10:06am Friday 4th May 2012
IRISH/FRENCH chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan may leave her cat behind in “the cat hotel” when she heads out on tour, but the cat inside her still leaps out.
If you saw her irrepressible performance at last September’s Freedom Festival at Hull Truck Theatre, you will not have forgotten her predilection for meowing.
“It’s usual that a meow will come out in my gigs,” says Camille, who will be prowling around the Theatre Royal stage in her York debut on Wednesday at the invitation of J-Night jazz promoter David Porter.
“I don’t know where the meowing comes from now but it’s something that started in my childhood. I know it divides people… I just think I’ve become more eccentric.”
Camille, who first made her name as an original cast member of the Olivier Award-winning cabaret/variety show La Clique, will be presenting last summer’s five-star Edinburgh Fringe show, Feel, in York. And yes, she will carry on meowing.
“I just think it’s an expressive thing. We’d just finished a long run in Edinburgh and Hull was the last gig, so I was letting go,” says Camille. “So I’m aware there may have been too many meows that night. I try not to overdo it! I’ll try to be good this time.”
Whether in her Dark Angel show in Hull, singing in Dorothy’s sparkling shoes from The Wizard Of Oz, or in Feel in York, she always gives herself wholly to a song.
“That’s very strange, because although I’m very friendly in my own life, I’m quite self-conscious when I come off stage. But on stage I think you have to give everything, and though they’re not my songs, I feel a connection to them and make them mine,” says Camille, who interprets the work of Jacques Brel, David Bowie, Tom Wait, Nick Cave, Kirsty MacColl, Radiohead and more besides.
“I want to abandon myself to these songs and so I become this creature, whereas off stage, I’m more self-contained. I’m full-on emotional when I perform on stage but I wouldn’t sing at a party.
“Someone said to me, ‘You’re quite an exhibitionist, aren’t you?’, but I’m not in my own life, but I do unravel in a performance. When I had to edit my DVD, I was looking at the film… and I couldn’t watch it. I was thinking, ‘Why did I do that?’ ‘That dress is too tight’. But on stage those feelings get wiped away and that’s how it has to be with me, though I’ll look at someone just sitting there with a guitar and I’ll think, ‘I wish I could do that’, but it isn’t me.”
Interpreting familiar songs of mischief, mystery and magic requires pluck.
“For sure I’m soft enough to let it hurt me when people say ‘How dare you sing a Johnny Cash song’, though people will assume you’re strong enough to take any comment, when in fact you’re thinking, ‘I want you to like me’,” says Camille. “What you’re worried about is whether you’re doing justice to these songs.
“If Bowie or Tom Waits were to come to one of my gigs, I’m not sure I could sing – and the other thing I have to get over is not yet daring to ask them to write a song for me. I’m taking years to pluck up the courage to do that.
“But I do think you have to have inner courage in the first place when you decide you’re going to sing someone else’s song.”
Did you know?
Camille’s new studio album, Changeling, features songs Arcade Fire, Snow Patrol, Gillian Welch, Radiohead, Nick Cave and Tom Waits. Already on sale in Ireland, it will be released over here later this year.
“Now, because of YouTube, everything is out there, so you have to test a song out at home in the kitchen with the cat…and if the cat leaves, I’m in trouble!”
• Camille O’Sullivan: Feel, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk Charles Hutchinson
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