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

Words by Ed King

On Friday 20th September, the Grand Finale of Dragpunk’s Ghoul School will be held at The Nightingale Club.

Doors open for this devilish delectation from 8pm, with tickets priced at £5 advance and more on the door. For direct event information, including online ticket sales, click here to visit Dragpunk’s Ghoul School Facebook event page.

Hosting heats 1 & 2 in August, the time has come for the Grand Finale of Dragpunk’s Ghoul School – the celebration competition where fledgling kings and queens get to ‘push the boundaries of drag’ and possibly run home with a huge bag of cosmetics and a ‘giant handmade Dragpunk gothic crown and trophy’. That and a paid up performance slot at Dragpunk’s Halloween Drag Me to Hell Part II at Eden Bar on 11th October, which ‘aint to be sniffed at no matter how much dried blood you’ve got stuck round your nostrils.

Always inclusive, Dragpunk have emphasised in the application process for Ghoul School that the competition is ‘alternative’ and open to any gender, age, ability or style. You can be political, you can be subversive, you can be a comedy or tragedy – indeed, in their own promotional words Dragpunk ‘believes competitions should be fun and creative, full of learning and guidance… It’s all about the taking part and putting on a show for you the audience.’ And if you’ve ever been to a Dragpunk event before, it’s usually quite a spectacular.

But it is a competition, after all, and battling to out-spook each other on stage will be some impressive acts from the August qualifying heats. Emily Doyle, Birmingham Review’s resident drag writer and illustrator, has been watching the Ghoul School unfold…

Ghoul School set out to create a platform for Birmingham’s up-and-coming alternative performers,” explains Emily, “and they’ve certainly delivered on that so far. In the heats of Dragpunk’s inaugural talent contest, we’ve seen everything from mime and juggling to facial stapling and microwave lasagna – it’s hard to imagine what the final could look like. It will without a doubt be the place to see the rising stars of Birmingham drag, although it’s worth noting that the first few rows may get wet…

Dragpunk’s Ghoul School Grand Final comes to The Nightingale Club on Friday 20th September, as promoted by the Dragpunk Collective. For direct event information, including online ticket sales, click here to visit the Dragpunk Facebook Page.

For more on the Dragpunk Collective, visit www.dragpunkcollective.wordpress.com

For more from The Nightingale Club, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.nightingaleclub.co.uk 

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‘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 7th October, click here for more details and links to online orders.

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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.

THE GALLERY: Dragpunk presents Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18

THE GALLERY: Lilith – Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18 / Sarah Maiden

 

 

 

Words by Anna Cash Davidson / Pics by Sarah Maiden

On Friday 12th October, Dragpunk hosted their Drag Me to Hell! show at The Nightingale Club, the oldest and most popular LGBTQ venue in Birmingham, running since 1969.

Dragpunk are a collective that ‘aim to promote LGBTQ art, awareness and confidence’ in Birmingham, bringing together drag (‘a creative art for anyone regardless of their gender, sexual identity and orientation’) and punk (‘an expressive, individual freedom that is anti-establishment and anti-mainstream society’). THE GALLERY: Cosmic Crum – Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18 / Sarah MaidenThe show is hosted by Lilith and features the whole Dragpunk collective – Tacky Alex, Paul Aleksandr, Amber Cadaverous – with appearances from Cosmic Crum, Tanja McKenzie, Eva Serration, and special guest Ruby Wednesday.

The venue has limited seating capacity, so I take a standing position – managing to find a spot not obstructed from view by drag queens in 6-inch heels. The stage is decorated in full Halloween pantomime galore, littered with fake candles and furnished with red drapes, skulls and a crystal ball.THE GALLERY: Tacky Alex – Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18 / Sarah Maiden As we wait for the 9:30 pm start time, eerie music plays in the background that takes me back to theme parks of my childhood, and this theatricality is only increased by the smoke machine that alerts us that the performance has begun.

Our host for the evening is Lilith, who stuns in a Gothic bride get-up, complete with a black veil, delivering us humorous one-liners throughout the evening, with her interjections providing a break from the intensity of some of the performances.THE GALLERY: Paul Aleksandr – Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18 / Sarah Maiden The narrative of the performance follows Lilith summoning dead spirits with her crystal ball and there is everything you want from a Halloween drag show, with Frankenstein’s bride, Salem witch trials, Ouija boards and light dose of devil-worship.

Cosmic Crum bursts through the crowd and all I can see are the horns on his head until he reaches the stage, and the two men he has on a leash become visible. Crum pours blood on them and they lick it off each other, whilst ‘Seven Nation Army’ plays in the background.THE GALLERY: Tanja McKenzie – Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18 / Sarah Maiden Tacky Alex brings some clownish joy to the stage, lip-syncing Tiny Tim’s ‘Living in the Sunlight’, whilst Paul Aleksandr gives us a dramatic rendition of Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)’. “Wasn’t that intense?” quips Lilith during the interlude.

THE GALLERY: Eva Serration – Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18 / Sarah MaidenPopular music plays a key part throughout the show tonight, with Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and Kiss’ ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’ also featuring. Less popular numbers include a devil-worship song (with the lyrics ‘praise the devil’) in Tanja Mckenzie’s performance, with the Satanic as a clear running theme. Towards the end, Lilith uses a Ouija board to help her summon our final spirits for the evening.

THE GALLERY: Ruby Wednesday – Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18 / Sarah MaidenStand-out performances include Eva Serration’s depiction of Frankenstein’s creature and bride told as a feminist revenge story, lip syncing to a speech from recent TV series Penny Dreadful“Never again will I kneel to any man. Now they shall kneel to me. As you do, monster,” we hear, before she rips off his head and her own white shapeless dress, revealing a red corset and fishnets as a sign of her new freedom.

The final performance of the evening is Ruby Wednesday, whose refreshing take on drag is particularly striking in a pinstripe suit, eyeliner, heels. and wigless – blurring the lines even further between gender. Ruby Wednesday ends the night with sparks flying, literally, sending us off with an angle grinder in an impressive display, in keeping with the drama of the evening.

Overall, it is an enjoyable night, bringing together people of all ages, genders and sexualities in an entertaining show, leaving us never quite knowing what to expect next. I think it’s time to start planning my Halloween costume…

 

 

 

Dragpunk presents Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18 / Sarah Maiden

Gallery not found.

 

For more on the Dragpunk Collective, visit www.facebook.com/dragpunkcollective

For more from The Nightingale Club, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.nightingaleclub.co.uk

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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 sign up to NOT NORMAL – NOT OK, click here. To know more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK sticker campaign, click here.

BPREVIEW: Dragpunk presents Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18

BPREVIEW: Dragpunk presents Drag Me to Hell! @ The Nightingale Club 12.10.18Words by Ed King

On Friday 12th October, the Dragpunk collective are back for another show – returning to The Nightingale with Drag Me to Hell!

Appearing at Drag Me to Hell! will be the whole Dragpunk collective Amber Cadaverous, Paul Aleksandr, Tacky Alex, with Lilith as the evening’s hostess – joined by Cosmic Crum, Tanja McKenzie, and Eva Serration.

There will also be a special guest appearance from Ruby Wednesday, who is flying The Familyyy Fierce nest for a night to sit glacier cherry style on the evening’s proceedings in Birmingham.

Doors open at The Nightingale Club from 8:30pm, with Drag Me to Hell! starting from 9:30pm prompt – running until the 16+ curfew ends at 11pm. Tickets are priced at a super reasonable £3 (adv) and £5 (otd), with entry to the official after party included if you’re old enough to go. Or brave enough, this is a ‘Halloween Theatre Show’ after all…

For direct links to online ticket sales for Drag Me to Hell! visit Eventbrite by clicking here. Or for more information on the show, visit the Facebook Event page by clicking here.

Dragpunk Presents’ first show back in April, Candyland, was a showcase of the collective’s great, good and covered in condiments – ‘showcasing local and national UK drag of all genders, sexualities and abilities that you’ll adore!’ Check out Emily Doyle’s illustrated Birmingham Review of Candyland by clicking here.

But there’s more to Dragpunk that shock, horror, and baking ingredients abuse – the local ‘collective of creative queer-minded people’ are strong advocates for artistry and inclusivity, promoting shows that create ‘a safe space for self-expression’ for every friendly face that attends.

Dragpunk’s latest offering, Drag Me to Hell! is also a shimmy/shake into more theatrical territory, with the set piece showcase conveyor belt making way for a narrative led production.

We want to give a solid Halloween show,” explains Dragpunk’s Paul Aleksandr, “full of atmosphere with some very cool and well thought out performances, from horror to some creepy tongue-in-cheek comedy. It’s the start of something different for drag Birmingham drag shows.”

Sounds like a night out to me, one the show’s promo rhetoric says ‘will take you back to the times of Victorian darkness, bringing drag performances and theatre together, where spirits, demons, and some good ol’ camp horror will bring the night alive! Quite literally!’

Ah, you’ve got to love Halloween for the marriage of performance and art, and Dragpunk have never been afraid of a bit of needle and thread. If you’ve ever seen Aleksandr’s ‘Hungry Caterpillar’ costume…

Dragpunk Presents: Drag Me to Hell! at The Nightingale Club on Friday 12th October. For direct links to online ticket sales for Drag Me to Hell!, visit Eventbrite by clicking here. Or for more information on the show, visit the Facebook Event page by clicking here.

For more on the Dragpunk Collective, visit www.facebook.com/dragpunkcollective

For more from The Nightingale Club, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.nightingaleclub.co.uk

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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 sign up to NOT NORMAL – NOT OK, click here. To know more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK sticker campaign, click here.

BREVIEW: Boulet Brothers’ Dragula @ The Nightingale Club 07.09.18

Boulet Brothers’ Dragula @ The Nightingale Club 07.09.18

Words & illustrations by Emily Doyle

The freaks and geeks of Birmingham’s drag scene have arrived at The Nightingale Club in their droves to welcome the Boulet Brothers on their first UK Tour. Dragula has finally made it to the UK, and it’s about time.

For the uninitiated, Dragula is to Ru Paul’s Drag Race what I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here is to Pop Idol. The show started life as a live talent show on the LA and San Francisco nightlife scene, before becoming a straight-to-YouTube TV show with a cult audience. It’s since been picked up by Canadian cable channel OutTV, and with its third season in the works it shows no signs of slowing down.

The Boulet Brothers emerge to the strains of the show’s growling theme music. They are bathed in red light. Making no assumptions about their audience’s familiarity with the show, the brothers Dracmorda and Swanthula brief the crowd on Dragula’s aim to, “locate, articulate and elevate alternative forms of drag.” They make no bones about their stance on inclusivity, throwing only a little bit of shade at the Drag Race model when they declare that it, “doesn’t matter what’s between your legs” in drag. 

Vander Van Odd - Boulet Brothers’ Dragula @ The Nightingale Club 07.09.18Once the formalities are out the way, the Boulet Brothers introduce the first act of the evening: “Birmingham, put those filthy hands together, and welcome to the stage, Vander Von Odd!”

Resplendent in a Batwing cape and winged eyeliner sharp enough to cut a man, Vander Von Odd sets the tone for the evening. Crowned the ‘World’s First Drag Supermonster’ at the conclusion of Dragula’s first season, Odd has a lot to answer for. Her first performance is an impassioned lip sync routine to some euphoric electropop from Sweden’s iamamiwhoami. It’s triumphant, and culminates in an in-your-face nude illusion reveal. When Odd returns to the stage later in the evening, however, she’s upped her game – stumbling out into the spotlight, an umbilical cord of red silk tied around her waist, and disappearing behind the curtains. She wears a white latex ballerina outfit and picks her way across the stage en pointe to the strains of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’. It’s fragile, arresting, and heartbreaking.

James Majesty - Boulet Brothers’ Dragula @ The Nightingale Club 07.09.18Not all of Dragula’s performers are pitching quite such high brow acts. Season 2 runner up, James Majesty, treats us to two salacious performances, spraying the crowd with beer and slapping the faces of the front row. A provocative routine to glam rockers Semi Precious Weapons sees Majesty fully nude by the end of the song – there’s no illusion here. Alongside her drag, Majesty has been both a sex worker and educator; her shameless attitude is contagious.

Season 1’s Meatball injects a little more humour into the evening with her performances. Strutting on stage with an old McDonald’s advert playing on the screen behind her, she adjusts her yellow bodysuit and produces a paper bag. Her wig is bright red, yellow highlights at the front mirroring the golden arches on the screen behind her. Her lipsync drips with attitude, cutting between Ke$ha’s ‘Woman’ and a monologue ripped straight from YouTube about a woman being denied an extra McRib at a drive-thru (if you’re as clueless as I was, search for ‘tell ‘em Carla sent you’ and all will be revealed). By the end she is tossing room temperature hamburgers (mercifully still wrapped) from the paper bag into the audience. The gentleman behind me catches one and eats it with vigour.

Meatball - Boulet Brothers’ Dragula @ The Nightingale Club 07.09.18The Boulet Brothers take some time out of the show to record a message from the crowd to Season 2’s Victoria Black, who’s had to pull out of the tour due to illness. In their words, however, her loss is our gain. Atlanta performer, Abhora, is here to take her place and presents what might be the most disarming performances of the night.

The word “Abhora” has barely left our host’s lips before the lights dim, and the crashing guitar of Marilyn Manson’s ‘Astonishing Panorama of the End Times’ fades in over the PA system. At the far end of the venue Abhora emerges, wading through the crowd on stilts. She’s draped in bin bags, looking like Disney’s Maleficent if Debbie Harry did her wardrobe. Perched atop her backcombed grey wig are a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. She throws herself against the room’s lit-up pillars, trusting audience members to get out of the way in time. As John 5’s revolting speed metal guitar solo kicks in, Abhora holds aloft a plush Donald Duck, strung up to a wooden crucifix like a marionette. She whirls it around as the crowd ducks to avoid being hit, before collapsing in a daring stage dive.

Perhaps the most hotly awaited performer of the evening is the winner of Dragula Season 2, Biqtch Puddin‘. She has a reputation for pushing the boundaries of weird, even in drag circles. Her first performance of the evening is centred around the unsolved homicide of child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey, a theme clearly chosen for its tastelessness. However, it would probably be more provocative to an American audience – or at least one who weren’t mostly children themselves in 1996 when it played out in the US media.Abhora - Boulet Brothers’ Dragula @ The Nightingale Club 07.09.18

Puddin’s second performance, however, is bang on the money. Dressed in a grubby boiler suit, her hair and makeup feel like a nod to Tim Curry’s Dr Frank-n-Furter. Her lipsync, an old school mix of Whitney Houston, Tiffany, and Berlin, tells the tale of a janitor’s forbidden love for her anthropomorphised cleaning supplies. It’s as surreal as it sounds, and comes to a head with Puddin’ smeared with an ominous brown fluid as she applies a plunger to her face. It’s stomach turning, and it’s exactly what the Dragula fans are here for.

Towards the end of the evening, Dracmorda and Swanthula take some time out of the proceedings for a quick Q&A with the crowd. They refuse to comment on the forthcoming third season, but are otherwise happy to talk about anything from the show’s origins to break-up advice. (“Be polite about it, OK, because you could make a good friend out of that person. Look at what you agree with them on, just make the best of it… otherwise, if they really are awful you could just run ‘em down with your car, that’s another option.”) Fans are clearly heartened to have the chance to put their questions straight to the Boulet Brothers; in a community where the only real mainstream representation of drag queens are Ru Paul’s VH1 vetted glamazons, Dragula represents a punk spirit at the heart of the art form. It’s a breath of fresh air, and a call to arms for would be performers. The brothers have time for one more question:

Aside from filth, horror and glamour, what’s at the heart of a true monster?” muses Swanthula, before her brother interrupts – “Tenacity, tenacity, tenacity!” Dracmorda cries. “If you’re going to become the ‘World’s Drag Supermonster’, it is going to be difficult! It is not Ru Paul’s Drag Race-to-stardom! It is gonna kick your ass, you’re gonna have to perform in crazy places, but you know what? The fans are gonna be passionate, they’re gonna love you, and you’re gonna do fucking amazing.”

It’s on that note that the Boulet Brothers clear the stage for the night’s closing performance, and prepare for a meet and greet. There are smiles all round and the room is abuzz with speculation for the show’s next season. The brothers hint that some UK talent might make an appearance, but refuse to give any more away – it seems British fans will have to wait for it to air to see if they can spot any familiar faces…

For more on Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, visit www.bouletbrothersdragula.com

For more from Eat Sleep Drag Repeat, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.esdrevents.co.uk

For more on The Nightingale Club, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.nightingaleclub.co.uk

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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 sign up to NOT NORMAL – NOT OK, click here. To know more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK sticker campaign, click here.

FEATURE: Life’s a drag at Birmingham Pride

Nora Virus at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

Words by Eleanor Sutcliffe & Ashleigh Goodwin / Pics by Eleanor Sutcliffe

I am not a very social individual.

Approaching strangers for a conversation has always been a fear of mine; the idea of forcing myself to interact with someone whom I have never met fills me with unspeakable dread. I’m the type of person who crosses the road to avoid conversation. It’s ridiculous. Which is exactly why, as I walk hastily into Birmingham Pride, I wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m here to talk all things drag with Pride goers, which involves a lot of approaching strangers. Too much for my liking. But I’m eager to learn more about the drag community and where’s a better place for that than Birmingham’s Gay Village during Pride weekend?

Aside from a handful of shows I’ve covered for Birmingham Review, the drag I’m used to is what you see on the Internet – polished queens posing for photos in their finery, wigs coiffed to perfection, lip-sync routines performed with choreography and backing dancers. Indeed, Ashleigh and I are covering RuPaul’s Werq the World Tour at the Symphony Hall in only a matter of hours. But I suspect there are sides to it I’m missing – a much more intimate layer to drag that, especially if I’m going to start covering it properly, I need to learn. It feels like I’m back at school all over again.

Dixie Normous at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor SutcliffeWe spot a drag queen posing for photos with the public, towering over them with a purple wig and sparkly dress. For Dixie Normous drag is a form of release, “I had a problem drinking and had to get away from the gay scene and I didn’t know how to get back in,” she explains, adjusting her wig. “Now, I’m eight years sober and it helped me return to it. I don’t perform in Birmingham, I’m not a working performer, but I work for pride events such as these, hostess events, DJ events.

Does she feel that there’s any competition in drag these days? Normous shakes her head, “No. I have friends who do drag as performers, they love performing but there is no competition between them. She pauses momentarily, “I mean, there is competition in the form of lip-syncing but it’s not malicious. I take my hat off to them, they sing for seven days a week and they say the same to me – there is mutual respect, there’s loads of work out there. Work seems to be growing for drag in the UK – are popular programs such as RuPaul’s Drag Race partially to credit for this? “RuPaul’s Drag Race shows a different type of drag from the UK scene – I grew up on different things,” she gestures to her beard. “Like, I don’t want to sacrifice my beard and UK and USA drag can be quite different, drag is quite feminised there. I’d never get away with this and my tattoo. A group of Pride goers run up, cameras in hand, and I know it’s time for us to leave, but not before Normous gives us a hug, a kiss on each cheek, and sees us off with a graceful wave of her hand.

Nora Virus at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor SutcliffeAlready I’m feeling more confident, and we weave our way through the crowd towards the Main Stage. Towering over everyone in eight-inch red heels and clad in what appears to be a skin-tight interpretation of my grandmother’s chintz curtains, Nora Virus is hard to miss. She’s on her way to perform with Glitter Shit on the Main Stage but is more than happy to stop for a quick chat. Judging by the crowds here at Pride, does she think that Birmingham’s drag scene has grown? “It’s definitely grown, not just in terms of drag but the whole queer scene has within the last five years or so,” she exclaims, posing against a backdrop of apartment buildings while I grab a few photos.

Nora Virus‘s type of drag isn’t what we typically see commercially. I ask how she feels about this and she shrugs, it’s a mixed response, “The media… it only contains certain types of drag… and you can be whoever you want to be, that’s what’s missing. It depends on what viewers get from it. If programs like RuPaul’s Drag Race open the door to drag, then it’s performers like us on the other side who are ready to educate the masses.” I’m aware she’s running out of time and her friend, Liam, directs us to a man behind us who is nursing a pint with a few friends. Paul McAvoy is the general manager for Holy Trannity, one of the biggest drag event organisers in the UK. If anyone is worth talking to, it’s him. We wish Virus luck and off she bounds, a foot taller than the crowd she’s wading through.

Liam’s right – McAvoy is more than happy to talk shop, despite today clearly being a day off. “We organise a lot of the drag queen events across the UK, especially the acts from RuPaul’s drag race,” he explains, sipping on his pint. “Drag’s growing throughout the UK, it’s not the normal kind of thing shown on TV, not the normal hosted stuff, it’s a different type of reality. More exciting and scandalous than what the public are used to.” And he’s right. Watch any episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and you’ll see what I mean – tensions grow so thick you could cut them with a knife, and tempers flare on the regular between queens and judges. We chat more about drag and he mentions some exciting stuff that we can’t print (yet). We realise he’s working at the Werq the World show later and bid him farewell, promising to catch him at the Symphony Hall – I don’t want to take up any more of his time, especially as he’s been so patient with us.

Paul McAvoy at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor SutcliffeBy now Birmingham Pride is heaving, and the bustling crowd has us feeling knackered. We set off towards the seating area and plonk ourselves down opposite a couple who are in the middle of a heated debate. It seems opinions on drag aren’t reserved to the performers themselves, as we question partners Liam and Chris. “Drag now is mostly RuPaul and that’s not drag!” exclaims Liam, throwing his hands in the air. “If you’re a supporter of drag you know your local acts, not just the famous drag queens. They have a habit of falling into the commercial pit; it’s become an act now where you just have to put a dress on and boom, you’re a drag queen. I push for him to elaborate.

“So, for example, Charlie Hides used to perform at Eden before she went on RuPaul. She was a local queen through Birmingham, London and Bedford and since she has been on RuPaul suddenly she’s charging double. It pushes out the local scene – like, don’t forget where you come from, don’t forget your roots. The queens will throw everything into their fame and they will fizzle out… RuPaul is like the drag equivalent of X Factor, and who remembers the last winner of X Factor?” I can’t even remember the last time I watched it, let alone who won. He nods earnestly, his point proven. “The RuPaul generation, to describe them like that, are keener on watching drag through a screen on TV as opposed to seeing it live. They see a very polished version, not what drag really is.”

So, what does Liam think makes a drag queen? He pauses momentarily, clearly deep in thought. “I think when you look at artists like Myra Dubois, she delivers everything in a political way, she speaks about everything that is going on in the world and it’s how you make the most of your platform. These days anyone will put on a dress and lip-sync for 20 quid, the acts are more in it for the fame. There’s a lot of old school drag that is getting pushed out and people aren’t getting a sense of what it was before.”Liam and Chris at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe My mind flips back to Normous and I curse myself for being so ignorant. Of course there are different styles of drag, why haven’t I noticed this before? And if the industry is so difficult to break, why are local queens doing it in the first place? “So, some queens will be spending double of what they earn, they’ll be doing back to back shows and it’s the reason why you do anything that you enjoy – you do it because you love it. Despite the long hours and all the misconceptions, you get with it. You love your job, and when you love your job it’s not work.

I think about my job as a photographer, and the nights I spend editing when I could be working a ‘real’ job, and finally I find ground where I can relate. Clearly there’s some real local talent I’m missing – who can Liam recommend me to watch? “So… Sandra, Danny Beard, Mary Mac, Viva Vivacious,” chips in Chris. “I think if you want to discover new drag in Birmingham, you should search for Eden on Facebook – the content they deliver on weekdays, on Thursdays, is great. Garry and Cal really know how to work their venue. I run a venue in Bedford that puts on drag acts called The Barley Mow, so I’m always looking for new talent”. I make a mental note to head to Eden on my next Thursday off, and to organise a road trip to Bedford with a few friends during the summer months.

By now we’ve been talking to the boys for over half an hour and we leave them to their pints before heading back off into the hub of Pride. We pass numerous dance tents filled with barely-clothed individuals performering inverted-apex-god-knows-what on stripper poles, and I can’t help but crack a smile. Pride is where people can be completely at ease. It’s a novel feeling.

Michelle (Umbrella Health) at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

At this point, Michelle speeds past in rollerskates, flinging rainbow condoms at anyone who will take them. She looks amazing, and I can’t help but snap a photo of her. She’s here with Umbrella Health, who provide free, confidential sexual health services across Birmingham. “We just usually hang around by the entrance, and hand out free stuff, answer questions… everyone is usually chilled out and happy,” she exclaims, filling my arms with pens, lip balms and yet more condoms. “We see a lot of drag queens come through, we always try and get a photo with them. I’m actually going to Werq the World later, I can’t wait!” She flashes a smile and skates off, a woman on a mission. Things to do, condoms to fling.

A trend seems to be emerging here – those who are fans of drag lean towards the commercial side we see on TV, while those who are actively involved in the scene tend to view the commercial side with weariness. The more we speak to people, the more I think that mainstream media is dispelling the truth that drag has roots that run much deeper than the odd TV series. It’s a large, complex community that deserves more recognition and exposure than it’s getting.

I spot local performer, Paul Aleksandr, having his photo taken with a gaggle of visitors. Draped in what looks to be the dismembered corpse of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I have them pose up against a fire truck while I snap some photos. They’ve just come off tour with Adore Delano with Drag Punk – how did they find it? “I know there is this stereotype of ‘millennials’ and they are given a bad reputation,” explains Aleksandr, “but millennials are passionate people, they shouldn’t be dismissed because of their age. The shows with them were immense… one of the people that was there has come to Pride with us today, she’s only fourteen,” they exclaim, gesturing over to a girl bedecked in a long, pink wig. The fan base for Delano’s shows seems to be much younger than I anticipated. I catch the girls eye and ask to interview her next – she nods with glee before posing for more photos with the public.

Paul Aleksandr at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe

Did Aleksandr find approaching members of the pubic hard at shows, or is it a skill that comes naturally? “It’s organic, if you do drag people talk to you – it’s a platform, it’s pushing people to do their thing,” they explain. “It’s not just a lip-sync but making a statement about important topics such as misogyny and empowerment. It’s a form of education, especially when some fans are this young – they can’t go to local shows as they’re all 18+.” Should drag be reserved for certain individuals of a certain age, or should it be open to all? “In the last four or five years, drag has become accessible to everyone. Gender is tied to identity and drag is a way to spearpoint identity. In the 80’s queer identity died for multiple reasons, and now you can build something with drag. Performers are responsible to educate the masses, especially on what we lost back then”.

Do they feel Birmingham Pride is inclusive for everyone who wants to explore drag including women? Aleksandr‘s hands fly up in the air animatedly, “Of course! Like, who the fuck cares if you have a clitoris – stop thinking about their genitalia! Out of like 16 venues participating in Pride, there is only one owned by a women. There can be issues within the community such as racism, transphobia and ableism… we should be aware to that.” If there are still issues of exclusion across the community, how does the social hierarchy affect those within it? “If you’re a lesbian you’re sidelined. If you’re bisexual you don’t exist. If you’re anything but white and gay, to fit in you try and be flamboyant, to mould yourself into what is deemed socially acceptable.” I look lost, so Aleksandr simplifies it, “the white cis gay man is in a nice mansion on the top of the hill but if you’re trans black woman then your house is burning down”. Ah, that makes sense. Horribly.

I must be looking slightly crestfallen at the entire thing, so Paul Aleksandr directs me to Rosary Bee and Amber Cadavarous. I recognise Cadavarous from the recent Drag Punk Candyland event at The Nightingale, as well as a Facebook video that went viral a few months ago where she explained her place in drag as a woman – honestly, before I saw it I had no idea women could even do drag. And it seems I’d be easily forgiven for this. “Trans women invented our drag,” explains Rosary Bee, “it’s very Shakespearean and the night life scene contributed to its growth. Women have always been in drag – it just hasn’t been documented.Amber Cadavarous and Rosary Bee at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe I mean, history was documented and created by guys and they chose what they wanted to be seen.” For a 14 year old Bee is educated beyond her years in drag, and defends her position to the hilt. It’s amazing to see, and that she’s so passionate about it. Bee explains how she looks up to Amber Cadavarous as she is also a woman, and how they met at one of Adore Delano’s shows before meeting back up at Birmingham Pride.

Amber Cadavarous is everything I imagined her to be – from her silver shiny boots, right up to the exaggerated bow in her hair that depicts the phrase DYKE in big, black letters. She’s patient and friendly while I question her on everything drag – especially their decision to bring Bee to Pride in drag. Does she think there should be age limits on it? “I agree there should be age limits, maybe, as there is sometimes a lot of adult content,” explains Cadavarous. “It shouldn’t be mutually exclusive though – there should be a space for young adults and below to explore drag. I used to sneak into clubs to watch drag performances. It helps you figure out who you are in regards to things such as your sexuality and gender – especially for women”. Does she feel that this could be possible in Birmingham?

“The scene is very inclusive in Birmingham in general. It’s welcoming and very diverse and I never felt like I couldn’t do drag here. I never asked for permission and I didn’t feel excluded, I found my family here,” her eyes dart to back Paul Aleksandr and Rosary Bee. “I wanted to educate and uplift women, and use my platform to support them – queer women especially. When we recently supported Adore, a lot of kids came up and said I didn’t realise I could do this, but you can, my love! I received a lot of messages saying this and seeing them realise they could do it was a wonderful feeling”.

We’ve been talking for so long that we fail to notice the sky turn an ominous grey, and rain soon starts to fall heavily. Hastily saying goodbye, Ashleigh and I dart through the crowds, finding refuge in the Main Stage tent with thousands of others. We spot two drag kings sheltering under the eaves of a food van; Adam All is in his trademark purple suit, while fellow performer Oedapussy is dressed like a Viking warrior, adorned in countless blue flowers. They look incredible.

I ask for a brief rundown on drag kings. “So, drag is much bigger than it used to be, the concept of drag king started in 1867 and it started underground with male impersonators on stage”, Adam All explains. “We didn’t have much of an uprising until the early 1980’s and 1990’s, now we have women’s bars and it’s really helped promote it in the last ten years or so. The number of drag queens is around the 100’s in the UK but when I started there was only a handful of us – here in Birmingham, Manchester, Brighton, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Now it’s all over the place in the UK. Drag kings are popping up everywhere and it’s constantly gaining momentum”. What’s to credit for the growth?

Oedapussy and Adam All at Birmingham Pride 26-7.05.18 / Eleanor Sutcliffe“Social media helps,” exclaims Oedapussy, “in London there are mixed shows and we go to see some queens and there is more of a crossover. Also, drag in general is becoming more acceptable, this has never really been covered before, like women doing it”. They’re right too – I was surprised to see women as drag queens. Having now seen two drag kings in the flesh, my mind is blown. I wasn’t wrong about needing a little education.

By now what was a slight trickle of rain has become a monsoon type downpour. Ashleigh wearily eyes my camera, and we realise we must make our way up to the Symphony Hall. We stagger out of Birmingham Pride and I bundle us into an uber, our clothes soaked, laughing at our misfortune. Only we could get caught in a downpour like this before a show.

I imagined leaving the festival with our carefully composed questions all answered. Instead, we’ve now got so many more to ask and clearly it’s going to take longer than a few days at Birmingham Pride to answer them all. But the warm welcome and engaging response we got from the drag artists we talked to, and the crowds buzzing around them, was infections – embracing us into a wonderful and creative world, but one with something serious to say. You couldn’t help but feel part of something. Even to a social recluse like myself.

For more on Birmingham Pride, visit www.birminghampride.com