Ali Affleck and The Gin Mill Genies put on a delightfully Fringe-esq musical experience in the bowels of a church below a railway bridge and cover the blues of the Prohibition Era.
What’s a Fringe-esq experience? Well, theSpace at Venue 45 will make you tea and coffee for £1, not £3, £4, £5 or more, but only take cash. I don’t know what the squeaking from the rafters was at the performance, but it sounded like an army of bats fighting an army of mice. It settled soon, or I was so overtaken by Ali’s singing that I no longer noticed.
I claim zero knowledge of the music of America’s dabble with Prohibition but still enjoyed the act. It’s not just singing because there are dancers in 1933 too, and I think they add a lot to the performance. While dressed in 40s style, the couples gracefully roamed the dance floor to provide physical focus and show how the music was intended to be enjoyed.
I particularly liked noticing cheeky smiles back and forth from the dancers, perhaps when one made something unexpected or a move went well (and how do they remember them all!) as it added a lovely human touch.
The Blues Queens
I got precisely zero references to famous singers. The act is framed as if Prohibition had just ended, and we’re remembering together what happened, how we’ve had to sneak around, risking/enjoying bathtub gin and discussing the last 13 years. So, introducing the segment “You’ll remember…” was weird for me. No one in the audience could remember, but maybe some had heard of the singers.
Did it matter? I still liked all the songs, and the fact that these Blues Queens aren’t as famous as they should be is a fair point and one of the reasons I picked the gig. I wanted to find out about Bessie Smith.
The show is rated 18+, which seems conservative, and I don’t recall even any foul language.
However, if you want to dabble into the lyrics, there’s some sauce. I presume these songs got no radio coverage until much later and were all underground hits.
For example, there’s a song about a man trying to put his key into his ex-girlfriend’s keyhole or to be denied, and it’s not really about doors.
There’s another song about a woman who dresses up in trousers, shirts and ties, goes out with her female friends, and doesn’t like men.
With the lyric writers giving up on the pretence of hiding in plain sight, there’s even a song about buying the police off so the party can continue safely. Perhaps that’s why none of the earlier songs triggered a speakeasy Probihibition era raid? The police had been bought.
Some fantastic live music, from a slower but just as human era and culture. 1933 – Prohibition Ends! Long Live Bessie Smith and the Blues Queens is recommended, but I think people curious or already into the period will appreciate it much more.
If you’re looking for fast songs or dancing, you’re a few years too early, and this isn’t the right gig for you.
Not only did I learn about singers and songwriters, but I was also inspired to find out that the ‘trumpet hat noise wobbler’ is known as a ‘trumpet mute’.
1933 – Prohibition Ends! Long Live Bessie Smith and the Blues Queens