i’m sitting in the garden with Shereene, enjoying the sun and having a chat and a listen. Mark calls up and wonders if shereene can help out with something. the belly dancer needs help getting in and out of her costume. sounds good so i hitch on the request and go along. At about half eight we walk into Malcom X and head backstge with Mark. The dancer, Michelle, is in the none-too-difficult-to-put-on belly dancing outfit, coins and veils that sort of thing. i can help with that no problem, i figured. so feleing more relaxed i looked at this lady’s tattoos as shereene chatted with michelle. this lady had red roses on her elbows, a (bearded?) lady on her chest, and other swirls and patterns that made me feel like i was in the presence of siren and sailor’s love child. All her tatoos looked fresh and healthy on her ripe olive skin. It was only when she started talking about a spider costume that i snapped out of these thoughts and started to pay attention. i was here for her purposes after all. it turned out she needed help with putting on and removing an arachnoid getup. she described it to us and the pose she would assume that would signal shereene and me to go on stage and remove the legs and egg sac. my nerves returned. jesus.
So the director of the Velvet Hammer is standing in front of me, miming the unzipping of the spider costume. Her fingers holding the imaginary zip travelled from her neck to her breasts (which at this point were adorned with a cache of gold coins) paused then travelled to her belly button, paused again and then travelled to the lady below, out of sight of sea and sky if you get my drift. Compelled as I was to watch- both as a trainee valet and as a writer- I have rarely felt so English and sober. A plum tree began to grow in my mouth, Christ, a whole orchard of them were taking root. Luckily Shereene was completely unphased and gabbed away. Thank god. We left Michelle alone in the little green room and sat outside in the evening sun. Only a short while later the call was made to punters to get in and enjoy the Baba Zula show and we joined them in the hall. The band had started; tabla drum, finger cymbals and electric guitar but not a guitar as I know it a middle eastern bejewelled wonder of the sixties just like its player except instead of jewels he sported an enormous moustache and spectacularly pattern clashing trousers and smock. A very attractive artist sat behind a laptop, her unkempt beautiful hair secured with a pair of chopsticks. As they played we could see the digi sketches she was making projected on a screen above them all. Shereene and I tried to figure out where spider lady was going to enter from. She was doing three performances, and she needed our help for the final one.
She walked up the grotty side stage steps onto the stage, performing all the way from the curtain dividing front from backstage. Her eyes were full of something I donâ€™t quite know how to describe: beyond purpose, beyond confidence it was as if she could see the places her dance had been created in- backrooms and palaces, places where an art is raised and developed like a child. She was every belly dancer, every woman who has secured the power of sex and commands her body. She assumed control and was unwavering in her belief that all would submit. The guy dancing in front of her in his enormous shirt (which Iâ€™m betting he stole from Manchester in the â€˜90s) was certainly wiling- open mouthed, grinning and bouncing he would have done anything she said. However, it was I who was in that enviable position: I was going to do as I was told and Lord help me not to make an arse out of myself in the process.
Her hipshaking, rear wiggling, thigh-defying jangling was over all too soon and she descended those dirty steps, disappearing behind the wonky red curtain. Shereene and i looked at each other. Shereene was full of mischief and excitement. I was getting more straight laced by the minute- Iâ€™d be stitched into a Victorian corset before the end of the show if i didnâ€™t lighten up. The songs passed and brought the second performance. This time I was struck by her belly- filled with firm generosity, it was a wonderfully womanly form. the chopstick artist expressed it well â€“ babies in foetal positions, curves and full circles. We followed in her wake at the end of the song. She was sweating in the green room and standing in front of a huge suitcase. Patting her face dry she began to prepare. Removing her bra revealed two small bosoms sitting comfortably on her chest, their modesty preserved by light blue sequinned nipple cups. She removed a large lump from her case and hung it on a hook. The spider costume. She examined it and plucked at the fabric, tutting. â€˜Iâ€™ve worked this bitch for ten days solid and sheâ€™s starting to fall apart.â€™
I think most things would under her gyrations. She donned a bra and suspender, all matching of course but looking suspiciously like a Marks & Spencer line Iâ€™m familiar with.
â€˜Itâ€™ll have to do. I had a beautifully worked set but I wore them so much the smell was making me gag every time I got it out. Just couldnâ€™t bring myself to wear it anymore.â€™ She slipped her feet into soft leather boots and approached the spider. Shereene asked how she managed to get into it by herself. She couldnâ€™t. In her Berlin show she has French maids to help but on this tour sheâ€™d been relying on any â€˜kind hearted soulâ€™ to help her out. Luckily there was no shortage of helpers. One problem she encountered was conveying instructions to people who didnâ€™t understand English. Sign language can only go so far. She was glad to be with English speakers at last. I didnâ€™t have time to contemplate how she wouldâ€™ve conveyed her needs to the Muslim girls in Istanbul sheâ€™d mentioned: I needed to be on the ball in Blightey. She got her arms into the sleeves sorted out the spider legs. Shereene attempted to zip her up but couldnâ€™t get the teeth aligned. Her hand was shaking. I crouched down and had a go. I imagined that I had surgeonâ€™s fingers, that I was performing a routine procedure and, dammit, this lady needed me. I succeeded with only the slightest hesitation over her bust, those puppies may not be the biggest but they are hard to ignore. Michelle composed herself and stood at the door waiting for her cue. I thought Iâ€™d sneak a quick squeeze of her egg sac that was positioned just above her rear and shereene did the same. Michelle noticed and asked us to â€˜poof it up a bitâ€™. Shereene got that job. It seemed kind of indecent but hey, so might a lady wearing a corset under a spider outfit. The music she was waiting for came and michelle walked to the curtain with shereene and me behind carrying the costumeâ€™s train of human hair like gothic bridesmaids. On stage she went and in the wings we waited for our cue- we got it pretty quick- a look with those crazy burlesque eyes and we were barefoot on stage taking her cuffs in hand and wriggling the outfit from her shoulders before scurrying of stage to watch the rest which, frankly I donâ€™t remember. In fact I only remember the end of her performance. She was just about to pass through the curtain when ed siebert unexpectedly came through with a beer. she incorporated this into her exit and ed was left with beer foaming out of his bottle and a very happy demeanour, one very similar to that of mark slaterâ€™s when he walked in on michelle mid-change ten minutes earlier.
Once again shereene and I made our way to the green room this time to hang up the costume. After a bit of chat we left michelle alone and ventured out to the public area. Everyone seemed to be wearing a rather dazed and wry smiles, like theyâ€™d seen something they werenâ€™t really supposed to. We ordered a coupla rum and gingers and made our way into the night. Possibilities, possibilities, possibilitiesâ€¦