Bristol’s Cube Microplex has spent the last year trying to raise the funds necessary to buy out their freehold lease at the end of its 15-year term. For a public-run cinema, music venue and inspirational community arts hub like the Cube, to be in a position to become wholly self-sufficient is a massive opportunity, and its hundred-plus team of unwaged volunteers currently sit two-thirds of the way to their end-of-year goal. Intimate, welcoming and enormously dedicated, the Cube is a perfect microcosm of Bristol’s DIY community, and it’s telling that the likes of Qu Junktions and the gloriously shabby Old Vic itself step up to help.
Tonight’s fundraiser acts also as a celebration of the Cube’s spirit and the people and musicians who’ve become part of it. Five groups, all friends (or even staff) of the Cube, put together sets covering either classic scores or the work of particular composers. First up are I Know I Have No Collar, picking their way carefully through a dozen or so of Hal Hartley’s twinkling miniatures and skeletal, sweetly atmospheric vignettes, many little more than delicate keyboard sketches embellished with glockenspiel, melodica and clarinet. Aaron’s unassuming between-song chatter is nicely self-deprecating throughout – “what film was that one from, Tom?” “Amateur” “…appropriate” – and the understated but loving arrangements and blissful imperfections recall Maher Shalal Hash Baz or Movietone, the latter seemingly the first band many of those onstage saw at the Cube. Appropriate.
There’s an immediate and noticeable increase in volume from the stage as Goan Dogs tune up, and the apparent confidence with which they tackle Danny Elfman’s main theme from Edward Scissorhands belies their singer’s later admission that they’re basically winging it. There’s a pleasingly dusty twang to their interpretations which, with the mournful trumpet figures that drift in and out, give them the stately mariachi feel of Calexico’s score for The Guard. When the first piece briefly swells into something more muscular I’m reminded of Fantomas’ peerless/ridiculous The Director’s Cut, albeit only its most reserved moments. They rein it in nicely though, giving Elfman’s pieces a moody, countrified retouch that stays respectful. No sooner are you settled than they pull the rug with a rendition of ‘Delilah’ (it’s on the radio in the film, they explain) that’s closer to Brian Harvey than Alex Harvey but is received charitably nonetheless.
After a short interval, the evening’s compere returns. Dudley Sutton, legendary thesp beloved for his Lovejoy turn but a veteran of some fifty-plus years on the stage with endless warm, hilarious tales of performing both here and at the Cube, bridges the gaps between sets with warm affection and dry, deliberately self-deprecating mock-affront at having to stay out late at eighty years of age. He rifles through his notes to introduce “the most polite usher in the Cube’s history”. Enter Francois and friends, including some returning members of I Know I Have No Collar and Rozi Plain, and the first palpable crackle of recognition from the audience as the inimitable theme from Francois Lai’s music to Un Homme et une Femme opens their short set. Lai’s breezy, swooningly romantic themes swing with touches of jazz and samba, and Francois’ languid impression of actor/vocalist Pierre Barouh works just fine against the sleepy sax and clarinet accompaniment. A few songs in, he admits with expert comic timing that he’s never seen the film. It hardly matters. Dudley is moved to recall his days in Paris in the sixties, and treats us to a bit of performance poetry which gently mocks stony existentialists with a risqué flourish.
His reaction to Pinch & Bass Clef‘s take on Robocop, by contrast is one of stunned silence broken by an apposite deployment of the m-bomb. It’s a set that befits the hissing, grimy future-dystopia of Verhoeven’s Detroit, splintering and deconstructing sections of original music and dialogue and repurposing them within the dense, bass-heavy machine-funk body created onstage. Ripped from the context of the film, Robocop’s blustery, orchestral OST sounds foreboding, tense; the vertiginous strings and rasping brass crescendoes are the peaks, but for the main part it’s a series of slow, sinister preludes. This works particularly well tonight when Ralph’s trombone is utilised, rippling flurries of sound meshing with the fluid, percussive rhythms, smudges of rainy melody and stuttering snatches of dialogue. It’s not Silver Bullet’s peerless ’20 Seconds To Comply’, by any means, but few things are that good, and they succeed in doing something no-one else tonight tries; to create something new from the source material.
Rounding off the night are the Greatness of the Magnificence Orchestra, a suitably grand fanfare of a name for this tribute to Ennio Morricone. It’s a truly remarkable undertaking; there are, by a quick head count, 38 people on stage including the deadpan, occasionally intense figure of Jesse Morningstar, erstwhile frontman of notorious Bristol psychedelic loons the Moonflowers. He conducts the orchestra impeccably, no mean feat considering (a) the intricacy of some of Morricone’s pieces, (b) the potential for chaos in cramming so many people into such a space at fairly short notice, and (c) the fact that he’s dressed as a seven-foot tall praying mantis. Oh yeah. The whole cast, in fact, are in fancy dress. There are GIs, cowboys, gendarmes, flamenco dancers, a keyboard player dressed as a banana. The conductor hops remarkably daintily from webbed foot to webbed foot as the tempos shift and the interplays between strings, brass, percussion, guitars and a choir of singers, whistlers and yodellers become more complex. The inevitable appearance of Morricone’s masterpiece, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, is a genuine, spine-tingling thrill; here, and on ‘For A Few Dollars More’, the originals are brilliantly alive, treated with love but played by people revelling in the weirdness of the setting. The audience are livelier, singing along under instruction, catcalling the lugubrious Morningstar. It’s fantastic. Oddly, they detour with two Hendrix covers – both sound great, the choir revelling in the incongruity of ‘Manic Depression’ in particular, but given the short set time it’s a confusing bit of grandstanding. A magnificent spectacle and a brilliant conclusion to the party, nonetheless.
As an epilogue to the evening, a spoiler from Tom Morris, the Old Vic’s Artistic Director. His welcoming address at the top of the show announced that the Arts Council has pledged £90,000 towards the cost of the leasehold, conditional on the full value being raised. The next three months will require a lot more sacrifice and generosity, but with a dedicated creative community like this ready to put on memorable and hugely fun nights like this, you’d hope for a happy ending. Dudley Sutton remarked that the music heard tonight echoed the spirit of places like the Cube and the Old Vic, being “gentle, generous and offered without greed or frenzy”. Long may its spirit continue.
Read more about the Cube Freehold project and donate to the cause at the Cube Freehold website.
All photos here by Liz Hunt. Thanks Liz!