Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London
Built in 1904, the small, but beautifully formed, Bush Hall was the perfect venue for the third UK outing of Wesley Stace’s Cabinet of Wonders. Wes has been organising Cabinets in the US since 2009. His genial manner and sharp wit means that his little black book of contacts is extensive, including all the musicians and authors you heard of, and many that you haven’t. The Cabinets have often been described by Wes, as by their very nature, being something of a curate’s egg. As the master of ceremonies and organiser in chief, he’ll love all the acts on the bill but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the audience will. However, this was certainly not the case tonight. With members of The Jayhawks, The Rutles, a soul legend, a top British comedian and one of England’s best novelist putting in a turn, it was difficult to see where any dips in the night’s entertainment were going to occur.
Wes is not a performer who does things by rote or on autopilot, so although the Cabinets are rehearsed; there are always plenty of ad-libbed moments to add to the fun. Pete Aves of the High Llamas and his overall clad band the Manuals provided an excellent and highly adaptable house band for the evening’s entertainment, despite having a drum kit held together by gaffer tape.
The format of the Cabinets is now well established. Each performer plays three songs or about 15 minutes of comedy or readings; however, many of the artists contribute to each other’s party piece, with Wes acting as MC and the musical thread. The show kicked off with Wes performing three songs from his latest album with lead guitar and backing vocals provided by Gary Louris of The Jayhawks, who also contributed to the studio versions. Gary Louris swiftly followed with some Jayhawk’s numbers. Having been “knighted” by Wes with a harmonica, they both delivered a joyful version of “Tailspin” for his third offering.
Comedy was provided by the ever offbeat Harry Hill who entered stage front “struggling” to climb over the monitors before delivering his quirky anecdotes. I must confess that I’m not a great fan of Mr Hill’s television work but live his humour is side splitting. He finished with “My Way”. As he pointed out, for a song that celebrates individuality it’s strange that it’s often performed in the same way. Harry turns the song on its head performing it backwards; although fortunately for The Manuals they’re not called onto reciprocate musically.
The comedy continued with Neil Innes of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Rutles and Monty Python fame performing his excellent Beatles pastiches including “Cheese And Onions”. The one act whom I hadn’t heard of before was the American song writer Sean Nelson who happened to be in London. He popped up to perform his song “Flagpole Sitta”, better known as the theme tune from Channel 4’s Peep Show.
Jonathan Coe took charge of the literature part of the evening. He read the second half of an engaging and funny unpublished, short story called “Canadians Cannot Flirt”, which provided useful pointers on how not to use double entendres. After having delivered one of only two poems he’s had published, he took to the keyboards to play an instrumental tune written in the early 1980s, when he had briefly contemplated a career in music.
Hailing from East London Linda Lewis is a force of nature. She’s performed with legends such as John Lee Hooker, David Bowie, Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart. Everyone gathered on stage for her to perform a cracking version of “It’s In His Kiss” (aka “The Shoop Shoop Song”). Before we knew it two hours of excellent and eclectic entertainment was over. As is the tradition at The Cabinet of Wonders, one and all gathered on stage to perform Kevin Ayers’ “Religious Experience” with everybody taking a verse, although when it was his turn the miscreant Harry Hill decided to sing “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary”! It proved a great way to end a golden egg of a show.
300 or so attentive people, including Wes’s mum who’d come up to London from his home town of Hastings.
It made me think..
This type of show deserves a bigger audience. Buy a ticket next time the Cabinet’s in town!