3. Will Young on the genius of Noel CowardI fi…

3. Will Young on the genius of Noel Coward

I find Noel Coward fascinating – particularly the notion of him as a celebrity and the extent to which that relates to our idea of celebrity now. It’s almost exactly the same. He set the standard for men’s style at the time – regardless of his sexuality. There’s a comparison with someone like David Beckham today, who has heralded this metrosexual age. Because Coward was so suave and sophisticated and slightly effeminate, that became the way that young men wanted to present themselves. It’s an astonishing level of influence for a gay man to enjoy, particularly given the fact that homosexuality was illegal at the time. And of course his relationship with fame underwent exactly that thing that every British celebrity goes through now. He was hugely popular and then hugely unpopular.

Next year I’m appearing in a production of The Vortex in Manchester. It’s a play that was rather punk rock for its day, dealing with the mass consumption of cocaine – again, you can draw parallels with the present day – and then he went on to this period of unparalleled theatrical success with Hay Fever and Private Lives where he’d have three shows running concurrently in the West End at any given time. He became so nationally loved and so popular that people had nowhere to go with him but to start hating him.

I was talking about this kind of nature of success with my boyfriend only the other day. It’s like what happened to David Gray. Massive. Then nowhere. But we live in a lot more fickle times now. If someone comes along and does David Gray in a better way than David Gray did it – like James Blunt did – then there is no need for David Gray any more.

What happened to Coward was the Sixties. When you have John Osborne with Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court I guess you don’t really need Noel Coward. There is something essentially repressed about Coward that fell out of favour. So he went to Vegas and did shows there and bought a house in Jamaica and … well, good on him! There is a great album called Noel Coward Live at the Sands, Las Vegas, with an iconic shot of him in the desert on the cover. I think the British saw it as a betrayal, that he was cashing in a bit on his success. But why not? England is so funny. In a way it was a double betrayal. It betrayed him so he betrayed it. And then he came back later and did a show at the Cafe de Paris with Marlene Dietrich, which must just have been the most amazing thing.

He knew everyone, of course. There are diary entries about him going to Chequers to visit Churchill and he was completely accepted by royalty and by politicians, people who were the society figures of the day. Politics and royalty were so much more glamorous then. There is a brilliant story of him taking tea at the Ritz during the Blitz. Bombs were going off around him and he said: ‘How marvellous that the band kept playing.’

He does get a lot of criticism for not being more open about his sexuality, but it’s all there. You could argue that he was bottling it by not being a bit more expressive, could have embraced it a little more – but you have to remember the times. And in a way his gayness did work against his classic English gentlemanliness.

The theatre and the music business were havens for people like Coward. It was one of the only places that you could have any sense of freedom about your sexuality, which follows through in the British arts right up until recently. And then you can trace it back to Oscar Wilde, who was vilified in something like the way George Michael is now. I’m sure Wilde would have been falling asleep at the wheel of his Mercedes if he was around now!

Coward’s music is so important too. Largely, it is very patriotic, like ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’. ‘London Pride’ is ever so ironic, if you think about it.

One of my favourite songs is ‘Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans’. Just the title. It is so camp. But isn’t that fantastic? Songs like that, and ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington’ are incredibly camp. But then the British do have a very long and enduring relationship with the idea of camp. They love it. And the reciprocal situation here is that entertainment becomes a safe house for camp people. They are incubated by it. The British have a huge tradition of comedians, singers, actors, performers and pop stars who are incredibly camp, whether they are Noel Coward or Freddie Mercury. And they are all loved for it. I guess in some ways Coward didn’t need to come out.

A lot of this helps to explain why I became a performer. I remember at school feeling this sense of difference, of otherness, that I think most gay people feel. You spend a lot more time observing things than necessarily participating in them and I think it gives you an eye for human behaviour that lends itself towards performance or some sort of social commentary, which Coward was fantastic at.

There’s a great line from Coward’s diaries: ‘All I ever had was the talent to amuse.’ I think that just about sums up the entire position of the gay relationship with entertainment. It is, quite literally, ‘let’s put on a show!’ It’s such a fantastic, resilient approach. Which is why I think, yes, being gay does still affect music.

· Will Young is appearing in The Vortex at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, from 17 January

4. The crooner
by Marc Almond

When Johnnie Ray sang ‘Cry’ for the first time in 1951, his eyes closed tight, melodramatically falling to his knees, pounding on the piano and shedding tears, I wasn’t yet born. Yet when I saw him for the first time in black and white in those lavender times, I recognised something that I felt in myself, igniting something as yet undefined to me. It was a secret I kept to myself.

The spirit of his highly emotive crooning permeated the times, paved the way for Joe Meek and his adored Heinz, for Larry Parnes (perhaps the man who really invented gay pop) and his stable of pretty proteges.

He influenced Elvis, and annoyed Sinatra. He broke down musical barriers and, particularly towards the end, became Judy in a suit – fate even brought them together in the spring of 1969 when he briefly toured with Garland. But for me, it was his handsomeness, his wide smile, the floppy Brylcreemed quiff and haunting voice that proved so heartbreaking.

Like all the great (gay) stars who found fame in less enlightened times, he exuded mystery, his sexuality blurred by marriage and ‘bearded’ denials. Even before his first record was released he had been arrested for importuning. In 1959, he was arrested on a charge of soliciting an undercover police officer: his career never recovered.

In performance, he theatrically caressed the microphone. He was immaculate yet dishevelled, bothered, edgy and uncomfortable as he drank and pill-popped his way to musical immortality, to the accolade of affection.

· Marc Almond’s next album, Dining with Panthers, is due out in 2008

Last weekend the Observer Guardian had an amazing …

Last weekend the Observer Guardian had an amazing series of articles on the relationship between Pop Music and the Gay World. I have always been fascinated by this fruitful (no pun intended) relationship. So I want to reprint some of the articles on the TamTam blog – with my illustrations or images to go with it.

This was an article titled “20 Most Fabulous,” and it’s a commentary by a group of fascinating gay music figures commenting on what they consider gay music icons. I found this on


Here it goes:

1. Blues stockings
by Tom Robinson

The term ‘racy’ derives from the phenomenon of ‘race’ records (marketed to black audiences) that blossomed with the birth of the blues in the 1920s. Classically, blues songs were about misery and deprivation, but human nature meant that songs with suggestive lyrics actually sold an awful lot better. In particular there were vivid expressions of female sexuality – as Sippie Wallace sang how she was ‘A Mighty Tight Woman’, and Maggie Jones wondered ‘Anybody Here Want to Try My Cabbage ?’

And blues singers didn’t just talk the talk. The bisexual Bessie Smith enjoyed nights in buffet flats – illegal drinking parties – which (we’re told) often involved gay and lesbian orgies. She sang about it too – in ‘Kitchen Man’ and ‘Young Women’s Blues’. In the code of the time, ‘sissy man’ or ‘freak’ denoted a gay man, while ‘BD’ (or bull-dyker) referred to a lesbian.

When Ma Rainey (the ‘Mother of the Blues’) was arrested for running an indecent party, it was Bessie who bailed her out – while Ma’s own ‘Prove it on Me Blues’ asserted: ‘I went out last night with a crowd of my friends/ They must’ve been women, ’cause I don’t like no men.’

· Tom Robinson presents The Tom Robinson show, Monday & Tuesday nights, BBC 6 Music

2. Men in skirts
by George Melly

Douglas Byng was a cabaret artist in the West End before the Second World War and was famous for his impersonations of women. His songs were full of innuendo – for instance, ‘I’m one of the Queens of England'(1930) – and he’s regarded as a pioneer of what we call ‘camp’ now.

There was widespread speculation about his private life, but among his immediate circle his homosexuality was common knowledge. He was a great friend of my mother’s and I admired him enormously. He was a very sophisticated comedian – he wrote all his own material – and seemed the personification of homosexual smut. He was hugely popular: he told me once that when he’d walk down Piccadilly, all the whores would shout out to him ‘Hello, Dougy, how did it go tonight?’

His boyfriends were always what we call rough trade. I went to his flat in Brighton when he was getting old and ill and cross, and one of these lads was lying on the sofa. Dougy said to me: ‘This is my nephew’ – he always introduced them as his nephew – and he then said to his ‘nephew’: ‘Get Mr Melly a sherry.’ The boy replied: ‘Get it your fucking self!’ Dougy just said: ‘Aren’t they so rude, young people?’

He ended up broke in an old people’s home for theatricals. But he had a huge influence on the gay edge of society and he paved the way for performers such as Danny La Rue and a whole generation of artists who built up a tolerance to campness, because in those days there were a lot of violent homophobes.

· George Melly is a writer and entertainer. He is performing at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, November 27-29

5. The Beatles Simon Napier-Bell on how the Fab F…

5. The Beatles
Simon Napier-Bell on how the Fab Five changed everything

Lemar, a British act, sings serious soul. As a result, he’s said to sound American. The Scissor Sisters, an American act, are outrageously camp. So everyone thinks they’re British.

There’s no doubt about it – just as American pop music is permeated through and through with black culture, so British pop music is permeated with gay culture. In Britain, the selling of pop was never only about catchy songs; it was about artifice and sexuality, which as often as not meant gay sexuality.

Ever since the Beatles, the imagery needed to make pop and rock stars click with the public has included aspects of gay culture. The more the public has seen of it, the more indifferent they have become to it. Robbie Williams will probably be the last pop star able to tease us with the ‘is-he-or-isn’t-he?’ theme, his provocation silenced by Will Young’s brilliance at persuading us that ‘gay is normal’.

Forty years ago that was the Beatles’ message too. John, Paul, George and Ringo – the most visible, most photographed, most talked-about four people the world had ever known – had a gay manager. And they took him everywhere with them.

Brian Epstein was known as the fifth Beatle. Travelling with his group, Epstein was seen endlessly on TV and in the papers, meeting world leaders and celebrities. Though London was swinging, being gay was still against the law. But with someone gay in such a super-privileged position, it just didn’t seem to matter. The Beatles’ popularity, coupled with their affection for their manager, made it a sure bet that Harold Wilson’s government would move forward on legalising homosexuality. Unintentionally, the Beatles were helping force the issue.

But there was more to it than that. Beatles music was played at every gay party, every gay disco, every gay bar and pub. While teenagers dreamed of being John, Paul, George or Ringo, business-minded gays saw another option – be a pop manager like Brian Epstein.

It worked. By 1966 the music business had become more gay than straight. The Beatles, the Yardbirds, and the Who had openly gay managers while the Rolling Stones had one who seemed to swing both ways. The backstage area of pop had become a haven for gays – songwriters, record producers, stylists and TV directors – but especially managers. Robert Stigwood managed the Bee Gees. Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley managed Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. Vic Billings managed Dusty Springfield.

The artists, though, were mainly not gay. Which is exactly what made it work so well. Straight kids who teamed up with gay managers found themselves liberated from their dull upbringing. Encouraged to be outrageous, they threw themselves into it with abandon. When Mick Jagger got himself arrested for pissing against a wall; when Rolls Royces were driven into swimming pools and hotel rooms smashed, you could be sure it was done with a wink and a nod from the manager. It was largely this subversive gay input into Sixties pop that converted it into the rock music that invaded American stadiums in the Seventies.

With glam rock, the influence of all this backstage gay banter began to show itself front of stage too. Among the new batch of stars were some who were gay and many who were ‘bi’, but apart from Bowie, most were too cautious to cross the line from visibly camp to actually homosexual. It was only in the Eighties that gay artists started rejecting the ambivalence that had been the operating norm for previous generations. Even so, while projecting themselves as totally gay they still dodged the subject of bedroom proclivities. It’s difficult to believe now, but in the Eighties Boy George and Marc Almond managed to keep the straight public guessing about their sexuality. It wasn’t so much about hiding it as keeping it under an alluring veil.

Now even that has been pushed aside. Will Young presents his homosexuality with no compromise and it matters very little. The accepted wisdom of the music business was that female fans would be turned off by a male star who was gay. Yet since screaming for sex with your pop idol is likely to be a hopeless fantasy anyway, it seems to make little difference.

But what would have happened 40 years ago if one of the Beatles had turned out to be gay? Or even just a tiny bit ‘bi’? In 1983, when my book You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me was first published, I received death threats from outraged Lennon fans for suggesting that he and Epstein once shared a kiss. By the time the book was republished in the Nineties this had been more than confirmed by several biographies (in fact, Lennon and Epstein had tried an experimental dirty weekend together in Spain), but no one seemed to care any more.

In the Sixties a tabloid report like that would have been the death of the Beatles. Nowadays it does little more than raise eyebrows.

What a wonderful change!

· Simon Napier-Bell is an author and was the manager of, among others, the Yardbirds, Wham! and Japan

6. The soul diva
David McAlmont pays homage to ‘Queen Beehive’

When Queen Victoria’s government tried to legislate against lesbianism, the Queen thought the idea ridiculous as she didn’t believe such a thing could possibly exist. It seems that Dusty Springfield was one of these non-existents. She won four NME awards during her own Sixties reign, and her sexuality was obvious to the gay crowd. I don’t know that it matters in the face of such awesome music but for those who believed that she might be, those who thought it obvious or those who were similarly inclined, it must have meant the earth when she let her sexuality slip to Evening Standard journalist Ray Connolly in 1970 (‘A lot of people say I’m bent, and I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve almost learned to accept it,’ she said. ‘I know I’m perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy’).

Personally, I love the album Dusty in Memphis – for its sexual frankness, the production values and the affected coquettishness of Dusty’s vocal performances. I also love ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’. Once heard never forgotten.

Nonetheless, my unassailable favourite song is ‘ What Have I Done to Deserve This?’, which she recorded with the Pet Shop Boys in 1987. I remember exactly where I was, what time of day it was and what I was wearing the first time I heard it: WHSmith in the Whitgift Centre in Croydon, buying a copy of Smash Hits. I still experience a palpable thrill whenever I hear the intro with those stabs of stately, classy brass, ushering in Neil Tennant’s laconic, pop-on-a-smoking-jacket drawl. He then steps aside for Queen Beehive to produce a profound interpretation of Allee Willis’s sugary chorus. The song reached number two in the charts in Britain and America and while Dusty owned the Sixties, here she was with us again before we finally lost her. I salute the Pet Shop Boys for remembering how much we all loved Dusty when so many of us had forgotten.

· David McAlmont is part of McAlmont and Butler with Bernard Butler. Their most recent release is the single ‘Speed’

7. ‘The seventies was a fantasy age – he was the u…

7. ‘The seventies was a fantasy age – he was the ultimate fantasy figure’
Boy George on his first sighting of David Bowie

The beginning for me was seeing David Bowie on the Old Grey Whistle Test singing ‘Starman’ in February 1972. I was 10. Of course, then I saw the Ziggy Stardust tour at the Lewisham Odeon in 1973 – the tour that ended with the last ever Ziggy concert. It was such a nightmare to get tickets for. My grandmother was staying with us and my gran and my dad were always at each other’s throats. They were locked in constant battle. My nan stopped me from trying to get tickets- ‘what do you want to go and see that poof for?’ – but because my dad wanted to upset my nan he got me one. I lived in Eltham and I only had the bus fare to get one way to Lewisham so I had to bunk my fare on the way back.

I knew I was gay by that time – I hadn’t had my first sexual experience, but it came not long after. Discovering Bowie and those first experiences totally connected. Just seeing this whole other world was enough to spark my interest.

I got my auntie Jan to give me a Ziggy haircut for the night, but it was a bit feeble. It looked more like [Slade’s] Dave Hill. I had a cheesecloth shirt that I’d borrowed off my brother and an embroidered jacket – a bit hippyish – and I remember getting to the gig and thinking I looked really sappy compared to all these other fantastic people.

Later, aged about 17, I was working as a messenger for a print firm in Hanover Square. I used to dress up and wear make-up – a bit punky. A very handsome, older, Italian man approached me one day. He said: ‘Are you a girl?’ and I said: ‘No’ and he said: ‘Well, what are you?’. ‘What do you mean, what am I?’ I said. ‘Well, I’m a boy.’ And he said: ‘Have you got a girlfriend?’ and I said: ‘No’ and he asked if he could come with me. I said: ‘I’m working!’ but he followed me anyway and the next thing was, he invited me to a party.

I went with him to somewhere in Queensway [west London] and the first person I saw at the party was the dancer and choreographer Lindsay Kemp, who I knew all about through Bowie because he’d influenced him hugely. The party was at a house that belonged to Anton Dolin, the great ballet dancer. It was all very snobby, but as soon as I saw Kemp I went over to speak to him and he took my hand, brought it up to his lips, and kissed every one of my fingers. I said: ‘Thank you’ and he said: ‘Ah, but the pleasure is all mine.’ It’s something that has never left me! And it was thanks to Bowie that that happened.

Rock’n’roll in its truest form is a fantasy realm where you can be whoever you want to be. It has no connection with the real world. Recently, there’s been all this obsession with ‘reality’ and I think it’s dragged music down with it to make it a lowest common denominator thing. But generally, certainly in the Seventies, music was fantasy – and Bowie was a fantasy figure. Bowie in Sainsbury’s just was not going to happen. You imagined him living off space-age food. He never got up in the morning to find he had ran out of milk. I used to think that he’d just sit around and be visited by other people from the rock world. Maybe someone from the Sweet would pop round with some cakes. It was this idea of a fantastic bohemian lifestyle that you wanted to engage with.

I thought it was very brave of him to say he was bisexual. I don’t actually think it matters whether he was telling the truth or not. Straight people have always made better homosexual pop stars. Certainly Bowie gave me the green light to start exploring my own sexuality.

· Boy George and Amanda Ghost’s new single, ‘Time Machine’, is out on 13 November on Plan A

8. ‘Glad to be gay articulated the desire for queer freedom’
Peter Tatchell on Tom Robinson’s anthem

Released in 1978, when homophobic persecution was actively promoted by church and state, ‘Glad to be Gay’ was the world’s first explicit gay pride pop song, sung by Tom Robinson, the world’s first out and political gay pop star. Almost instantly, it became the de facto queer national anthem.

The song hit me emotionally. It damned homophobia and articulated the cry for queer freedom. It was the musical equivalent of the Gay Liberation Front Manifesto – uplifting and empowering.

Tom’s lyrics savaged the bigotry of the police, church, judges and media. He also had the courage to take a dig at the internalised homophobia of self-hating, closeted queers – the enemy within. That was daring and ground-breaking too.

The repressive reaction to ‘Glad to be Gay’ helped highlight the homophobia Tom was singing against. His record company, EMI, was nervous about releasing a queer song as a single [it came out on the ‘Rising Free’ EP]. Many radio stations refused to play it. Gay was obscene, according to the BBC.

Homophobia has ebbed since 1978 and ‘Glad to be Gay’ helped make that possible. Thank you, Mr Robinson.

· Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner

9. The glam god Morrissey on the first major labe…

9. The glam god
Morrissey on the first major label gay star

I bought the first Jobriath album in 1974 at Rare Records in drizzle-fizzled Manchester. Neither for the ears of the elderly nor for those with middle-aged perspectives, Jobriath voiced the excess destitution of New York’s most tormentedly aware, whose lives were favoured by darkness. Cinematic themes of desperate dramas in paranoid shadows were presented as choppy and carnivalesque melodies.

The hairy beasts who wrote for the music press laughed Jobriath off the face of the planet. He was, at best, merely considered to be ‘insane’. It was clear that Jobriath was willing to go the gay distance, something that even the intelligentsia didn’t much care for. Elton John knew this in 1973; Jobriath didn’t. Surrounded on all sides by Journey, Styx, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Jobriath was at society’s mercy. Yet it could have worked so well.

Neither America nor England was quite ready. Thus, Jobriath quietly expired, buried without a single line of ceremony in any music publication throughout the world.

· Morrissey tours the UK in December

10. Girl about town
Erica Roberts considers Polly Perkins’s charms

Sporting collar, tie and pinstriped suits designed by John Stephen, Sixties and Seventies lesbian singer-cum-thespian Polly Perkins cut a dashingly gender-bending figure, and was frequently photographed smoking fat cigars. Aged just 15, she was the youngest performer to appear nude at the Windmill, and never hid the fact that she was a lady-lover – rare for any entertainer of the time.

Raised in a theatrical family, Polly sprinkled her speech with Polari and, although hit records eluded her, she racked up newspaper column inches because of her camp stunts. During her spell as the first compere on cult TV show Ready, Steady Go, Polly paid a young male ‘ex-lover’ to fling himself at her.

She became a much-loved figure in Soho clubs for her smoky rendition of Edith Piaf’s ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’ and her self-penned lesbian anthem ‘Superdyke’. In 1973, Decca released her album Liberated Woman. She now lives in relative obscurity in Spain with her girlfriend and her youngest son Timmy.

· Erica Roberts is a writer for DIVA magazine
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

Andy Warhol’s “Tarzan and Jane Regained . . . So…

Andy Warhol’s “Tarzan and Jane Regained . . . Sort Of “

Wallace Berman’s “Aleph”

With respect to my father’s exhibition (Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and his Circle) that is taking place at the Berkeley Museum, there will be some cool films along with the show. My father’s film “Aleph” will be shown as well as the rare Andy Warhol film starring the great Taylor Mead as well as my father and yours truly playing “Boy.” I know…. Don’t ask!

7:30 Beat Films
Hailed in its time as a harbinger of a new film movement that prized spontaneity and lived experience, Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s Pull My Daisy (1959) is perhaps the ultimate Beat film, narrated by Jack Kerouac and featuring Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky. Plus: Aleph (Wallace Berman, 1956-66); Breakaway (Bruce Conner, 1966); The End (Christopher Maclaine, 1953); A Movie (Bruce Conner, 1958).

2:00 Tarzan and Jane Regained . . . Sort Of
Andy Warhol (1963)
Wallace Berman, Taylor Mead, Claes Oldenburg, and other art stars appear in an Andy Warhol romp through 1963 L.A., including Berman’s backyard. With Lawrence Jordan’s Triptych in Four Parts (1958), featuring Berman, Michael McClure and John Reed.

PFA Theater: 2575 Bancroft Way at Bowditch, Berkeley, CA
Info: (510) 642-1124 Advance Tickets: (510) 642-5249

The songlist down below was presented to an audien…

The songlist down below was presented to an audience on October 29, 2006. I made 20 CD copies to give out to the audience for free. This of course was in conjunction with the Semina Culture exhibition that is taking place at the Berkeley Museum.

Lush Head Woman Jimmy Witherspoon & Wallace Berman
Bebop Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker
BeHop Wardell Gray
Yardbird Suite (-4) Charlie Parker
Night In Tunisia (-5) Charlie Parker
A Night In Tunisia Dexter Gordon
Cheers Charlie Parker
Cheers Wardell Gray
Hot House Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker
Hot House Wardell Gray
The Chase Wardell Gray

Vince Taylor was a strange boy. It is unli…

Vince Taylor was a strange boy. It is unlikely if you live in the United States that you have heard of his music. What’s remarkable about the man is not really the music, but more of his image that was thrown into the world of pop circ. Very early 60’s. It’s not enough to hear his recordings, but to see him live or better yet via photographs.

If you ever get a chance do see “J’irai cracher …

If you ever get a chance do see “J’irai cracher sur vos tombesâ€Â (I Spit on Your Graves). It’s a strange film. I have it on DVD, and it has no English subtitles, but I know the story. Like the book the drama takes place in the U.S., yet was filmed in France. And it looks like a European’s idea what a small U.S. town looks like.

My favorite scenes are the ones in the bookstore. I love the magazine display in the store. Also I like the thought that the killer works at a bookstore. I work at a bookstore and therefore I feel like I am in good company.

As one knows by now, Vian had to sneak into the preview of this film. At the time he was arguing with the filmmaker. Basically he hated it. He died during the screening.