! And Other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs the Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell (of Dr Sketchy and Cockabilly notoriety).

Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock! Now with vintage erotica projected on the wall for your adult viewing pleasure! Come for the £6 cocktails - stay for the putrid music and dirty movies!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It’s sleazy. It’s grubby. It’s trashy - you’ll love it!

A tawdry good time guaranteed!

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Wow. Bumpy times! Where to start? My 25 May 2016 Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies film club screening of Valley of the Dolls had to be cancelled at the ultra-last minute (as in, on the night itself) because Fontaine’s projector packed-up just hours before it was due to start. What timing! And it was due to be a full house.  As anyone following this blog knows I’ve had my share of travails club promoting (mortifying technical glitches, DJ’ing to cavernously empty rooms) but having to frantically pump-out Facebook updates urging people not to come to my event (after having aggressively promoted the ass of it for a month pleading with people to attend) represented a definite nadir. I was gutted!

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/ Ai chihuahua! Jayne Mansfield and canine companion. Flyer by Ego Rodriguez Illustrations /

After the disaster on Wednesday I wasn’t filled with confidence and sure enough the Lobotomy Room club night that Friday was pretty dismal. Two people turned up, surveyed the empty room, finished their drinks and went back upstairs, never to return! Not being able to project my vintage erotica on the big screen while I DJ’d was a definite drag. I admitted defeat by 12:30 am.

Just to rub salt in the wounds: Bloc Bar in Camden appears to have thrown Cockabilly under a bus! It’s hard to gauge how permanent this situation is, but the night that was Cockabilly’s is now committed to someone else. In the past the now-defunct, much-missed George & Dragon in Shoreditch would invite us to do Cockabilly there, bounce us out after a few months and then eventually invite us back. No bridges have been burned, but for the foreseeable future Cockabilly is in limbo.

Flash forward to June and things look much rosier. The film projector at Fontaine’s is operational again and Valley of the Dolls was re-scheduled for Wednesday 22 June. Mercifully, the night went off without a hitch. In fact it was triumphant! I swung into action promoting the screening on social media like a demon again and the numbers wound up being even bigger for the postponed night. (In the end, we got a few more people than for The Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield and Kitten with a Whip, a bit less than Desperate Living – our busiest film club to date. In any case, the Bamboo Lounge was nicely full!).

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/ "Neely O'Hara - nice kid turned lush": Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls /

“If you’ve never seen Valley of the Dolls before, it is a life-changing film,” I told the attendees by way of introduction. “You will be quoting lines from this for the rest of your life!” I’ve only ever watched Valley on DVD at home, so seeing it surrounded by an enthusiastic audience tipsy on Fontaine's potent cocktails was a revelation. The crowd loved it and it was fun to see the bits they really reacted to. I went for an ill-timed piss so missed their response to Sharon Tate’s “You know how bitchy fags can be” line, but of course they went nuts for the infamous ladies room “wig yanking” scene. People spontaneously applauded Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) when she tied that scarf over her grey hair and defiantly announced, “I’m going out a star …” But for me, Valley of the Dolls is really about the monstrous, rampaging, majestically awful performance of Patty Duke as Neely O'Hara. Like Mommy Dearest and Showgirls, Valley truly is a perfect film and the ultimate campy “bad movie we love.” I wouldn’t change one single frame of it! I’ll inevitably do a separate blog post about Valley of the Dolls to do it full justice.

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After the successful film night, I was in a much more positive frame of mind for Friday’s Lobotomy Room on 24 June 2016. That date, of course, is now historic: voting on the European Union referendum was on Thursday 23 June and that Friday morning we woke up to the sickening news confirming Brexit. In response, on the Facebook events page I posted:
I know the news today is gloomy, but if you feel like headbanging away the heartbreak I will be playing ANGRY punk music and loads of European / Continental foreign-language cover versions LOUD downstairs at Fontaine’s tonight! Let’s get drunk and twist angrily to Johnny Hallyday! I'll be projecting dirty movies (sorry - "vintage erotica") on the big screen all night to accompany the putrid music.
Ruby (Fontaine’s beehive-haired boss lady) suggested cancelling Lobotomy Room because 1) one of the speakers downstairs in the Bamboo Lounge is malfunctioning (it didn’t work for Valley of the Dolls but I compensated by cranking up the volume extra loud. It was OK for a movie night, but not ideal for a club night) and 2) the gruesome news about Brexit made her suspect she wouldn’t get any customers that night. (Seriously – it felt like London was numb with heavy shock and depression that day). I told her, "Let’s carry on as normal but I’ll do Lobotomy Room upstairs instead. Maybe after such an awful day people will want to come out and have a drink". It worked out fine and in fact we had a decent, rowdy crowd straight through until 1 am. The sole downside to doing Lobotomy Room upstairs is I couldn’t project my “blue” movies!

As promised, as a protest I worked in some pro-European foreign language stuff: Portuguese (via Brazil’s wailing sixties pop starlet Wanderlea), French (the sultry, pouting Brigitte Bardot and Johnny Hallyday) and Polish (the utterly berserk Violetta Villas). And some angry, snarling punk too: X, The Germs, The Cramps, The Ramones – and self-styled “queen of punk” Mama Edith Massey.

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/ Adorable young Violetta Villas (1938 - 2011) in "hair hopper" mode. Think of her as a deranged low-budget Eastern European hybrid of Yma Sumac, Bardot, Jayne Mansfield and Charo. Why isn't this woman revered as a kitsch naive outsider artist and queer icon?  /

Adult Books - The Ramonetures
High Wall - The Wailers
Taboo - The Shangaans
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Beatnik - The Champs
I'm a Bad, Bad Girl - Little Esther
I Love the Life I Live - Esquerita
Train to Nowhere - The Champs
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Bombora - The Original Surf-aris
Mambo Baby - Ruth Brown
She Wants to Mambo - Johnny Thundes and Patti Palladin
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
Hearbreak Hotel - Ann-Margret
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
Go Calypso - Mamie Van Doren
Mama Looka Boo Boo - Robert Mitchum
Dona Wanna - Wanda Jackson
Vesuvius - The Revels
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Jukebox Baby - Alan Vega
Town without Pity - James Chance
Torture - Kris Jensen
Dream Lover - The Paris Sisters
I Wish I Were a Princess - Little Peggy March
Margaya - The Fender Four
Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad - Tammy Wynette
Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo
That's a Pretty Good Love - Big Maybelle
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
Gostaria de Saber (River Deep Mountain High) - Wanderlea
What Do You Think I Am? Ike and Tina Turner
Adult Books - X
I'm A Woman - Peggy Lee
Fist City - Loretta Lynn
Three Cool Chicks - The 5,6,7,8s
The Swag - Link Wray
Harley Davidson - Brigitte Bardot
Carbona Not Glue - The Ramonetures
Teenage Lobotomy - The Ramones
Boss - The Rumblers
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Wiped Out - The Escorts
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Rip It Up - Elvis Presley
Kruschev Twist - Melvin Gayle
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Peter Gunn Locomotion - The Delmonas
Twist Talk - Jack Hammer
Viens danser le twist - Johnny Hallyday
Beat Girl - ZZ en de Maskers
It's a Gas - The Rumblers
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Intoxica - The Centurions
Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran
Cry-baby - The Honey Sisters
How Much Love Can One Heart Hold? Joe Perkins and The Rookies
Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen
Sweet Little Pussycat - Andre Williams
Roadrunner - The Fabulous Wailers
Meu Bem Lollipop - Wanderlea
Contact - Brigitte Bardot
Breathless - X
Rock Around the Clock - The Sex Pistols
Heartbreak Hotel - Buddy Love
Big Bad Boss Beat - The Teen Beats
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
Treat Me Right - Mae West
Punks Get Off the Grass - Edith Massey
Little Queenie - Bill Black's Combo
Dragon Walk - The Noblemen
Wild Wild Party - Charlie Feathers
Batman - Link Wray
Media Blitz - The Germs
Czterdziesci Kasztanów (Forty Chestnuts) - Violetta Villas
Under My Thumb - Tina Turner

Further reading:

Never been to a Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies film club night before? Curious? Read this revoltingly candid first-hand account! Disguised under a Jayne Mansfield wig, intrepid journalist Corinna Tomrley of red-hot Loverboy Magazine entered the Mondo Trasho Wild Wild World of Lobotomy Room and afterwards wrote this shock-by-shock exposé!

Read about all the previous antics at Lobotomy Rooms to date hereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere , hereherehere, hereherehere, here and here.

Follow me on tumblr for all your kitsch, camp, retro vintage sleaze and fifties homoerotica needs!

Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Grace Jones' Warm Leatherette (1980)

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"It started with a photo. Entitled Samurai Sissy, the stark black and white 1979 portrait by French artist and conceptualist Jean-Paul Goude depicted steel-cheekboned Amazonian black supermodel turned disco chanteuse Grace Jones wrapped in a dramatic padded-shouldered Issey Miyake creation. At the time Goude and Jones were both artistic and romantic collaborators (he’s the father of Jones’ only child, Paulo born in 1979. In fact Jones is pregnant with Paulo in Samurai Sissy). Sinister but sexy, the image is so powerful, androgynous and alluring it suggested a world of possibilities: Jones as a panther in human form. Black Marlene Dietrich. Female Bowie. Space-age Nefertiti. Dominatrix from outer space. In her 2015 autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, Jones herself describes it as ‘me as an ominous hard-eyed samurai filtered through something occult and African, the killer clown interrupting some mysterious ceremony.’ Chris Blackwell, head honcho of Island Records, had the photo enlarged and stuck to the wall of his deluxe Compass Point recording studio in the Bahamas, instructing his crack team of musicians, ‘Make a record that sounds like that looks.’"

A deluxe digitally re-mastered box set of Grace Jones’ 1980 stone-cold classic Warm Leatherette - the ultimate punk-disco hybrid - is out now. Read my full review for Loverboy Magazine here.

/ Fragment from Grace Jones' avant garde 1982 performance art /concert film A One Man Show. Why oh why has this essential art statement never been digitally remastered and reissued on DVD?! /

Further reading: I've blogged about The Jones Girl - one of my all-time favourite artists - a few times now:

Scene report from her 2010 Royal Albert Hall performance

Scene report from her November 2015 book-signing session at Waterstone's in Piccadilly

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Cockabilly at Bloc Bar DJ Set List 11 May 2016

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From the Facebook events page:

Drag a comb through your quiff, swallow a fistful of bop pills and rock around the cock – at COCKABILLY! Wednesday 11 May 2016 in the louche surroundings of Bloc Bar in Camden! And every second Wednesday night of the month thereafter!

Leather boys, gay greasers, cry-babies, prison wives and juvenile delinquents of all ages are welcome at Cockabilly - London’s only regular queer rockabilly night! With DJ Mal Nicholson and I (Graham Russell) spinning all your favourite rancid vintage sleaze classicks! Think rockabilly, rhythm and blues, surf, punk and tittyshakers! Daring and virile! Chains, whips, knives and leather belts all swished around together in bone-jarring rock and roll! Way-out sex and sin for those who like it that way!

Bloc Bar: 18 Kentish Town Road London NW1

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/ This month has been an emotional roller-coaster for fans of the fabulous Bronze Liberace, Little Richard. Prompted by a perhaps hasty Facebook update from Bootsy Collins (“Lil-Richard needs our love & understanding right now … he is not in the best of health so I ask all the Funkateers to lift him up”) on 28 April 2016, the internet was abuzz with speculation the 83-year old Georgia Peach was gravely ill. Certainly when I saw a frail Little Richard perform at the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender in 2013 he was visibly (and audibly) ailing. On 3 May, Little Richard’s attorney was forced to make an official statement assuring everyone that in fact his client was most definitely not on his deathbed.  “I don’t perform like I used to”, an aggrieved Richard is quoted. “But I have my singing voice, I walk around, I had hip surgery a while ago but I’m healthy.’“ Phew! Still, it was gratifying to see the outpouring of love, concern and affection for Little Richard – the freakiest and queerest of rock’n’roll’s original pioneers. Little Richard is, of course, one of the essential faces and voices of Cockabilly. (I played his his version of "Rip It Up" at this installment of Cockabilly). All hail the kween! /

Second Wednesday of the month can only mean one thing – Cockabilly at Bloc Bar! Between us Mal and I whipped-up a menacing roar of rockabilly psychosis and my vintage beefcake homo porn looked sin-sational projected on Bloc Bar’s big screen.

I won’t lie: the crowd this month was small. But it was interesting! Some attendees in particular caught my attention from the DJ booth.  A middle-aged black guy sporting a baseball cap and faded eighties-style double denim entered. My initial impression was: no gay vibe, but a definite authentic sleaze vibe. I noticed he was alone, but ordered three drinks.  Within minutes he was joined by two tough-as-nails, been-around-the-block women in short skirts and heavy make-up. I kept glancing at the trio as I DJ’d and finally the nature of their relationship dawned on me: they were two “working girls” and he was their pimp (or john).  Finally – my kind of clientele! They were like escapees from one of my favourite New Orleans dive bars, The Double Play. Very John Rechy, very City of Night! At one point I cranked up a frantic surf instrumental and the two women jumped up and began gyrating to it, right in front of the flickering homoerotic sixties physique porn. Later - when Mal was DJ'ing - their hipness quotient dropped substantially when one of them requested some Pink or Lily Allen.

Anyway, here is what I played:

Jane in the Jungle - The 5,6,7,8s
Tough Bounce - The Fabulous Wailers
Ain't That Loving You, Baby - The Earls of Suave
I Will Follow Him - Little Peggy March
Little Miss Understood - Connie Stevens
Wipe Out - The Surfaris
Dragon Walk - The Noblemen
Tornado - Dale Hawkins
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Vesuvius - The Revels
Lucille- Masaaki Hirao
Rip It Up - Little Richard
Boss - The Rumblers
Year One - X
The Swag - Link Wray
Goodbye So Long - Ike and Tina Turner
Rockin' the Joint - Esquerita
Bombora - The Original Surf-aris
Drive Daddy Drive - Little Sylvia
Wiped Out - The Escorts
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Chicken - The Cramps
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Johnny Hit and Run Pauline - The Ramonetures


/ As usual, you get a reward for reading this far /

Upcoming Lobotomy Room dates for your social calendar:

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Wednesday 25 May 2016: As host and DJ of the regular monthly Mondo Trasho punkabilly club night Lobotomy Room, I – Graham Russell - will occasionally crash Fontaine’s free weekly film night and screen a rancid title of my choice, with an emphasis on the cult, the queer and the camp! The Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies film club selection in May is … The Valley of The Dolls! Wednesday 25 May!
“You have to climb Mount Everest … to get to The Valley of The Dolls.” Before Mommie Dearest … before Showgirls … the original “What the hell were they thinking?” Bad Movie We Love was The Valley of the Dolls. (Or Vallée des poupées if you want to get all French about it). A perennial favourite of drag queens and a cult classic for connoisseurs of kitsch, the unintentionally hilarious and wildly entertaining 1967 film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s lurid 1966 bestseller took the already trashy source material – and went even tawdrier with it! (At the film’s premiere, an outraged Susann reportedly called the film “a piece of shit!”).
A cautionary tale about the perils of show business, it follows the travails of three ambitious casualties of the glamour jungle: friends Anne, Neely and Jennifer. (The “dolls” of the title refer to the fistfuls of uppers and downers the characters pop like Tic Tacs throughout – usually washed down with booze).The Valley of The Dolls packs everything discriminating thrill-seekers demand in its lunatic two hours: hammy performances, pill-popping, bouffant wigs, catfights, slurring drunken scenes, rehab, drug-fueled meltdowns and crap-tastic musical numbers.
This screening is dedicated to the memory of Dolls’ recently deceased-leading lady Patty Duke (14 December 1946 – 29 March 2016). Former child star Duke is rivetingly awful rampaging through the role of Neely O’Hara, a scenery-chewing performance so berserk it can be favourably likened to Ann-Margret’s in Kitten with a Whip. Get yourself a stiff drink and strap yourselves in for a wild ride when Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies presents The Valley of The Dolls!
As usual: arrive circa 8 pm to order your drinks and grab the best seats. The film starts at 8:30 pm prompt. The Bamboo Lounge seats about 22 people. If you’re feeling proactive, contact Fontaine’s to reserve a seat in advance: email ruby@fontaines.bar or call 07718 000546. Events page

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Friday 27 May 2016: Oh god, it's happening again ... the next Lobotomy Room club night. Events page. 

Further reading:

Read about all the previous antics at Lobotomy Rooms to date hereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere , hereherehere, hereherehere and here.

Follow me on tumblr for all your kitsch, camp, retro vintage sleaze and fifties homoerotica needs!

I'm also on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare!