Last night, I went to see 68-year-old Rod Stewart perform at the O2 Arena. Towards the end of the almost two-hour show, he sang a rousing version of Hot Legs and spent most of the song kicking footballs into the audience.
On the same day in 2001 – just ten days after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York – I went to Hoxton Hall, an 1863 Victorian music hall in London, to see something billed as The Wasted Talent Variety Show.
The show started unannounced with Johnny Dance, a formally-dressed man with a sharp (presumably fake) scar down his left cheek growling 1950s standards in a rough-edged, discordant voice. His version of Fever was strange and worrying. The backing tape slowly developed electronic, experimental sounds and the audience talked throughout. There were about 50 people downstairs, sitting at round, candle-lit tables plus about 20 in the upper tier of the thin rectangular music hall. Johnny Dance sang in darkness, lit only by a small white strip light attached to the microphone stand just below his chin.
Next to appear was performance art regular Andrew Bailey as his wordless character The Great Podomofski. He was dressed in a long black overcoat, black bowler hat and black (instead of red) clown’s nose and gave a fair approximation of an Australian Aboriginal sound by placing a glass tube containing first one then several white ping pong balls between his mouth and the microphone. As he blew and sucked, the balls moved and the tones changed. His other inventive triumph was to have a vacuum cleaner tube sticking upward blowing a pillar of air on which he balanced a ping pong ball. Using a small glove puppet, he then used the ping pong ball as a boxer’s punching bag.
Following that, Tony Green appeared as dead Victorian Sir Gideon Vein and performed real Victorian poetry in an intentionally OTT hammy way backed by a string quartet making abstract noises.
He was followed by real modern poet John Bentley who performed to a music backing tape. The room then began to fill up because the next performance was Arnold Frenzy’s Flea circus, an OTT tongue-in-cheek genuine flea circus backed by electric guitar and drums.
A man dressed like Mozart then appeared – The Amazing Tomasini – who sang castrato, then tore his costume off to reveal a bizarrely tattered red and pink costume which I think represented the inside of a human body. His obviously operatically-trained voice then alternated between castrato and deeply masculine.
This was followed by a very professional group called the Flea Pit Orchestra – a banjo-playing male singer, cello, double bass, drums and a violin played brilliantly by a Vietnamese girl in such a way that it made the basically pub-folk music sound rather Jewish. They described their music as “bar-room ballads and hard-edged skiffle, pubkadiddley Cockney-Weimar cabaret and chamber-pot music hall”.
A stripper then appeared – La Goulou – holding two giant white fan feathers. She performed her fan dance to taped music, her breasts occasionally visible, but never her groin. There was something odd about her spindly arms, shoulders and legs.
At this point, our host for the evening – wearing rubber gloves – carried onto the stage a large bird’s nest. La Goulou squatted by the nest, straining her face and body until an egg plopped out of her nether region. The host picked the egg up, put it in the nest and took it round the audience to show them.
“If it’s an egg its art,” our host told us. “If its a ping-pong ball it would be pornography.”
Rod Stewart and The Wasted Talent Variety Show.
Which was better?
You simply cannot compare them.
Both very entertaining in their own individual ways.
This probably says something about the validity of giving awards but, frankly, I don’t care.