BREVIEW: Dragpunk’s Ghoul School Grand Final @ The Nightingale Club 20.09.19

Words & illustrations by Emily Doyle

It’s a Friday night in September. The nights are drawing in, but it’s still mild enough to enjoy a cigarette on the balcony of Nightingales and watch life go by on Kent Street. Amber Cadaverous, dressed in white satin lingerie and draped in bandages, ushers the crowd into the venue for the Grand Finale of Dragpunk’s Ghoul School.

In July, Dragpunk opened applications for their contest to crown Birmingham’s first drag supermonster. Encouraging applicants from all backgrounds and styles, they stressed in the call out that this is a contest founded on learning and positivity, under the banner of ‘All Drag Is Valid’. In short, they’ve taken a lot more cues from underground hit Boulet Brothers’ Dragula than from Ru Paul’s Drag Race, in terms of values as well as aesthetic.

Both the heats of Ghoul School were well attended, but tonight it’s standing room only not long after the doors open. Plenty of competitors from previous heats have turned out to show their support. Lucius Blac, whose catholic-gothic aesthetic means he’d just as soon be referred to as ‘Father’ than as ‘Daddy’, is propping up the bar. Blac’s performances in heat two were whirlwinds of suave machismo, whether he was wearing a white suit and priest’s collar or a dishevelled clown costume. Sadly, this wasn’t his year – but most of the audience went home that night with pockets full of stickers proclaiming ‘once you go Blac, you don’t go back’ in an ornate blackletter typeface. Flanking Blac are fellow competitors Abel Valentine and The Vicar’s Daughter. Valentine won hearts in heat two with a playful lipsync to Smashmouth’s ‘All Star’. The Vicar’s Daughter, who’s heartfelt mime performance was a highlight of heat one, has fashioned an outfit for tonight out of one of her dad’s stoles, combining it with a barely-there bodysuit, sunglasses, and a fringed boater.

Waiting for the show to begin, heat one performers Cider Goblin and Frieda Brest are perched on the edge of the stage playing Pokemon Go. Cider lived up to their name and gave perhaps the messiest performance of heat one, scattering the stage with empty tinnies out of a bin bag during their lip sync to The Cramps’ ‘Garbage Man’. Frieda was responsible for a delightful chicken themed performance that same evening, it had a skillfully crafted mix featuring Lizzo’s 2018 hit ‘Boys’, but every time she said the word “boys” it was replaced with “chickens”. Often the simplest ideas are the funniest. Tonight, Frieda is here in their masculine alter-ego, Fred D’Coq, complete with a neon pink suit. Sitting in the front row along from them is Church of Yshee 2019 finalist Misty Fye, eager to show support for their partner in crime Glitter King.

Hosting tonight are Dragpunk’s own Lilith and Tacky Alex, a thoroughly odd couple who’ve got polar opposite dress senses and about a foot in height between them. Lilith, veiled in black lace and with eyeliner so sharp it would make Siouxsie Sioux’s eyes water, towers over Alex, who grins at the audience from under a pair of floppy rabbit’s ears and a smear of pink lipstick. The two heats were hosted by the baby of the group, Amber Cadaverous. After some outdated whispers went around the scene challenging the validity of a young queer woman hosting a drag contest, Paul Aleksandr took the stage at the beginning of heat two to make it very clear that as far as Dragpunk are concerned Amber’s place is on the stage. Beaming, Amber took the mic, ringing in the autumn with an enormous pumpkin costume. Paul, having affirmed his role as kindly-yet-creepy uncle of Birmingham’s queer community, returned to mopping up blood and other fluids between performances with an endless supply of blue roll.

The finalists tonight have been given three performance tasks each to determine the winner, who gets to take home a troubling trophy – one of Paul’s sculptures that makes use of a doll’s head and a liberal coating of glossy red paint. First, they’re invited to show off their skills with a narrative performance. Glaswegian queen Diana Morphine takes queues from Tim Burton’s campy classic Beetlejuice, strutting around in a black-and-white striped suit and flinging plastic cockroaches into the audience. Suzi Looz, who’s heat one striptease to Black Flag’s ‘Nervous Breakdown’ saw her booked for a show in London the following week by judge Mary Poppers, delights the crowd by disemboweling Boris Johnson (played with trademark swagger by Haus of Sauseej’s Christian Gay) before emptying a milkshake over his head.

Glitter King, who’s truly mastered comfy drag, cavorts around the stage in a Grumpy Bear onesie to Eiffel 65’s ‘Blue’. Sissy Punk invites Fred D’Coq to join her on stage for a deeply troubling performance, where dialogue from the episode of Always Sunny in Philidelphia where Frank Reynolds convinces the gang they’re eating human meat segues into ‘Truly Scrumptious’ from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as Sissy appears to carve slices of deli meat of Fred’s glutes with a sadistic flair. It’s a word perfect lip sync that has the crowd in stitches. The most unexpected performance comes from Nottingham queen and cosplayer Wyntir Rose, who’s interpretation of a viral episode of Peppa Pig is inspired.

The Ghoul School contestants are then invited to perform a brief runway performance. Local comedy-drag performer Cosmic Crum takes the opportunity to show off an impressive silicone breastplate, while Diana Morphine keeps it classy in a floor length red ballgown. Sissy slithers out of a latex dress to reveal an acidic yellow bodysuit, a look that’s almost as delightfully trashy as the camo chaps she wore for her heat one lipsync to Vengaboys. The star of this round is undoubtedly Suzi, who gambols onto the stage in a tartan suit and snaps open a fan which bears the legend ‘TIPTON’. She writhes on the floor, fluttering it coquettishly, to delighted chanting from the crowd. At the time of writing, Suzi is listed as a ‘notable resident’ on Tipton’s Wikipedia page.

For the final act of the night, performers are simply given the brief ‘freakshow’ – surely an invitation for chaos from Dragpunk. Cosmic Crum steps up to the plate with a wonderfully hairy striptease which must have been the final fate of at least three purple wigs. Diana Morphine is a picture of android glamour, glitching and death dropping her way through a slick mix of electronic pop and looking like Barbarella turned up to 11.

Sissy Punk gives one of the night’s most heartfelt and political performances about her trans experience, culminating in some defiant, full frontal nudity to the sound of ‘Sweet Transvestite’ to the adulation of the judges and the crowd. Horror queen Melancholy, who in the last heat stapled a rubber mask directly onto her face and subsequently bled so much her false lashes melted off, takes the stage as the evening’s final act to hushed anticipation, before engaging in some neon clad needle play that is enough to turn even the strongest stomach. Judges China, Ruby Wednesday and Misty Monique retire to deliberate, and at this point it genuinely feels like anyone could win it.

After a short break, Diana Morphine is crowned the winner of Ghoul School 2019 to much deserved applause. Her consistency and variety won the judges over, so she now has the honor of taking the baby head trophy back to Glasgow – as well as hundreds of pounds worth of drag supplies from Give Face Cosmetics, What A Drag, Offend My Eyes, Morphe and Urban Decay and a paid performance spots with Dragpunk in the future. So, look out as this won’t be Diana’s last time in Birmingham…

For more on the Dragpunk Collective, visit 

For more from The Nightingale Club, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit 

‘I pick my way through the dressing room, stepping over debris from previous performances – a toy guitar, a picked-over sheet of stick-on moustaches, and a slowly deflating blow up doll. The front of my shirt is damp from where I tried to sponge out a pale purple stain from the Dark Fruits. I slip on my coat, grab my umbrella, and make for the stage with what I hope is an air of masculine confidence.’

Watch out for Emily Doyle’s Diary of a Short Lived Drag King, a 24 page A4 ‘zine recanting her own experiences of when she manned up and got on stage – with illustrations from Emily and photography from Eleanor Sutcliffe. 

Diary of a Short Lived Drag King will be available through Review Publishing from 30th September, click here for more details.


NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.

To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any of the issues surrounding sexual violence – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK website.

BREVIEW: Valley of the Kings @ Quantum Exhibition Centre 29.06.18

Abel Valentine - Valley of the Kings @ Quantum Exhibition Centre 29.06.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

Words & pics by Eleanor Sutcliffe

“One sock, or two?”

Nursing a pint of cider, I have found myself advising a drag king on the appropriate amount of stuffing for their underwear. I am no longer a writer, nor a photographer – I am now, in the words of performer Phillip Phallus, a Codpiece Consultant. It’s a title I neither expected to have nor feel that I deserve, but I’m flattered nevertheless. After debating the size different between trainer and football socks, we agree on a single sock. Two seems like overkill.

The venue for Valley of the Kings is the Quantum Exhibition Centre in the middle of Digbeth – a trek, but worth it regardless (and if you lose your way, just keep an eye out for the ‘Thigh Kingdom Comes’ signs that are dotted along Lower Trinity Street). Advertised by a jaunty geometric sign handcrafted by Kali who runs KUCHE at the Ort Café, the small doors lead you into a towering warehouse ran by the charity Nightlife Outreach, who deal with issues from mental health to homelessness to substance abuse. It’s great knowing that tonight not only are you supporting the performers present, but your well-earned money that you spend on the bar is going towards a great cause too.

Wavy Davy - Valley of the Kings @ Quantum Exhibition Centre 29.06.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

I’m ushered into a small room off the main warehouse, in which the crowd are dotted across numerous sofas. Soon, the night is in full swing. First up is Abel Valentine, who struts on to a redubbed version of the Shrek fairy tale narrative, depicting their parent’s horror at giving birth to a “f***ing drag king” before launching into a lip sync to the very apt ‘Gay Bar’ by Electric Six. Capering across the room, they sing into the faces of the audience with glee, grabbing their hands and forcing them to dance.

Following Abel is Uffa Fox and Great Britain, who perform a rather bizarre yet hilarious dance and lip sync to ‘Tight Little Island’. Although everyone’s performances are short, it’s still enough to capture their joy and enthusiasm at having a stage on which to perform. Lucius Blac is amazing, performing ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ before dragging a blow up doll clad in lingerie on stage and slow dancing with it to finish.Phillip Phallus - Valley of the Kings @ Quantum Exhibition Centre 29.06.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

Wavy Davy drops to their knees while strumming a pink electric guitar along to a Prince track, and I can’t help but marvel at the confidence all the performers seem to have tonight. Phillip Phallus (or One Sock Phillip as they are now known) performs a Clockwork Orange inspired piece, sauntering on stage cloaked in a flasher mac before casting it aside in favour of a pair of comically large white Y-Fronts. No details are spared for the performers, right down to the glass of ‘milk’ which Phillip chugs down at the end of their performance.

Manliest Man Competition - Valley of the Kings @ Quantum Exhibition Centre 29.06.18 / Eleanor SutcliffeEager for some crowd participation, Valentine takes to the stage again to announce a ‘Manliest Man’ competition. The ensuing chaos is hilarious – participants are forced to dance their ‘manliest’ dance before being told to grab ‘manly’ items from members of the crowd. These include watches, a beer (not a cider as one unlucky competitor learnt mind) and a pair of trainers. After five rounds, Phillip Phallus is crowned the winner and presented with a rather garish tiara which stays glued to their head for the rest of the night.

Johnny Gash - Valley of the Kings @ Quantum Exhibition Centre 29.06.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

Johnny Gash wanders on stage to strum along to ‘Personal Jesus’, clad in a black leather jacket and dark sunglasses. Lucius Blac then returns to the stage to perform my favourite act of the night, singing along to Panic at the Disco’s ‘Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time’. In the final chorus, they produce a bottle of Moët champagne and empty it over their head, dousing themselves in gold glitter. It’s simple, but effective – or maybe I’m just a sucker for theatrics. Who knows. By now, it’s almost 11pm and I start to gather my things. The party is still in full swing however, and the Britalo Kings emerge on stage to perform a 40-minute dance set.

Lucius Blac - Valley of the Kings @ Quantum Exhibition Centre 29.06.18 / Eleanor SutcliffeIn the dressing room, I strike up a conversation with one of the performers. We begin to discuss the impact of Valley of the Kings on their life, and the night takes a slightly harrowing turn. I’m told how their family views their lifestyle with disgust, and how their sister attempted to force them into a gay conversion therapy. We discuss how they’ve travelled for miles to perform tonight, and how their family are totally unaware of where they are.

It’s heartbreaking – they’re not much older than me, and the thought of them having to travel so far from home in order to explore their gender expression angers me. It serves as a constant, albeit sad, reminder that despite the fun and games, events such as Valley of the Kings serve as key safe spaces for individuals to express themselves with no boundaries.

For more on Valley of the Kings, visit

For from the Quantum Exhibition Centre, visit

BPREVIEW: Valley of the Kings @ Quantum Exhibition Centre 29.06.18

Words by Eleanor Sutcliffe

On Friday 29th June, Valley of the Kings (VOTK) will be hosting another ‘gender expanding’ open mic night – this time at the Quantum Exhibition Centre, 77 Upper Trinity Street, Digbeth.

As opposed to tickets, the event is being marketed as a ‘pay what you can’ night with the suggested donation between £3 and £6. This latest Valley of the Kings begins at 8pm and is scheduled to run until late – for direct event info, visit the Facebook Event Page by clicking here.

Scratch below the surface of Birmingham’s drag scene and you’ll find events such as Valley of the Kings. This is open mic night, but not as we know it – as opposed to acoustic renditions of pop rock stalwarts, expect to see ‘gender adventurers’ cavorting across the stage and lip syncing to their songs of choice.

The ‘rules’ of the evening are fairly simple: message the VOTK Facebook Event Page to book a performance slot, decide on your character, turn up, and perform. Or just watch, if you’re an introvert like me. And for those moments of last minute bravery, the VOTK hosts are also offering a ‘newbie nursery’ for people who decide to perform on the night, where they can get to Quantum slightly earlier and request a song to perform once the audience arrives. Performers who pre-book are guaranteed free entry and a changing room (saving you an awkward Uber ride over) with Glittercreep Face & Body Art on hand throughout the night to cover any available skin with, you guessed it, copious amounts of glitter. Wonderful.

For the budding performer, this is a fun and embracing opportunity to dip your toe into Birmingham’s ever growing drag scene; VOTK is one of the few monthly ‘gender expanding’ events that Birmingham currently has to offer, and the open mic setup allows you to trial a character to your heart’s content. With more established personas such as Lucius Blac, Abel Valentine, Dean the Destroyer and (our team’s personal favorite) Johnny Gash performing, it’s clear that there are few boundaries to what’s good to go on stage. And whilst drag queens are a prominent fixture on Birmingham’s event calendar, it’s always refreshing to see a night this inclusive – where individuals of any gender, style, or ability are welcome to perform.

But as the VOTK Facebook Event Page says, this is ‘an exploratory dig into your inner drag demon. Excavate the hidden gems of your pseudo macho womb by miming along to your favorite song in front of fellow gender adventurers.’ Which although sounds slightly terrifying still fills me with excitement. From the safety of my seat, at least.

Valley of the Kings brings its next open mic night to the Quantum Exhibition Centre in Digbeth on Friday 29th June. For direct event information, visit the Facebook Event Page at

For more on Valley of the Kings, visit

For from the Quantum Events Centre, visit