Roaring Accordion
Strangely @ Royal Croquet Club – Shanty Town
6:00pm, Sun 16 Feb 2014
For some reason, I’d always kinda assumed that the Royal Croquet Club had been established in Victoria Square with the urging of FringeCo: it just seemed like a (transparent) attempt at trying to break the shackles of the Garden’s hegemony over the implicit branding of the Fringe. Whether or not that was the actual case (and, let’s face it, I’m neither a journalist nor inclined to investigate such matters for myself) I was still keen to see what this new super-venue was like.
And first impressions were… well, odd. Wandering into the Club via its sole entrance (a weird planning decision – surely a northern entrance would’ve been more convenient for everyone?) on a sleepy Sunday afternoon revealed a collection of middle-aged couples and groups, all eating and drinking and having a very Garden-y experience. And I immediately thought that this venue was like the Garden for grown-ups, and painted this drunken idyllic picture of boozy non-show-attendees “graduating” from the Garden once they’d married and procreated, settling into the Croquet Club for the next stage of their “Fringe” life experience.
As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong… but I didn’t discover that until later in the Fringe.
Still, it didn’t take long to identify two tented venues – the Panama Club and Ukiyo – and wonder about their potential for noise bleed; my destination for Roaring Accordion, however, was nowhere to be found… no signage was visible anywhere. I asked a bored security guard; he had no idea either.
Eventually, a nearby bar opened and indicated where the venue was located, and I was surprised to find that it was outside. Noise bleed was a certainty (with a band starting up on the Croquet Club’s main stage), but I was more alarmed by the fact that there was no real audience for the performance. In fact, when I entered the “venue”, there was only a couple sitting in the back row of a bank of (maybe) a hundred seats. I plonked myself in the front row, close to the small stage backed by a wall of old radios, and attempted to cajole the couple forward. She was reluctant: “No,” She flatly stated when He took an interest in my suggestion to populate the front row, “I’ll get picked on. I’ll get embarrassed.”
I gestured to the sea of empty seats. “Who are you going to be embarrassed in front of?” I attempted to reason. “You don’t know me, and your bloke doesn’t care.”
He laughed, She cracked a smile, and they joined me.
Strangely – immediately identifiable by his insane beard – appeared in his oddball band uniform and sporting a small accordion; he gruffly (though with gusto) pushed through a couple of drinking songs, trying to size up his audience of three. Initially ringing his collection of foot-bells in place of obvious swear words, it took a little while for him to warm up… but the arrival of another couple soon after the start of the show helped the mood of the stage considerably.
Most of Roaring Accordion was about the songs (with accordion and foot-bell accompaniment, though one of the foot-bells broke during the show), and Strangely would try to involve us in chorus singalongs as much as possible; but he would also occasionally thrown in some other talents as well: some straightforward juggling, balancing on the crossed arms of the other two guys in the audience, and an impressive balancing act involving a huge umbrella on his chin. On a windy day.
In between songs (which all seemed to be drinking-related shanties), Strangely would amiably chat to us about his life and travels; he came across as a genuinely likeable guy, with a quiet demeanour that I’d have thought would be utterly unsuited to his chosen profession: a gentle soul whose skin didn’t seem thick enough for the potential abuse of a Fringe (non-)crowd. And, given his recognisable presentation, I’d always try to have a friendly chat with him whenever I saw him around later in the season; the show picked up its audiences as it went along, he told me, and – during one late-night chat – he mentioned that this performance was the one that gave him the confidence in the rest of the season.
Which was really awesome to hear.
And whilst I kinda wished that I’d seen this show at a later timeslot, as part of a sozzled night-time crowd (because his raucous drinking songs would’ve then gone down a treat), that’s not how things work: I saw Strangely in a tiny group, sober, in daylight… and I still walked away with a bundle of respect and buckets of best wishes for the man.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 16, 2014