Formerly known as “Steamship Shenanigans with Professor Elemental” but for a series of ship-related mishaps, (the steamship in question had problems with the propeller, and it had to be sent back up to Scotland… the part, not the entire ship!) the gig was relocated to the Art House Cafe in Southampton. The relocation did absolutely nothing to dampen the terribly British Steampunk spirit for the evening!
Thanks to Mazz Destruction bumping into Professor Elemental(link) at Dragon*Con last year and promptly throwing tracks at me like some kind of crazed tennis ball machine, I acquired quite an obsession with the good Professor. I was heartbroken to discover he would be attending Kitacon, which I was unable to make, but my melancholy was mended by the discovery he would be performing at the Art House’s “Steamship Shenanigans”. I gathered up my best steampunk wear, and prepared myself.
I have never previously visited the Art House Cafe in Southampton, as living closer to Portsmouth means I tend to spend more time that side of the South. I wasn’t disappointed with what I discovered; friendly, personable staff, a good selection of snacks that cater to a wide variety of palates, and a vast selection of teas on the menu that would please even the most discerning of tastes. As neither myself or my travelling companion Romanna tend to partake of alcohol, the free “Apology Pimm’s” offered in condolences for the lack of actual steamship was happily swapped for two large pots of tea. The atmosphere was party-like and cheerful – though Romanna and I knew no-one else there, everyone was willing to chat, some even slipping into the persona fitting their attire (it is quite gratifying being referred to as “My Lady”, I can tell you!) during the evening.
We had paid slightly extra to have photographs taken with the Professor, which was definitely worth it! No boring, staid, “I’m doing this for the wages” type photographs. Oh no. Professor Elemental first grabbed some random pieces of decoration from the room to pose with, before becoming enamoured with the delightful steampunk squid (my “dapper deep one”) purchased from Khaos Costumes.
The evening was opened with Sweetchunks, playing folk-style music with great enthusiasm, bringing the occasional comedy one-liners and false beards – for if you have no beard you shall die! – as well as a rousing audience-assisted rendition of “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?”, altered to include the ‘nasty bassist’*.
After their set we had a small break, just enough time for people to grab more drinks or run to the bathroom, and then Professor Elemental regaled us. In deference to the fact we were supposed to be on a boat, he kept the non-singing sections of his act on the topic of the sea, pirates, and ships. The Professor’s acts are very audience-orientated, and by that I mean that he seems to enjoy keeping himself on the level of those he is performing for. Just before his set began he requested a word from a number of us, that he would ask us to hold up at some point during the performance. In addition to this, he had the room joining in during sections of his songs, cheerfully cultivating mock-competition between the two sides of the room to much laughter.
We were treated to a number of new songs that he has not – as yet – released on CD though he assured us he will be doing so soon. Though the songs I recognised were shorter than on his albums, the vitality in his performance belied any feelings of misgiving one might have had about the fact. From one moment to the next, the Professor was on the move, beaming like a loon, sometimes laughing, always mobile and animated. The sheer life in his act kept all eyes on him.
It was fascinating watching him whilst during one track he was improvising a rap using the words held up on paper for him as he had requested earlier in the night. Some of the front row had been kind enough to use words related to the sea, some had decided to be cheeky, some political, and some just plain awkward. I fell in the latter category, using “Haberdashery” as my word. Amazingly enough, he fitted into his “It’s Elemental” rap with seemingly no problem whatsoever.
I felt that, even through his persona of the eccentric, bumbling, and slightly insane professor, Professor Elemental really enjoys bringing happiness to his audiences. He made razor-sharp, witty comments relating to the current political situation, but promptly breezed past them in order to urge people to do their damndest not to be laid low by negative comments on the internet – or anywhere, really, but he was focussing on anonymous internet hatred – by instead taking all the energy that could be used with raging at the offending person and using it to put into something or someone you love. How serious he is about the attempt to fill the internet with happy rainbows I’m not sure, but his joy is infectious.
After he had finished his “official” set, he joined forces with Sweetchunks and regaled us with one last song, which rounded the evening off very well. There was so much enthusiasm from both him and the band themselves, the performance was even greater fun.
A good friend of Romanna’s and mine was unable to attend due to work commitments, and we had hoped to get an autograph from the Professor after the show. Instead of that, he kindly suggested he could record a little message for Saxxony instead. Which he did, with great enthusiasm. It was difficult not to laugh whilst holding the phone to record!
In closing, I would be very happy to return to the Art House Cafe for their events (indeed, I’m off to Sherlock Holmes next week thanks to half-price tickets as further apology for the lack of steamship), I am looking forward to finding more performances from Sweetchunks, and I can highly recommend seeing Professor Elemental live, if you have the chance to. His evenings are a brilliant mix of comedy, clever songs, witty songs, and an eccentric warmth that leaves you exiting the event smiling and/or singing his songs. I am impatient to find another event he is at that I can attend!
Thank you to Lemontree Photography for the kind permission to use your wonderful photographs.
*He really wasn’t nasty, he just kept reminding the lead that they had a time limit…