wed 21/11/2018

CD: John Harle & Marc Almond - The Tyburn Tree: Dark London | reviews, news & interviews

CD: John Harle & Marc Almond - The Tyburn Tree: Dark London

CD: John Harle & Marc Almond - The Tyburn Tree: Dark London

A dark cabaret show about London's darker thoughts

The Tyburn tree: gallows humour

It's hard to countenance sometimes that there was an era where Marc Almond could have been a bona fide, chart-smashing pop star. His ability to parlay the archest of high camp and the most grotesque of low life into something digestible by genuine mass culture was, from the very beginning, quite uncanny.

There was always a sulphurous whiff of something downright Luciferian about him, yet enough fragility to make the act seem all too real – an infinitely more convincing and intriguing character than more recent more self-conscious attempts at “transgressive” pop like the gallumphing vaudeville clown Marilyn Manson (who tried to steal a little of Almond's cold fire by repurposing his Tainted Love cover).

Almond has seemed to fare equally well away from the charts, though. Everything he has done, whether performed to ten people or ten million, has felt like part of one unending secret cabaret which we are just voyeurs in. This latest project with the saxophonist and composer (and writer of the Silent Witness theme!) Harle certainly lets us look in on that cabaret for a while, and it seems to be in full swing, with the album coming over like a cavalcade of deranged acts performing songs and pantomime based around London's dark undercurrents: what Alan Moore describes as the city's “free-associating stone subconscious”.

Bringing in chunks of William Blake, dollops of nursery rhyme, snippets of narration by psycho-geographer of the capital Iain Sinclair, roaring choirs, roistering electropop, walloping great chunks of prog-punk guitar-strangling and Almond in full operatic mode, it should by rights be really hard work, but in fact it's really quite gripping. In its delirium, it automatically conjures Tim Burton and Jan Švankmajer images in the mind, marionettes, silhouettes, flashing lights and grand guignol, and like everything else in Almond's career, it's quite uncanny and unlikely that he carries it off – but he does.

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