Joe Black, the dastardly and fabulous Pompey-born cabaret rogue, is back with his latest tour. His dark and decadent one-man show, Club Cataclysm, comes to the Wedgewood Rooms on Thursday 17th November, set to be a wry and ribald take on the current state of the world.
“It’ll be glorious, filthy, nasty, delicious nonsense,” he chuckles.
“Traditionally, the origins of cabaret and where its thrived are at times of unease and strife and general unpleasantness. It’s been a kind of antidote to the bleakness of reality, so I thought what better time than now?
“It’s a lampoon of bleakness. I’m endlessly fascinated with the art of cabaret performance because it can mean so many delicious things.”
Joe’s new song, Final Curtain, is a mischievous ode to the times we’re living in too. Club Cataclysm will see Joe return to performing his own songs, with plenty of original numbers on the bill.
“I still love interpreting the work of other people, I find it really thrilling. But I haven’t really felt the need to write any songs for a long time,” he says.
“I’ve got all these instruments at home, and lockdown, for all its awfulness, was quite a creative time for me.
“Maybe I just needed the world to take a dark turn? Oh god, everything’s awful isn’t it, let’s write a polka!”
Joe’s been honing his craft on the national and international cabaret circuit for nearly 15 years now, having cut his teeth at talent shows and battle-of-the-bands nights here in his hometown.
“Growing up in Portsmouth, it can breed a certain level of creativity and drive, everyone gets stuck in. Some of my first gigs were at the Wedgewood Rooms and all the judges’ comments were like, ‘we don’t know what you do, it’s all a bit bizarre!’
“One of them said, ‘you’ll be skinned north of Guildford’. I’ll always remember that! I’ve got it somewhere. I’ll find it one day and frame it,” he cackles.
Since his appearance on BBC mega-hit series Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK in 2021, a new contingent of fans has fallen for Joe’s irreverent vintage style. Although he admits he wasn’t sure how they’d take to his new material.
“Because Final Curtain is so detached from what typically Drag Race people do, I was bracing myself for people to go, ‘what the fuck is this?’
“That did sort of happen, but in a positive way. It was like, ‘what the fuck is this, I never knew I needed this’. So that was the loveliest surprise.”
Although Joe now lives in Brighton, he made sure to give Pompey a nod on the RPDRUK mainstage, wearing a glittery replica of one of the historic dockyard’s warships on his head. It was an IYKYK tribute to the city he loves returning to.
“I absolutely love it [performing in Portsmouth],” he says. “There’s a kind of weird hometown warmth.”
As well as performing, Joe’s podcast, Joe Black Meets… has been keeping him busy. The first season saw him chat to the likes of Dawn French, Joe Lycett and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), so who would he love to line up next?
“There were two people we didn’t get for series one that I really wanted, and one of them was just too busy. I did get the reply, ‘they’re a little bit snowed under, can you let us know again in a year or two?’ That was Neil Gaiman.
“The other one that sadly we just didn’t get a reply from, was Sophie Ellis-Bextor. I tried! I’d also love to talk to Elvira (Cassandra Peterson), that would be amazing. And Nick Cave and Tom Waits.
“In terms of people no longer with us, imagine having a chat with Nina Simone? Or Cab Calloway? Just ugh, that would be glorious. Or Marlene Dietrich. Edith Piaf.” He laughs. “Classics!”
Equally excitingly, after Club Cataclysm, there’s a long-awaited album on the way (release date TBC at the time of writing).
“A few years past Drag Race, suddenly the expectations kind of loosen a little bit. Being able to release Final Curtain, the response showed me I’d made the right decision.
“I’ve been working on it for about a year and a half. I’ve got a sound, you know, it’s got a vibe. And Club Cataclysm is the culmination of this year and a half of work into a live sphere.”
It’s set to be quite the show and I, for one, can’t wait. “This one is me being let loose entirely, which is quite exciting cos that hasn’t happened for a while,” he says. “There’s no one to rein me in so who can say what’ll happen?!
“Oh, it’s going to be good to be back! There’ll be plenty of apocalyptic singalongs.”
Photo: Scott Chalmers