Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Across the Border: Art and Culture: Kings Cross Festival 2012 Part II

With all the bad press the neighbourhood has been receiving this year, it was good to see residents and shopkeepers reclaiming the streets last week. 

We sometimes stay indoors at night, away from the rowdy crowds, or we rush down the strip in a hurry, careful to avoid stepping on a discarded chicken bone, triangle of greasy pizza or splatter of vomit. 
But last Wednesday morning, the reclamation began in the normally grim ticketing area of Kings Cross Train Station, when a string trio marked the beginning of the Kings Cross Festival 2012.

Their music was a magical way to start the day, and I would have lingered, too, if I didn't have to go to work. That night, however, I was lucky enough to attend the festival launch party at the Mercure Hotel's Dandelion Bar.

It was a real squeeze of locals, politicians and performers, and we were kept entertained by a roving magician, live music and a lot of nice drinks. The magician, below, did some amazing card tricks, including one involving a lighter that burnt his fingers in the shape of the six of spades (the card I had selected). I still don't know how the magician did it. A friend of mine had a theory, but I refused to listen.

Another friend who arrived later said it was fantastic to walk along the street and hear the music, chatter and laughter of the party above. And everyone behaved themselves mostly. We didn't have to watch where we stepped.

Performer Vashti Hughes, from the hit-show Mum's In, was also there and I insisted on taking her picture with the Kings Cross Hotel behind her, because that's where her show is now on (5pm every Sunday!). She may not look too happy about being snapped, but trust me, it was all AOK. I think she had just taken a sip of beer. 

The festival's artistic director Ignatius Jones, above, said a few words about Kings Cross, the most memorable being how the area is known as an 'entertainment precinct' and yet there is no entertainment, unless you want to get shit-faced or go to a blokey strip club. The festival was all about bringing entertainment back to the Cross, he said. 

But the speech-ette I liked the most was by the chairman of the Potts Point Partnership, Adrian Bartels (above), who was the driving force behind securing funding for the festival from the NSW Government and the City of Sydney. Quite a lot of cash, too. 
Bartels talked about how he was raised on the North Shore of Sydney, which was filled with white, Anglo-Saxon heterosexuals. 
The Cross, however, was unique and filled with a diverse range of people of all ages and backgrounds, who came to the area because it was so welcoming. There were no weirdos in the Cross, he said, just eccentrics. 
It was a beautiful line, which gave me goosebumps.

Sadly, I wasn't able to attend any other festival events until the weekend, mainly because I'd only seen the program last Wednesday and my diary was already booked with stuff, which is most unusual, but it's that time of year. I hope next year, the program comes out a little earlier and perhaps they could hold the festival a little earlier, too.

On Saturday, I headed down to the festival pop-up shop, at 28 Macleay Street, in the hope of finding a dream dress, but the one I liked was about $1200, so I went to Fitzroy Gardens for some free entertainment instead. 

It was a gloriously sunny day and I wished I'd brought my hat as I could feel myself burning, despite seeking shelter under a magnolia tree. 
Warren Fahey had put together the line-up of performers and I stayed around for his set with the 'larrikin band', who played bush songs and 'city ditties'. There was a song about Woolloomooloo, which was interesting and Fahey told a few historical tales about the area.
It's not my favourite style of music, but the mood was really good, everyone was happy and a couple of adults danced as the children watched on.

Later, we were treated to a performance by cabaret artist Carlotta, one of the original members of the long-running Les Girls, featuring "heavily costumed males". Les Girls Restaurant opened in 1963 in a purpose-built building on Darlinghurst Road, which was then owned by the late Sydney identity Abe Saffron. Les Girls ran until 1993 and the building is now known as the Empire Hotel.

Carlotta, who sang a tailor-made Kings Cross version of The Lady is a Tramp, was one of four people to be presented with an inaugural 'Characters of the Cross Award', by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, for their contribution to the area.

After receiving her award and performing, Carlotta - who had a sold-out show at the Kings Cross Hotel the night before and a big picture story in the Sydney Morning Herald - signed autographs for her fans.

Also receiving an award was Frankie Davidson, whose song, Have You Ever Been to See Kings Cross, topped the charts in 1962.

If you think you've done some travellin', like to say you've been around;

That you've seen the sights of Paris or the heart of London town;
You might say you dined in Soho, would be mighty hard to toss;
Well let me tell you boy, that you just ain't lived until you've seen King's Cross.

It was quite a lively tune and while he was accepting his award, the music came on and Frankie gave a surprise performance and sang along, as his lovely wife, Helen, pictured with him above, looked on proudly. 

Vittorio Bianchi, above, has been making coffee at the Piccolo Bar Cafe, on Roslyn Street, for about the past 50 years and in that time has become a well known character of the area. As he accepted his award, young children jumped up and cried out his name, "Vittorio! Vittorio! Vittorio!", such is his popularity. 

One of the most photographed men in Kings Cross, Animal from the Kings Cross Bikers, was the last to accept an award from the Lord Mayor, for his contribution to many charities in the neighbourhood.
Animal arrived at the gardens with the crew of men who normally spend Saturdays sitting at Froth Cafe on the strip. 
I always say hello when I pass them, so when I took the photograph above on Saturday, the chap on the right asked me when I was going to go for a ride on his Harley. 
Now that would be a great story. But first, I have to get myself some biker chick threads.

As I was leaving the gardens, I passed by the lovely El Alamein Memorial Fountain and a beautifully dressed woman, above, who had just dropped her handbag, spilling some of its contents on the ground. 
I stopped to help her and as I was picking up some of her belongings, I remarked upon how pretty her red velvet rosebud pocket mirror was. 
"No one ever helps me," she said.
"Please, you keep it."
I couldn't accept it, but instead stopped and had a quick chat, also complimenting her on her exquisitely coloured outfit, which had been put together like a fantastic Matisse.
I soon learned her name was Boom Boom LaBern and she once a well-known Kings Cross cabaret artist. Pictures from her career feature on the wall of the Piccolo Bar. 
Since googling her, I have discovered she keeps a memoir-style blog, and also once ran a cafe in Dharamsala, a hill station in northern India. 
I was so pleased to meet her and happy that she posed for a picture. Doesn't she look marvellous. Next year at the festival, she should be presented with a Characters of the Cross Award.

I returned to Fitzroy Gardens briefly on Sunday, but it was so unbearably hot and there was not a breeze to be felt. I only stayed long enough to see one of the performers in the gypsy caravan, above, and to buy a couple of second-hand crime novels, which I duly took home and read, while an electric fan kept me cool.
But I'm looking forward to next year's festival and hope to meet more characters and attend many more entertaining events. 


Chloe Adams* said...

I'll be looking forward to next year as well. I didn't have a chance to get between Wed and Saturday, and ended up going on the Sunday.
I too bought a bunch of novels. Unbelievably great prices.
I did go to the photographic exhibition at the Mercure, which was quite worthwhile.

Ngeun said...

Great positive post Violet! No weirdos in the Cross, just eccentrics - excellent! Boom Boom LaBern looks gorgeous. Good on you for helping her. Best wishes! :)

Kimberly said...

So good to hear that the wonderful Piccolo Bar was recognised in the Festival. I was briefly upset (see a previous post) when I thought it had closed. And good on you Violet for helping dear Boom Boom! Those of us who live in the inner city are frequently characterised (by those not living in the inner city) as heart-hardened characters who don't care for a stranger in distress. We supposedly just walk by indifferent. We know its not true, so it was great to read your tale of assistance. And didn't she look fabulous?!

Violet Tingle said...

Thanks for your comments lovelies. Piccolo is going strong and has expanded next door with a gelateria, Tiana Banana, or some name like that.
I hope to see Boom Boom again and talk to her about India.
I think, or hope, most people would stop and help anyone who dropped their handbag around here. I've certainly only had any good encounters.
Kings Cross is far more friendlier than most parts of Sydney I have known.