Kim Novak's Pussy: Kim Novak and Siamese companion in the 1958 film Bell, Book and Candle
For this Dr Sketchy, it was my first time back at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern in over a month. (The last time was 13 June 2012). The two guest performers / models were red-hot burlesque artistes on the ascent (and Dr Sketchy veterans) Slinky Sparkles and Choco Lat the Extraordinaire. Unfortunately, it was also a night of mondo technical glitches run amok!
Funnily enough, initially things were all smoothly functioning, organised and efficient. For once, I managed to sort out the stage lights myself, like a proper grown-up. The cordless microphone for the emcee was tested and ready to go. Choco Lat had arrived early, sound checked her CD and rehearsed one of her numbers (she did two). Then Slinky arrived and informed me the music for her number was on her iPod rather than burnt onto a CD. This always makes my heart sink: the scope for things going wrong when you’re grappling with someone’s unfamiliar iPod is high (my own iPod is the third generation shuffle – a completely different kettle of fish). And also, the volume on them is usually just never loud enough. Worryingly, when I tried to test the audio for Slinky’s iPod, I was getting no sound coming out of the decks at all. Eventually I called over The Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s manager and we both spent some sweaty, anxious moments trying to coax audio out of her iPod with no success. Finally, he had to call someone not on duty that night to work out what we were doing wrong! (Something to do with: the red light was on, when it should have been the green light. I must remember that!). When we finally got Slinky’s music resolved it felt like we'd averted a crisis. But there was more to come ...
(I’ve mentioned before that the decks at The RVT are the most complex of anywhere I’ve ever DJ’d. They really do look like the control panels of a helicopter and I have no idea what 60% of the buttons and knobs actually do. They’re really intended for dance DJs who beat mix, and obviously the venue is also used for full-scale performance art, cabaret and theatrical productions. My friend Christopher Raymond was there that night and he’d never been in the RVT's DJ booth before. Looking at the decks, he said they made him feel like Karen Black in Airport 1975 – the one where the she plays the hysterical, panic-stricken stewardess who has to land the plane herself when the pilot dies of a heart attack mid-flight).
Behind the scenes, there was another drama brewing that I wasn’t even aware of. Ophelia Bitz was scheduled to emcee that night, but texted Dr Sketchy promoter (the glamorous and unflappable Clare Marie) at the last minute to say she couldn’t make it – which left Clare frantically trying to find a speedy replacement! Luckily, burlesque starlet Hotcake Kitty (who I’ve worked with at Dr Sketchy once before) stepped in and saved the day. The show was running late while this was being sorted out, but eventually when things were ready I gave Clare the cordless microphone to pass backstage to Kitty so show-time could start. Clare returned asking, "What’s wrong? The mic’s not working!" So I had to call over the long-suffering RVT manager again while we desperately tried to work out why there was suddenly no audio coming out of the mic we’d already sound checked earlier (and simultaneously keep DJ’ing)! That felt like it took ages and we were contemplating a mic-free night when finally it started working. Who knows why? We never got to the bottom of what happened there.
Later on, Slinky was due to go straight into her burlesque performance right after the break. Clare was standing next to me in the DJ booth. I’d noticed earlier the little battery symbol on Slinky’s iPod was indicating the battery was low. By now, just before her act, it was virtually dead! Clare swung into action, stretching the break out longer while she located a charger and we re-charged it as best we could – we only needed it to spark to life long enough for Slinky’s number and not die midway through! Mercifully, it worked: Hotcake Kitty announced Slinky, I hit “Play”, the iPod worked, and her number was absolutely seamless. By then I pounded back several pints of beer just to get my blood pressure back to normal. I had some friends in attendance that night and they said afterward no one in the audience was aware of any technical hitches going down, which was a relief. It actually felt exciting to salvage the night from all these potential disasters – it got the adrenaline pumping and kept me on my toes. It was a triumph against adversity!
Musically, I began with some finger snapping noir-ish and art-y No Wave / post-punk skronk courtesy of Snatch (aka Patti Palladin and Judy Nylon), death kitten / harridan Lydia Lunch and Chet Baker of punk James Chance, eased into some exotica and then luxuriated in full-blown, greasy vintage sleaze for the rest of the night. For Slinky’s poses, I decided to go for a different approach rather than the usual grinding tittyshaking instrumentals. Slinky’s image recalls classic 1950s Hollywood blonde actresses like Marilyn Monroe – but also haunting and enigmatic "Lavender Blonde" Kim Novak. I tried to opt for eerie, delicate music that evoked the idea of the archetypal Alfred Hitchcock cool blonde: pristine and poised on the outside, roiling with neuroses on the inside. Think of ice maidens like Grace Kelly, or Tippi Hedren in The Birds and Marnie. Hell, January Jones as the frosty, troubled trophy wife Betty Draper in Mad Men qualifies as an honorary modern equivalent of a Hitchcock Blonde-type, as does Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour. And, towering above them all is the fragile and doomed Novak in Vertigo. The latter choice is actually quite timely: on 2 August, Vertigo was officially declared “the greatest film of all time” (usurping Citizen Kane) in a poll by The British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine. Anyway, the section of music between “Moon Mist” and Chet Baker’s “Petit Fleur” was for Slinky’s poses. Francoise Hardy (crooning in wispy German), Jennifer Miro of the Nuns, Marilyn Monroe and film noir siren- turned-chanteuse Lizabeth Scott represented the gloomy, conflicted voices in Slinky’s head.
Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958)
I’ve almost certainly mentioned this before, but having Clare Marie, Slinky, Choco Lat and I all assembled in one room is a bit of a mini-What Katie Did reunion. All three of us used to work at the deluxe faux-vintage lingerie emporium in Portobello when it first opened its doors in 2007. None of us work there now, but we were the original “dream team” in the early days. Clare used to be the manager, I was the semi-regular “Saturday Boy” and Slinky and Choco Lat were sales assistants.
The way we were! Photo taken at the in-store What Katie Did Christmas party in 2008. Left to right: me, Slinky Sparkles, Clare, Choco Lat and What Katie Did founder/ proprietor Katie Halford
Slinky and Choco Lat are consistently amazing performers. Sadly, I haven’t come across any photos taken on the night (if I find any I’ll add them later), but someone filmed a video of Choco Lat’s dazzling first number (a fan dance). If you watch carefully, you catch a glimpse of me tip toeing from the DJ booth to the men’s room during her act! (One of the advantages of DJ’ing at The RVT is that the men’s room is conveniently situated right next to the DJ booth!).
Shopping for Clothes - Snatch I Love How You ... Lydia Lunch Town without Pity - James Chance Simba - Les Baxter Virgenes del Sol - Yma Sumac Beauty is Only Skin Deep - Robert Mitchum Cocktails for Two - Cliff Duphiney Vesuvius - The Revels Madness - The Rhythm Rockers Don't Blame it On Me - Ike and Tina Turner Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies Baby Blues Rock - Carl Simpson Oo Ba La Baby - Mamie Van Doren Good and Bad - The Gauchos The Mexican - The Fentones Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades Elle est terrible - Johnny Hallyday When I Get Low I Get High - Florence Joelle Don't Be Cruel - Bill Black Combo Club Delight - Jack Jolly I Ain't in the Mood - Helen Humes This Thing Called Love - Esquerita Wiped Out - The Escorts Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit Scorpion - Jimmy McConville and The Shamrocks It Ain't to Play With - Sheryl Crowley and Lorenzo Holden's Orchestra Blockade - The Rumblers Fever - The Huntsmen Work Song - Nina Simone Strollin' After Dark - The Shades Miss Irene - Ginny Kennedy Beavershot - The Hollywood Hurricanes My Goodness - X Last Night - Lula Reed Night Walk - The Swingers Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks Kruschev Twist - Melvin Gayle Peter Gunn Locomotion - The Delmonas Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters Tall Cool One - The Wailers Run - Jeri Sothern Moon Mist - The Out Islanders Traume - Francoise Hardy Lazy - The Nuns Lazy - Marilyn Monroe Can't Get Out of This Mood - Lizabeth Scott Petit Fleur - Chet Baker Hand Clappin' Time - The Fabulous Raiders Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires Suey - Jayne Mansfield Don't You Feel My Leg - Blue Lu Barker C'est Si Bon - Eartha Kitt Shangri-La - Spikes Jones New Band The Good Life - Ann-Margret Boss - The Rumblers The Whip - The Frantics No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley Mighty Good Love - Big Maybelle The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard Chop Suey Rock'N'Roll - The Instrumentals The Bee - The Sentinels