Weimar & Back is the new album from Melinda Hughes (released 1st June 2018) that, over 14 songs, gives us a flavour of the cabaret days of the Weimar Republic of Germany and its cabaret bars and theatres in the 1920s and 30s. The music also continues that style in songs with observations on our contemporary life styles which are equally humorous and biting in their satirical commentary .
Melinda Hughes is a lady of many different faces to her performance personas - an opera singer (soprano) and satirical performer with a love of cabaret and the world of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, Mischa Spoliansky, Friedrich Hollaender and Marcellus Schiffer. My first encounter with Melinda and her musical world was via her performance of “Margo : Half Woman, Half Beast” at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe in which we explored the life, loves and times of cabaret performer Margo Lion.
Melinda and I both share a love of cabaret, but not the almost closed world of explicit language and graphic sexual description that much of modern day cabaret seems to have fallen into (yes, I know there would have been elements of this in the original period cabarets too). Instead, we both share a love of what cabaret can do with words and song; often provoking, always questioning, and always undermining authority. Cabaret is dangerous if used to its full potential. Hitler and the Nazi party understood this when they closed the cabaret bars down in Germany, and Melinda Hughes is a true performer in the original meaning of the word “Cabaret”, and underneath a veneer of respectability to these songs, you suddenly find yourself stopping and asking “did she really say that?”
Some of the songs on this album also feature in the cabaret performance “Margo : Half Woman, Half Beast” and songs like the opening track “Berlin” capture in perfect little stories that decadent world in its final days under the Nazi party’s ever tightening grip. Our contemporary attitudes and social class structures are also gently mocked in “Please Don't Invite Me to Your Country Estate” and “Britannia Waives the Rules” , the latter playfully examining along the way Anglo-American language differences.
The music on this album is a mixture of many different sources, and cabaret, classical, blues and jazz influences all merge into one “performance” here – “I Loves My Man” is a nostalgic trip back to the days when “suffering for my man” songs were so popular in blues and jazz songs. The lyrics of the original period songs are now viewed as completely un-PC these days, so it is nice to see that Melinda has not “moved with the times” and kept an authentic feel to this song.
Of course, no exploration into German influenced cabaret would ever really be complete without the classic “Das Lila Lied (The Lavender Song)”, and there are subtle references to its content in other songs too.
If there is one downside to this album, it is that it is an album, and nothing to do with the content on it. These are “cabaret” songs that are primarily designed for live performances, and a skilled cabaret performer like Melinda can change even the most innocent of lyrics with just a smile or a facial expression – that is where the performance art of cabaret truly resides, in the performer. A little of that “live performance” experience is obviously lost in any recording by any cabaret performer.
Opera and Cabaret may not seem to some people to be the most obvious of “bed fellows”, but the truth is that they are the most obvious couple. When it wants to, Opera over the many years before “Weimar cabaret years” could be just as scathing of authority and just as subversive. It is often forgotten that Gilbert & Sullivan’s ever popular “The Mikado” is little more than a thinly disguised commentary on the corruption of petty officials and authority. Melinda Hughes obviously understands the connection between both musical forms.
You can read our review of “Margo : Half Woman, Half Beast” on this link
WEIMAR & BACK TRACK LISTING
- Berlin Im Licht
- We've Been Here Before
- Monotonous Night
- Das Lila Lied (The Lavender Song)
- All the Best Men Are Gay
- Loves My Man
- Where a Stolperstein Stands
- Youkali (Tango Habanera)
- Chuck All the Men out of the Reichstag
- Britannia Waives the Rules
- Please Don't Invite Me to Your Country Estate
- Der Mensch Muss Eine Heimat Haben
Review by Tom King