Pieter Egriega, it is generally agreed, has one of the most incredible imaginations in the northern hemisphere. I have already had the pleasure of being involved with two of his shows, and we are currently in preparation for a third (this will mark his fourth consecutive year of Buxton Fringe performances in total). One of Pieter's greatest gifts is undoubtedly a limitless ability to surprise you with original ideas, and indeed reviews of his shows mention that each year brings something completely different from his previous works – and, in fact, different from anything else in the entire programme.
In case you’re not familiar with Pieter's work, his shows portray surreal themes such as… actually, I don’t really know how to fill in the rest of this paragraph. In Mr Different (2017) he plays a man in a bag who exists between two worlds and happens to be singing the same kind of music as a group of street performers behind him. Voodoo Gary, on the other hand, is not something I have been involved with, but I like the raucousness of the music a lot and I think the theme kind of speaks for itself. In Frank Sinistra, which I accompanied for in 2018, Pieter is an exceptionally unpleasant former News of the World journalist and I am related to the Warburtons – of the bread fame – and had, er, "relations" with Anne Widdecombe. Like I said: somewhat surreal.
Despite the bizarre settings, Egriega’s shows always have poignancy to them and display considerable emotional depth in his characters. His satirical ad-libbing on current affairs also makes each performance almost as unique for the accompanists as the audience.
Pieter Egriega made his name as a songwriter. Which is to say, he didn’t make that exact name as a songwriter, but personae aside, he is the same chap. The strength in his shows is just as much from the concept as from the music; always original, but also stylistically familiar, in the way that good songwriting makes you think you’ve already heard the song before, even if it’s your first opportunity to hear it. He draws upon a considerable library of influences, from Latin American styles, hip-hop, jazz, UK and US variants of pop and rock, all to create his own genre. In addition, he allows his musicians considerable freedom to interpret the music more or less as they please, and this stylistic fluidity gives the music a very natural performance and presence. Egriega chooses musicians who can interpret and improvise, ad lib and adapt on the hoof, and who he knows will respect the music as a creation in itself.
Similarly, the shows also have a great variety of cultural support. Pop culture, obscure French films, and art and literature from all vertices of the planet seem to make it into scripts and lyrics, usually in the form of subtle references and puns. I don’t understand half of them, although I am beginning to recognise a line as being something I should look up later, and I’m sure most audiences wouldn’t find a show’s worth of references between them. But it’s the richness of how these ideas accumulate and compound that makes the performances so engaging.
This year’s new show is 11 Reasons: an abstract love story told in photographs, set in and around Buxton. The music is more understated this year, setting the black-and-white images amongst the soft and lazy syncopation of Kind of Blue jazz: a diametric opposite to the bright orange, cayenne pepper hues of bossa, tango, samba and salsa (just to sneak in a reference to my own show, there). Alex Clarke comes onto the stage to shape the melodies with her tenor sax, and Pieter supports the music on the double bass and creates narrates the show. Once again, I tremendously look forward to taking my perch at the piano.
LISTEN TO EGRIEGA'S MUSIC
11 Reasons: an abstract love story told in photographs, set in and around Buxton
7th, 11th, 14th and 20th July 2019
See more of Egriega at the Camden and Edinburgh Fringes this summer!