Call to Arms

Another visit to the Cavendish Arms, another cracking night out in Sunny Stockwell. For an area where the phrase ‘night time economy’ used to be a euphemism for pulling a p****d Aussie bird in the truly squalid environs of The Swan, SW8 has finally got a pub to be proud of.

The Cavendish Arms looms dangerously close to the Battersea boundary, a location that no one really wants to be in. But host and hostess Dave and Shirley, have somehow managed to shake off the previous pints of lager top and double top on the darts board image.

The Cavendish is now proudly reborn, boasting a ballroom decadence, and a reputation that is slowly starting to help rediscover the long lost artistic community that once resided within Sunny Stockwell.

The monthly Thursday night cabaret sessions are quick becoming essential evening entertainment around these parts. Word of mouth has attracted an array of performers. No door charge helps; the only proviso is that performers bring along some booze-drinking buddies.

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There was a party feel at the Cavendish this month. Two years since the backroom to ballroom transformation, and the fine landlady’s birthday to boot. Cheers – I’ll raise a glass or five to that.

The running order for the evening was something of a Cavendish Arm’s Greatest Hits. The finest musicians, comedians, and strippers burlesque artists that have been discovered on the ballroom stage over the past two years, were all invited along to do their turn.

The comedy slots were extended from the Virgin Night five-minute slot to something more substantial. This allowed the acts more time to develop their routines, as well as showing how their craft and interaction has been allowed the space to develop on the Cavendish stage.

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But the find of the evening was Josie Lloyd, an incredibly confident, yet somewhat understated young lady, whose craft involves making hypnotic melodies out of an African kora. I can’t see Josie being play listed on Capital FM sometime soon, but the combination of intricate harp chord changes, and a voice that sounds in constant pain, is daytime radio’s loss.

This was a tough gig for Josie, along with her guitar and percussion backing musicians. The Cavendish crowd had been pumped up with some adult rated comedy, not to mention the stripper’s burlesque artists.

And then along comes a musician whose act will only work well within a silent environment. Watching the first few notes being plucked out of her kora, the ballroom floor stopped in its tracks, as her vocal range somehow matched that of her amazing instrument.

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There’s a general rule of thumb that you should never cover a Beatles track. Hell, even Paul McCartney should never attempt a Beatles cover. But the reinterpretation, and pure pain of For No One drew a tear. Simply delightful.

But anyway, back to the stripper’s burlesque artists. I just don’t get the genre. It’s strippers for Guardian readers, all kitsch tease without any sense of danger, let alone eroticism. It gave me the urge to return home and download some gonzo porn to help release all that mild titillation.

I personally blame Time Out, which has championed the scene over the past eighteen months. Ah, so there’s another reason why I feel justified in having recently cancelled my weekly subscription.

In the absence of any homoerotic arousement, I was intrigued by what type of cabaret act the two overtly camp queens lurking by the side of the stage would entertain us with later in the evening. The first fella had a magnificent mohican, so proud in length, that it required the chap to perform a limbo dance just to manoeuvre beneath the ballroom door.

Queen #2 was kitted out as a biker bondage boy, who wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Frankie video. Much disappointment then to find that their ‘act’ was simply to lurk by the stage, and not a lot else. All that effort. But then I guess the act of just looking the part is what it’s all about.

Almost three hours later, and the party came to a close. Once again, my only mild criticism of the Cavendish is the lack of bar area in the ballroom. I would happily have doubled my booze intake for the evening, if it didn’t involve disturbing the stripper’s burlesque artists as they wobbled their mammary glands across half of SW8.

A finale from a Tori Amos style pianist with a sense of humour was another highlight. I can’t think that there’s much competition in writing a song that starts off as a social comment on the role of social media in shaping the musical landscape, and then concludes with the observation that crack whores in Detroit might just like music as well; but not as much as they like crack.

You see that’s the Sunny Stockwell spirit that seems to be once again finding its feet, all centred around the Cavendish Arms. There’s a real sense of community down there, with friends of friends of friends all being introduced, and then sharing and refining their artistic talents together.

That’s how *shhhhh* scenes are built up. There’s a very definite sense of a burgeoning Sunny Stockwell scene springing up right now, with the Cavendish Arms as its epicentre.

With the Canton Arms and the Royal Albert both shutting their doors in recent months, it is something of a rallying call to see the Cavendish Arms not only surviving in these uncertain times, but also thriving. You’ve got to offer something more than just booze, even if that does involve strippers burlesque artists.

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