Blackpool is like nowhere else on earth.
About ten years ago, residents rejected a proposal to turn it into the UK’s gambling centre. The pleasure beach would become a strip of casinos and slot machines, modelled on the likes of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. But Blackpool said no. It’s nothing like Vegas.
Blackpool is nothing like New Orleans either, but there’s music on every corner. Not only do the arcades, and beachfront kiosks blast out chart hits but there are live performers in almost every bar you walk into.
At midday in Ma Kelly’s, a crowd is already gathering to hear the resident crooner. At the end of the north pier where anglers trawl the brine for bass, and windows have been put through by the relentless wind, an organist plays every other hour. And by mid afternoon, the back room of Merrie England is teeming with people nostalgic for the good old days when live music was commonplace.
Gazing up at the tower from the promenade, I overhear someone say: “Blackpool is just like Paris, you know.” It’s not. It’s the tower that makes people think that. It’s not like Paris at all.
The paint won’t stick because of the salt in the air, and trying to keep the pavements clear of chip paper is like painting the Forth Bridge. Blackpool isn’t classy. But the huge personality that exudes from this Lancashire holiday resort, means that it draws comparisons to global cities with similarly large characters.
It wears its heart on its sleeve in a way that not many places do. It is raw and gutsy and vulnerable. Exposed to the bitter wind, but far from forgotten, even on a cold Saturday in October it’s full of pleasure seekers. In Blackpool, illicit fun, laughter, and a bit of blue are always on the menu. So it’s the perfect place for a burlesque showcase. And in its fifth year, Burlesque Noir presented a programme as long as your arm.
Top of the bill was Miss Exotic World winner, LouLou D’Vil. The epitome of seduction, and classic burlesque. She is a fabulous performer, dancing fur stoles across her body like a cat of nine tails. She has been performing with The Baron for a few years now, and their headline act cleverly brings together his talent for weight bearing, and hers for the art of the tease. The Baron’s sideshow troupe was once described as “the most hardcore freakshow in history.” While his solo routine isn’t as outrageous as some of the things he used to get up to, it’s not for the faint hearted. The Baron swings weights from his nipples and nose, grimacing and gritting his teeth as he goes. And despite any preconceptions you might have, he is extremely likeable. He gaily bounces around the stage in tiger skin shorts, tears a book in half with his bare hands, and thoroughly charms the audience. Between the two of them they’ve got the hardest working nipples of any double act in showbusiness, and their global reputations add some serious clout to the bill.
Joe Black is the host, emerging from beneath the stage on a Wurlitzer organ. The Tower Ballroom is very proud of its organists – displaying their portraits along the walls – and the privilege of making an entrance like this is not lost on Joe, admitting it was a lifelong ambition to come out of the floor. His spirit animal is Glenn Close, and throughout his introductions he just about keeps a lid on an inner rage that constantly threatens violence. Dressed in yellow gold, with Maleficent horns, he occasionally erupts, bursting into flames, and roars down the microphone. The ornate walls shudder.
Designed by Frank Matcham at the turn of the century, the Tower Ballroom hasn’t lost any of its majesty. It’s a little too big to capture all the intimate details of burlesque, but it is stunning. In amongst Northern Soul weekenders, and wrestling matches, they still host tea dances here, which means you can buy a piece of cake at most of the events. Burlesque included.
Burlesque Noir is the creation of Raven Noir, a Victorian gothic burlesque performer adorned in some of the most stunning black featherwork on the Fylde coast. And the programme she has curated brings together a wide variety of acts, from the sublime burlesque of Scarlett Daggers, to the extraordinary lip-syncing of Nosferatu.
Titsalina Bumsquash had been roaming the audience in her rollers and bathrobe for most of the evening. So when the spotlight finally finds her, she throws off her marigolds and transforms, in an impeccably rehearsed routine. Demi Noire, a fireball of energy, expertly evokes the spirit of Josephine Baker in an immaculately precise dance routine. And Lou Safire, an award winning vaudevillian whose Black Swan tease routine was so well executed, and the final blow so beautifully timed that it had the audience in raptures.
When the time came to draw the raffle our host appeared a little worse for wear, which ultimately threatened to undermine the finale. But Raven Noir has a typically northern talent for hospitality and hosting. With warmth and good humour she invited all of the performers back on stage to give a heartfelt thank you. At the end of an evening of decadence, and wild entertainment, she managed to strike a note which was inclusive, generous, and full of heart.
Maybe that’s what Blackpool is like.
Burlesque Noir is an annual event in Blackpool, created by Raven Noir. More info here.