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Cabaret, variety and the joy of artistic cross-pollenation.

February 22nd, 2008 | 3 Comments | Categories: Music News · Musing on Music · Random Catchup |

I just got in from playing a cabaret show, organised by Moot, an urban spiritual community, with a particular fondness for the arts.

This was the second of their cabaret evenings I’ve played at, and once again the line up was hugely mixed in terms of artistic disciplines, but all of really high quality. There were 4 musical acts (me, two singers with guitar and Foreign Slippers, a comedian, a performance poet, and a dramatic monolgue. Last time there was also a guy playing contemporary classical works on a giant marimba… a really great mix.

steve lawson at the moot cabaret

In the UK, there’s an old tradition in performance called ‘Variety’, not just the concept of ‘having lots of things’ but an actual school of performance where the performers were multi-disciplined – they had to be able to sing, dance, play at least one instrument, act, tell jokes, compere, etc. etc… It’s why old timey british comedians often turn out to be great musicians or dancers (Bruce Forsyth being top of the shop – a stunning tap dancer and really lovely piano player too.) I guess the US equivalent was Vaudeville…

It was a relatively low-brow kind of show, the variety show, but it did mean that people going out weren’t going to watch two similar bands play for ages and ages, they got to experience a range of culture.

Cabaret, as a term, has slightly more cultured connotations than variety, but is still largely a kind of nightclub type show with a range of entertainers.

I rarely get to play on bills as diverse as this. The main other places where it happens are at Greenbelt (obviously, being an arts festival), and at Jenny Roditi’s ‘salon’ events at ‘The Loft’ in Crouch End – I’ve had a couple of really wonderful gigs at Jenny’s, particularly the time I played for about 15 or 20 mins with just one loop box and a bass, not processing or toys, but shared the bill with some incredible and diverse musical talent and a couple of story-tellers.

Artistically we need this kind of inspiration – this evening I followed Bart Wolffe, doing a dramatic reading of Nikolai Gogol’s Diary Of a Madman – he did an incredible job of portraying the descent into paranoid delusion, which started out kinda funny, and got incredibly dark. So dark that I couldn’t just go straight in and play what I was going to play. I did a much more dissonant twisted improv thing to start with just to respond in some way to what I’d just seen… I’ve no idea what the audience thought of it, but it felt like a much more appropriate transition into what I do than just dropping straight into one of my tunes…

So for the audience it was a fantastically mixed evening, all high quality stuff, and a huge range from funny to deeply tragic, romantic to cutting and sarcastic.

And for us as the performers, it was a chance to cross-pollenate. For me to get to respond to Bart’s performance, to listen to the cadence of the poetry, to hear the other musicians, and to play in a gallery space surrounded by amazing art, it’s pretty vital stuff.

Somehow we need to engineer more such spaces… any suggestions how? :o)

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Paddy Hare

    surely you can just add to the recycle collective nights?

  • James

    Have the BBC been getting story inspiration from your blog (now there’s a scary thought…)? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7258730.stm

  • Steve

    Hi Paddy, there’s room for adding some stuff like this to the RC gigs, but the form of the Recycle Collective now works so well as an entity in its own right – the 2 artists, 3 sets, 3 solos, 3 duos, 3 trios thing – that I don’t really want to mess with it… But yes, there is room for some experimentation within the RC framework, and I might have to do some thinking about that. :o)

    Steve