Donna Sue Robson specialises in the communication- and healing-arts. Jamie Natural Health and Healing is her energy-healing consultancy. Her modalities, workshops and boutique natural products can be viewed and purchased from www.jamienatural.com.
A Rare-Cut Diamond Takes Centre Stage
'I'll break the mould, in the cold, you'll find me', lyrics from 'Diamond', one of 4 tracks on James's 'Him' CD release. James Halloran is one of Melbourne's newest starlets to burst onto the Australian Cabaret scene.
James Halloran's Debutante Ball is one of the most enjoyable musical-theatrical cabaret acts I have seen in Melbourne. He is a young, charismatic and visionary artist who knows where he fits musically. With formal training that honours production discipline, James has the arsenal to test boundaries, reject convention and to set new standards. James Halloran explores the breadth of human experience- love, sex, relationships and queer identity- through original music, performance theatre and interpretative sonic story-telling.
James Halloran's Debutante Ball was strong stylistically, and his music and theatrical performance is professionally timed and smooth-flowing. Female sirens such as Diamante Glass and Kate Bush are almost 'channelled'. James takes us on an epic journey through the 70s with musical reference to Nico, Velvet Underground and Lou Reed; and we are reminded of the musical legacy of experimental bands such as of Siouxsie and the Banchees, Joy Division and Led Zeppelin. The grunge, heroin-chic 90s and 'Indy' doom-gloom sub-cultures seem to have also made an impact on James's musical psyche. Despite his musical research and mentors, Halloran's music is not derivative: he has created his own brilliant style and is constantly creating new sounds and composition excellence.
Wiener Cabaret and 80s Glam Rock are noted as stylistic signposts, and are used to re-create this unusual piece of theatrical rock in a 'queer context'. Halloran's genre has been described as 'freak-pop' which I think trivialises his compositional depth, raw emotion and artful musicianship. His prime drag-queen persona in Debutante Ball is styled on Kate Bush- or a 'white middle-class, middle-aged woman'. However, it is when James suddenly threw-off the wig and stood naked in his own persona that his musicality became the showpiece and sexual juxtaposition became even more interesting. Sexuality, is fluid, tapping into a 50-year history of stage-art-sexuality, highlighted by Bowie's androgyny and Freddy Mercury's brashness. James Halloran may not yet have the vocal array and excellence of these two masters but he is passionate about his music, his style and has promising musical dexterity. He delivers strong, hue-rich, soothing timbres with rare masculine sensuality.
James Halloran is technically trained- and it shows. His tastes and influences span decades of experimental musical excellence. Get used to the deliberate 'off-key' hits that are a part of this style-genre and you appreciate that you are witnessing something really special.
James cites leading ladies Tori Amos and Anohni as his inspirations. Traces of their raw emotionalism are clear in Halloran's work, but he directs his musicianship into crafting complex emotional tapestries with poetic lyricism, sound and form. He is a gifted and introspective story-teller driven by emotional honesty: 'Diamond' and 'Him', two ballads on his 4-track CD, open this artist's soul as only a true artist dares. James Halloran toys, teases and stretches 'vulnerability' and his high-impact music creates an intriguing modern-retro fusion.
As a singer, James's timbre is hauntingly beautiful. At times, he didn't hold pitch, but it is part of this genre-style to twist, turn and experiment with key change. Tenille West described as 'fag-hag-pitch-perfect', provided back-up vocals. Sometimes, West's on-key harmony and counter-melody created tense dissonance, although greater effect may have been achieved had their vocal harmonies been less complex. In this way, Halloran may have 'over-reached', for it is his simple ballads that are simply outstanding.
James completed his Bachelor degree in Jazz voice at the Jazz Music Institute last year. Vocal slides, cuts, rips and hard Swing tunes are prevalent throughout the show; a show that always maintains an improvisatory energy. Another interesting expression of immediacy is achieved by 'slipping-in and out-of-character'. James has the presence and repertoire to engage in this way with both the audience and his band. It is a technique that creates humour and depending on the banter, either a tense or relaxed vibe that makes the show slightly off-edge and unpredictable. Halloran is bold and has great stage-management skills.
James Halloran led his 'just-off-the-plane' band with graciousness and virtuosic flair. He is an accomplished keyboard player, having also studied Jazz piano. He and Tenille West were joined by Braxton Neate on cello, Marty Banning (drums) and Kendall Layle on bass. The Queensland band created fire when blaze was demanded, ice within cool grey or even dark ballads, and maintained implosion when passion was ignited. It is exciting to hear the cello in a 21st Century rock-band line-up - perfect instrumentation to romanticise James's composition, adding a Celtic memory haze and orchestral theatricality to his musical achievement. Initially, Debutante Ball's sound-mix was a little mal-aligned, but this was quickly sorted by the musicians themselves as they realised just how close audiences are to the stage at the Butterfly Club venue.
James Halloran has a tempered, 'layered' approach to life and art-performance: he is a musician who contemplates how complexity is both linked and fractured: and how it contradicts and ignites our natural desires. If this is his debutante ball, I can't wait to see what he has in store for the post-graduation party.
The Butterfly Club's décor and design is as eclectic and funky as its talented musicians and performers.