Camille O’Sullivan singing Jacques Brel songs is one of those shows that somehow I have missed on The Fringe and wished I had not, as so many people have told me that I have really missed something special. Well, this year I decided to fix that and see if all the recommendations were correct. They were, as Camille O’Sullivan is a not only a great cabaret artist, but a phenomenal interpreter of the songs of Jacques Brel.
I first became aware of Jacques Brel through hearing Terry Jacks’ huge 1970s hit “Seasons in the Sun”. There was something about the music that intrigued me and as I slowly found out more about the song I came to Jacques Brel. Remember, this was in a pre-internet world where information was not just a click away. I found on this journey not only the original lyrics to “Le Moribond” (Terry Jacks wrote some new ones), but also other songs such as “In the Port of Amsterdam”. I probably picked a good time to go looking for Jacques Brel’s work as other artists from this period such as Alex Harvey and David Bowie were also recording his work.
Camille O’Sullivan sang some beautiful songs tonight, but it was more than that. Watching her sing a song like “Song for Old Lovers”, it was almost like watching someone living the song on stage. Jacques Brel wrote not only amazing music, but at times haunting lyrics in a style that is so obviously not British. For some reason, we just do not seem to construct songs like this here. Each song is like a little self-contained world with its own imagery and people, and somehow Camille O’Sullivan can go into that world and share it with us for a moment or two.
Amidst some more cabaret type songs, there were just amazing moments on stage watching Camille sing some hauntingly beautiful lyrics to songs such as “Song for Old Lovers”, “If You Go Away”, “If We Only Have Love”, “The Old Folks”, “In The Port of Amsterdam”, “Carousel” and “My Death”. Not forgetting here “Next” which I only really know from the Alex Harvey band cover version.
My only regret with Jacques Brel is that I have to rely on English translations of his work. Unlike Camille with her Irish/French upbringing, I cannot fully appreciate the original lyrics, and something is always slightly lost when translating the works of someone like this.
Jacques Brel songs not only need someone who can sing them, but someone who can feel them and live inside them for a moment. Camille O’Sullivan has that rare ability to do that and bring the spirit (or soul if you like) of the song onto the stage. It is odd watching Camille perform these songs at times as it is a little bit like watching a light go on and off as the spirit of that song comes and goes and Camille seems back to herself to go into the next song.
There are three other shows left here at The Queen’s Hall, on Friday 14th to Sunday 16th. Try not to miss one or two. The shows may at times give the impression of “cabaret anarchy”, but there is nothing left to chance here. This is a very professional performance and Camille O’Sullivan is in firm control of every part of it.
It was also nice to hear Camille thank not only her band at the end of the show, but also the light and sound people and all the Queen’s Hall staff. Sometimes performers do forget just how important all these background people are to the smooth running of any performance.
The Queen’s Hall itself is also of course such a wonderful acoustic space for someone like Camille to perform a show like this in.
You can find out more about Camille O’Sullivan at