Jacques Brel's Amsterdam

Brel never recorded this for a studio album, and his only version was released on the live album Enregistrement Public à l'Olympia 1964. Despite this, it has been one of his most enduringly popular works. It was one of the songs Mort Shuman translated into English for the musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.



Brel worked on the song at his house overlooking the Mediterranean at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, the house he shared with Sylvie Rivet, a publicist for Philips; a place she had introduced him to in 1960. "It was the ideal place for him to create, and to indulge his passion for boats and planes. One morning at six o'clock he read the words of Amsterdam to Fernand, a restaurateur who was about to set off fishing for scorpion fish and conger eels for the bouillabaisse. Overcome, Fernand broke out in sobs and cut open some sea urchins to help control his emotion."

The melody shows strong similarities with the English folk song Greensleeves.

Amsterdam, Jacques Brel, Lyrics:

Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui chantent
Les rêves qui les hantent
Au large d'Amsterdam
Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui dorment
Comme des oriflammes
Le long des berges mornes
Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui meurent
Pleins de bière et de drames
Aux premières lueurs
Mais dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui naissent
Dans la chaleur épaisse
Des langueurs océanes

Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui mangent
Sur des nappes trop blanches
Des poissons ruisselants
Ils vous montrent des dents
A croquer la fortune
A décroiser la lune
A bouffer des haubans
Et ça sent la morue
Jusque dans le cœur des frites
Que leurs grosses mains invitent
A revenir en plus
Puis se lèvent en riant
Dans un bruit de tempête
Referment leur braguette
Et sortent en rotant

Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui dansent
En se frottant la panse
Sur la panse des femmes
Et ils tournent et ils dansent
Comme des soleils crachés
Dans le son déchiré
D'un accordéon rance
Ils se tordent le cou
Pour mieux s'entendre rire
Jusqu'à ce que tout à coup
L'accordéon expire
Alors le geste grave
Alors le regard fier
Ils ramènent leur batave
Jusqu'en pleine lumière

Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui boivent
Et qui boivent et reboivent
Et qui reboivent encore
Ils boivent à la santé
Des putains d'Amsterdam
De Hambourg ou d'ailleurs
Enfin ils boivent aux dames
Qui leur donnent leur joli corps
Qui leur donnent leur vertu
Pour une pièce en or
Et quand ils ont bien bu
Se plantent le nez au ciel
Se mouchent dans les étoiles
Et ils pissent comme je pleure
Sur les femmes infidèles
Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Dans le port d'Amsterdam.



Amsterdam, by Jacques Brel - translation
In the port of Amsterdam, there's a sailor who sings
Of the dreams that he brings, from the wide open sea
In the port of Amsterdam, there's a sailor who sleeps
While the riverbank weeps to the old willow tree

In the port of Amsterdam, there's a sailor who dies
Full of beer, full of cries, in a drunken down fight
And in the port of Amsterdam, there's a sailor who's born
On a muggy hot morn, by the dawn's early light

In the port of Amsterdam where the sailors all meet
There's a sailor who eats only fish heads and tails
He will show you his teeth, that have rotted too soon
That can swallow the moon, that can haul up the sails

And he yells to the cook, with his arms open wide
"Bring me more fish, put it down by my side"
Then he wants so to belch but he's too full to try
So he gets up and laughs and he zips up his fly

In the port of Amsterdam, you can see sailors dance
Paunches bursting their pants, grinding women to paunch
They've forgotten the tune, that their whiskey voice croaks
Splitting the night with the roar of their jokes

And they turn and they dance and they laugh and they lust
Till the rancid sound of the accordion bursts
Then out to the night with their pride in their pants
With the slut that they tow, underneath the street lamps

In the port of Amsterdam, there's a sailor who drinks
And he drinks and he drinks and he drinks once again
He drinks to the health of the whores of Amsterdam
Who have promised their love, to a thousand other men

They've bargained their bodies and their virtue long gone
For a few dirty coins, when he can't go on
He plants his nose in the sky, wipes it up above
And he pisses like I cry for an unfaithful love

In the port of Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam

Kurt Weill 
text: Roger Fernay

In March 1933, Weill fled Germany; he and Lotte Lenya divorced soon thereafter. In Paris, Weill completed his Second Symphony and renewed briefly his collaboration with Brecht for Die sieben Todsünden, a "ballet with singing" for George Balanchine's troupe "Les Ballets 1933." He also wrote a number of cabaret chansons, as well as the score for Jacques Deval's Marie galante, after a novel by Jacques Deval . The French actor, musician and author Roger Fernay wrote a chanson text for the original instrumental piece, which the composer described as Tango-Habanera.


Youkali Lyrics:
C’est presque au bout du monde
Ma barque vagabonde
Errant au gré de l’onde
M’y conduisit un jour
L’île est toute petite
Mais la fée qui l’habite
Gentiment nous invite
À en faire le tour

Youkali, c’est le pays de nos désirs
Youkali, c’est le bonheur, c’est le plaisir
Youkali, c’est la terre où l’on quitte tous les soucis
C’est, dans notre nuit, comme une éclaircie
L’étoile qu’on suit, c’est Youkali

Youkali, c’est le respect de tous les vœux échangés
Youkali, c’est le pays des beaux amours partagés
C’est l’espérance qui est au cœur de tous les humains
La délivrance que nous attendons tous pour demain

Youkali, c’est le pays de nos désirs
Youkali, c’est le bonheur, c’est le plaisir
Mais c’est un rêve, une folie
Il n’y a pas de Youkali
Mais c’est un rêve, une folie
Il n’y a pas de Youkali

Et la vie nous entraîne
Lassante, quotidienne
Mais la pauvre âme humaine
Cherchant partout l’oubli
A, pour quitter la terre
Su trouver le mystère
Où nos rêves se terrent
En quelque Youkali

Youkali, c’est le pays de nos désirs
Youkali, c’est le bonheur, c’est le plaisir
Youkali, c’est la terre où l’on quitte tous les soucis
C’est, dans notre nuit, comme une éclaircie
L’étoile qu’on suit, c’est Youkali

Youkali, c’est le respect de tous les voeux échangés
Youkali, c’est le pays des beaux amours partagés
C’est l’espérance qui est au cœur de tous les humains
La délivrance que nous attendons tous pour demain

Youkali, c’est le pays de nos désirs
Youkali, c’est le bonheur, c’est le plaisir
Mais c’est un rêve, une folie
Il n’y a pas de Youkali
Mais c’est un rêve, une folie
Il n’y a pas de Youkali

Youkali translation:
It's almost at the end of the world
My vagabond boat
Drifting at the whim of the waves
Brought me there one day
The island is tiny
But the Fairy who lives there
Gently invites us
To go around a trip

It is the land of our desires
It is happiness, it is pleasure
It is the land where you quit all your troubles
It is, in our night, like a clearing
The star we follow
it's Youkali

It is respect
Of all the exchanged wishes
It is the country
Of the beautiful shared loves,
It is hope
At the heart of all the humans,
The relief
We all await for tomorrow,
It is the land of our desires,
It is happiness
It is pleasure

But this is a dream, a folly,
There is no Youkali !
But this is a dream, a folly,
There is no Youkali !

And life leads us,
Tedious routine,
But the poor human soul,
Seeking forgetfulness everywhere,
In order to quit earth,
resolved the mystery
Where our dreams hide
In some Youkali...
It is the land of our desires,
It is happiness
It is pleasure,

But this is a dream, a folly,
There is no Youkali !
But this is a dream, a folly,
There is no Youkali !



Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel #2

All these years later, I'm still pleased with this slightly swinging version of Mr Cohen's Chelsea Hotel #2. A very fine song, by a wonderful writer and poet

and what a story: (from Rolling Stone Magazine)
By the Sixties, the Chelsea Hotel had become a headquarters for the emerging rock elite, hosting Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and Dylan himself. Some paid tribute to their temporary digs in song. Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" name checks the hostelry, as does the Lou Reed–penned "Chelsea Girl" and Jefferson Airplane's "Third Week in the Chelsea."

It was, in journalist Thelma Blitz's estimation, "a big, boho fraternity house" – and it suited Cohen's desires perfectly: "I came to New York and I was living at other hotels and I had heard about the Chelsea Hotel as being a place where I might meet people of my own kind. And I did. It was a grand, mad place," he told SongTalk in 1993. "I love hotels to which, at 4 a.m., you can bring along a midget, a bear and four ladies, take them to your room and no one cares about it at all."


The room in question was not much to brag about. A bare bulb illuminated a flimsy bed, a puny black-and-white television, a hot plate on which cook meals and little else. A sink spewed rusty water, when it decided to run at all.

Canadian poet, singer-songwriter and novelist Leonard Cohen poses for a portrait in a diner in New York, New York circa 1968. 
Cohen in New York, 1968. "She wasn't looking for me, she was looking for Kris Kristofferson," he would recall of meeting Joplin. Roz Kelly/Getty
It was in these decrepit conditions that Cohen found himself late one night in the spring of 1968. With the sorry state of his music career weighing heavily on his mind, he decided to take a walk to clear his head. "It was a dismal evening in New York City," he later reminisced during a concert. First he stopped at Bronco Burger, a local greasy spoon. "I had a cheeseburger; it didn't help at all," he said with laconic humor. Then he headed to the White Horse Tavern, an iconic Greenwich Village watering hole favored by generations of writers and freethinkers. "I went to the White Horse Tavern looking for Dylan Thomas, but Dylan Thomas was dead."

Having failed to raise his spirits, Cohen returned to the Chelsea around 3 a.m. He crossed its famous lobby, crammed with an eclectic collection of paintings given by tenants in lieu of rent money, all the way to the elevator – creaky, unusually cramped and often cited as the slowest in the city. It required a certain knack to get it to function. "I was an expert on the buttons of that elevator," he told a New York City audience in 1988. "One of the few technologies I really ever mastered. The door opened. I walked in. Put my finger right on the button. No hesitation. Great sense of mastery in those days."

Once inside, he was joined by a woman with wild hair and even wilder clothes. It was the resident of Room 411, a 25-year-old singer from Port Arthur, Texas, named Janis Joplin. She and her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, were in town recording their second album, later titled Cheap Thrills, at the same Columbia studio used for Songs of Leonard Cohen.

Cohen was suddenly less lonely and very intrigued. The elevator's sluggish pace bought him time to strike up a conversation, which he'd recreate repeatedly in concerts for years to come.

"My lungs gathered my courage," he remembered in 1988. "I said to her, 'Are you looking for someone?' She said 'Yes, I'm looking for Kris Kristofferson.'" It was obvious that Cohen was not the large, gruffly handsome songwriter, but he made a play anyway. "I said, ‘Little lady, you're in luck, I am Kris Kristofferson.' Those were generous times. Even though she knew that I was someone shorter than Kris Kristofferson, she never let on. Great generosity prevailed in those doom decades."

By the time the elevator jerked to a stop on the fourth floor, it was understood that they would spend the night together. "She wasn't looking for me, she was looking for Kris Kristofferson; I wasn't looking for her, I was looking for Brigitte Bardot. But we fell into each other's arms through some process of elimination."

Their affair would be gone with the morning light, and they would meet only a handful of times after that. "The last time I saw her was on 23rd Street," he remembered. "She said, 'Hey man, you in town to read poetry for old ladies?' That was her view of my career." She died on October 4th, 1970, of a heroin overdose. Just a few days before her death, she recorded Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee," which would become her only Number One song.

Kurt Weill's Mack the Knife, or the Ballad of Mack The Knife, or Die Moritat von Mackie Messer.

 This is the first song in Weill's epic and groundbreaking work, The Threepenny Opera.  After the overture, the Street Singer comes onstage with a barrel organ and sings of the crimes of the notorious bandit and womanizer Macheath, Mack the Knife ("Ballad of Mack the Knife"). The setting is a fair in Soho (London), just before Queen Victoria’s coronation.


At the heart of the story of “Mack the Knife” is a great irony: a song about a cold-blooded serial murderer written by a Marxist playwright and a leftwing composer for a musical that aimed to lay bare the hypocrisies of bourgeois morality went on to become a huge commercial success globally, especially in the US. It was even used in a 1980s advertising campaign for McDonald’s hamburgers (“Mac tonight”).

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, which was based on John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera of 1728, opened in Berlin in 1928. Brecht and Weill’s work sets the action in Victorian London where the villain, Macheath, goes about his dastardly business.

With only a few days to go before the show opened at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm (featuring Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya as Jenny Diver), the production’s egotistical star Harold Paulsen, playing Mackie, insisted that he be given a grand introduction. So Brecht and Weill quickly wrote a scene-setting Moritat (murder ballad), with barrel-organ accompaniment, bigging up the dreadful deeds of Mackie Messer (“Mack the Knife”).

Kurt Weill's The Ballad of Sexuality goes by several names: Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Ballad of Sexual Obession, Ballad of Sexual Slavery (Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit

It's written again for Weill's Threepenny Opera.  Act 1, with Mrs Peachum commenting on masculine weakness when it comes to desire and sexuality, and considering how to snare Macheath.  She decides to bribe one of his favorite prostitutes to turn him in.



Kurt Weill's Army Song (Cannon Song)

This song is from Act 1 of Weill's Threepenny Opera: The scene shifts to an empty stable where Macheath is preparing to marry Polly once his gang has stolen and brought all the necessary food and furnishings. Since none of the gang members can provide fitting entertainment, Polly gets up and sings "Seeräuberjenny", a revenge fantasy in which she is a scullery maid turning pirate queen to order the execution of her bosses and customers. The gang becomes nervous when the Chief of Police, Tiger Brown, arrives, but it's all part of the act; Brown had served with Mack in England's colonial wars and had intervened on numerous occasions to prevent the arrest of Macheath over the years. The old friends duet in the "Kanonen-Song" ("Cannon Song" or "Army Song").


Army Song lyrics:
Johnny joined up and Jimmy was there and George got a Seargant’s rating
Don’t give your right name the Army don’t care
And the life is so fascinating
Let’s all go barmy, live off the Army
See the world we never saw
If we get feeling down we wander into town
And if the population should greet us with indignation
We chop' em to bits because we like our hamburgers raw

Johnny got drunk on a gallon of gin and Jimmy did not drink tea and George replied with a right to the chin
For the army is just a pink tea
Let’s all go barmy, live off the Army
See the world we never saw
If we get feeling down we wander into town
And if the population should greet us with indignation
We chop' em to bits because we like our hamburgers raw

Johnny is missing Jimmy is dead and George went crazy shooting
But blood is blood and red is red
And the army is still recruiting.
Let’s all go barmy, live off the Army
See the world we never saw
If we get feeling down we wander into town
And if the population should greet us with indignation
We chop' em to bits because we like our hamburgers raw

"What Keeps Mankind Alive?" is a song composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their music drama The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) which premiered in Berlin in 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. The title refers to the central line from the finale of act 2, "Denn wovon lebt der Mensch?". In the opera, the two stanzas of the strophic piece are sung by Macheath and Mrs Peachum and the final line is sung in fortissimo by the chorus.

It is an agitprop socialist anthem expressing that the comfortable lifestyle enjoyed by the rich is paid for by the suffering of the masses. The lyrics begin: "You gentlemen who think you have a mission / To purge us from the seven deadly sins / Should first sort out the basic food position / Then start your preaching, that's where it begins." The song ends with the conclusion, "For once you must face the facts / Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts."

Kurt Weill
Je ne t'aime pas
lyrics Maurice Magre

Kurt Weill left Germany after the Nazis seized control of the German government in 1933. He was cut off from Germany, his audience and his bank accounts, Finding himself in Paris in 1934, Weill was at aesthetically and financially loose ends. Fortunately, cabaret singer Lys Gauty commissioned him to compose a song for her and Weill responded with Complainte de la Seine (Lament of the Seine). It was one of the big hits in France in 1934 and Gauty, hired Weill to write another song for her, Je ne l'aime pas, on a text by Maurice Magre, Je ne l'aime pas and it's contrast of a minor-keyed verse with a major-keyed chorus has less to do with Weill's favorite alternation of major and minor and more to do with the French cabaret tradition. But the dramatic climax of the work distinctly recalls the dramatic climax of Weill's Surabaya-Johnny as the parlando coda distinctly recalls the heartbroken codas of so many of Weill's Berlin songs.



lyrics to Kurt Weill's Je ne t'aime pas

Retire ta main, je ne t'aime pas
Car tu l'as voulu, tu n'es qu'un ami.
Pour d'autres sont faits le creux de tes bras
Et ton cher baiser, ta tête endormie.

Ne me parle pas, lorsque c'est le soir
Trop intimement, à voix basse même
Ne me donne pas surtout ton mouchoir :
Il renferme trop le parfum que j'aime.

Dis-moi tes amours, je ne t'aime pas
Quelle heure te fut la plus enivrante ?
Et si elle t'aimait bien, et si elle fut ingrate
En me le disant, ne sois pas charmant.

Je n'ai pas pleuré, je n'ai pas souffert
Ce n'était qu'un rêve et qu'une folie.
Il me suffira que tes yeux soient clairs
Sans regret du soir, ni mélancolie.

Il me suffira de voir ton bonheur
Il me suffira de voir ton sourire.
Conte-moi comment elle a pris ton cœur
Et même dis-moi ce qu'on ne peut dire.

Non, tais-toi plutôt... Je suis à genoux
Le feu s'est éteint, la porte est fermée
Ne demande rien, je pleure... C'est tout.
Je ne t'aime pas, ô mon bien-aimé.

Take away your hand -- for I don't love you;
Because you have wished it, you are only a friend.
Your embrace is for other people,
Your dear kiss, your slumbering head.

Don't talk to me when it is evening
In that very low voice, for it is too intimate;
And especially don't give me your handkerchief:
It holds too much of the scent I love.

Tell me of your loves -- for I don't love you,
Tell me of your most intoxicating moment.
And if she loved you well, or if she was ungrateful,
In telling me, don't be charming --

I haven't cried, I haven't suffered,
It was only a dream -- a kind of madness.
It is enough to see your clear eyes,
With neither the regret of evening nor melancholy.

It is enough to see your joy,
It is enough to see your smile.
Tell me how she stole your heart,
And tell me especially what shouldn't be told.

No, rather be silent... I am on my knees.
The fire has gone out, the door is closed.
Don't ask me anything, I'm crying... that's all.
I don't love you, oh my beloved!

I think of 'Cabaret' and I think of confrontation!  I think of performers and audiences so close it becomes uncomfortable.  I think of songs so intimate that the singer abandons entertainment for truth.  I think of a performer stalking the audience, questioning and attacking, and most importantly, I think of a performance where there is no point unless the concerns of the day (call them politics) aren't in the act.


The word Cabaret comes from the 13th Century Dutch word 'Cambret' - a Chamber, and it came to mean a tavern, or any drinking establishment.  Cabaret didn't cross into entertainment until it was used by 'Le Chat Noir Cabaret' in Montmartre in Paris in the 1880's.  Despite a hipster clientele like Debussy and Satie, 'Le Chat Noir' would have just been a bar with a few acts if not for Aristide Bruant, who singlehandedly created the art of Cabaret. Montmartre had just been witness to nightmarish class warfare and Aristide mined this history to create brutal, political songs filled with raunchy allusions.  He dissected the morals, politics and fashions of his audience members.  He was wildly popular.  Aristide left Le Chat Noir to open his own Cabaret and nailed a sign over the door - "For People Who Like to be Confronted". 


The spirit of Cabaret appeared again in an unruly gaggle of poets, artists and philosophers in Zurich in 1916, where 'Cabaret Voltaire' was born.  Tristan Zara, Emmy Hennings, Richard Huelsenbeck were at the core of Cabaret Voltaire and also the epicentre of the insolent artistic movement, 'DaDa'. Their performances at the Cabaret Voltaire mirrored the madness of the World War. They were chaotic, brutal, confrontational events. On one occasion the audience attacked the stage.  Any performance at the Cabaret Voltaire where a percentage of the crowd did not walk out was considered a total failure.


Cabaret bubbled up in Berlin just after the war. 

Unforgettable Elegy


"Far from the madding crowd (and the Royal Mile), the Hill Street Theatre is hosting one of the most haunting, gut-wrenching pieces of theatre at the Fringe this year. Equal parts monologue and cabaret act, '33 (A Kabarett) follows a nameless ‘vanquished impresario’ of a Berlin nightclub, his makeup smeared and his costume trunk upended, as he relives the destruction of his sometime home, his friends, and his audiences: all slaughtered one-by-one, he tells us, by the incoming Nazi regime. We must flee to save ourselves, the MC tells us – he too must avoid the mistakes made by his departed friends and learn to ‘blend in’ with the new world order.


But first, he must honour those he has lost, and honour them he does; assuming the roles of song-and-dance man Rodrigo, Brooklyn-born clown Milton, and a departed female lover in turn, performing songs and routines in a series of melancholy elegies for their world gone by. ‘I Never Do Anything Twice’ is a particular highlight here, as is an extended stand-up sequence told in the throaty fuggedaboutit-ese of Milton, whose humor masks a barely contained rage at the injustice overtaking his adopted city.


Written and performed with breathtaking stamina by Bremner Duthie, '33 is compelling throughout. While at times the dialogue and acting borders on the self-consciously mannered (this is very much an actor's monologue) such stylisation nevertheless works well for the performative setting; we are never allowed to forget that we are, after all, in the world of the cabaret.


Other Fringe cabarets might be sexier, more glamorous, performed with more sequins and sparkle. But for sheer emotion, unvarnished and raw, Duthie's evocation of a vanished world is more than worth the trek to the Hill Street Theatre. It'd be worth a flight to Berlin."



"An extraordinary performance..... a staggering one man performance capturing the era poignantly and emotionally.... definitely worth a ticket...."








“Over at The Hill Street Theatre Bremner Duthie was starring in ’33 (a Kabarett). Set in 1933 in Germany, it was the story of a theatrical “MC”, scrabbling through a derelict theatre, who remembers the rest of the cabaret troupe who all disappear one by one under Nazi rule.


The show was inspired by the Yiddish song Undzer Shtetl Brennt (Our Village is Burning) by Mordechai Gebirtig. Written after a pogrom in the Polish village of Przytyk in the 1930s, it was sung throughout the ghettos of Nazi occupied Europe, and is still widely sung at Holocaust Memorial events.

One last review from the fringe - a nice, thoughtful review from the The Star - Scotland's Jewish Magazine.

“Over at The Hill Street Theatre Bremner Duthie was starring in ’33 (a Kabarett). Set in 1933 in Germany, it was the story of a theatrical “MC”, scrabbling through a derelict theatre, who remembers the rest of the cabaret troupe who all disappear one by one under Nazi rule. The show was inspired by the Yiddish song Undzer Shtetl Brennt

(Our Village is Burning) by Mordechai Gebirtig. Written after a pogrom in the Polish village of Przytyk in the 1930s, it was sung throughout the ghettos of Nazi occupied Europe, and is still widely sung at Holocaust Memorial events. The stage was cleverly set totally in grey, including the “MC” when he first appears. However, as he remembers each member of the troupe, he puts on a colourful costume, which represents each character, that he carries round in a suitcase to remember them by. Each character is remembered in detail by their own particular act and general behavioural traits, and the songs of the 1930s were all beautifully sung by Duthie which added to the period setting.

The Jewish tradition of the importance of telling people’s stories was evident throughout the show, and they covered the politics, the daily struggles, the sorrow and the humour of the time, and the history of the persecution of the “decadent” artistes who had the audacity to think and behave differently. It was a clever and moving show, which was excellently performed.” – The Edinburgh Star 2013 

'Cabaret'.... is an awful, useless word.  No really, it is!  A crappy, dithery, painfully ineffective, completely futile word for an artistic genre.


And Cabaret is what my work gets called, all the time.


A quick google of Cabaret gets me


            1.  a 'trying to look classy, but actually painfully down at heel' Rub-and-Tug strip joint somewhere in Dallas


            2.  a host of well meaning, well endowed young burlesque ladies valiantly shaking their tassels


            3.  a comedy pop duet taking on big themes


            4.  innumerable ultra glamorous drag queens, often also taking on even bigger themes


            5.  an evening with a wild assortment of unrelated acts in an indie theatre fest in South London


            6.  a whole lot of silicon on stage in Paris


            7.  a smattering of random references to stray artistic movements that happened a long time ago


            8.   and a huge number of people all around the world singing showtunes (possibly way too many showtunes)




Not that there is anything wrong with any of these artistic endeavours!!!  They may or may not all be utterly fantastic.  (Well... honestly the Rub-and-Tug place looks very, very sketchy...)  But how did they all end up being Cabaret, and don't they understand that we're diluting the Brand here to the point where it's about as potent as the drinks in some of these Cabarets.


I stumbled into Cabaret from the wrong side.  The 'Oh, I see... we're dealing with art...' side.  The Cabaret Voltaire side (no, fool...not the band!!).  The Weimar and Weill and Brecht and Eisler and Dada and Dietrich side. 


What other side could there be, thought I, as a young performer, happy to stamp Cabaret over his work in the knowledge that everyone would know what I was talking about.


So, this is a shout-out.  A plea.  A whine.  Could someone please come up with some new terms to define what Cabaret artists do??


Maybe we need sub-genres like other artistic styles.  If simple Rock and Roll can turn into 'Symphonic Christian Unblack Viking Metal', then surely we can come up with some new options to give the ticket buying public a clearer idea of what to expect.


'Orchestral Pagan Suburban Political Post-Punk-In-Your-Face-But-With-A-Sense-Of-Humour Cabaret'? 


that's sort of catchy.....



Help... please... help!!!

The Solo Show


Off I go to Edinburgh!  Leaping the Atlantic with props, costumes, songs and words. I'm taking my solo show '33(A Kabarett) to the Edinburgh Festival.  I've been before, with my show Whiskey Bars, and I did very well - 5 star reviews and sell out shows.  Why go back??  Because Edinburgh is the biggest performing arts market in the world.  I'm hoping to show my work to the many producers and presenters who shop the festival.  In Edinburgh entire careers can be made with a 'Fringe First' award.  Remarkably, I'm not too nervous about the whole endeavour.


'33(A Kabarett) is me, alone on stage for a just over an hour.  It portrays a moment when a performer finds that all of his friends and loved ones have just been dragged away, and he has one choice - run and hide, or speak up in defiance.  It is dark and funny and sad and hopeful and features some fantastic songs (and for one hilarious and macabre moment even features me singing in nothing but a sexy, bright yellow tutu!)  Reviewers have said "he will have you close to tears one moment and laughing the next - an absolute joy to watch"- New Orleans Defender Magazine, "an incredible one-man show....brilliant acting" - PBS America, "a stunning theatrical accomplishment.." - VUE Magazine, Edmonton, "Frozen in that moment between rational thought and madness." - Orlando Sentinel


However, I keep finding myself writing that  'WE' are going to Edinburgh - meaning more than just myself and Lisa, which will be the small 'team' that will be travelling over there.  I keep wanting to write that because of there were so, so, so many people involved just to help me survive on stage for one hour!! 


When I was struggling with the concept my old friend and extraordinary theatre artist Robert Burns read innumerable drafts ( many drafts...thank you Robert, you have the patience of a saint! ) and gave me his insightful, creative (and sometimes brutal) advice.  Dave Dawson pushed me to sculpt the stage work into a powerful, physical piece.  Alain Chauvin stage managed innumerable times and was a font of energy and enthusiasm. The remarkable Roxanna Bikadoroff took all of her talents and years working for international magazines and book publishers and crafted a gorgeous, touching image for the show. Fringe friends Timothy Mooney and Melanie Gall sat through the show (too many times...) and were so immensely generous with advice and ideas. Dramaturge Caroline Russel-King helped me in mid-tour when despite rave reviews the show was tanking with the audiences, and suddenly I started to get great reviews and great audiences! Sinead Cormack gave me her fantastic advice on set design. Another old friend, Tracy Darin, took his years of musical theatre training and created the dance sequence that lit up the show.  And now brand new friends are involved!  Joseph Furnari in New Orleans is helping me clear up all the little 'quirks' that have crept in from the original direction and push the show dramatically.  Veronica Russell, costume designer extraordinaire, is creating a whole new set of costumes for the show.   Phil Cramer is creating a heartbreaking backdrop for the ruined cabaret.  The startlingly efficient and creative Jessica Ruano has come on board to help me publicise and market the show in Edinburgh.  My old friend Stuart Millar, who helped bring Whiskey Bars to the stage in Edinburgh in 2008 will be back in the booth for '33.  The incredibly generous Deborah Evans has worked her magic by dealing with mountains of paperwork to secure the worldwide copyrights for the songs in the show.   And last  (but so, so not least!) Lisa Pasold believed in this project when I had lost interest and belief and hope and patience and wanted to run out into the wilderness and stick my head in the sand... and amazingly.. instead of strangling me... she kept on kicking me in the ass to keep making and doing.


Sooooo many people.... and that's not counting the dozens of new friends who came to see my workshop performances in New Orleans and afterwards stayed so long to give me the benefit of their advice on what was working in the show.


So maybe the reason why I'm not that nervous about this huge endeavour. I feel like I'm heading to Scotland with a huge, immense team, and instead of just me, 'We' will be alone on stage in Edinburgh.


25 days - 25 performances.  7pm every night from Aug 1 - Aug 25.  Hill Street Theatre, Edinburgh!

So, here goes.  A new CD.  


'33, a kabarett


I think it's the best work I've ever done.  It's intimate, intense and focused on the vibrant little world of Cabaret. 


To choose the songs, I imagined a cabaret in Berlin in 1933, the dying days of democratic pre-war Germany.


12 songs from around the era, (and one song from the master song writer Stephen Sondheim, a song that snuck in since it fit so perfectly).   Songs filled with irony, love, longing and laughter.


It is crazy to record a CD of songs like this.  Today, music is mostly about huge production, instant gratification and instant recognition.  Today, the defining quality of a new song is that it should sound almost exactly like another song you liked before, and singers are created and defined by engineers and autotune.


Call me crazy.


I still believe in simple music.  And the power of the human voice.  Raw and messy as it is. 

And, I believe above all in these songs.  I think they are little gems of songwriting.  I feel so lucky to have spent time with them.


You can listen to all the whole album as it streams on my site HERE  


Or you can click through each individual track HERE

If you want to buy the tracks you have a selection of options -


here are direct links to the page on...





and my independent distributor


Before starting work, make the sign of the cross; pray in silence and pardon your enemies.


1. Work with care on every detail of your icon, as if you were working in front of the Lord, himself.


2. During work, pray in order to strengthen yourself physically and spiritually; avoid, above all, useless words and keep silence.


3. Pray in particular to the saint whose face you are painting. Keep your mind from distractions and the saint will be close to you.


4. When you have to choose a color, stretch out your hand interiorly to the Lord and ask His counsel.


5. Do not be jealous of your neighbour’s work. His success is your success too.


6. When your icon is finished, thank God that His mercy has granted you the grace to paint the holy images.


7. Have your icon blessed by putting it on the altar. Be the first to pray before it, before giving it to others.


8. Never forget the joy of spreading icons in the world, the joy of the work or icon-painting, the joy of being in union with the saint whose face you are painting.



Iconographer's Prayer


Teach me, Lord, to use wisely the time which You have given me and to work well without wasting a second.


Teach me to profit from my past mistakes without falling into a gnawing doubt.


Teach me to anticipate the project without worry, to imagine the work without despair if it should turn out differently.


Teach me to unite haste and slowness, serenity and ardor, zeal and peace. Help me at the beginning of the work when I am the weakest. Help me in the middle of the work when my attention must be sustained. And especially fill all the emptiness of my work with Your Presence.


Lord, in all the work of my hands, bestow Your Grace so that it can speak to others and my mistake can speak to me alone. Keep me in the hope of perfection, without which I would lose heart, yet keep me from achieving perfection, for surely I would be lost in arrogance.


Purify my sight when I am doing poorly, for one is never sure that the work will turn out badly; Yet when I am doing well, one is never sure that the work will turn out well.


Lord, let me never forget that all knowledge is in vain unless there is work. And all work is empty unless there is love. And all love is hollow unless it binds me both to others and to You.


Lord, teach me to pray with my hands, my arms, and all my strength. Remind me that the work of my hands belongs to You and that it is fitting to return this gift to You.


Yet, if I work for the pleasure of others, like a flowering plant in the evening I will wither. But if I work for the love of goodness, I will remain in goodness. And the time to work for goodness and for Your Glory is now.

"What we need today more than anything else is to invest in beauty, because beauty is harmony which comes from chaos. But we invest in chaos, because chaos is much more profitable than peace .... Beauty is a kind of safety vault for people. And music as well. I don't think music is beautiful today, music is just a way to advertise other things because music is very powerful as a force and then through music we can advertise anything we want .... When music becomes a product ... something is wrong about that.

...To be interested in education, art, science culture, for me this is the key against the crisis today .... The banking crisis is not as important as the culture crisis. So when you deal with culture I think you can manage the rest easier. All the rest, all the misery comes because we don't have beauty, you know, the quality of life. And quality of life is not money, quality of life is something else."

Vangelis, composer of music for Chariots of Fire and Bladerunner

from his commencement speech at Julliard

"... by choosing a life in the arts you’ve set yourselves apart from a nation that has become such a hostage to distraction that it can’t absorb a single complex thought without having it reduced to a sound byte. Most people now, and particularly most people your age, live in a fractured virtual environment where staying focused on a single thought for, say, a mere seven seconds presents a grave challenge. (I mention seven seconds because a staff researcher at Google in San Francisco recently told me that 7.3 seconds was the amount of time that an average viewer stays on a YouTube site before jumping to another page.) You have grown up in a world that offers constant, almost irresistible distraction not unlike what the serpent in the Garden of Eden offered to Eve when he whispered to her, “check out them apples.”

"He will have you close to tears in one moment and laughing the next. An absolute joy to watch..."


Well, this is just amazing.  There's nothing here.  I am so happy.   

We moved into Treme in New Orleans last week and I preface this by saying I feel a little guilty,  since the reasons why there is nothing here come from a whole host of some not great reasons - poverty, hurricanes, floods, violence.  But I'm still happy.

That is to say, there are no big box stores, there are no radio shacks, no fast food joints, no strip malls, no outlet stores, and in the evening there is no traffic to speak of... 

When I arrived I sort of panicked - 'Crap!  There are no supermarkets, there are no radio shacks... '  Then

Get educated about your Fringe options: come to special Fringe previews on November 3 and 4, at the Shadowbox Theatre!

Touring Fringe artist Cameryn Moore presents her first solo show PHONE WHORE (a one-act play with frequent interruptions) for three nights only in New Orleans, and has opened the stage before her show to NOFringe artists to preview their shows. Fringe patrons can come to the preview for free and STAY for the award-winning play for only $12 (20% off the door price). Just use the password "safeword" to get your Fringe discount for an amazing night of theater...

(a one-act play with frequent interruptions)

Truth and taboo collide in this intimate visit with a phone sex operator. Listen closely: she may change your views on sex forever.

Thursday through Saturday, November 3-5
doors at 7:30, shows at 8pm
Tickets: $12/adv, $15/door
    (use the password "safeword" at the door to get your NOFringe discount)
Details and advance tickets at

Pick of the Fringe (Drama), 2011 Victoria Fringe Festival
Best Female Solo performance, 2010 San Francisco Fringe Festival
Judges' Honourable Mention, 2010 Ottawa Fringe Festival

Selling out shows across Canada, this critically acclaimed one-woman play sparks powerful audience response at every stop. FOR MATURE AUDIENCES

November 3
- Cutting Across the Map (Ariel Gratch/Cutting Across the Map)
- The Wedding (Kat Sotelo & Jee-Horne Kan)
- AGAIN?! (FoKaT)
- '33 (a kabarett) (Bremner Fletcher Duthie)

November 4
- Sex Offender (Wilhelmina Baker) 
- Marilyn: a play about our bodies (Night Light Collective
- The Baroness Undressed (Diana Shortez)

Upcoming - this was a summer of remarkable beginnings, and they continue to move me forward.  '33 was the most challenging show that I've ever created, and it took all of my energy.  That seems to have been rewarded in being accepted by the Jury at the New Orleans Theatre Festival (so I'm currently heading slowly down towards NoLa to perform the show for a Southern audience).  And the Gladstone Theatre in Ottawa will be doing a three week run of the show in February and March.  I'm considering if I should take it over to the Edinburgh or Brighton Festival next summer to shop it around in the UK.

Other beginnings -  well, I'll be going into the studio in New Orleans to record the vocal tracks for the CD based around '33.  Tentatively titled ‘Closing Night - Songs of resistance and revolution from the dying days of the Weimar Republic'.  

I'm currently working on a collaboration with the lovely and irrepressible Melanie Gall, on an imagined concert of Jaques Brel and Edith Piaf.  I think it'll be more or less us amusing ourselves (and hopefully audiences) with some of the greatest songs ever written.

The wonderful English performance poet Jem Rolls has been kicking some ideas around for exploring the period of 1918-28 in revolutionary Russia - the so called Russian Spring - when ideas and creativity exploded, before being crushed by Stalin.

And, of course, there is a new show to write.  Hoping to push myself even further after '33.  This time I'm curious about the other side of the Atlantic.  I'm listening to a swath of music from the late 1920's and 30's in the US of A.  I'm fascinated by the last vestiges of Vaudeville and the final heydays of the travelling Circus.  And I'm curious about the crushing of the radical left in America, and how that destruction might have been one of the causes of the current monolithic 'one party' state that exists.

Nothing written yet - just a bunch of themes that fascinate - we'll see where they take me

Orlando, Montreal, London, Regina, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver.  Have I left anything out there?  No.  Nine festivals, three shows (including my part in Rupert Watts wonderful musical).  Almost six months on the road.  



The new cabaret piece - '33, (a kabarett) was a challenge to perform.  My pitch line finally for it distilled down to 'Imagine Stephen Harper orders the Homeland Security forces to shoot the cast of Glee through the back of the head.  Well, my job is to come on stage, clear up the bodies and sing songs about them.'  Only, of course, this event is set (more or less) in 1933 and it really did happen that way.  


I was delighted with the response.  It was a challenge to mount such a dark show at the Fringe, where comedy kills, and I was inspired by the audiences who came along for the ride.  


It wasn't an easy ride - I played to crowds of 3 and 4 at the Montreal Fringe, and at each festival I would enter with small crowds and then watch it slowly build. But at the last festival, the show sold out most of it's performances in a huge venue at the Edmonton Fringe.  It was honestly humbling to perform the work for all these people.


'33 was inspired by a single song.  'Unsrer Shtetle Brent', by Mordecai Geburtig. The song was written to commemorate the destruction of a village in Poland.  Mordecai Geburtig was killed several years later when he refused to leave his village.  He wrote that he wanted that song to become a song of universal resistance to oppression and injustice, not just a song about that particular incident.  When I wrote the show I thought about what my 'village' was, and the stage and the people on it came to the fore. So the show is about a man mourning his friends fate and determining to carry on regardless.



I also remounted my old show 'Whiskey Bars', a show built around the songs of Kurt Weill, and took that to three festivals.  



I've been playing that show for almost 10 years now in various forms and it was great to see how well it works.  We sold out 8 shows in a row at the Winnipeg Festival, and got a 'Best of Fest' award there, and again at the Victoria Festival.


I think though that this might be it's last time out in this format.  It's time to shake it up.  So I think it's next emergence into the world will involve a reworking and rethinking of the show.  



The rethink is partly inspired by a vast screw up on my part.  On opening night in Vancouver, with a sold out show, and with 15 minutes to go before the show, I realized I had forgotten my costume (formal tuxedo with tailcoat).  And the show is basically built around me getting dressing into said Tuxedo.  I freaked out and while I was running around panicking a good friend rushed into the performers green room and asked if anyone had any kind of formal wear.  A wonderful Australian performer (who goes by the name of The Birdmann) handed over his ancient tux coat and the skinny black jeans he wears on stage.  They made it to me with enough time to be laid out on stage before the audience arrived.  So I went on stage with a costume that I had never tried on.   And that might have been one of the best shows of the summer.  The ancient threadbare costume inspired comments afterwards from patrons who read a whole story into their quality and my 'inspired choice' in wearing that outfit.  

Driving North, heading up to Montreal Fringe Festival from the Orlando Fringe Festival. Spent today walking through the appropriately atmospheric streets of Savannah 

and thinking about my new cabaret show - '33 (a kabarett)
My blurb for the show is

"Get out! Raus! Casse-toi! Vous êtes trop tard. Too late. The Cabaret is finished. Forever!" 
 Trapped in the ruins of a Cabaret theatre, the Master of Ceremonies is trying to make his escape. First they censored him. Then they beat and dragged away his cast. Soon the theatre will vanish in flames. But tonight a final group of thrill-seekers has wandered in the open door, looking for a spectacle. Alone on stage, the MC must improvise one last show. So tonight he will play all the parts - singer, dancer, stagehand, showgirl, funnyman - and sing his heart out with some of the greatest songs ever written.

it's a dark little show.... very, very dark....  a stage full of corpses, a brutal dictatorship and some songs to sing....

And until 10 days ago I wasn't really sure that it added up to anything. I knew I wanted to work on this period and work on these songs.  And I believe that the songs gain a special strength and power when they are put in context of their time. I'd spent months researching, getting the costume together, the music.  I recruited my friends to help out.  Roxanna Bikadoroff created an amazing poster.

I traveled to Ottawa to work with Dave Dawson on the direction.... but it all just seemed like a strange idea that I had.

Now, after a series of shows in Orlando, it seems to actually be something.  The Orlando Sentinel called it 'A gem of a show... a cabaret of shadows', and said 'Duthie, with his shaved head, haunted face and gorgeously delicate baritone, is utterly arresting as the vanquished impresario of a ruined cabaret…Duthie’s singing is magical.'

After touring Whiskey Bars for years (a show which I'll be doing for the first time in Vancouver and Victoria this summer) I knew that songs can gain a special power if put in context of their time.  

And over those years I've become fascinated and also very frustrated by Cabaret.  Mostly because the word is almost meaningless now.... Cabaret once meant a very special performance space and style - a space where the performer was in close, almost uncomfortable intimacy with the audience, and a satirical, almost aggressive style that questioned both the morals of the day, and the motives of the audience.  Nowadays Cabaret can mean so many things - long-legged girls with pasties and feathers, faded old Broadway singers rehashing their lives beside pianos, a jumble of disconnected skits by eager young thespians, an evening of Rodgers and Hart.  All of which have their good and bad side, and none of which particularly interest me.

I wanted to do a concert of songs that would capture the sense of rebellion and questioning and also the unadulterated fear that permeated that period.  

I particularly wanted to do that right now because in the US and Canada there is a new repression making its way over the Arts.  It might not be the unashamed brutality of Hitler's rise to power in 1933, but it's a brutality of conservatism and rationalism, where the Arts are asked to justify themselves on whether or not they are 'profitable' and 'express community values'.  Since the only possible answer to these is a resounding 'no', then this justifies cutting and slashing and repressing.
In the US there is the stupidity and anger of the Tea Party, seeking to 'defund' any hint of artistic expression that doesn't match their conservative Christian values or that isn't based on a strict profit motive, and in Canada a new right wing in charge is seeking to personally green light only the arts funding which they personally approve. 

I think it is up to us, as artists, to say this is not appropriate, and to explain some of the possible consequences.

There's an infamous line about the pre-war period of anti-war art which goes something like  'you can observe the incredibly success and power of avant-garde theatre and cabaret from the amazing way in which they stopped the rise of fascism in Germany'.  

That is, they failed, big time.  

But does that mean it was a mistake to try?

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