31 May 2015

Life's A Drag!

Dressed as a Girl? Yes, William Shakespeare wrote that line because drag has been going since the beginning of time! From Priscilla Queen of the Desert to the runways of Rupaul's Drag Race I will bow to the queens forever more! Let's keep it sickening, lip-synch for our lives and beat that face for the gods! Life may be a drag sometimes but we've just got to work B!

Queen, I knew from the very start I was all about drag when I saw Ms. Lily Savage do her thing on the BBC. Her show on the BBC had me straight away with her Scouse tone, I was like 'Mom that baby must be called Lily Savage Harrison!' She bargained at Lewis because I was too fabulous for my own good! Lewis didn't get those middle names I was promised but he's cool enough! Blankety Blank didn't mean much because that Shanghai Lil's ivory frizz was on point, never-mind that cheque book and pen I was completely captivated by her leopard print fashion! Her razor sharp tongue commanded a roaring rate of applause, she was so unapologetic! If that was my first viewing of drag then I'm glad it was Ms. Lily Savage! Yes, she's a true Scouse legend! I visited the city of Liverpool in October 2011, seeking the sight of Ms. Lily Savage, I didn't see that Mersey icon after I crossed the Mersey River over to The Wirral.

Lil' didn't lip-synch, she was a comedienne and a insult queen with a sickening sense of humour and a script that would always slay! Boasting the Beatles and Cilla Black its true to say that Lily Savage brought the drama from the other side of the Mersey River. After watching back the Lily Savage Show and Blankety Blank on YouTube and the outtakes I now understand why I was so adamant for my unborn brother to be called Lewis 'Lily Savage' Harrison, some things never change! If I ever go into the field I hope that my wit and sass is half as outrageous compared to Ms. Lily Savage's! Will Lily ever make another comeback? Flashing forward into the future from the 90's heyday of Ms. Lily Savage I can see her American sister in the form of Bianca Del Rio, a snappy insult queen who won the sixth series of  a fabulous show for those girls with something extra! Of course I meant to say the extra part was their talent! Dame Edna Everage was never my cup of tea, no it has to be that Lily!

Before talent shows and social media I saw two of the campiest films in my life so far, yes they were that fabulous! Both To Foo Wong Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar and Priscilla Queen of The Desert have a special place in my heart, both sets of courageous queens made one long crazy journey to then finish with style. Featuring Patrick Swayze as Vida Boheme and Wesley Snipes as Noxeema Jackson, along with their Latino boy in a dress they travelled cross country en-route to Los Angeles for that special event, not making any allowances for their thought-provoking pit-stop in the middle of nowhere! A car? Mary, Alice, Louise that vehicle those queens chose didn't get them to the city of stars in one piece! It had to be style over substance for those queens, darling! Showing that every boy starts off his drag journey as a mere 'Drag Princess' or whatever Noxie said? Err Rupaul started that engine up?

Going down under it was the turn of Priscilla to serve Queen of the Desert Realness for another epic journey beckoned! Felicia, Mitzy and Bernardette indifferently made their way across the vastness of Australia from Sydney to Alice Springs on a pink coach who went by the name of 'Priscilla!' Giving everything they had got those three queens weren't greeted with glitter and gratitude, no those haters read that Australian trio to filth! Mitzy revealed that she had a secret son, battling her demons she climbed that Northern Territory rock in full drag! I must have been twelve or thirteen when I was saw this colourful film, I look back and I'm so glad it was part of my early teenage years! After turning up a bit of Tina Turner with a group of Aboriginals the three drag performers slayed the final number over the movie, finally it happened to me! Serving three shades of Australian Realness, I have to say that Felicia and her sisters brought the party! Yes, she's a jolly good fellow!

2011 brought the first series of Rupaul's Drag Race, a groundbreaking reality competition that was set to find America's Next Drag Superstar. Fronted by legendary Drag icon Rupaul Charles this revolutionary show wasn't broadcast on British television so I had to wait a little longer to see what the queens were doing to win the race! Over the years certain rising stars have caught my eye such as Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles for their daring and different qualities I'm on their team! Willam Belli personifies everything for me, she got disqualified but made damn sure she never made any ruapologies for her misdemeanors! Being large and in-charge, Latrice Royale taught the children to be sickening and to let those bitches have it! Miss Latrice Royale, I adore your spirit! Showing us that streets can really be our runways whilst serving 'Hot Couture', I'll always root for Manila Luzon! Filipina's certainly got style B!

Keeping within American drag culture I can't get enough of a web series known as 'Hey Qween!' Hosted by Jonny McGovern and his gorgeous sidekick Lady Red Couture, each episode gives me life because its just like having a kiki with friends! Michelle Visage appeared on this fabulous show before her 2015 Celebrity Big Brother appearance to show that we are just people at the end of the day and being they way that we are is nothing to be ashamed of. I'm all about spilling the tea and throwing some serious shade, Jonny McGovern always knows how to get his guests saying all the right things. Spawned from the Drag Race, two pop groups have been headed by Willam Belli to receive a string of successful hits, don't forgive the changing line-ups because 'Boy Is A Bottom' and 'Dear Santa, Bring Me A Man' would of not been possible! Would I ever serve my Drag persona? Yes of course I've already dragged up as a boy, so BB will be making her comeback when the money is right!

BB... Do You Know What I Mean?!

Joseph Harrison

Walsall's Little Secret...

The loss of trade and economic downturns can leave a hole in the heart of any town, turning the perception of those places upside down leaves me with a thirst to see the damage. Walsall is a town that doesn't receive much positive press or exposure, it had my attention for one day! I endorse the underdog, let's see if Walsall's regaining its leather perfection!? Go!

Giving Walsall one chance, I sort of knew what sights I was going to give my attention to. Revisiting the New Art Gallery Walsall for the first time in a good few years I kept and open mind to find an exhibit that impressed me much! The Garman Ryan Collection turned Walsall on its head, was I walking into a cultured setting rather than the usual image of a tired and trodden town? This collection was gifted to the Borough of Walsall in 1973 by Lady Kathleen Epstein, the widow of the great 20th century sculptor, Jacob Epstein. Amongst the white walled exhibition hall the many works of art gave something to Walsall's art gallery but I wanted some colour! Through corner of my eye I saw a colourful side room that captured my sight! A mash of art work and colour, depicting the impact and life of Jacob Epstein who was a person I never knew existed before that morning! Who knew Walsall was such a cultured soul?

Captured above is the New Art Gallery Walsall, it has been a part of Walsall since May 5th 2000 when it was opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Set apart of Walsall's Watefront development its a well placed addition to a new beginning for Walsall's town centre. Specific details have been released regarding Walsall's canal side project with baited breath for the construction to be finished, beckoning a promising change for Walsall. With a new 'Light Cinema' and a string of restaurants, retail outlets and converted apartments its most likely WS1 will become a popular postcode to possess?! Premier Inn came to town in 2013 with a new build property that overlooks the Art Gallery and canal-side, can this former industrial powerhouse be refreshed? I know! Talking of Premier Inn, I worked at the Village Urban Resorts during the first quarter of 2015 so I was intrigued to see how the competition served up Hotel Overness in Walsall! Those self check-in kiosks rock WS1!

The Saddlers? Surely that got something to do with leather? Like many places within the West Midlands that boomed during the Industrial age with a trade to call their own. After seeing a promotional magazine called 'In Walsall' I was intrigued to visit the Walsall Leather Museum to see what impact leather had on this town in question. By the year 1400 Walsall was already an established market town, working and serving with its own council and mayor! Steadily becoming one of Europe's most famous towns for the production of leather products including; stirrups and loinery. Walsall's Leather Museum schooled me to know this town grinded during the 19th century to grow into a powerhouse for its leather production, employing almost two people in each family it was as powerful as Stoke-on-Trent was for the ceramic trade! A past leather worker told me that leather changed the face of Walsall! Serve Saddlery!

Walsall's Saddlery's haven't stopped yet! No, Walsall is a town that's still at the centre of British Saddlery with over 100 leather companies based within the town today! Contrary to believe Walsall still serves the likes of Burberry and supplies leather products that are commissioned by Liberty's and Ralph Lauren. The leather trade has diversified over recent years with more fashionable items made like; gloves, handbags and other high end clothing products. Walsall's own Whitehouse Cox & Co supplies the Japanese market with Walsall made leather goods, who said the trade had died out? The council run Leather Museum is free to experience, the volunteers spoke to me about the resurgence of Walsall made leather products and the fact as to why its so important for the town to keep its trade! From the Saddlers of Walsall to the Land of the Rising Sun, this West Midlands town even produces leather wear for HRH Queen Elizabeth II! Saddlers of Walsall, keep on hustling B!

Walsall's Arboretum looked fine to me, getting away from the traffic and goings on of Walsall's town centre acted as a good thing. A Victorian Park dating back to 1871, the Arboretum has seen a considerable amount of modernisation and treatment to keep it looking at its best. Walsall's Victorian Park wasn't on my radar until I read a new magazine about the town, someone had taken some lovely photos of the Hatherton Lake so I had to see with my own eyes. I don't waste anytime, making my way around the lake I took in enough of the sights because there's always lots to see! Formerly a limestone quarry the now scenic Arboretum supposedly played a large part in Walsall's Industrial legacy. I sort of remember visiting Walsall's Arboretum as a boy during Halloween but its been a long time since that childhood time! It seems like that park life works well for Walsall, questioning the ordinary made way for the extra!

I found that certain parts of Walsall's town centre served 'Urban Decay' but for the first time I use the term 'Realness' in the actual sense of it being full frontal! Some parts of the town centre need some serious attention, modification or complete reconstruction but its better to serve the truth. A new Primark department store is on the way as I saw the new retail hopefuls being interviewed at a familiar Walsall hotel from my reception view. Serving a sense of Urban Decay will give Walsall an edge to be the town that it once was during its leather heyday, throwing shade doesn't have to be a bad thing! Ooh, I got hungry as my Walsall day drew to a close so I took a chance on Micky's Steakaway, located next door to Walsall's Crown Wharf Shopping Park I was served a wholesome steak dinner with all the trimmings! The only way is Independent! I still can't believe that Walsall provided me with an afternoon of sights, giving me a peek into its past, present and future W!

Everybody Loves Leather!

Joseph Harrison 

26 May 2015

Building Bridges... Eurovision Song Contest: Vienna 2015

If only for one night each year we see Europe come together, Vienna brought the power for the 60th Eurovision Song Contest! Drag sensation Conchita Wurst returned after her year of triumph to present from the green room, finding time to sing a song or two. Vienna, Austria set the stage alight with the mantra of 'Building Bridges' that would last the test of time!

Finding one rhythm divine, Conchita Wurst rose from beneath the stage to greet us graciously opening the contest. Building a bridge until it reaches across the border the main three judges joined the previous Eurovision winner in song, also proclaiming the beginning of the show. Ascending into the audience of Vienna's Wiener Stadthalle Conchita joined her fellow judges in song to a rapturous crowd of Eurovision goers! Welcoming the twenty seven nations to the stage the arena blew up with pure Eurovision mania, beckoning a movement of a different contest compared to previous years. Let's just say the term 'gimmick' was fashioned into a refined way in Vienna that May evening in 2015. Who would be the favourite? Had dear Conchita's mission of promoting solidarity, to battle the discrimination that faces the Gay community on a worldwide level, fighting the issue of Gay rights in Russia? Yes, Queen!

Ironically, the Wien Stadthalle was alive with the sound of music! The Von Trapp family were replaced with the sounds of the ORF Radio Symphonie-orchester Wien, could Maria ever of built a bridge as expansive as Vienna was promising to carry peace, love and understanding? Returning from the shadows were Serbia and Cyprus in the final as the Czech Republic didn't make it through the final stages. I have been an avid Eurovision fan since Sertab Erener snatched the trophy for Turkey in Riga, Latvia during 2003 so after Conchita's game changing victory in 2014 I was ready for more craziness and truly Eurovision moments for 2015! I was looking forward to see Russia, their a nation that are causing much heartache for the Gay community but thanks to Conchita Wurst's activism work I wanted to see change! Australia you say?! Yes, for the 60th edition of Eurovision a wildcard nation was chosen to participate, also the show was first broadcast in China! Now, let's get on with the show Wien!

Slovenia, who? Those headphones just weren't doing it for me, honey! I wouldn't forget France's deep and meaningful performance by Lisa Angell, non Je N'oubliez Pas! If someone breaks your heart then the best advice came from Israel, their 'Golden Boy' took his pain down to the dancefloor! Nadav Guedj turned up the early lull with a mash of modern R&B with a twist of Arabesque Realness! I was feeling Israel's Middle Eastern groove a little bit to much, I was intrigued by the promised charms of Tel Aviv! Yes! Each country had a very Austrian video introduction that made me fall in love with Vienna! Estonia's duo looked less than impressed with the contest, their faces really didn't show it! Skipping to Armenia for a quick second I didn't like the song but their 'Game of Thrones' get up impressed me much. I was in love with Lithuania for their 'lovely' song served one Gay, Lesbian and Hetero kiss!

Featuring ninth in the contest a formidable looking lady took to the stage, Bojana Stamenov commanded her audience with her captivating lyrics to show that 'Beauty Never Lies!' Showcasing her curves she sang 'Finally I can say, Yes I'm different and it's OK!' Embodying freedom and fearlessness Bojana had my heart and secured my ultimate favourite entry of the night! It's no secret that the Eurovision Song Contest is popular with Gay men so our Serbian sister Bojana served to the Gay gods above! Napping through Norway, Cyprus and Romania I was awoken by Guy Sebastian from Australia who represented his far off nation with a certain swagger! Belgium brought the beat with 'Rhythm Inside' by Loïc Nottet, that Belgian beauty should have made New Zealand singer Lorde quack in her boots because he was serving something fabulous! Could the country known for its meatballs and flat-pack furniture strike a second victory in three years? I'm going to get to Russia soon enough!

Aminata injected some love into the second throw of entries during the final representing Latvia, supposedly she was serving Sia but her powerful performance did her nation justice! Poland's entry proved that the Eurovision Song Contest is accessible for disabled artists compared to anyone else. Greece's Elena Kyriakou channeled some Greek Mariah Overness with 'One Last Breath' hopefully she wasn't referring to the economy of a specific Grecian nation? Russia's Polina Gagarina was greeted with a torrent of boo's as she tried to promote a feeling love and unity for the people of our continent, I have nothing against her personally but who was Russia kidding to make us think they have changed their stance on Gay rights?! No white flag was excepted even thought their white dress code pleaded for unity and peace for all people, proclaiming world peace? Go sit down with your homophobia Ru!

Spain broke the dawn with a sultry and sexy assault on our senses, Edurne had my 'corazon' from the very beginning! Commanding the stage with her blood red matador like cloak she revealed a slinky number that didn't leave much to the imagination! Amanecer se rompió! Hungary took a political edge on their song but I was still reeling from Russia's attempt at solidarity, Boggie was no Miss World! Georgia's Nina Sublatti fought with her 'Warrior' Overness that she served that night! The half time performance took shape in the form of a percussion based spectacle that I appreciated but loved Conchita's performance too much to care! A winner had to be announced in time, Måns Zelmerlöw proved that we are the 'Heroes' of our time but we dance with the demons in our minds! That dance tune resonated a 'Swedish House Mafia' like beat as he scored 365 points to bring Eurovision pride back to Sweden after Loreen's euphoric victory in 2012! Oh, another Smörgåsbord?

Golden Boy! Now, Show Me Tel Aviv!

Joseph Harrison

23 May 2015

Westside, Birmingham

Birmingham, you know that I love Southside but its always good to be on the Westside! Once dubbed the 'Convention Quarter' this fast changing part of Birmingham's city centre has adopted a new name and look, I'm clocking your style! From beneath the rubble the new Library of Birmingham can school the children! Don't get stupid, Westside sure knows the score!

Westside knows that reading is fundamental, ushering the new Library of Birmingham made Centenary Square look less of a building site alongside the Rep Theatre because nobody's got time for all that rubble! Spending the final year of my university degree should of made me motivated to use the library for research purposes for my dissertation but like many others I saw it as a tourist attraction. Making my way around the rooftop gardens gave me a beautiful of Birmingham's developing skyline and the bustling Broad Street that's a keen favourite of many. Who thought of the name 'Westside?' Birmingham is changing but from whats going on at the moment its not doing much harm to the city! Getting to grips with the towering bookshelves gave me a sense of how much work had gone into designing that Brummie house of books. Westside is fast becoming Birmingham's focal point, putting the Library up there to promote Brum.

Birmingham's Symphony Hall and International Convention Centre brings it for Westside in many ways. Clogging the streets with maximum security during the Conservative Conference that I remember from my time living nearby Broad Street, some of the things I remember about that time are quite random if I don't say so myself. Seeing Peter Andre at the Symphony Hall was good but graduating with a 2:1 BA Degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management brought the house down for me, that day was something that I won't forget! Westside has been there and has the t-shirt, being regenerated from the ground up I believe its only getting started! I haven't had much of a look in to the International Convention Centre but I know for certain that it pulls in some serious paper for Birmingham. Britain's Got Talent saw the appeal of Centenary Square and the Symphony Hall, well I you know what I mean? Nevertheless, Westside brings the books and brass for Birmingham! Read it B1!

Drinks by the canal? Westside presents Brindleyplace as a perfect Industrial mash of city living and the future. Having more canals than Venice, Italy means that Brindleyplace looks so good with the trendy bars and restaurants that overlooks another part of Westside that I will get to in good time. Gentrification can be a good thing when it comes to Brindleyplace because I believe the area that surrounds Brindleyplace used to be a dreary looking car park, so a little investment can go along way! All Bar One offers the perfect outdoor seating for those summer nights, get a history lesson for the beginnings of Brindley's Place were very Industrial because factories are fabulous! You could say that Westside still works for its own!?

Concerts don't get any better, Birmingham's Westside used to have the National Indoor Arena but now its all about the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena these days! I couldn't possible count how many music concerts that I've been at the then NIA but Steps, Beyonce and Girls Aloud are a few of the acts I've seen in Birmingham. I was meant to Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour in December 2015 but I'll be in Wuhan, China so that's out of the question. Each time I went back to Westside after university finished I could see something changing, now I can't recognise the view from Brindleyplace when I look towards the Sea Life Centre because the new Birmingham Barclaycard Arena looks so sleek alongside the canal. Westside keeps on getting better, Midland Metro you know I'm waiting!

No, I didn't order any post! Westside brings the Mailbox to life with a range of bars and restaurants that look ace during the night time. Living close by in the Maltings Halls of Residence gave me the opportunity to pass through this Westside landmark to access the city centre, I had the best diversion possible on my doorstep! Located beside that former Royal Mail sorting office is the Cube, a mixed modern development that's beating back from its post recession state of mind. Anybody who is anybody knows that its cool to dine on Sushi on Sundays because students don't do roast dinners! Christmas gives Westside that something extra, the Mailbox had my full attention with the lights and Christmas tree taking centre stage! The Cube soon got its life back with a Hotel Indigo and Marco Pierre White Steakhouse that apparently gives the best rooftop view of Brum?! The Cube brings a cosmopolitan edge B!

I used to live in Westside it just took me a while to realise that my halls of residence fell under the zone for Westside. I moved into the Maltings Halls of Residence for the students of University College Birmingham in the September of 2010, that now seems like a world away if I think about it. Looking out onto my canal-side view I took in the views of the Cube and the nearby night time mecca of Broad Street. Spending three years on and off living in the centre of Birmingham provided me with a superb location for work and play all at the same time. Tesco Express in the Mailbox became a god send when I got wise about student living, those Friday night city slickers knew nothing about the joys of pre-drinking to save a few quid, or had they forgotten now they were a part of the rat race? Nevertheless, Westside living brought me closer to my side of town because its taken me a while to realise that! Really? Yes, the Mailbox needs to keep serving Postbox Realness! Oh, Westside!

Broad Street opened my eyes in many ways to the partying ways of Birmingham from a beginners glance. Thrown into the twilight during my UCB Fresher term at University College Birmingham I endorsed my new student party lifestyle with much gusto! Along with my Fresher gang from the Maltings we frequented Walkabout, Risa and Gatecrasher many a time during the week, going out at the weekend wasn't for us at first because most of the promotional student nights fell into the week. People are drawn to the night time delights of Broad Street for many reasons, some of which I couldn't see at the time of my Fresher year but now I'm reading from the same page! My Fresher memories of Big Bite at closing time won't ever fade! Oh my life B1!

Broad Street is a multi-purpose playground within Westside for many reasons it takes me back instantly to my Birmingham days but its a great place to grab something to eat as well as party the night away! Blagging a blog opportunity at American themed eatery, Coast To Coast showed me a great night with lots of great food and drink to shout all about for my blog viewers and for the Twitter-sphere to see! Will Broad Street change too much? I'm afraid change is inevitable but we've all got to reinvent ourselves from time to time! Westside has got it in the bag I'm sure of it because Arena One Central is on its way, ready to snatch HSBC from London's Canary Wharf for Westside's own Birmingham gain! Yes, reading is fundamental and cosmopolitan life is key for Westside, Birmingham to work!

That's Birmingham's Westside Story!

Joseph Harrison