The astonishing Tempest Storm (judging by her bouffant hairstyle, circa the early-1960s)
It’s fair to say everyone at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern was blown away by this Dr Sketchy's featured performer, chanteuse and comedienne Sabrina Chap visiting from New York. Accompanying herself on keyboard, Sabrina sang three twisted, scabrous and funny torch songs so filthy they shocked even me. Afterwards Sabrina also posed: at one point she came onstage with her hair in Lolita-esque pigtails (or “bunches” as Brits insist on calling them) and posed giving the audience the finger. I wish I’d had something more aggressive and confrontational cued up to match her punk-y pose (it was Lizabeth Scott's heartbroken version of the jazz standard “Can’t Get Out of This Mood”, with its great campy and dramatic spoken introduction. Our eternally soigné emcee Dusty Limits reassured me the contrast between the music and Sabrina’s pose worked in spite of itself!).
The other model was Dr Sketchy veteran Mam’zelle Celine with the Bardot-like waterfall of long blonde hair. At the end of the night, Sabrina and Celine posed together. For one pose, Sabrina bound a startled-looking Celine’s hands behind her back – it was like something out of a 1950s Bettie Page-Irving Klaw bondage photo session! When two females model together at Dr Sketchy, I often pull out a Marilyn Monroe-Jane Russell duet from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Considering Sabrina is brunette and Celine blonde, it seemed particularly apt.
Mam'zelle Celine and Sabrina Chap (well, Bettie Page and victim as photographed by Irving Klaw. You get the general idea).
I threaded a subtle gynaecological theme throughout the night: "My Pussy Belongs to Daddy", "Poon-tang", "Eager Beaver Baby", "Beaver Shot", etc. Classy, huh? Not sure if anyone noticed, but I found it amusing. On a more elegant note, I also gave things a bit of Continental je ne sais quoi by playing some songs by two great 1960s European pop divas: France’s Francoise Hardy (singing in German) and Italy’s Mina. Both songs are from arthouse cinema soundtracks. Hardy’s “Traume” (which means “Dream” in German) is from the deeply strange and kinky black tragicomedy Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000) by Francois Ozon (in a nice cross-European twist, it’s a film by a French director adapted for the screen from a play by a German (my hero the late, great maestro Rainer Werner Fassbinder) and the song is sung in German by a French chanteuse), while Mina’s “Un Anno D’Amore” (“A Year of Love”) is used in Pedro Almodovar’s High Heels (1991). “Traume” almost becomes a running joke in Burning Rocks: the film is set in the early 1970s (Hardy recorded “Traume” in 1970) and every time someone puts a record on the stereo, it always seems to be this. Listening to Hardy’s spellbinding performance of this sublimely morbid and tragic song, it’s easy to understand why she’s become a cult figure in even non-French speaking countries. Enigmatic, lush-lipped, ash blonde and fashion model beautiful, with a wispily alluring crystal tear drop voice awash in melancholy, Francoise Hardy is like a French equivalent of Nico or Marianne Faithfull without the troublesome heroin addiction.
France's exquisite Francoise Hardy singing "Traume" in German -- and channelling Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel with her top hat, cigarette and mesh stockings
“Un Anno D’Amore” is the perfect encapsulation of the artistry of Mina (aka the Tiger of Cremona). She specialises in lush, swirling ballads surging with tension and romantic agony: think of Dusty Springfield in “I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten” / “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” mode with added Italian passion. (Like Dusty, Mina had a penchant for thick black eyeliner and false eye lashes. Unlike Dusty, Mina took things a few steps further by entirely plucking-out her eyebrows for extra impact). Extremely dramatic and intense, “Un Anno D’Amore” is a slow-burning heartbreak ballad that begins measured and restrained and keeps building to crescendos of raw emotion until Mina is finally wailing the chorus; the piercing sadness of her astonishingly emotive voice creates an almost operatic sense of tragedy. Needless to say, Mina’s songs and persona are a natural fit for the films of Spain’s Pedro Almodovar. In one of High Heels’ most memorable segments, the drag queen Letal portrayed by Miguel Bose (son of beautiful Italian actress Lucia Bose – the Italian Ava Gardner, check her out in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1953 film Le Signora Senza Camelie – and Spanish bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin) lip-synchs to “Un Anno D’Amore” in his nightclub routine. In fact, it’s rumoured Almodovar’s next film is due to be a biopic of Mina. It sounds like a marriage made in heaven.
Italy's Mina in full cry. Goose bumps! (I actually prefer this version, but annoyingly the person who uploaded it on Youtube disabled embedding! Make sure to check it out).
Miguel Bose in High Heels (note: this version is "Un Ano de Amor", sung in Spanish instead of Italian. Drag-tastic!)
Love Me or Leave Me - Nina Simone Let's Get Lost - Chet Baker When I Get Low I Get High - Florence Joelle's Kiss of Fire One More Beer - The Earls of Suave Trash Can - Ken Williams Mi Palomita - Yma Sumac Mama, Looka Boo Boo - Robert Mitchum Go, Calypso! - Mamie Van Doren De Castrow - Jaybee Wasden St Louis Blues - Eartha Kitt The Whip - The Originals Follow the Leader - Wiley Terry Greasy Chicken - Andre Williams Baby I'm Doin' It - Annisteen Allen I Love the Life I Live - Esquerita Love Letters - Ike and Tina Turner Poon-tang - The Treniers Beaver Shot - The Periscopes Save It - Mel Robbins Elle est Terrible - Johnny Hallyday 8 Ball - The Hustlers Fever - Ann-Margret Anasthasia - Bill Smith Combo I'm a Bad, Bad Girl - Little Esther Drive-In - The Jaguars My Pussy Belongs to Daddy - Faye Richmonde Womp Womp - Freddy and The Heartaches Traume - Francoise Hardy Mondo Moodo - The Earls of Suave Un Anno D'Amore - Mina Harlem Nocturne - Martin Denny Caravan - The John Buzon Trio Jealousy - Billy Fury It's Legal - Shirley Anne Field (Beat Girl soundtrack) Yogi - The Bill Black Combo Fever - Nancy Sit Tall Cool One - The Wailers Teardrops from My Eyes - Ruth Brown You'd Better Stop - LaVerne Baker Shangri-La - Spike Jones New Band I Love How You ... Lydia Lunch Love - Eartha Kitt Look-a There, Ain't She Pretty - Bill Haley (Pink Flamingos soundtrack) Little Things Mean a Lot - Jayne Mansfield Can't Get Out of This Mood - Lizabeth Scott You're Crying - Dinah Washington Let There Be Love - Diana Dors Blockade - The Rumblers I Can't Give You Anything But Love - Marlene Dietrich L'appareil a sous - Brigitte Bardot Pauvre Lola - Serge Gainsbourg Just Two Little Girls from Littlerock - Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell Bikini with No Top on the Top - Mamie Van Doren and June Wilkinson The Whip - The Frantics Revellion - The Revels Bombie - Johnny Sharp and The Yellowjackets Eager Beaver Baby - Johnny Burnette All of Me - Mae West Daddy Daddy - Ruth Brown Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks Witchcraft - Elvis Presley
Kitsch icon Mamie Van Doren, Hollywood's Ultimate 1950s Bad Girl
This Saturday afternoon Dr Sketchy at The Old Queen’s Head in Angel featured Dr Sketchy veteran Marianne Cheesecake as the burlesque performer and model, Claire Benjamin in character as Freuda Kahlo as the emcee and Trixi Tassels on stage-managing duties. We also had comedian Jeff Leach as an unexpected bonus male model. He showed up with a camera crew to film him for an upcoming BBC Three documentary to be entitled Am I a Sex Addict? – and proceeded to pose stark, raving bollock naked, which really made an impression. Let’s just say he has porn star characteristics, and swiftly move on. (Having seen him pose at Dr Sketchy, I for one would personally be glad to help Jeff Leach in his research into determining whether he is indeed a sex addict. This was one of the Dr Sketchy’s where we really needed a photographer present!).
The vivacious Claire Benjamin always brings an element of genuine theatrical performance art to Dr Sketchy when she emcees – which keeps me on my toes and sometimes finds me wanting. She had three different pieces of music for me to play at specific times: introductory music to come onto the stage to, and backing tracks for the two songs she sang (one of them – her big finale – the Carmen Miranda standard “I Yi Yi Yi Yi Yi (Like You Very Much)”, for which she dons a plastic fruit-covered turban). I managed to get all three music cues wrong – without exception! Not some of my better moments. Hey, I was drinking lager all afternoon. Thankfully (and luckily for me) Claire is so smoothly professional (and so infinitely forgiving!) she just took it in her stride, and the audience seemed none the wiser. Yikes!
Like I said earlier – a shame we didn’t have a photographer at this Dr Sketchy. For one thing, Marianne Cheesecake’s costumes were dazzling. For her first pose she was styled as a 1920s flapper with a Louise Brooks pageboy wig. Later, for her performance she wore an astonishing Marie Antoinette get-up with a huge exploding black and white-streaked wig (think of a Cruella de Ville-Lily Munster-Bride of Frankenstein -Marge Simpson hybrid and you're on the right track) with a mask like a crystal chandelier hanging over her face. My description doesn't do it justice! It looked indredibly decadent and striking. I'll see if I can hustle some photos of Marianne in this costume (she showed me some on her phone, so they exist) and post them later, but in the meantime here is a tease-o-rama clip of Marianne Cheesecake paying tribute to the great Josephine Baker.
Spinning a few tracks by quintessential 1950s B-movie bad girl Mamie Van Doren always feels de rigeur when I DJ at Dr Sketchy. Van Doren was a voluptuous platinum blonde contemporary of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield in the 50s, but unlike them she never managed to graduate to big budget A-list films, instead finding her natural habitat in kitschy drive-in exploitation films (her irresistibly bad filmography includes the likes of The Girl in the Black Stockings (1957), Sex Kittens Go to College (1960), The Las Vegas Hillbillies (1966) and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1966)). Van Doren seemed to play teenage juvenile delinquents well into her twenties (in Girls Town (1959), even with her perky ponytail and tight Capri pants, the 28-year old Van Doren seems pretty overripe, fleshy and mature for a high school student).
Bullet-bra'd sweater girl Mamie Van Doren
In 1956 Van Doren’s rival Jayne Mansfield would appear alongside rockabilly legends Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran in The Girl Can’t Help It, the deluxe Mercedes Benz of rock’n’roll musicals (and a key film for John Waters). Van Doren herself would go one better: an interesting footnote to her career is that she can genuinely claim to be the first female Hollywood star to sing rock’n’roll onscreen. In Untamed Youth (1957) her songs were written by rockabilly legend Eddie Cochran (he plays guitar on them, too) – and they’re not half bad (although it’s been pointed out that it’s a crime against music that the doomed Cochran – who’d be dead by 1960 – was only permitted to perform one onscreen song in Untamed Youth, while Van Doren has four!). Van Doren’s musical output is compiled on the highly enjoyable CD The Girl Who Invented Rock’n’Roll. It’s campy as hell, undisputed Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson's reputation is secure, and for someone famous for her sensationally ample rack Van Doren’s singing is oddly flat, but Cochran’s tight, twangy songs pack a wallop, and Van Doren (in a punky display of enthusiasm over ability) delivers them with verve, conviction and a genuine feel for rock’n’roll . (Needless to say, I always play some of Van Doren’s 50s rockabilly songs when I DJ at Cockabilly, too). In High School Confidential (1958) – probably Van Doren’s best film – she doesn't sing, but it features an unhinged Jerry Lee Lewis pounding-out the title tune on his piano over the opening credits – a timeless rock’n’roll moment.
The trailer for Untamed Youth – the kind of lurid juvenile delinquent film that inspired John Waters’s Crybaby (1990). In the trailer you see snatches of Van Doren performing “Salamander” and “Go, Calypso!” – two tracks I play frequently at Dr Sketchy
Now a zaftig 80-year old, Van Doren remains an unrepentant scantily-clad and platinum-haired exhibitionist. Still a publicity-hungry starlet, she's active on the Hollywood social scene and parties at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion (Van Doren herself posed for Playboy in 1963). In 2006 she was photographed in a dual portrait with her spiritual heiress Pamela Anderson for Vanity Fair magazine. On her outrageous website sells autographed nipple prints (yes, she puts lipstick on her nipples, presses them onto paper and sells them) and cavorts for carefully-lit, heavily-retouched soft-core nudie photos and videos. In 1987 Van Doren unleashed her memoirs Playing the Field, in which she gleefully spills the beans about all the male Hollywood stars she slept with over the years and rates their sexual performances. (I haven’t read the book in well over twenty years, but I’ll never forget her describing dropping acid with Steve McQueen and having sex with him while tripping. Her prose turns psychedelic: “You you. Me me. I’m your dancing Mamie doll ...”).
She’s had a remarkable life; there’s a revealing interview with her on Salon.com from 2000 in which Van Doren holds forth on her life and career and emerges as an intelligent and sensitive woman. She recalls the sensual and cougar-ish older woman Marlene Dietrich giving her an appraising eye up and down backstage in 1957 (Van Doren didn’t realise at the time Dietrich was bisexual, otherwise she would have taken her up on the offer) and says the most meaningful work she ever did was long after her Hollywood career had fizzled out, risking her life to entertain American troops in war-torn Vietnam in the late 60s. “I have had more of a sex life than a love life,” she admits in the interview, “Love was secondary to me” and concludes, “My best asset is my brain. Without my brain, I don’t think the rest of me would be too hot.” Rock on, Mamie van Doren – the Jayne Mansfield who survived to see old age.
Singing in the shower: A clip of Van Doren in Girls Town (1959)which apparently got deleted from the final film for censorship reasons
D-Rail - The Flintones Mama Looka Boo Boo (Shut You Mouth - Go Away!) - Robert Mitchum Rolling Stone - Mamie van Doren Don't Be Cruel - Bill Black Combo Unchain My Heart - Florence Joelle's Kiss of Fire Oui je veux - Johnny Hallyday Sea of Love - The Earls of Suave Caterpillar Crawl - The Strangers Dance with Me Henry - Ann-Margret Kruschev Twist - Melvin Gayle Work with It - Que Martin I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - 5,6,7,8s Dragon Walk - The Noble Men Comin' Home, Baby - The Delmonas That's a Pretty Good Love - Big Maybelle Bacon Fat - Andre Williams This Thing Called Love - Esquerita Mambo Baby - Ruth Brown Cherry Pink - Bill Black Combo Vírgenes del Sol - Yma Sumac Je Me Donne A Qui Me Plait - Brigitte Bardot Some Small Chance - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack) Lullabye of Birdland - Eartha Kitt Crazy Horse Swing - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack) Do It Again - April Stevens You're My Thrill - Chet Baker (instrumental version) A Guy What Takes His Time - Marlene Dietrich Harlem Nocturne - The Viscounts Take it Off - The Genteels Tony's Got Hot Nuts - Faye Richmonde The Strip - The Upsetters The Whip - The Frantics Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires Revellion - The Revels Chattanooga Choo Choo - Denise Darcel The Beast - Milt Buckner Rockin' Bongos - Chaino Give Me Love - Lena Horne Sexe - Line Renaud The Good Life - Ann-Margret La Javanaise - Juliette Greco The Stripper - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack) Un Jour Comme Un Autre - Brigitte Bardot I Feel So Mmmm - Diana Dors Kiss - Marilyn Monroe Angel Face - Billy Fury Night Walk - The Swingers Black Coffee - Julie London Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun - Mink Stole The Bee - The Sentinels De Castrow - JayBee Wasden Bewildered - Shirley and Lee No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia Crawfish - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin Stop and Listen - Mickey and Ludella Suey - Jayne Mansfield Groovy - Groovey and The Groovers Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
I haven’t posted a tittyshaker video in a while. To remedy that, here is an eye-popping clip from the ultra-sleazy 1960 British sexploitation / juvenile delinquent flick Beat Girl (aka Wild for Kicks). I’ve posted before that its suave Cool Jazz-inflected John Barry soundtrack is an endless source of inspiration for my DJ’ing at Dr Sketchy. In this clip, jailbait teenage bad girl Gillian Hills (painstakingly styled to look exactly like Brigitte Bardot) has snuck into a Soho strip club and stares bug-eyed at exotic café con leche-skinned performer Pascaline’s burlesque routine – and who can blame her, when it mostly seems to consist of crotch-thrusting, floor-humping and ponytail twirling? (By the way: this nice piece of quasi-Mambo music that Pascaline dances to isn’t actually on the Beat Girl soundtrack – weird. Makes me wonder if this sequence was added after the film was completed to spice things up? We get glimpses of other striptease numbers in Beat Girl, but Pascaline's is by far the raunchiest.)
(I’m currently reading Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade by Justin Spring. The book is an eye-popping revelation, lifting the lid on the subterranean pre-Stonewall gay social history, and in particular the astonishing life of Samuel Steward (1909-1993) – who packed enough different identities and adventures for several life times. Read the NY Times review here for more juicy details. One of Steward’s most intriguing aliases was re-inventing himself as a tattooist in the 1950s called Phil Sparrow (who’d be a key mentor for godfathers of tattoo culture Ed Hardy and Cliff Raven. And it was Phil Sparrow who tattooed the word LUCIFER on Kenneth Anger's chest in the 1960s -- how cool is that?!). A connoisseur of firm male flesh, this is one of “Phil Sparrow”’s own photos of his handiwork adorning a sexy young sailor or juvenile delinquent. Get the book -- it has plenty more photos like this!)
Was this perhaps the best Cockabilly (London's only gay rockabilly night) ever? The crowd at The George and Dragon was buzzing, sexy, well-lubricated and bohemian. For once, most of my friends who said they were going to come actually turned up: Swedish Therese, Christopher and Paul from red-hot art punk band Matron, Jim (who turned up with his dog Daisy, who is now apparently part of my DJ’ing entourage. It’s certainly more fun when she’s there, and people invariably fall in love with her sweet demeanour and adorable face).
(For once I brought my camera and actually used it. Although I waited until so late in the night Therese, Jim and Daisy had already left).
Christopher and Paul from the band Matron
There were four DJ’s this time: Mal and Paul (the brains behind Cockabilly), myself and guest Emma La Wolf from Twat Boutique (who instantly dazzled me by playing the title track to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by the Bostweeds as her first song). I played a tight 45 minute set (and yet my friends still managed to sneak out for cigarette breaks outside while I was playing. Yeah, don’t think I didn’t see you. Couldn’t you have waited until I was finished?!). My set encompassed rockabilly (Charlie Feathers, Wanda Jackson), some punk (X, Sid Vicious), girl group, hillbilly (Hasil Adkins), sleazy grinding instrumentals (Link Wray, the Rumblers, The Revels) and a 1957 rock’n’roll number by Robert Mitchum (my all-time favourite actor). Playing some tracks from John Waters’s soundtracks (“Chicken Grabber” by the Nite Hawks and Queen of Rock'n'Roll Little Richard's “The Girl Can’t Help It” from Pink Flamingos, the title track by the Honey Sisters from Cry-baby) always seems de rigueur, because John Waters is the patron saint of Cockabilly, and from the DJ booth you can see a big framed poster of Divine.
Cockabilly's Mal Nicholson and Paul Dragoni
From there, things unravelled. I was pounding back pints of lager on an empty stomach (one of the perks of DJ’ing is free drinks. I’d be insane to turn them down. And they tasted sooo good!). While DJ’ing I accidentally dropped a CD and it fell down a crack in the DJ booth. Retrieving it involved writhing and squirming on the floor amongst the tangles of cables and generations of thick grungy dust bunnies – luckily I found it, though (it was Copycats, the 1988 album of retro duets by Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin. It’s one of my DJ’ing staples. No freakin’ way was I letting that go). It’s always swelteringly hot at the George and Dragon: in a sweaty and drunken stupor I removed and left behind a black Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender sweatshirt (that sweatshirt dates back to 2003! Technically that’s almost vintage – or at least well and truly irreplaceable. Fortunately it was found and kept for me behind the bar at the end of the night, and I was eventually re-united with it days later).
Then when I was meant to be leaving, I encountered my friend (and fellow Canadian ex-pat) Erika standing outside talking to this dreamy Brazilian “Boy from Ipanema”-type (tall and tan and young and handsome ...). She introduced me to him. I sure wish I’d met him several drinks earlier – I would have made a better impression, or at least a less swaying and slurring one. His name is lost in the mists of time, and I was wracking my brains trying to impress him with my very limited Portuguese vocabulary (it doesn’t extend much beyond asking “Tudo bem?” and ordering a Caipirinha). He definitely told me his last boyfriend was Canadian, and I said mine was Brazilian. From there somehow he was trying to give me his phone number. I have a flashback to him taking my phone out of my hand and typing his number into it -- but the next day when I scrolled through the names on my phone, there were no new or unfamiliar ones, and certainly no Brazilian-looking ones. Ah, well. Maybe he was shining me on? If it’s meant to be I’ll bump into him again. Anyway, the night was so fun it was worth the crippling hangover I had at work the whole next day.
Two shots of the insanely photogenic Erika
Deuces Wild - Link Wray
My Honey's Lovin' Arms - Robert Mitchum
Salamander - Mamie van Doren
Elle est terrible - Johnny Hallyday (French-ified version of Eddie Cochran's Somethin' Else)
C'mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Dancin' with Tears in My Eyes - X
Shake a Leg - Margaret Lewis
One Hand Loose - Charlie Feathers
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Vesuvius - The Revels
I Stubbed My Toe - Bryan "Legs" Walker
I Was Born to Cry - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin
Rock-A-Bop - Sparkle Moore
Boss - The Rumblers
Comin' Home - The Delmonas
Save It - Mel Robbins
Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby - The Earls of Suave
Funnel of Love - Wanda Jackson
Crybaby - The Honey Sisters
Hanky Panky - Rita Chao & The Quests
Chicken Walk - Hasil Adkins
Muleskinner Blues - The Fendermen
That's Why I'm Asking - Carl Dobkins Jr with Lew Douglas His Orchestra & Chorus
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
I referred to Pope of Trash John Waters earlier. Another beloved cinematic influence of mine is the twin brother outsider artists / filmmaking duo George and Mike Kuchar. In the 1960s, alongside contemporaries Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith and Andy Warhol, the Bronx-born Kuchar brothers were the demented and inspired borderline idiot-savants of American underground cinema. In labour of love no-budget masturpieces (sic) like Hold Me While I'm Naked and Sins of the Fleshapoids (which I have fond memories of seeing at the much-missed Scala cinema in the early 1990s), the Kuchar brothers revelled in a totally idiosyncratic and irresistible kitsch, queer sensibility that would have a huge impact on the oeuvre of their successor John Waters.
The Kuchar brothers initially made films together, and then independently. George Kuchar died 6 September 2011; Mike survives him. Watch Mike Kuchar’s torrid 1967 melodrama The Craven Sluck below. Seemingly channelling Jayne Mansfield, leading lady Florain Connors gives an anguished, hot pool-of-woman-need, cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof performance. The Craven Sluck has it all: raw emotion, infidelity, a suicide attempt, a dog taking a crap, a hideously unconvincing drag queen, flying saucers -- crammed into just under 21-minutes. Enjoy!