Barb Jungr returned to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival for the Australian premiere of her new show Stockport to Memphis at the Dunstan Playhouse. Audiences who saw her at the 2006 Adelaide Cabaret Festival will recall a unique interpreter of popular song. For the 2013 season she raised the bar and was accompanied by musical director Simon Wallace, a virtuoso pianist. Stockport to Memphis was released by Niam in March and Barb Jungr has since performed songs from the disc — mix of reinterpreted popular songs, with her own compositions that have a strong autobiographical element, in Britain and elsewhere en route to Adelaide.
The 2013 Cabaret Festival audience was gifted a dozen songs, beginning with Leonard Cohen’s sombre ‘Everybody Knows’. A string of jokes about her personal life were supported by intensely autobiographical compositions, ‘Sunsets to Break your Heart’ for all who have seen their marriages failing before their eyes, and ‘Till my Broken Heart Begins to Mend’. Reinterpretations of favourites followed: Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ and Hank Williams ‘Lost on the River’. These gospel-like tunes led to Barb Jungr’s ‘She’s Not There’; and The Zombies rock number ‘He’s Not There’. The audience heard that the Stockport mod boys of her youth were not like clean, sweet smelling contemporary boys, but instead rather feral with bad complexions due to excessive ‘amphetamine use’. Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’ was then delivered with the addition of her dazzling harmonica playing. Jungr’s intelligence shone through; and while she had a song plan she declared tongue-in=cheek that ‘one shifted course to suit’.
Born in the north west of England to European post-war immigrants, Jungr attended Stockport Convent for Girls. Her precise diction and clear intonation were reminiscent of that other celebrated queen of cabaret, Mabel Mercer, who was also north-west of England raised and attended Manchester Convent for Girls. Mercer was a popular song stylist but unlike Jungr did not write her own compositions. We must be grateful that Stockport to Memphis permits us to hear Jungr’s special talents.
‘New Life’, a composition by Jungr then allowed Simon Wallace to play a wonderful if brief solo. The autobiographical theme of an immigrant’s life and Barb’s own new life in London as a young girl after Stockport was followed by Tom Waits’ ‘Way Down in the Hole’. The performer referred to her convent days as overshadowed by religion and suggested that when leaving the theatre to ‘let the devil tail you home to where you can bury him deep, way down low in the hole’… Jungr then sang her own ‘Last Orders: Mersey Square’, which was another personal story.
The evening quickly climaxed with a Bob Dylan favourite ‘Lay Lady Lay’, a Mike Scott ballad ‘Fisherman Blues’ and ‘Stockport to Memphis’ which has a Mo-Town flavour. The Dunstan audience enthusiastically claimed an encore in the form of Jungr’s favourite artist, Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, a song for all times. Throughout Jungr demonstrated warmth, humour, skill with harmonica, superlative microphone technique, impeccable timing and wonderful stage presence — strutting, stepping and stamping her way into the hearts of her fans. This is a performer at the peak of her career who has been acknowledged worldwide; Time Out New York awarded her CD ‘The Men I Love the Best’ Cabaret CD of the Year in 2010… Jungr remains an Adelaide Cabaret Festival favourite!
By Maggie Tate
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