When composer and pianist Simon Wallace and I moved to East Dulwich from Battersea eleven years ago, we noticed how green and less urban Dulwich was compared to Battersea. Though I missed strolling across Battersea Park to go shopping in The King’s Road, I began to cherish the open spaces and lushness along Dulwich Common and the beautiful twin green hearts of Dulwich Park and its smaller sister Peckham Rye Park.
As Max A Rush’s beautiful photos showed in his recent DOV article, Dulwich is still one of the greenest oasis of South London, with the South Circular meandering through it. Lordship Lane had just a handful of restaurants and a few trendy shops like Ed and Grace & Favour. The Cheese Block and Pretty Traditional greengrocers had already been there for years by the time we moved in and the Blue Mountain Cafe was established as the hub of North Cross Road. Little did we know, however, that East Dulwich was about to blossom into one of South London’s most des res areas.
Another pleasant surprise was how many musicians were already living here. It’s hardly surprising then that there’s a really thriving live music scene, with a folk club run by The Goose Is Out, at Dulwich Hamlet Football Club and upstairs at The Magdala, whose guest performers have included the awe-inspiring Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy and now there’s jazz on the last Saturday of every month at The Clock House pub, on the Rye at the bottom of Barry Road. There’s a plethora of thriving choirs and the area even has its own orchestra – the eponymous Dulwich Ukelele Orchestra.
As one would imagine this year’s Dulwich Festival, organised by Director Alpha Hopkins and her team of volunteers, also features some cutting edge musical events, details can be found here. And there’s our new show FEMMES FATALES, but more of that in a moment. All in all, the Festival is a fantastic 10 days of walks, talks, music, shows, readings, sport, exhibitions and dance plus Goose Green and Dulwich Park Fairs and pram-racing in the Village.
Simon and I decided that the Festival would be the perfect opportunity to launch our new songshow, FEMMES FATALES, upstairs at the EDT in Lordship Lane (Friday 18th May 8pm, doors 7.30pm). The upstairs room is an elegant, airy space with its own bar and has traditionally been a live entertainment venue, with music, theatre and comedy going on there for at least the last twenty years, when East Dulwich was a lot more rough and ready than it is today. Long before I lived here I saw writer, poet and stand-up John Dowie (Jesus My Boy and the inimitable Dog Man) at the East Dulwich Tavern, as it was then called, and if I remember correctly I sat in as a guest vocalist that night, with Simon on piano.
FEMMES FATALES is primarily a songshow, celebrating the phenomenon of the Femme Fatale in all her feisty glory, featuring songs ranging from blues to jazz to pop and back again, and premiering some new lyrics from the late, great Fran Landesman, who died last July. Fran was a New Yorker who took up residence in the UK in the mid 1960s and never went home again. At her first London dinner-party she found herself sandwiched between Malcolm Muggeridge and Peter Cook and never looked back.
She met The Beatles, wrote songs with Dudley Moore and Georgie Fame and enjoyed the Bohemian London life to the full in every sense and put her experiences into her lyrics and poems. A true wordsmith, she was one of the last links with the great tradition of American popular songwriting which flourished from the 1930s to the end of the 1950s. My husband, Simon, was her songwriting partner for 18 years and I’ve recorded 3 CDs of their songs and am shortly to do another one. Fran had a great way of depicting character economically, and Simon, being Welsh, has a fantastic ear for melody, so their witty and sometimes acerbic songs suit my collection of Femmes Fatales down to the ground.
The original idea for a show about this diverse set of women was suggested by my friend and fellow singer Barb Jungr, a mistress of the one-woman show herself. I knew I wanted to do something just for piano and voice – a new departure for me, as I usually work with a quartet featuring double bass and drums – and Barb’s suggestion immediately appealed.
The Femme Fatale is such an iconic theme, though I must admit when I began my research I didn’t know that much about what really lies behind the name. Seductive and dangerous, she was an important trope in painting, opera and theatre at the turn of the 20th Century. However, most people’s idea of the Fatale comes from Film Noir, a style of gritty American film-making, at its height from the mid 1940s to mid 1950s. She’s often a central character who leads the hero into danger in pursuit of her own independence. Raymond Chandler (an allumnus of Dulwich College) wrote the novel The Big Sleep which was made into one of the best known titles in Film Noir. There’s a lot more to her than Film Noir anti-heroines, but you’ll just have to come along to see the show to find out just how long she’s been around and the sort of things Femmes Fatales have got upto.
Festival brochures are already dropping through people’s letterboxes, so I’m off to book my tickets before events sell out. See you around – and hopefully at FEMMES FATALES! www.sarahmoule.net.