‘You really remind me of Eve Ferret,’ someone recently told Eve Ferret. ‘It is me!’ she said. ‘It can’t be,’ they retorted. ‘You were 40 then!’
Now, Ferret is three years into a gorgeously quirky late-blooming live solo career. ‘Then’ was 1976 to 1981, when she was one of the liveliest kids at London’s liveliest club, the Blitz, cradle of New Romanticism. (She was in her early 20s at the time and, if not conspicuously girlish, hardly looked 40.)
The daughter of a coalman and a tea lady, Ferret grew up in Pimlico – she still lives on the street where she was born – and discovered Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye and Billie Holiday on her bedroom radio. An open call at the Blitz was her way in to performing. ‘They were looking for singers in the style of George Formby or Vera Lynn,’ she recalls. ‘I was a bit more like George.’
Combining singing and comedy, Ferret was not exactly demure. ‘I used to run across the tabletops, with the tablecloths on them. Can you imagine?’ She performed with James Biddlecombe as Biddie & Eve; for their version of Cilla Black’s ‘You’re My World’, she wore a Marie Antoinette wig and a leash. Once, she leapt onto a piano only to have it fall on her, but continued her song from beneath it and while band members lifted it off her. ‘I got an ovation. For weeks people were saying, “Do the trick with the piano again!” It wasn’t a trick – I was black and blue.’
Following the Blitz days, Ferret drew on her clubland experience for stage and screen roles, appearing in films such as ‘Absolute Beginners’ and ‘Haunted Honeymoon’ and David Bowie’s ‘Jazzin’ for Blue Jean’ video (‘on yer bike, son,’ her nightclub doorperson drily tells Bowie’s hopeful punter). But by the turn of the ’90s, she left performing behind. Her return was prompted by a neighbour – the superb singer Barb Jungr, who was organising a local charity event and nudged Ferret to sing. ‘I had a little voice on my shoulder saying, “You can’t do it, time’s moved on, you’re past it”. But Barb said, “If you can’t sing for your friends and neighbours, who can you sing for?”’
And so Ferret found herself back on stage, once again combining her magnetic voice, which can be both rollicking and tender, with bursts of surreal humour and infectious joie de vivre. As gig led to gig, she developed an audience, some of whom knew her from the Blitz days, many of whom didn’t.
A typical show might combine covers such as ‘Crazy Horses’ and ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us’ with original numbers – an ode to Ferret’s peignoir, perhaps, or an account of a diva’s tea party. Her next shows, two dates at the Arts Theatre, are also a chance to present a suitably eclectic array of guest performers: Celia Imrie, Fidelis Morgan and Mzz Kimberley on November 4; and Hazel O’Connor, Adele Anderson and Alp Haydar on November 11.
‘The whole point is that I love it,’ she says. ‘I want the audience to have a party as well. They’re as much a part of it as I am – it’s just I’m at the helm.’ The crucial element is Ferret’s unique personality: beneath a surface of scatterbrained charm lie depths of real emotion and a courageous love of the unexpected. (You get the idea from her bizarre publicity images, which she designs herself.)
‘What you see is the truth,’ Ferret says. ‘It’s harder than putting on an act. You live and die by what happens next. But if something goes wrong it’s a gift. Some [performers] want everything to be exactly the same, exactly correct every time. You might as well stay home and listen to a CD.’
So expect a show that lives in the moment, and on its wits. A child of punk, Ferret values DIY get-up-and-go above all. Lily-livered crowdfunding leaves her cold. ‘I’ve just seen someone asking for £10,000 to put on two shows. They’re having a laugh! Pull the curtains down and wear them. Put a saucepan on your head. Actually, I once wore a saucepan on my head to the Blitz. And I pulled…’