by Spencer Bright
Lowri-Ann Richards joined the throng on the King’s Road one day in 1979 to admire the robotic mime dancers in the window of The Liberated Lady boutique.
A dazzlingly beautiful aspiring actress fresh out of drama college she had managed to get an Equity card as a professional disco dancer touring Mecca clubs and ballrooms from Sunderland to Birmingham.
What she saw in that shop window seemed far more current and exciting than disco, so in she went with her boyfriend and dancing partner Robert Pereno. They connected with the robotic dancers, Tim Dry and Barbie Wilde, and with other performers the dance/mime/vocal group Shock was soon formed.
‘We met and thought we would do a show together, us dancing and them doing mime and robotics,’ says LA. ‘Our look was sort of disco bondage. We wore Liberated Lady, all suspenders, corsets, short skirts, thigh boots. The boys would wear clothes from Johnson’s, pointy shoes, spangly trousers. And we’d get bondage stuff from a sex shop nearby in The Great Gear Market. The act was very sexual, but we’d go home and have a cup of tea. We were very middle class, it was all an act.’
At the time the tectonic plates of youth culture were shifting. Punk and disco were fading. The punk high priest and priestess Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood were soon to mutate their shop Seditionaries into Worlds End. They were a few doors from The Liberated Lady who were next door to Johnson’s, slick purveyors of rockabilly and 50s rock and roll tailoring. Across town in Covent Garden were the rumblings of a new movement, the New Romantics based at the Blitz Club.
The country itself was in transition with the election in 1979 of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. Oddly enough she lived off the King’s Road, though the scene on her doorstep literally passed her by.
She would no doubt have approved of Lowri-Ann’s upbringing on a farm in North Wales, reciting extracts from The Bible in her native Welsh language in chapel on Sundays and performing at Eisteddfods. Lowri-Ann always loved performing and at boarding school won prizes for her performances of speeches from Romeo and Juliet and Antigone.
She had fallen into a different world when she landed in London in 1976, immediately meeting fellow drama student Robert Pereno, who was to be her boyfriend for nine years. Lowri-Ann was an adventurous young woman, attracted to a hedonistic lifestyle and edgy artistic people. But the chapel girl was still in her. ‘I like wild and creative men but I was quite stable. I had steeliness about me.
‘They were exciting times. One minute we’d be at mime artist Lindsay Kemp’s beautiful house and the next backstage at an Elton John gig. I was just part of a decadent Chelsea set, there was no calculation, I just fell into it and became part of it.’
Shock was a successful act. After becoming a staple at the Blitz they went on to headline the Lyceum, support Depeche Modes and had a ten-day residency at the Ritz in New York. Comically they found themselves playing topless bars in Thailand. They signed a deal with RCA Records and were produced by Rusty Egan, DJ at the Blitz and member of Visage and Richard Burgess, who produced Spandau Ballet. But their singles did not sell.
Pleasure and the Beast, formed by LA and Pereno after Shock’s demise, were in a similar vein with an even more exotic show with cages, snakes and fire eaters. They toured endlessly and had a record deal, and wore themselves out.
LA is looking back on it all now – days she barely survived thanks to her cocaine and speed addiction – through the eyes of a 53-year-old mother of two teenagers, having recently graduated with a master’s degree in the training of actors. We can look back on it with her as part of the audience for her one-woman cabaret show Whatever Happened To LaLa Shockette?
‘Her story mirrors my own life. She is a version of me,’ says LA. LaLa speaks with a Welsh accent, the accent LA would have if she hadn’t gone to boarding school and drama school. LaLa is also a bit more naïve and wide-eyed and doesn’t like to take life too seriously. Flickering on a screen during her show are images of LA’s life.
Some of LaLa’s tales are fictions, like the supposed affair with Gary Numan, though Shock did support him at Wembley Arena. Some are true, like her briefly alluded to affair with chef Marco Pierre White, though not a subsequent liaison with Heston Blumenthal who really did sleep on her and Marco’s couch. She did work with Paul McCartney on his movie Give My Regards To Broad Street. He measured her up for her costume placing his tape measure round her shapely hips. And though it is not documented in the show, LA became a well-known actress in Wales appearing in sitcoms and soap operas and had her own TV show called Pyrfformiad (Performance).
It is a funny and moving ride through her past, and though there is a sad undercurrent, she chooses not to dwell on it on stage. ‘There’s a lot of pathos and a lot of comedy,’ she says. What she does not mention in the act is that she nearly died during her walk on the wild side.
‘There was a lot of coke, it was just part of the scene. There were a lot of people strung out for days on end. I used a lot of speed and coke mixed. That was very linked in with it being an appetite suppressant.
‘Drug use for me was what I did every day and I would use first thing in the morning. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. it was dangerous and I knew it was killing me and I knew that I had to stop, and so I did, and I still couldn’t function.
‘At the end of Pleasure and the Beast I couldn’t work as an actress any more. I would turn up at film sets and they’d find me in wardrobes, I’d be asleep. I was thrown off sets.’
‘I stopped using, I white knuckled it, I put the drugs down on my own, but I couldn’t function with the drug inside and without the drug inside. I knew I had to sort myself out, but I didn’t go for help. Instead my addictions went sideways and I went into food. I put on weight. I understood I had a psychological dependence and I had to sort that out. I learnt that it wasn’t just a physical dependence for me.’
Help came in the form of Marco Pierre White who she went out with for nine months after splitting from Robert Pereno in 1986. She introduced Marco to his great friend fashion photographer Bob Carlos Clarke. Some of Carlos Clarke’s most striking erotic portraits are of Lowri-Ann, one in particular called Doll wearing a 1950s style rubber girdle and bra designed by Daniel James, then just making his name.
Marco helped her seek professional help for her drug and eating issues. Their relationship was over by the time she entered the Charter Nightingale Clinic in Marylebone in 1987.
After rehab she abandoned the Chelsea set and her wild ways and became a jobbing actress and performer, working on cruise ships and revived Victorian music halls. She does a music hall turn as LaLa Shockette.
‘I’m revisiting parts of my life. I wanted to find a vehicle to put over my story and the easiest thing was to create a character who had done some off centre things like I had, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story. There’s a bit of S&M and a bit of music hall, a little bit of dancing and plenty of costume changes, and a lot of laughs and outrageous stories. I call it a stand-up cabaret show.
‘If there’s anything I’ve learnt it is that it doesn’t matter what you do so long as you do it. People find their way again, which I feel I have.’
Whatever Happened to LaLa Shockette? Is at the Sanctum Hotel, Warwick Street, Soho on Thursday, January 30 and Saturday, February 1 at 8pm and Sunday February 2 at 3pm. Tickets at £10 and £12.50 from www.wegottickets.com/shockette