Alternative Cabaret was a London-based collective of politically motivated performers central to the birth of Alternative Comedy in 1979.
Alternative Cabaret was a collective of politically-motivated performers and musicians. It was set up by Tony Allen and Alexei Sayle in the summer of 1979 shortly after they had met at the newly opened London Comedy Store. They quickly recruited comedians Jim Barclay, Andy de la Tour and Pauline Melvile; plus folk duos Chisholm and Stevens, Gasmask and Hopkins, and jazz salsa band Combo Passe.
Occasional cabaret nights were already happening in a few London fringe theatres, most notably at the Albany Deptford and the Half Moon Mile End, and Alt Cab members were encouraged to open regular club nights under the name Alternative Cabaret in pub function rooms, student union bars and community venues around London. The flagship Alt Cab night was run by Allen and Sayle in the back bar of the Lord Elgin in Ladbroke Grove W11 between Aug 1979 and May 1980. While always an adamant non-member Keith Allen was a regular guest at many Alt Cab club nights. Among other regular guests were actress Maggie Steed and Arnold Brown.
The non-racist, non-sexist, and often radical slant to the material of Alternative Cabaret comedians soon became the main attraction and the focus of press interest; as a consequence the phrase Alternative Comedy became parlance and was employed to describe an emerging approach to comedy entertainment across the London fringe including The Comedy Store where audiences and performers were still often being polarised into opposing Alternative and Traditional camps.
Shortly before he parted company with Alternative Cabaret, Alexei Sayle joined Tony Allen to play the Edinburgh festival in Aug 1980 with Late Night Alternative at the Heriot Watt Theatre. The following year 1981 Allen returned with Andy De La Tour, Jim Barclay and Pauline Melville and Alternative Cabaret at the Assembly Rooms was a noted hit. Highlights of the ensuing national tour were released as an album "Alternative Cabaret" on Original records later that year. Having served its purpose, Alternative Cabaret then quietly disbanded and merged into what was becoming the thriving London Alternative Comedy circuit.
alternativecabaret.com is currently collecting stories from performers and audience members who were there at the time. Please Contact Us with your experiences.