Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Music

Fringe World! back to the eighties

29 January 2022

The 80’s have arrived at Fringe World. Bourby Webster discovers some of the more quirky ways the decade of cheesy ballads, naughty pop and synth music can be kept alive, with two very brassy tribute shows.

An 80s Dance Floor Oom-pah-ty (Mo Productions) & Funked Up Brass – Ladies of the 80s (Matilda Simcock) ·
Ellington Jazz Club and State Theatre Centre Courtyard, Fringe World, 27 January 2022 ·

As a teen in the 1980s, cheesy ballads such as “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, naughty pop such as “Like a Virgin” and new wave synth music such as “Video Killed the Radio Star” were on rotation day after day. Lyrics that made no sense, riffs that became ear worms, and drum machines that tapped relentlessly throughout a song got under my skin like it did for everyone else! This year Fringe World offers a heap of 80’s tribute shows, including two that feature nothing but brass instruments.

First up I check out An 80s Dance Floor Oom-pah-ty! featuring jazz singer Libby Hammer and a four-piece ensemble reworking some 80s songs in a Bavarian beer-clinking, thigh slapping way.

I’d expected the ever-brilliant Hammer to be the star of the show. I was wrong. It is the Roland PB-300 Drum Machine placed front and centre of the stage, with its hilarious drum fill that does not stop tapping for the entire hour, that steals the show.

As promoted, this is categorically a “thundering one-hour musical romp of Teutonic proportions.” The incredible musicianship of Ricky Mallet (trumpet), Ben Collins (clarinet), Marty Pervan (who shines on Sousaphone) and Mace Francis (trombone) is put to the test with brilliant arrangements by Pervan and Francis that flow seamlessly from one hit to the next with barely a drum fill in between.

To say it is a Fringe World show on steroids is an understatement and with every new song, leg swing, beer swill (the waitress was called to the stage to fill the “steins”) my smile gets bigger. Not least because Libby isn’t just a creative genius and fabulous vocalist, she is very funny too, and her interjections, dancing, facial expressions and wrestling with the drum machine has us all in stitches. The odd German “Gut! Sehr Gut, Yah?” is icing on the cake.

A snapshot from the Fringe World show Funked Up Brass - Ladies of the Eighties. Pictured is a line of brass musicians wearing black suits with two women vocalists in sequined dresses
Seasoned storyteller and vocalist Matilda Simcock leads Funked Up Brass. Photo: Adrian Thomason @_awii_

Next up is Funked Up Brass – Ladies of the 80s in the courtyard at the State Theatre Centre. A much bigger outfit, I was excited to hear their New Orleans brass band take on 80s music.

The Oom-pah-ty was always going to be an incredibly tough act to follow but within seconds of the show starting I knew we were in trouble. The big sound of blazing brass reverberates around the courtyard like in a bathroom, making it impossible to truly appreciate the intricate solos of the musicians on stage.

Lead singer and band manager Matilda Simcock is outstanding – incredible vocals and seasoned storytelling – ably supported on backing vocals by Jordan Bonomi and Jasmine Iustini, but it isn’t enough to overcome the really challenging sound.

Surprisingly, the repertoire of the two shows barely overlaps, with Funked Up Brass preferencing long renditions of 80s diva songs from Eurythmics to The Weather Girls, featuring different musicians in each song.

A highlight is Simcock singing Whitney with just Paul Millard on baritone saxophone – a stunning duet that provides a reprise from the swimming sound of the fuller band. I’d love to see these guys in a different venue!

Seeing so many people singing along was affirmation that I am blessed to have spent my teens in such a fabulous decade of experimentation, synths, fizzy pop, strong women, memorable easy-to-sing songs and lots of big hair and make-up! The fact that nearly all the performers were babies or not even born during that decade shows just how much fun this music still is for everyone.

So come on down to Fringe World and Keep the 80s alive Perth!

An 80s Dance Floor Oom-pah-ty! continues at the Ellington Jazz Club until 29 January.
Funked Up Brass – Ladies of the 80s continues at the State Theatre Centre until 29 January.

Pictured top: Libby Hammer and band give 80s songs a Bavarian twist. Photo: Josh Wells

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Author —
Bourby Webster

Bourby Webster is the Founder and CEO of Perth Symphony Orchestra one of WA’s newest and fastest growing arts companies. She is a graduate of Oxford University in Music and the Royal College of Music and is a professional violist, lecturer, presenter, and producer. She can’t even look at a playground as she suffers chronic motion sickness.

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