Cabaret Festival

Cabaret Festival Review: Underscore: Sally Ford & The Idiomatics with special guest Brian Nankervis

Musicianship and experimentation of form is at the heart of Underscore

Musicianship and experimentation of form is at the heart of Underscore

Presented by: Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Reviewed: 14 June, 2023

As three members of the more-than-twenty piece legendary Melbourne Ska Orchestra, and citing other past bands such as the highly experimental Spaghetti Western Orchestra and the tex-mex styles of Texicali Rose, Sally Ford & The Idiomatics bring a strong and enduring – and ultimately eclectic – musicianship to the stage.

In a one-off Cabaret Festival performance at the Space Theatre on Wednesday night, vocalist, saxophonist and flautist extraordinaire Sally Ford, along with Patrick Cronin on the synthesiser and Michael Havir on keyboard, veered from the energetic beats of ska and funk to give us what they call ‘melancholia electronica’ in their show Underscore. Melancholia electronica in the hands of seniors, they said, can be dangerous, and these musicians certainly don’t play it safe. Genre-blending and genre-bending, there is both moodiness and familiarity in their songs, a presence of nostalgia complete with Cronin’s forefront whistling like an echo of a memory.

Opening with a song reminiscent of one or many of Leonard Cohen’s, Ford sings of a lonely road – in this case Dog Trap Gully Road – where anything can happen. It’s stylised and sullen and sets the scene for what’s to follow. Enveloped in a thin, dark and smoky screen, Ford moves from song lyrics to spoken word as she reads from a travel journal of hers dating back to 1975. With Cronin and Havir backing her hitchhiking story, there’s a noir feel, slightly David Lynch-infused, and it’s sharply contrasted with the spoken word of the band’s special guest, RocKwiz co-host and ABC Radio personality Brian Nankervis.

Also supported by music, including Ford’s haunting vocals, Nankervis’s sets illustrate the voice of his daughter in utero as well as the grief surrounding his mother’s death. Giving us personal insight into his life, and genuinely appearing to enjoy himself as he does so, his contribution could be considered slightly indulgent, as the words that lie within the black and red journal he reads from don’t necessarily gel with the overall tone of the night. In their backing, however, the band instinctually makes it work.

What Sally Ford & The Idiomatics, along with Brian Nankervis, give their audience is more of a musical experience than a performance, more thought-provoking than boot-kicking, and it seems to correspond to the mood of a festival somehow absent of festivity. Where was the buzz of the Festival Plaza that so transformed the Cabaret Festival last year, and why was the Space Theatre – indeed the entire Festival Centre – so sparsely populated? Cost of living, perhaps, but last-night’s entertainers received a quiet reception, which might be, in fact, a natural and fitting reaction to ‘melancholia electronica’.

Reviewed by Heather Taylor Johnson

Photo credit: Claudio Raschella

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: Ended
Duration: 1 hour 10 mins

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