Moscow Drug Club – December 2023

Progress Theatre, Reading Friday 22 December 2023

Katya Gorrie vocals, Jonny Bruce trumpet, Mirek Salmon accordion, Andy Bowen guitar, Andy Crowdy bass

What better way to herald the coming of Christmas than to suspend belief for a couple of hours in the company of Katya Gorrie and her band of troubadours and accept an invitation to join them in the subterranean depths of the Moscow Drug Club, a place where members can ‘have a smoke’, cock-a-snoop at authority, relax in the musical intimacy of its intoxicating atmosphere ‘where the Reds play the blues’.

Dark and jam-packed, the air is charged with the irresistible force of anticipation. Whose shoulders might we rub against? What colourful tales might they have to tell.

The extravagantly dressed ‘Jezebel’ jostles everyone aside with a startling entrance to a trumpet fanfare and a flurry of flamenco guitar. I overheard someone whisper, ‘She’s no better than she ought to be’ as we listen, mouths agog, to her confession of betrayal, deception and deceit. The front of it all.

Heads turn to Eartha Kitt – adorned with a ‘Mink Shrink’ – as she freely offers guidance on how to use feline guile to acquire the trappings of material success.  ‘And if ever you should be faced with a choice between love and a Jaguar’, she brazenly declares;’ always take the Jaguar.’

As Eartha slinks away into the shadows ‘The Gypsy With the Fire in His Shoes’ grabs our attention with a dramatic pose in the centre of the floor. Urged on by the rhythmic pulse of the band and the enthusiastic clapping of the thronging crowd, he dances as if his life depends on it. Wow!

But the clamour and excitement are short-lived. The unnerving presence of ‘The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans’ makes itself felt as she prepares to perform her dark arts in the deepest recesses of the cavernous basement. Not far away the disconsolate figure of Tom Waits sits at the bar, deep in conversation with a yawning bar tender, as he shares the tragic series of mishaps that befell ‘A Jockey Full of Bourbon’.

In not a moment too soon, Queenie, the Cutie of Burlesque arrives to dispel the gloom with a teasing ‘Strip Polka’. ‘”Take it off, ” “Take it off” the customers shout. But Queenie, ‘always the lady’ and with her heart firmly set on one day retiring to a farm, STOPS … as ‘always just in time!

Will Queenie fulfil her dreams, Jacques Brel wonders as he reflects on his own memories of ‘The Port of Amsterdam’, or will it all end in disillusion and bitterness? Before we can ponder the question too deeply ‘Two Guitars’ explode with joy and  restore life to the party in time to welcome the arrival of the sensational Little Miss Sunshine with her jivey solution to all problems, ‘When I Get Low, I Get High’.

Oh no., here comes trouble in the insinuating form of ‘The Serpent’. Whenever it makes an appearance  something nasty is bound to follow. Sure enough, the grim-faced musicians announce that ‘Ol Man Mose is dead; ‘he’s kicked the bucket’. Blazing trumpet notes soar to the heavens to give this much loved little old man with a crooked nose, the best send off  anyone could wish for.

Amid the outpourings of grief and emotion three figures stand arm in arm to reflect on the strange vicissitudes of life. Jacques Brel flicks through a ‘stupid ass way’ bundle of images and memories – “My adventures, or should I say, misadventures  as ‘Jackie’,” he declares with a wry smile.

“Why dream about yesterday?” asks Miss Peggy Lee. “Why dream  about today. Think about ‘Man᷉ana (Tomorrow)’, ‘Man᷉ana is good enough for me”.

‘Just Dance Me to the End of Love’, sighs Leonard Cohen.

The resident band, as fine a group of musicians as can be found anywhere on the planet, strike up the chords of ‘Christmas Time in New Orleans’ to close the Moscow Drug Club for the night and to send home its members in true festive spirit.

But it’s the captivating whisper of another tune that lingers in the air as they make their way through the bar and into the street – ‘Misirlou’ – an anthem for unconditional and universal love.

Watch out for the next opening of the Moscow Drug Club!

Happy New Year!!!

Review posted here by kind permission of Trevor Bannister
Photo by Steve Foster @jazzshots (Instagram & FB)