This Wednesday (14 Mar) the gorgeous and glamorous Joe Black returns to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern with his show Touch of Evil: A Celebration of Villainy In Song. Dave Cross had a clandestine meeting with Joe to find out what dastardly and cunning plans are afoot. Mwhahahahaha etc etc.
Hi Joe, are you looking forward to your show at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern?
I absolutely adore The RVT. One of my first shows in an LGBTQ+ venue was there, with Dusty Limits and his KUNST show. 2009 I think? Before that I’d mostly been existing in music venues and dodgy back rooms of pubs in Portsmouth. So it was a really exciting experience for me.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure how would you describe what you do?
Grotesque glamour and chaotic clown cabaret singing and slinking about. In an ideal world I’d always be found making my way through a devilish cabaret song on top of a grand piano in a smokey room, then falling off the piano because I can’t be trusted with nice things.
How did you first get into performing?
I started out street performing with my accordion, also as a living statue. Which is the least respected of the street performing traditions, or so I was told… I learnt piano as a kid and found a new love for it as I blossomed into a black lipstick wearing teenager with a devout love of the band the Dresden Dolls. Hanging around with a more alternative crowd, the general music vibe was on the heavier side but I was always far more fond of show tunes and big campy cabaret numbers. The Dresden Dolls was the band that sort of said to me “Hey, you can be a weirdo AND have a flair for the theatrics!”
How has the act evolved over the years?
I started out as a more growly voiced Tom Waits carnival-esque barker type with just me on piano. As I’ve grown and developed and put into action/realised where my inspirations really are, I’ve turned into the twisted ridiculous cabaret raconteur I always wanted to be.
Your show at The RVT is a celebration of villains, are you fascinated by the dark side?
As a kid I never related or particularly liked any of the characters in cartoons and films other than the villains. After some reading up on it, it’s apparently quite common for kids who are a bit ‘different’. The majority of villains are packed full of queer coding, from the feminising of male characters with the ‘sissy villain’ trope (it’s real, read up on it!), to signify a tendency towards evil (Scar from the Lion King, Jafar from Aladdin, Ratcliffe from Pocahontas), and the making of females characters to be more masculine and grotesque for the same effect (Ursula from the Little Mermaid). It’s a really huge subject when you start picking it apart. But when I realised how deep it ran suddenly everything clicked into place just why I was so fascinated and obsessed with them as a child and even now.
What can we expect at the show?
Lots of hysterical shrill cackling at the end of numbers, smoke cannons, pure camp malevolence in song and a real magic mirror. Just to scratch the surface. This is a show I have wanted to do forever and I am so glad it’s finally happening. This will probably be the happiest I will ever be on stage, finally living out my villain fantasy in a glorious lime green lit cabaret extravaganza.
And what can you tell us about your piano playing henchwoman Friedrich Hollandaise?
I’ve been playing piano at shows for myself for 11 years, it felt like the right time to bring someone else on board to really ramp it up and add that extra dimension to shows. Friedrich used to be in a travelling trio known as The Hollandaise Sisters. She fell out with one of her sisters and suddenly one day the other two were gone.
I found Friedrich wondering around Brighton on her own and thought I should lend a hand to someone in need. She’s ever so good at piano. We’ve got a fantastic dynamic between us. Before every show she writes these wonderfully funny notes calling for help and to be saved from me, I collect them all and stick them to the outside of her door (generally locked from the outside, of course). It’s our own little personal joke. She has such a wonderful time at the events. Although she is not very vocal, if you look in her eyes – past the grief and panic – you can see she’s very fond of me.
What are your evil plans for 2018?
I will be touring Touch of Evil: A Celebration of Villainy In Song until the end of May. I’m taking the show to Brighton Fringe, which is a delight in May as well, at the Spiegeltent. After May it’s still shows, just not villain-based ones. Though I’m sure it would have instilled itself in me very deeply by that point and I’ll be throwing myself around to Poor Unfortunate Souls at every cabaret, burlesque and drag event I’ll be at anyway. Also I have something huge happening in December, which I can’t actually talk about yet, but we like a surprise don’t we boyz and girls?!