Got To Go 6: Cabaret Twilights
"I hope you're well-loaded tonight. You've got to be to watch this show!"(Scott Walker at various venues North of Watford, 1973)Do you ever look at fly posters for festivals way, way, WAY outside the M25?The cancerous complexity and cost of travel in this country, thanks to fuel taxes that do more to hurt people than help the planet and a profit driven price prank of a railway that costs over five times as much taxpayer cash than hated old publicly owned British Rail means I for one rarely have the chance.It really is a whole other world.Our Capital is something a bit like Venice in Dark Ages Italy. A World City State, attracting all energy, diversity and ambition - sharing a language and a diluting set of common cultural norms with the very different countries it is attached to and that steal from and mock it.Venice had the freedom to grow and prosper in a way London does not, shackled and choked as it is by the Green Belt and vamped dry of far more tax and love than is spent on it. The next time you wonder why the Northern Line seems to be powered by rat stool and spit, or how it is that only oligarchs can afford more than half a lock up garage, look out beyond that ring road borderland.You'll see Home Counties poshos conspiring with green goons to ensure their view over scrubland is not interrupted by anyone's home, and the massive empty Arts Regen Outreach Enterprise Centre thing in the middle of Pisshole-on-Bent that has done nothing more than puzzle Methadone zombies and serve as a meeting space for UKIP and the EDL. And acts as a landmark for Dogging enthusiasts picking up some fresh towels from a tired BHS before slinking into a picnic park twilight. Muttering hatefully about migrants as they reach for the that saucy Anne Summers Crotchless Body Shaper and some antibacterial lube.It can still be beautiful and instructive though.And it is to the remaining venues in the this beauty - the Royal Theatres, race tracks, Corn Exchanges and Third Division Football Grounds that a loving, charitable and decidedly customer centric clan of living pop fossils descend in increasing numbers..Well into the 90s, the UK was peppered all over with venues.The old labour intensive smokestack industries created countless Working Men's Clubs, Union Halls, Piers, Pleasure Gardens, Friendly Societies like the Forresters and the need for Variety theatres and picture palaces big and small. The invention of television and the slow death of the wonderful Variety circuit left a gaping void, a wound. A few have survived and are now home to unfashionably racist cornball comics, faded West End foghorns and shifty folkies. The rest, the bulk are now bingo halls, money cult churches, chain pubs, supermarkets or memories.For a long time this unattended hole was filled with the flotsam and refugees of pop culture that were still remembered, loved and missed. A world with three TV channels and few radio stations meant that the Majors machines turned up, tuned up and turfed out tonnes of still viable acts in quick time. Artists only a couple years away from Number One records and teenybopper rioting were banished from big venues and mass exposure long before the public had lost interest.In the earlier days the Working Men's Club Cabaret Play Land was not necessarily a knackers yard. Artists between LP hype cycles and band break-ups would hit the End of the Pier immediately. In 1967, the moment the original incarnation of The Walker Brothers burned out, Scott was there. From 1970, after the kaftan crowd decided that an attempt at baroque Anglophonic Brel was uncool and Philips decided was best not to let the man write his own material, he was back. Bombed on vodka and Valium, belting out 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore' over and over, dead inside while he gestated avant garde genius.Mostly, mostly, by the 1970s the Cabaret was a one way ticket. Like today.Retro festivals. What once was called the Nostalgia Circuit. Proven, shop worn acts taking advantage of name recognition and the massive, not to be repeated major label investments. Dancing on echoes and fed by dwindling royalty cheques, much like the Venetians in the 18th Century. A hundred years after new tech and trade routes had broken the back of their commercial empire they were entertaining tourists in gorgeous hand me down threads and third hand crystal cut glasses in a masked ball that was kept going all year round.Nostalgia is often seen as a weakness - a sickness and an epithet to apply to the past it and prejudiced against the modern. An unthinking allergy to all of the Now is just as foolish as to pretend the past is always better. That said, if I had a time machine I would go back, to a place of more opportunity and freedom as Philippe once wisely said he would too.Retro is a magic word in comparison. It is more knowing and in the now while taking the best of the past. Retro can be cool and expensive like Vintage. Much unlike Used or Second Hand.Reload bills itself as the biggest and best Retro Festival in East Anglia. Which is a bit like being the hooker with the fewest sores and most realistic smile in a Vladivostok brothel.And we'll open the door to it next time.