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Whistling in the Dark


President of the Nude Mountaineering Society...Hanks bum

Join this exclusive club: "I was drawn into the joys of trouserless peaking by the great George Mallory." HANK WANGFORD

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Hanks Trails


I have been a lifelong Negramiculaphiliac an
admirer of black men wearing capes.  

As far as I can remember it dates back to 1962 when I first saw the inspirational Gene Chandler as the Duke of Earl. It was in a film called Don’t Knock The Twist with Chubby Checker. Gene comes onstage as the Duke of Earl in tails, white tie, top hat, white gloves, a cane, a monocle and … a cape! In this glorious streetwise black doo wop dude’s idea of what an English aristo duke would wear, Gene’s voice soars over the greatest doo wop backing ever – “Dook Dook Dook Dook of Earl Dook Dook Dook of Earl Dook Dook Dook of Earl…” – with one of Rock ‘n Roll’s great declarations –
“As I walk through this world – Nothing can stop the Dook of Earl”

It is a sublime mix of celestial beauty and immaculate stupidity.  My favourite.

He touches his forehead with his white gloved hand down to his midriff, a kind of semi-crossing himself without the Catholic shoulder action, his idea of the aristocratic acknowledgement of his subjects’ forelock tugging. His monocle work is another giant moment in Rock history. He waves his cane and doffs his top hat as he drops to one knee and all of this in front of a stone faced elderly white middle class cabaret audience. It is magnificent and can still be seen on youTube. If this doesn’t convert you all into negramiculaphiliacs – well, I don’t know what will. 

Gene is still with us. He’ll soon be celebrating his half century as the Dook. His website features among other things the Duke’s Joke of the Month. A labyrinthine signing in and password system prevents all but the most dedicated joke seekers from getting to the fruity heart of the Dook’s jesting.

Other great moments in my passion for caped black dudes were both in 1965.IMAGE One night my favourite basement venue the Flamingo All-Nighter in Wardour Street was visited by the great Solomon Burke. Solomon, the self-styled King of “Rock ‘n Soul”, ruler over an imaginary Kingdom of one, came onstage in full regalia. His amply jewelled crown scraped the basement ceiling and his full length ermine trimmed cape trailed the mucky floor.

The King was already a big man, wobbling onto the stage like a cornfield in the wind, his majestic paraphernalia making him sweat like a stately whale. He wrenched his crown off his sodden forehead and whirled his cape off his shoulders.  The crowd gasped and screamed. Under his cape the King revealed a glittering shimmering three piece salmon pink Lurex suit with turquoise Lurex lapels. An epiphany. Welling up inside me was Yes, Solomon! It’s better to have bad taste than to taste bad! I screamed along with everyone else.  

I was crammed in at the back and behind me a skinny little black girl standing on a chair against the wall screamed at the blubbery Ruler – “FUCK ME! FUCK ME! FUCK ME!”

Later in 1965 I was blessed to see James Brown in his pomp doing a late night gig at the East Ham Granada after an Albert Hall gig earlier. We stood up and screamed while James slipped and slid, preened and spun and pouted while the band pumped it out relentlessly for more than two hours.

After all the hits the climax throbbed into Please Please Please.  At the end James fell limp to his knees sobbing into the mike cradled in his arms like a baby at the front of the stage. His man came in from the side with … a … cape! A shiny emerald green satin cape. Thrown over James’ sobbing shoulders. Don’t worry James. You’ll be all right.

Comforting the great man, he raised him to his feet and started to lead him off. Two steps later James swings his arm out, flings the cape off and screams “NO!!!” running back to the stage front and back into Please Please Please. He drops to his knees, shoulders shaking, sobbing into the mike again “Please … please.. “  His man reappears and swirls a shiny bright orange cape onto the suffering shoulders of The Hardest Sobbing Man In Showbiz. He gathers James up, swings him round and solicitously guides him off to well deserved rest and recuperation.

“NO!!” screams James again and sweeps the cape back off running back the four steps to the stage front, the mike, his knees and the screaming audience. He’s crying, gasping, sweating, sobbing and singing all at once into the baby-cradled mike. His man, of course, comes back yet again with another shiny cape, turquoise like the ocean, and leads the inconsolable James off to his safe haven. They get six steps towards the side of the stage this time then James does his thing again. “NO!!” And again. And again. And again. James is being asked to bear more than any man should. Out in the audience we are catatonic.

A negramicular paradise, a peak perfection of serial caping by The Godfather who goes through nine shimmering multi coloured capes before being led to full emotional and micular safety.

Screaming Jay Hawkins is a great cape man too, but from the Dark Side. He liked coming on stage in a coffin so the cape was essential. He was always on the horror film side of R’nB with strange obsessive tracks like I Put A Spell On You with his foghorn baritone and upturned nose bone and a fine gold medallion shorty cape.  youTube again. Check his bizarre collaboration with Serge Gainsbourg where Screaming Jay strains and farts his way through Constipation Blues. Though sadly uncaped it is completely full of shit and well worth a glimpse.

Blackula PosterI guess while we’re on the subject you could count Blacula, a tacky black exploitation vampire film from 1972, a classic of negranecromiculaphilia if you will. It was universally panned but so many people paid to see it there was a sequel Scream Blacula Scream. While not the most tasteful of negramicular moments you can see the  appeal from the poster.

But for the true Micular Matrix you must pay homage to the sublime Duke of Earl on youTube.  Only one cape, sure, but immiculately worn.

It’s what helped me through my recent heart attack. 

I hope it helps you as well. 

© Hank Wangford

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