Bobby Mandrell: after 40 years still one of my favourite acts
I first saw Bobby Mandrell around, god, must be 12 years ago now - at The Dorchester on Beverley Road if that helps you get it into perspective.
I was writing a feature on male strippers and he was appearing with one whose act culminated in some kind of golf and whipped cream theme that – needless to say – involved his appendage rather than a nine iron and left me gobsmacked and the frenzied female crowd literally baying with excitement.
Bobby was the warm up.
I interviewed them both backstage before the show. The stripper – name lost in the passage of time, I am afraid – hated his job, hated the crowds, hated what he was doing with his life. I remember him passionately saying; “You’ll see. You’ll see what they are like tonight. They are like animals.” He certainly had plenty of tales of unladylike behaviour. I felt sorry for him.
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As a deep contrast, Bobby, in the room next door, exuded warmth, humour and a joie de vivre that made you realise you were talking to a man who was loving life. Like a twinkly, camp uncle, he told his story with gusto and passion. It was the story of someone who has learnt many lessons and I think I loved him a little bit before I had ever seen him on stage.
And then the show began.
I was there with my country-living, horse-loving, middle-class friend Sarah. When the over-enthusiastic crowds shouted out in recognition when Bobby made jokes about not putting money on the leccy card in order to be able to come, I realised I had maybe chosen the wrong companion. She asked me for translations every now and then so I bought her more gin and hoped it would help her close her gaping mouth.
The show was blue, it was crude, it was – the crowd and I thought - funny. Sarah, bemused, drank her gin and seemed to treat it like an anthropology lesson so all was well.
But then Bobby started on his denouement, transforming on stage, right before our eyes, from the loud, brash Bobby into the greying, avuncular Ray. Stripping himself bare, revealing himself on stage in a way the stripper was never going to do.
I clearly remember sitting, with a few gin-soaked tears in my eyes, thinking: “Wow, this is art”. Sarah was transfixed.
It was 12 years ago that I first saw Bobby Mandrell but it has stayed with me since. I still think it is one of the best acts I have ever seen.