Dusty Limits: Grin

June 24th, 2015

London Wonderground at Southbank Centre

by Jon Burns

If Dusty Limits wasn’t already considered one of the more accomplished figures on the UK cabaret scene, he’s cementing his position at the top by adding a beautifully dark album of original songs to his achievements.

Grin is a collaboration with long term musical partner Michael Roulston, exploring Dusty’s trademark themes of death, drinking and sometimes love. The result is gloriously dark and comic rumination – the kind you’ve experienced when you’ve had one too many and thoughts turn a sweeter, charming sort of melancholy.

Dusty cuts a handsome pale, suitably deathly figure, prowling the stage in a dapper black suit. His chatter between songs jumps from his views on mortality, morality, sexuality and politics, always with a cheeky dark edge and plenty of innuendo. Like an evening out with your naughtiest and most outrageous friend.

Joined on stage by double bass, violin and drums, Dusty and Roulston (on keyboards) make a tight and obviously established musical act, complemented by a friendly crowd to take us through this charming and moving album, and a few old favourites in there too.  Whether he’s taking aim at the rich and privileged of SW3 in Poor, or the folly of booze fueled confidence and its downside in Drink, his writing is self-depreciating, witty and playful.

Imagine (think of the kids) is a hilarious recollection of a gay couple abandoning an idea to have children. It’s the kind of experience we’ve all had when we’ve had a few, only to wake up the following day to realise what a bad idea it actually is.

Title track, Grin, “happiness is not the final answer, bear in mind that sunshine gives you cancer” ponders the moment the grim reaper will come for us. For me, it’s a treat to be allowed to indulge in the idea of mortality, and a lesson that although we get out of life what we put in, there are some parts we just can’t control.

Topically, we were treated to Dear Mr Cardinal, a smart dig at a former Scottish cardinal who sneered at gay marriage, and eventually jettisoned from the church after his own digressions with other male subordinates were revealed.  The song is an exposé of the hypocrisy of power and the church, and happily, a song Dusty hopes he won’t have to perform in the future as society changes. Two days later, the Supreme Court in the US voted to make gay marriage legal in all of its states, so even if Dear Mr Cardinal is one of Dusty’s best songs, I hope he is right.  

If you get the chance so see Dusty Limits out and about, you must.  But if you can’t, get the album and pretend you did!


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