In an exclusive first for Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Liner Notes Live has accepted a mission from God to deliver justice to Jake and Elwood and toast the soundtrack of the cult 1980s film The Blues Brothers. Their other show celebrates the album with which David Bowie introduced the world to the leper Messiah from outer space – his 1972 masterpiece of Sturm und Drag, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Host and co-producer Michael Nolan talks more about the shows.

What are you looking forward to the most about performing at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival?
Most of our shows have been conducted as part of writers festivals, so we’re really looking forward to bringing Liner Notes Live into a cabaret setting. Adelaide Cabaret Festival may turn out to be our perfect audience. And to be part of Julia Zemiro’s first festival is a special thrill – especially with her agreeing to join us to salute The Blues Brothers. Also, I was honoured to tour around the country with an otherwise all-star cohort led by Mick Harvey performing Bowie’s Berlin albums a couple of years ago, but we didn’t make it to Adelaide, so I’m personally really looking forward to giving it some Ziggy at the festival.

What can you tell Cabaret Festival goers about your shows?
Liner Notes Live is a raucous blend of live music, spoken word and storytelling. It can be heartfelt and spellbinding, it can hilarious and brash, it can be irreverent as much as glowing – irreverence has an important part to play in tribute, I think. And even as its producers, we don’t know what will happen on the night.

All the performers are assigned a track from the classic album to use as a springboard in any way they choose, and as MC the first time I know what they’re up to is when I call them to the stage. It’s a risk that’s paid off time and time again. You get a killer live band playing the hits, you get the story of the band and the making of the album, and you hear stories a great line-up of performers have never told before. Who doesn’t want to know what Maggie Beer thinks about Aretha Franklin? Or what astronomer Alan Duffy makes of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’? You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll clap along, and you’ll find out why James Brown compared The Blues Brothers to Gone With the Wind, and how Ziggy Stardust owes everything to mime.

Has the concept for Liner Notes Live been in your mind for a while?
Liner Notes Live got started in Melbourne 12 years ago, as spoken word and poetry event in a small room above a bar. We’ve since put on events at writers festivals in Melbourne, Brisbane and Byron Bay, and were very pleased to be invited to do a show about The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust at ACMI for the internationally touring David Bowie Is… exhibition a few years back. The concept has remained remarkably unchanged since its inception – performers take the mic in track-listed order, there’s a live band and me as MC. And with a different line-up of performers every time, every show is different, even if it’s the same album.

Who is the typical Liner Notes Live audience member?
It’s one and all, truly. Everybody has an opinion on classic albums. And it’s a thrill to hear from all sorts of musicians, comedians, hip-hop artists, writers and more, sharing personal stories they’ve never told before, revealing private obsessions or peeves, or delivering an original creative piece. So there’s lots of things to catch your interest – the artist, the album, the times, the line-up of performers, and more.

With so many great classic albums how did you narrow it down to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and The Blues Brothers?
Over the years we’ve saluted such classic albums as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, AC/DC’s Back in Black, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and last year, Nirvana’s Nevermind at the Melbourne Writers Festival. You’re looking for albums that have touchstone status, which the audience will be familiar with to some degree, so we have a basis to stretch out from. It can get pretty nerdy too – you’re bound to learn something you didn’t know, even if you’re a big fan.

How did you pick the talented cast who are appearing in the show?
We invite people who we know can spin a great story, or who we imagine might have a connection with the particular album or artist, but also people who are not necessarily thought of as live performers. It’s always a joy to coax a writer or a newsreader out of their normally reserved persona. Best of all is when someone well known in some other context unexpectedly turns out to have a deep knowledge of the music.

Masterchef’s Matt Preston was a star turn for our Nevermind show, in which he revealed he’d been a music promoter in a former life in London, and had booked Nirvana when they were relative unknowns. He delivered a fascinating and passionate story and revealed a trainspotter’s familiarity with punk and grunge. A gold-pin performance.

Interview By Rob Lyon

Show dates, times and tickets at the Adelaide Cabaret website.