Thursday, August 10, 2006

Come join the cabaret

Fruitstock is surely the ultimate in what journo Miranda Sawyer recently called ‘restivals’. That is, “festivals tailor-made for the bourgeois festival-goer. You get good music, gorgeous surroundings and 'relaxed' people; but you also get proper toilets, decent food and comfy accommodation.”

Now as I get older, I can almost embrace that description as something positive. It’s not longer good enough merely to be in eyesight of my heroes any more. But you do get the impression that at events like Fruitstock the music is kinda incidental, or just a part of the experience. The vast majority of the tens of thousands of people there on Saturday were picnicking, chatting, hanging out or playing with their kids while the music happened in the background. I don’t say that as a jibe – I was doing the same!

Mind you, it wasn’t that “relaxed”. Certainly not as much as last year. The sheer volume of people cramming onto the site made it damn near impossible to move anywhere. Ideas of getting drinks from the bar tents soon evaporated when I realised that it really wasn’t worth queuing for 20 minutes for a pint of Amstel. The toilets might have been OK, but you had to wait even longer for them.

But if music was incidental, why am I going on here? Well, it wasn’t entirely. The Puppini Sisters, onstage when we arrived, grabbed my attention long enough for me to stray from my picnic site to watch them doing their dance routines and 1940s swingy jazzy versions of pop classics and er, 40s swingy jazzy tunes. They’re essentially a polished cabaret act, their cocky confidence and banter no doubt coming from working the London cabaret circuit (most recently at hip venues like Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club and Bistrotheque), and somehow, someone somewhere at Universal thinks it’s time to launch them into the public domain. I quite liked them. The covers ranged from the bad (Panic) to the OK (Wuthering Heights) to the good (I Will Survive). But it’s not just about the music. It’s about the whole package. How appropriate for Fruitstock.

The other band that caught my attention, Nouvelle Vague , would probably be irked at being called a cabaret act. I reckon they see themselves as more of a ‘serious’ band, even though they’re doing a similar thing to the Puppinis – covering ‘classic’ tunes in a different style. Their bossa-lounge covers of post-punk and new wave tunes is well known from their first eponymous album from 2004. Their new one Band A Part is much of the same. It sounds alright really. To be fair, they don’t really go in for the whole dance routine, period costume thing, and does having a beatboxer make them cooler than cabaret? I don’t know. But look! Both bands do a cover of Heart of Glass! So for now, I’m calling them both cabaret – but in the best possible way.

Download: The Puppini Sisters – I Will Survive
Download: The Puppini Sisters – Heart of Glass
Download: Nouvelle Vague – Heart of Glass
Download: Nouvelle Vague – The Killing Moon

Buy the Puppini Sisters' album Betcha Bottom Dollar, or Nouvelle Vague’s Nouvelle Vague and Band A Part.

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