Life's A Cabaret

11 July 2012 | 6:15 am | Aleksia Barron

Indie rock singer Monique Brumby is changing tack with her Melbourne Cabaret Festival show Sheilas Of The ‘70s. She speaks to Aleksia Barron about loving the classics and Liza Minnelli.

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Sometimes even established entertainers want to try a different persona on for size. That's what happened to musician Monique Brumby and her fellow entertainers Kerri Simpson and Rebecca Barnard. All three women have built successful music careers in Australia, but when it came to finding a project they could work on as a trio, they couldn't resist the call of another, flare-infused era. “We all love music from [the '70s],” says Brumby, recalling how Sheilas Of The '70s came into being. “I've known the girls for about 15 years. We were talking about doing a show for something different – not our stuff, but something fun to do a collaboration on.”

Brumby, Simpson and Barnard pitched the project to the Darebin Music Feast in 2011 and ended up doing a couple of shows at the Northcote Town Hall. “It was so much fun, we wanted to keep doing it,” says Brumby. When the opportunity to perform a version of the show for the 2012 Melbourne Cabaret Festival arose, the girls grabbed it with both hands.

Part of the reason that Sheilas Of The '70s has such broad audience appeal, Brumby says, is because of the breadth of songs that it covers. “We really do the whole gamut of the styles from the '70s – we've tried to do a really good spread of numbers,” she says. “We've got your singer/songwriters like Carly Simon, through to your more pop-style singers like Olivia Newton-John, through to a bit of disco – Donna Summer and Amy Stewart.”

What fascinates Brumby about the music of the '70s is that, even though modern audiences think of it as a cliché of weird fashion and second-wave feminism, there's a diversity of musicality and performance styles waiting for anyone who cares to unpack the era a little more carefully. “When you actually go in and explore all these different styles of writing and different forms of expression, you do realise that there is… a cross-section of women doing different styles of music, and doing them well,” says Brumby. “I think coming out of that flower power stuff, women were coming to be more sexually expressive, feeling more confident, maybe – confident enough to write songs and be recognised as great performers.”

Brumby sees similarities between the female musicians of the '70s and their current counterparts. While the '70s women were remarkable in their capacity as trailblazers, Brumby thinks that musicians from both eras are seeking the same professional satisfaction and recognition. “As a woman in the music industry, you do have challenges that come up. You do want to feel vital and recognised as being an individual.”

That said, it's important to have a laugh as well – and Brumby is certainly having one thanks to a certain addition to the Sheilas Of The '70s set list. “We thought, 'It's a cabaret festival – we need a cabaret song.'” A bit of light 'Googling' meant that the right choice positively leapt out at her. “Of course, Liza Minnelli's Life Is A Cabaret came out in 1972 and I thought, 'Oh jeez, I probably look a little bit like Liza Minnelli too.'” So, Brumby will don a leotard and invite the audience to, 'Come hear the music play,' and she's looking forward to it. “I've realised that to get into character, I just have to feel like I'm a madwoman. That seems to be working.”

Sheilas Of The '70s runs from Wednesday 18 to Saturday 21 July, 8.45pm, Kew Court House.