Naked Boys reading on tour
When I was an A level English Literature student I did my major project on the Bronte sisters, complete with pilgrimage to Haworth on the Yorkshire Moors to see where they wrote their masterpieces. Little did I know that a couple of years…..OK decades…and a bit later I would be just down the road in Todmorden’s The Golden Lion watching three men reading from these hallowed tomes, in the buff.
Naked Boys Reading is a movement led by drag star Dr Sharon Husbands along with her faithful DJ the Duchess of Pork and a whole host of readers, 138 at the last count. Tonight’s event is a fundraiser for Salford’s Islington Mill, an independent art space in Salford which nurtures creativity across all genres. Like all old, big buildings, the Mill needs funding and has launched a new Temporary Custodians of Islington Mill scheme where art collectors can buy one (or more) of a collection of prints created by artist and director of Islington Mill, Maurice Carlin. For more information, visit www.islingtonmill.com
But back to naked men on the Yorkshire moors, I had an audience with Dr Husbands as she prepared to meet her adoring public and share three of the best from her harem. I was intrigued as to what to expect.
“All three Bronte sisters get a fair smack on the punani” she explains “and we engage Kate Bush in a beautiful and magical way”.
The Naked Boys Reading gang are resident at the Ace Hotel in London but have found themselves travelling as far as Berlin and there is even a Naked Boys Reading in Argentina.
“We’re looking to put on a quarterly event in Manchester if any venues are interested” she says subtly.
Naked guys reading literature is an unusual situation and definitely not one I’ve found myself in before, I wonder how the audience reacts. “We inspired someone to finger bang his girlfriend” cackles Sharon “he was on the front row putting his hand up her skirt, I had to tell them to stop”.
Gulp, I’m not sure if Todmorden is ready for this. “In Zurich one reader moved everyone to tears” she goes on to explain “I couldn’t come up on stage I was a mess”
As it nears curtain up, I turn to the readers who look a mix of nonchalant and excited in equal measures. It’s a strange experience to interview someone that you know you’re going to see totally naked very soon. Dave is a Naked Boys Reading virgin and said, on a scale of 1-10 of nervousness he was probably about a three. “I love literature and I love getting my kit off” he shrugs - Fair enough.
Peter is also a three but Gareth, who’s an old hand at this game is a fighting-talk zero. “It’s an electric and intimate atmosphere” he said “You feel vulnerable but also powerful”.
I leave them to their final preparations, whatever they are, probably best not to ask and go into the main room where a strange atmosphere awaits. The crowd is definitely mixed, all ages and sexualities but joined in a sort of nervous bewilderment. The room has been transformed into a camp cocktail bar with the Duchess spinning disco classics and bar staff in Hawaiian shirts, it definitely doesn’t feel like an 18th century literature reading.
Dr Sharon hits the stage with gusto, trying to pronounce TodMorDen in her American drawl and failing spectacularly instead bravely opting for “Manchester Adjacent”. I take it she’s never heard of the War of the Roses but the crowd are in the palm of her hand by the time she introduces the first reader who will be reading from Jane Eyre and it’s Dave.
Then a strange thing happened.
Where the atmosphere was party and fun, it suddenly went serious and you could hear a pin drop as Dave appeared from behind the screen totally naked. It took about 5 seconds to stop thinking “Gosh there’s a willy” to realise that this was really bloody brave and if he can do that, then we all had a responsibility to listen. I suddenly understood what Gareth had meant by feeling powerful, as Dave read the beautiful words of Charlotte Bronte, the audience were in thrall. It was an incredible moment.
After Dave had finished his piece, boom, the atmosphere shot back up again with more disco and stand up from Dr Sharon. I caught up with Dave at the bar to see how it had been, “I want to do it again” he laughed, clearly buzzing “The nerves got to me on the first couple of pages, I’ve only practiced once”.
Next it was the turn of Peter who was representing Anne Bronte with the Tenant of Wildfell Hall, he was a wonderful reader who really brought the text to life and didn’t show one scrap of nerves as he gently took us through the piece he had chosen, all the while not being intimidated by a woman on the front row devouring an ominously named Hot Banana Dessert.
With no break, Gareth came out with an excerpt from Emily Bronte’s stormer, Wuthering Heights. He confessed he couldn’t do a Yorkshire accent but to be fair he managed perfectly well. His delivery of the piece was fantastic and in a strange way brought Emily’s words to life in a way that just wouldn’t have worked if a dull artsy type in polo neck and jumbo cords had stood up there.
The last break is an 80s disco and the three readers stood at the bar, totally naked, chatting away with people as if it was the most natural thing in the world and to be fair by then it really felt like it was.
For a grand finale, Dr Sharon treated us to a poetic and incredibly dramatic version of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and that was that, I left them all dancing to the tunes of the Duchess and discoing into the night.
For more information on the Naked Boys Reading, please visit their Facebook page.
By Chris Park for Canal St Online
Photos © Mick Ryan/fotovue.com