Over the last 18 months, we’ve watched monthly variety event Heart & Lung Unit grow and grow from its Brixton origins to its current West End location. Ahead of their latest show next Monday, one of the “soul cabaret” crew’s founders Glenn Guest talks about the origins and ideas behind this up-and-coming night.
Heart & Lung Unit started in the Dogstar, Brixton as something to impress a girl. An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman start a cabaret night — that’s not even a joke in our case. We actually started the event to record a showreel so I could get into the poetry tent at Glastonbury and impress a girl. Although the night is now a roaring success packing in about 60-70 people every month, I got absolutely nowhere with those original objectives. We’ve now been in the West End for six months, a step up we’ve grown into with aplomb.
We specialise in soul cabaret which is about giving people something good on the cheap, something to look forward to that won’t break the bank. We mix up comedy and comic-poetry with music of all styles including acoustic singer songwriters, rock bands, rappers and electronica. The quality of acts we get is amazing for the money we charge. We are complete entertainment snobs and we ensure everyone is top notch, whatever the level of experience.
We’re the cooler end of the Britain’s Got Talent ethos, serving up laughter and melody for less than the price of a pint. We have some circuit pros, some up and coming, plucked from the cream of the open mic nights. As well as giving the punters high quality, we are a show that performers look forward to. Loads of acts tell us we are their biggest show yet or their favourite show on the circuit. Musicians love the comedy, comedians love the music and people need both. Cabaret is back.
Everyone seems to think we’re a charity. But we’re not, and never for one second have we claimed to be. We’re actually named after a less-than-legitimate charity venture from Dublin. Our CFO/ DJ, Irishman Tito Teebone (a DJ in his heart, an accountant on his CV) told me about an old booze-hound back in Dublin, who used to go round various pubs, putting on quizzes and bullying reticent punters into taking part. “Come on to f–k,” he’d say, “its for the Heart & Lung Unit. Do it for the poor nurses.” Now, if it really was for the benefit of the Heart & Lung Unit, he’d have donated through the proper channels. But what he actually did was save up all the profits until he had enough to buy a heap of boxes of chocolates to present to the nurses. So really, he was using a fake charity to stalk the nurses. He was definitely the friendly, if somewhat whiskey-reddened, face of stalking. Man was a legend. Regrettably, he passed away recently. Rest in peace Noely. The Heart & Lung Unit spirit lives on. We’re still doing it for the poor nurses: we let in the first ten NHS card holders for free.
Monday’s show will feature Jigsaw, a sketch troupe of BBC3, music from Tim Ten Yen & Catherine Paver, and urban-suburban comic rhymes from Oh Standfast. And for those who appreciate a snifter with their cabaret will be heartened to hear that it is happy hour all night (cheap beers, half price wine and cocktails).
Heart & Lung Unit. LVPO Dean Street, London W1D 5BQ. Monday 14 May, 19:30. £3. www.heartlungunit.co.uk.