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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] GLB From drag queen to DJ: Pearl E Monsoon

From drag queen to DJ: Pearl E Monsoon

PearlGeorgeTrans DJ Pearl E Monsoon has been entertaining people in the UK and beyond for more than 35 years, often sharing the stage with the likes of Boy George, Divine and Lily Savage. Camp, irreverent and quick-witted, she turned her hand to DJ-ing in the early 90s and quickly became popular with queer and straight crowds alike. Despite three heart attacks in 2009, she’s still going strong and has just landed her own show on Gay Radio UK. She caught up with longtime friend Katrina Fox for a chat.

12 September 2010

When did you first start entertaining?

I was always the first at school to join the drama classes and always got the leading female parts, as it was a boys school. It was my chance to get into drag, and as I always looked like a girl I carried it off very well!

But I first started entertaining in 1975 after entering an amateur night competition in The Elephant & Castle pub in Vauxhall with a character I developed called Black Pearl. I used to black up and portray this mad Jamaican woman. It was very convincing as my gift for accents and make-up skills are second to none.

Before I entered the competition I dragged up as Black Pearl and went to the local shop in south London to see what the reaction would be, and low and behold had a conversation with an elderly Jamaican guy who was convinced he knew me back in Jamaica!

After appearing for five weeks at the Elephant & Castle, I won at the final. The prize was £16.00 and a year of bookings, one every two weeks. But that didn`t work out as the drag scene got wind of me and I was booked up and down the country working six nights a week.

Sadly back in 1979 I was called racist by a white guy in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. I was not racist – even the black gay community was very supportive of me and they were outraged that this was said about me, as Black Pearl was not offensive to black people.

I did bring her back one last time in the early 80s and played the famous Lily Savage’s maid for a one off ad-libbed show at a Gay Pride party at the Vauxhall Tavern.

After that I went into a double act with Tony Coulsdon aka Ms Lickitk it as Double Trouble for a couple of years, then with John Cox (Heather Mercedes) as High and Mighty, then solo again as The Mighty Pearl until 1992.

You’ve got to have guts putting yourself on stage in front of a load of bitchy queens. Tell us about one of your memorable moments on stage.

The first time I appeared before an audience of real bitchy queens was terrifying, but I have always had a quick wit – I got that from my mum who is a very funny lady with a great sense of humour and great one-liners.

One time I was working with Lily Savage (Paul O`Grady) and she said to me, “Go and look after my kids Bunty and Jason – God knows I pay you well.” I said, “The last time you paid me there was a king on the [bank] note.” Well, I was in Boyz magazine the next week on the front page and a coverline that said ‘Pearl Leaves Lily Speechless’. I thought that was the funniest thing.

At one point you were compared with Divine. Tell us about that time.

Well I used to love Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead) and being a big girl myself at the time I used to impersonate him. Back in 1984 while doing Divine at the Hippodrome in Leicester Square – formerly The Talk of the Town – I was halfway through my act when the crowd went crazy.

I thought, “My God, this is going well.” Then the next thing I was tapped on the shoulder and unbeknown to me there was Divine, who just said into his mic, “Mirror image honey.” Well, I nearly died! After that we became great friends.

You’ve been friends with Boy George for some time and I remember him being back stage at one of your gigs at the Black Cap pub in Camden when you got me and my friend Mandy to dance on stage with you. How did your friendship come about and are you still friends today?

I first met George through a mutual friend Phil Salon back in the very early 80s – it’s in George’s autobiography Take it Like a Man. You need to read the book to find out the rest!

We are still friends today and as far as I am concerned we always will be. Through his success with Culture Club we lost contact until 1992 in Dusseldorf when we were both booked on the same show: me doing a Divine tribute as a warm-up act for George.

George came to see me perform at the Black Cap that night you mentioned and the whole pub tried to storm the dressing room! That was a night to remember.

How did you get into DJ-ing?

Well, I was out with George one night and we went to a film premier of The Band Played On – a film about AIDS. Then after that we went to a little club in Soho. As we walked in, George got sucked in and I was left there on my own. Then I was approached by Laurence Malice, the promoter of the huge gay rave club Trade.

PearlSandraHeatherTo cut a long story short, I was invited to attend Trade at Turnmills in East London. So I went there and me not really knowing anything about the dance scene at the time as I was on the cabaret scene, I was dressed so wrong in a classic A-line dress, stilettos , the works, and this queen shouted at me, “Your mobile won’t work down here love."

Well, at that point I was going to leave and go home when I heard a voice say "Pearl, what you doing here?" It was a very close friend of mine called Bev. She was working on the door as security and I said to her, “Tell me, is there a guy called Laurence here?" She then shouted into the door "Loret" and out came Laurence Malice. He shouted to me, “Pearlized" and the barriers opened and in I went.

Well, I had never seen anything like it – all these scampily dressed queens and lesbians packed into this sweaty club. Laurence showed me around and then took me into the DJ box.

When I was in the DJ box the late Tony De Vit was playing his set and I said very loudly, “Oh I could do that, it`s easy.” Well, Laurence and Tony looked at each other and laughed at me, so Laurence said, “Ok, do me a tape within six months,” and I said, “Ok, you’re on.”

Well, I went to Trade every week from then on as I was hooked. Laurence asked me every week with a smirk on his face, “Done that tape yet Pearlized?" Each time I replied, “No, but soon.”

For four months I was trying to understand how the music worked and how to control the pitch and so on, then one day it happened – badly but it happened! I finally felt I was good enough to do a tape and took it to Laurence. He didn’t believe it was me and asked who mixed the tape.

I told him it was me but he still didn’t believe me, so he set up a room in Turnmills called Trade Test and surprise, surprise, I won out of five DJs! The rest is history. When I told my friends, they all laughed at me and didn’t believe I would have a career as a top DJ ... who’s laughing now, eh!

Were there ever any issues or problems due to you being a trans woman?

On the gay scene in the UK I was accepted as a trans woman but in 1997 when I went to play on the straight scene it was a different kettle of fish. Some of them were vile to me and jealous of my talent, and a certain person who I will not name was downright horrible to me for several years – probably because I was in a relationship with his brother – but me being me, I held my own and I love a good verbal fight. I am out loud and proud.

What are some of the best DJ gigs you’ve played since then?

Well, after doing the Trade Test in 1994, I was introduced to Wayne Shires, club owner/promoter of Substation South in Brixton and had two residencies on a Friday and Sunday night, then at The Fridge playing at Love Muscle and Hard Muscle, which were both big nights.

Then in 1995 the Fridge owner Andrew bought the building next door, called the Fridge Bar and I was the very first DJ to ever play there. I had every Sunday from 5am till 11am, sometimes longer.

The biggest gig I have ever done was in Mykonos in Greece: 16,000 Americans rocked to a 12-hour set at the Hard Rock Café on the top of the island. It was called The Twelve Gods Party and run by a company called Big Blue Marble in the USA. They found me back in the UK playing at Bagleys in Kings Cross where there were 4,000 party-goers living it large.

You’re popular as a DJ on both the gay and straight scenes. What is it about you that appeals to a broad mix of audiences and what makes you unique?

PearlportraitI don’t mind who I play to, gay or straight. Music has no gender, it is there to be loved by one and all. I’ve made many good friends on both scenes, but I love it when the audience is mixed.

I have my own style of mixing and I am hard and fast when doing the clubs and have developed my own mixing technique. I was in Mixmag in 1999 and they called me queen of the spinbacks.

What kind of music do you play and what do you enjoy playing most?

In the clubs I play hard house and trance but I love many genres of music from 50s to 80s pop/rock. I just have a passion for music.

What does the E stand for in your name?

The E stands for Ellen, after my mum and nan, but in the club world they used to think it was for Ecstacy. I wonder why?

You’ve now got your own radio slot on gay radio in the UK. How did this come about?

I was asked by Gay Radio UK to join them after I used my wall on Facebook to put up some music and called it the Wall of Sound. My old friend Graham Meacham, who owns the station, emailed me and asked if I would like my own weekly show playing old classics. I was over the moon.

When is it on? And can people also listen to it afterwards online?

I am on every Wednesday 9pm till 10pm UK time. I play all sorts on there, not just dance music.

If you miss a broadcast they are on podcast on my Group page on Facebook.

What do you do when you’re not DJ-ing?

I do a good few things when I’m not DJing, like going through music. I have a vast collection of vinyl – sometimes it feels like I’m living in an HMV megastore! I’m also going into the recording studio soon to cut a Divine classic for a major record label – whoop whoop!

Pearl E Monsoon plays Wednesdays 9pm to 10pm on Gay Radio UK. You can hear her tunes at Mixcloud. To keep up to date with Pearl’s gigs, join her Facebook Group and follow her on Twitter.

Katrina Fox is editor-in-chief at The Scavenger.

Images from top: With Boy George in Germany, 1992; with Heather Mercedes and Sandra, 1980s; Pearl E Monsoon today. Photos courtesy of Pearl E Monsoon.

Comments   

0 #6 Chris Marlow 2010-09-12 23:49
I've known Pearl since the drag days, in the Vauxhall, she used to frighten the life out of me, with her sharp tongue!! But once I got to know her we worked together at the Daisy Chain, on various shows as Hysteria, and I grew to love her. She's now one of my oldest and best friends, as we have lost a lot to HIV:sad: Mama Pearl as I call her, still makes sure Chrissy is OK. I love her for it, she rocks my world. PMSL.. I love you Mama..xxxx
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+1 #5 Tony Tansley 2010-09-12 15:28
I was managing Substation at the time Pearl was Dj and she used to rock the roof!
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0 #4 Bev Donald 2010-09-12 15:15
:-):-):-) FANTASTIC i always knew you would be a star. Cant wait till Wednesday to see what you playing this week. Think we need a Divine week.
Love you babe.

Bev xx
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0 #3 kim 2010-09-12 14:14
fantastic pearl you have worked hard to get where you are now,i am proud to know you and what a great person you are .xxxxx:-);-)
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0 #2 julie 2010-09-12 10:00
;-) Nice, liked that xx
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0 #1 Richard Taylor 2010-09-12 06:48
Fab interview of a great artiste and person - once you see Pearl work you are well and truly hooked - her radio shows are fab - something different every week from rave to the 60's - don't miss it
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