Sunday, 31 January 2016

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute

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/ The sublime Danish actress Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa vie (1962) /

Anna Karina – the elfin Bambi-eyed star of French New Wave 1960s cinema - graced The British Film Institute in person on Saturday 16 January 2016 last night as part of its Jean-Luc Godard season. (Godard and Karina were married between 1961-1967. She was Godard’s muse and the leading lady of his definitive early films). First was a screening of Godard’s sublime 1962 nouvelle vague masterpiece Vivre sa vie (in which Karina plays a wannabe actress who drifts into prostitution with tragic consequences. She is wrenching in the film). Then Karina was invited onstage for an interview (by film critic Jason Solomons) followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Pal and I were in the back row, but I can confirm the 75-year old Karina is still svelte and her heart-shaped cheekbones still intact, although her voice is now a raspy croak – Karina has evidently smoked a lot of Gauloises (or Gitaines?) over the decades. She was endearingly dotty and eccentric – clearly still a mischievous free spirit and bohemian. It’s hard to believe Karina isn’t French (she’s Danish, born in 1940 in Copenhagen): her accent sounds impeccably French, her demeanour is so old-school Parisian and she’s the absolute mistress of the dismissive Gallic shrug.

And Karina did a lot of Gallic shrugging! There was definitely a language barrier. Karina’s answers would drift, dither and meander, sometimes missing the point.  After an audience member would ask a question, Karina would turn to the onstage interviewer with a quizzical expression. After a while Solomon exclaimed, “Don’t look at meI didn’t ask the question!” When someone asked what her strangest experience was working on a film, she snapped “Strange? What’s strange?” When people probed too deeply about Godard’s motivations and thought processes, she replied, exasperated, “I didn’t direct the film!” Asked whether it was provocative or scandalous to play a prostitute in 1962, she demurred, “Because I played a prostitute didn’t mean I was a prostitute!” (But Karina added the Parisian “working girls” she encountered on the street afterward would approach her and say they approved of her portrayal and found it truthful).

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute 16 January 2016

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute 16 January 2016

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute 16 January 2016

Anna Karina at The British Film Institute 16 January 2016

/ Above: some pretty grainy and pixellated shots of Karina onstage at The BFI with journalist Jason Solomons (Pal took them on his iPhone from the back row!) /

The questioners seemed fixated on Karina’s hairstyle and wardrobe in Vivre sa vie, which she accepted with good grace. Was the black bob inspired by Louise Brooks?  Karina revealed her hair in the film was actually a wig. It began as a very long wig and the stylist kept cutting it shorter and shorter. She didn’t know – maybe! People compared it to Louise Brooks afterwards. As for the clothes: they look astonishingly cool to modern eyes - that late fifties / early sixties period was the acme of style for both men and women (same era as the early seasons of TV's Mad Men).  The 22-year old Karina certainly looks sensational in her simple pencil skirts, ruffled blouses and cardigans – although she would have looked chic in a potato sack.

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One annoying question actually led to an interesting response. Weirdly, one woman asked Karina what young modern actresses she admired. (Did the questioner honestly think Karina was going to reply, “Jennifer Lawrence!”?) Karina seemed nonplussed, asked her to repeat the question and then confessed she has a hard time keeping track of new actors, there are so many. They don’t usually make an impression on her unless they’ve been around a few years and become established. Then somehow the subject changed to what actresses Karina admired when she was growing up and the answer was more illuminating: Judy Garland, Ava Gardner and Edith Piaf. In terms of warmth, radiance and the capacity for expressing both hurt and happiness, you can clearly see the influence of Garland and Piaf on Karina’s acting.

I learned afterwards of one fascinating movie factoid from one of Karina’s other onstage interview sessions for a different film at The BFI. (Karina was interviewed about three times at The BFI while she was in London). She was asked about Godard’s Le Mepris (1963), in which Karina herself does not appear. Instead, Brigitte Bardot gives one of her best performances in the role of Camille. Bardot was always Godard’s first choice – but according to Karina, the producers pressured Godard to consider another great European art cinema leading lady of the period – Italy’s tousle-haired blonde lioness and Michelangelo Antonioni's muse, Monica Vitti. I revere the gorgeous Vitti and she would have been great – but very different – as Camille. Godard met with her in Rome to discuss Le Mepris. Vitti arrived an hour late and reportedly stared out the window the whole time, indifferent. So the role went to Bardot instead and the rest is history. Interestingly, for segments of Le Mepris Bardot dons a short jet-black wig that recalls ... Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie!

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/ Brigitte Bardot in Le Mepris (1963) /

My highlights: Karina described how, when she first arrived in Paris as a 17-year old runaway, she was “discovered” in the cafe Les Deux Magots and snapped-up to be a fashion model. One day on a photo shoot she was telling the hair stylist or make-up artist she wanted to be an actress; an older woman with a big hat smoking a cigar overhead and inquired what Karina’s name was. When Karina replied “Hanne Karin Blarke Bayer”, the woman announced, “You should call yourself Anna Karina!” Afterwards Karina learned the mysterious older woman was – Coco Chanel! The final question of the night was: what was Karina’s mindset as a teenager, hitchhiking to Paris on her own, not speaking a word of French? Karina recalled how poor she was on arrival (she owned one pair of high heels and one black dress) and expressed astonishment at how brave and gutsy she’d been. (Karina admitted her motivation was to escape her unhappy home life with her mother and abusive stepfather). How lucky for generations of cinema goers Anna Karina that did flee to Paris when she did!

Further reading:

Anna Karina: Two or Three Things We Know About Her: You can watch videos of Karina's Q&A sessions at The BFI here

A sweet and very revealing interview with Karina in The Guardian

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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Dr Sketchy at Fontaine's DJ Set List 12 December 2015

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/ Stripper, Miss Sata Lyte, in her dressing room, 1962. Photo by Diane Arbus /

After an ultra-lengthy absence, Saturday 12 December 2015 found me back behind the DJ decks for Dr Sketchy. Checking my records, the last time I DJ’d at a Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School (“where life drawing meets cabaret”) was May 2014. Since then, Dr Sketchy has continued at various venues after the residency at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern ended but none of them had DJ’ing facilities so my services weren’t required.  Now it looks like Dr Sketchy has re-located to the bijou Mondo Tiki basement Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s in Dalston (hopefully permanently!) so happily I was back on board.

To paraphrase my patron saint Jayne Mansfield, it felt divoon to be DJ’ing at Dr Sketchy’s again. For one thing, I had accumulated a backlog of bump’n’grind tittyshaker stripper music I was dying to play and I finally had a context for it! The plush and intimate Polynesian surroundings of the Bamboo Lounge provided the ideal setting for Dr Sketchy. Intoxicated by Fontaine’s potent cocktails, the enthusiastic sold-out crowd were ripe for an afternoon of adult "blue" humour, anything-goes drawing, cheeky onstage virtual nudity and daytime drinking.

Best of all was the glittering line-up of talent on the bill. Effervescent mistress of the ukulele Tricity Vogue was the tightly-corseted, blue-wigged mistress of ceremonies. A real trooper, Tricity battled-on despite being struck down with a cold and laryngitis. She told me at one point she had two more gigs later that day where she had to sing.  With her hoarse and raspy croak of a voice, I helpfully proposed Tricity change her act into a tribute to Marianne Faithfull.  

The two featured models and performers for this Dr Sketchy were Marianne Cheesecake and Trixie Malicious.  Two equally great burlesque artists with completely different contrasting personas and approaches,  which inspired the music I played for their poses. I’d never had the pleasure of working with Trixie – aka The Blonde Who Really Does Have More Fun – before. She evokes platinum blonde 1950s rock’n’roll bad girls (think bullet bra'd Russ Meyer starlets or the vixens from sordid pulp novel front covers come to life). Tracks by sex bombs like Mamie Van Doren, Jayne Mansfield and Brigitte Bardot, The Cramps and the opening theme tune from Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! therefore felt obligatory.

Dr Sketchy veteran Marianne Cheesecake, meanwhile, conjures a classical 1920s or 30s Folies Bergère / Art Deco vibe (think Josephine Baker-meets-Anna May Wong). One of the advantages of DJ’ing at Dr Sketchy as opposed to, say, Lobotomy Room or Cockabilly is that I can drop the volume and play quiet, eerie, delicate songs and create a whole different ambiance.  For Marianne’s poses, I went for a ghostly spine-tingling David Lynch-ian feel: multiple versions of “Blue Velvet” and ghostly, heartbroken torch ballads by the likes of long-forgotten 1950s cool jazz chanteuse Linda Lawson and the Nico-like strains of San Francisco punk band The Nuns’ icy front-woman Jennifer Miro. When Trixie and Marianne posed ensemble at the end, I cranked-up Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It” (a Dr Sketchy staple) and Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” (it was, after all, the lead-up to Christmas and it occurred to me I hadn’t packed any campy festive tunes! Luckily that song was already on one of Eartha’s greatest hits compilations in my bag).

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/ Trixie Malicious and Marianne Cheesecake. Photo swiped from Facebook! /

Noteworthy date: 11 January 2016 represents the first anniversary of the death of the truly statuesque and Amazonian Swedish-Italian actress Anita Ekberg (29 September 1931 – 11 January 2015). In truth few of Ekberg’s 1950s Hollywood films are memorable (with the exception maybe of the lurid 1958 exploitation B-movie Screaming Mimi in which Ekberg plays a stripper menaced by a serial killer). Her appearance in Federico Fellini’s decadent masterpiece La Dolce Vita (1960), though – frolicking in Rome’s Trevi fountain - ensured Ekberg immortality.  I wonder if this revealing glamour shot squeaked past the Hollywood censors in the 1950s? (It's got to be said - those are great raspberries!).

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Love Song of the Nile - Korla Pandit
Wimoweh - Yma Sumac
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Quiet Village - Martin Denny
Monkey Bird - The Revels
La-bas c'est naturel - Serge Gainsbourg
Mau Mau - The Fabulous Wailers
Lust - Bas Sheva
Coconut Water - Robert Mitchum
Don' Wanna - Wanda Jackson
Go Calypso - Mamie Van Doren
Beatnik - The Champs
Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen
Vesuvius - The Revels
One Monkey Don't Stop No Show - Big Maybelle
Honey Rock - Barney Kessel
Tonight You Belong to Me - Patience and Prudence
Little Things Mean a Lot - Jayne Mansfield
Life is But a Dream - The Harptones
I Want Your Love - The Cruisers
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Bombora - The Original Surf-aris
Drive Daddy Drive - Little Sylvia
Sometimes I Wish I Had A Gun - Mink Stole
Tough Chick - The Rockbusters
Beat Girl - ZZ und der Maskers
What's Inside a Girl? The Cramps
Harley Davidson - Brigitte Bardot
It's a Gas - The Rumblers
Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The Bossweeds
Ooh! Look-a There Ain't She Pretty? Bill Haley and His Comets
The Girl Who Invented Rock'n'Roll - Mamie Van Doren
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia
Sheba - Johnny and The Hurricanes
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Sittin' in the Balcony - Masaaki Hirao
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
How Much Love Can One Heart Hold? Joe Perkins and The Rookies
Boss - The Rumblers
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Night Flight - The Viscounts
Hiasmina - Jean Seberg
Blue Velvet - Isabella Rossellini
Where Flamingos Fly - Linda Lawson
Lazy - The Nuns
Blue Velvet - Lana Del Rey
Perdita - Rubber City
I'm a Woman - Peggy Lee
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
Mack the Knife - Hildegard Knef
La Javanaise - Juliette Greco
Chattanooga Choo-Choo - Denise Darcel

Further reading:

The next Dr Sketchy at Fontaine's is likely to be circa Valentine's Day in February 2016. I'll post the details once they're confirmed.

Upcoming Lobotomy Room-related antics for your social calendar:

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Hey! Did you know about Fontaine’s free weekly film club? As winter draws in, how better to break the monotony on a Wednesday night than watch a free film, drink cocktails and eat canapés in the plush and intimate environs of Fontaine’s basement Bamboo Lounge? As host and DJ of the regular monthly Mondo Trasho punkabilly club night Lobotomy Room (last Friday of every month downstairs in the Bamboo Lounge!), I – Graham Russell - will occasionally crash the proceedings and screen a rancid film of my choice!

The featured presentation this (Wednesday 27 January) month will be the ultra-lurid 1964 juvenile delinquent exploitation psychodrama Kitten with a Whip (1964) – starring quintessential atomic-era sex kitten-gone-berserk Ann-Margret. This sleazy little black and white B-movie urgently poses the question: why do the sweetest kittens have the sharpest claws?  Fresh from cavorting with Elvis in Viva Las Vegas, red-headed vixen Ann-Margret plays a vicious teenage sociopath escaped from her high-security juvenile detention centre – who then takes hostage and torments straight-laced local politician John Forsythe in his palatial suburban dream house. (Yes – a cardigan-wearing and still dark-haired John Forsythe as in Dynasty’s silver fox Blake Carrington). From there, Ann-Margret’s gang of thug friends turn up – and things just get wilder!

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to catch this should-be cult classick and genuine curiosity: Kitten with a Whip is not available on DVD in this country and never crops up on TV. It’s got it all: a genuinely feral wild child performance from Ann-Margret at the height of her bad girl beauty, dramatic shadowy film noir photography, a finger- snapping Henry Mancini-style cool jazz score and cringe-worthy faux beatnik hepcat dialogue galore. (Samples: “Ooh! Everything’s so creamy! Kill me quick, I never had it so good!” “How come you think you’re such a smoky something when you’re so nothing painted blue?” “Now cool it, you creep, and co-exist!” “Hands off, buster! Don’t you ever bruise me ... God knows what I might do to you if you ever bruise me.”).

Perhaps the highest compliment of all? Kitten with a Whip is a sentimental favourite of John Waters’. (In 2011 he introduced a screening of it at Anthology Film Archives in New York).  He’s described it as “almost like a Russ Meyer movie, an early one, only without as much tits” and reminisced, “Divine and I saw this movie together, definitely. Several times, actually. And he loved it, too. It was very much a big influence on us. And in 1964, I was a senior in high school, so on LSD, so angry, so insane, and so it came at one of the most insane periods of my life as far as being a disturbed teenager. I mean, we wanted to be Ann-Margret! Divine was my Kitten with a Whip, in a weird way.”

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/ Look deep into my eyes ... you will come to the next Lobotomy Room ... /

Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when LOBOTOMY ROOM returns to the subterranean Bamboo Lounge of Art Deco vice palace Fontaine’s! Friday 29 January!

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 Cretin Hops! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs The Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell (of Dr. Sketchy London 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!

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!

Facebook events page

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

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Sunday, 27 December 2015

Beverley Hills John

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/ John Waters. Beverly Hills John, 2012. C-Print. 76,2 x 50,8 cm /

[Note: this article originally appeared on the Beige website beginning of July 2015]

Cinema’s trash maestro John Waters may not have directed a film since 2004, but if anything “the peoples’ pervert” is more venerated than ever. When A Dirty Shame (his last film to date) tanked, the durable Waters simply diversified, successfully re-inventing himself as an author, comedian, all-round pop culture “filth elder” (think gleefully corrupting sleazy uncle) – and visual artist.

Waters wrote about his passion for collecting modern art in his 2010 book Role Models. He’s also branched out into producing conceptual art himself. And in the kinky outsider art event of summer 2015, The Sprüth Magers gallery in Mayfair is presenting “Beverly Hills John” Waters’ first-ever exhibition in London (1 July – 15 August 2015).

The opening reception (or vernissage, if you prefer) was 30 June. As a lifelong Waters fanatic, needless to say my ass was there. To paraphrase a line from Serial Mom – I was so excited I could shit!

According to the press release, the exhibit promised “a fresh set of affectionate barbs about the movie biz. While he hasn’t lost his mordant wit or sense of mischief, “Beverly Hills John” finds Waters in a more reflective mood, asking the question: ‘Since celebrity is the only obscenity left in the art world, where do I fit in?’ He also hopes to resolve issues about childhood fame, false glamour, the horrors of nouveau-riche excess, his ongoing sexual attractions and the possible risk of ‘careericide’ with dignity.”

Inside Sprüth Magers, it was the hottest night of the summer thus far in more ways than one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a sneak preview of an art exhibit by cult cinema’s Pope of Trash lured every sexually ambivalent freak, punk and club kid in London. The gallery was packed and steamy. Adding to the buzz, Waters himself was holding court in person. Impeccably soigné in a Comme des Garcons jacket (or was it Dries van Noten?), Waters confidently circulated through the crowd, frequently stopping to graciously pose for photos with fans.

“Beverley Hills John” is saturated in macabre, sensational and perverse Hollywood Bablyon-style tabloid culture. The main gallery incorporates a section called “She Shoulda Said NO!” with cautionary portraits of glamour jungle casualties like Whitney Houston, Anna Nicole Smith, Amy Winehouse and Princess Diana. Waters includes among them doomed Country & Western chanteuse Patsy Cline, which felt odd since – unlike Houston, Smith and Winehouse – she died in a plane crash rather than of drug and alcohol abuse. (Perhaps Cline “shoulda said NO!” instead of boarding that plane?).

Waters offers two self-portraits: one of himself as a grotesque toupeed and Botoxed plastic surgery victim and one as an evil, grimacing dog catcher. (Sticking with the canine theme, perhaps the most disturbing and lingering image from the exhibit is what a “surgically-enhanced” Lassie would look like after a face lift).

In perhaps a sideways look at the concept of “gay respectability”, “Bill’s Stroller” is a toddler’s stroller fashioned out of studded black leather bondage straps, the fabric silkscreened with the names of hardcore gay sex clubs (Mineshaft, The Toilet, Blow Buddies) and spurting dicks. Know any expectant parents? It would make a great baby shower gift.

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/ John Waters. Bill’s Stroller, 2014. Umbrella lightweight stroller with silkscreened linen and spiked, leather belt. 99,1 x 35,6 x 66 cm /

Elsewhere, Waters’ twisted vision integrates the covers of pornographic vintage gay pulp novels (if any straight attendees were unfamiliar with the old-school gay expression “chicken”, they will be now), novelty chest wigs, crabs (as in: pubic lice) and anal fissures.

The exhibit concludes with the video installation Kiddie Flamingos, in which Waters directs a cast of children as they re-enact the script of Pink FlamingosIt’s disarmingly sweet to see the “filthiest people alive” re-interpreted by kids – especially the little girl channelling Edith Massey as the egg-obsessed “Mama Edie” with blacked-out teeth and a beehive wig. It must be said, the girl portraying Connie Marble in a flame-orange wig and cat’s eye glasses really nails the venom of Mink Stole’s performance.

The rancid preoccupations and sensibilities that aficionados treasure in Waters’ films like Female Trouble and Cry-baby are present in abundance in the exhibit. “Beverley Hills John” is a life-affirming jolt of vivid kitsch.

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/ John Waters. Justin’s Had Work, 2014. C-Print. 76,2 x 50,8 cm /

Further reading: I've blogged about John Waters - one of my key and most treasured inspirations - many times over the years. Read 'em all! My epic 2010 interview with Waters for Nude magazineWhen John Waters Met NicoA Reunion with the Prince of Puke Part 1 (2011)John Waters' Christmas Show at The Royal Festival Hall in 2011The Amy Grimehouse John Waters Filth Festival in 2014Reunion with the Prince of Puke Part 2 (2014)Reflections on John Waters' book Role Models. The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddamn One of Them) at The BFI. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Lobotomy Room 27 November 2015 at Fontaine's DJ Set List

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As threatened on the Facebook events page...

Witness forbidden voodoo rites and adult situations - at LOBOTOMY ROOM!

Yes! Leave all sense of shame and propriety at the door - when LOBOTOMY ROOM returns to its new home, the subterranean Bamboo Lounge of Art Deco vice palace Fontaine's! Friday 27 November!

At last - a club night for the hillbilly beau monde! LOBOTOMY ROOM! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! A spectacle of decadence for the permissive Continentally-minded! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted Tittyshakers! Punk Cretin Hops! 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 added vintage erotica projected on the wall for your adult viewing pleasure!

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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I won’t lie. It’s been an agonising, anxiety-ridden and bumpy recent few months characterised by unemployment woes. In fact I’ve been a full-on freaked-out casualty since summer 2015. In September I was made redundant at my then-current job in a painful re-structure. (I’d been there just under two years so – as human resources gleefully pointed out – I wasn’t eligible for any kind of redundancy package). I swung hard into frantically applying for jobs and liaising with recruitment agencies – and within a week of getting officially made redundant, had scored a new job! Phew! The new job initially felt like a godsend.  But by about the third or fourth week it quickly became apparent it was not a good fit. In fact I was filled with overwhelming anxiety and dread on a daily basis. By about the end of the second month, the worst case scenario happened: I was officially informed I hadn’t survived the six month probationary period and they wouldn’t be keeping me on. It was a pretty crushing blow to be plunged into unemployment and financial uncertainty again.

Since the end of November (in fact, within days of getting the news) I landed a temp job and I’ve been steadily temping since. This has been a positive development: it’s kept me afloat and helped me claw back some confidence. It’s also demonstrated that – much as I dislike the financial insecurity - I can survive by temping if absolutely necessary. On Monday 7 December I had a job interview for a new permanent role. By Wednesday 9 December the recruitment agent phoned to inform me I was successful. It looks like I’ll be starting the new job on 11 January 2016. It’ll be another six month probationary period and I’ve been burnt before – but it is reason to be optimistic.  Hopefully I’ll be back on track soon and the past few months will just be a blip in my life.

27 November represented the last Lobotomy Room of 2015. (Lobotomy Room is the last Friday of every month and the last Friday of December is 25 December –Santa Claus’ birthday!). Considering I’d been fired earlier that very week, my nerves were still well and truly shot. Necking beer and DJ’ing some angry punk and rockabilly tunes in the dimly-lit Bamboo Room certainly helped – it just needed more people in attendance! If there was ever a time to show me some support, this was it. Since re-locating Lobotomy Room to its new permanent home downstairs at Fontaine’s in summer 2015, I’ve lost every single regular I’d gradually built up over the years. It’s a kick in the teeth, but the Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s is the ideal home for my vision of Lobotomy Room. Hip boss lady Emerald Fontaine encourages me to crank-up my most putrid musical selections loud. It’s got Mondo Tiki Polynesian decor. It’s in Dalston (well, the bit that bleeds into Stoke Newington). And it’s got the most beautiful big movie screen (bordered by two silver-sprayed palm trees either side) for me to project grainy vintage erotica (of the boob-tastic Russ Meyer / Bettie Page-burlesk-Teaserama variety and the Athletic Model Guild baby-oiled guys-wrestling-in-posing-pouches beefcake homo porn – so something for everybody!). Difficult as it is, I’m gritting my teeth and soldiering on and just hoping there is some new hip Beat Generation out there hungry for kicks and ready to embrace what I’m laying down.  Anyway, later on, some loyal friends did turn up (and earned my eternal gratitude): Mal (fellow DJ and my partner in crime at Cockabilly) and Chris (potentially better known to some of you under his drag name – Baby Lame).

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/ Mal corrupting Pee-Wee Herman /

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/ Chris, Elizabeth and Richard /

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/ Fierce! Incandescent rhythm and blues queen Tina Turner in the seventies. Did anyone ever look better in zebra print? /

The night before Lobotomy Room Bold Soul Sister extraordinaire Tina Turner (born Anna Mae Bullock on 26 November 1939) turned 76. I venerate the iconic bewigged rhythm and blues tigress and Tina’s music (especially her sixties R&B material) is a perennial Lobotomy Room (and Cockabilly) staple. Needless to say I played some Ike’n’Tina, but also a track from Turner’s second solo album Acid Queen (1975) - her gender-fucked version of The Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb", to be precise. (Tina’s actual first solo album is the weird obscurity from 1974 Tina Turns The Country On! on which she tackles country and western music by the likes of Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. It’s never been issued on CD). The record was clearly meant to capitalise on Tina’s wild, hair-tossing appearance in the role of Acid Queen in the berserk 1975 Ken Russell film Tommy. It’s billed as a solo album but strictly speaking Tina was still with Ike and The Ike and Tina Turner Revue at the time (the turbulent royal couple of rhythm and blues broke up in 1976). Acid Queen sees Turner dabbling with white hard rock cover versions (she gives songs by The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin a sustained feline attack), anticipating the musical direction of her later much more commercially successful comeback career in the eighties. Acid Queen is no lost classic: it’s strange, patchy and not entirely successful. The production is frequently tacky (there are disco flourishes here and there) and Tina is backed by jaded generic seventies studio musicians. (Fun fact: one of the backing singers cooing behind Tina is Kim Carnes of “Bette Davis Eyes” infamy! Her raspy tones are instantly recognisable on certain tracks. Bring back the Ikettes, I say). Tina, though, is in ferocious voice, sounding exultant and liberated throughout Acid Queen. In fact she sings the hell out of it. All hail Tina Turner!

Meanwhile, Turner’s rhythm and blues contemporary the fabulous Little Richard turned 83 on 5 December. The Bronze Liberace, Georgia Peach and simultaneous King and Queen of Rock’n’Roll was born Richard Wayne Penniman on 5 December 1932. I revere Little Richard as the freakiest, queerest and most flamboyant of rock music’s early architects. Beloved by John Waters (the inspiration for Waters’ signature sleazy little pencil-line moustache), Richard’s essential masterpiece “The Girl Can’t Help It” manages to be synonymous with both Jayne Mansfield and Divine. Little Richard is now enjoying a hard-earned and hopefully serene retirement from performance but I managed to catch one of his last-ever gigs at Viva Las Vegas in 2013. It was a deeply odd but memorable experience. Read about it here.

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A few days later came the announcement of the death of underground actress, cabaret artiste, Warhol muse and transgender pioneer Holly Woodlawn (born Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl , 26 October 1946 - 6 December 2015) aged 69. In the late sixties Holly Woodlawn, along with Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis, was part of the trio of outrageous Andy Warhol Superstar drag queens who would inspire and get name-checked – and thus be immortalised - in Lou Reed's 1972 song “Walk on the Wild Side”. (Woodlawn outlived her friends Darling and Curtis by decades). The best way to honour Woodlawn’s memory is to watch her raw, vivacious and funny performance in the 1970 Paul Morrissey-directed film Trash. (I think you can find the whole film in its entirety on Youtube. Her Trash co-star Joe Dallesandro was by Woodlawn’s hospice bedside when she died). I only crossed paths with Woodlawn once, when she was in London in September 2007 to promote an exhibition of portraits painted of her by the artist Sadie Lee at The Drill Hall Theatre. (See photos from the day here). Author and raconteur Rupert Smith memorably interviewed Woodlawn onstage about her life and career. Physically she was already in failing health and virtually immobile, but Woodlawn gave a master class in charisma, wit and star power that afternoon. A mature, ravaged but resilient and still defiantly glamorous diva in a bouffant wig, she reminded me of a character out of a Pedro Almodovar film. When I was leaving I told her what a pleasure it had been to see her and Woodlawn vowed, “Oh, you haven't seen the last of me! I'll be back!" Sadly it wasn’t to be. Kudos in particular to Woodlawn’s long-time friend, New York’s earth mother / she-wolf of performance art Penny Arcade, who launched a spectacularly successful Gofundme campaign page that raised enough cash to ensure Holly’s final days were serene and dignified.

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/ One less Warhol Superstar: Farewell Holly Woodlawn /

In other news, I’ve branched out - last month saw the debut of my Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies film club.  Fontaine’s already has a free weekly film club in the Bamboo Lounge on Tuesday nights. I’ve muscled in on their action and once a month I crash the proceedings and screen a rancid film of my own selection. Like I asked on Facebook: as winter draws in, how better to break the monotony on a Tuesday night than watch a free film, drink cocktails and eat snacks in the plush and intimate environs of Fontaine’s basement Bamboo Lounge? My emphasis will be on cult, queer, obscure curiosities. So far I’ve shown two films: on 24 November I inaugurated things with Marlene Dietrich in Seven Sinners (1940). That was a fun film to screen at Fontaine’s:  most of the action in Seven Sinners takes place within a Polynesian-style bamboo Tiki nightclub – and people were watching it within the Polynesian-style bamboo Tiki surroundings of the Bamboo Lounge!  It was a buzz to see the dreamy soft-focus close-ups of Dietrich’s veiled face framed between the silver palm trees.

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/ Marlene Dietrich as good time girl nightclub chanteuse Bijou Blanche in Seven Sinners (1949) /

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies Film Club 24/11/15

/ Glamorous attendees of Seven Sinners night: Sarah and Abigail /

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies Film Club 24/11/15

/ Glamorous attendees of Seven Sinners night: Vera and Lauren /

On Tuesday 15 December I embraced the festive spirit with Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988), the campiest and kitschiest of TV specials. In it, that bow-tied perverse brat Pee-Wee Herman welcomes a glittering selection of special guest stars (including Grace Jones, Little Richard, Cher and Joan Rivers) to the Playhouse and learns the true meaning of Christmas in the process. Attendance figures have been on the low side so far, but here’s hoping Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies catches on.

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/ Grace Jones and Pee-Wee Herman in Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988). If you haven't already, read about my fleeting encounter with Grace Jones last month here /

I did have some depressing news to share: After thirteen years at 2 Hackney Road, earlier this month the truly great epicentre of East London gay bohemia (and home of Cockabilly) The George & Dragon in Shoreditch permanently padlocked its doors, another victim of soaring rents. But just as we were all mourning its demise, the management / brains behind The George & Dragon announced on Facebook this week they’ve been working hard behind the scenes and are opening a whole new venue – The Queen Adelaide further up on Hackney Road! This news counts as a genuine Christmas miracle. I still haven’t clapped eyes on the place, but it’s already my new favourite pub! Mal and I don’t know at this point whether Cockabilly will continue at The Queen Adelaide, but our fingers are crossed. (Read about The Queen Adelaide here). 

Finally, after a lengthy gap I’m back behind the decks at Dr Sketchy! The Anti-Art School (where life drawing meets cabaret) re-launched in the Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s on Saturday 12 December for a decadent afternoon of cocktails, art, burlesque - and me spinning tittyshakers and exotica. It looks like this will be a permanent new arrangement. A full Dr Sketchy scene report will follow separately! 

Sheba - Johnny and The Hurricanes
Night Scene - The Rumblers
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Beatnik - The Champs
Teardrops from My Eyes - Ruth Brown
Fever - Edith Massey
Eager Beaver Baby - Johnny Burnette
Drummin' Up A Storm - Sandy Nelson
Boots - Nero and The Gladiators
One Monkey Don't Stop No Show - Big Maybelle
Ain't That Good - George Kelly and Orchestra
I Wish I Were a Princess - Little Peggy March
Point of No Return - Gene McDaniels
Vesuvius - The Revels
Honey Rock - Barney Kessel
Rawhide - Link Wray
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Rock-A-Bop - Sparkle Moore
Booze Party - Three Aces and a Joker
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
Meu Bem Lollipop (My Boy Lollipop) - Wanderlea
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
Shanghaied - The Fabulous Wailers
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
Margaya - The Fender Four
It's A Gas - The Rumblers
I'm a Woman - Peggy Lee
Twist Talk - Jack Hammer
Viens danser le twist - Johnny Halliday
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Peter Gunn Locomotion - The Delmonas
Twistin' the Night Away - Divine
Big Girls Don't Cry - Edith Massey
Do You Remember Rock'n'Roll Radio? The Ramonetures
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Under My Thumb - Tina Turner
Gostaria de Saber (River Deep, Mountain High) - Wanderlea
Harley Davidson - Brigitte Bardot
Jukebox Baby - Alan Vega
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Cretin Hop - The Ramones
Let's Go, Baby - Billy Eldridge
Fools Rush In - Ricky Nelson
Don't Be Cruel - Bill Black Combo
Where's My Money? Willie Jones
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
I Can't Believe What You Say - Ike and Tina Turner
Your Phone's Off the Hook - The Ramonetures
Devil Doll - X
Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita
Aphrodisiac - Bow Wow Wow
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
How Much Love Can One Heart Hold? Joe Perkins and The Rookies
I Want Your Love - The Cruisers
You're the One for Me - Wanda Jackson
Twisting with Bad Boy Bubbles - Shuggie Smith and The Cajuns
Dance with Me, Henry - Ann-Margret
I Will Follow Him - Little Peggy March
Big Bad Boss Beat - The Teen Beats
Woo-Hoo - The Rock-A-Teens

Further reading: 

Did you know Lobotomy Room now has its own official Facebook page? Like and follow it if you dare!

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

If you don't already, follow me on tumblr here. Warning - NSFW to the max!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Grace in Your Face! Grace Jones in London

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/ "I was born … I came out of my mother feet first. I arrived kicking and pissed off, sticky with fury, soaked to the skin. I was what’s known as a stargazing fetus as well, my neck fully extended. From the very beginning I was going against the grain and making trouble.” Excerpt from I'll Never Write My Memoirs, 2015 /

“Late one night last week, after dreamily listening to the great Dinah Washington on my car radio, I was knocked out to hear the inimitable voice of Grace Jones come crackling out over a Caribbean/Mediterranean/Eurodisco beat I'd never heard before. It was "Pars," sung by Grace in moody French. .. Recorded in 1980, "Pars" still sounds utterly fresh.  What an extraordinary pop personality Grace Jones was! Oh, how I'd love to see that mannish battalion of glowering, stylish Jones clones in the "Demolition Man" video tread and trample on today's simpering crop of Zellwegger-Paltrow-Diaz-Flockhart wimpettes.... Amazing Grace, pagan diva!” Pop culture provocateur Camille Paglia writing in one of her columns in 1998.

So ... I had a fleeting encounter with post-punk freak diva extraordinaire Grace Jones recently! 

The Jamaica-born tigress was signing copies of her autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs at the big Piccadilly branch of Waterstone’s on 12 November. It was meant to start at 5 pm. I got there at 6 pm after work and was advised by a Waterstone’s employee Jones herself had just arrived – which counts as being early by Jones’ notorious standard. 

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/ Jones was on her best behavior in London.  For her book-signing session at Barnes & Noble in New York in October, she rocked-up two hours late - and flashed her "raspberry ripples" to the awaiting photographers /

As each of us in the queue gradually filtered into the room and caught our first glimpse of the Afro-Dietrich and panther-in-human-form seated at the table we all gave an involuntary gasp. Up close, the 60-something Jones (she’s vague about her precise age. She’s meant to be 67 in human years) is jaw-droppingly, eye-poppingly exquisite beyond belief and preternaturally ageless. She was wearing a skimpy, flesh-exposing black dress and a dramatic black 1920s flapper-style hat. Beautiful gleaming white teeth, chiselled bone structure worthy of Nefertiti and the most glowing unlined dark mocha skin (especially around the décolletage. Yeah, you better believe I checked it out). 

It was like an assembly line designed to move us past Jones with our signed copy of the book as fast as possible. She was surprisingly un-intimidating: Jones is famous for that haughty dominatrix-from-outer-space persona but in person she exudes warmth and was smiling the whole time. But what charisma: it’s probably the equivalent to meeting the likes of Marlene Dietrich or Josephine Baker in their prime. When it was my turn, I’m pretty sure she called me “darling” when she glanced up at me. I quickly asked her when her long-awaited new CD is due out and – straight from Jones’ mouth – was told spring or summer 2016. 

Sadly photography was strictly forbidden – and it was strictly enforced by security men dotted around the room. Everyone there was itching to get a shot of Grace and the guards were quick to pounce as soon as someone tried to aim their iPhone in her direction! The closest to a shot of Jones I could get was this when a striking hardcore male fan in immaculate Grace Jones drag rocked up to join the queue. Taking photos of him was permitted! In retrospect, I should have waited around to see Jones’ reaction when she came face-to-face with her adoring lookalike.

Grace Jones Lookalike

/ OK not a photo of Grace Jones - but a very close facsimile! Kalypso Bang at Grace Jones' book signing. 12 November 2015 at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstone's in London /

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/ Right! I subsequently learned the fan in Grace Jones drag is called Kalypso Bang. And I've shamelessly swiped this shot from his Facebook page! This happened after I split. I'm so glad they loosened the "no photos" rule so this meeting could be documented /

Some of my favourite excerpts from I'll Never Write My Memoirs:

“I met Marianne Faithfull that New Year’s Eve (1977). She once said she never hung out at Studio 54, that she didn’t have the clothes or the desire. She was definitely there, though, unless I’m making it up. Maybe it was the only time she went. I remember it well, because that was the moment she introduced me to Cocoa Puffs: marijuana cigarettes laced with cocaine. I would call them Mariannes, because she was the first person I smoked them with.” 

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/ This shot is from a few years after their Studio 54 encounter, when Jones and Faithfull were Island Records’ reigning bad girls / art-punk divas in the New Wave-era. I've loved the music of these two since I discovered them in my teens. I continue to listen to both Jones and Faithfull to this day /

"With Richard (Bernstein), I had played with the Marlene Dietrich imagery, my head on her body in the sailor suit. Jean-Paul (Goude) saw me as the black Dietrich. There was something about the idea of her he wanted to update ... I had a friend, Patrice Calmettes, who managed at (Parisian nightclub) Le Palace after Fabrice died. Patrice and I are very close, and he was close friends with Marlene Dietrich. When I was with him one night he put me on the phone.  I said “Hello” in my usual deep voice. And she said, “Well, you sound just like me.”  It was close to the end of her life and she had become a recluse – she didn’t leave her apartment or speak to many people. Patrice was one of those she still spoke to. Our conversation was very brief: “We have the same voice,” she purred. She wished me all the best."

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/ Jones channeling Dietrich /

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Further reading:

I blogged my account of seeing Jones perform at the Royal Albert Hall in 2010 here.

Check out my photos of Jones performing at The Roundhouse in Camden in 2009 here.