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An interview with Camille O’Sullivan

8 April 2018 Suzanne Frost

London Calling talked to a shattered Camille after she just opened her show in Dublin, a 90 minutes one-woman marathon of Shakespeare. The show she is bringing to London’s Wilton’s Music Hall is The Carny Dream, a rock show of storytelling through the songs of Nick Cave, David Bowie, Tom Waits and Radiohead that she describes as a “rollercoaster of emotion”.

London Calling: If we imagine a scrapbook or mood board for your show The Carny Dream, what are the inspirations and influences you would add to a collage to describe your show?
Camille O’Sullivan: Fairy lights, a swing, I created a gingerbread house which I need to bring from Ireland, animal masks that I made myself that are lit from within, a mirror ball, strong primary colours. I’m obsessed with The Wizard of Oz and old fantasy films, so you’ll be stepping back into that old world. There may be little trees on stage… my next show won’t be as complicated! This one was about building a fantastic magical world.
 
LC: It sounds a bit like a circus!
CO: It is a freaky little circus. I was one of the original performers of La Soiree and La Clique so I had this travelling circus life with them for a very long time. I love the world of Tom Waits and that darkness, where you come on quite enigmatically and then the whole thing is about unravelling. There is that great line in Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light comes in.” At times, a song can be quite simple and neutral and other times you try to create a little tableau around it. It’s about inhabiting a song, with Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen. Bowie is more about rocking it out.

 
LC: Many of those great artists have left us now.
CO: I don’t know if we will see the likes of them again. There was a moment in time where the music industry could create people like that. I am always looking for who that next person is going to be. There were so many aspects to Bowie, and Cohen as a poet, and Dylan, they’ve created these amazing stories and I don’t know who the modern day person is of that calibre. I think Arcade Fire and Radiohead create this kind of mercurial world and of course Nick Cave is going strong, he would be my favourite singer to sing. It’s not about being a tribute act, you’ve got to make them your own. You bring people on a journey to a place of darkness or lightness; sometimes you can be very vulnerable on stage and sometimes very harsh. Like in theatre, you provoke people to think in a certain way, I think that’s what I love about those writers. I was an architect before and I was never good at reality so fantasy is where I’m at. I usually have a good glass of wine on stage, it helps to unravel.
 
LC: You called yourself a ‘schizophrenic French-Irish person’, what do you think is French in you and what is Irish?
CO: I am very emotional - French people are very good at expressing their anger and upset or their happiness. My mum is southern French, heading into dark Spanish territory, where you can be very emotional. I think the Irish side has black humour and melancholy and Irish people would be quite doubtful or shy in many ways, even if they are quite bonkers on stage. There is a reserve in me as a person, so I fight against my doubt and the instinct of being quite embarrassed to be on stage. But then the French side allows you to go full force. The English know about folk songs and enjoying melancholy, too. There is nothing wrong with a sad story, in many ways that is what binds us, that we all go through stuff together and have empathy for each other. In singing sad songs you share that with the audience. The best love songs I ever heard are the ones with the sad break ups. A lot of old folk songs from Ireland or England transport that and the likes of Jacques Brel, the great French troubadour, when you sing him you have to sing it 100 if not 200 percent, you don’t sing that without absolute emotion. It’s a mountain you have to climb. Irish people are also good at laughing at themselves. Maybe if I were totally French, I wouldn’t have that side to me which is a bit quirky or eccentric.

 
LC:  But you also suffer from terrible stage fright
CO: It’s a pain in the neck. I’ll be going through it now today, even after opening night. You find other reasons why you worry. People always ask me, why are you a performer, and it’s a magnetic thing. Some performers are dying to get on stage and I unfortunately am not one of those. I’m fine when I get up there. Sometimes my life is more present up there, when you sing it’s the most present you could be. That may be the schizophrenic thing I was on about, you have to have confidence and presence but then you also have this other thing, this ‘get me out of here, why did I ever chose to do this?’ I do think standing on stage in front of people is the weirdest thing ever. I wouldn’t sing at a party or a friend’s house.
 
LC: You performed in many incredible venues around the world; do you have a favourite that you love to come back to?
CO: The Olympia in Dublin, the Spiegeltent, Sydney Opera House is beautiful, and of course Wilton’s. I do think its one of the most magical places. You can’t buy history and you feel the ghosts of the past. I can’t tell, what era I’m in when I’m singing there. Is it 200 years ago or is it now? That’s really magical. People forget, they are watching me but I am watching them and the stage around them is kind of conducting my feeling as a singer so there’s a lot of magic going on at that venue. 
 
 
Camille O’Sullivan is performing The Carny Dream at Wilton’s Music Hall 10 – 21 April. Tickets £10 - £22.50.
 
 
 
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