Step back in time

Quartet Casablanca Steps celebrate English eccentricity in an act that pays homage to the 1920s

By Steve Meunier

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Published: Tue 28 Oct 2008, 8:34 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:45 PM

THE MALL OF the Emirates’ ‘Live’ programme of events is certainly revealing an eclectic billing. The first act came in the form of the Australian troupe Urban Wonderland, who rocked the shopping and leisure centre’s Galleria stage with a frenetic display of modern dance. This week, a rather more genteel offering can be found in the form of Casablanca Steps - a quartet who fuse the distinct music of the 1920s with a comedy routine that pays homage to this unique episode of the last century.

Watching Casablanca Steps perform, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had stumbled into a scene from a P.G. Wodehouse production. Each member of the four-piece ensemble resembles a slightly eccentric character who has been transported directly from the pre-World War Two British upper class, possessing stage names that confirm a quintessentially English aura. The band comprises Wooten Basset on trombone, Clarke Deville playing guitar, Pico Boon III on bass and Archibald Singen-Singen Smythe on piano.

The band’s refreshing take on the 1920s’ scene incorporates comedic turns set to musical pieces, one of which includes the members juggling whilst playing their instruments, another involving the spinning of walking canes across the stage. One particularly amusing piece utilises Velcro hats and sticky balls – something a written description simply can’t do justice to.

Casablanca Steps’ antics are pulling in a very appreciative crowd at the mall’s Galleria, although the volume of people drawn to the stage owes as much to the highly accomplished musical ability on display as it does to the slapstick, tongue-in-cheek capers being proffered.

Amongst the repertoire that reveals the band’s superlative period style are a quick tempo rendition of the classic ‘Can Can’ – a number which drew an enthusiastic response from the large French contingent watching on Thursday - and a virtuoso performance of the Irving Berlin classic; ‘Puttin' on the Ritz’.

Casablanca Steps hail from the UK – specifically the country’s Manchester and London regions - and the longest-serving of the band members have been together for 22 years. Pico Boon III, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1920s’ fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, complete with slicked-backed hair and an impeccably groomed moustache, explained the band’s philosophy in simple terms. “It’s a musical comedy routine that includes stupid dancing and ridiculous facial expressions,” he said, after the second of their three evening sets.

Although they may appear to send up the attitudes and sensibilities of this bygone age, it is clear that the band holds a strong affection for the period. Their high standard of showmanship has led them to perform at events all around the world, including TV shows in Europe and corporate events in Asia. They have even played in front of royalty at a private gala event organised for the UK’s Prince Phillip, a party that was laid on to commemorate the international work of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.

Unsurprisingly, Casablanca Steps also have a strong association with the golden modes of travel associated with the epoch they so effectively recreate, namely sailing and steam. The band regularly entertains guests aboard various cruise ships and recently undertook a stint on the famous Orient Express. This latter booking formed the basis for a moment of happy coincidence for two newly-wed visitors to the mall on Thursday, who waited until after the performance to introduce themselves to the musicians. “We’re here in Dubai on our honeymoon and just happened to be in the mall,” said Darren Annakin, who was with his spouse Jayne. “We were travelling on the Orient Express train, the Northern Belle, when Casablanca Steps were playing and it was during that holiday that I proposed to my wife,” he added, obviously pleasantly surprised to have by

chance bumped into the performers who had played such a significant role in the setting of his betrothal.

The Casablanca Steps’ performance evokes memories of a period of history that was characterised by insouciant hedonism in the face of the Great Depression – something that Pico Boon III noted, with a wry smile, makes their act a particularly fitting one at the moment.


Casablanca Steps will perform at Mall of the Emirates’ Galleria three times each evening until Thursday, October 30. The timings for their performances are 5pm, 6:15pm and 8pm.

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