Beating up the Beatles

Beating up the Beatles Cabaret Fringe 2024Cabaret Fringe Festival. Charlee Watt. Carclew Ballroom. 31 May 2024


In the immortal words of Mick Jagger “Charlie’s good tonight, isn’t he?”. That was 1969 and he was speaking of his drummer Charlie Watts, but it’s a fitting reference for this Charlee Watt; she was having a good night tonight.


Charlee has presented a few shows variously featuring the songs of Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Mama Cass Elliot in past Adelaide Fringes and as a recipient of the Nathaniel O’Brien Class of Cabaret in 2021, she performed the songs of David Bowie. Watt isn’t the most polished performer you’ll see this year, but much of that is to do with the fact that she is only 19 (cue another song title!) and is barely at the beginning of what promises to be a remarkable career.


Charlee performed with her own fab four, all of whom have passed through the jazz portals of the Elder Conservatorium, which gives an indication of where this show is coming from. Lewis Todd (drums), James Ho (bass) Christina Guala (saxophone) and Musical Director David Goodwin on keyboards set the tone of this show from the start; it might be an homage to the Beatles, but not as we know it.


Watt and the band have drawn on the rich history of Beatles songs as performed / arranged by such jazz greats as Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McCrae, Diana Krall and Nina Simone, and while she stands on the shoulders of giants she does so with the greatest of respect, and with a warning that she’s coming.

Because Charlee can sing.

She moves with ease from a soulful croon to a jazz swing, through to a full belt, and while her voice and style have yet to fully mature, it’s all there. And power? Waiting for her to really let rip was one thing, the surprise when she did so, quite another. The microphone threw a tizzy in protest.


Watt is an early career performer, and while this shows in areas such as stage patter, it matters little when she is doing what she does well. Working comfortably with Director Goodwin, they present some beautifully nuanced versions of some very overplayed songs, bringing to them a freshness and simplicity that gives a new perspective to these compositions.


The band worked their way through a selection of songs that of course goes nowhere near reflecting the lexicon; one assumes that each iteration of the show presents a slightly different setlist. Songs featured included Things We Said Today (A Hard Day’s Night 1964) Got to Get You Into My Life (Revolver 1966) and Carry That Weight (Abbey Road 1969). All are immediately identifiable, even when presented in a fulsome jazz setting. You might think this is because they are among the most recognisable pop songs, but it is the songs that Watt renders almost unrecognisable that are the stars of the show.


For my money, highlights were, I Saw Her Standing There, which she gender-reverses and delivers as a sassy paean to the boy meets girl dynamic; Hard Day’s Night, a bluesy soul rendition which turns the song on its head; and She Loves You which becomes a haunting and almost tragic call to uncertain love.

I just need to make a confession here; I’m not a fan of the Beatles, being more a ‘Stones kind of gal. Charlee Watt entranced me from the get-go, and the arrangements, many of which were co-labs between her and Goodwin, brought a texture to these songs that one suspects would delight the original authors.


In the old ‘do-yourself-a-favour’ kind of way, catch her next gig. If you miss this, she’ll probably be at the Fringe ’25. Get in on the ground floor with this girl, because Charlie was good tonight.


Arna Eyers-White


When: 31 May to 1 Jun

Where: Carclew Ballroom