INTERVIEWS BY MARIA VISCONTI
Musician Brenton Edgecombe, 38, and his cellist wife Jacqueline, 42, have spent much of the past eight years cruising the oceans as String Fever. Last year they decided to take their award-winning cabaret act to the mainland. Their latest port of call is Melbourne.
2 of us
Brenton & Jacqueline Edgecombe
working together when our only personal space was a cabin. We even had to practise in there. Since the cello is much larger than the violin, I always had to go into the bathroom. But Jacqui and I really like hanging out. She’s always making me laugh – often unintentionally. She will tell you she’s the boss of our marriage. She’s incredibly organised, which is fantastic as I’m a bit of a dreamer. I’ll have an idea and she’ll be scheduling an action plan in the diary. It was a big shock at first. We argue when we rehearse together. This can be a real test, since we know we have to be brutally honest for the good of our product. What hurts the most is when one of us makes a criticism of the other which is exactly right. Deep down we really trust each other, which is why it works. Though you wouldn’t believe this if you heard Jacqui yelling, “You’re playing so flat!” and me screaming back, “I’m not as flat as you’re sharp!”
renton: I first met Jacqui at the Adelaide
Chamber Orchestra in 1993, where I was playing the violin. She can’t actually remember meeting me but I found her very exciting. I remember our first conversation (she doesn’t), an argument over modern medicine versus natural therapies. This is the way our relationship has always been – we argue continually, although we very rarely have a fight. She basically ignored me until she saw me singing at a party, and then she hunted me down. We never really went out on any dates – we just went from that to living together. I wanted to expand my performing to include singing, acting and songwriting, and Jacqui was ready for a change, so we made the decision to uproot to Sydney in search of new opportunities. While Jacqui was out working as a casual cellist, I was harassing every entertainment agent to get work as a bar-singer and piano player. It wasn’t too long before I got a call from the agent for a major cruise line. They were desperate for a replacement for their piano-bar guy who’d been attacked by a native in the jungles of New Guinea. My demo tape had arrived that day and apparently he didn’t have the time or inclination to check through the thousands he already had. I could see a future of one ship contract turning into another and us never seeing each other again. So, although I really needed the job, I told the agent, 20 Good Weekend April 21, 2007
“I had no idea Brenton could sing. When I first saw and heard him doing his thing it was love at first sight and sound.”
“Actually, my girlfriend and I work together as a duo.” He only hesitated a moment before saying yes. Having spent almost eight years on cruise ships, we can’t say we enjoyed the lifestyle. A lot of our contracts were short, so sometimes we spent more time in airports and planes than on ships. Things which seemed amazing and luxurious at first became overbearing when cruising for nine or 10 months a year: the constant gourmet food, having your room serviced every day, the constant socialising, the continually different currencies, languages and cultures. We missed the small normalities of life, like being able to make a sandwich or a cup of tea, watch TV or phone friends. As entertainers we had to be on our best behaviour around the clock – everybody knew who we were. I often worried about Jacqui “letting go” – she has a tendency to say what she thinks. Once she told a particularly obnoxious cruise director to get f…ed on the phone. I was in the shower at the time. I almost started packing our bags, but luckily it blew over. People often ask us how could we stand living and
played musical instruments. I always guessed I’d end up playing in an orchestra, although I didn’t have a huge passion for it. I was much more interested in boys. I knew that if I fell in love and had a real friend as a companion in my life, everything would turn out all right. I say in the show, “That’s what I fell in love with”, after Brenton sings an Elton John number. It’s absolutely true. We were both working in the same orchestra at the time and we had never spoken more than a couple of words. I thought of him as “that ugly little guy in the violins”. But one night at a party, he was asked to perform. I had no idea he could sing. When I saw and heard him doing his thing it was love at first sight and sound. One day Brenton said very matter of factly, “We’re going on a cruise and we have to be a duo. Don’t worry, I’ll sing my songs and you can improvise on the cello.” Improvisation was a skill I didn’t have. I could read almost anything but I didn’t have jazz harmony knowledge, which is one of the major things you need to improvise. When I got home he put the chord chart of Till There Was You in front of me and started singing and playing the piano. I joined in on the cello. In a matter of seconds Brenton realised that he would need to write parts for me in an “improvisation” style. It was hard at first. I wasn’t very comfortable with criticism and Brenton wouldn’t settle for anything other than what he could hear in his head. I remember quite a few screaming matches but knew, deep down, that I had to learn to take it. Now I have to beg for Brenton’s criticism – I crave it actually, and also love giving it back. When we first started cruising I wanted to see everything and go out all the time. Within a few years I thought everything looked the same – that’s burnout for you. Our exercise regime on board was running. When my knees started to give out, I decided that we’d learn to swim. We taught ourselves from a book and DVD. Unfortunately, ship pools are not for lap swimming, so we started to search for pools in ports of call. We’d get back to the ship and people couldn’t believe it. They’d say, “But you’re in X [some exotic country] – you could go swimming anytime!” But we were always somewhere exotic. We just had to try and find ways to live a normal life. As entertainers it was essential to look good, and with all the rich food on board, it took a lot of discipline to stay, at best, normal. Now that we’ve set up home in Melbourne we’ve been enjoying the space. From being on a ship where we had so much free time and little to do, we’re now here with what seems like so little time and so much to do. Often I am asked, “When are you going to settle down and have children?” I believe we’re not all meant to have children. I have never wanted them. Brenton has been spending just about all his time in the studio – on my orders – and I’m in the office. I really feel that we have no pieces missing. We are complete. I even miss Brenton sometimes when he goes to the bathroom. It’s sickening, I know.
acqueline: I am the youngest of three sisters who