Wednesday 15 August 2012 | By Chris Cooke
Tricity Vogue: Ukulele chat
Tricity Vogue, especially with her ukulele hat on, cuts a striking figure, and has, in a very short time, made herself an essential part of the Fringe cabaret scene: we here at ThreeWeeks already can’t imagine the Festival without her. So we caught up with the lady herself to talk about her shows, her workshops, why the ukulele is back with a vengeance, and of course, that hat.
CC: I think you must now be officially a Fringe institution! What brings you back each year?
TV: The Fringe and I are still in the honeymoon phase; this is only my third year doing my own show. My love affair with the Festival started as infatuation – a mix of fascination, fear and obsession. Now it’s blossomed into the sort of relationship where you know all your lover’s quirks and foibles but decide that lover is worth staying with anyway. We’ve had our rough patches – the rain-soaked flyering treks, the woefully empty collection buckets, the looks of bafflement on audience faces – but we’ve come through them all and we’re still together.
CC: What have you got planned for this year’s cabaret show?
TV: I start and end every show with a mass sing-along. Favourites are ‘You Are My Sunshine’, ‘Hit The Road Jack’ and ‘Que Sera Sera’. I’ll be handing out some ukuleles to the audience, so they can have a go. Then each night four acts will compete to win the unbelievably prestigious Uke Of Edinburgh Award every night, judged by a panel selected from the audience. This year I’ve set myself a new challenge: every winner gets to choose a subject for me to write a song about. I have one day to write the song, and perform it for the first time at the start of the following night’s show. So far this year I’ve written songs about bowler hats, goats, aubergines, mothballs, awards and pet deaths.
CC: Where do you find the people who play at your Cabaret show?
TV: I invite cabaret performers I already know and love to come on the show, whether they play ukulele or not – they don’t actually have to play uke for their five minute spot, as long as they do something with it. Leela Bunce has re-enacted famous film plots using a ukulele as a miniature stage (‘The Great Escape’ and ‘The Sound Of Music’ so far this year), and Myra Dubois has incorporated the ukulele into an interpretive physical theatre piece. I also put a call out on the Fringe performance opportunities page and email all shows on the Laughing Horse Free Festival, inviting performers to come and do a spot. Word of mouth is important too; people put their friends in touch with me, and tell me about acts they’ve seen who would go down a storm.
CC: Have there been any particularly impressive players amongst your audience so far?
TV: The very first Uke Of Edinburgh Award of this year’s Fringe was won by a wildcard contestant from the audience: Lins McRobie. She’s a member of the Edinburgh ukulele group, Uke Hoot, but it was the first time she’d ever performed on stage. Halfway through her song she forgot the chords and ran off the stage and back to her seat. I thought she’d bottled it, but she downed her pint in one, strode back onto the stage and led the audience in a rousing singalong. The judges gave her full marks.
CC: You’re inviting audience members to bring their own ukuleles or kazoos this year, how does that work?
TV: The sing-alongs at the start and end of the Ukulele Cabaret are a really fun part of the show, and we give out songsheets that include not only the words but also the chords, so that people can play along as well as sing along, if they have an instrument with them (all instruments are welcome, we even had a recorder in the other night). I do have some ukuleles to give out to the audience, but I’m keen to invite other uke players to bring their ukes along with them and to join in too, because the spirit of the show is about audience participation.
I hope to recreate the mood of my London Ukulele Cabarets: there’s nothing quite like the sound of a mass of ukuleles all strumming together. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. As for kazoos, I give out kazoos at the end of my show to anyone who puts a fiver in my bucket. They’re limited edition Tricity Vogue silver embossed kazoos. I want people to come back to the show and bring their kazoos with them so we can have a mass of kazoos playing as well as the mass of ukuleles. By the last show of the Fringe, I’d like to get the whole audience playing something.
CC: Ukeleles have become very popular again in recent years, why do you think that is?
TV: Ukuleles are easy. They’re easy to carry, they’re easy to get hold of (because they’re cheap), and most importantly they’re easy to learn. I think they’re actually easier than a recorder and they certainly sound better in a beginner’s hands. The way a ukulele is tuned, it’s already a chord when you strum it with open strings, so you’re halfway there even before you figure out where to put your fingers. But I don’t think it’s just about convenience.
There’s a bigger shift behind the rise of the ukulele; a return to live, shared, community music and entertainment. It’s the same shift that is behind the rise of cabaret too. For years people have sat at home and watched the telly. Now they’re starting to realise how much more fun you can have when people are making music in the same room as you, and that it can be even more fun when you join in. The ukulele is a social instrument, and a democratic instrument: experienced and talented musicians enjoy it for its simplicity and adaptability, and so do complete beginners.
CC: Really keen aspiring players can come to one of your workshops, what happens there?
TV: Every Saturday afternoon I’m running a free ukulele workshop at Rae Macintosh Music on Queensferry Street. The shop are providing ukuleles for people to play during the workshop – with no obligation to buy. It’s a very relaxed, informal affair, where I go at the pace of the people who turn up. All ages are welcome. I play a few tunes of my own as well – I do have one or two child-friendly songs in my repertoire despite my usual late-night cabaret haunts.
CC: Tell us about the hat!
TV: The golden ukulele I wear on my head is not an attention-seeking gimmick. Okay, it is an attention-seeking gimmick, but it’s also more than that. It is the Uke Of Edinburgh. At the end of every Ukulele Cabaret the winner of that night’s Uke Of Edinburgh Award is invited onto the stage to strum my head. It’s a very exciting moment for me and almost as exciting for everyone else. The hat is a real ukulele, and was made for me by costume designer Emma Threadneedle for my first Edinburgh Ukulele Cabaret three years ago. It acts as a beacon on the streets of Edinburgh – people who are into ukuleles come up to me and ask for a flyer. A couple of gentlemen have asked if they can pluck me.
CC: Cabaret at the Fringe is so big these days – are there any other shows you would recommend?
TV: Loads! So many of my cabaret heroes are here: Dusty Limits is right before me in the Counting House Ballroom, and he’s only here until the 19th so you need to get your skates on to see him. His show’s called Post-Mortem and is as dark as mine is sunny: I like to think they complement each other as a double bill. It’s Dusty’s fault I’m a cabaret performer and not a wife and mother. I’ll always be grateful to him for the late-night champagne-fuelled intervention that put my life back on track.
EastEnd Cabaret were in my slot at the Counting House Ballroom last year and packed it out every night, and this year they’re at the Underbelly doing more of their highly original brand of filth. Frank Sanazi, Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer, Jonny Woo and David Mills are all superb. And two of my favourite cabaret performers are doing their first solo Edinburgh shows this year: Ria Lina’s ‘It’s Not Easy Being Yellow’, and Myra Dubois’ ‘Aunty Myra’s Fun Show’. I’ve seen them both, and I want to go back and see both of them again.
CC: Where can people find your music and see you perform outside of the Edinburgh Fringe?
TV: My regular cabaret haunt is London, where I run monthly Ukulele Cabarets and pop up on the bill of a weird and wonderful array of cabaret and variety shows. I also do a fair bit of gigging around the UK: I’ll be in Sheffield in September, Salford in October, Nottingham in November, and Exeter in December. I’m also co-producer of burlesque and cabaret collective The Blue Stocking Society, and we’ll be taking our “women’s institute for bad girls” to London’s Jackson’s Lane Theatre in November. For regular updates on my antics, do sign up to my mailing list at tricityvogue.com. I’ve also got an album ‘The Blue Lady Sings’, which you can buy from me at my show, or from my website. And I’m posting the new song I write everyday for the Uke Of Edinburgh winner on SoundCloud, so if you miss the show, you can have a listen online.
Tricity Vogue hosted the ‘Ukulele Cabaret’ at Laughing Horse @ The Counting House and the ‘Free Paint And Play Ukulele Workshop’ at the Rae Macintosh Musicroom at Fringe 2012.
Photo: Paul Collins