Festival of Voices: Ali McGregor at Voicebox

The below was written for and published by Aphra Magazine:

Talking about why Ali McGregor was so good is kind of like trying to explain why I like a certain piece of art.  I could talk about the depth the artist has created by their selection of materials, or I could talk about the use of colour to accentuate the emotion behind the piece.  I could talk to you about how the artwork makes me think about the impact we have on our environment or I could talk about how it represents the implications of technology in our society.

It would all be bullshit though.

These would be statements I would make trying to convince you that I knew what I was talking about, when in fact I do not.  I will tell you this though, if you did not see Ali McGregor perform this year at her second consecutive Festival of Voices, you missed out.  I cannot profess to tell you whether her show was technically proficient, or whether she hit every note that she intended.  I can tell you that Ali was one hundred percent, without doubt the absolute highlight of my Festival of Voices experience for 2014.

Ali took to the stage in a stunning sequined red dress, a bold colour for a bold performance.  Ali takes the time to introduce herself and tell us a little about herself.  She tells us straight up that tonight she will be singing both the highest and lowest note that she has ever sung. She also tells us about her early performance years, experiences studying at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, in particular her tutelage under Cleo Laine.

After her performance of Cleo’s Thieving Boy, McGregor comments on the sounds of the coffee maker that could be heard throughout the performance.  Whilst the bar staff were possibly mortified that it had been pointed this out, it allows the audience a glimpse of Ali’s entertaining personality.  “What the hell is wrong with you people, drinking coffee at this time of the night?  If you want to stay up, drink absinthe!”

It quickly becomes quite apparent that Ali is quite the character.  References to sexual discovery, drugs, alcohol and colourful language are free flowing; Ali not only gets away with it but she delivers it in such a way that we love her for it.  She introduces us to the term fach (yes, pronounced just like another four letter f word) which in the opera world is used to classify a singer based on their vocal capability.  Ali informs us that she took her fach to be more of her character archetype and wanted her fach to be naïve peasant-girl slut.

Ok gentlemen, here’s a tip for you.  If you have a buxom opera singer standing on a podium in the middle of the room and she holds out her hand after delivering an absolutely stunning performance, take her fucking hand.  Seriously, I wanted to get out of my seat, cross to the other side of the venue and after offering her my hand, escort her off the podium.  With my other, I’d deliver a swift back-hand to the ‘sir’ who was incapable of lifting himself out of his seat when summoned.

I want to make a point here before I continue.  I hate Robin Thicke.  I hate him and I hate Blurred Lines and I hate everything that song stands for and represents.  What I do not hate is that Ali McGregor took to stage and did everything she could to make this song, “less rapey”.  For the next three and a half minutes McGregor completely deconstructs Thicke’s grotesque chauvinistic lyrics delivering a Charleston inspired cover that celebrates a woman’s sexual freedom.

I’m basking in this performance, Ali is going from strength to strength.  I look around and I can see that every person in the room feels as lucky as I do to be witnessing this exhibit of pure entertainment.  As if tapped into this feeling, Ali then delivers a mash-up of Nina Simone and The Gorillaz.  Yes.  That’s right, Nina Simone and The Gorillaz.  We are all Feeling Good (Inc).

This is an amazing performance not only because Ali understands her audience, but because she truly understands cabaret.  She tells us that she got into cabaret because “you can be whoever you want and you can do whatever you want, you just have to make it your own”.

Make it her own she has.  Ali has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand.  We are enchanted.  “Cabaret is a place for glorious misfits”, she exclaims.  We are to be treated with her anthem for cabaret, not a traditional cabaret song by any means, but one that speaks to every person in the room – performer or purveyor, first timers or lifelong fans.  She brings the house down with Creep by Radiohead.

Ali has taken the wish to be special and made it reality.  If cabaret is for misfits, eccentrics and oddities and experiencing cabaret means getting to experience Ali McGregor, I’d take that label any day.

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