Gordon Sapsed Review on Songbirds

It is more than 10 years now since members of this group assembled for a ‘Songbirds Convergence’ , but reading Gary Williams’ book made me think that the experience must have been very similar to attending one of those events, although differently organised. Imagine a gathering of people interested, and involved in, cabaret - singers, musicians, writers, composers, lyricists, agents, voice coaches and many others - all sharing ideas and comparing opinions. Gary Williams’ role in compiling this book is, in some respects, a misnomer, as he could be more accurately attributed as the ‘editor’. He has, however, been listening to and making notes from a large number of people - 57 of them are acknowledged in the Appendix - and their thoughts and experience comprise perhaps 15-20 % of the content.

Mostly these contributions are single paragraph or half-page ‘quotes’, but in some cases are longer. One section has 7 pages excerpted, with the author’s cooperation, from a book on voice care and preparation. However Gary remains, essentially, the ‘moderator’ leading the discussion.

Gary has, in a very readable, chatty style, brought views of his own together with those from the likes of Steve Ross or Michael Feinstein or Sue Raney as well as 50 other perhaps lesser known souls such as Phil Barley, founder of Theatre Digs Booker or Tom Derycke, lighting technician.

Organised as 16 ‘Secrets’ (some might say Chapters), the book explores every aspect of being a cabaret performer under headings such as ‘How to Chat to an Audience (and not sound like a fake) or ‘How to Get an Agent’. He also allows himself indulgences like ‘Simon Cowell Is Not Your Friend’ ( a personal gripe arising from Cowell’s ongoing denigration of cruise liner cabaret).

I found the book quite hard to put down, despite never having had the slightest wish to perform in cabaret. I do, however, attend large numbers of concerts and performances every year and have done so for about half a century - mostly only seeing ‘the end result’ .

Gary’s analysis, at the end of the book, of accessible performances by Matt Monro, Michael Buble, Celine Dion and Amy Winehouse especially interested me, if only to agree, or disagree, with what he saw as the strengths and weaknesses of what they were doing. The 200 or so pages prior to that had raised so many issues that might have seemed irrelevant to the ‘end result’, but could be understood as contributing.

In Summary, this is not just a book for aspiring performers and is not simply Gary Williams’ opinions, but a comprehensive set of advice and comments which will appeal to anyone interested in ‘Cabaret’ performance - and many other kinds of ‘standing up in front of a group’.

Nicely produced and designed, as a high quality paperback at around $20 - or half that on your e-reader - it is likely to interest many Songbirds members. Available internationally on Amazon.

Gordon Sapsed