The first Dr Sketchy of the New Year! This time it was upstairs at The Old Queen's Head in Angel. Annoyingly, I was bedevilled by technical hitches for the first hour or so: the sound was coming out muted no matter how loud I cranked up the volume on the decks, which is frustrating when you’re playing desperate 1950s rhythm and blues and grinding titty shakers that need to be LOUD! At one stage early on our glamorous burlesque performer Sophia St Villier stood in a corner under a speaker across the room to test the audio for me and came back to report “it’s one step above mood music!” Luckily one of the Old Queens Head employees figured out the problem (he just whacked everything up in another room where the controls are!) and the sound quality improved dramatically for the rest of the day. Loud and confrontational – that’s the way I like it!
As previously mentioned, the featured burlesque artiste was Rita Hayworth-style redhead Sophia St Villier, who was great as always. She performed a dazzling routine that ended with her drenching herself, the stage and probably the first row of the audience with silver glitter. The other model was Bomb Voyage, our versatile door girl who occasionally steps in to model. Bomb rocks a punkier look than the average Dr Sketchy model (skintight rubber leggings, tattoos) so if you notice the music turning a bit darker and more aggressive at some points, that’s probably while she was modelling!
Intoxica - The Revels Last Night - Lula Reed Loberta - Bobby Marchan & The Clowns Fool I Am - Pat Ferguson Strange Love - Slim Harpo Everywhere I Go - Ted Taylor Trashcan - Ken Williams Suey - Jayne Mansfield Don't Do It - April Stevens Tight Skirt, Tight Sweater - The Versatones I Was Born To Cry - Johnny Thunders Salamander - Mamie van Doren Boss - The Rumblers Little Ole Wine Drinker Me - Robert Mitchum St Louis Blues - Eartha Kitt Vesuvius - The Revels Baby Let Me Bang Your Box - The Bangers Don't Fuck Around with Love - The Blenders Jungle Walk - The Dyna-Sores Beat Girl - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack) Rockin' the Joint - Esquerita Yogi - Bill Black Combo Poontang - The Treniers I Need Your Lovin' - Don Gardner & DeeDee Ford Turquoise - Milt Buckner Mondo Moodo - The Earls of Suave I Feel So Mmmm - Diana Dors The Whip - The Frantics Fever - Richard Marino & His Orchestra Sweet Little Pussycat - Andre Williams 8 Ball - The Hustlers Blue Moon Baby - Dave "Diddle" Day Caravan - The Dell Trio The Swinger - Ann-Margret Black Tarantula - Jody Reynolds Cherry Wine - Little Esther One, Two, Let's Rock - Sugar Pie & Pee Wee Baby, I'm Doin' It - Annisteen Allen Rip It Up - Little Richard Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks Taki Rari - Yma Sumac If I Should Lose You - George Shearing Willow Weep for You - The Whistling Artistry of Muzzy Marcellino Strip-tease - Juliette Greco (Strip-tease soundtrack) Street Scene '58 - Lou Busch & His Orchestra Crazy Horse Swing - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack) Go Slow - Julie London Give Me Love - Lena Horne I Put A Spell on You - Nina Simone You're My Thrill - Dolores Gray Petite Fleur - Chet Baker I'm in the Mood for Love - Denise Darcel Love Me - Marlene Dietrich Sleep Walk - Henri Renee & His Orchestra Shangri-la - Spike Jones New Band Do It Again - April Stevens Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun - Mink Stole Love for Sale - Hildegard Knef The Whip - The Originals Gizmo - Jimmy Heap The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard Ain't That Lovin' You Baby - The Earls of Suave Begin the Beguine - Billy Fury Hound Dog - Little Esther Destination Moon - Dinah Washington
A while back I wrote about the doomed jazz vocalist Ann Richards. Another obscure singer I love to play at Dr Sketchy is Denise Darcel, the French actress and singer, whose story luckily isn’t quite so tragic. I discovered Darcel by accident because I wanted to track down Lizabeth Scott’s 1957 album Lizabeth.(The elusive Lizabeth Scott is my all-time favourite film noir actress and merits a whole blog entry of her own). It turned out that when Lizabeth was reissued on CD recently, it came as a package with Denise Darcel’s album Banned in Boston. Which was a real bonus, as Denise Darcel is a blast!
Born Denise Billecard in 1925 in Paris, after suffering a turbulent period during World War II (her father died when the Nazis occupied the family home) she won a beauty contest as a teenager that garnered her publicity as “The Most Beautiful Girl in Paris” and “The Most Photographed Girl in Paris”. Darcel parlayed this notoriety into a successful career as a Parisian nightclub chanteuse before heading to Hollywood in 1947 (with a quickly-dropped American husband in tow) to pursue international stardom. While Darcel’s leading men in Hollywood would include the likes of Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor and Glenn Ford, she never achieved A-list success and her filmography reads like a real mixed bag: a few Westerns, a Tarzan film (Tarzan and The Slave Girl, with Lex Barker in 1950), an Esther Williams musical (Dangerous When Wet in 1953).
Darcel, though, proved to be a pragmatic and durable tough cookie: when the acting stint in Hollywood fizzled out (her last film was the intriguingly-titled Seven Women from Hell in 1961), she returned to night club and cabaret singing. When singing, too, stopped being lucrative, Darcel – by then in her 40s – showed true grit by turning to stripping. (The attached photo of her as burlesque artiste was taken in 1967). “Zat is where ze money is,” she reportedly explained to a reporter.
Shake it! Denise Darcel in her striptease years
As a burlesque artist she performed in Las Vegas. When Darcel presumably became too old to strip, she eventually returned to Vegas and worked as a casino dealer. Darcel is now 86 and although in the few photos I’ve seen of her online she appears to be wheelchair-bound, she otherwise looks good. Someone should track Denise Darcel down and interview her before it’s too late: I bet she has a few stories to tell!
Her album Banned in Boston was recorded sometime in the 1950s (the details seem vague: The original release date is not even listed in the liner notes of the CD!) and heard today is incredibly enjoyable. It’s a risqué collection of sexy songs, heavy on the Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart, which in theory represents what Darcel’s nightclub act would have been like. On the comedic songs she works a thick French ‘Allo! ‘Allo! accent pitched somewhere between Pepe le Pew and a female Maurice Chevalier. On the more serious and sensual songs like “Love for Sale”, “I’m in the Mood for Love” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, Darcel emerges as a genuinely talented and emotive torch singer. All of the songs she delivers with real verve and individuality. The best track is the strangest: the album is predominantly tinkly cocktail lounge music, but it ends with a driving quasi-rockabilly rendition of “Chattanooga-Choo-Choo”, propelled by wonderfully sleazy blurting saxophone. Sounding like a French Marlene Dietrich, a pissed-off Darcel snarls the lyrics as if she’s simmering with anger. The results are strikingly weird – and sexy as hell. I have to admit I play this a lot, and people almost always ask, “What was that?” That was Denise Darcel!