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Tomás Ford: Electric Fringe cabaret… at midnight

By | Published on Tuesday 20 August 2013

Tomas Ford

Having built a following back in Australia, Tomás Ford arrived at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time last year with a Free Festival show that wowed many a Festival-goer, and assured him a nomination in the then brand new TO&ST Award for cabaret shows. This year he returns with the ‘Electric Midnight Cabaret’ in the Just The Tonic caves, a new show that has won similar acclaim including a 5/5 rating from our reviewer. We grabbed some quality time with Tomás to find out more.

CC: Let’s start at the start, when did you start performing cabaret?
TF: I’ve been performing around Australia since 2003, at shitty dive bars, music festivals and warehouses. I only really started to think of it as ‘cabaret’ when I started to play fringe festivals. In fact before last year’s Edinburgh I had a argument with a friend about whether I should list my show in the music or cabaret sections. Cabaret is so jazz-handsy where I’m from and I didn’t think of myself in that way. I feel really comfortable with it now; sure, there’s still the horrible cabaret I was familiar with, but there’s also a whole pile of brain-fryingly great acts.

CC: For the uninitiated, what does a Tomás Ford show consist of?
TF: I croon my original songs and covers over live electronic music and beat-synchronised videos, and throw myself into costumes while dealing with having a nervous breakdown on stage for an hour. I’m a sucker for intense connections with audiences and so a lot of what I do as a performer is about playing with the crowds’ perception of the show, how it’s going, how comfortable people feel, and how much they like me. The audience usually leave bonded together by the experience, while I pick up the fragments of my psyche from the stage floor.

CC: And for people who saw your show last year, how does ‘Electric Midnight Cabaret’ compare?
TF: Last year’s show was built with the small crypt room at the Jekyll & Hyde in mind; people couldn’t really see or hear a lot of what I was doing. This year, I knew I would have a cavernous underground theatre, so I spent six solid months redesigning, and re-arranging the music to draw more influence from house and dub-step sounds, producing new videos from scratch and working on becoming a better singer. I really let this show fall apart before I pull it back together, where last year I wasn’t quite confident enough to let it get this dark.

CC: Last year was your first Edinburgh Fringe, how did you find it? How did it compare to other festivals where you’ve performed?
TF: I had a dream first run last year; I came with no expectations and ended up with great crowds, an award nomination and all kinds of crazy stories. Other festivals are fun to do, but Edinburgh is high stakes; you’re up against the best in your genre and there’s all kinds of crazy career stuff that happens here. It can feel pretty make-or-break at times in ways that other festivals rarely do. Nowhere else in the world offers the kind of comprehensive nervous breakdown you can have here.

CC: How do Edinburgh audiences compare to those back home in Australia?
TF: In a lot of places in Australia, I’ve established a cult audience who know a lot of my schtick, so it’s about finding fresh ways to mess with their heads. With audiences like that, the show can get a bit darker because they feel safe with me. Here, most people are seeing me for the first time. I really have to take heed of where audiences are willing to go with me in this context, but I can pull out all my best tricks because nobody knows them.

CC: Last year you performed as part of the Free Festival, whereas this year you’re at Just The Tonic. How does it compare doing a paid-for show rather than a free one?
TF: I was nervous about making the transition to paid shows here, I’d heard all kinds of horror stories, but I think it was the right choice for me. The staff at Just The Tonic have really gone the extra mile for me and I feel like it’s all ticking along nicely. I could probably be playing to bigger audiences on the Free Fringe but they would be less invested in the show and I can’t build a career on doing free gigs every year.

CC: The cabaret strand of the Fringe has really grown in recent years – do cabaret acts around the world now aspire to perform here in the same way comedians do?
TF: I think it’s starting to get that way. That said, cabaret is an artform with no predictable career trajectory, so I’m not sure it has the same lure as it might is for comics who can hussle for TV and gigs. You’ve got to make your own luck with this stuff, but there’s a huge audience here for cabaret shows.

CC: Are there any other cabaret shows you particularly rate this year?
TF: It’s a great programme this year. I really love what Eccentronic, Dusty Limits, East End Cabaret, Lady Rizo, Ali McGregor, Creative Martyrs, Tricity Vogue and Lili La Scala are doing, and that’s just off the top of my head. My solid favourite so far this year, though, has been ‘Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra’ at Espionage; he’s completely out on his own wave-length, committed to his own brand of caba-crazy. You can see how that might appeal to me!

CC: Tell us about the albums, how do they compare to the live show?
TF: I’ve put out two albums and about a billion EPs on every format you can think of in Australia. The last album, ‘An Audience With Tomás Ford’, captured the highly strung energy of this group of songs I’m peddling, but it’s a different experience to the live show. I get a lot of feedback to the effect that the records are a chance for people to sit with the songs a bit – there’s a lot of work in the production and lyrics that sometimes is hard to take in during a high energy show.

CC: The ‘Audience With’ album was released last year, are you already working on a follow up?
TF: I’m actually working on lots of music videos at the moment; it seems like individual songs with really strong clips hit harder for my stuff than an album. I’ve got a drinking ballad called ‘Vice’ coming out next month with a video where two versions of me have a drinking contest with each other. I’m also working on four new sets of material, which are all for very different types of shows I’ll bring here; next years’ show is a real left turn for me, so I’m excited about that. But I’m constantly writing and producing, it’s the way I keep my brain from falling apart.

‘Tomás Ford: Electric Midnight Cabaret’ was performed at Just The Tonic at The Caves at Edinburgh Festival 2013.

LINKS: tomasford.com

Photo: Natalia Equihua