by Adrian Miller.
Adelaide-based The Baker Suite have been building a following in Australia and overseas for several years now with a distinctive collection of songs built around acoustic guitar and accordion. With a recent performance at WOMADelaide among their many credits, we get to see them on the eve of another European tour. So how will their evocative music translate to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival stage?
The Clothesline rescues Gayle Buckby and John Baker from a bitterly cold afternoon for a coffee at the Café Troppo. We begin by asking where the title of the show comes from, given that Second Nature is not the name of one of their albums or songs.
“Second Nature is that nature which we create through art – a man made thing,” Baker replies. “I thought that it would be a really interesting way to consider the world we create, that place we go to for solace and meaning – a way to retrieve what’s been lost. Poetry and music are ways of retrieving memory. When we go into a forest, we go into first nature, and a lot of second nature is inspired by that. One can inspire the other, for example our song Pocketful Of Rhyme being inspired by the River Torrens.”
The show will feature many previously unheard songs as well as tunes from the duo’s recently released album Your Dreaming Self, which will be available at the show. We note that collaboration is a key element of these new songs.
“Yes, we wrote one with composer Paul Grabowsky and another with Kerry Bonney – an Aboriginal woman from Mt Gambier who writes beautiful lyrics about times gone by; I wrote the music for that song,” Baker explains. “There’s some music I’ve written for a Shakespeare sonnet, and a light-hearted song called Word Salad Sandwich which is based on a question from Gayle about what T.S. Eliot would order if he went into a delicatessen for lunch.”
How did you come to be involved with the Cabaret Festival?
“We met Kate Ceberano about 4 years ago when we opened for her at Her Majesty’s Theatre,” Buckby recalls. “She was listening to us from the sidelines and afterwards told us how much she loved our music. Since then we’ve kept in touch and she gave us a few late night spots at Cabaret Festival. She even sang backing vocals on one of the tracks on our latest CD. Kate’s such a warm generous person. We like what she’s doing with the festival; she’s given it a beautiful energy, a sophisticated sexiness.”
We would normally see The Baker Suite performing in pubs rather than the Space Theatre. How do you think this will differ from a pub gig?
“I think our music really works best when there’s a seated listening crowd, and festivals such as this have a really good audience for our music” Buckby suggests. “There’s a storytelling aspect to our music also. I wasn’t quite sure whether we would fit into a cabaret setting but Kate said yes!
“What’s different is we’re trying to have a theme, instead of just being a gig where it’s song, song, song, This time it’s a thematic thing about poetry and music and collaboration. We are striving to make a show that is concentrating on the storytelling aspect, more of a leaning towards a tribute to the written word.”
You tend to elaborate on the stories behind your songs, so I guess your presentation style is in the zone of cabaret anyway?
Oh really?” she says, “Well we were thinking of not doing that so much this time… There will be little captions for the songs. The thing about poetry is that it’s not literal. It’s about imagination, and if we’re too literal in describing what this next song is about it’s sort of the antithesis of poetry. We’re aiming for a poetic impact – without being wanky. It’s starting to take shape really well.”
The Baker Suite works just as well with a small ensemble of backing musicians as it does as a duo. How will the Cabaret Festival line-up look?
“Lyndon Gray on double bass and Enrico Mick Morena on drums have played with us before,” Baker explains. “But this time violinist Julian Ferraretto is joining us, bringing with him an assortment of instrumentation. He’ll play the saw in at least one song, and mandolin, and he’s a wonderful violinist and viola player as well, so he’s got a variety of instruments that he can put to good use. No one will have seen this version of The Baker Suite before! The rehearsals have been really fantastic so far, especially with the new amazing sounds that Ferraretto adds to the music. I’m really looking forward to it!”
You mention that you’ll be asking someone from the audience to provide a poem that you can instantly put to music. In terms of a cabaret entertainment show, this sounds a little risky!
“It is risky!” Buckby agrees. “If no-one brings a poem the show will finish early! But the idea is to create collaboration in the spontaneous sense of the word. It’s something John thought of only recently so we only need one person to bring a poem.
“The theme of Kate’s festival is ‘expect the unexpected’,” she adds, “so we thought ‘OK what can we do that’s a little dangerous? Something spontaneous? But that’s what John does all the time –taking risks, putting music to words – it’ll be a breeze. If it doesn’t work, then that’s fine too. That’s the nature of collaboration; it doesn’t always work.”
How have you advertised this aspect of the show? Does it ask people to bring a poem on the ticket? How will people know?
“We’re doing a couple of radio shows and we’ve put it on Facebook,” Buckby replies. “Peter Goers is going to interview us in the piano bar on Thu Jun 12. He’ll bring a poem along and will John create a song from it on the spot.”
So you will just pick somebody at random?
“Absolutely! That will make it really spontaneous. There are lots of poets out there who don’t get a voice, so here’s an opportunity. There is potential for something amazing to happen! It’s not like they have to come up on stage or anything, they just have to hand up a poem printed big enough for John to read on stage. No audience participation. We won’t belittle them or make a fool of them. No blindfolds. Just wave it in the air!”
The Baker Suite performs Second Nature: A Collaboration Of Poetry & Music at Space Theatre from 7.30pm on Sat Jun 14.