Monday, 11 September 2017
Red Lights And Bells/Shimmy Like My Sisiter Kate/Song And Dance Man/You Played On My Piano
Born in Oamaru New Zealand about 1928, McKay began working as a female impersonator in the early 1950s. In his heyday he wore 18 wigs and eight frocks a night during his act, making all the dresses himself after learning to sew in a clothing factory (he was quickly sacked for sewing up the wrong seams).
“People say I make easy money, but I do suffer for it,” he said, regretting that thanks to his shaved legs, chest and armpit, he could never wear short-sleeved shirts and walk-shorts during summer.
McKay was occasionally “accused of being gay”, wrote the Otago Daily Times in 1978. “He vehemently denies this, however, and holds up a 25-year long happy marriage with his late wife for proof.” He doubted that any “camp” people attended his shows, though he had nothing against them. “I don’t give a damn what they do or are. That’s their business.”
By the 1970s, McKay was pleased to see that society had become more open-minded towards his sophisticated entertainment. “I enjoy playing to sensible adults,” he told the 8 O’Clock in 1975. “The ones who can laugh instead of snigger and come to the show for fun instead of dirt.” Then aged 48, he was based at Bondi Beach, Sydney, and had just taken up surfing after his much-older wife Tess had recently died. He was back for a two-week season at the Glenfield Tavern, and would soon have residencies at the Station Hotel in Auckland, and Phil Warren’s Silver Spade cabaret in Napier.
McKay performed in Japan, Britain, Europe and the United States, but all of his many recordings were made in New Zealand. In the early 1960s there were six albums, A Date with Noel McKay, Noel McKay In Person, That’s Me All Over, Noel McKay’s Party Song Book, The Fabulous Noel McKay plus the 1967 live album Bold ‘n’ Blue; all but the last were on Viking, who also released a series of five EPs called Party Songs for Adults Only. Among the tracks were ‘Johnny’s Little Yo-yo’, ‘My Body’s More Important than My Mind’, ‘Sweater Girl’ and ‘Leave My Instrument Alone’.