Way back in the late 60s and early 1970s there was a trend for multimedia presentations including the sublime marriage of pop, poetry and humour. I'm thinking of such performers as The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Liverpool Scene, Bob Kerr, Scaffold, Barrow Poets, Doggerel Bank and of course the recently demised demagogue Ivor Cutler. In the intervening years, there have been a few new names added to the list - Jilted John/John Shuttleworth/Graham Fellows is one that springs immmediately to mind, but in general the genre has largely fallen into disrepair - certainly in terms of any wde public awareness. If you have not yet explored this fruitful area of leftfield culture, I would advise you to set out on the path of discovery forthwith!
My.... re-awakening, if you like, happened a couple of months ago when I was invited by my friends in Turning Green to attend a benefit gig in aid of The Cambodia Trust at Brighton's 'Ocean Rooms'. The line-up for the evening was rich and varied including The Greens and a powerful boombox outfit called Mr Finn and Juxtachrome. But the act that stole the show was The Hat - a really odd looking bunch who wowed the audience with their highly original amalgam of power-pop, jazz, rap and poetry. When they announced they had a CD for sale, of course I just had to have it!
I'm glad to say that the record does not disappoint in any way other than it contains only 4 songs. It is filled with drama and pathos, telling stories loaded with emotions of the highest order set in arrangements which build tension and excitement enough for any sensitive soul. Clever use of language and intonation set against humorous exotic rhythmic backgrounds paint atmospheric moving pictures which transport the listener into wild and whacky worlds of wonderful whimsy (hem-hem!). Yes - it's brilliant! Give it a go and I'll guarantee it'll leave you wanting to hear more - much more - of The Hat.
Waxing lyrical about The Hat to my friend, Ewan, a record dealing street-trader in North Laine, some while after the gig I've mentioned above, he turned to me and, dipping into the treasures laid out on his stall handed me a copy of Cemetary Songs and said, "I think you'll like this.' The delivery van I was driving at the time had no CD player on board so I had to sweat through the rest of the day's work before I could get the CD home to hear what gems it had to offer. The wait was well worth it!
To quote the sleeve note, 'The Rohan Theatre Band includes piano, Hammond organ, accordian, guitar, banjo, bass, trumpet, alto saxophone, violin, percussion and voice.' All these are curtesy of one Rohan Kriwaczek, as is the songwriting, composition and production. A true polymath that Rohan!
The 11-track album kicks off with a suitably gothic introduction and as it progresses we are treated to a series of sad tales inspired it seems by regular visits to Brighton's Woodvale Cemetary, variously delivered in a style somewhere between Vivian Stanshall and Tom Waites to name but two of Rohan's possible muses. The musicianship is beyond question and the songwriting/storytelling is immaculate in both conception and execution. Let me give you a taste of the oeuvre in the form of a few of the song (or rather dirge) titles - 'The Undertaker's Ball', 'Everybody's Happy to be Dead', 'Things I should Have Said', 'Reunited at Last' - hopefully these will illustrate the ground covered - or excavated - by Rohan on the record. The whole is an awesome (gruesome) project which deserves a wide audience of discerning music lovers - make sure you're among the chosen few.
So I'm extremely happy with this mini-revival of this particular crossover genre. I hope it heralds a positive flood of similar projects. If you are aware of similar work which needs broader appreciation please don't hesitate to let me know so that I can climb aboard that bandwagon too.