Billed as “bourbon-soaked snake-charmin’ rock ’n’ roll cabaret”, Gypsy Hotel does what it says on the tin. This hybrid of rock gig and variety show is a loud carnival of frenzied fun, featuring enough fiendish burlesque, lurid musical comedy and sinful sounds to corrupt the youth of a country or two.
The revue is run by Paul-Ronney Angel, frontman of riotous multi-ethnic blues rock ensemble The Urban Voodoo Machine. Angel himself often performs in it, playing original songs as well as selections from the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Tom Waits, in impromptu jams with guests or parallel projects like the Dalston Devil Trio, a banjo, tuba and steel guitar outfit.
Two regular acts are typical of the show’s mix of genres. Rockabilly quartet The Long Insiders play hip-swaying originals to dance and jive to, and are a hit with the many rock fans in 1950s attire that regularly attend Gypsy Hotel. Specialising in more exotic fare, the twelve-strong Trans-Siberian March Band unleashes a non-stop whirlwind of Eastern European brass tunes that is impossible to stand still to, from lands as diverse as Hungary, Poland, Russia and Turkey. The show often features many other bands favouring a gypsy or Balkan vibe, like the Hackney folk punks of Walking Wounded or gypsy sextet Buffo’s Wake, with further blues-rock by Little Victor, Screaming Tupelo and Brandy Row and the Truebadours, among others.
Burlesque at the Hotel doesn’t tend to include a lot of cheesecake. Fire-eating beauties like Sophia Landi and Billie Rae are frequent, as are sideshow performers such as Vivid Angel and Empress Stah. Fancy Chance finds an eager audience for her geekier routines, like a Star Trek parody that reveals Lieutenant Uhura’s outstanding tassel-twirling abilities. Funny and provocative, the chameleonic bump-and-grinder is an overdose of shameless antics and defiant performance.
Comic chanteuse Tricity Vogue rounds up the May date with her trademark ukulele-and-kazoo covers ranging from Florence Desmond’s wartime double-entendre serenade The Deepest Shelter in Town to rock standards like Should I Stay or Should I Go? and Video Killed the Radio Star, sure hits with a crowd like this. Other musical comedy mavens who have graced the eclectic stage include satirical crooner Mister Meredith and lounge despot Frank Sanazi.
The relaxed atmosphere of Gypsy Hotel makes it a prime spot for artists trying out new acts. One such debut is vaudevillian comedy troupe Dalston Fisting Club, comprising burlesquers Suri Sumatra and Lady Ane Angel, as well as Amanda Rogers (producer of monthly Brixton party night Stranger Than Paradise). The trio uses dance, shadowplay and plenty of banter in an educational fist-fuck workshop simulation, all delivered with the exaggerated cheer of a workout video. The single joke wears off quickly, leaving the number predictable and tepid, but you can’t put a price on the sight of a live dog covered in chocolate.
A proper live music pub, The Lexington has few seats, so arrive early to get a hold of those. Most patrons don’t bother, though: Gypsy Hotel is a show to jump, stomp, shake and grind, courtesy not only of most of the live acts, but also of DJ Scratchy, who plays “the rock and the roll of the world” between performances and in the complimentary afterparty running from midnight to 4 AM. This is variety with an attitude and plenty of fuel to burn.
Gypsy Hotel. Produced by Paul-Ronney Angel. The Lexington, London N1 9JB. Third Saturday of every month, 21:00. £9.99. www.facebook.com/gypsyhotel
Like what you hear? Check out Gypsy Hotel Vol. 1, a compilation of live and studio cuts by Hotel regulars including Trans-Siberian March Band, Urban Voodoo Machine, Jim Jones Revue and others. Available as CD and download from www.hmv.com