REVIEW: Xara Vaughan, Crazy Coqs ✭✭✭✭

Julian Eaves reviews Xara Vaughan sings Wanderlust – The Songs of Ty Jeffries at Crazy Coqs in Brasserie Zedel.

Xara Vaughan
Xara Vaughan. Photo: John Thornton

Xara Vaughan sings ‘Wanderlust’: the songs of Ty Jeffries
Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel
27th September 2018
4 Stars

Xara Vaughan is an extraordinary phenomenon on the London cabaret scene: she is London, with the sound of the city in her voice, and the surging and sparking of its energy in her lissom movements and sharp blond crop.  And she’s been through a whole lot of what the town has to offer, before – in her most recent incarnation – becoming a remarkable live-wire of a platform turn, dishing out unforgettable versions of songs old and new.  In the rep of the great Ty Jeffries (whose alter-ego, Miss Hope Springs, has been called by one critic – oh, that would be me – ‘the Rolls-Royce of drag acts’, and doyenne of the self-penned song), she has found a stack of new material that sounds as if it might possibly come from the Great American Songbook and yet speaks straight to the heart of today, with all its contradictions and confusions. She brings a host of regular fans with her, and keeps up a nifty repartee with them throughout the show.  It’s a party for friends, and we’re all friends here.  There may be a fair few rough edges on the patter, but nothing ever rings less than true.

Vaughan kicked off with the snappy title song and stamped on it her own, strongly articulated, persona: smart acting, precise sense of humour, and a full-bodied voice capable of ringing right the way through the room.  We also got the beginning of her personal narrative – a story beginning with how she was kicked out of school at the age of 13, a memory told with what quickly establishes itself as her trademark sassy disposition, fearlessly confronting the ups and downs of being constantly on the move, seeking inspiration in every more challenging circumstances.

‘Different Mountain to Climb’ could not have been better chosen to illustrate this journey.  In a huskier, darker mezzo register, with powerful chest notes, perfectly clear diction and – best of all – the sure-footed dipthongs that mark out a real singer, with the brilliant fingers of Ryan McKenzie at the grand piano accompanying her (gamely stepping in at the last minute to dep for her indisposed regular MD), this was another cracker.  With tales from Archway lacing the performance, she switches into a kind of London ‘Sprechgesang’ like a dash of salt and vinegar on a piping hot serving of the best chips in  town.  She owns her songs.  She handles the lighting.  Starting with ‘Shanghai Lily’, next were a medley of numbers from Ty’s work-in-progress of a musical based on the Hitchcock movie: ‘Shanghai Express’.  Awash with modal flourishes she embarks on another voice: dramatic, exclamatory, relishing the smart, elegant lyrics in her perfectly judged melodic phrasing.  She encompasses the chanson, ‘I found my love’, poignant and exquisite, balanced by the foot-stomping, strophic, cheeky pizzaz of ‘They were the best days of my life’.

Then, ‘Cookie’s song’ took us into safer, ‘family’ terrain, before we got another clever, handsomely crafted lyric in the lovely ‘Melt into you’, with its lyrics book-ended by a reminiscence of her days lap-dancing at Peter Stringfellow’s.  And how better to juxtapose that than with, ‘Home town girl’, a 60s’ish vignette of glitzy low-life and broken dreams, evoking powerful pathos.  That took us to the story of ‘Wanda’, which showed Xara working the room again, getting us clapping along in its tale of moral turpitude, and mixed that with her own rehab story, bringing us up to celebrating her 7th sober month in a row.  She’s glowing with it.

Segue into the stillness of ‘North Star’, a boldly spare and simple cry for simplicity and honesty, capped with a shining top note, and then we were winding up with a reprise of ‘A different mountain to climb’, which then took us to the surprise conclusion: the stunningly exposed and heart-felt ‘Cold’, full of passion and glamour in its yearning outpouring of feeling.

A class act.  The Rolls-Royce is in good hands, taking all the curves with aplomb, holding the road and going strong, even if it could do with another polish.  Watch out for more.  She’s now a regular at this address and is surely going a whole load of other places.

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