Barb Jungr - Live Review - The Stage

Cabaret nights like the latter are one of my treats to myself; in the midst of all the shows I'm there to review, it's lovely to let (what's left of) my hair down and relax, even if part of me is still inevitably critically engaged. And last night I paid my first-ever visit to Chelsea's amazing 606 Club, a subterranean secret tucked away underneath a barely visible entry sign on Lots Road, to see Barb Jungr, Britain's most ferociously brilliant and individual singer of classic songs.

Over the years I've seen Barb in rooms grand and small, from Pizza on the Park (where I first encountered her, and found myself wondering aloud in one review if she was the best cabaret artist we had in this country; a verdict I still stand by, as much as she inevitably resists the term "cabaret" and all the naff associations it brings) to New York's swanky Cafe Carlyle, with Ronnie Scott's, Pizza Express Dean Street, the Purcell Room and even the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in Australia.

And she never ceases to amaze: even when, as last night, in recovery from a bad cold that had left her barely able to speak the day before, she makes such big, bold and theatrical statements with her songs - interspersed with some of the best banter in the biz - that she takes them, and you, to a different plane.

As a purveyor of what she calls the "new American songbook", as opposed to the Great American Songbook, she's particularly keen on Dylan, but last night also included everything from Gerry Marsden and Ray Davies to Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins and Hank Williams. There's hardly a showtune in sight, either, except for a stonking version of Kern's "Ol' Man River", and a hauntingly beautiful version of John Latouche's "Lazy Afternoon", from the score to The Golden Apple. In the process, cabaret (or whatever Barb prefers to call it) gets a fresh, utterly contemporary blast of energy that blows the cobwebs out of this sometimes fusty form entirely.

The Stage