MUSIC / Telling tales out of school: Robert Maycock watches Garrison Keillor in concert

NOBODY ever turns out the way you imagine them from the radio. They are smaller, scruffier, more ordinary - there has to be a reason why you normally hear or read them instead of seeing them. Garrison Keillor lumbers on to the stage in evening dress, twice the size of the whimsical book-jacket photos which project a kinship with the ordinary lives within. He peers over his glasses, but a massive jaw thrusts up beneath, and as he shuffles around in front of the orchestra there is a purposeful rhythm to the gait, and a glint in the eye.

Most of Saturday's show was a broader, more robustly funny affair than the Lake Wobegon narratives. The Royal Philharmonic, nonconformist as ever, had advertised its South Bank season as opening with a 'recital for mixed baritone and orchestra', and the Keillor voice is certainly a thing of some variegation, quavering with 'sincerity' but getting the melodies neatly through the microphone.

There was no contest between words and music: his big opera number was the 'Habanera', as written by Duane Bizet from Omaha. 'I know what they're singing,' he announced of opera in general, 'they're singing about adolescence,' and he reconstructed half-a-dozen of the most typical operatic characters - among them Ophelia, suggesting that his experience of opera is more recherche than most people's.

Talking, though, had the edge on singing. Keillor's classic number is The Young Lutheran's Guide to the Orchestra ('Lutherans are like Scottish people, only with less frivolity'). The idea is that music must remain a limited experience for the truly devout, as one by one the instruments reveal their worldly or immoral associations. Only the angelic harpist and the patient, rest-counting percussionist escape. The secondary joke is that each section has to keep a virtuoso variation going while the audience collapses at the targeted wisecracks. The RPO's horns appeared to find this more amusing than the bassoons.

Some of the targets are indeed missed - trombones as 'thickeners, like cornstarch'. This is an outsider's humour about music. Really musical humour, such as Hoffnung's, never does that; nor would it put up with Randall Davidson's bland, inoffensive scores. (The conductor, Philip Brunelle, who timed everything tightly, supplied some rather sharper links and backings of his own.)

But that is to reckon without Keillor the performer. At the evening's climax, he left the orchestra silent and launched out alone with two of his Lake Wobegon tales. It takes a supreme storyteller to have a packed Festival Hall hanging on every word for half an hour. That's why he is a radio natural, too. Television would only cut the hot-line from voice to listener's imagination.

You do not have to like him to fall for him. The stories of small worlds and empty lives are touching but indulgent, their irony soft for English tastes. A couple of the songs hovered on the edge of mawkishness. 'We are what we are,' he said, summing up. And Keillor is the extraordinary one, the one who got away from Wobegon.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas