Friday, 29 November 2013

Mother: Oh Dear!

It's almost December, which means that it's almost time for this year's Christmas Cavalcade. Over the next few weeks, as in previous years, I'll be bringing you an album's worth of bad Christmas-themed music - noise enough to ruin your holiday.

But first, let's have a listen to something truly horrific and completely non-Christmas related: a pair of tracks from Danny La Rue's 1978 album To Mother, With Love.

Easily the most famous drag act in the world, Danny La Rue was born Daniel Patrick Carroll, in Ireland, in July 1927. At the age of nine he moved to London with his four siblings and his widowed mother Mary, however he was evacuated during the Blitz and spent the next few years in the Devon village of Kennford, near Exeter. He became interested in performing while serving in the Royal Navy, appearing in regular concert party reviews and, when he left the service, he spent years in repertory and in variety shows, touring Britain and honing his craft.

He opened his own nightclub in London in 1964. Visitors to his revues included Judy Garland, Noel Coward, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Margaret. TV and film fame soon followed. He made regular appearances on the BBC-TV show The Good Old Days, was given his own TV specials, was the first drag act to appear in the Royal Variety Show and, in 1972, starred in his own film, Our Miss Fred. In a career which spanned over 60 years, Danny (always known as Dan to is friends) established himself as one of the most popular performers in Britain. He was the only male performer to take the lead in two female stage roles (in Hello Dolly and Oh, What a Lovely War!)

The highest paid entertainer in the UK (at one point in the early 70s he was earning over £20000 a week), even Liberace was a fan. In many ways Dan was Britain's Liberace: like Liberace, Dan kept his sexuality a secret for most of his life (even though he lived with his partner and personal manager Jack Hanson for 40 years until Hanson's death in 1984) and, like Liberace, he was a horrible, horrible singer - as is amply proved by the brace of tracks I present for you today. His version of On Mother Kelly's Doorstep reached number 33 in the UK singles chart in 1968, but this would be his only chart appearance.

His limited vocal range reminds me of Barbara Cartland: Barbara Cartland drunk, imitating Rex Harrison at one of Noel Coward's soirees. He may have been a fabulous entertainer, but he could not carry a tune in a sequined, fur lined bucket, as these two tracks prove. To Mother With Love, penned specifically for this set, is a fright, but the last track on the collection - Say it With Flowers - is simply horrific.: the soliloquy at the beginning is barf-inducing.

His last years were blighted by illness: he suffered a stroke in 2006 and then revealed to fans that he had been battling prostate cancer for several years. Further strokes and a bout of cancer of the throat followed before he finally passed in 2009 at the age of 81 - shortly after making his last live apearance in Spain. He was buried next to Hanson in Kensal Green, London. 


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