Mike McLeish's Q&A with Joe Stilgoe

Mike: As a self-confessed film buff, when do you think you first became aware of the impact of music in film?

Joe: It was probably the crows in Dumbo singing 'When I see an elephant fly' who did it for me. I remember thinking they were so jazzy and it was really the only thing I remembered from the film. From then on I was obsessed with films having songs in them, within the action, and not necessarily musicals. That's what hooked me in.

Mike: It's such a wonderful concept to take music specifically designed to serve a particular art form and reimagine it for a live performance where the music is the hero rather than one of many crucial elements that come together to make a great film. How and when did you decide to make this show?

Joe: Why thank you – I'm not doing anything particularly revolutionary but I am looking at the music from a different angle rather than just churning out songs from musicals, as they don't have quite the same impact as a non-musical film with brilliantly chosen music. I love giving the audience a visual memory as we play a particular song (like 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head', for instance.)

Mike: It's an obvious question, but I have to know, how did you even begin to decide which songs to include in the show? Did it come down to your own personal connection to certain films?

Joe: I have a list which is so long they won't let me on the aeroplane (unless I send it in advance on a ship), so I've tried to make the choices personal to me and the guys in the band. If we relate to the songs, the audience will relate to them too. This is the third incarnation of the show (I know, normally the dodgiest of all sequels, but this one is more Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade than Police Academy 3) so I've delved deeper into my treasure chest, and we focus a fair bit on the 80s – what a magic and often quite strange decade of films that was.

Mike: This show marks your Melbourne debut. Welcome! We're a live music town so I think you'll fit right in. You're a stellar jazz pianist touring with a world-class band. How much room do leave for improvisation when you perform Songs On Film?

Joe: Thanks again, I like you a lot. I've actually played Melbourne at the comedy festival 4 years ago and I've been twice before that, but now I'm here for the first time performing in my own name, and I can't wait. We can't wait. In terms of improvisation, there's a good chunk, though it doesn't get in the way of the story-telling. We use jazz (in that improvisational sense) sparingly in the show, when it feels right and when we want to change the energy.

Mike: Who would play you in the movie about your life? And what would the title of the movie be?

Joe: Always a tricky question, as I don't want to appear falsely immodest. They'd have to play the piano so that limits it a tad, but in the real world I would put forward my friend Jamie Parker (who is about to play the older Harry Potter in the new play in the West End). He can do no wrong. In another universe, Gene Kelly. The film would be called – Really? You?

Songs on Film in on for two nights only – Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 June at Chapel Off Chapel. Book here.