We’ve sung on the Dartmouth Bandstand and on the roof of a Devon folly in a downpour. We’ve sung Sew on a Sequin to 10,000 happy homosexuals at Gay Pride. We’ve performed in private sitting rooms and in all the great ballrooms of the best London hotels, frequently entering through the kitchens which has given us a new understanding of what hotels are like. Put it this way, at some establishments we bring our own sandwiches.
We’ve performed on a Kenyan beach, on a floating raft of the Australian Gold Coast, in a hedge fund manager’s Upper East Side condo, and years ago I did a very peculiar gig in Palma, Majorca, singing from a palazzo balcony to a largely German-speaking audience of speed-boat fanatics seated behind trees 500 metres away.
However, there’s always a good way of doing a private gig and and a lousy one, and we thought it might be useful if we gave some indications of our requirements and reccommendations. The Majorca gig was terrible, but the Devon folly was good fun even though it was raining cats and dogs out there.
The main problem we encounter is that few people realise that there is much more to putting us on than people ever imagine – which I suppose is a compliment, because it makes us realise that we’ve made it look simpler than it is.
If you’re planning a party, please remember that although it’s important that your guests are comfortable, it’s also important that ALL of them can actually see us. If there are more than 60-70 people in the room, the sightlines become a problem because the minute the pianist sits down, he/she disappears from the view of people at the back. If the guests are seated at circular tables, you should ask them to turn and face the stage before we come on. This polite request allows them to turn their backs on their fellow guests and means we don’t have to sing to an audience 50% of whom are facing the other way.
We have other suggestions as well – large floral table decorations are incompatible with cabaret if the flower arrangements are so large that the people behind them can’t see us. You’re paying us to sing for you – so let’s make sure we can be seen.
Lighting and Sound Equipment
Lighting and sound equipment can usually be hired from the same firm. Professional lighting is almost always necessary, two large lamps on a bar x 2 will do the trick in a large drawing room or marquee, because it looks rather dismal without illumination. Basically, if the guests can’t see our lips move, they won’t hear the words. No, your bedside lamps are not suitable.
Every room has different accoustic requirements and a site visit will decide what these are. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to say that if there are more than 80 people in the room, we will need sound equipment plus someone competent to operate the sound. This is because once you get 3 people singing, you can’t just turn on the system and hope it works, you have to have someone to balance the voices and get a decent blend.
No, the chef is not a suitable sound op. (Yes, that actually happened at the Dorchester Hotel, and it was an embarrassing disaster.) We can recommend companies who do this job extremely well.
Marquees and hotel ballrooms
We will need a small stage or podium so that everyone gets a good view. We will either do a site visit or work from a ground plan to advise on the best place to put the stage. If we are sharing the space with a band, please put us in touch with them and make sure they are happy to share the stage. Don’t just assume that we can use their sound equipment or that they will be happy with a socking great piano in their way. They will be justifiably cheesed off and will shove our piano to the back of the stage. The piano will then go out of tune, which means it will be our turn to be justifiably cheesed off, tensions will rise and tempers will fray. Good communication before the event will iron out most problems.
We will work with an upright piano – but only if the stage is very confined because they can look a bit naff, especially those grim little cocktail pianos. Tall upright pianos, however, usually make for sightline difficulties, because they frequently hide the pianist from a quarter of the guests. We need a grand – a 5’ 6” grand is fine, a 5’ will do if that is genuinely all you can fit – but anything smaller won’t be good enough. The right electric piano is just about possible, but I’m sorry, your nephew’s keyboard will not do.
We have a very good relationship with a piano hire company, and are happy to advise.
Over the years, our experience has taught us that a 35-45 minute spot is quite long enough. After all, the audience has come for a party, not for a show. If we are performing at a formal sit-down dinner, the best moment is to go on once the coffee has been served. The audience is warmed up but not too rowdy.
We know that functions – whether corporate or private – are fluid affairs and we are happy to go with the flow, but only to a certain extent. Delays are inevitable, but if we’re contracted to go on after the pudding and you suddenly decide you’d like the guests to have an hour of dancing/a powerpoint presentation before the cabaret, all you’ll see of us is our tail lights going out the driveway. There will be a clause in our rider about how late we’re willing to wait. Please do take this seriously – we’re too old to do really late cabaret and drive home afterwards.
Not without first rate sound equipment! Sound disappears on the slightest puff of wind and we can’t be heard at a distance of further than three feet. And Adèle is a midge ’n’ mozzie magnet, so outdoors in summer is high risk. She’s a Dame of the Cabaret Empire, we won’t have her bitten.
We’re not divas. A large double bedroom with access to a bathroom is fine, and this we are happy to share with one another. But never again will we get ready in the ladies room, the utility room, the back stairs, the caravan out the back. Really. And we need security. We really hate it when our bags are nicked while we’re on stage.
After 37 years, it’s no surprise that we have a huge back catalogue of songs, and you may have favourites. However, we have learned over the years that there are songs that go well at parties and songs that really sink the mood or even embarrass people. Your favourite song might no longer be in our repertoire because it’s become dated, and as we are a satirical trio, it’s imperative that our material is completely up to date and topical. We rarely perform our melancholy numbers unless we feel that there’s a special reason to sing them, and we don’t do the Dogging song. A party crowd is a very different beast from a theatre crowd. Trust us – we do know what is best.
Specially commissioned songs
We have in the past written a few of these for special occasions (birthdays and retirement, usually), but we make a very hefty charge. That’s because it’s a huge amount of work involving a number of processes – researching the subject, writing the lyrics, setting them to music, arranging them for 3- part harmony and finally rehearsing and learning the song. A new song such as this will take a week to write, and the charge is set accordingly.
Sadly, Fascinating Aïda is not everyone’s cuppa, so just because you love our work, it doesn’t mean that your friends / clients / employees will like us. If you know you’ve got people coming to the show who enjoy our material, that helps. Mostly, our private gigs go very well but just occasionally, we come offstage with the knowledge that the crowd was not entirely rapturous. It might help to do a bit of digging first to see if people like the idea of seeing us at the annual works dance.
We like a simple meal and we prefer to eat alone so that we can talk through the set for the umpteenth time. If you would like us to linger afterwards and meet people, that will depend on how far we have to go to get to our beds, but we do enjoy socialising when we’ve earned it!
Just occasionally, we get to a party and the crowd is so drunk it’s pointless to go on. Unfortunately, we have learned the hard way that perseverance is pointless and soul-destroying, so we will cut the set short if the crowd are rowdy.
If you would like us to sing at your party, conference or works do, please contact our agent, Gavin Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s a lot nicer than we are and lovely to deal with. He will send you our very fierce contract rider – and if this doesn’t put you off, we can talk business. You can also contact Sally Homer, email@example.com, our PR & Marketing guru, who will point you in the right direction and possibly tell you a few scurrilous stories about us. They’re all made up just to make us sound interesting, we are beyond dull. In real life, Dillie and Liza discuss recipes endlessly and Adèle takes photographs of cornices.