It’s time for something a little different on the blog. The Late Dave Turpin is taking part in International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. We asked him if he would send us a little something to give us an insight into his cabaret world
Glad to be Cabaret
I’m playing two shows this week as part of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. I’ll be in the Cobalt Cafe, Dublin, on Friday and Saturday, playing in a beautiful Georgian room to a seated audience with little candles on their tables. I’ll have a trio of backup singers, some surprise guests, maybe even a costume change if I can bring myself to iron a second pair of trousers. There’s no two ways about it, these are Cabaret Shows. Getting ready for the shows, I’ve been wondering why that term strikes such fear into the heart, why to so many people it seems so – dare I say it? – naff.
For me, music has always been a private thing – something I listen to and make when there’s nobody else around, nobody to point out that I’m listening to the wrong things, playing the wrong way, and making the wrong kind of records. Like a lot of good bourgeois boys I took piano lessons as a child, but mainly I learned about music from the films I loved – The Wizard of Oz and Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs among others. I bought my first album when I was 16, and started making music (or trying to) around the same time. I’d never really been to a live concert, outside of classical recitals, until I started playing live in my early 20s. Everything I knew about live music I learned from the alluring, faintly tragic, faintly terrifying nightclub chanteuses I’d seen in films – Liza Minnelli in Cabaret, Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet, Jessica in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? So when I started performing, I was expecting velvet curtains, bentwood chairs, lightbulbs around the mirror. Boy, was I wrong.
The cosmetic differences are one thing, but what really baffled me – and still baffles me, if I’m honest – is the strange matrix of other concerns that swirl around music, both live and recorded: credibility, authenticity, realness. There aren’t enough inverted commas in the world to go around those terms, of course, and yet they hold so much power. I can’t imagine how fraught it must be to have to consider those kind of amorphous factors in all one’s listening choices (although listening exclusively to the music of white men seems to be a fairly secure starting point for some). The tyranny of realness certainly leaves cabaret out in the cold, associated as it is with theatricality, femaleness, gayness – basically everything the Authenticity Police have no idea how to process. I’ve long given up trying to be “real” (and that’s what makes me real, right?). I’m glad to be cabaret.
For this playlist, I’ve chosen ten songs (plus one of my own) that I’d hear at my dream cabaret.
01. Julie London – Boy on a Dolphin
Julie London is one of my favourite singers – her style is so simple but so evocative. This song (recorded for a largely forgotten 1957 Sophia Loren vehicle) has everything: dolphins, ancient spells, magic, and that haunting 1950s reverb on Julie’s vocal.
02. Barbra Streisand – The Way We Were
This song has been parodied countless times, but listen to the original with an open mind and you’ll find that the beauty of the melody and the finesse of Barbra’s performance still work their magic.
03. Liza Minnelli – So Sorry, I Said
This beautiful show-tune style ballad is one of the original songs Pet Shop Boys wrote for Results, the 1989 album they produced for Liza Minnelli. It combines Liza’s flair for drama and their ear for a ravishing chord sequence into a beautifully restrained whole.
04. Lisa Stansfield – All Woman
It’s easy to see the funny side of Lisa Stansfield, but she has some stone cold classics in her repertoire, and this is one of them. The chord sequence and string arrangement just exude class.
05. Sade – Somebody Already Broke My Heart
This is a beautiful, sparse torch song from Sade’s 2000 album Lover’s Rock. Sade really only has one setting – “Great sadness held back by great dignity” – but she does it better than anybody else could hope to.
06. k.d. lang – I Dream of Spring
For me, k.d. lang is one of the greatest living vocalists. There’s a touch of intelligence and wry humour in everything she sings that only makes her voice more yearning, more romantic. This is the lead single from her 2008 album Watershed, and there’s some kind of genius at work in the way she’s perfectly complimented her voice with the unlikely combination of pedal steel, strings, and a bossa nova rhythm.
07. George Michael and Mutya – This Is Not Real Love
Unjustly overlooked when it was released as a single from George Michael’s Twenty Five compilation in 2006, this is a fantastically melodramatic duet that, like all the best cabaret, skates perilously close to the absurd, but gets by on sheer class.
08. Jessie Ware – Running
Jessie Ware’s album has justly got a lot of attention for its peerless production, from Julio Bashmore, Dave Okumu and others. The brilliance of the record is the way it sets contemporary club music textures against Ware’s pristine vocals, which draw equally on Streisand, Stansfield and Sade.
09. Adriana Caselotti – Some Day My Prince Will Come
This classic song, from the soundtrack of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is one of my very first musical memories. The way the song blossoms organically out of Snow White’s dialogue with the dwarfs is a thing of beauty, as is the song itself.
10. Isabella Rossellini – Blue Velvet / Blue Star
The sight and sound of Isabella Rossellini, mournful and slightly off-key, singing this in Blue Velvet, made a deep impression on me as a teenager. It’s also that most cabaret of things: a medley.
The Late David Turpin plays the Cobalt Café at 10.15pm on May 16 and 17 as part of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. Tickets are available via the festival website at www.gaytheatre.ie.