Portsmouth’s premier exponent of the art of dark cabaret is bringing his new show back to his home town.
Joe, who now resides in Brighton, is riding high after the show’s successful debut run at the recent Brighton Fringe where he was performing in festival’s biggest venue – The Speigeltent.
‘Conveniently, the venue was a five minute walk,’ says Joe. ‘It was nice to have the ability to walk to a show, I’m normally on a train for a whole day. This time the audience had to travel further than me!
‘I now have the number two record for most people squeezed in there for a sit-down show.
‘It was my third year doing the fringe, with a brand new show and no-one knew what was going to happen – including me. I was so, so happy with it.’
The show, Decopunk, is described in its blurb as: ‘One part art deco-inspired punk cabaret, two parts drag musical mayhem, best enjoyed after dark. Let’s party like its 1929!’
After a couple of high-concept shows (Meet Me at The Eldorado and A Touch of Evil) Joe wanted to go back to his roots with this one.
‘It just came together really quickly.
‘There’s not a deep underlying narrative or story arc to this one. We wanted to emulate that vibe of going to a rowdy rock show, but to get that vibe into a cabaret thing. It’s very chaotic, I say it’s all over the place, it’s doing a lot of things that look like it’s out of control, but it’s actually been rehearsed to death.
‘At that venue we got a grand piano they let me sit on top of and roll around, and they built a runway so I could perform in the middle of the room
‘(Wedgewood Rooms manager) Geoff’s very accommodating, but I’m not sure he’d build me a runway into the middle of the Wedge – maybe if I gave him enough notice... And I think we’re going to have to stick with a keyboard for this one too.’
So was this a conscious effort to go back to basics?
‘Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do – I love the narrative ones, but I wanted to get a bit, I don’t want to say “in touch”, that sounds a bit... but back to the kind of things I was doing when I started and to revisit that sort of dark cabaret/live music thing. To come back to it 12 years later as a more fully-fledged human performer with a lot more experience under my belt.
‘We’re doing one of the first songs I ever learnt on piano, which I haven’t done in a long time, so it’s been cool to revisit those, and also doing some of my own songs, which is nice. I mostly cover other people’s songs and forget that I’ve written songs myself.’
This year also sees a decade of House of Burleque, the regular shows Joe curates for The Kings Theatre in Southsea. The next one is on September 14, but Joe says they won’t be doing anything in particular to mark it.
‘I’ve just booked a bunch of people I think are brilliant. It’s nice to be able to bring people to Portsmouth that otherwise wouldn’t get the chance. We’ve had some really cool people who’ve gone on to become huge – we had The Boy With Tape On His Face who’s now an international, Vegas-sellout, sensation, the same with Piff The Magic Dragon who now works with Penn and Teller. I just keep booking people who end up on America’s Got Talent and doing very well!’
And it’s not just here in the UK he’s been keeping busy. He was one of the stars in the show Jingle All The Gay, which ran throughout December in Seattle in the US.
‘It was great. It was essentially a panto, but not a panto, because Americans don’t have that culture, so it was like a Christmas musical, dance, drag, play, cabaret thing.’
And although he was the only Brit in the cast, he still couldn’t escape his roots while several thousand miles from home.
‘On Christmas day I went to my friend Ben’s house party, and I heard this guy talking. I thought: “That accent sounds really familiar,” there was something about the way he was speaking…
‘So I said hello, and straight away he went: “You’re from Portsmouth too!”
‘So I went to Seattle, and ended up meeting someone at a house party from Portsmouth who had moved to LA 15 years ago. We just sat and reminisced about Portsmouth – of all the places to bump into people who remember the Tricorn.’
It seems you can take the boy out of Portsmouth…
JOE BLACK: DECOPUNK
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Sunday, June 30