The difficulty with comparisons is that they come tainted with suggestions of mimicry, an intimation which would be misleading in the case of an artiste as wholly himself as David Hoyle.

In his case, resemblances are reference points, coordinates against which the ascendancy of his star can be plotted. So, while he graces the stage with the impeccable comic timing of an uncloseted Larry Grayson, each glance an italic of unspoken emphasis, and while he woos his audience with something roughly akin to the barbed vulgarity of Julian Clary in his Fanny the Wonderdog years, his careful over-pronunciations and continual pricking of the show business bubble are entirely his own.

In this worrying away at the glitter as though it was a scab to be picked, there’s perhaps something of Oscar Wilde’s aphorism from The Ballad Of Reading Gaol that each man kills the thing he loves. Certainly, Hoyle‘s love of show business, inculcated growing up a stone’s throw away from the piers and theatres of Blackpool where the likes of Dorothy Squires would offer respite and release from the homophobic bullying that was his daily lot, seems both passionate and ambivalent.

The conceit of Still Got It..!?, the show with which his recent residency at Manchester’s Aviva Studios culminates, taps deeply into the well of this show business lineage, when the Saturday evening television schedules of the 1970s would roll out the barrel of variety; the likes of the BBC’s Seaside Special broadcasting a roster of acts, from the top notch to a notch or two below that, performing beneath a circus tent pegged down for the occasion in a range of coastal resorts.

Not unlike a politically-engaged Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out, Still Got It..!? chafes against the safety of the format, even as it holds it close to its art; opening it out, and broadening its borders. It is hard to imagine sometime Summertime Special compere Sacha Distel reminding the viewers at home that “we’re living with permanent child poverty” or, for that matter, the tremendous Glitterbomb Dancers, whether choreographed at the point of fission between Hot Gossip and Pussy Riot or as a magnificently disaffected Pan’s People, almost bored to death, displacing Dougie Squires’ sexless Young Generation from the stage of the 70s’ big top.

Photos courtesy of Factory International / Aviva Studios 

Photo courtesy of Factory International / Aviva Studios 

Even so, it doesn’t wholly beggar the imagination to envisage some of the turns adding gravity to the lightest of entertainment of those times. Symone’s roller skate burlesque, in full command of neon hula hoops, wouldn’t have seemed out of place on an edition of Roy Castle’s children’s show Record Breakers (providing, perhaps, that her whipped cream was confiscated), while Veda Lady’s anthemic I Came Out One Night has all the affecting resonance of the songs that Jimmy Webb wrote for Glen Campbell.

It is Hoyle, though, who holds it all together, whether digressing on the class politics of ITV period piece Upstairs Downstairs, covering Lonnie Gordon’s inarguable Happenin’ All Over Again, abetted by a string quartet, or incarnating a ‘bird of the hedgerow’ through the medium of abstract shapes. Moreover, in the evening’s inspired denouement, he not only reminds the audience of the emotive power of actual sincerity as opposed to its showbiz false equivalent, but pulls off a coup de théâtre that makes inspired use of the venue formerly known as Factory’s underused capacity for adaptive space.

For all Hoyle’s protestations to the contrary, Still Got It..!? is ultimately a celebration of the promises that show business makes, and a living embodiment of the alchemy of those magical and evanescent evenings when it holds true to them. It deserves all the garlands, and indeed all the Minnellis, its reputation will surely accrue.

By Desmond Bullen 

Photos courtesy of Factory International / Aviva Studios