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Who's the Cat In the Hat Behind the Bar?

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Meet the host of Qirkz, Yaron Hallis. The following article is from The Australian Jewish News, October 24 2018 and it gives you a pretty good run-down on this zany musician and artist and what he's all about.

"WHEN Yaron Hallis was eleven-years-old, he was sifting through vintage records at a flee market when he came across one particular record that ignited his interest – it was an album by Leonard Cohen, who happened to have the same name as his father. “I bought the album out of morbid curiosity as I thought it was really funny that somebody would make an album under my father’s name,” Hallis, now the lead vocalist of Monsieur Camembert, explained. “It wasn’t the sort of music that people of my age were traditionally listening to, and the words completely ran over my head. It was all very sombre music, but so beautiful.”

Years later, after the high-energy klezmer group Monsieur Camembert had been formed, the band received a request to perform Cohen’s famous song, Dance Me to the End of Love.

“We would play it every single show, and if we didn’t play it, we would be compelled to by the audience,” said Hallis.

The band was encouraged to perform more of Cohen’s repertoire – an interesting prospect, argued Hallis, when high-energy klezmer tunes characterise Monsieur Camembert, in contrast to the more sombre sounds produced by Cohen.

“We had to reign in the crazy wildness of Monsieur Camembert’s energy into something that is focused and sparse and allows the music to breathe far more, that was a fantastic challenge,” Hallis remarked.

Monsieur Camembert taking their curtain call at last year's Leonard Cohen tribute. Photo: Tony Egan

What began as a morbid curiosity had become a fixed element in Monsieur Camembert’s repertoire, which itself transformed into a musical love affair between the band and one of history’s greatest lyricists.

For over a decade, Monsieur Camembert has been paying tribute to Cohen, and the tradition will continue on Saturday when the Camelot Lounge brings the six-piece band to City Hall for the second year running.

The line-up features the band’s usual suspects including Hallis, Eddie Bronson, Mark Harris, Jim Pennel, Daniel Pliner and Jess Ciampa, with special guest singers Abby Dobson, Diana Rouvas, Gregg Arthur and Susie Bishop, and three virtuoso guest instrumentalists – Mexican harp player Victor Valdes, Ukrainian cellist Anatoli Torjinski and Egyptian oud player Joseph Tawadros.

Aiming to covey the legendary power of Cohen – not just as a lyricist and poet, as he is generally revered – but as a skilled musician of the highest order, Hallis commented, “Cohen was the ultimate lyricist and poet … Because of that people tend to neglect to talk about what a wonderful writer he was of melodies.”

Some of the band’s repertoire stands true to Cohen’s timeless works, while others bear little resemblance, but even with Monsieur Camembert’s untraditional treatment of Cohen’s original scores, Hallis assures that their tribute is “done with respect and absolute love”.

“I would love to think that it has opened a door to [Cohen] for people that otherwise weren’t that tuned into his music,” said Hallis.

The band’s tribute includes both remarks that Cohen said off the cuff – in interviews, on stage – as well as his poetry and lyrics – “anything that I [feel] really gives a deeper picture of the man and the sentiments behind some of the songs”, Hallis remarked.

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