BAUBLES, BANGLES AND BIDDIE
at the Pheasantry
starring James Biddlecombe with Chris Marshall at the piano.
Yes, King Biddie the Multitalented Monarch of Cabaret is back at the Pheasantry with his Christmas Show. This is a show unlike any of the others he has delivered this year, with a whole new raft of songs he has never sung before at that venue.....
Except for one which he tends to bring out all the time. 'The Old Bazaar in Cairo'. He seems to do this because, with all his additional daft lyrics, it is so complicated that he calls upon the assistance of his magnificent piano player Chris Marshall who provides extra vocals and harmonies to the numbers and the two are so in tune they seem to be joined at the brain. Marshall is working with a damaged hand, but this is not in the least obvious to anyone. He tells me he isn't playing as many notes as usual. There are plenty enough for me.
Biddie's versatile vocal chords can sing anything you put in his path and one of his great achievements on this evening is the song by the Pogues 'Fairy Tale of New York' normally sung with more than one solo voice - Biddie characterised them with his usual perfection. This is one of the songs that will be on his new album which is to be released in the Spring.
Another of his outstanding performances is a music hall kind of song about a little homeless girl 'My father's a Drunkard and Mother is Dead' which he does without microphone and in modern send up style making gentle fun of the little girl's voice. He finishes the song to laughter and applause and then just says very gently as himself 'There are five million children in poverty in this country.'
This remark reaches the audience as Biddie continues with his humorous banter, but it is a moment to remember - no one else would have the courage to throw this in.
In the second half there is a little more banter as he gets the audience to sing along with his medley of Christmas songs.
What is so nice about this special evening is that there are so many people of different ages there to see him, obviously word of mouth has worked and it is a full house including many young people - the kind who usually go to the more noisy kind of entertainment.
Biddie's work is for everyone. As somebody remarked to me 'Biddie is a one off. There is nobody like him' and added 'I would be delighted just to hear his incredible voice, but he gives us so much more.'
He has been compared to all the great entertainers of the past, Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Sammy Davies.. He has affinities with all of them plus one thing extra.. The irreplaceable Biddie ingredient.
He will be at the Crazy Coqs in February - his first venture to Zedel's in Piccadilly. It might be a good idea to book early.
Baubles Bangles and Biddie
The Pheasantry, London
Review by Kate Beswick
The Pheasantry is a cabaret restaurant in the basement of a Pizza Express in Chelsea. It was a popular place in the sixties and has a pleasantly dated feel; one goes down steep steps into the past, and very nice it was: dark red walls, atmospheric lighting, a lot of middle aged people at small tables - it was all like a forties film. I expected George Raft to walk in and I definitely spotted Akim Tamiroff as he made his way past my table.We returned briefly to the present day with quite a lot of pizza, and finally the star, James ‘Biddie’ Biddlecombe - came on in a glittering jacket with a rather marvellous gold design on one lapel. Mr Biddlecombe is not exactly young, but his enthusiasm makes him ageless. His repertoire seems to be inexhaustible; I was informed that he never repeats the same show twice and I can believe it. He sings cabaret songs, music hall songs, songs from old musicals, ballads, patter songs - one followed the other with extraordinarily smooth timing and imperceptible shifts of mood. He opened with ‘An Old Bazar in Cairo,’ a song with many verses, some of them this own, which he illustrated with gestures and movements that were witty and suggestive in a way that both enhanced the period quality of the song as they gently commented on it. This was followed by Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer’ ,’I’m Getting Nothing For Christmas and other songs of that ilk, all of which I loved. His piece de resistance was 'The `Drunkard’s Child' which caught the Victorian style of the piece and the tragedy underlying it complete with appropriate moves and gestures ‘Oh Father’s a drunkard and mother is dead; he wailed and I am not ashamed to say I had a lump in my throat. He sang a lot of Christmassy songs of course: Winter Wonderland, Frosty the `Snowman, and a couple of others. Mr Biddlecombe ’s voice is rich and full , like the opera singer he once was, with a flawless articulation that many younger singers could learn from. When he invited the audience to join in, he did it with an unaffected charm made everyone feel relaxed; at his invitation, I found myself, for the first time in my life, joining in the singing and having a good time.
Mr. Biddlecombe reminded me of the great solo performers of the past: Beatrice Lillie, Joyce Grenfell, Elsa Lanchester - specialists in a form of entertainment that, like silent pictures, is enjoyed mostly by enthusiasts and has passed from general attention. In fact, it is not really ‘my thing’ but I was enraptured by it all the same. All in all, an evening with an immensely skilled and delightful performer-yes it was, dated but my dear, what charm! what fun! What skill! And a kind of heroism to choose such a dated form and do it so seriously well, with such joie de vivre. If Mr. Biddlecombe does enough performances he could almost bring Music Hall back all by himself.