Musical version of a 1896 play... Pere Ubu style
If you read everything that was written about this you’d probably still (like me) have very little idea of what the hell is going on here. But the single growled “Merdre” at the start of ‘Long Live Père Ubu!’ is the best introduction you could ask for.
Based on the stage play that gave Père Ubu their name in the seventies, Alfred Jarry’s ‘Ubu Roi’, you have to wonder what the original rioting audiences would have made of this musical version of the Macbeth tale. In short (if there is such a thing) singer David Thomas plays Père Ubu, the French courtier to Venceslas, King of Poland, and Sarah Jane Morris plays his harpy wife. Together they kill the king, rein in his place, and ruin the country with their cruelty, greed, and general unpleasantness. Eventually the pair are double-crossed by Captain Ordura, a faithful minion who they plot to kill, which leads to war. The Ubus are defeated and go to live in a cave, before they are driven back to France. Still with me? Good. It’s worth it.
This classic piece of Theatre of the Absurd is the perfect story for Père Ubu’s wailing theramins, synths, organs, and various electronica and percussion. The story is completed by members of the band taking on the vocals of the other characters. It’s half musical, half spoken-word stage play. And it’s long and involved. Far from your average easy listening, and not easy to get into. But with the necessary time and concentration, you’re left with the alternative scene’s answer to Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’… if Wayne had hired Captain Beefheart, Jethro Tull, and Frank Zappa.
‘Long Live…’ is an intellectual piece, musically and due to its subject matter. But it’s also bizarre and freakish, classically grotesque and downright silly at times. Like a Roald Dahl book come to life: full of monsters and hideously unpleasant characters. All set off to a dynamic, winding soundtrack which veers off on its own and back seemingly of its own accord.
It’s not just a quirky album, it’s a full stage performance. They plan a whole concert as an introduction at the ICA in London, on the 25th September. As well as a radio play titled ‘Bring me the head of Ubu Roi’. No wonder David Thomas locked himself away from his band for a year to write it.
Invest a little time and effort into this, and you reap the rewards. Unlike the unfortunate Père and Mère Ubu.