Des de Moor
Press Cuttings: Chanson

Highbury and Islington Express 30 April 1999
Genuine press cutting!
Photo: P J Millson

Anything from bards to verse

Nick Eisen looks at Pirate Jenny's, a mixture of words and music bringing European-style cabaret to [London] N16

"Des de Moor hosts London's most provocative night out, presenting musical cabaret, chansons, theatre songs, badly behaved music and performance poetry," proclaims the blurb for Pirate Jenny's, a club which brings an intimate European ambience to a corner of Stoke Newington.

He started the club in 1995, in the Vortex Jazz Bar, to fill a gap which he saw in London. "No venues really suited my own songwriting interests. I enjoy performing in jazz clubs, performance poetry clubs and folk clubs, but I have to adapt. I'd met other artists with similar ideas, and decided to form a club shaped round those ideas," he said.

So what are the other ideas that make the club, named after the barmaid in the Threepenny Opera, different? Part of the answer lies in its particular combination of words and music. The theatrical aspect of performance poetry draws attention to the theatre in the music, whicle the unaccompanied words of successful poets make audiences receptive to words sung to a melody.

Poetry can also make musical performers and audiences aware of another field of performance, often ignored in songs, as de Moor found when performing poetry himself.

"One of the flaws of my songs is that they contain too many words, and I found through performing poetry another freedom to express myself. Each verse in a song is constrained by the tempo of the melody. In poetry you can speed up, slow down, make 10 words last a minute or cram a hundred words into 30 seconds.

"When people ask me for gigs, I tell them they must perform: they must show a respect for their words in their writing and singing, and they must express their emotions: a Frank Sinatra style wouldn't work here: Sinatra could sing about aching for lost love and sound like he's chatting to his mate at the golf club."

As well as presenting new performers like Steve Tasane and Stacey Makishi, he has found fascinating people from older generations. Berlin-style cabaret artiste Agnes Bernelle fled from Nazi Germany to London and broadcast allied propaganda back into the Reich; the first issue of Private Eye was reportedly put together in her dressing room. De Moor also booked big band leader Mike Westbrook and wife Kate for their forays into cabaret, which elements of the jazz establishment decried.

In his combination of words and music, Des de Moor has found an idea with remarkable reach which is why Pirate Jenny's is such an exciting development.

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