Ethel Talks StreisBAND

When we first heard about Stephen Crowe’s latest project StreisBAND we could not wait to hear the results and to discover just what kind of animal it would be. We weren’t disappointed. StreisBAND are unlike anything we have heard before. Their frantic, affectionate renditions have captured the imagination and spawned an instant dedicated fan base, which includes serious, die-hard Babs fans. No small feat. For years composer Stephen Crowe has been writing ‘little operas’ as well as performing free-improv with the trio Ynd. His latest venture might just be the most fabulous contribution towards Ms Streisand’s cultural impact in a very long time. Some gigs and an album are coming soon.

It’s obvious that StreisBAND is not a gimmick or a joke but instead comes from a place of pure love. How much do you love Barbra Streisand? How did your Streislove begin?

She’s a genius, and she’s funny. Who else can you say that about?

I must have been 20 years old when I first came across Streisand. I was at a car boot sale and there was a copy of Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Funny Girl on VHS. I could only afford one of the two, and though I knew nothing at all about Barbra Streisand, I thought it was worth a try. It was an agonising decision, though I knew nothing about Brahms either. Funny Girl is a masterpiece, I reckon. It sparked an obsession. It’s the ‘thinking voice’ that I love about the Streisand. The ability to act while singing, I mean. I think all musical performance is acting on some level.

What led to the formation of StreisBAND?

I had the idea a few years ago. It was a kind of ridiculous notion that had no chance of materialising. Like saying ‘I’m going to move to Paris and write poetry’. I recently mentioned it to a girl that I was trying to impress. She thought it was hilarious, and so I had to turn it into a reality. You could say she called my bluff.

The first move was to design the logo. I’m not sure how many bands finalise the logo before the first rehearsal, but I hadn’t even met the drummer before I printed twenty T-shirts saying ‘StreisBAND’.

We first heard of the StreisBAND project through your ad for a drummer. Tell us about some of the people who replied – on the whole, did they get it? How did you decide on Barry?

More people ‘got it’ than I had anticipated. I had twenty-five applicants from all over Europe, and including drummers who’ve played for quite big names. I held auditions in London, but Barry (who lives in Ireland) sent me some videos of his interpretations via youtube, and he was my favourite. He was obviously having a ball while he was playing. He’s really funny, too. Which helps.

Does Barry love Babs too?

He didn’t, but he does now! That’s sort of the point of the whole project. Make people realise how great the songs are. They have to be great to withstand this sort of pummelling.

StreisBAND consists of vocals and drums and in your words, ‘no guitar, no bass, no marimba’. How and why did you come to that decision?

It’s just a lot more interesting than having a regular rock n’ roll set up, isn’t it? There are more than enough guitar bands in the world. This is much more direct. No pissing about, as it were.


How does StreisBAND fit in your oeuvre of avant garde, experimental musics?

That’s a tough question. I’m having a break from writing little operas and experimental music so that I can be more spontaneous and get out of the whole contemporary classical field and all the routine that goes with it. But is it REALLY a break? Or is it a continuation in some way? I don’t really know. Best not to dwell.

How are you choosing the songs?

I have to love the song and it has to work with the StreisBAND treatment. It helps if there’s an emotional tight-rope in the lyrics. Me and Barry struck upon the image of Oliver Reed on the street in his underpants, having been thrown out by his girlfriend. He’s pleading with her desperately as she throws his clothes from the bedroom window. He’s blind drunk and it’s raining. If the lyric of the song can fit that image then we’re on to a winner.

There also has to be a balance of well-known songs and more obscure songs. I don’t want to just do the Greatest Hits, that would be too easy and a bit boring. Besides, more people on this planet need to hear ‘Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking’, hopefully if they like StreisBAND’s version they’ll have a listen to her original. They’re surprisingly similar.

We hear there may be a tour?

There will be a few individual performances, and if they don’t go horribly wrong then there’ll be a tour.

Like us, you saw Babs’ recent concert at the O2. What did you think?

I was stunned! I wasn’t expecting her to be anything like as good as she was, frankly. I love her voice and I love her humour- both of which I imagined were in decline. But she was fucking fantastic. Her song choices were incredible, too, which is vital. The most moving Babs song for me has always been ‘Didn’t We?’, which isn’t an especially well known song, but she sang it and I was thrilled. I think I cried a couple of times during that concert. But then I’m an easy crier.

Babs likes to have some guest boys along on her tours these days. When she chooses StreisBAND for her next tour and to appear on her imminent duets album, what song will you do?

‘You Are Woman, I Am Man’. My tash rivals Omar Sharif’s.

Do you see StreisBAND as a one-album project or does it depend on your voice giving out or not?

HA! Yes, my voice may not hold out much longer singing the way I do. But it’s definitely ongoing, as far as I’m concerned. It might change, it might stay the same. I don’t want to sterilise it by forming concrete plans, since wildness is the best thing about it.

Babs Stude

What is your favourite Babs era/album/film/TV special/hairdo?

I can’t get enough of those early albums and films. I love the album Barbra Streisand and Other Musical instruments, for the sheer range of textures in the orchestration. And it’s really funny. I couldn’t survive for love without Je m’apelle Barbra, either. For TV specials it’s got to be A Happening in Central Park which I use as my secret weapon to convert unbelievers. That performance, with all the schtick and the wit and emotion is complete genius. Great hair in Hello Dolly, but a bit of a superficial character, I seem to recall.

Barbra Streisand offers you a professional residency in her home/s. Do you:

a) choose to turn one of the shoppe’s in her basement shopping mall into a small gig venue, even though no one ever actually goes down there?

b) hang out with her in the ‘Grandma’s House’ studio and jam?

c) become a troubadour, following her as she checks her stocks whilst still in her pjs, demands another quail pizza from her PA Renata, requests you play ‘Smile’ for her coton de tulear Sammie and in memory of bichon frise Sammy (RIP), decides what colour flowers and fish she wants to match up today, and has some afternoon delight with Jim in her purpose-built shag-room?

d) something else?

HAHA! I would put microphones all over the house to make recordings of every word Babs says to Sammie and publish the results as an experimental novel. Or is that too obvious?

Is there a music genre that Babs hasn’t touched that you would love her to?

Glenn Gould wanted her to do some Mussorgsky, but I reckon she would have been staggering in hair metal.

You Don’t Bring Me Flowers with Diamond, Guilty with Gibb, No More Tears with Summer, or I’ve Finally Found Someone with Adams?

Guilty. Hands down. I like I’ve Got a Crush on You with Sinatra, too.

In Barbra Streisand…And Other Musical Instruments Babs sing-conducts an orchestra in ‘a concerto for voice and appliances’. What are your favourite appliances to play?

Corkscrew and bottle opener. I’ve been rehearsing for years.

For me it will be the performance she gave when she won the talent contest at New York gay bar The Lion, the one that launched her career as an actress-who-sings. What Babs moment will you visit when you take a trip in the Ethel Mermaids Time Machine?

A few seconds before she met Elliot Gould. I would swoop.

What next for StreisBAND and Stephen Crowe? 

I’m trying to raise money to finish recording the album, and I’m sorting out a couple of gigs before the New Year. I’m off to live in Berlin for a few months from January. Don’t worry: there’s a very good drummer there for all German StreisBAND performances.


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