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Monday, 19 December 2011

Red Blood Cell

The busy Christmas season continues, with my working life a healthy mix of (usually) soul-destroying office parties and lovely cabaret and burlesque shows full of friends. In the last week or so I think my battered show suitcase has visited pretty much every basement cabaret venue London has to offer - so much so that a couple of nights ago it gave up the ghost and died on me. I was on my way to a gig in Soho, and suddenly realised that the suitcase wasn't rolling along as smoothly as it should. I took a look over my shoulder to see a small trail of props behind me that has slipped out of the hole in the suitcase left by a wheel falling off. A line of cabaret performer breadcrumbs.

Maybe it's the holiday season, maybe it's that I have a week off coming up, or maybe it's the free drinks that I get at venues, but there have been a few moments of lump-in-the-throat beauty in the last few days of my working life. Elle Amour dancing in her own personal snowstorm (see picture above) can't fail to captivate. The delightful Lisa Lottie (picture hooping below) hanging from her hoop over the crowd in the most effortlessly elegant way at the Wam Bam club, slinking back to earth and leaving the stage, only to stop, turn back to the audience and flash them that million-watt grin. Spectacularly talented Arron Sparks finishing his bulletproof act by sending a yo-yo flying into the air, hitting a pirouette, and catching the yo-yo in his hat, exactly on the final beat of his music. How can you not love shit like that?

A couple of weeks ago I shot some promotional images for killer tap dancer Josephine Shaker. We spent a fun afternoon in my home away from home, the Bethnal Green WorkingMen's Club, a perfect location for the slightly faded cool variety feel we wanted. She was adamant that she didn't want any photos of herself actually dancing - "No jumping in the air shit" - so we concentrated on letting her look glamorous, seedy and vampy. Our favourite shot is below.

The best thing that happened to me in the last few days though, by a mile, happened in a felafel shop on Charing Cross Road. Gaby's Deli has been serving incredible salt beef sandwiches, felafel and the best hot greasy potato latkas you'll ever taste in the same location just opposite Leicester Square since 1965. When I was a street performer it was a regular hangout. I had one of the first dates with the woman who became my wife there. It's one of those important London places. And unless we do something about it, it's going to vanish on May 1st next year. The current plan to for the landlords to evict Gaby and his wonderful staff and redevelop the property for a chain restaurant. This, obviously, must be stopped. Quickly, a "Save Gaby's" campaign was launched, and I got involved. One of the ways they've been publicising the situation is by having shows take place in Gaby's, so that's why, last Friday, you would have seen me host a pop-up cabaret show to a packed house of happy giggling felafel fans. It was wonderful. Magician Christian Lee and musical comedian Loretta Maine answered my call and helped out, and we had a brilliant time.

From a personal perspective, it was something special. Gaby's Deli has been part of pretty much every year of my adult life, and if it goes, I'll always walk past the the place it used to stand with a tear in my eye. From a commerce oriented perspective, evicting Gaby is a ridiculous thing to do. Here's a small, profitable family owned business with stunning customer satisfaction that is being bulldozed to make way for...well, for what? We're in a recession - virtually all chain restaurants are downsizing, not expanding. Nobody has come forward saying that they'd be interested in taking over the space. It's spectacular bollocks.

I left Gaby's that night full of love. And felafel. I get sappy when I talk about London. I'm not often patriotic - that way awfulness lies, all to often, I think. But I am a Londoner. Born here. Work here. Lived here all my life. Have a zillion sense memories of this town. Can't walk around without triggering geographic memory flashbacks. I left Gaby's to warm handshakes, walked across to Soho and into Madame Jojos, where the doormen greeted me with equally warm handshakes and jokes. And I felt like a cog in the machine of London. A red blood cell flowing around in the veins of my city. A tiny tiny part of something I adore. And it felt good.

If you want to help save Gabys - and all it will take is enough pressure on the Marquess of Salisbury, so it's doable - then there is a website here with all the information you need. Be a mensch and do a good thing.

And, y'know, happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, whatever. Every so often I meet someone I don't know, and they mention that they read my blog, and it blows my fucking mind royally. So really, really thank you. Have a lovely holiday. x

Monday, 5 December 2011

More letters home from the light entertainment trenches

I've been performing at the City branch of the Proud burlesque empire on and off for most of this year, both as part of the Decades show, and in their burlesque and cabaret bills, but last week saw my debut at their Camden venue. Loved it. As you might expect, the audience is a little more savvy and hipstery than their City equivalents, which means you get more attention and less grey suits. There is also a Piranha fish in the dressing room. A real Piranha fish. In a big round tank. Apparently there were three, but one of them went a bit mental and ate the other two, and is now lonely. I will draw no parallels to the competitive life of a cabaret performer.

Brilliant bills at Proud this week, including the awesome Ophelia Bitz, Kiki Kaboom, Annette Bette and Jonathan Finch. All great. If you any of 'em on a bill, you'll be in for quite the time.

This week also saw me make the journey up to Sheffield, to do two nights of Steve Faulkner's Magic Show. I shot some promo images of Steve a while ago, one of which you can see above. I don't, in fact, do magic - but nobody seemed to mind. Steve is an old friend, and ex-street performing colleague, as was everyone on the bill. It was a lovely chance to catch up with Steve, brilliant magician (and the only person to have won both the Magic circle stage magician of the year, and closeup magician of the year) Peter Wardell, and the hilarious Noel Britten. I first met Noel about 25 years ago, for about 5 minutes at - fittingly - the London Palladium, and although we work in very similar circles, we seem to have managed to avoid each other since then. Was great to finally get to hang out with him and watch him work. Both nights the room was completely sold out and packed to the rafters with lovely people.

There's a lot said about the death of variety, and if you read this blog regularly, then you'll know that variety is far from dead - it just moved to a bunch of different venues. Variety never went away, and in the last few years it's started getting much, much stronger. And shows like Steve's are why. Good mid-sized shows that have a sell-out audience of massively up for it people, have atmosphere dripping off the walls, and talent kicking off the stage. There's shows like this is most cities, and a bunch of 'em in London, and they should be supported. At the Edinburgh festival this past August, there was a Cabaret symposium. It seemed a little self-congratulatory for me, but towards the end my friend Tricity Vogue said something that has stuck with me. She said "In the past, people have believed that television was the privileged position for a performer, but now, people are slowly realising that an intimate room full of people who want to see you is the true privileged place". She ain't wrong. 

I got a new pair of tap shoes last week. My mum taught me a few tap steps when I was a kid, and ever since I've picked up enough steps from other performers, and made up a few of my own, that I can tap dance. Not well, but enough to say I can. I haven't actually owned a pair of tap shoes for a couple of decades, but recently backstage at a gig, Laurie Hagen - no slouch dance-wise herself, told me that I couldn't call myself a vaudevillian without having a pair of taps, and she was right, so I placed an order that night. They arrived in the morning, and I was doing a show with Laurie that night, so she told me to bring them. In the interval we put on our taps, and started trading moves backstage. It was great. I could still do it. So as we're dancing at each other, giggling, a couple of audience members find their way backstage, lost, probably looking for the toilet. Out of the corner of my eye, I see them stop, realise where they are, and watch us dance of a few moments. And I see it through their eyes. A perfect glimpse behind the curtain of a cabaret show, to see a singer and a juggler having a dance off while a bunch of burlesquers watch. I see them grin, watch for a little while, and then shuffle back out to the auditorium, taking their little secret memory with them. How great.