Sweater Girl: A sultry, hair-hopping young Violetta Villas working the projectile bullet bra look
The second Dr Sketchy of the New Year: It was great to be back at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern where the sound system is loud and powerful, and I’m finally getting to grips with setting up the decks myself and working the stage lights (seriously, all the buttons in the DJ booth looks like the control panels of a helicopter!). And I didn’t once turn on the dry ice machine by mistake this time, which definitely represents progress. The only screw-up was the wrong music got played for our burlesque performer Annette Betty’s performance. I was told to play track one and I did, but it turned out it was the wrong song (there was more than one song burnt onto the CD). Fortunately, Betty is such a consummate pro that when she realised it was the wrong music, she just did the routine meant for that song, it looked spectacular and no one was any the wiser!
Annette Betty's Showreel:
As per usual, the emphasis musically was on creating a vibe somewhere between desperate vintage sleaze and punk lounge. Midway along the set list you may you notice a glut of sex-wracked female singers like Sparkle Moore, Ann-Margret and Mamie van Doren wailing about how they’re desperate for a man/boy/daddy, etc -- that was background music for our male model Luke’s pose.
Beaver Shot - The Periscopes Baby, Scratch My Back - Slim Harpo Intoxica - The Centurions Bikini with No Top on the Top - Mamie van Doren & June Wilkinson Vesuvius - The Revels The Deacon Moves In - Little Esther The Whip - The Originals Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen Bewildered - Shirley & Lee My Daddy Rocks Me - Mae West Baby Come Back - Esquerita Where Yo Is? Fat Daddy Holmes Stop Talking, Start Walking - Annie Laurie Hot Licks - The Rendells Unitar Rock - Willie Joe & His Unitar Honky Tonk - The Bill Black Combo Harbour Lights - Dinah Washington A Cheat - The Earls of Suave Fever - Nancy Sit Mack the Knife - Ann-Margret Trash Can - Ken Williams Suey - Jayne Mansfield Blockade - The Rumblers Crawfish - Johnny Thunders & Patti Paladin Tall Cool One - The Wailers Dansero - The Don Baker Trio Tuxedo Junction - The Bill Black Combo Tico Tico Samba - Don Swan & His Orchestra Tiger - Sparkle Moore Big Man - Carl Matthews Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret Daddy Daddy - Ella Mae Morse I Need a Man - Barbara Pittman Oh Honey - Gloria Wood Seperate the Men from the Boys - Mamie van Doren I Want a Boy - Connie Russell Tony's Got Hot Nuts - Faye Richmonde Her Love Rubbed Off - Carl Perkins No Good Lover - Mickey & Sylvia Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks Boss - The Rumblers Champagne Taste - Eartha Kitt Lonely Hours - Sarah Vaughan Harlem Nocturne - Martin Denny Blondie's Strip - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack) Do It Again - April Stevens You're My Thrill - Chet Baker (instrumental) Love Me or Leave Me - Lena Horne Blues in My Heart - The John Buzon Trio The Flirt - Shirley & Lee Little Girl - John & Jackie Intoxica - The Revels That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield Don't You Feel My Leg - Blue Lu Barker Honey Rock - Barney Kessel Kiss - Marilyn Monroe Willow Weep for Me - The Whistling Artistry of Muzzy Marcellino A Guy Who Takes His Time - Marlene Dietrich Chattanooga Choo Choo - Denise Darcel The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard Torture Rock - Rockin' Belmarx
Astonishing Polish diva Violetta Villas
An artist who I didn’t play, but who’s become something of an obsession recently is the demented Polish diva Violetta Villas. I first read about her on the reliably excellent The Homoerratic Radio Show blog, was intrigued and did some Googling – and uncovered a treasure trove! Violetta Villas (nee Violetta Élise Cieślak, born 1938) is a real find and surely a cult figure (and kitsch gay icon?) in waiting. In the 1960s Villas was an international singing sensation, acted in Hollywood films and headlined at casinos like The Dunes in Las Vegas, where she did duets with the key superstars of the era: Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Barbra Streisand, Charles Aznavour, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eartha Kitt, Dean Martin. (Please God let there be footage somewhere of Villas and Kitt duetting!) But (outside of Poland) Villas seems almost completely forgotten today. Because of her astonishing operatic vocal range Villas is routinely and understandably described as the Polski Yma Sumac (she’s also been called "the singing toast of the continent", "a voice like French champagne” and my personal favorite, "the voice of the atomic age": Vallas certainly is explosive) – but that only hints at her strange allure. Judging by some of the clips on Youtube, Villas is a berserk outsider artist; a wild low-budget Eastern European hybrid of Jayne Mansfield/Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita / Brigitte Bardot / Charo; a punk (her image and un-hinged performances can suggest Nina Hagen or Jayne County); and a self-parodic possessor of a camp /kitsch drag queen sensibility (is it deliberate or naive? Certainly her persona evokes the films of the Kuchar brothers and John Waters. There’s something wonderfully grotesque about how Villas deliberately buries her own natural beauty under the matted bouffant wigs and thick transvestite/ clown-like make-up).
Violetta at her make-up table: "the natural look?" Bollocks to that!
This jaw-dropping video represents Violetta Villas (a vision in red chiffon) in full-throttle sex kitten mode. It’s from a 1971 Polish film called Dzieciol. The song she’s singing is “Oczy czarne”: I’ve been reliably informed it’s Russian, not Polish and it translates as something like “Black Eyes” or “Dark Eyes”.
Wait! It gets even better. I work with a Polish woman called Marta and she’s been filling me in on what Violetta Villas is up to today. It turns out Villas actually lives in Marta’s village! According to Marta, Villas lives in a mansion with a menagerie of something like 70 dogs and 40 cats. Villas seems to have taken Brigitte Bardot as a role model: certainly in her youth Villas obviously styled herself to look like Bardot (or a parody of Bardot?), and now she’s an animal rights activist, too. Marta is obviously based in London now but visits Poland frequently; she says she hasn’t seen Villas in several years but every time she does, even when Villas is just going out to buy groceries, she’s always the diva, dolled up with her signature thick showgirl false eye lashes and long tousled bouffant wigs (or extensions or weave, whatever she’s got going on up there: it doesn’t look organic to any human scalp). I imagine the 72-year old Villas now as an Eastern European hybrid of Baby Jane Hudson / Barbara Cartland / Zsa Zsa Gabor – which may sound cruel, but I mean it with affection. Like many a show business diva, apparently over the years Villas has had issues with drugs, alcohol and romantic and career disappointments. Let's hope she's found serenity back in Poland surrounded by her pets.
Viva, Violetta Villas!
Violetta Villas, perhaps after a few too many glasses of Polski Wodka?
To end with, a lovely softcore clip of burlesque legend Blaze Starr having a bubble bath. I love how she inspects herself in the mirror afterwards, and how straight out of the tub her cotton candy bouffant hair and thick make-up are immaculate .