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Melinda Hughes Weimar & Back CD Launch

MargoYesterday I was fortunate enough to attend the launch party for Melinda Hughes’ new CD Weimar & Back at the marvellous Soho House. Released on June 1st, Weimar & Back is a collection of satirical songs by Hollaender, Spoliansky, Heymann and Hughes & Limb, which have been updated to reflect many current social issues. The launch at Soho House, saw Melinda perform three tracks. Accompanying the CD, Hughes is set to perform a series of concerts which celebrate the music and culture of the Weimar interwar period, marking 100 years of the Weimar Republic.

The significance of the Weimar, historically, geographically and culturally, underpins this project; Berlin was an important hub for artists, musicians, intellectuals, and innovators from all backgrounds during the Weimar Republic years. It became a melting pot of creativity. Though the political and social climate was turbulent, Berlin welcomed new ideas in all areas, and encouraged the work of wide-ranging people. This thriving cultural climate saw the rise of cabaret. Most famously iconicized through Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, which became the musical Cabaret, it is often unfairly derided or overlooked as an art form. The music historian Michael Haas writes that ‘there’s the view that cabaret started off in the 19th century as the salon of petty criminals and prostitutes. It soon became fashionable for urban bohemians to frequent such low-life dives. In Berlin, Paris, Vienna and Barcelona, the bawdy songs were replaced by social satire.’ Hughes is attempting to recapture this highly-sexed, avant-garde atmosphere, once again coupling cabaret performance with satirical lyrics. Indeed, Hughes and Limb have continued this evolution. They have carried the cabaret baton and brought it into the 21st century with lyrics which cover contemporary concerns. The genre is now inextricably tied to social justice struggles; we look to music in contentious times. We look to songwriters and performers to be social commentators, the mouthpiece of dissent and protest. Whilst these songs are consistently humorous, and delivered tongue in cheek, they do carry serious political points and offer resistance. Scratch the surface of performance and the words act as protest songs, undermining current affairs. Satirical songs were reactions to political events, the equivalent of modern-day Have I Got News For You. The themes are therefore timeless. Like the punk of the late ‘70s or the grime of today, cabaret was the voice of the people.

In this way, it is clear that these songs are designed to be performed live. Melinda’s stage presence is the driving force. The puns are sharp and clever, the wit dry and piercing. Her delivery is deadpan, with unerring timing. Melinda is powerful and impressive; the daughter of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang film director Ken Hughes, her voice slides between jazz, the theatrical and the operatic. The arrangements by co-writer and pianist Jeremy Limb are minimalist yet provide a strong foundation. Britannia waives the rules is a cutting exposition of Anglo-American relations; ‘You’ve got Obamacare, we’ve got the NHS, but they’re very similar, they’re both in a mess!’ Inevitably Trump does not escape Hughes’ crosshairs. All the best men are gay is a brilliant, romping charge of feminine sexuality; ‘I’m a man-eater and I need to get my five a day’.

Hughes has sung over thirty operatic roles in more than forty countries; she is a specialist in Weimar Cabaret and it shows here. Barry Humphries comments that ‘Melinda Hughes is the newest exponent of the Weimar spirit in music and certainly the most personable.’ The songs stand alone but it is Melinda’s compelling performance which has reanimated cabaret as a contemporary medium. If you are willing to be open to new genres and ideas Weimar & Back is rewarding.

Melinda Hughes presents Margo. Half woman, half beast at JW3 London on 19th and 20th June and at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Assembly Rooms 2nd-18th August 2018.

John O’Brien

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  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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