Sunday, 14 August 2011

Fabulous Fifties and Self-Promotion

I really hate self-promotion. But given a choice of

A. Talking about my singing to a curator at the Museum of London when she's just given a wonderful lecture and is surrounded by admirers and friends, then going and interrupting her again after I'd gone back to coat-check to retrieve my demo, or

B. Doing nothing, and hearing a few months from now that the Museum of London is doing a Titanic-and-Suffragette anniversary event and have hired another singer and band to do the music, well...

I'll go for A, even if it means standing on Tatty Devine's learn-to-make-a-corsage tables and singing like a maniac.

Fabulous Fifties at the Museum of London was fun and educational. As is the Museum of London in general. One of my favourite museums ever.

Men in well-cut tweed and hats cheerily arranged us in a queue and the girls all eyed each other and I marvelled yet again how well the high street does 50s vintage these days. Girls outnumbered boys by about four to one. Three girls were dressed in Vivian of Holloway and spent their time swishing skirts and posing and being cockney and cheerful to everyone. I think they must have been brand ambassadors. Wonderfully old fashioned. Didn't models used to do this? Mingle and tell people where they got their dress?

Andrea and I were early and we killed time in the nearby Pret, observing other 50s earlybirds. A man in a greased quiff and racing t-shirt and jeans with turnups five inches thick was with his resolutely modern girlfriend in her skinny jeans, ballet flats and layered tank-tops. She looked adoringly at him. A woman in pincurls and a dress that would have been fifties if it had been half-a-yard longer looked strangely bitter as she drank her latte.

Andrea told me she used to play in an all-girl band in Slovakia called the Aphrodisiac Salon Orchestra. They played soft rock in virginal white dresses. This girl continues to surprise.

She looked magnificent in her fifties-style frock. Some people suit particular eras and I think this one is Andrea's. That, or the 1860s, which it is of course based on (so Dior said anyway!)

I wore a dress from Bettie Page clothing, which one has to buy from the States, but everything of theirs that's in a size L fits me perfectly. I wore a gold coin necklace in honour of the Museum of London's Roman coins. The lace of the red dress kept catching on the rough brutalist Barbican cement pillars.

Inside, there was a compact list of things to do: be made over by hair and makeup people (two or three such stations, and free, but one would spend all night queueing),
have a badge made by Tatty Devine out of your choice of London museum images (my three...Andrea didn't want her turn, and I managed an extra), learn how to make a corsage (they all looked identical: a rosette made out of coloured measuring tape), learn how to swing-dance, and/or go to a lecture. We went to both lectures.

One was on the Bohemian existentialist Beatniks in Soho and the Jazz Wars (wooo!) You had the high-energy, retro-loving dancers who revisited the 20s and then you had the ones who were too cool to dance and preferred to sit and look profound. That's what I remember anyway. Subsequent research (just now) would indicate that a person could write a set of encyclopaedias and still not exhaust this subject. Anyway, Cathy Ross did a damned good lecture, and gave me this: Beatniks dressed as Frenchmen because they dug the French thinkers. But Sartre et al wouldn't be caught dead in a striped Breton top and beret. Might as well have carried around a string of onions, too! Hey I like this idea. All people who love Freud and Jung can wear Lederhosen and carry an Alpenstock!

I chased poor Cathy with my chatter and CD and business card ("Here! Oh might as well take two! I've got LOADS!") and Andrea was a stylish antidote to me when I introduced her as my pianist. We wandered through the very loud live music - neither hot nor cool jazz, but rockabilly, of course - and saw lovely Kelley Swain! She is poet in residence at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, has a book of poetry out called "Darwin's Microscope" and is, as I say, lovely. She has a blog . We got Tatty Devine to make us more badges, then
proceeded to the next lecture: Coffee Bars and Duffle Coats - Alternative Clothing in the Fifties. We sat next to two gorgeous young women who were living proof that you could be stylish, retro, and not have to rely on a pretty dress. One was in a VERY sharp suit with white piping, and the other had on a yellow-and-green checked tweed waistcoat with watch and chain, and a frilly blouse and tweed plus-fours. She was, as illustrated in the subsequent talk, a Teddy Girl.

On the way out, one of the Vivian of Holloway girls, blonde and in polka-dots, said "Did you 'ave a good time, girls? Find any nice men?" Pianist, scientist-poet and geeky singer stared back at her, unsure of what to do. "I saw some sailors!" she continued, winking archly. "I always like a sailor!" "I don't know," Kelley said. "You can catch some pretty nasty things..." "Oooh, what kind of things? Like a bird?" she said, undaunted. When she'd gone, Andrea muttered "I cannot believe it. I have been attacked by a living barbie doll. Could they create life-sized barbie dolls in the 1950s?"

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