Gig Review – Cathy Davey’s ‘Songs that Scare Children (But in a Very Beautiful Way)’

Cathy Davey’s ‘Songs that Scare Children (But in a Very Beautiful Way)’  at The MAC, Belfast

By Tara McEvoy @tara_mcevoy

For all those acquainted with Cathy Davey’s sultry, soulful solo work, her stint tonight at The MAC as part of the Duke Special curated ‘In the Court of…’ festival will come as something of a shock.  For tonight’s show – ‘Songs that Scare Children (But in a Very Beautiful Way)’ – is as much a performance as a gig, featuring not just Davey but an ensemble cast featuring some of the Emerald Isle’s most skilled musicians, from The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon to Pete Routolo, Rhob Cunningham to Lisa O’Neill. A stellar cast then, but as soon as the Dublin singer steps on stage to the opening swells of Billie Holiday’s ‘Gloomy Sunday’ it becomes clear who the real star of the show is.

The spotlight never remains on one artist for long, though, with such an array of supporting starlets to get through. Harpist Ursula Burns shines on a haunting reimagining of ‘I Put a Spell on You’, heaping a roaring vocal upon a maelstrom of strings. Duke Special (the host who’s hosting our host, apparently) smirks his way through a wickedly funny interpretation of ‘Set the World on Fire’, cradling a petrol canister in one hand, caressing a lighter in the other.Holding together proceedings is the divinely, darkly humorous compere Dr David Turpin. Providing a refreshing tonic to the sycophantic compliments routinely thrown out by those tasked with introducing acts, Turpin at turns presents artists to the audience as ‘malevolent beasts’, ‘crazed and deranged beings’ and ‘vile monsters’. Really, one shouldn’t have expected much else from a night billed as ‘a gathering of specimens of the most malignant variety’.An unexpected highlight of the evening arrives as Turpin relinquishes his duties as compere to break into an impromptu rendition of ‘The Monster Mash’, replete with Ian Curtis-esque dance moves that induce hysterical bouts of laughter.

Rounding off the musical extravaganza are Hannon and Routolo, giving their own wacky take on ‘My Darling Clementine’ (Hannon aping a ventriloquist’s dummy sitting on Routolo’s lap, and still sounding nothing less than pitch perfect). Amidst the jumble of backing singers, Davey beams like a music teacher relieved that her class has pulled off a song at an assembly.

Beguiling, bewitching and packed with flashes of brilliance, the only truly scary thing about ‘Songs that Scare Children’ is the dizzying height of Cathy Davey’s talent – and that of her freaky friends.

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