Modern cabaret and burlesque shows can trace their roots back to the taverns and coffee houses of 18th century London. Hear how they grew in popularity and made history.
Making history today is Ivy Paige, international showgirl, singer and burlesque queen. Hear Ivy’s experiences backstage and what it’s really like working in the world of cabaret in London.
Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to London Guided Walks London History podcast. In the coming episodes, we will be sharing our love and passion for London, its people, places and history in an espresso shot with a splash of personality. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Hazel Baker, founder of London Guided Walks, providing guided walks and private tours to Londoners and visitors alike.
Music halls can be traced back to the taverns in coffee houses of 18th century London where performers sang songs while the audience ate, drank and joined him with them. I’m sure for those of you who’ve been on my road to ruin tour, Sadler’s Wells comes to mind.
Joseph Grimaldi was a superstar in Georgian London. He was so popular that he performed at Sadler’s Wells theatre and also Drury Lane in Covent garden in the same night and had to run between the two venues. And of course characteristically made a bit of a spectacle of this endeavour. By the 1830s taverns had rooms devoted to musical clubs where they present his Saturday evening sing songs and free and easies, which were informal entertainments for amateurs and professional performers.
And these happened all the way into the early hours of the morning. These evenings sing songs became so popular that entertainment was put on two or three times a week. They were Britain’s first mass entertainment emerged broadly speaking in the mid 19th century, and ended arguably after the first world war when the halls rebranded their entertainment as variety.
One of the most famous early music halls was The Eagle in London. The Eagle was an East End tavern on the corner of city road and Shepard us walk that presented regular music entertainment and was doing a roaring trade by 1854. Marie Lloyd, who would become one of the biggest music hall stars first appeared that in 1885 at the age of fourteen.
Today, there’s an Eagle pub on the spot, and that displays old music hall prints inside. Other famous musical performers you may have heard of: Florrie Ford, Charles Chaplin Sr., the father to Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Lloyd, George Formby, and Nelly Power.
Variety shows in London still continue today, often with venues with a single doorway leading out into the street. Some are steeped in history and others are making history today.
Joining me today is international show girl, singer and burlesque queen, Ivy Paige.
International showgirl, singer and burlesque queen.
Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome and thank you for taking the time out to do this.
Ivy Paige: Oh my absolute pleasure.
Hazel Baker: I’ve seen you on so many stages in London, so many iconic ones, and Café de Paris as well. I think I’ve seen you twice there.
Ivy Paige: I love Café de Paris.
Hazel Baker: You know, you’re in for a good time just because the venue is so gorgeous. So my first question to you is what’s been your favourite London venue to perform at.
Ivy Paige: Do you know what? Each venue has his own history and feeling and atmosphere.
So I liked, I suppose the different venues for different reasons I would kind of put with you is talking about all those different venues. I’ve, I feel like I’m being taken back and like, like the smells and sounds and I think for me, I have certain different career highlights, which is possibly why I enjoy performing in certain venues.
And many venues have given, you know, it’s not just the shows that we’ve done there. It’s the friends that I’ve made doing the shows have become lifelong friends. A massive career highlight would have had to have been performing at Hammersmith Apollo.
Hazel Baker: Yeah, that was an awesome night.
Ivy Paige: I’m never going to forget the feeling of walking up and see my neighbour outside. I’ve made it, I’ve made it, but certain venues I love performing in, you know, the size of the Hammersmith Apollo, for example. And then you might have something so much smaller, completely on the other end of the scale of that Cellar door, which is right opposite the Lion King where the lion King is, and I mean that’s been going as long as I’ve been doing this.
Hazel Baker: That’s a converted public toilet wasn’t it?
Ivy Paige: Like, exactly. Talk about the histories of venues in London. Cellar Door used to be a toilet. They say it was frequented by certain, well known literary figures. I don’t know if that’s deserved a legend, you know, again, I love performing in there. And then I also have a residency at the Phoenix Arts Club, which I host a show there called a night in Soho. We do that every Sunday night. I’m like not at the moment, and I love performing there. You know, again, they’re just kind of right in the middle of, you’re right in it. You’re right in the heart of London, in middle of Soho. For me, just feels utterly perfect for cabaret. My first ever performance as Ivy Paige in London was at the Raymond revue bar.
Hazel Baker: Oh was it?
Ivy Paige: Yup. And it was at the Raymond Revue Bar. In 2006, oh my god I’ve been doing this a long time. Yeah, but 2006 to 2007 and I hosted a show called British Bombshells or something. Um, and it was a world war two kind of themed, and it was from that show that I actually ended up getting certain opportunities that really launched me in London.
I met a stage manager. There was a guy called Sean Mooney, who’s actually become one of my, one of my very close friends. And he was managing the show and he said, Oh, my birthday party in a couple of weeks, I’d love for you to come and perform. And that was that show at the Raymond Revue Bar was the first I’d ever hosted, specifically in the role of the host as Ivy Paige.
So I went and did Sean’s birthday party, and that was in a venue in London, London bridge in the tunnels.
Hazel Baker: Oh really?
Ivy Paige: I’ve done pop-up theatre there.
Yes, yeah, yeah. So it was his birthday party and Shawn was a technician in the Western, so lots of very fabulously talented friends who all performed at their party. And some of those friends happen to be the Puppini sisters.
Yeah. And they did a couple of songs at his birthday celebrations, and I was hosting the show and afterwards they were like, we thought you were fabulous. Would you come and perform for us at our show? And I was like, yeah, of course. And very much to that, early on in my kind of stage in my career, I am a yes person.
I like accepting the opportunities and I’m kind of going on the adventure. Lo and behold, that opportunity ended up, I bought them on where they were. They were at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre. And I got to perform at their show and then present them with a disc, which was for selling, you know, huge amounts of records.
And then I was their support at all the venues kind of link into each other in a way.
Hazel Baker: What’s it like backstage at some of these places? Cause I’ve only done, my performing was back in the day with some of the bigger venues, the Royal Albert Hall which was just whitewashed and just smell of sweat most of the time. Some of these smaller venues like Café de Paris, what’s it like backstage? Is it minute?
Ivy Paige: Yes, as we both theatre, it’s all smoke and mirrors, so it’s very glamorous on the state, but it’s not like that backstage. We said, I’ll give you an example. I did a performance for the Sotheby’s auction house, um, and that was at the Shadow Lounge in Soho, and they were selling Banksy paintings.
And there were every single a list celebrity in London at the time, and there were Hollywood celebrities there too, where it was at this charity auction. I’d never ever been in a place where I’d seen quite so many famous people. Our performing job was to recreate in the old fashioned kind of burlesque style, Tableau Provence of famous paintings.
Yeah. And tipping Sotheby’s. So with that in mind and all the money probably to board, you know, floating around at this venue. First of all, we were asked if we’d like to get changed next to the paintings, so they were auctioning off. I be looking at it, but I said, we’re burlesque performers. We’ve got loads of glitter and makeup.
Are you sure you want us to be next to a painting that you’re going to sell for £!!!! There’s a lot of glitter involved, your painting will not look like that by the time it goes on stage. So the other option was we were bundled into the men’s, you rhinos with a couple of bottles of champagne.
Were you given any glasses.
Well, we probably drank it from the bottle. No, it was, we were drinking this incredibly expensive champagne whilst getting changed in the men’s rhino as well outside. Everybody’s bidding hundreds of thousands of pounds on paintings. So I felt like that’s a really good example of what it’s like, but the camaraderie is my favourite, and particularly on the burlesque and cover I scene there’s always generations of performers, so I’m part of a generation before me. There were generations, so you kind of grow up with each other, but the very nature of variety shows they are ever changing. But there becomes like a variety in cabaret burlesque, family of some sort because there are only so many of you.
In my experience, it’s all very positive, like confidently with show business, there’s a certain amount of rivalry and competition. That’s the very nature of the job. But actually backstage, you know, amount of times where you’ve had things like you’ve forgotten one nipple pasty, so you have to borrow someone’s, or you know, you’re using gaffer tape to fix your pants or you borrowing someone’s eyelash, but someone lends you a necklace cause they think, Oh, you just need to have something else.
There is a lot of camaraderie backstage.
Hazel Baker: It’s not done for the money. This is done for the love of the art itself.
Ivy Paige: And without a doubt, I think particularly many different areas of performance, but in the area of burlesque and cabaret, it’s like if you choose to do burlesque and cabaret, you’re doing it because you love it and it’s important to you and it’s who you are.
Yup. You’re certainly not doing it for the money. Although either. I prefer sustained. It’s might’ve been my career for 14 years and this is what I do. I don’t have another job. So you can make it sustainable.
Hazel Baker: History of your career is quite varied, isn’t it? Because I started, I met you first or saw you first when you were doing sort of like the compare and doing songs in between.
Then I saw you again and you were sort of like one of the main acts. You know, you’re, you’re holding your own on there and, and of course you’ve got your single, which I actually own, Queen of Hearts.
So you’ve tried different things, haven’t you? To try and find your way.
Ivy Paige: I think as a performer, you have to evolve if you’re staying in the same place.
And for me, that’s not how art works. Art is constantly changing and moving what’s happening around us. Obviously right now we’re going through it. You know, this huge historic event. Obviously my art is adapting and changing to it, and whilst the circumstances around it are actually horrific, or one of the things I love about art is that we can say something, we can use it to define and create and comment and entertain during these times.
So for me, yes, my career has the, it has been varied and it has. Change I think one of the constant things is, you know how I see the road of Ivy page is it’s like she, she kind of evolved. So she’s been evolving and from when I first started out as IB page, yeah, you’re right. I was a compare and kind of working out what my style was.
A compare was. I trained as an actress and a trained in comedy and singing. So I always knew I had kind of quick informational skills, really able to think on my feet. I have a natural stage presence, so I kind of fell into the role of the compare. And I always knew that I would be a talking character on stage.
But in terms of my career, obviously, you know, two years ago I was on The Voice. Which was another big step and big change, which was fantastic, and it gave me a huge amount of opportunity and a mass level of exposure, and all the news stories were quite scandalous, which I thought was perfect as a cabaret burlesque performer, I couldn’t have asked for any better publicity, sorry for more.
Hazel Baker: I really felt sorry for Olly Murs.
Ivy Paige: Oh, I didn’t have a chance did he?!. He was good fun though. He was really good fun.
Hazel Baker: One of the historic things that musical before most were known for doing, and also comedy acts in London, was packing in two, three venues a night. Is that something that you do or used to do?
Ivy Paige: It’s funny, like if I have said to myself, you know, when I first started this, the thing that you’re going to need to invest in more than anything is a decent suitcase because you’re going to spend half of your time dragging it across London and around the country and around the world as you go between gig. Yes. But I’ll give you this example.
Last year at the end of our festival, I did 92 shows in 26 days. And that was doing three or four gigs a day. How’d you do it? A lot of caffeine. Champagne now. Last year they had a professor, it was like a marathon of shy. It’s just fantastic. I mean, it sounds an awful lot and it is a lot of hard work and energy, but it’s what I love, so I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.
And what’s the easiest London venue that you’ve performed at where you thought, you know, it’s that you’ve got them as an audience? Is it the biggest stuff, or is it the more intimate ones where you can see the whites of their eyes?
I actually think it’s more terrifying with smaller venues. I mean, I love them all and they all have their own merit.
When you perform to a crowd of 2000 you have to perform as if there’s only five people there. That’s how I do it. And you have to try to find a connection in that way. There’s something quite magical. When you hear that amount of people laugh, that’s really real moment you, like you say, when you’re performing, for instance, at the Phoenix, or Cellar door or even, you know, RIP, Madame Jo Jo’s.
When you’re up close and personal and you hear the roar of the crowd or the deathly silence, if your joke doesn’t work, that is extraordinary as well. And I think. That’s one of the things I love about cupboard.
Hazel Baker: Do remember Madam Jojo is being so small, you know, we leave how small the stage was as well.
You know, some of the acts couldn’t do the full thing because of the size of the stage, but
Ivy Paige: also low ceiling height, wasn’t it?
Hazel Baker: Yeah. And then also you could see the act coming in and out with their suitcases as you just said. You know, like tara enough. I’m off to the next one
Ivy Paige: so I know when you leave a show and like you’ve taken your makeup off.
I always used to like put my coat over my head a lot. I don’t know, cause I miss Madame Dido’s days. I did some of my very, very first show. I performed there for years, but like did some of my very first cabaret shows there. And obviously it got huge amount of history that venue. Yeah. I don’t think it’s very sad.
It’s not there anymore, is it?
Hazel Baker: No. So I was just thinking about, you mentioned about the situation that we’re in at the moment and you’re very talented. So what is it that you’re doing now and how can people join you?
Ivy Paige: So I’m doing lots of stuff online. I really do enjoy the live performance experience, but you know, you have to adapt and change.
And that’s, you know, one of the beauties of art. So right now you can, I’m doing a show called Ivy Paige’s daily briefing, putting the bra into Cobra. And that’s going to be streaming next week. And I’ve also been doing a complete different style show and like a daytime chat show very much more. it’s kind of, it’s not late night cover a, but a real kind of coming together chat, warmth, connection.
I think we’ve done like 28 of those shows, and that’s called Ivy Paige’s Tea and Biscuits. Although I know some of my viewers prefer to drink gin out of teacup, but that old Facebook Austrade about Facebook live, and that’s at 4:00 PM in the afternoon, and you, there’s a group for that, Ivy Paige’s Tea and Biscuits.
Hazel Baker: And all the other links for Ivy Paige’s Facebook group, etc will be in the show notes. So check it out.
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