Sydney Drag Shows: THEM in A Fantasy Fable


“In the flower there was a fairy…and the fairy said…three wishes! Mother got a pool. Daddy got a horse. And I got a dress.”

THEM…in A Fantasy Fable, December 4, 1986 at the Newtown Hotel. (THEM – Terror, Horror, Excitement, Mystery – were (in this incarnation) Jay Jay Bailey, Robyn Lee and Tallulah Bright). This video is the first part of the show.

I think A Fantasy Fable might have been a bit too “out there” for most Thursday late-night-shopping punters at the Newtown. I remember quite a mixed crowd reaction to it at the time. A really bizarre mix of song choices and storyline from Jay Jay. Her creativity and wild thinking is quite apparent in this show. And trying to fit all this mayhem on the tiny, tiny Newtown stage was quite a challenge!

By this time I was working behind the scenes as a dresser for THEM. The day of the opening I was helping the girls out with last minute costume preparations by applying feathers to various costumes. Looking back through my old photos I’ve realised the reason I don’t have any of “A Fantasy Fable” is because I was working on the show at the time! Pity.

Jay Jay used two songs from Klaus Sperber, better known as Klaus Nomi, a German countertenor noted for his wide vocal range and an unusual, otherworldly stage persona.

Nomi was known for his bizarrely visionary theatrical live performances, heavy make-up, unusual costumes, and a highly stylized signature hairdo which flaunted a receding hairline. His songs were equally unusual, ranging from synthesizer-laden interpretations of classical music opera to covers of 1960s pop standards like Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and Lou Christie’s “Lightnin’ Strikes”.

Jay Jay had previously used Klaus’ version of “Falling In Love Again” in an earlier THEM show, “Twisted”.

Two songs from Sid & Marty Kroft’s classic “PufnStuf – The Movie” (1970) were also used – “Different” and “Zap The World”.

A Fantasy Fable featured “Craving For That Kind of Love” which went on to become somewhat of a signature tune/triumph for Tallulah. Interestingly, she didn’t like the song when she first heard it and Jay Jay had to insist that she do it in the show. Her faux-strip tease to the song instantly became a crowd favourite.

A Fantasy Fable is also notable as it was the last show that Tallulah was part of as THEM. Tallulah resigned to move on to other shows and was replaced by Ginger Benson.

Gay Flash Mob on Bondi Beach

There’s a new Gay Flash Mob video out that happened at Sydney Harbour this weekend. It’s okay but it reminded me of the absolute classic Bondi Beach Flash Mob video with Joyce Mange. Now that was a classic and a total shock for the other beach goers last year!

And the one from this weekend with battling Lady GaGa groups…

Maggie Burns & Co – Patchs, Sydney – 1985

These are the last two songs from Maggie Burns & Company’s “Games” which was performed at Patchs, Oxford Street, Sydney for several months in 1985. Generally at 2am! And I should know – I was there for quite a few of those performances.

Home video cameras were new and expensive and a then friend of mine had one and was happy to film the show for me. He did a bloody good job considering he’d never seen it before. The cast were a little nervous as it was the first time they’d been filmed. A couple of years later it become commonplace for fans and friends to film just about every drag show around Sydney.

I tried something different with this video. It’s in supposed HD. This meant it took about four hours to upload to Youtube.   I think I’ll go back to normal quality for any future uploads!

Oh, a side note…I still have a pair of the sunglasses used at the beginning of “Coming Out of Hiding.” Well, they’re a piece of history, aren’t they? This all happened 25 years ago and at least one of the cast is no longer with us.

The end of the video – the talk spot – goes on for a minute or so longer but Youtube has a maximum clip time of 10 minutes so I had to cut it early.

27 years later…..

I first saw this song performed by a drag queen in a (now long defunct) pub in Surry Hills, Sydney. It was 1982. It stuck with me for years and years and I’ve previously never been able to find it anywhere. Couldn’t find who the artist was or anything about the song. People thought I was making it up when I’d tell them about a song called ‘If You Don’t Wanna f**k me baby, then baby f**k off!’

But I knew I hadn’t imagined it and tonight, thanks to the wonder of the internet, I finally found it. I’ve cut about 2/3rds of the song together with some pictures of the artist Jayne County. Jayne has the complete song (in much better quality) on her MySpace page. Jaybe also has an official site at: http://www.jaynecounty.com/

So here it is, finally, after 27 years. I think my holy grail quest for drag songs is now complete!

THEM in Carnival Knowledge

After working from home on Friday, I wasn’t about to put my glad-rags on and venture out into the night. I had another look at some of the video tapes I’d uncovered recently, particularly those that had the 80s drag shows on them that I was such a huge fan of back then.

While I’ve been surprised at what I discovered, I’m also surprised at the stuff I don’t have on video. Somewhere out there a video tape exists of me on stage as a ‘male nurse’ pushing a wheelchair around in a Skye Brooks & Co show at the Imperial Hotel. I was actually working behind the scenes as the dresser but, as this part of the show required six people and there were only five in the show, I was made to do it.

During my time behind the scenes with Skye Brooks & Co., I also appeared in a cameo as the ‘Elephant Man’ every Friday and Saturday night for many months. And also as a ‘penis puppet’ that sang or mimed to ‘You Keep Me hanging On’ by Kim Wilde. Luckily the puppet got axed after two weeks because it was very uncomfortable to put this thing on my arm and crouch under a wooden bench to do it.

Anyway, none of that is directly about the clips I worked on until 3am on Friday night. I decided to be a tad more experimental with Windows Movie Maker and see if I could get an entire show ready for Youtube. I came across a tape that had a show on it I didn’t realise I had on tape. It was a second generation version but the vision still looked okay.

After doing all the importing and converting, I had to break it up into three parts because Youtube ideally only likes clips to be a maximum of 10 minutes. The show was called ‘Carnival Knowledge’ and it is the most popular that THEM (JayJay, Robyn & Tallulah) ever did during their time together. It is from 1986.

The success of the show surprised everyone but especially ‘THEM’. The budget for the show’s costumes was $800 (their next show it would rise to $1300) and they didn’t think it was anything super-special when they were creating it. But it took off with the audience at the Newtown Hotel and really led to them doing more shows in other venues around town.

The show has been divided into 3 separate clips to meet Youtube requirements. This is the first part…

I’m in the audience, right down at the very front of the stage – you can see the back of a skinny guy in a white tshirt bopping around and shaking his body to the music of the show – I really used to get into the shows back then.

I was with my current squeeze at the time. He was a terrific guy and this was one relationship that I ended stupidly. Still obsessed with the previous one, the evil ‘Mildred’ (nicknamed after Bette Davis’ character in ‘Of Human Bondage’), I didn’t focus on what I had right in front of my eyes. But I suppose there’s a zillion people around the world with stories like that, aren’t there…

Here’s the second clip with the middle part of ‘Carnival Knowledge’…I love the camp little singalong bit to ‘A Sunny Disposish’. There’s heaps of props in this show which are a real pain when you’ve got this tiny, tiny stage to work on. You can also see the shadows of buses going past the Newtown during the show at certain times. The stage was more like a tiny runway than an actual stage. Placing and quickly grabbing props was a pain. (As I found out later when I became ‘dresser’ for the show).

You might have noticed the crazinessamongst the cast with all their touching each other and so on…it was because they had (as they put it) ‘a visit from a friend from Nimbin’. Which translates to ‘they’d been smoking pot before the show.’ So they were all in a rather ‘elevated’ and silly mood, as it were. 😉

In the third and final clip, they do this fabulous thing which I haven’t seen done in Sydney drag since. At the end of the finale – ‘Carnival’ – JayJay put in a couple of minutes of instrumental music during which time they could introduce each other, do the adverts for the pub for the next week and so on. And after the two minutes, the music for ‘Carnival’ began again and they reprised part of the finale and left the stage. It was a fabulous idea. There’s even a slight ‘cue’ to each of them that their time is up – the volume of the music rises slightly. But they never heard it and would have ignored it anyway. Drag queens love a microphone!

On the night this was filmed, they had plenty of time to say what they wanted and even spare time at the end. But it wasn’t always like that. During most performances they actually ran out of time – JayJay would be nattering away on the microphone and suddenly ‘Carnival’ would start again and she’d have to drop the microphone and get back into the choreography for the song. On a really bad night, they wouldn’t even get to pass the mic around to each of the girls before the time ran out. For an audience, this was hilarious. The ‘regulars’ like myself use to watch every week to see if they were going to make it or not.

Remember, this was all on an old fashioned audio cassette – no digital state of the art equipment or CD…just a plain old c60 cassette. I fthere was a problem all you could do was hit ‘stop’ and rewind!

The humble audio cassette...mainstay of drag shows in Sydney for many years

The humble audio cassette...mainstay of drag shows in Sydney for many years

So there you go, JayJay Bailey, Robyn Lee and Tallulah Bright…THEM…at their peak in ‘Carnival Knowledge’. The show was orginally going to be called ‘Burlesque, Not Theatre’ but JayJay thought it might be a little too obscure for the punters!

It’s amazing how much little trivia has come back in to my mind tonight as I’ve written this: it was 23 years ago. Half a lifetime away for me. But there’s so many stored memories and incidents in my head that it only takes something like this to bring them spilling out. I was out seeing shows like this – or helping behind the scenes in them – for 4 -5 nights a week for years in the 80s. And holding down a full time job as well. Where the hell did I get all that energy from? It sure ain’t here anymore….I need a lie down just thinking about it!

Sydney drag in the 80s: Maggie Burns & Co. / THEM

I’ve been experimenting with transferring some VHS video taken of fabulous drag shows I went to in the 80s to my PC and then ultimately to Youtube. This is a regular and normal thing for many people but for someone like JudgeG who has little patience and tends to punch the screen a lot, it can be quite frustrating.

I’ve picked out three clips to upload. If you were there in the 80s in Oxford Street and Newtown, this will be wonderful nostalgia for you. We’re talking over 20 years ago here! I had my favourite drag ‘troupes’ that I would follow. Sometimes I’d go and see them 4 or 5 nights a week. I’d follow THEM, for example, from Balmain to Chippendale to Newtown to Oxford Street. And often it was on school (work) nights.

In this first clip, you’ll see the opening of possibly my favourite drag show ever – ‘Games’. It was the best show ever put on by the legenday Maggie Burns (now retired in Adelaide) & Co ever put on at Patchs. It’s also a special memory for me because it reminds me of the disastrous off again/on again relationship I was having at the time. We both loved the show and bought all the records featured in it.

Next up is the finale of a show by ‘THEM’. THEM stands for Terror, Horror, Excitement and Mystery. The name was based on a 50s movie – or the trailer for it anyway. Interestingly with THEM, sometime after this footage was shot, I ended up working behind the scenes for them as their stage manager at the Newtown Hotel. Had you visited the Newtown Hotel on Thursday night when this show was playing and I was working, just before the start of this song, you would have seen Tallulah (who comes on last in this clip) having her clothes ripped off by me at the edge of the stage (no time to get to the dressing room due to the quick change) and then me helping her to quickly put on her finale costume and shoving a tissue down her cleavage!

I worked for several shows in that capacity in the 80s. Skye Brooks & Co, At Home with Rose & Tallulah and I was Production Co-ordinator for Dot & Fanny’s Tonight Show. But maybe I’ll tell you more about all of that another time.

Anyway, here is ‘Primitive Desire’, the finale of THEM’s ‘Twisted’ show. Filmed at the Newtown Hotel..

Finally, I’ve chosen a ‘spot number’ from the amazing Tallulah Bright who sadly passed away from the big ‘A’ many years ago. Tallulah delighted and tormented me in equal measures. She could be the kindest person and the most vicious and cruel – often in the same night. I was such a fan I just put up with it. Ah, the things we did in the 80s.

This footage is also from Patchs, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney which later became DCM and is now…oh hell, I don’t know and don’t really care!

For those that were there, hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane. For those that are experiencing these performance for the first time, I hope you get a little sense of Sydney drag in the 80s – the scene, unfortunately, has never been as good as it was in the 80s. Hell, there’s barely a ‘scene’ at all thesedays (thanks for nothing Clover)!

—–Update—–

Oh what the hell, it’s my blog and I’ll flood it if I want to….here is another clip! This time it’s Jay-Jay’s talk spot at the end of THEM’s ‘Twisted’ show. In this clip you’ll also hear the voice of David Hiscock, the extraordinary DJ who worked at the Newtown Hotel for two decades. David died suddenly of a heart attack on Saturday morning. He was an amazing guy and it was a privilege to work as part of a team with him in the 80s (more on that another time).

Trivia: note that Jay-Jay refers to ‘The Imperial’ in Erskineville. The hotel made famous by Priscilla – Queen of the Desert had not even opened yet!

Both JudgeG and the evil boyf of the time are mentioned in this clip. Enough said!

When We Were Young…and John was Frida

Being a truly ‘free day’ today, I decided to do something I’d been meaning to do for ages. I went through some old VHS video tapes taken at various conventions and discos that I’d organised in the 80s. I was specifically looking for some performances by my good friend John McKechnie as “Frida”. However I also found some excruciatingly young footage of Grant and I hosting a ‘Mastermind’ quiz from one of these conventions in 1983. Grant had hair and I was very thin! Oh how times change…

I probably – or definitely – should have transferred these video tapes to DVD years ago but I haven’t. I haven’t even done it today – I’ve just copid over a few snippets to edit and upload for fun and a trip down memory lane. Video tape decays over time. These tapes go back to 1982, 1983 and 1984. It’s a wonder they still work at all.

For people who know John, I think seeing these clips will be a blast. Not sure how John will react to seeing his early Frida performances on the net – he’s very critical of those early shows. But hey, you gotta come to terms with the past sometime 😉

We start off with the first time John performed as Frida in front of an audience of fans. This was in Adelaide, in 1983 at the AAFC ‘Final Celebration’ Convention. In this clip he’s performing ‘Tell Me It’s Over’ and ‘On & On & On’

Next up is ‘Shine’, the finale of the show John did at the launch night for Frida’s ‘Shine’ LP that we held in Darlinghurst in Sydney, 1984. John says this show was his favourite of all the shows he did as Frida.

John guested on Dot & Fanny’s Tonight Show at the Honest Irishman Hotel in Camperdown, 1984. Dot & Fanny had been in the audience for the ‘Shine’ show and invited John to perform on their ‘live’ tonight show.

In November 1987, Dot & Fanny’s Tonight Show held an ABBA themed night. I was working behind the scenes as ‘production co-ordinator’ at the time and this was my idea. This was way before any revival or cover bands had happened. The night was huge. The Gay community came out in force. John, with fellow fan Yolanda, did ‘Dancing Queen’. Unfortunately this performance is cut off – the camera operator at the Newtown Hotel was trying to save on video tape and put the show on the end of the previous week’s edition – the tape wasn’t long enough and ran out right in the middle of this performance. To say John wasn’t happy was an understatement. And neither was I. A precious memory 1/2 lost to us.

I can understand why I haven’t done much with transferring, converting and editing video stuff previously. These few clips have taken hours and hours to prepare. God only knows how people find the patience to add special effects and do sophisticated editing on their home produced videos. I’ll need about 10 hours sleep after this!

Finally, a true shocker. Grant and myself in 1983. I think Grant will explode when he sees this clip on the net 😉 And it also had John McK as himself, not as Frida (for a change!) So this is what we all looked like about a quarter of a century ago…arrghh! From the ‘Final Celebration’, a ‘Mastermind’ quiz. The first contestant was also my first boyfriend. Now that’s really scary!