Sunday, 20 October 2013

Cockabilly DJ Set List 9 October 2013

/ Nice 1950s beefcake "ass shot" of delectable young Tony Curtis /

Cockabilly (London’s only monthly gay rockabilly night!) triumphantly returned to its ideal venue / spiritual home The George and Dragon earlier this summer after a lengthy hiatus.  (Epicentre of East End bohemia George and Dragon is my favourite bar in London – close second is the nearby Joiners Arms). Happy times! It was great to guest DJ at the October 2013 Cockabilly. DJ’ing at one of these nights always feels like getting back to basics: it was at the earliest Cockabillies circa 2008 I gradually started easing myself into the dark art of DJ’ing. I've been addicted ever since! Cockabilly (and the two guys who organise it, Mal and Paul) will always have a place in my heart for setting me on my demented and inept path.

Having said that, the night was quite messy: 1) I got pretty drunk early on and 2) there was technical issues a go-go. The George and Dragon recently underwent some renovations and moved the DJ booth from its traditional corner by the bar to an upper mezzanine level. DJ’ing up there certainly feels glamorous and the view is great but ever since the relocation the audio has been weirdly muted. (I’d seen nightclubbing royalty Princess Julia DJ at The George and Dragon just before this Cockabilly and kept thinking, "Does she realise how quiet the volume is?"). This time Mal and I had the volume cranked up as high as it would go (it was jammed in the red!) and yet my friend Eric (seated with my friends Pal and Phil) was texting me from his table below, “Turn it up, grrrl!” It was really frustrating, playing some of my most rancid and blistering tunes and knowing it was muffled! Finally savvy Elma Wolf (of Twat Boutique notoriety), one of the night’s co-DJs, arrived and immediately declared she could barely hear what I was playing. She knelt down, fiddled with some secret dial I didn't even know was there, and instantly remedied the sound problem! Suddenly the music was blaring – loud, confrontational and obnoxious, just the way I like it! Which was a relief, but I was bummed out the entire first half of my set had been barely audible! Elma recommended I might as well play the same tracks all over again - no one would know the difference.  Aaack!

Cockabilly may be billed as a gay rockabilly night, but really the emphasis is on keeping things rowdy, good-natured and boozy rather than sticking to any particular genre. As per usual at Cockabilly, I whipped together a pagan, primitive and taboo tsunami of vintage musical sleaze: 1950s rock’n’roll, surf instrumentals, punk, kitsch-y weird shit, obscure cover versions and rhythm and blues (I played Ike and Tina Turner twice!). I'm always really critical looking back at my set list wondering, why the hell didn't I play this instead? (For example I'd packed Charlie Feathers, Hasil Adkins, Wanda Jackson, Esquerita - and didn't play a single track by any of 'em! Ah, well - next time). 

/ No one fused hardcore punk thrash and rockabilly quite like Los Angeles punk band X - one of my favourite groups of all time. Playing a track by them at  Cockabilly or Lobotomy Room is freaking essential /

In other news, I can now add “glamour model” to my CV. I had a “red hot camera session” with the insanely talented Adrian Lourie for Meat magazine the night before Cockabilly. How much did I take off? You’ll have to wait for the next issue (due end of November 2013) to find out. (Presuming I make the cut and am included!).  The photo shoot was a lot like this. I was channeling Jayne Mansfield the whole time, and sucking in my stomach so hard my eyes were popping out of my head.

Further reading:

Read about previous Cockabillies here, here, here, here and here.

Follow me on tumblr for loads of vintage kitsch, smut and homoerotica (NSFW to the max!)

Dragon Walk - The Noble Men
Little Queenie - The Bill Black Combo
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Welfare Cheese - Emanuel Lanskey
Batman Theme - Link Wray and His Ray Men
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
He's The One - Ike and Tina Turner
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
Whistle Bait - The Collins Kids
Rock Around the Clock - The Sex Pistols
Ring of Fire - The Earls of Suave
Margaya - The Fender Four
Big Bounce - Shirley Caddell
Year 1 - X
Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires
Breathless - Arlie Neaville
Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran
Chicken - The Cramps
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Woo-Hoo - The Rock-A-Teens
Roll with Me Henry - Etta James
Fools Rush In - Ricky Nelson
Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley
C'Mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Boss - The Rumblers
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Joey Arias: Once, Twice, Three Times A Motherfucking Lady in Satin

“The look is Jane Russell crossed with Morticia Addams, the sound is pure Billie Holiday ...” Time Out

In the 1950s Sarah Vaughan's admirers nicknamed her “The Divine One”. But she’s been dead for years – it’s surely overdue that the sublime Joey Arias inherit that title. A group of friends and I saw him perform at London’s Soho Theatre on 5 October. Arias is old school bohemian Mondo New York royalty, an ageless enigma, an alien, an apparition (he’s rumoured to be 64 in human years, not that you’d guess). He’s been performing and honing his night club act for over three decades, whipping together jazz and cabaret torch songs, performance art, drag and comedy (of the blue variety - Arias has the toilet mouth of a truck stop whore) into a purring consistency.  Mainly he evokes the essence of doomed jazz chanteuse Billie Holiday in a manner that’s simultaneously eerie, haunting, filthy and hilarious  ... while chewing gum and doing deep stripper squats, frequently stripped-down to nothing but fetish-y Bettie Page black lingerie.

I hadn't seen La Arias perform since 1996 – the memory of that was spine-tingling. It was at the tiny Freedom Theatre space in the basement of the Freedom bar on Wardour Street. In those days they regularly hosted outré avant garde performance stuff by the likes of Leigh Bowery (I also saw The Lady Bunny there). I was there with a female friend called Wendy. We were awe-struck by Arias. He opened with a wrenching version of Holiday’s “You've Changed.” His face was like a Kabuki mask; his sleek black patent leather hair was twisted into a Joan Crawford-in-Mildred Pierce 1940s pompadour. His stark monochromatic make-up made Arias look like an escapee from some 1940s black and white film noir B-movie. Later, Arias was prowling through the crowd singing, spotted Wendy, dramatically stopped and stared as if transfixed by her - and leaned down and kissed her on the lips (you know that scene in Morocco where Marlene Dietrich in full butch top-hat-and-tuxedo-male drag kisses a woman in the audience on the mouth? It was an exact re-enactment of that!). Post-kiss Wendy was blushing, flushed and dazzled – with a perfect jet black lip imprint smack on the side of her mouth!

Flash forward to present-day Soho Theatre: taking the stage in a sensational nude-look, tightly-corseted Thierry Mugler gown and backed by piano virtuoso Jeremy Brennan, Arias mixed jazz standards (“I Hear Music”, “All of Me”, “Them There Eyes”, “Why Don’t You Do Right?”) with a wild mix of rock and pop songs (imagine Billie Holiday tackling The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”, Led Zepplin, Cream and “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes). Cavorting in lingerie and stockings, a down-and-dirty Arias reveled in rancid behavior. Beckoning a boy from the front row onstage, Arias unbuttoned his jeans, shoved his microphone down the front of his boxers and proceeded to serenade his crotch. Then, for his encore Arias transformed into a tragedienne, singing two of Holiday’s most exquisite heartbreak ballads (“Don’t Explain” and “You've Changed”) back-to-back in a heart-tugging smoky-voiced rasp so beautifully awash with sadness and anguish it made my friend Alison cry – which then made me cry.

/ Two shots of Arias channeling Billie Holiday and casting a spell onstage, snatched by my friend Alison /

Onstage Arias suggests not just Lady Day, but a whole lost tradition of fierce, commanding divas of a certain vintage: think boozy Tallulah Bankhead or scary late-period, taut-faced Marlene Dietrich. I've seen the likes of Eartha Kitt and Juliette Greco perform – maybe it sounds perverse, but Arias is their post-punk equal in artistry and charisma.  When I got home I immediately put on Billie Holiday's 1958 masterpiece Lady in Satin and swooned.

/ My favourite shot of the night. I call it "Two Fierce Bitches": after the concert, I glanced up to see my friend Alison and Joey deep in conversation, hugging. I rummaged through Alison's handbag, found her digital camera and caught this historic encounter for posterity. I treasure this photo! /

/ Stunning portrait of Joey Arias backstage at The Soho Theatre on the final night of his residency by the ultra-talented photographer Adrian Lourie /

/ From the same session: another intimate backstage shot of Arias in his dressing room at The Soho Theatre, this time by the very talented Fannar Gudmundsson. The form-fitting black gown he’s slithering into was astonishing: you catch a glimpse of the architectural corsetry going on inside it here /