Camille O'Sullivan: 'Nick Cave creates worlds and I want to live in them'

This article is from 2019

Gone to seeds

The Irish musician tells us that it took many deep breaths before she was able to compile a whole show of Nick Cave's sacred back catalogue

'I hear you do my songs.' Thus spake St Nick of The Bad Seeds to his committed disciple Camille O'Sullivan, at one of several spirit-filled encounters they've had over the years. 'I couldn't speak,' says this anointed Queen of the Fringe. 'I had too much to drink.'

And lo, the former Dublin architect, who answered her calling as a torrid interpreter of popular song, went forth and created her latest Fringe show around the sacred sounds of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. O'Sullivan has strewn her sets with Bad Seeds songs over time but in her 15 or so years as the most consistently acclaimed act on the Fringe, this is the first time she has dedicated an entire show to a living artist.

'I'm a bit more nervous about this one,' she says. 'Maybe Nick Cave belongs to a few more people and it took me a while to have the confidence to dedicate one show to him. How do you try and take a measure of the man and the band? "The Ship Song" took three years to get right, and now I know the way to approach Cave is to take all rhythm out and start telling the story.'

In addition to existing interpretations such as 'The Mercy Seat', O'Sullivan has dusted down the darker, more obscure corners of the Cave catalogue for some deep cuts, as well as treading sensitively around his most recent album Skeleton Tree, which was suffused with raw yet elegantly expressed grief at the death of his teenage son Arthur.

'I love Brel and Dylan and Cohen but I'd never heard that type of writer who went so dark and so vulnerable,' says O'Sullivan. 'What is exciting about singing him is that you go to the depths of darkness and the depths of beauty, with possibly the best love songs I've ever heard. He doesn't hold back. When you see him live, that amazing preacher presence is like alchemy on stage.'

Such vivid storytelling requires little embellishment, so Cave will be one of O'Sullivan's barest presentations to date. 'All we're using is the moon,' she says with rather Cave-like crypticism. 'I suppose I believe in feeling stuff on stage, so he's one of my favourite singers to sing. For me it's about the spirituality and brimstone and fire. You're walking through verses and creating images as you go. The songs really are 3D to me. And if you come with absolute love and obsession to the work, which I do, like an actress doing a Shakespeare or a Beckett part, you try and invest the best you can to make it come alive. That's how I think of these shows, rather than paying a tribute. Nick Cave creates worlds and I want to live in them.'

Camille O'Sullivan: Cave, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 2–25 Aug (not 7, 12, 19), 9.15pm, £17.50–£22 (£15.50–£20). Previews 31 Jul & 1 Aug, £13.

Camille O'Sullivan Sings Cave

  • 5 stars

Bound & Gagged The queen of the Fringe premieres a new show exploring the dark and light of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds' music in her dangerous yet fragile theatrical style. Camille embarks on a personal discovery of a man of many guises; violent, beautiful, crazy, devout and religious. Chameleon-like and celebrated…