Comedy: Forget the haiku, here's Hegley

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The Independent Culture
COMEDY POETRY - like performance art or avant-garde mime - is one of those art forms designed to send mainstream audiences running for the cover of the nearest bar showing the World Cup.

The fans of John Hegley, however, clearly don't feel that way. Forsaking the joys of France vs South Africa, they thronged the Weavers Arms - the sort of fashionably faded venue where curling posters for John Otway and Attila the Stockbroker hang from the walls.

It was a trendy crowd, and I imagine Granita and other favoured eateries of north London's ciabatta-chomping classes might have experienced a relatively quiet Friday night, though it was anything but quiet at the Weavers. This was no tranquil contemplation of haiku but a full-on rock gig. At one point Hegley was giving it some serious Mick Jagger into the mike-stand while fronting a five-piece band.

However, despite the accompanying drum, bass, guitar, harmonica and sax, Hegley's words still shone through. Done up in a splendidly unmatching outfit of grey jacket, blue shirt, white trousers and black shoes - a full house of dissonance - he revelled in nonsense verse about subjects as diverse as his glasses and his beloved Luton Town football club: "The Lord was born in a stable because it was full at the inn/Luton are low down in the table because they're unable to win."

At best, he crafts the most bizarre snippets into sublimely daft, but strangely moving, poems.

One bittersweet meditation on the pleasure and pain of pet owning was worked up from the factoid that armadillos can hold their breath for six minutes.

Despite looking like the bastard son of Elvis Costello and Buddy Holly, Hegley never allowed us to think he was taking the whole rock-star schtick too seriously. After a number about the man scandalously omitted from this World Cup - Jimmy Greaves - Hegley announced "here's another political one" before adding, with a masterly touch of bathos: "It's about a dog that keeps on farting."

Hegley's mixture of strong lyrics and loud music worked surprisingly well. It pains me to say it, but all those style supplements were right. Poetry is the new rock'roll.

This review appeared in later editions of Saturday's paper.