The Corn Hall reopens with a celebration of protest and song

Presented as part of the of  N&N festival, The People’s Cabaret is a work in progress, with this premier intended as seed corn from which a bigger, bolder event will emerge through community involvement. We were promised more musicians, more singers and even a choir in the future, but for now had to be content with a stripped back, lean offering from the considerable talents of Jessica Walker on voice and Ian Watson on accordion, with music written by Luke Styles

Walker confessed to feeling nauseous at the prospect of performing to a live audience, with worries ranging from her voice holding up to remembering the words. On both counts, her concerns were misplaced. This was a polished, note perfect outing for a fine signer, with a style that hovered somewhere between the operatic and a chanteuse.

The European composers they showcased raged against racism, oppression and injustice, but did so in a way that was imbued with mordant wit and wry circumspection. Lavender Song is by a gay man consumed with righteous indignation, and is all the more acute for its sanguine observations. Life’s a Swindle similarly benefits from a pragmatic, and shameless, celebration of moral ambivalence.

The evening Juxtaposed seminal works with new compositions, explicitly twining themes and ideas. Park Man explored the inherent difficulty of exploring social issues from a position of relative security, while Monumental neatly side stepped cultural appropriation by speaking from the perspective a slave trader’s statue. By far the strongest new work, however, was Viral, a personal and heart breaking account of the death of a close friend.

I hope they really do go into communities, and really do listen to what folk say. This is an ambitious project, and if they pull it off, they could return to the festival with something of real worth.