The Horne Section: Wisecracks, drum solos and unusual celebrity star turns

Combining stand-up with jazz is a winning formula, says Alice Jones

Three years ago, Alex Horne did a five-minute stand-up spot at Ronnie Scott's. It set him thinking. Comedians and jazz musicians have a lot in common, don't they? Both skilled with timing, adept at improvising and keen on, well, showing off in darkened rooms. His two best friends from school were jazz musicians and they'd been talking about working together for years. Why not combine their passions and stage a new show, one that would mix punchlines with basslines?

And so The Horne Section was born – a freewheeling variety night at which comedians perform backed by a live jazz group. Their first gig in May 2010 was a ramshackle affair, which saw them banned from London's Canal Cafe for squeezing too many people on to its tiny stage. Since then they've crammed just about every name in comedy into their shows. Anyone might pitch up and do a turn: Harry Hill, Simon Amstell, Jimmy Carr, Tim Minchin, Josie Long and John Oliver all have.

"We discovered straight away that it worked. Having live musicians in a comedy show adds a frisson," says Horne, 34, who has been performing stand-up since his Footlights days. "Comedy is getting more diverse – you can do anything on a stage now. It doesn't have to be just one man and a mic."

The Horne Section is far more than that. Horne (Grade 3 French horn; beginners' piano) is the benevolent MC, his five-piece band – Joe Auckland (trumpet) Mark Brown (sax) Will Collier (bass) Ben Reynolds (drums) and Joe Stilgoe (keyboards) – the talented fall guys, improvising soundtracks for the comedy star turns. In between, there are silly songs, audience games and cabaret turns. Some guests, like Minchin, slip easily into the format. Others – often the most exciting – showcase hitherto hidden talents alongside their usual schtick: Al Murray playing the drums, for example or Tim Key snarling along to Russian rock. Musical guests – Neil Hannon and Suggs have both shown up – are similarly encouraged to try out their comedy patter.

Since their chaotic first gig, The Horne Section have played the West End, Cheltenham Jazz Festival and three sold-out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe. These days they may wear matching ties and use whizzy projections but there's still a barely veiled anarchy to proceedings. "We thought that if we had a slick beginning and end and we looked good," says Horne. "We could muck around more in the middle."

While the hosts write their material, they have no idea what their guests will do and never rehearse with them beforehand. "I love being completely in the dark," says Stilgoe. "I thrive on it."

"It keeps it edgy and improvised," agrees Reynolds. "We're trying to keep that rawness that we felt when we did our first show, the excitement of not knowing what's going to happen."

Like the best comedy, it looks effortless but it couldn't work if the musicians weren't supremely skilled. They are an impressive bunch: Auckland plays with Madness, Brown is on tour with Robbie Williams, Reynolds and Collier are jazz stalwarts, playing with Clare Teal and Gwilym Simcock while Stilgoe (son of Richard) released his own album in July. More importantly, says Reynolds, they have known each other for years. "We just got together all of our favourite people. So the on-stage chemistry was already there. It wasn't forced."

Tonight they begin a four-night residency at London's South Bank with guests including Dave Gorman, David O'Doherty and Felix from Basement Jaxx. A second Radio 4 series follows in the Spring. Are there any comedians left on their wishlist? "Woody Allen on clarinet and Steve Martin on banjo", says Horne. "We approach people who are our heroes. We always think they'll never do it but they tend to say yes."

The Horne Section, Southbank Centre, London SE1 (thehorne section.com) to 2 November

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style