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TRCH David Suchet

Interview: The Lambhorse Cabaret

29 October 11 interview: James Walker
photos: Ralph Barklam

The Lambhorse Cabaret: 21st century vaudeville for the theatrical underclass, a party like it’s 1889, or a gloriously elaborate arse-about through the city’s biggest dressing-up box? Time to ask founder and Ringmaster Mark Evans who he and his confederates think they are…

So what is a Lambhorse?
It’s a toy that my dad bought for me the day I was born. It’s a horrible, horrible 1960s caricature of a carousel horse. But the head has a really nice quiff and ears and a big red saddle. Lambhorse has been everywhere with me. If the house was burning down, that would be the thing I would run in and save.

Where did the idea of Lambhorse Cabaret come from?
I’ve always had a theatrical vein; an attitude that, when you step on the stage, you’re there to entertain and be larger than life.  The idea for a theatrical-type band had been rattling round my head for a good few of those years. The sound and vision was of two old men sitting on a verandah in New Orleans playing rubbish instruments, but somehow sounding like the grooviest thing ever. Mix that with the image of a medicine man in the old West selling his elixir of life from a canvas covered wagon. Throw a little voodoo in the mix, a bit of laudanum and a touch of fetishism and you’re nearly there.  The turning point was hooking up with Laura Owen - founder of Company Contrary - and her twin sister Meg. What their company was doing reminded me of Marie-Antoinette gone wrong.  From this connection came Contrary Gimp Productions. I’d been saving Lambhorse for years and now seemed the time the reveal him to the world…

What was your first cabaret like?
I had in my head the idea of this dancing bear that couldn’t dance, I knew that he would have violins in his head driving him mad from all the days he’d been chained up. The bear’s head got stolen two days before the show - but we found a cockerel’s head and he became the Bear-Cock. This then changed the show and played into this idea of voodoo powder which could turn him into an up-to-date dancing bear, and he ended up breakdancing on the stage.

How much preparation does it take to put on an event?
Usually about twelve weeks. Every show has photoshoots, films, posters and flyers designed and the acts need to rehearse.  A lot of it is scripted but about a third is improvised; a theme is decided and then it goes from there. I must admit all the best ideas come when we are all together. It’s a very all-hands-on-deck sort of operation. We just want people to have fun and enjoy a proper live performance. Take Aly, the Lambhorse Poet Laureate; when she performs, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if it’s going to be romantic or funny. Her last poem was about a butcher skinning rabbits and cutting out their hearts. She’s a nasty piece of work - that’s why we love her.

There’s a resurgence of transient live events at the moment, with every show different. Do you feel part of this movement?
Truth be told, I don’t feel part of any movement, I’m just getting on with my thing and feel very lucky to have hooked up with so many people that want to work towards putting on each Lambhorse performance. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that people give so much of their time to make each show work. Each show so far has had a different theme, which has been influenced by who is involved.

Do you have a background in history?
No, but I enjoy learning about the past. When I studied at the Royal Northern College of Music, I was taught to respect the past and learn from it to move my artform forward. If anything, I’m enjoying using as little of modern technology as possible on each show.

Would you take the cabaret elsewhere, like Hatch does?
Definitely. We are at this moment talking to a few venues outside Nottingham and are going to try out the first show, Birth of the Dancing Bear.  I’ve just come back from a stint performing at the Edinburgh Festival in a three-man show called TEN by Hetain Patel which also had local legend Stickman Higgins in it. I made some good contacts, so you might see us heading up there next year…

You seem to be as much of a clotheshorse as a Lambhorse...
I work in an industry that’s based on visuals, the Lambhorse Cabaret allows me to take it to the extreme. It’s like being back in the mid seventies punk-era when me and my mates all wore mad clothes and had daft hair. Between that and the influence of three older sisters what chance did I have? In another period of history I’d have been some sort of Fop or Dandy. The biggest percentage of my personal clothing is all second hand; they call it vintage but to me it’s just second hand.

You’re investing a lot of money into the look of the event. What do you do with any profit from the shows?
I wouldn’t call it profit!  Any money made will go towards renting a space in Carlton Hill, and then anyone who’s been involved in the show can use it.  As a group we’ve put a lot of our own funds in to it but the future is looking good as we are starting to get a lot of enquiries about the show so we may be able share around the Green Shield stamps.

So this is what the Big Society looks like. People in make-up helping each other out…
For me, what’s important is getting rid of the competition element of being creative and working together, helping each other. In the past I’ve worked with producers, band members and fellow creatives who’ve taken all the credit off the back of the people they have worked with. That selfish type of attitude really turns me off and I actively seek out people with no egos or hidden agendas.

What’s your personal highlight of the Lambhorse Cabaret?
That’s a hard one - so many people have done so many great things for us, from the acts to the backstage work to the audience making it worthwhile. I was blown away and humbled by the look of the venue for the last show after Laura and her team were let loose on it.  One thing that did make me laugh out loud was Meg lying across the entrance as Diana after the car crash with a big tyre mark up her back. People had to step over her to get into the venue. I also love the way the audience get into the spirit of it all by dressing up and the odd impromptu strip – we’ve been accused of using plants in the audience, it can get that wild sometimes. The more it feels like a 1920’s German bierkeller, the happier I am.

You’ll be performing at our Treason event at Tempreh on November 4, of course…
I’ve been very selective in the things we get involved with, but this is what I’m into. The attitude of LeftLion. A bit of anarchy. Winding up the establishment. It’s going to be a very small taste of the shows: could be the kazoo band or the dancing bear or just some short sketches involving exploding turnips…

What if anyone reading this would like to join you?
Get in touch. We don’t bite – well, not on first meetings. We are always looking and open to working with new people from all creative backgrounds. Find us on Facebook, say hello.

And why does Lambhorse work so well?
Self-belief, a bit of luck and integrity. If you don’t have your integrity you have nothing. Full stop. You get hired when you keep your integrity.

Lambhorse Cabaret will be part of the Gunpowder, Treason and Pot event at Nottingham Contemporary on 4 November, in conjunction with LeftLion and Dealmaker Records. Free entry

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