Play It Again, Velvet

14 August 2012 | 6:00 am | Michael Smith

"What I tried to do this year is two things in particular. I’ve gone back to my roots, so it’s going to be a very authentic 1930s night."

This time last year, Graham Coupland, whose idea The Gangsters' Ball is, was admitting there was a slim chance it wasn't even going to run, but of course it did and was as successful as ever. This time around, not only is it definitely full-steam ahead, but it looks very much like The Gangsters' Ball will be going global – and before the year is out.

“It's something that I always thought Gangsters' Ball could achieve,” Coupland, whose ten-sometimes-19-piece swing band The Velvet Set are (inevitably) the musical centrepiece, admits, “was playing internationally in a casino, and I'd made some enquiries into Macau a couple of years ago and there was a little bit of interest. But, to be perfectly honest, the concept wasn't quite there – I really needed to build the brand into something I could market internationally.

“Then, at the end of last year's show I was contacted by a producer who's based in America, and she was very coy – she wouldn't tell me who she was – but she said, 'I'm coming to Sydney, there are a couple of Australian productions I'm interested in'. One of them was Smoke & Mirrors, a fabulous show, and the other one was Gangsters' Ball. We sat down and talked, she told me about her business partners and it was, 'right, let's put a contract on the table – let's go!' The plan is get it up and running in Vegas as a casino show, hopefully debuting on New Year's Eve, and what we're looking at is doing four shows leading up to the New Year's Eve extravaganza. All going according to plan, on the bill will also be the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Royal Crown Revue and Dita Von Teese doing burlesque.”

And why mention all this you might wonder? Because the lucky door prize at this year's Gangsters' Ball is a trip for two to enjoy the show in Las Vegas. “That's the plan,” Coupland continues, “so it had better happen!”

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Now into its fifth year, six if you count the year that went into its planning, The Gangsters' Ball has really become an essential part of the city's social calendar.Coupland explains, “It's the attendees who really make the night. Honestly, Gangsters' Ball has got to a point where I could do it in a barn,” he laughs. “It really is the audience that's just as important to the show as the performers, and the effort they go to with their outfits is absolutely mind-boggling, and that really does create the mood. A lot of people turn up in gangster cars and vintage cars and they stand out the front and have their photos taken, it's such a huge night now. People have been planning for 12 months.”

So along with The Velvet Set, the gangsters and flappers will be entertained by usherettes, pinup girls, rockabilly/rock'n'roll DJs, swing dancers, a vintage styling parlour, roulette wheels, poker and black jack tables, acrobatic troupe Circus Trick Tease, juggler Mr Gorski and comedian Dave Callan as MC.

“What I tried to do this year is two things in particular. I've gone back to my roots, so it's going to be a very authentic 1930s night. I'm really trying to create that speakeasy vibe, so all the acts are going to be very authentic to the '20s, '30s and '40s, and the real twist this year is the hypnosis show, for the first time ever at The Gangsters' Ball. Shane Hall, from Melbourne, is going to do a traditional 1940s hypnosis show. He's going to get 12 volunteers up on the stage and he's going to embarrass the crap out of them,” he laughs. “And they won't even know it!”