Master songwriter Daniel Cainer (otherwise known as ‘The Comic Bard of Anglo Jewry’) hit all the right notes as he performed old classics and new at the Green Note in Camden last night.
Cainer, whose storytelling jazz pieces include references to anti-Semitism, his Jewish lineage and a turmoilic upbringing, performed for the first time with double bassist Andy Hamill.
Probably Cainer’s most relatable song is God Knows Where, starting with the line ‘My father’s, father’s, father’s, father’s, father before him, came from Russia, maybe Poland, maybe Lvov or Lublin.’ A sombre song about Jewish immigration, it is regularly sung at synagogues in America and will be performed by London’s Zemel Choir at a benefit concert for Ukraine in March.
Cainer, whose Jewishness has only been his chief shtick for the past decade, was previously an award-winning satirical songwriter for the BBC and his under-rated musicianship has included scores written for radio and television. The audience in Camden was a mixture of Jewish and non-Jewish, but Cainer doesn’t shy away from the themes that preoccupy him as he enters his seventh decade.
His song entitled, Thus Has It Always Been mixes references to medieval English anti-Semitism – ‘They lent the money for the building of cathedrals and what was done to them was frankly medieval’ – with the contemporary, ‘You can take the Jew out of Israel, but not Israel out of the Jew’.
An irreverent storyteller, he is still arguably at his best when he wears his satirical hat. His whimsical Don’t Tell Greta intersperses multi-media footage of the iconic environmental campaigner with Cainer’s lyrics. ‘Don’t tell Greta I went to the store, but I didn’t bring a bag, no matter that I had a hundred in the draw.’
Grandpa and Me is one of many autobiographical pieces that he has proliferated in the past decade. His award-winning Jewish Chronicles, has been a big hit in America where they perhaps relate more fully to Cainer’s sense of conflict between the old and the new. What starts as a song about going to the Kennington Oval with his religious grandfather who teaches him about the rudiments of cricket, becomes a tale of multigenerational conflict: ‘Then my parents divorced/And we children of course/ We had little further contact/ And my father’s affair with a non-Jewish woman/They were not prepared to accept that.’
Cainer is performing in Sheffield in April and hopes for another off-Broadway tour later in the year.
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