Going back to his roots: Bill Bailey injects some humour into music

The comedian discusses his remarkable guide to the orchestra...


How did you entertain yourself growing up in the small town of Keynsham in Somerset?


Well, there's the river at the bottom of our hill, and if you really got the right weight and the right trajectory you could chuck an apple and it would land in the river, so me and my cousin would do that to scare the fishermen! Our house was at the bottom of Wellsway, and across the road was the Chinese takeaway, next door was The New Inn and across the road was The Talbot... so that was Friday night sorted. Just past the New Inn there's a little, sloping park which goes down to the river and I remember taking a go kart down there once and nearly ending up in the river. Then there's Keynsham park - we used to hang out there under the bypass and shout.

I went back there recently and I have to say it looked quite sad really, it was quite small, quite a dull-looking place, there's nothing in particular you can commend it on. Everything looks smaller and drabber than I remember it as a kid - I remember it seeming like a world of opportunity with parks and rivers.

Bizarrely it's having a bit of a renaissance now, and there's even a music festival there. It's odd but it's one of those places that's become a kind of cult. It was immortalised in the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band songs and when I got to play with the Bonzos on their reunion tour, singing about Keynsham was like coming full circle. It's not as I remembered it - everything's smaller and not as exciting - but I'd love to go back there and do the festival.

What came first - the comedy or the music?

Music! I started to learn the piano at the age of four, then learnt music at school and taught myself the guitar - I just loved it and had an affinity for it. But at the same time I loved the comedy on TV like Les Dawson. I was taken to see a play when I was very young and I don't remember much about it but I'll always remember at one point in the play Jimmy Edwards turned and addressed the audience and came totally out of character and I thought it was crazy, it was anarchy! It got the biggest reaction of the night, and I always think things like that are key moments in your memory when you realise that comedy has that way of causing chaos.

Have some comedians overstepped the mark in trying to be controversial?

I think it's all a bit contrived to be honest, it's offensive only in context. When I say chaos I mean something which breaks a barrier, it makes people think in different ways. It polarises audiences - some people get offended by it, some people don't, and comedy's always been like that. Jimmy Carr did a joke about disabled people who'd lost limbs [in the war], and his defence was that the soldiers themselves make those jokes and use that kind of comedy in the battlefield.

But that's in the context of being at war, and if you're all together in that situation then humour can be a really powerful way of dealing with those extreme situations - I think in any walk of life where there's hardship, black humour is a great way of lightening the mood and boosting morale and a sense of comradery. But transplanting that humour and putting it into the context of stand-up comedy, it somehow feels wrong.

Why did you leave Never Mind The Buzzcocks?

At the time I was on tour in Australia then I was on tour back here with the orchestra, so I couldn't do some of the shows. Normally it would have been ok, but the BBC changed the schedule and brought it all forward by about six weeks without telling anyone so I couldn't do half of the gigs and in the end I thought you know what, maybe now is the time just to say 'I've done 100 shows, I've got these other things to do' and working with an orchestra is quite a big opportunity that won't always be there. So I pursued that instead, it just felt natural.

How did working with the orchestra come about?

I was approached by the BBC concert orchestra to collaborate on a show for Comic Relief two years ago, but I didn't really know what form it was going to take as they were working with soloists and different instrumentalists and stand-ups... so really the show is a mish-mash of different things, a bit of me, a bit of the orchestra, a bit of Anne [Dudley]'s stuff.

What I felt really worked were the sections which felt like a guide, describing the orchestra and how it works, how it fits together, and then applying the orchestra to familiar situations where you wouldn't necessarily hear one, like a melodramatic moment in Eastenders, maybe somebody leaving the Square. I just thought it would be great to have this Brief Encounter style romantic score to accomapny these moments, and to work with some film and TV music - music that people are familiar with but have probably never heard played live, like theme tunes and recreating 1970's cop shows.

Do you think young people are losing touch with music?

No, I think there's more variety available now than ever before, but I do think that there's a slight preconception about classical music and orchestras - there's a a whiff of stuffiness and elitism about it. I think a lot of people just think 'it's not for me' and so don't go to see concerts, and also I think that, bizarrely, filming concerts like the Proms makes orchestras look quite static and serious. When you see rock music it's exciting! It's a very powerful medium to see and hear rock music, and classical music always looks a little bit dry. The aim of the show is to hopefully get people to take an interest that wouldn't necessarily think a classical concert is for them. Hearing an orchestra live for the first time blows people away. Perhaps people have never really imagined how loud it is, how vital it is - it's air moving around you, it's not on a record or CD, it's there in a room in front of you.

What kind of feedback have you had on the show?

It's been really encouraging, loads of kids from about ten upwards coming to the show and really enjoying it. Some of them are comedy fans who are curious to see what it is, some of them are regular concert goers who like it because it's something different. It's a kind of show they've never seen before. There aren't many shows where there's spoken word between the music, and you can see people are a bit wary of it at first. Orchestras are wary of it - they thought I was going to make them dress up in silly costumes and play hosepipes... actually, that's not a bad idea!

Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra is out now on DVD and Blu Ray

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone