Life is a Cabaret

As with many words context is everything.  If I was to say the word ‘Cabaret’, here in South Wales you might get the image of an old Workingman’s Club.  On stage there would be some backdrop made of long threads of shiny metallic paper or a sparkly, twinkling, light curtain.  In the corner, next to the tombola bingo drum, would be an old drum kit and a Hammond organ.

There would be a small space in front of the stage for dancing. Tables would be set down the length of the hall, out at right angles to the stage with chairs either side.  The carpets would usually make your shoes slightly stick as you made your way to the bar where you could buy a round of drinks and still have enough money for a portion of pie and chips.

‘Crazy Coqs, Cabaret & Bar’ in the heart of London’s West End is nothing like that.

Originally the building that is now the home to Crazy Coqs was The Regent Palace Hotel.  It opened on 16th May 1915, covered 12 floors with 1028 bedrooms.  At the time it was the largest hotel in Europe and was hailed as ‘The Height of Luxury’. The hotel was the brainchild of Joe Lyons who was famous for the Lyons Tea Rooms. His idea was

‘to make the luxuries usually available to the very rich open to the less well off’.

Having said that Joe certainly didn’t scrimp on his use of marble, rattan chairs and a small forest of palm trees.  Looking at pictures from the time the best way I can describe the opulence of the Regent Palace is to say it looks like a scene from the film Titanic.

In the 1930’s many of the rooms were redesigned by Oliver Bernard who had started his career working as a scene painter in the theatre.  Bernard went on to become known as one of the fathers of Art Deco.

On completion Building magazine described the new basement as,

‘just a trifle dissipated and naughty, but not sufficient to be vulgar’.

Bernard decided to change the old Billiard Room into a stylish space to enjoy a cocktail.  He named it ‘Chez Cup Bar’. When the building was redesigned in the early 2000’s the room was recreated using the original architectural drawings and renamed Crazy Coqs.

COVID was an awful time for the whole world. Millions lost their lives; families were left heartbroken as they lost loved ones and then lost the chance to mourn them as they would have liked.  Many people lost their livelihoods as lockdown changed the way people interacted with each other.

The enforced isolation also led a lot of people to question their existence and what they would do when the pandemic was finally over.  I had in fact gone through that process in the year prior to COVID.  I had decided that I would concentrate on what I loved most in life which was writing songs and being a performer.  The main thing had to become the main thing again.

Smecky Studios, Prague.

For a number of months I concentrated on writing new songs every day.  When I finally felt I had a collection that made some sort of sense and told a story I headed to the Czech Republic to record an album with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.  That was January 2020.  I returned elated and looking forward to touring the new record with the first dates set for spring of that year.

Like everyone else in the world it took some time to accept that I was going to have to change my plans significantly.  The CD’s that arrived ready in time for the tour went into storage and I returned to the studio to use the time in lockdown to keep writing.

With October 2023 marking my Golden Jubilee of getting signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records, and with Covid looking like it was finally getting under control, we decided to tentatively plan a whole year of concerts and record releases.  Whilst always focussing on our major Homecoming Show at the Swansea Arena on 3rd October, high on the agenda was an assault on the capital.  We were going back to London and going as often as we could.

This week was my third visit to perform in London this year.  It’s all very well wanting to perform but music isn’t a hobby, it’s a business.  Finding the venues that work artistically have to also work financially too. What that also means is that while I would love to take the Jacks on tour with me sometimes it’s just not possible. 

I’m quite used to solo concerts but these days using modern technology, screens and video I can almost recreate the size and scale of a band concert.  In fact for some of those shows I often say I’ll be joined on stage by a gospel choir, an orchestra and Elton John…but only on video.

Elton John on Backing vocals.

Crazy Coqs isn’t like that.  It is an intimate Cabaret Bar, with a small audience that are all in touching distance of the stage. There is a grand piano and a microphone, and the rest is down to the artistes.

Having spent some time studying the venue and its usual acts I knew I would have to change the repertoire to be even more intimate and personal than usual.  With nowhere to hide and no technology I knew I would have to put some long hours in rehearsing.  I would also have to relearn some of the songs I had written and recorded a few years ago but never actually played in public before.

Crazy Coqs has 2 shows a night, the first at 7pm and the second just after 9pm.  When I arrived at the stylish venue I met the 7pm show lads, ‘Woodhead & Wartenberg’s Berlin Cabaret’.   There was me thinking I would make quite an impression by wearing my bright red suit. When I walked into the dressing room to see what the lads wardrobe contained I must admit I felt a bit of a country bumpkin.

I read the boys press release,

‘Get ready for a night of erotic frisson, classic chanson, and avant-garde post-post-modern Brechtian theatre.’

I checked my set list once again.  Well the good news was I didn’t think we would be singing any of the same songs so at least we wouldn’t clash!!!

As the lights dimmed and I walked on stage at 9.10pm I felt a nervousness I hadn’t felt for some time. I soon got into my stride and really started to feel right at home.  The intimacy meant I could tell the stories behind the songs.  Also, whilst it is wonderful to use videos, and to sing and play along to an orchestra there was a freedom that being sat alone at a piano gave me that I haven’t experienced for some time.

In the audience were a number of people I call Welsh Royalty.  Ria Jones had performed a couple of Shows at Crazy Coqs over the weekend and she had brought along a party of friends with her to support someone from the old country.  It was also lovely to see David Emanuel looking wonderful as always.

Designing the merchandise for the album launch.

For the moment its back to thinking about a new album, merchandise like t-shirts and hats all in preparation for the Swansea Arena in October but if any more ‘Cabaret’ gigs come up in London I’ll grab them with both hands.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *