The story began one night at Chrysalis Records, in 1982. Ex Scorpion Michael Schenker was in the office at Stratford Place for a summit. There was trouble at t’mill, and the blonde bomber was pleading for help. Having sacked MSG’s original singer Gary Barden for Rainbow’s Graham Bonnet, he’d got more than he’d bargained for when blind-drunk Bonnet exposed himself on stage in Sheffield, broke the law and compromised the band. It was, funnily enough, Graham’s only gig with MSG. He’d managed to record just one album with them before falling off the side spectacularly. Talk was of Irish rocker Robin McAuley, formerly of Grand Prix, joining the line-up, and of whether the band should rewrite its name to reflect the collaboration. McAuley, incidentally, currently performs in the Vegas production of Harry Cowell's and Simon Napier-Bell's 'Raiding the Rock Vaults'.
Sitting silently in a corner of the Chrysalis board room that evening, taking it all in, was a threadbare, pixie-eyed artful dodger, belatedly of Decca and Rocket, shuffling cards, twitching knives and perfecting the art of the unexpected. His flick-fingered routines and libidinous innocence proved too much for the man with the flying V. Our peroxided metal guru leapt eventually from his chair, leather-squeaked his way to the walnut double doors and delivered a parting shot that went down in history:
‘Zeig mir nicht mehr Tricks!
Don’t show me any more tricks!’
Michael Schenker fell on hard times. The boy magician became a massive star. During the early Nineties, when British television broadcast on only five channels and when to be a household face on one of them was a really big deal, the young upstart had sharpened both his blades and his wits and had reinvented himself as the antithesis of Paul Daniels. His bizarre, almost X-rated approach to stage magic, vice and illusion turned his fortune. As if overnight, the over-lit world of light entertainment grew darker than anyone had previously imagined it could. Millions will remember the two globally-acclaimed series of Simon Drake’s ‘The Secret Cabaret’. The rest of you can find it on YouTube.
Why only two series? Television didn’t thrill the boy wonder for long. Mass media attention did little to whet his enthusiasm. He retreated to a Gothic mansion in one of London’s most ancient parishes, and became an eccentric recluse. He raised a family, wondered a lot about life, and licked his wounds for twenty years. What goes around, comes around. Now ‘The Secret Cabaret’ is back, but in a live format only, somewhere not too challenging a totter from the Thames, in a location which will never be disclosed. You have to be there, on the guest list of the House of Magic.
There is no indication, on arrival, as to what lies within. The mansion is situated in a quiet residential neighbourhood off the beaten track. Its exterior bears no clue as to its inner secrets. Stepping gingerly through the Enchanted Garden into a living museum of magic, one escapes the distant howling of wolves, sinister rustlings in the undergrowth and eerily-glowing ponds into the overblown gorgeousness of the Red Room, lured by a headless butler who points the way to knockout pre-dinner cocktails. Seduced on a whispering chair, persuaded with fortune-tellings, mystics and dungeon tours, and invited to feast on a fine repast while table tricksters do the rounds, the visitor is agog by the time the lights are dimmed, the smoke is belched, and the full-blown celebration of the Dark Arts begins.
Expect nothing of the brand of magic associated with ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or some predictable Las Vegas revue. This show is terrifying, mesmerizing and arousing in equal blasts. So popular with the showbiz fraternity has Drake’s House of Magic proved that his diary is booked out for months: private parties for international celebrities, after-shows, movie launches, corporate happenings, the complete shebang. Still, our crazed host holds back a handful of nights for the experienced, the curious and the eager to suspend disbelief. And now, for the resurrection of ‘The Secret Cabaret’. For grappling with death is the essence of life. It is here, anyway.