Drag yesterday, today and tomorrow
Hiyyeeeeeeee! I’m thrilled to be writing the first of my columns for Gaylife Manchester, and look forward to sharing my candid views, experiences and stories with you each issue, from the viewpoint of an international full time show queen.
If I had to choose another UK city other than London to live in it would have to be Manchester. This northern gem has such a vibrant gay scene, being one of the only remaining UK cities left with an actual strip of gay bars taking up a whole street. It’s a truly vibrant scene and one to watch. The proof was in the pudding when Ru Paul’s recent search for a UK ambassador had more Manchester based finalists featured and applying than any other city, including London.
Naturally, alongside any thriving LGBT scene a vibrant drag circuit has materialised. Not just in Canal Street either, the glitter has spilt across to many adjoining streets and created a true ‘village’. Across various venues you can catch your local regular queens working the boards most nights of the week or catch a visiting act who’s travelled in. Miss Thunderpussy is an act I love to see, her audience control and wicked warmth is a pure delight. Just down the road from Thunderpussy’s haunt ‘The Thomsons Arms’, is one of my favourite venues of all to play, the Eagle Manchester. Its cabaret loving crowd, non attitude vibe and hot staff make it a very enjoyable afternoon of fun known as Sunday Service that any gay man would thank God for. And confession is much needed task on Monday mornings!
Sunday’s for cabaret have really become a new trend across UK. Bye-bye weekend and Sunday roasts if drag is the line of work you want to do! Monday and Tuesday is now what I call the drag weekend. The glamour does not exist on these days, trust me!
Looking at the UK drag scene as a whole, it appeared drag took a real dip in trend in the 90’s and early 2000’s after its peak in the 1980s. Gay men seemed to be irritated by the art form and saw it as dated and uncool. As we move halfway into the second decade of this millennium, IT IS BACK, and back with a vengeance. A real resurgence has arrived with new styles, new faces, original characteristics and details never before seen. Bye-bye the conveyor belt drag look of feather boas and sequin frocks on mass, it’s glue gunned amazing creations, bespoke avant grade costumes and wigs and makeup from gorge to goth.
Love it or hate it, it cannot be denied, Ru Paul’s drag race has had a huge effect, if not created this resurgence. The programme has made many people, from all walks of life and way beyond the gay scene, discover drag or fall back in love with this amazing art form. This will continue to grow once it eventually lands a U.K. version. Fans of the show, some who have never seen drag before, follow queens and personas, tweet them, post them and quote their catch phrases to their friends, something they would never have done before.
A chance to catch as many of the acts altogether on one day has to be the UK pride season. You still haven’t missed all the big ones! Manchester pride looks like another amazing line up on the August bank holiday weekend! I’m so thrilled to be asked to open the main stage celebrations on the Friday and throughout the days you can catch my very own BGT judge Alesha Dixon and top of the bill Dannii Minogue to name a few.
Also a fabulous pride if you haven’t experienced it is Brighton Pride on the 1st August. This pride I always packed with amazing music, acts and fun atmosphere, one really not to miss.
There are now prides across the land in more towns than ever, and again with it drag is emerging in areas never before seen. Today anything goes, the gay scene has really transcended from the 80’s to now with its views on drag and its relation to it. The gay scene has evolved and drag has to change with it to survive.
Being ashamed or scared to be gay, or living through the times when it was illegal, threw the LGBT scene into secret bars and clubs down back streets. Drag queens stood tall as brave role models who stood out from the crowd with a message of acceptance, hope and a political voice.
Nowadays being gay is almost fashionably accepted, and gay bars have moved onto main high streets with open view windows and rainbow flags blowing proudly. The LGBT community stand proud within themselves, and as a mass support each other. Drag somehow became seen as a fluffy tag on extra, rather than seen as the pioneer of the struggle. To many gay men, drag remained in a time warp, losing its edge and purpose for a while, and became looked down on by its own community. A lot of gay guys still hate drag acts. A sentence in the stonewall riot days which would have been a shocking turn of phrase. Again being gay doesn’t mean you have to like drag, of course not. It just became clear that the gay audiences watching were embracing difference within themselves and creating their own sexy flamboyance, some dressing in expensive designer labels and drinking cocktails. In contrast the once jaw dropping costumes of acts became dated, tired and cliched and the gay scene and drag scene became somewhat separated. I feel now the LGBT scene has fallen back in love with its own communities art form because it’s now stepped up to the mark with a new look for today and a fresh image. Gay men once again appreciate the creativity and braveness this brings to the communities.
Venues such at the divine Eden bar in Birmingham who used to have the slogan “life’s not a drag at Eden” have switched their mind set, realising there are top quality acts from across the UK nowadays such as Mary Mac and Charlie Hides, who will diminish your preconception of what ‘drag’ can be, and business wise, pull in a good crowd!
Things are going to change and keep changing and that is so exciting. This year when I was organising the Drag Idol competition, the influx of new acts applying was so inspiring. People who have never performed in their life, where sending the most stunning fresh alter-ego entries in, and some as young as 17 were embracing this opportunity to explore the craft. The scouse, Manchester based winner Danny Beard shows how even a non-wig, bearded act can happily be accepted into the scene as “drag” without any question. Can today’s drag get any more liberal and embracing? Other acts which I think really help carve new paths for drag are people such as Myra Dubois with her sour face put downs and topical humour, quicker than any drag race star I’ve seen. The sophistication of Miss Hope Springs demonstrates real character, back story and class all wrapped up in live music, an act which I never tire from seeing.
For the last 2 years I’ve been sandwiched at 8.30pm every Sunday at the Two Brewers, Clapham, between Miss Jason and Sandra, and learnt so much! The way Miss Jason can find a comedy hook and roll with it for 20 minutes leaves me in awe. She’ll simply ask someone’s occupation, and even with the most mundane response, she’s off and rolling with material only she can come up with. Sandra for me is the queen of outside stage spaces such as street parties and prides. Act after act can go on the stage and get a good response, Sandra goes on and claims those days as hers, leaving the crowd buckled with laughter and tears of joy and horror of her no-boundaries delivery, a legend in the art of telling crude jokes.
At present for me the UK drag circuit feels like a champagne cork waiting to pop. Of course it’s not all about Ru Paul’s drag race, but the way that social media and celebrity culture dominant change and effect for us in today’s time, when Ru’s Drag race does come over here, things will change dramatically. For the better? Yes! It will bring acts out of the wood work across the UK. Some will stand the test of time others won’t. Some established acts will lose work, others will ride the wave and work more. Cabaret will be in demand, more venues will open and be forced to improve staging, lights, sound etc as the focus switches back to live performance and press media in their venues. It’s going to change and it’s exciting. Girls, start your engines!
Watch La Voix and her Va Va Voom Boys in Manchester over Pride Weekend on Friday evening at the main stage or catch her full show in Eagle Bar on Bloom Street from 3.30pm on the Sunday.