views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Jamie MacDowell and Tom Thum
Spiegeltent - London Wonderground, Southbank
27th July 2014


Tom Thum and Jamie Macdowell

Photography provided by Theatreland Promotions

Sometimes you don't need asking twice when it comes to press tickets to see a particular performer (thanks, Official Theatre). Having seen Tom Thum's rather excellent Beating the Habit a few years ago, I already knew he was a talented "mouth musician"; the Australian version of our Schlomo, if you like. This year, he's back at the London Wonderground's Spiegeltent together with fellow Aussie, Jamie MacDowell, a singer-songwriter.

The show starts with Thum supporting MacDowell on backing vocals as the guitarist strums away. Perfectly pleasant, but not what I came for. The Spiegeltent isn't geared up to anything tame, it's a place where anything can - and frequently does - happen. Thankfully, it doesn't take long before natural extrovert Thum shows off what he can really do - MacDowell may be able to play one instrument well, but Thum replicates the entire entire brass section of an orchestra armed with only his voice and some kaoss pads.

If you haven't heard of mouth music before, think Michael Winslow as Larvell Jones in Police Academy. Thum can imitate any sound you've ever heard of, or even imagined, from a pair of cowboy boots strutting through a saloon to a - well, cactus. If you're going to challenge him, always best to pick something which makes a noise...

With a set list of roughly a dozen songs, MacDowell's writing covers everything from marching bands to unrequited love. Of particular note is his ballad Dear Nicolette, penned for a dear friend and packed full of genuine sentiment. MacDowell is clearly talented, with his music a soulful blend of jazz, hip hop and traditional pop. However, on the night we saw him live, his vocal cords were worn out and he just couldn't hit his usual range, his voice breaking repeatedly on the more challenging notes.

Given MacDowell's acoustic style of music, he almost gets away with this. Considering his throat was knackered, it was an admirable performance. It's easy to tell when someone simply doesn't have the ability and when they just need time to recover. Truthfully, whilst I enjoyed the show in its entirety, I'm a little bit jealous of the Edinburgh crowd who will be getting a fully rested MacDowell and in all likelihood, some very smooth vocals.

At times, the show felt a bit disheveled and disorganised. However, the boys - together with guest singer Billy Boothroyd - were having so much fun that you couldn't help but also have a good time regardless. They're all very easy to like and have an infectious energy that just draws you into their act, singing along, dancing and laughing at every joke, whether planned or not. A short blast of Phil Collins, prompted by a heckle, was executed perfectly by the trio and had us all in stitches.

From a technical point of view, this isn't the best show that MacDowell and Thum have ever pulled off and this did make me hesitate about giving them that last star. However, their combined stage presence, gift for improvisation and witty humour make for a superbly entertaining 70 minutes and on that basis, I can't help but highly recommend it. Musicians like these two are always worth seeing - even on an off-day.

Jamie Macdowell and Tom Thum ran on June 20th, July 22nd and July 27th at the Spiegeltent. The show transfers to Cowgate from 31st July to 12th August and to the Underbelly from 19th to 25th August 2014, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, before returning to the Spiegeltent on 2nd September 2014.

Nearest tube station: Waterloo (Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee)

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