Fringe Music

Joe Stilgoe: Songs on Film

Assembly Checkpoint

Loading article content


Strange Face

Pleasance Courtyard


The Tap Pack

Assembly George Square


Joe Stilgoe appears not to have had a misspent youth. Judging from this latest instalment of his survey of songs and related films – and its predecessors – every waking hour that led up to the suave, effortlessly entertaining Mr S becoming a jazz musician was devoted to accruing knowledge of the cinema and ingesting soundtracks.

The overture here, with Stilgoe alone at the piano in a Darth Vader mask, was a superb appetiser with an, at first, apparently random but presently wittily assembled running order establishing a connection with the audience that grew as he was joined by bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Ben Reynolds.

They’re more than his rhythm section; they’re essential parts of the choir-cum song and dance act-cum-sound effects unit that delivers Stilgoe’s own cineaste’s catchy boogaloo What’s On, investigates Tom & Jerry-esque slapstick and visits Sweet Charity with impressively smooth voice and double bass aplomb.

Heaven knows how many songs and tunes, not to mention films, are referenced in an hour that’s quickfire and yet somehow remarkably detailed, including the suitably eerie, torch-lit finale to the Doors’ People Are Strange during the horror section. It’s probably best not keep the score – no pun intended - and just go with the flow of an involving, smartly turned and variously rocking, swinging and casually informative presentation.

Run ends August 27.

Michael Burdett was working in a very junior position with Island Records when he came across a skipful of discarded tapes, including some by the company’s biggest names. Among them was a recording of ill-starred troubadour Nick Drake’s Cello Song that Burdett kept but didn’t listen to for about twenty years. And when he did, he discovered it was a previously unknown version.

This turned out to be gold dust, at least in terms of the travels with a camera adventure that resulted. Burdett isn’t a photographer – his disclosure of this gives just one of many examples of his astute comic delivery – but he “blind dated” all manner of people up and down the UK with the recording, photographed their responses and turned up an improbable collection of coincidences.

From his local fishing tackle dealer, whose gruff demeanour softened completely on hearing the music and learning about Drake’s early demise, to the playwright Tom Stoppard and a chap bearing an uncanny resemblance to Robert Wyatt, Burdett’s cast is fascinating and linked with a natural storyteller’s feel for narrative, asides and human foibles.

We never actually hear the Drake recording but we don’t need to as, with slides, mischievous red herrings and occasional gentle teasing, Burdett, now a successful composer for television, delivers a lovely, warming tale.

Run ends August 29.

The Tap Pack is an Aussie troupe that takes some inspiration from Frank Sinatra and his cronies but is at its best when it goes its own way with its brilliantly creative and precise solo and ensemble dance routines.

Set in a bar-cum-theatre set, complete with movable stairs, the show is a mite bitty and suffers from corniness at times – the big brother and little brother comparing musical tastes by karaoke skit doesn’t match their obvious other talents. But it really delivers with formation tap sequences, a daredevil snooker cue-juggling dance act and shin-threatening stair dance. Ditch the misses and the hits could be major.

Run ends August 29.

Rob Adams