Sebastian interviewed Oklahoma-born cabaret singer HAROLD SANDITEN who hosts the Thursday Late Night Open Mic at Crazy Coqs, by email:
Sebastian Scotney: Harold congratulations , you’ve been running the Thursday late night Open mic at Crazy Coqs. Do you have a celebration planned?
Harold Sanditen: Yes – we have our first birthday party on Thursday, 24th April. Doors open at 10 pm when I start taking sign ups for performers, and the music begins at 10.30 on the dot. We normally finish at midnight, but we’ll go later than usual, up to 1 am to accommodate all the performers. I have a no “slit-your-wrist” ballad rule, which I relax most times, but on the 24th I will be ruthlessly enforcing it, to make it a party atmosphere! (TICKETS)
SS: London is full of singers, how’s it been going
HS: The last few weeks have really begun to hot up. The quality of the performers we get is universally superb, and the worse singers are beginning to weed themselves out. I’m also finding we’re getting more and more audience members, who’re just there to watch and discover new talent. It’s only £5 entrance fee, which is affordable to all the performers, and for the audience is, as many people have said, the best value entertainment in London.
SS: Do you have a regular pianist / bassist ? Have they been the same since the start?
HS: Michael Roulston is our regular pianist and Jonty Fisher our regular bassist. They’ve been with the Open Mic since the beginning. I needed people who are excellent readers, and cross musical genres and they fit that bill perfectly.
SS: Do you let everyone have a try or how does it work?
HS: I try to give everyone a turn, but I can only get so many people on stage in 90 minutes. As a performer, I make a point of giving each performer a chance to promote themselves – let everyone know what they’re up to, bring in promotional material and CDs, etc. I have the system down pat now so that I chat with them while the next performer is discussing their song with Michael and Jonty. That keeps things ticking, and there’s no interval in the night, so, depending on length of songs, I can get up to 20 people on in 90 minutes. Still, I’m now having to turn people away. I try to make sure all our “virgins” go on stage, but we have some terrific regulars, and the occasional famous person, who I’ll put on instead. Steve Brookstein (first ever winner of the X Factor) came a few weeks ago and did a duet with his wife, Eileen Hunter. It brought the house down. That’s another reason punters come along – in hopes someone famous will be there to sing. I don’t put people on in order of signing up – I put the show together as the night unfolds, to make it as entertaining as possible and mix the styles.
SS: And it’s all sorts of singers /genres?
HS: Being a cabaret singer with jazz influences, I was determined that this open mic would be a place were both could sing comfortably, along with pop, rock, musical theatre and even opera. We’ve attracted all those genres, which delights me.
SS: Is the mix of people you get performing right or are there types of instrumentalist or singer you’d like more / less of?
HS: We have a great mix of singers, although some nights lean more toward one genre or the other. We have some wonderful original singer/songwriters. We’ve had quite a few duets and some trios, but a small choir would be fab or a barbershop quartet! We don’t get many instrumentalists and that would be nice too. So, I’m really looking forward to having you come along and toot your horn again!
SS: Thanks for the invitation . You’ll be showcasing (is that the right word?) on Sunday 4th? What time /who’s performing /how were they selected?
HS: Yes – as a natural offshoot of the open mic, four of the best singers are doing a group show on Sunday, 4th May at 7.30 – it’s called Open Mic Highights. If it’s successful, it will happen at least quarterly. What’s really exciting about first showcase is the mix showing the diversity of talent we attract. We have a jazz vocalist – Helen Theophanous, a cabaret singer – Julez Hamilton, a musical theatre balladeer – Gary Bland and a young Ukranian opera singer – Andrij Bukach!
SS: And you’re a singer yourself -with a recent album about the colour blue ?
HS: I released Shades of Blue, which was recorded live at The Pheasantry, last August. That was based on my solo show, exploring my fascination with the word blue – from music to sound to colour….and naughty to nice. The CD is greatly influenced by my love of jazz, but still firmly rooted in cabaret. There are revamped jazz standards, like Moondance and Birth of the Blues, along with comedy songs, like my version of Me and Mrs Jones, which goes on to be Me and Mr Jones, and then Me and Mr and Mrs Jones. Equal opportunity cheating. I also jazzed up Coward’s Stately Homes of England with new lyrics, but probably my favourite song is a country swing version of a Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me, again with some modern lyrics.
SS: And you have a solo show yourself on 2nd 3rd May.What time?
HS: My new show is my travel show – Flyin’ High. It’s on 2nd and 3rd May at 8 pm. Travel’s always been a huge passion, and when I went to count the number of countries I’ve visited, I couldn’t believe it was 65! As I began to think about all those trips, there were some pretty hilarious things that happened to me. It’s going to be a very funny show, covering Albuquerque to the Zambezi! Michael (Roulston) and Jonty (Fisher) will be accompanying me. Michael’s writing all the new arrangements, and my favourites are Berlin’s I Got The Sun in the Morning which reflects all the glorious sunrises I’ve seen and a medley of Come Fly With Me and Route 66. Being from Oklahoma, I was born on Route 66! I know how much you love Ann Hampton Callaway – well, I’m doing one of her songs – Never Really Mine to Lose. It has absolutely nothing to do with travel, but I just had to sing it.
Now that things are going so well for me at the Crazy Coqs, it seems like Flyin’ High couldn’t be a more appropriate title! (FRIDAY TICKETS)