Words & illustrations by Emily Doyle
In what feels like a first for Birmingham’s oldest gay club, it’s not even 11pm and the Nightingale is full of eager punters. Everyone is here to see Sasha Velour, international drag queen, designer, illustrator, and winner of Season 9 of cult hit RuPaul’s Drag Race.
On entry guests are greeted by stilt walkers. They dance in spiked latex cat suits that would make James St. James jealous. My accomplice, Sinead, remarks, “I love latex. But on my budget, I’m definitely more of a cling film girl.” We turn to the bar, where we see a woman ordering a drink wearing a hand painted denim jacket featuring a portrait of Sasha Velour. Set against a rainbow the painting depicts Velour in the black gown and opera gloves she wore in her very first appearance on Drag Race, complete with tinted glasses and signature crown. It bears the legend “LET’S CHANGE SHIT UP”.
Local club kid, Elliot Barnicle, provides the music for the evening, tucked into an impossibly snug silver lamé bodysuit. Waiting for the acts to begin an impromptu dance off over a bottle of champagne sees partygoers show off their moves on stage, ranging from the dubious to the impressive. The winner high-kicks her way to victory while RuPaul’s 2014 single ‘Sissy That Walk’ plays, to the delight of the crowd.
Sasha Velour makes her first appearance on stage before the clock has struck midnight. With little warning, she walks on with a measured, stately air. She removes her sunglasses to a scream from the crowd. Then, as soon as she appeared, she’s gone again.
The evening proceeds with appearances from Velour’s co-hosts sandwiching her performances. Barnicle dominates the stage in his own gold crown. His name is in lights behind him, accompanied by a portrait by the scene’s resident illustrator, Jay Bailey. Then Sasha Velour returns, this time dressed as her idol (and recent Google Doodle muse) Marlene Dietrich.
“What makes queerness so amazing is that we stand on a platform of love and acceptance.”
Velour performs an impeccable lip sync to Dietrich’s ‘Illusions’, which morphs into a full dance routine to Le Tigre’s dance-punk hit ‘Deceptacon’. Velour slipping off her top hat and tails to show a leopard print basque and Yolandi Visser-eque wig must surely be the reveal of the night.
Sets followed from the rhinestone-encrusted Tanja MacKenzie, who performed a flawless lip sync of Ella’s ‘Mamma Boy’ (for the unacquainted that was Norway’s official Eurovision selection for 2017, and a perfect slice of electro-pop at that). Birmingham’s self-styled ‘Queer Bratz doll from hell’ Boo Sutcliffe is up next, flouncing across the stage in her enormous backcombed yellow wig with every ounce of attitude that we’ve come to expect from her.
The hotly anticipated Hungry was next to take the spotlight. Bringing distorted drag all the way from Berlin, Hungry recently collaborated with Björk on the artwork for her 2017 release Utopia and it’s easy to see what drew them together. Combining otherworldly makeup, motoric vogueing, and a frighteningly cinched waist, her routine to a remix of Röyksopp’s ‘Monument’ is at the cutting edge of performance art. She takes a bow, standing surrounded by elements of her pink satin costume, clad in stiletto boots and peephole panties. If there’s anyone who can follow this, it’s Sasha Velour.
The strains of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ fill The Nightingale. Velour is back on stage for her final performance of the night, this time in a classic red shirt-dress and fiery bob. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a bit obvious, until she disappears behind a red umbrella and re-emerges as a bedazzled incarnation of Tolkien’s character Gollum. Flinging herself against the barriers, her pointed ears and single, heart shaped nipple pasty glint in the stage lights.
After the show I catch up with Elliot Barnicle and Boo Sutcliffe to get their take on how the night felt from the other side of the crowd barrier.
“I really didn’t expect anything less from an audience that was drawn in for Sasha Velour,” says Sutcliffe. “The energy in the room was electric. It was full of so much love and acceptance.”
Barnicle agrees. “The night was incredible, it’s inspiring to see such a talented performer on stage, pushing the boundaries of drag and to be received by such a wide audience. Sasha is such a kind queen and was really interested in seeing us other performers on stage!”
“I think Sasha’s comments on the never-ending changes and movements of what drag is and can be is what makes her such a queer icon and the deserving reigning queen,” continues Barnicle. “Everything she stands for and says goes towards a more loving and accepting future for drag queens and queer people everywhere. The general vibe I got from everything Sasha said is to never back down from what you believe in and to not let our voices be silenced. We are valid as queer people and we are valid as a community.”
For more on Sasha Velour, visit www.sashavelour.com
For more on Hungry, visit www.instagram.com/isshehungry
For more on Boo Sutcliffe, visit www.instagram.com/boosutcliffe
For more on Tanja Mckenzie, visit www.facebook.com/tanja.mckenzie
For more on Elliot Barnicle, visit www.elliottbarnicle.co.uk
For more on Klub Kids, visit www.klubkids.co.uk
For more from The Nightingale Club, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.nightingaleclub.co.uk