Queen of Clubs Cabaret: Oxford's Vintage Variety Night

Music, circus, comedy, poetry, dance, film & more at old-school, nu-skool variety night

October 31, 2010
Queen of Clubs Cabaret Halloween Spectacular 2010
The Queen of Clubs Cabaret Halloween Spectacular was a fun night in a nice club with friendly people and a non boring music policy, where you could dance, chat and watch interesting acts. Surely this should be what happens at every club night? Sadly, in Oxford at least, it really isn’t. Every Oxford night is let down by something – but at Queen of Clubs there are no disappointments. The music’s not rubbish, it’s not full of idiots, there’s someone bellydancing while dressed as a skeleton…

Baby Simple was a great choice of venue for the event, and made the night feel like a tiny festival. The bands were on in an upstairs space, there was a back room full of sofas hosting some performance and screening films, a dance floor, a lounge type bar space and an outdoor area. This created a really nice atmosphere for meeting people and elevated the evening from a gig to a more special event.

There were some brilliant performances throughout the night – three cracking bands, all of the interesting genre fusion variety (punky folk from Inflatable Buddha, post punk from The Goggenheim, and gypsy rock from Chancery Blame and the Gadjo Club), various belly dancing displays from Shimmy Shimmy Bang Bang and fire poi from Tarryn Balsdon, as well as nice extras to discover (face painting, gluten free cupcakes, a screening of The Wizard of Oz, many DJ sets). I especially liked Inflatable Buddha and the Shimmy Shimmy Bang Bang’s clockwork gypsies – both satisfyingly halloweeny and much fun.

Basically, Queen of Clubs Cabaret is brilliant. If you’ve ever been in a club and secretly thought “I love dancing, but I’m kinda bored now. I wish there was something pretty to point my eyes at. I wish there was somewhere quiet enough to talk. I wish something was on fire.” then you’ll love it. Book for the New Year party now.

September 28, 2009
Queen of Clubs Cabaret 6: The Golden Age of Swing with The Zen Hussies, Fri 25 Sep 2009
The Queen of Clubs saw off September with a swing-themed night at the Isis Tavern last Friday, offering a cabaret of delights and surprises. One of those surprises was caused by me expecting a nightclub vibe, but arriving at an oblong barn with rows of seats and the silencing phenomenon of a singer-songwriter. Few musical forms encourage quietness so much as a man playing delicate folk on a guitar – especially since no-one ever booked my harp-playing ant collective. Nonetheless Simon Davies was worth the hush; witty and evocative songs with simple yet lovely chord progressions accompanying on the guitar. To my mind, his voice sounded much like Kangaroo Moon's Mark Robson - that is to say clean, bright and clear as a bell.

Next magician Richard Young performed a short set that rocked the crowd, for he was very good at tricks, and the tricks won a rare reaction from the audience - genuine, gasping aloud surprise – the kind of shock and awe usually caused by ice-cold showers, cliffhangers in 24, and people getting off the bus at Lewknor Turn. My one reservation would be that the patter between the tricks sometimes felt a bit hackneyed - I've sometimes heard other conjurers use the same gags - but I've rarely seen them impress an audience so much.

A couple of teachers from the Oxford Swing Dance Society came on to dance in front of us next, but the shape of the venue didn't help much here. For me their legs were obscured by the crowd and there's only so long I can find bright red dungarees entertaining before despair kicks in.

After a man sang a song about monkeys, two bands brought the requisite dancing fodder. Inflatable Buddha were a revelation - by which I don't mean a life-changing glimpse of truth, but a very good band. One part Canterbury-scene style humour and one part playful sinisterness to three parts ska of an unreasonably phat nature led to laughing and skanking.

The Zen Hussies were also awesome - purveyors of jazz, swing, laughs and trilbys. They're both bands to check out and are united by inventiveness - their songs are unpredictable with a pleasing irreverence for time signatures.

A move towards the main pub with DJing and cake signaled the end of an odd and varied night with a talent for finding talent. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that everyone knew everyone however – perhaps a night to check out en masse.
I saw this as a stage at Arcane Festival near Tetsworth at the end of July this year - it was totally amazing, there was a whole day of really ace bands and a bonkers compere who looked like a character from the Wizard of Oz!! Even though it was a bit rainy everyone there was having a great time - and there was a totally incredible sunset behind the stage. I especially liked the marching band all dressed in red called Horns of Plenty who played in the bar so people could keep dry. Also there was an amazing Gypsy-ish band with an incredible fiddle player and two excellent girl singers called Scarlett in the Wilderness - and a folk singer called Mondesir who sang like an angel. There was loads more but I can't remember it all! I can't wait to check out the next of their Oxford nights as I'm intrigued to know how this translates to a town setting and I've never seen another night like this in Oxford! I hope it's as fun as this was :)
After a short (and very dark) jaunt down the towpath towards Iffley Lock, we arrived at the Isis Farmhouse. It was aglow with candlelight and there was some stumbling around in the dark as we made our way around back to the barn. It was after all Earth Hour, and thus they had turned off most of the lights for the first hour of proceedings.

The evening had a distinct air of festival, with fire jugglers and a selection of acts over the course of the evening. First on was Breach of the Peace, a local samba band who performed on the outdoor stage under the big tree in the back garden. This large group of drummers was fantastic – full of energy and bouncing around with the beat. It was unfortunately very cold, with the temperature hovering around zero, and thus we were relieved when the next act, the Horns of Plenty, performed in the barn. This upbeat street band included a range of horns including clarinets, trumpets and a rather impressive big white fibreglass tuba. The headline band was the slightly bizarre but very good Orkestra Del Sol from Edinburgh, playing the first date on their UK tour. They were led by a singer wearing a red raj turban and playing the electric violin. They also had a tuba, though it had slightly more character than the previous band’s instrument, being battered and held together with gaffer tape, and having the band's name painted around its bell. It was impossible not to dance along, and they left the crowd shouting for more.

We then retired to the (warm) main building, which is a café/bar, for some organic cider, local ales and fresh homemade cakes.

These evenings are a monthly occurrence between September and May, with the next one an all-night cabaret extravaganza for May Eve on Thursday April 30th. I look forward to returning when the temperature is warmer and the sky lighter!
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