Comedy: Small moments of magic

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The Independent Culture
John Shuttleworth - The Beast Of John Shuttleworth

Bloomsbury Theatre, London

Gary Barlow, Reginald Dwight, Eric Clapton, and now John Shuttleworth. Often, it's the artists with the least alluring names that turn out to be the most dynamic. Tonight, the versatile singer-songwriter and former security guard took us on an uncompromising trip to his dark side.

For almost two hours, the man they're calling Sheffield's answer to Richard Stilgoe showcased treasures from his superb, "best of" collection - "The Yamaha Years". The only disappointment was that "My Wife Died In 1970" - his moving elegy to a her-indoors of yesteryear - was deemed "too upsetting", and remained un-aired.

Sipping roguishly at his Lucozade Sport and looking chipper in cream chinos, soft leather jacket and red polo-neck sweater, John kicked-off with "Eggs & Gammon". His almost vaudevillian approach with this crowd- pleaser soon stirred us to sing along on the choruses, while various sounds from his trusty Yamaha organ testified to a particularly flatulent night in his agent Ken Worthington's troubled past.

It was "Karen's Tangerine", however, which most clearly highlighted Shuttleworth's ability to capture small moments of magic armed only with a lyric and a melody. This "number" - and I think I can use that rather cavalier description advisedly - wistfully recounts a citrus fruit-oriented act of kindness on the part of his daughter. I won't give it away, but suffice to say it's as touching a father-to-daughter song as Phil Lynott's "Sarah". Strange to think that, until recently, only BBC light entertainment would release John's material.

As the evening unfolded, one became increasingly struck by the unprecedented scope of Shuttleworth's music. The preposterously catchy "Save The Whale (its hump, its fins, its tail)" was written as a potential Eurovision entry for Norway, but it would make a superb anthem for Greenpeace.

Off on another tangent altogether, "Up and Down Like A Bride's Nightie" shared out the mood-swing experience like a big box of Quality Street and thus made it seem a whole lot less threatening. John's material isn't just music, it's aural Prozac.

Shuttleworth had warned his audience from the outset that the show would contain risque banter; perhaps even gratuitous acts of violence. Unlike Ozzy Osbourne, however, he had the good grace to ask the chicken which had been sitting on his keyboard all evening who its favourite Spice Girl was before he bit its head off. (John's fave, incidentally, is Scary Spice.)

A fine crescendo then, and one which the audience met with a hail of Tracker Bars and Curly-Wurlys. When fans have taken the time to familiarise themselves with an artist's favourite confectioneries, megastardom can never be far behind.