Performance art rock group
Fueled by the underground club culture of London, England, Minty existed for one purpose: to push the envelope of performance art rock to unimaginable limits. Original leader Leigh Bowery, a gender-bending “prima-diva,” as stated by Carlo McCormick in Hot Wired online, stood out among all of the other outlandish and creative figures on the 1980s club scene.
For Bowery, his art was literally his life. Using himself as a subject, his own body as a canvas, and clothes and makeup as his tools, he explored self-expression via self-invention. But because Bowery’s fabrications appeared so over-the-top and were reserved to the subculture, he was never readily accepted as an artist. As McCormick suggested, “Bowery may ultimately be most famous for just being himself: a personification of the homo-clown with full license to the most surreal, confrontational, and threatening elaborations of grotesque and comic burlesque. His was an ephemeral and experimental performance art, a mixture of the hilarious, the dangerous, and the tragic acted out on the stage, street, and dance floor life.”
In June and July of 1998, Bowery—who spent his adult life continually grasping for and reveling in fame— gained some outside recognition for his work when a survey of portraits, documentation, and Bowery-designed clothing was exhibited at New York’s Tonya Bonakdar Gallery. Unfortunately, Bowery never had the opportunity to revel in the bit of mainstream attention, as he died of AIDS -related meningitis on December 31, 1994. After his untimely death, the remaining members of Minty, after a period of mourning, continued as a group until 1997.
In addition to creating his persona through Minty, Bowery also modeled for painter Lucien Freud, acted for the Fall’s Mark E. Smith, and made costumes for choreographer Michael Clark and pop sensation Boy George. Two books were also published in his memory. Leigh Bowery —The Life and Times of an Icon, published in 1997, is written by Sue Tilley, one of Bowery’s best friends. A humorous, candid, and sometimes sad biography, the book features several photographs, including one of Minty performing at the Fete Worse Than Death art event in London in 1994. Robert Violette’s Leigh Bowery, published in 1998, serves as a companion to Tilley’s biographical account. It focuses mainly on the visual side of Bowery’s life and art. One section devoted entirely to Minty includes a photograph of a now-famous performance at the Freedom Café in London on November 24, 1994.
Born in 1961, Bowery began his career as a clothing designer, but after moving from Australia to London in 1980, he developed an increasing interest in expressing himself through music. Soon after his arrival, Bowery established himself as one of the club scene’s most innovative figures, always dressed in the most extraordinary outfits which blurred the lines between male and female. By the mid 1980s, he was hosting at his own club Taboo. Here, he created a world in which performance art and the excesses of nightclub life united.
In 1993, Bowery, along with another former clothing designer, guitarist Richard Torry, conceived the idea of Minty. The name for the group came from an old theatrical slang term used to describe someone with a very offhand attitude. With Minty, Bowery and Torry hoped to push their ideas about performance art into a more public arena.
The opportunity to test the concept arrived when the pair met Matthew Glamorre, a charismatic performer/musician and host to the club Smashing! At the time, he was also putting on his Smashing Live! showcases at a transvestite club in Soho, New York, called Madame Jojo’s, which in the 1970s had been a popular punk rock venue. After writing a few songs, Bowery and Torry assimilated a band—featuring Glamorre on keyboards, Bowery’s wife Nicola Bowery on vocals, Danielle Minns on bass guitar, Honolulu on sampling, and Miranda Sex Garden’s Trevor Sharpe on drums.
Minty played their first gig at Smashing Live’s “Monsters of Drag” night in 1994 to a stunned audience. As they launched into their first number, “Useless Man,” Bowery sung an X-rated version of Pepsi Cola’s “Lip-smacking, thirst-quenching” advertisement while simultaneously “going into labor” and “giving birth” to his wife, who was tied upside down under his outfit. The
Members include Leigh Bowery (born in 1961; died on December 31, 1994, of AIDS-related meningitis), vocals; Nicola Bowery (married Leigh Bowery), vocals; Matt Fischer (joined group in 1994), bass guitar; Matthew Glamorre (born Matthew Harden; also known as The General), keyboards; Honolulu (left group in 1994), sampling; Neil Kaczor (joined group in 1994), keyboards; Danielle Minns (left group in 1994), bass guitar; Trevor Sharpe, drums; Steady (joined group in 1994), guitar; Richard Torry, guitar.
Formed in London, England, 1993; performed first gig, the “Monsters of Drag,” 1994; released debut single, “Useless Man,” 1995; released album, Open Wide, 1997; disbanded, 1997.
performance, as well as those following, left attendees in a state of disbelief, marked the group’s commitment to deranged theatrics and bizarre costumes, and gained Minty instant notoriety. In late 1994 as part of Glamorre’s short film A Smashing Night Out, excerpts from the debut performance were broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s BBC2 network.
After the initial success, Minty underwent line-up changes. Minns, followed closely by Honolulu, departed, and composer Neil Kaczor on keyboards, Matt Fischer on bass guitar, and Steady on guitar came into the fold. The group played more live shows throughout the remainder of the year, including appearances at the Amsterdam Love Ball and the Fete Worse Than Death art event in Hoxton. As the group’s visibility continued to escalate, a series of performances were lined up at the Freedom Café in Soho. However, citing nudity and indecency, Westminster Council officials put a stop to the Minty shows at the venue.
A few days later, on New Year’s Eve in 1994, Bowery died suddenly of an AIDS-related illness. Overcome with shock, the remaining members of Minty took some time off. Prior to his death, Bowery had recorded the single “Useless Man” with the group. Released early in 1995 by the independent label Candy Records, the song reached number two on the Dutch charts, but failed to win over pop fans in Great Britain.
Meanwhile, Glamorre, with money earned from record sales, rented studio time and formed the Offset, a larger collective of artists and performers who went on to host a series of underground art clubs called the Mint Tea Rooms. Eventually, he also coaxed Minty into regrouping and becoming part of the Offset as the closing act at each performance. Surprisingly, Minty maintained their shocking and original quality without Bowery. However, the group’s aim began to shift in a different direction. Increasingly, Minty embraced the notion of continual change and communicating with those outside the underground scene.
Minty’s shows became more and more popular; songs like “Plastic Bag,” “King Size,” and “Minty” commanded attention from both fans and critics. Then, at the personal request of Jarvis Cocker, Minty toured with Pulp and later appeared on the British television show Top of the Pops .After the arrival of another single, “That’s Nice,” in 1996, Minty released their Open Wide album—which featured some of Bowery’s vocals—and the single “Nothing” in 1997. Both the album and the single were recorded in New York City as part of a new deal with the Candy label.
But shortly thereafter, Minty amicably decided to disband. Fischer, Sharpe, and Minns formed a group called the Servant, while Glamorre and Kaczor—along with transvestite poet Sexton Ming, poet/novelist Aidan Shaw, and new member Doris Alloy—continued with the Offset. Also, in July of 1997, Glamorre, under his birth name Harden, opened the speed-darkcore club Harder!Faster!Louder! He remains one of the most well-known alternative figures on the London club scene.
“Useless Man,” Candy, 1995.
“Plastic Bag,” Sugar, 1996.
“That’s Nice,” Sugar, 1996.
Open Wide, Candy, 1997.
“Nothing,” Candy, 1997.
Buckley, Jonathan, and others, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Tilley, Sue, Leigh Bowery — The Life and Times of an Icon, Hodder & Stoughton, 1997.
Violette, Robert, Leigh Bowery, Violette Editions, 1998.
Hot Wired, http://www.hotwired.lycos.com (February 2, 2001).
Plastic Bag—A Minty Website, http://www.estragon.demon.co.uk/minty (February 2, 2001).