Des de Moor
Press Cuttings: Darkness and Disgrace

The Times (London) 29 December 2003
Photo: Theo Cohen

First Night reviews: Darkness and Disgrace


Retro Bar, WC2
*** (out of *****)

A FRAMED photograph of David Bowie, circa Ziggy Stardust, stood at the edge of the tiny stage; otherwise there was not a hint of glam-rock theatricality in this ingenious reworking of the Bowie songbook. No videos, no mascara, no glitter, no dry ice. Only two sober-looking men in black suits, striking quaint Gilbert and George poses with the help of a keyboard, a couple of guitars and abundant imagination.

Bowie might seem a wildly improbable choice for a cabaret performer. But then Des De Moor, a Jacques Brel admirer who runs the monthly Pirate Jenny’s sessions at the Vortex Jazz Bar in East London, is no ordinary cabaret artist. Moon and June and fey romance are not part of his normal repertoire. Or, at least, if the moon does make an appearance, it is blood red and full of cosmic menace.

Along with the pianist Russell Churney — best known perhaps as musical accomplice to Fascinating Aida — De Moor has devised a tantalising collection of Bowie material, a few greatest hits scattered among lesser-known songs such as The Bewlay Brothers and All the Madmen. You probably have to be a Bowie fanatic to get the most out of the venture. But even if you (like me) are a mere sceptic who remembers the occasional lyric from sixth-form days, it still offers a rare and intelligent peek behind the celebrity mask.

I first saw the show in a fringe theatre production directed by that restless chansonnier, Barb Jungr. The Retro Bar set, which marked the launch of the Darkness and Disgrace album, offered a truncated version which left little room for the prose and poetry readings that formed a telling counterpoint to the songs.

As De Moor would probably never claim to be the world’s greatest vocalist, there was inevitably a rough-and-ready quality to the performances, especially on up-tempo numbers such as Diamond Dogs and Boys Keep Swinging. (It would be interesting, in fact, to see what Jungr herself could do with some of these tunes.)

Still, to hear them stripped to essentials remains an immensely rewarding experience. At their most self-indulgent, the lyrics can be painfully adolescent, but the best of them draw on a vocabulary that evokes some existentialist’s idea of late 20th-century music hall.

With no production techniques to distract us, we are introduced to songs that suddenly seem strangely unfamiliar. Life on Mars came out reason-ably straight. Heroes was delivered in German as Churney dabbled with the melody of Falling in Love Again. Bowie is said to have given the project his seal of approval. You can see why.

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