Petr Dorůžka - World Music » Forest of No Return

Forest of No Return

25. 6. 2007 | Rubriky: Články, Multilingual, Interviews, reviews

Meltdown Festival
Royal Festival Hall, London 17 June 2007

[by Ken Hunt, London] As much as the films, Disney songs are the stuff of English speakers’ dreams (and nightmares if Fantasia’s demon king counts), the common ground, the warp and weft of Anglophone culture. Hal Willner’s 1988 Stay Awake project was a fresh, ripe look at the Disney Songbook. Its cast included Los Lobos, Ken Nordine, Sinead O’Connor, Sun Ra, Bonnie Raitt, Syd Straw and Suzanne Vega. But one Stay Awake interpretation re-set the bar height beyond Sinatra’s wildest imagination. Tom Waits’ metallically clink-clunking, Orwellian deconstruction of Heigh Ho presented Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs off the happy pills and on a cocktail of truth serum, downers and sleep deprivation. Like the Archangel of Mis-Disneyfication, Waits’ Heigh Ho hovered over Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown Forest of No Return. For me, at least.

Linking Stay Awake and Forest of No Return by his bodiless presence, Ken Nordine announced it was “time to do Disney”. This time, ‘time’ came with added meaning. Proceedings started roughly an hour late, with the South Bank’s Glenn Max consoling us that we were part of “the creative process”. (A quite original, if not wholly convincing spin on late-running.) The late start was particularly galling since this was a Sunday night - the night the London public transport system reverts to that of a fun-size banana republic’s curfew. But only if compared to most every European city of stature, of course.

The format was for acts to come on to do a party piece. The poet Roger McGough read A-E-I-O-U. Its wonderlandish spirit appealed to the inner child, though Uncle Walt countenancing rhymes like “To amuse emus/Kiwis do wee-wees/From spectacular heights” seemed to be stretching credulity a bit much. David Thomas got it right too with I’m Late with sight gags and slapstick smirking. The next sequence, with its instrumental Clock Sequence, Skye (from Morcheeba) and Terry Adams (Little April Showers) and Beth Orton (Stay Awake), blew the energy. It wasn’t until Jarvis Cocker did I Wanna Be Like You in a performance that owed more to Pulp and buffoonery than it did to Louie Prima, Kenny Ball or Los Lobos that there was a surge of energy, an oomph.

The pattern had been set. Too many instrumentals, too many under-rehearsed and under-realised interpretations. The Shane MacGowan, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker and Pete Doherty filler howling at the moon, probably from Lady And The Tramp, was more dog’s dinner than dogs’ chorus. It semi-worked although it definitely worked for the cameras. Gavin Friday provided a real performance in the spirit of Disney animation with his feline body take on Siamese Cat Song. The two other most spellbinding performances of the first half were Baaba Maal and Grace Jones. The Senegalese superstar in white suit ripped into Bare Necessities with talking-drum hammering out. Grace Jones went for the diva-to-the-max approach. Her Trust In Me had her on a podium on the stage, all legs, wearing a billowing black number and a purple cobra-hood headpiece. She pitched the song somewhere between serpent in the Garden of Eden and snake-oil salesperson. She brought the house down.

Much of the second set must go unmentioned. The last train beckoned halfway through. The utterly English, refined voice of actress Fenella Fielding doing Feed The Birds rose little above the level of mawkish sentimentality. Despite the added advantage of potential physical theatricality, David Thomas and Nick Cave’s Heigh Ho seemed cowed by the Spirit of Mis-Disneyfication. I cannot believe that they were unaware of his interpretation. A missed opportunity. Pete Doherty’s Chim Chim Cheree with singing saw (take a leaf out of 17 Hippies’ book and use singing saw sparingly, assuming there’s a next time, chaps) broke no new ground and that was its charm - a straight-ahead telling of an old tale by a man assaulted with problems and prying eyes. The highlight up to the point where I went for the last train was Friday’s Castle In Spain. Again a visual performance, a bit like matador crossed with lounge lizard. Apparently MacGowan did Zip-a-dee Doo Dah and Cocker When You Wish Upon A Star. By then I would have been heading into the darkness with memories of Uncle Walt for company.

The major problem with Forest of No Return stemmed from over-ambition and overreach. The organisers forgot that brevity is the soul of wit. Several quarts were spilled going into this particular pint pot. In that respect it mirrored Willner’s 2006 audio-production Rogue’s Gallery - Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys. Someone had clearly underestimated how long it takes to formulate and rehearse a project with ambitions of this nature. Too many instrumental passages slowed down the pace. They seldom advanced the musical narrative (to use a too grandiose turn-of-phrase) or added to the musical agenda or momentum. If, say, a third of Forest of No Return had been lopped off, the production would have been far better. It cried out for Bill Bryden’s guiding hand. It testified to the production team’s inability to say enough or no. Less would have meant more in the case of Forest of No Return.


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