Rufino And The Coconuts

Sydney Festival, The Famous Spiegeltent, January 24

Rufino res
Photo: Jamie Williams

“I’m Rufino the Catalan Casanova,” says the man wearing the pinstripe moustache and rakish hat. “I’m not boasting,” he adds. “It’s just my name.” This would be the same Rufino who nearly drowned while making violent love in a dinghy during his time with Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. It seems he washed up in the Caribbean, and was sufficiently desperate for gambling money as to form his own band: the Coconuts.

Perhaps the capsized rowboat accounts for the absence of the violin on which, with the Black Sea Gentlemen, Rufino would play music so sad that dogs would bury themselves, brides would marry in black and grown men would have crying competitions.

Violinless in the Windies, all that is left to Rufino is his voice, which in these tropical climes has become an infinitely more jovial instrument than his fiddle, possibly due to consorting with the sort of women who play maracas. Or perhaps it was due to the imperviousness one feels when one’s drummer is called the Colonel, and looks like he runs the local army, police, judiciary, tax office and distillery.

Rufino refutes allegations that he is, in fact, Pip Branson, a person of interest to Mathias Cormann and the ATO. But, were it true, it would explain his many changes of appearance, including becoming a witchdoctor wearing a somewhat confronting leopard-print bodysuit. He also emerged as a pith-helmeted colonialist and a striped-tee-shirted smuggler.

While looking like refugees from a Marx Brothers movie he and the Coconuts played a goofy take on dance music that was laced with pina coladas and was of the sort that small-time dictators will countenance. The originals were spiked with shots of Grace Jones and Roxy Music, and the music was broken up by an unremarkable, overlong burlesque performance. Somehow the joke does not grow stale with the Black Sea Gentlemen, but for Rufino a shorter show may have better sustained the conceit. Especially at 2 am.