In the wrong hands, a guitar or any musical instrument can be the kiss of death for a comedian. Self-indulgent ditties penned to pad out an act make audiences naturally wary of musical diversions in a stand-up show. With Bill Bailey, you know that both instrument and audience are in safe hands. Bailey is at the stage where he could release a best-of compilation of his musical comedy; an album that could justifiably go back two decades or so to his days as one half of the Rubber Bishops double act (the other half being Martin Stubbs, who didn't go on to pursue a comedy career), when he began striking chords and getting laughs at the same time.
The consistency of this "beardy-weirdy" comic has been shown in tours, both successive and successful here and abroad, and in television appearances in Channel 4's Black Books and BBC2's Never Mind the Buzzcocks. In the run-up to this tour, he has been increasingly in print, with a number of articles related to comedy and music.
Part Troll's first incarnation was on a 52-date tour this spring and has come full circle after his opening stint at the Wyndhams last autumn. This six-week run at the Apollo Theatre comes with new material, but there is still more than enough room for his drum'n'bass George Bush parody - mixing up samples of his speeches - a Jacques Brel-type number with the immortal line, "Carving your name into my head with a compass was not enough for you, Debbie", and for his trip-hop take on "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" - a Bailey classic.
Much of what Bailey serves up in terms of stand-up whimsy and songs are merely refrains, and you crave for more extended sequences at times, but this is how a buoyant Bailey keeps the momentum going. The material isn't always highly original (for example, going through immigration in the US) but the asides of characters made up on the hoof push the proceedings along nicely. So when he delves into an extended, audience-fuelled section on cheese as an addiction, we don't get bored; we are charmed, even if our sides are not splitting. In amongst the self-styled, bewildered rambling, there are some nice lines but sometimes it is a case of blink and you'd miss them. Luckily, the Apollo is not big enough to swallow those moments up.
Of course, it is the musical tinkering of this former West Country boy, rather than the chatter, that hits the high notes: cranking out pop tunes in a Hillbilly style; comparing the earnest sections of Nu Metal to the vocal range of Richard Burton; or performing the Kraftwerk version of the "Okey Cokey". Inevitably, the proceedings peaked dramatically in the second half, a phenomenon not uncommon in West End comedy shows, which always makes one wonder why bother with two acts when you can give value for money in almost half the time. Nevertheless, if we must make performers earn every penny and sate an audience's need for quantity over quality, few people on the comedy scene are more pleasant to work overtime with than Bailey.
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