Across the world tonight, millions of people are tuning-in to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. There will be the usual twinkly, pant-suited, satin-draped performers, with an excess of dry ice, singing about love, broken hearts, world peace and the weather.
While I like the idea of Eurovision, I doubt I’ll be watching, as I’ve always thought this fun competition tends to overlook better songs by greater artists, who know how to write an unforgettable tune.
The first that comes instantly to mind is “Mr Eurovision” by that great musical genius, Neil Innes.
Is there any other tune that gives the best of what Europe has to offer (in assorted cliches) with such a ludicrously catchy tune? I am still flummoxed as to explain how the UK never took up this work of unparalleled brilliance.
“Mr. Eurovision” originally appeared on The Innes Book of Records, which was one of the great high points in TV history, and now deserves to be repeated.
You see, the eighties wasn’t all about big hair, lip gloss, Boy George and Miami Vice. No. It was also the heyday of that redoubtable cabaret duo, Victor and Barry.
Victor Ignatius MacIlvaney and Barry Primrose McLeish, and their theatrical organ, the Kelvinside Young People’s Amateur Dramatic Art Society (KYPADAS), were the masterly comic creations of drama students Alan Cumming (Barry) and Forbes Masson (Victor). Together they traveled across the world (and Glasgow) entertaining audiences with their witty repartee and hand-carved selection of songs.
These ditties included such memorable sweetmeats as “Kelvinside Man” (Kelvinside is a small enclave in the West End of Glasgow, a sort of twee Greenwich Village, where your fruit is a yam, and you buy fish from a van); “Marks & Spencers” - V & B’s favorite department store; and the painful rivalries of showbiz, “We Knew Her So Well”.
This tartan twosome were a musical Julian and Sandy, whose unstoppable success led to the release of their best selling (well, in Kelvinside, and parts of Bearsden and Milngavie, anyway) debut recording cassette, Hear Victor and Barry and Faint. By way of introduction to this fabulous twin-set of talents, here is Victor and Barry singing “Kelvinside Man”.
Bonus clips, plus ‘Hear Victor and Barry…and faint’, after the jump…
A 19-year-old Alan Cumming makes his first television appearance in a BBC TV Director’s training course in 1984.
Never intended for broadcast, this is probably Alan’s first performance in front of a camera, though he did have a very fleeting appearance in episode 6 of Traveling Man the same year. However, he is billed here, along with his fellow performers, Forbes Masson and David Lee Michael, as final year students at Glasgow’s Royal Academy of Music and Drama.
Here Cumming is cast as one of 3 dead (or possibly war-weary) soldiers, where he lip-synchs pop songs and recites a poem by Wilfred Owen. This was Justin C Adams’ Final Project for his director’s course. Adams went onto a career as a director of quiz shows at BBC Scotland, before establishing his own highly successful production company.
I was in drag the last time I did stand-up, about twenty-five-years ago, in a crowded bar at the Tron Theater, Glasgow. It was a return appearance, on a ‘gong night’ bill that included Craig Ferguson, who was starting out with his comic character Bing Hitler.
In some respects I was amazed to be asked back, and was certain my invitation had been a clerical error. The first time I’d tried to be Lenny McBruce and was full of misplaced energy that led me to telling the audience to ‘fuck off’, whilst reading a copy of the Sun, riffing on its headlines, horoscopes, interviews and adverts. I’d got as far as Princess Diana and Pete Sutcliffe jokes, when the howls of abuse proved too much, I was gonged quickly off.
Other gong nights had seen a generation of new and original talent: a duo called Victor and Barry - Alan Cumming and Forbes Mason - those erstwhile founders of the Kelvinside Young People’s Amateur Dramatic Art Society (KYPADAS), who performed camp musical numbers, in slick-backed hair and monogramed smoking jackets.
And then there was Jerry Sadowitz, who was incredible, and still is. His humor was unpredictable, relentless and much in the spirit of Lenny Bruce - nothing was sacred, no subject off limits. When menaced with the gong, he pulled out a joke pistol and threatened to shoot the compere, John Stahl.
Amongst such talents, I was just a daft, wee laddie, who wanted to succeed more than I wanted to perform.
So, on my return, I revamped one of my old drag characters, Bessie Graham, a mistress of the single entendre. I went through the rehearsed material and it seemed to be working well - at least for half the audience, those nearest to the stage that is. But for anyone beyond row 4, I appeared as an indifferent mime artist, with a basic grasp of mime. Later, I was told my mic had not been working.
Afterwards, watching Craig Ferguson perform, I decided to give it all up. Over 2 years of performing, on-and-off, I’d found out I was fine at comic characters and sketches, but hadn’t grown-up enough to have my own voice, and know what I wanted to say. And without that, I would never be any good.
Stephen King warns his younger self not to do recreational drugs. Alice Cooper writes “Trashy girls are exciting for about five minutes…Keep your eye out for a good-lookin’ church girl. Then you’ll have the best of both worlds.” While Gillian Anderson says, “You are completely and utterly self obsessed. If you spent a quarter of your time thinking about others instead of how much you hate your thighs, your level of contentment and self worth would expand exponentially.”
First of all, you’re right. You’re right about who you think is wrong. You’re right to trust your instincts and to be your own person.
Second of all. slow down. Before you know it you’ll be away from home and you’ll be living your own life. Don’t waste energy trying to make time move faster, because it won’t until one day when you don’t want it to and you’ll wonder if all those nights spent longing for the future are now being paid back by making a beautiful present more fleeting. So please, if only for my karmic peace of mind, chill out about it, ok?
You’re going to be really, really happy one day and you’re going to have a life that is so far from your comprehension right now that I’m not even going to try to explain how it happens. I can hardly work it out for myself. You just have to go with the flow, Alan. Just let go and tumble through life. It will all be okay.
But it’s not a commercial. There are really shitty bits. You don’t even know it but right now there are things happening to you that are too painful to process and so, like the adults around you, you’re just not dealing with them, suppressing them, locking them up in a box in your mind. When you’re 28, that box is going to explode open and tear your life apart. Everything will change and there will be much pain and it will take you a long time to recover. But recover you will, and it will ultimately make you a better person, and those you love will benefit too.
You’re going to have lots of sex and you’re going to feel sexy. Don’t worry. Just try and remember that it’s better for you to feel sexy about yourself than for other people to tell you you are. It’s going to be okay.
In 1997 you’ll meet someone in New York at the party for the opening of ‘Titanic - the Musical’. Now, I am not one for regrets, Alan, and I truly believe that everything you experience between 16 and now all contributes to make you the really happy person that you become, so how could I wish any of it to be different? But, come on, the show is called ‘Titanic’, that should be an omen. Walk away from this person. You’ll never make them not be angry. Later on you’ll see a pattern of you trying to fix angry people and you’ll be able to break it, so do yourself a favour and walk away, let this one be the first. He will try to destroy you. He won’t, but he’ll try very hard.
You will love and be loved and be rich beyond your wildest dreams, and the best thing about this richness is that it has nothing to do with money. It’s all going to be okay.
A teacher at drama school is going to tell you that’ll you’ll never make it as a professional actor. He is wrong. Wrong to say it, and just wrong because you do okay. Try not to let it dent you too much.
You’re never going to have children, Alan. You’re going to try, in relationships with both women and men, but it doesn’t happen, and that’s okay too. Right now you have the happiest family anyone could wish for.
It really is all going to be okay. I’ll see you in 29 years. Enjoy it.
More letters from Kathleen Turner and John Waters, after the jump…
In The Real Cabaret, actor, Alan Cumming goes in search of the people and places that inspired Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Goodbye to Berlin and the muscial Cabaret.
Starting with Isherwood’s arrival in Berlin in 1930, and taking in a visit to his original apartment (immortalized in the opening paragraph of Isherwood’s novel), Cumming takes the viewer through the sex clubs and cabarets, to the performers, and writers who turned the Berlin stories into a multi-award winning musical. With contributions from Liza Minelli, and Ute Lemper.
Alan explores the origins of the Cabaret story in the writings of Christopher Isherwood and uncovers the story of the real life Sally Bowles, a woman very different from her fictional counterpart.
He talks to the composer of Cabaret about the inspiration for the film’s most famous songs and discovers the stories of the original composers and performers, among them Marlene Dietrich. Finally, Alan reveals the tragic fate of many of the cabaret artists at the hands of the Nazis.
The documentary pays tribute to the magic of the original film and explores the fascinating and often shocking reality of the people and stories that inspired it.
This is an excellent documentary, and Alan Cumming is quite superb as our host,
Did you know that Carlos Santana has his own perfume? (He’s got two actually, one for women and man’s cologne) Or Kiss? Michael Jackson even had six different kinds! Antonio Banderas, too. Hell, even Alan Cumming has his own perfume! WHO wants to smell like Alan Cumming? It doesn’t make any sense! The Incredible Hulk and Spiderman have their own colognes, not to mention Austin Powers (it’s called “Mojo” and smells like someone pissed on candy). Above is an amusing vintage clip from MTV circa 1996 about some hits and misses in the celebrity scent sweepstakes. Seems that no one wants to smell like Prince and MJ’s scents weren’t that popular either…. and boy did they pick a bad name for Anna Nicole Smith’s fragrance, eh?