Tim Draxl sings Chet Baker publicity shot

Tim Draxl sings Chet Baker

As soon as I saw it advertised, I booked tickets straight away. It was an evening at one of my favourite cabaret bars in Sydney – Bar Me – featuring one of my favourite cabaret singers – Tim Draxl – doing the works of one of my favourite jazz musicians – Chet Baker – so how could I go wrong?

Colin, Grant and I had seen Tim Draxl perform and talk about the works of Chet Baker in August last year. As he noted when he performed, it was the night of the Bledisloe Cup. Amusingly, it was another footy night in Sydney, with the NRL Grand Final action many kilometres away at Homebush.

Michael Tyack and Tim Draxl at Supper Club
Michael Tyack and Tim Draxl at Supper Club, when Tim previously spoke and sang about Chet Baker

As the crowd was packed into the stadium there, so too, were we packed in to Bar Me. I don’t know how many people were in the small, cellar-style venue in Kings Cross, but I’m reasonably pleased there wasn’t a fire or an evacuation. We had great seats, but it sure was tight. And it was warm.

But at the same time, it was a great venue for the show, dealing as it did with the story of 1950s jazz musician who was described as “The James Dean Of Jazz”.

Whether or not that was hype remains open to discussion, but he was certainly an interesting character, with his rather curious family upbringing, his heavy use of a wide range of drugs, and speculation about his sexuality.

Throughout the show Tim Draxl talks a bit about Baker’s sexuality, ranging from teenage poofter-bashing at school, to early twenties “partying hard” (was that a euphemism?), and to a later emphatic denial of homosexuality when he plays Baker in character.

Early in the piece, though, Tim sang the song “My Buddy” with such an urgent sexuality, that you couldn’t help but be down the path of speculation…

As a performer, Tim Draxl continues to grow. Every time I see him, he gets better. He gets more honest. He gets more real. He still holds something of himself back, though. And in tonight’s show he spoke about how that’s why he likes Baker – that he was somewhat of an introvert too. One day I’d like to see Tim really drop his guard, really open up. I’m sure that will happen one day.

Whenever I see him perform, though, I’m reminded of the young man I interviewed when he was 18 or 19 on ABC Radio. He seemed to have a lot of self-control/reserve even then.

Looks like the work of Luke Temby on the walls of Surry Hills

Sat On My Lap

Cupco - the work of Luke Temby on the walls of Surry Hills
Cupco - the work of Luke Temby on the walls of Surry Hills

As Kate and I walked around the streets of Chippendale, we noticed posters featuring artwork by Luke Temby.

I noticed another one tonight as I came home from dinner at Emad’s on Cleveland Street.

The art group I belong to has bought a couple of works by Temby, and he has created this crazy kind of universe called Cupco. It was interesting to see his works out and about on the streets, as well as in the galleries.

Kate was into town for a couple of exhibitions, including one we saw together at Seymour Centre which focussed on Sydney experimental and electronic music of the early 1980s, as part of Sydney Festival. It was so-so.

But it was good to see Kate.

It was also a lovely dinner at Emad’s by the way, along with Colin and a couple of his friends. Colin used to work with the husband, and now, retired, he and his wife are having a whale of a time travelling the world “while they still can”.

We had just been to see “The Fabulous Frances Faye” downstairs at Belvoir Street.

Part of the set from the Fabulous Frances Faye at Belvoir Street
Part of the set from the Fabulous Frances Faye at Belvoir Street

I’d first heard about the show maybe six months ago when a cabaret-type I know came back from Adelaide raving about the show.

Fellow blogger, Yani, has also seen the show.

In that instance, Yani was the audience participation in the show, as was I tonight.

Prior to this, I’d heard the name Frances Faye before, but had no recognition of who she was.

Her connection with Australia, it seems, was a strong one, as she played here on many occasions, including her final performances on stage and television before she died.

The closest modern parallel, in some ways, would be Bette Midler. Not in a “Wind Beneath My Wings” sense, but in the sense of Bette’s cabaret act, combining strong showmanship, excellent musicianship, and a lovely bawdiness. And, back in 1960s Australia, she was apparently, popular with the gays.

The guy doing the show, Nick Christo, performs as Frances, though not in a frock. Dressed in a suit, he performs “a show” as Frances, seeking to capture the essence of her work, rather than engage in the art of female impersonation.

And he’s bloody fantastic. He’s a wonderful performer, who sings well, is comfortable in his body as he moves throughout the show, and who effortlessly takes you into the world of 1960s cabaret, epitomised by the likes of clubs like Chequers.

Towards the end, like Yani, I became the subject of a bit of audience participation as he sang and then sat on my lap.

It wasn’t an especially well-attended show, with an audience of maybe 40 downstairs at Belvoir. The audience was, however, enthusiastic, and there was a great buzz in the room. As everyone left there were smiles all round.

It was a wonderful show that’s opened my eyes to the work of the fabulous Frances Faye.

Grant and Tim

What will Tim Draxl do next?

About half way through tonight’s show by Tim Draxl at The Civic I found my mind wandering. “What’s he going to do next?”, I thought to myself, adding “He’s done music, cabaret, films. Where’s his headspace at?”. Minutes later he articulated my very thoughts. “A lot of people have wondered what am I going to do next? So have I”, he said, adding that he felt exhilarated by the uncertainty of his career at the moment.

He’s a great singer, but somehow, deep own, you get the feeling his heart isn’t in it. He’s a good actor, but apart from the occasional good role, he’s appeared in quite a few dodgy films and shows. Personally, I’d love him to concentrate on singing. The best singers, in my opinion, usually have a theatrical quality about them. Unlike many of the singers you see on television these days – last night’s American Idol for example – the best singers are those who put their heart and soul into a song. Those who can sing a song, hitting the notes and drawing upon deep emotions, and who don’t need to rely on vocal gymnastics to impress. Tim Draxl is such a performer.

He talked tonight about having sung a song when he was young and not making much of a fist of it, primarily because he hadn’t experienced love at that time in his life. He said that he hoped he would sing it better tonight because he had learned so much more from life. And he did. You still get the feeling, though, he’s holding back. Although he sings beautifully, you still get the feeling there’s a lot more he could share. And if you could combine the natural talent he has, along with the hard work he has put into his career, along with a little more raw emotion, you just know he would be a GREAT performer. That said, it was a good show tonight, and one which Colin, Grant and I enjoyed very much.

The Civic is a great venue. Dinner was excellent. The show was only before about 60 people, so it was intimate. A good night was had by all.

Science, Fires and Merri-May

Merri-May Gill performs at Club Bondi Junction
Merri-May Gill performs at Club Bondi Junction

“Have you seen Merri-May perform before?”, I was asked by the woman sitting near me at tonight’s show.

“Yes”, I told her… “Many times. I think I could be a groupie”.

I have only a fairly vague memory of the first time I met Merri-May Gill, though I suspect it’s probably about 10 years ago.

I was working in regional radio at the time. And I recall her debut CD came demonstrating great song-writing and performing skills across a variety of genres, including comedy, jazz, folk and cabaret.

AND it was great to discover she was from regional NSW – she grew up near Brewarrina, went to school in Armidale and Mittagong, and university in Bathurst – which was right up my alley.

Best of all? She was a great chick, to boot!

When I did my radio program from Bourke co-inciding with a visit by QE2, for example, she happily wrote and came and recorded a song, “The Queen Is Coming To Bourke”. Fun stuff.

Ten years on, and she’s still making me laugh and smile with her songs.

Tonight’s opening number, for example, had the filthiest lyrics about all of the things she’s not into because she’s a “nice girl from the country”.

Another new song was about her desire to find “a good dog” for running about the farm which was delightful.

On stage she has a presence which comes elements of innocence and sophistication, gorgeous singing, and wonderful guitar playing.

Ten years on and she said tonight she’s performing now “just for fun” which is great. I think she’s a great performer, and if you ever see her coming your way, I’d recommend seeing her show.

Just minutes after her final song, I got a phone call from the Rural Fire Service updating me on some fires on the NSW South Coast. This was the other theme of the day, as I made and received calls, text messages and emails about what was occuring there.

Simon Marnie from 702 ABC Sydney speaks to Abbie Thomas at ABC Science Festival
Simon Marnie from 702 ABC Sydney speaks to Abbie Thomas at ABC Science Festival

And before that, I was up and at work for a mid-morning science extravaganza as the ABC doors were opened for a family science fun day.

The foyer was packed with more 10 year olds than I’ve seen in my life.

As a child, I remember the fascination I, too, had with science experiments. “The Curiosity Show”, with its regular science spots was a childhood favourite of mine.

But as much as I love the way scientists have grabbed public attention in recent years with the need for “science education” and “outreach”, I’m a little concerned, these days, that not enough emphasis is being placed on “arts education”.

For me, it’s all about the balanced human being. And it worries me a little that the utilitarianism of science and maths may have overtaken the life-fulfilling joy and satisfaction the arts can bring to the overall education of the young ones.

I hope there’s a few more Merri-Mays being encouraged to sing and write, and bring joy into people’s lives, as well as those who want to discover cures for cancer.

Michael Tyack and Tim Draxl at Supper Club

Tim Draxl

“Thanks for coming out tonight when you could have gone to the Bledisloe Cup” Tim Draxl declared at the opening of his show tonight, adding, “I don’t even know what the Bledisloe Cup is”. There was only one bloke in the room who looked remotely interested in the rugby, and he was there with his girlfriend, and was possibly a relative, I thought. The rest of the room was made up of middle-aged couples and lots of poofs, as you might expect. And those of us who have followed his career for quite some time.

The last time I saw Tim Draxl perform live he was twenty three years old. At the time I concluded… “I reckon Tim Draxl could become one of our best musical theatre performers… a truly rounded gifted performer… he just needs to work on the “authenticity” thing… ” Well, four years later, aged twenty-seven he seems to have taken my advice on board :) I’m sure he read my blog review…

Tonight’s performance at the Supper Club on Oxford Street was absolutely fantastic. There were quite a few moments when I got goose-bumps, and a couple of times when I was close to having a tear roll down my check. I think the authenticity tonight came from many things, including maturity, but also his choice of songs which was excellent. As well as the jazz-standards you might expect, including an exemplary version of “My Funny Valentine”, he sang more modern songs, including a great Jeff Buckley song called “Lilac Wine“.

When I think more than I want to think
Do things I never should do
I drink much more that I ought to drink
Because it brings me back you

Neither Colin, nor Grant, nor I had heard this song before, but it’s definitely a beautiful song, and one I’d like to pursue further.

My Funny Valentine” in particular is a favourite of mine. In talking about the song, Tim mentioned that it was by Chet Baker, and that he would love to be in a movie about Chet Baker, though Leonardo di Caprio currently owns the rights to that particular story.

In contrast to four years ago, he seems to have found his own adult voice. Personally, I prefer the more maudlin, depressive numbers, and that’s when I think you really see his soul, but he’s also very good at the more uptempo, more typical “showtune”.

The whole premise for the show was the music and people who inspired him, hence the name “Under The Influence”. Seated in the audience were his mum and a former school teacher with whom he is still close. He also mentioned a dance teacher. All of them were influential in his almost precocious interest in the performing arts. The three of us smiled in recognition at his youthful interest in Hollywood Musicals. Although his between-song-patter still goes on a little too long, and is sometimes a little self-indulgent, that will undoubtedly improve with age. Hey, he’s 27 years old! The music and the show, however, were sublime.

Bob Downe and friend at The Supper Club on Oxford Street, Sydney


Callum Morton - exhibition at Roslyn Oxley 9
Callum Morton - exhibition at Roslyn Oxley 9

I’ve just arrived home from a terrific night out with my friend Colin.

The night started off at the Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery in Paddington where there’s a new exhibition by Callum Morton. The art collectors group of which I’m a member has a piece by him, and so I was keen to see what he is currently working on. It was a minimalist exhibition, to be sure, with only half a dozen works. But while there aren’t too many works in this exhibition, they more than make up for it with size. The major work is the size of a wall, because, well, it is a wall. Literally. It’s a wall. What else can I say? “You’d have trouble squeezing that in your apartment”, Colin joked at one point. But of course, it’s not something any individual collector would purchase. It’s a “museum piece”. The asking price of $120,000 also makes it considerably more expensive than the small work we purchased back in 2005. Although I love our safe, the works tonight didn’t do all that much for me. Either of us actually. So we had a look around and then headed off for a bite to eat at Snakebean, one of my favourite places for a tasty, inexpensive, light meal.

Bob Downe and friend at The Supper Club on Oxford Street, Sydney
Bob Downe and friend at The Supper Club on Oxford Street, Sydney

For us, the main goal of the night was securing a good seat for the Bob Downe Retrogras Show at The Supper Club. I’ve seen Bob’s show maybe half a dozen times in my life, and through work I’ve come to know his alter-ego, Mark Trevorrow. “Mark Trevorrow’s given up showbiz. He’s working for the ABC now”, Bob joked at some point tonight.

Oddly enough, on at least two occasions I’ve been the subject of “audience participation” in shows by Bob Downe.

Sunset Boulevarde drag show as part of Bob Downe at Supper Club.
Sunset Boulevarde drag show as part of Bob Downe at Supper Club.

“You must have been wearing a light coloured shirt”, Mark has since explained as to why I would have been chosen from the audience. Tonight I wore a dark shirt. But it was still with some trepidation that I found myself seated tonight in the second row. As my friend Colin has a background in theatre, we both knew our seats put us in a direct line of view for those performing on stage. Thankfully, the young men in the front row were the subject of audience participation tonight, though, not us. And what a show it was. It was great fun, but also quite touching.

The first half consisted of a number of “come backs” by well-known drag artists on Oxford Street. As I’m not a huge officianado of drag, I didn’t actually who know who they were. But they were obviously well known, judging by the response of the audience, and it was quite touching to see them back in a reprise of their former careers. My favourites were the one who did an Eartha Kitt cover of “All By Myself” (about becoming beautiful at forty), and the one who did the scene from Sunset Boulevarde (The Musical). Great fun.

The second half consisted mostly of some songs by a contestant from last year’s “Australian Idol” called Natalie something or other. “How did you go?”, Bob asked. “I stopped watching Idol half way through the first series”, he explained and joked. Both Colin and I preferred the first half. “It must be a generation thing”, Colin explained as to why he just didn’t like her singing.

The show was linked beautifully by Bob. And we even got to meet Bob’s nephew, a young bloke who basically does the Bob act. “The sad thing is, that’s his real hair”, Bob joked at one point. Amongst the many quotable quotes of the night was the line… “New Zealand – land of the wrong white crowd”. Also, amusingly, there was some microphone interference from the bingo being held downstairs, which meant our PA system broadcast a little of what was going on downstairs. Bob handled the technical f*^#up with a great deal of class and humour. Overall, it was a great fun night out, and terrific to see some cabaret with a bit of an edge to it. Not just “show tunes”.

Arriving home. I read on Facebook that a bloke I know was really disappointed with The Supper Club. “At least you had a seat”, he commented, when I responded to his post about The Supper Club being “incredibly pretentious”. I’m not sure if I agree with his assessment. I’ve been to see a couple of shows there, including Eran James, and quite enjoyed the environment on both occasions. Maybe it was pretentious, I just don’t know and that wasn’t my experience of the night. I was seated right up the front and for me I just sipped my wine and enjoyed a really terrific night of cabaret. Next week, it’s David Campbell who is the special guest star. I won’t make it, unfortunately,

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Cumming at the Opera House

Every time I go to the Opera House I take a photograph of either the Opera House or the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Deep down, I know it’s provincial and parochial to photograph some so-called “world icons”, somehow holding on to a notion that Sydney is a “global city” whereas the other state capitals are “colonial outposts”. I recognise that, but I still think they’re great structures and they never fail to impress me with their beauty. And so of course, tonight, heading off to see Allan Cumming at The Studio at the Sydney Opera House I did the same again.

It had been a reasonably frustrating day for me at work. I felt like I didn’t achieve all that much. I felt like everything I attempted to do was stifled in some way, shape or form. I felt a bit like a “mid ranking bureaucrat” whose sole jobs was to send/receive emails that didn’t actually achieve any resolution. Hopefully, everything I did today, however, will have some resolution reasonably soon.

And then after work I caught up with a couple of colleagues for a post-work drinks. I couldn’t stay too long, though, as I’d made plans to meet Colin at Snakebean. When I’d agreed to have dinner with Damien last night at Snakebean, I’d forgotten I’d agreed exactly the same thing with Colin tonight. We were tight for time, though, so we only had the soft-shelled crab and some dumplings which we, pretty much, gulped down, ahead of catching a cab to the Opera House to see Allan Cumming. No double entendre intended, by the way :)

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen him in a film. And I don’t know if he’s a terribly good actor. But I have seen him interviewed on various chat shows and I’ve always found him extremely entertaining. One of the most memorable occasions was on the Graham Norton Show, when he was extremely entertaining and extraordinarily funnily.

Tonight, he revealed Graham was a good friend of his, and he told a very funny anecdote about how Graham was at Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood around the time of 9/11. Prior to the attacks, he told us Graham and Dolly had floated down a waterway at the park in rubber tubes singing “Islands In The Stream”. “Gay men in the audience are cumming”, he joked. And then, when the attacks occured, he told us, they halted Dolly Parton music on the public address system, replacing it with news coverage.

Actually, he did a fair deal of name-dropping tonight. When I met so and so. When I did thus and thus. He continued the theme throughout the show. But you never got the feeling he was “big noting” himself. You had the feeling he was totally shocked and stunned by the success he’d had, and the feeling these were stories along the lines of “you’ll never guess what happened to me”.

The anecdotes were a key part of the show, but so too was the music. At times he sang really well, other times I thought he was okay. I found his quiet ballads lacking in a certain authenticity. I think it was sometimes about “hitting the notes” and not “hitting the meaning”. But mostly, he nailed every song extremely well. In fact, there were two occasions when he sang when I had goose-bumps.

The first was when he sang “Where I Want to Be” from “Chess”, which he introduced, somewhat ironically as a tune by ABBA. I’ve heard a lot of versions of this song, and I can honestly say his was the best. Located in the musical, it’s very much based around the character. But when it was sung tonight, it was a lyric we could all relate to as we struggle with the struggle of life.

The other moment was when he sang “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret”. In the musical, it’s sung as a slow and seductive song, almost dismissive in a way. But when he sang it tonight, slowly, and often spoken with a thick Scottish accent, the song was very seductive. I ached with anticipation as he moved towards the lines about he was searching “inch by inch, man by man”.

There were a couple of times tonight when I wanted to jump up and applaud. The “mood” wasn’t there until the very end though. Still, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, and deservedly so. “This has set a high bar for cabaret in Sydney”, I mentioned to Colin as we left the theatre tonight.

Afterwards, having a drink at the Opera House we talked about the show, with both of us concluding we had a great night. Very, very enjoyable. And very recommended.