- Hello Everyone,
I've been away for a month in India and while I was away I learnt of the
sad news that Agnes Bernelle, the last living link to the pre-War German
cabaret tradition, had died. I had written to the Wire in the past saying
they should cover her while she was still alive, even though she hadn't
released anything new in ages.
Agnes was a very special performer, who put across the wicked humour and
mordant pathos of the songs in a voice that drew little attention to
itself, but which was salty and oozed decadence. Her 'famous' admirers
included Marc Almond, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, yet she lived and
performed in relative obscurity, wowing small audiences in poky clubs.
She was very aware that the songs she was performing were poems and she'd
managed the difficult knack of singing them as texts without sounding
laboured and 'arty'. Check out her 1985 album Father's Lying Dead on the
Ironing Board on Demon Records -- it has excellent arrangements by the late
Michael Dress and has enough wool-gatherers and ne'er do wells thronging it
to bring a smile to any face. The follow-up Mother the Wardrobe is Full of
Infantry-Men (1990, Some Bizarre) included songs by Waits, Roger McGough,
Christopher Logue and Adrian Mitchell and is sadly out of print. After a
storming show at Ronny Scott's it was pathetic to see the Some Bizarre guys
sitting at a little table with about three copies of the album on cassette
to sell. When I asked them why they'd let it go out of print, I got some
spiel that they were busy promoting acts like Sunscreem at that time --
yeesh. The Fun Palace, her memoir which only goes upto 1963, is a lively
account of a life spent surviving on her wits.
That's all really -- I'll miss her.