There is something dark stirring in the heart of the nation’s underground music scene. Something dark and rather camp.
The vogue for all things vintage has extended to music, where live cabaret-style events are proliferating. The emphasis is mostly on tongue-in-cheek fun—everywhere you turn there is a ukulele for every tassel-twirling burlesque act.
At the “straight” end you have events like Voix de Ville at Proud Cabaret (1 Mark Lane, London), mixing traditional burlesque cabaret with traditional live swing music. Salon d’Été (21 Duke Street) has regular Friday and Saturday nights featuring burlesque plus live manouche, klezmer and gypsy jazz—again fairly traditional styles. Venues like the Pigalle Club and the Volupté Lounge aim to bring back the supper-club shows of the past, sometimes featuring raunchy ribaldry from the Likes of Top Shelf Jazz or Tricity Vogue. Big live-music club nights such as Stanger Than Paradise and Gypsy Hotel likewise probe the retro-sewers of Balkan klezmer-punk and Bourbon-soaked voodoo blues.
Then you have events that take some of this camp vampiness and mix it with more cutting-edge alternative rock notions. Cirque de Crème Anglaise, now in its third year, presents a vaudevillean show of mostly music with the odd (and I mean odd) poet thrown in—quirky performers with the emphasis as much on intelligent and amusing lyrics as on a raw, theatrical and assumption-confounding performances. The next night is this Friday (also at Salon d’Été, as it happens), featuring a representative line-up: hosts The Furbelows (think Nick Cave meets The Stooges and Talking Heads) are joined by strangely comic J-Pop trio No Cars (who illustrate their songs with manga cartoons) and Lancaster’s warmly surreal husband-and-wife duo The Lovely Eggs (erm, The Ting-Tings crossed with Frank Sidebottom?) plus headliners The Henry Road: indie electro-rock with psychedelically strange subject matter.
We spoke to Cirque de Crème Angliase organiser and Furbelows Bassist Clayton Hartley to get an idea of what exactly The Cirque is all about;
“the reason I actually started the Cirque was I was sick of being stuffed on to a bill of five, six or even seven bands in a night, with nothing in common. The promoter was just hoping that each band would bring some people, “their” audience, who would watch that band then shuffle off back to the beer garden. There was no sense of putting on an overall show for the punter—which was pretty hard on the paying gig goer. That was my idea, to create a music night that had some coherence and offered the audience a evening with a particular flavour. It seems to work: I am often approached by people at the end saying they only came for the first band but stayed on. And then people come back for subsequent nights even if they don’t know who is playing. And that’s exactly the way I wanted it to work. I may not make any money out of it but if I’ve shown people a good time then maybe I’ll earn my place in rock and roll heaven.”
The Cirque de Crème Anglaise is this Friday (the 20th) at Salon d’Été @ L’Equipe Anglaise, 21 Duke Street, W1. Free Entry, Custard Crèmes and the bar is open until 3am.