“The only thing we will ask of you at our concerts is that you listen. Really listen. And in return, we will create something extraordinary.”
As big and bold statements go, that is pretty big and pretty bold. It comes from The Manchester Collective, who I would assume are a bunch of musicians that are based in Manchester. Their blurb definitely suggests so. No ordinary musicians either, a new generation of international instrumentalists no less. The bar therefore has been set at a ridiculously Sergey Bubka pole vaulting level. So much so that as I make my way to Home to watch the Collective perform Cabaret: A Show About the End of Love as part of the ongoing Push 2018 Festival, that the appetite has well and truly been whetted.
Cabaret, the show about the end of love and all that, is Manchester Collective trying to be more than a bunch of musicians playing some fancy instrumentals. It’s their first project to feature a spoken narrative to their pieces. It is written by vocalist Nishla Smith alongside Adam Szabo, who is Manchester Collective’s Artistic Director and the evening’s cellist. It’s an eclectic musical exploration of the subject matter juxtaposed against a set of real stories, letters and poems. And it is most definitely eclectic. Classical music played alongside the likes of Nina Simone, Elbow and Judy Garland to name but a few.
The venue is rather intimate. As I take my seat I can almost put my feet up on the empty chairs for the string quartet and the pianist. Strewn on the stage floor are fragments of book pages, postcards and pictures. I look intently at them wondering if there is meaning to these randomly placed objects. There’s a picture of a pigeon which is named Simon. And even more interestingly a picture of Dirk Bogarde.
The string quartet are Sammy Singh and Elaine Ambridge on violins, Alex Mitchell on Viola, Szabo on cello, whilst Richard Jones adds a touch of frisson on the old piano. Singing the tunes and reading the prose is Nishla Smith, who is classically trained and is definitely a bona fide jazz singer and a half.
Nishla’s voice is velvety smooth as most jazz singers tend to be. It more than lends itself to the grand aim of understanding what it means to see the dying embers of what we all understand love to be. The poems and the spoken features tend to be reflective and Smith’s refined, whimsical tones are suited to this. It’s easy to get lost in Nishla’s voice, as she nonchalantly regresses into the jazz standards of ‘Don’t Smoke in Bed’ or gives her take on the show tune classic – ‘You’re The Top’.
There are moments that punctuate this self reflection. The angry expletive reading, the vigorous instrumental where the string quartet are let off the leash a little, but for the most part it’s depressingly downbeat. (So much so that Nishla and The Manchester Collective decide that they couldn’t send our way home without lifting our moods a little with a more hopeful end to the evening’s proceedings with a rendition of Judy Garland’s ‘Make Someone Happy’)
The heart yearned for a little more than the contemplative exposition into what it means to have loved and to have lost. I wanted it to feel more than ponderous. I wanted the feeling you get when you listen to Gloria Gaynor defying love by shouting out that she will survive, or when you listen to Ian Curtis talk about how love was tearing us apart or Marvin Gaye soulfully singing of hearing the betrayal of love through the grapevines.
As much as I enjoyed the execution of this, wonderful musicianship and the dulcet delivery from Nishla, one can’t help feel constrained within this exploration. It felt just a little too analytical. Too much of an explanation into one emotion that sometimes cannot be explained.
Verdict: An intimate setting for The Manchester Collective and Nishla Smith to play some stunning music, sing some surprising songs and read some heartfelt snippets of what it means to to love no more. I just wish it wasn’t so downbeat about it all.