As I write this, I am listening to Jude Cowan's CD, Doodlebug Alley, handed to me by the artist as I left last night's 12-Bar Club gig, part of the London Fringe. It was an enjoyable evening, full of poets and musicians and plenty of amusing audience-performer interaction (some unwanted).
In all the years I have lived in London, I've never actually set foot in the club, and I was fascinated to see a forge dated 1635 form part of the back wall of the main stage. The sound engineer informed me it was used to make horseshoes. I am impressed to think it must have survived the Great Fire. But, I digress...
Cowan performed in the front room, a quirky, pigtailed figure adopting a knock-kneed stance usually seen by rockabilly guitarists, but here matched with a concert ukulele, face scrunched up, the better to add a melodramatic visual element to her idiosyncratic songs. I would have termed her style "English eccentric", had I not been warned via a pre-gig comment by fellow performer Helen McCookerybook, that they are neither English nor singer-songwriters. So, perhaps "British eccentric" is more accurate. Cowan's is quite a melodramatic style, full of dramatic pauses, knowing intonations and clever wordplay. "The Lure of Paris" made repeated mention of a "boring banker" in such a barbed way as to suggest it was cockney rhyming slang. Another number very amusingly riffed on "red Berlin" and the narrator's various romantic escapades.
Later, Helen McCookerybook took to the main stage for her soundcheck and was immediately engaged by a grizzled eccentric-in-residence who questioned her as to whether they had met before. Barefoot, she then carried on a running dialogue with the folk in the balcony, flashing a steely smile to go with her deceptively gentle tunes. Speak softly and carry a big Gretsch, I think. I recognised a few songs, as she was my first live performing guest on Odd Girl Out, but this was the first time I saw her play electric guitar. Seeking the sympathy vote for her sore thumb, she showed off her jazz chords, and played a brisk, engaging set, selected from the luggage tag she had tied to her guitar neck. She was very proud of this innovation and predicted it will sweep the folkerati circuit.
Among the audience was Cowan's and McCookerybook's colleague Kath Tait, the third member of their tongue-in-cheek group the Desperado Housewives ("on the run from husbands and housework"). Their next themed gig, on the subject of cowboys, is on 9 September at the Montague Arms in New Cross.