Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell met while studying at the Royal College of Music. They formed their Katzenjammer act in 2003. Their ‘hook’ was that they play the same piano simultaneously – a ‘four hands, one piano’ musical act.
Their current selling blurb is: “They’ll astound you by pushing the boundaries of their instrument, using it in unconventional ways to mimic the sound of a full symphony orchestra!”
But they are no longer called Katzenjammer – they haven’t been for ages. Since 2008, they have been simply Worbey & Farrell.
“Why the name change?” I asked.
“With Katzenjammer,” Steven Worbey told me, “there was a Norwegian girl band who came out and started to do very, very well and started going international. Although we had the name Katzenjammer in the UK and Europe, they had the rights in America. So we thought: We might as well change now, while we’re about it.”
“And then,” said Kevin Farrell, “when we put up on Facebook Has anybody got any suggestions for a new name? quite a lot were inappropriate.”
“Well, yes,” said Steven.
“Such as?” I asked.
“Well,” said Kevin, “the one that kept on coming up was Two C***s on a Stool…”
“More than once!” laughed Steven.
“…from people” Kevin laughed, “that didn’t know each other!”
“Well,” I said, “a stool does have an unfortunate other meaning.”
“Much as we loved that name,” Kevin explained, “we couldn’t really use it because we were about to do a concert with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra and we did not think Carnival of the Animals with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra and Two C***s on a Stool would have sold the concept well to the schools audience.”
“So Worbey & Farrell you became,” I said. “Claire Smith of The Scotsman – who once lived in a tent in your back garden throughout the Edinburgh Fringe – told me you don’t want to play the Fringe next year but, instead, you are going to play the Usher Hall in Edinburgh next Thursday (30th November, St Andrew’s Day). Why?”
“The thing is,” Kevin explained, “we have had a fantastic time doing the Festival but the struggle for us is that the bookers for what we do don’t really go up to the Fringe. It’s more theatre and comedy orientated. We have had a problem in the past being reviewed as a comedy act and we’re not. We are a sort of classical music act that is unpretentious and we make it quite fun. We are quite happy to put Lady Gaga next to Rachmaninov or whatever. And we don’t fit into one single category.”
“Would you not be better,” I suggested, “listed in the Cabaret section of the Fringe Programme?”
“Even that is wrong,” said Kevin.
“Yes,” agreed Steven. “It’s not quite right, because there’s a lot of classical music and, y’know. We are in-between.”
“You are hyphenates,” I suggested.
“We are,” agreed Steven.
“The problem is,” said Kevin, “that, if we went into the Cabaret section, we would only get cabaret bookers and, although we have done cabaret venues in London, generally their pianos are not up to it, because our arrangements are huge and they’re getting bigger. It does require a big Steinway Grand to get the full…”
“At least” said Steven, “the Usher Hall comes with three Steinway Grands for us to choose from, so we haven’t got to spend thousands of pounds hiring one.”
“Most of our audience at the Fringe,” said Kevin, “are locals anyway. Ironically, we will make more profit doing one night than we did doing 23 nights at the Fringe.”
“And it gets you more prestige?” I asked.
“Well,” said Kevin, “it has helped us book the Cadogan Hall in London next year and we’ve also booked the Brighton Dome with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Usher Hall again for next year. There is a kind of snob value to it. More people are likely to come and see you in a big venue, even if they don’t know who you are, as long as you get the title right. Ours is just Rhapsody in Blue.”
“There is,” admitted Steven, “a bit of a risk to it as well, of course, filling a hall like that. But we are doing OK.”
“We are doing very well,” said Kevin. “And, as we are doing the Usher Hall, the powers that be in the classical world are sitting up and taking note of us now. We have been around for ages, but now they realise we are not going to go away.”
“You have played in over 150 countries,” I prompted, “including Papua New Guinea.”
“It took us 40 hours to get there,” said Kevin, “and the last flight was nearly cancelled because the volcano was erupting, but we flew through the ash and got there in the end.”
“Not the Icelandic volcano?” I asked.
“No,” said Steven. “There was one in Papua New Guinea that was erupting.”
“What was disturbing,” continued Kevin, “was that they had only recently ruled out cannibalism. They eat berries from the trees. It sends them high, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” agreed Steven. “They’re all high. They’ve all got red teeth.”
“I didn’t like the way they looked at us,” laughed Kevin.
“No,” agreed Steven. “It was a funny old place. Just a few years previously, they had lowered old ladies into the volcano because they were…”
“…witches,” said Kevin.
“Yes,” said Steven. “It is a very odd place.”
“Did you,” I asked, “play Papua New Guinea because you were playing Australia?”
“No,” Steven replied. “We left from here in the UK and the following gig after that was…”
“…Berwick-upon-Tweed,” said Kevin.
“So the reason,” I asked, “for playing Papua New Guinea was just because it existed?”
“Yes,” said Steven.”
“That week,” said Kevin, “we played Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Newark Palace Theatre, Papua New Guinea, Berwick-upon-Tweed.”
“That’s right,” said Steven. “Lots of Germans there.”
“No, that was Namibia,” said Kevin.
“There were Germans in Namibia as well,” said Steven.
“I can’t remember,” said Kevin.
“It’s all sand dunes,” said Steven.
“We have,” said Kevin, “played in some strange places.”
“Yeah,” said Steven.
“Different cultures,” I said.
“You can,” Kevin said, “be walking around in South Korea, especially on a Friday night, and men in suits will suddenly fall over flat on the ground, because they’re pissed out of their brains. And you just leave them there, because it is disrespectful if you point out they are pissed or try to help them. You just see all these drunken men in suits lying along the streets.”
“It is basically,” said Steven, “like Wakefield.”
“They drink this very strange red liqueur,” said Kevin.
“In Wakefield?” I asked.
“South Korea,” said Kevin. “We were in a bar there last time and were saying: Oh my God; the Koreans are so lovely! They don’t seem to have any violence! And then there was this bottle being hurled across the bar by this girl at another girl who had disrespected her and she wanted to kill her. They were holding her back and we thought: Shit! We spoke too soon!”
“Sounds like Glasgow on a quiet night,” I said. “The Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Thursday will be different.”
“Audiences are different all over the UK,” said Steven. “The brightest audiences we have found – the ones you can’t fool – are from Yorkshire.”
“Except maybe Wakefield,” I suggested.
“The further south you go in England,” said Kevin, “the more politically correct. You have to be careful. It’s very strange. What goes down well or not.”
“So Geordie-land is different from Kent?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” said Steven. “Completely.”
“Yes,” agreed Kevin.
“We could get in trouble here,” I said, “but is the North of England more Old School?”
“That is a way of putting it,” said Steven. “You get away with a little bit more in the North of England.”
“But in Scotland,” said Kevin, “the further you go up, the more religious they become.”
“And the further West,” I said.
“When we were Katzenjammer,” Kevin told me, “we used to sing a song about the Pope…”
“Oh dear,” I said.
“…and,” Kevin continued, “Oh my God! We practically had death threats. But now, since 2011, Geoffrey Durham directs us and, when he came in, he just stripped the whole act down. We were a variety act and he took out all the songs. He wanted us to do more classical music and he makes sure that everything we do is at the same level.”
“He’s a genius, really,” said Steven. “We don’t try anything unless we run it past Geoffrey first.”
“This is Geoffrey Durham as in Victoria Wood’s ex-husband?” I checked.
“Yes,” said Kevin.
“Someone compared your act to Victor Borge,” I said.
“Everyone wants to pigeonhole,” said Steven. “We’re not. Victor Borge did very little music. They’ve also said we are a bit like a suited-and-booted Hinge & Bracket. But they didn’t play long classical pieces or anything like that, so… Everyone wants to pigeonhole you.”
“You are not going back to Papua New Guinea?” I asked.
“I doubt it,” said Kevin.