Live Music + Gig Reviews

Forest Of No Return @ Royal Festival Hall, London

17 June 2007

You had to feel sorry for those who turned up for this one-off show with their young kids. If they were expecting an evening of light, family-friendly entertainment, they may have been in for a shock. Jarvis Cocker, putting tonight on as part of his eclectic Meltdown Festival, suggested that his reason for choosing a collection of Disney songs interpreted by a plethora of special guests was to see if he could put a new context on them. Some were more successful than others.

There was a sense of chaos throughout the night, with musicians dashing back and forth across the stage and sound problems affecting much of the first half, all but ruining what was potentially a star turn for Roger McGough performing AEIOU.

Things really got going when Jarvis appeared for the first time to sing I Wanna Be Like You. His presence took over the stage, and we knew that this was his night above all the other guests. Other great performances in the first half included Nick Cave swaggering his way through Hi Diddle Dee Dee, and then being joined on stage by Jarvis, Shane MacGowan and Pete Doherty, the most dysfunctional of supergroups, as the four of them howled their way through Home Sweet Home. Gavin Friday injected some much-needed theatrics and fun with an over-the-top portrayal of the mischievous eponymous anti-heroes in the Siamese Cat Song from The Lady and the Tramp.

But even he was outcamped by Grace Jones who closed the first half with her snakey interpretation of The Jungle Book‘s Trust In Me. Taking to a raised platform in front of a huge fan, dressed in a billowing outfit, immense heels and a bizarre purple hat, she ended the first half in style.

After the interval, everything seemed to flow more easily. Fenella Fielding could have reduced Cruella De Vil to tears with her Feed the Birds and Ed Harcourt‘s In A World of my Own from Alice in Wonderland drew on the lyrics of the song nicely as Ed played his piano solo dressed as a, erm… rabbit!

How do you upstage a piano-playing rabbit? Ask Pete Doherty. He was next on and scored the evening’s highlight. You could tell much of the audience was uncomfortable with enjoying Doherty as much as they did, but resistance was futile – his stripped-back take on Chim Chim Cheree was simply wonderful.

Not everything worked though. I was excited about Baaba Maal‘s Bare Necessities – surely that was a given as a highlight. But inaudible words and bad sound mixing robbed the song of its charm. David Thomas of Pere Ubu contributed a number of disturbing versions of some of Disney’s best-known songs. His style was always going to be challenging, and Dumbo‘s When I See An Elephant Fly could’ve been easier on the ear, but if Jarvis wanted songs like Heigh Ho and I’m Late given a new twist, then Thomas took that portfolio and ran with it.

For those appreciative of experimental jazz, 83-year-old saxophonist Marshall Allen was on hand. He gelled well with Hal Willner‘s wonderful orchestra which accompanied superbly throughout the whole night. However, Allen’s 10-minute solos seemed a bit self-indulgent and, to be honest, it was something of a relief when Róisín Murphy joined him on stage.

Murphy’s entrance signaled the start of a successful end to the evening as she glammed things up for He’s A Tramp, followed by Shane MacGowan stumbling back on stage for a raucous, drunken version of Zip-A-Dee Doo Dah and Beth Orton doing her best to incite tears out of her audience. Jarvis finished proceedings with a touching When You Wish Upon A Star.

This was an awesome night. An impressive line-up of artists singing some of the most memorable, yet under-valued, songs of the 20th century. Some of the difficulties added to the charm, others were just disappointing, but the memories won’t be leaving me any time soon.

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Forest Of No Return @ Royal Festival Hall, London