Bill Bailey, Strand Theatre, London

Great. British. Eccentric.
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The Independent Culture

If you've been amused by the TV ad for The Best Air Guitar Album In The World... Ever!, where a couple of Quo and Queen's Brian May admit there's always been a pantomime aspect to their music, you'll understand the appeal of Bill Bailey. We distrust serious-minded virtuosity; those we love, as much on the sports field as the stage, are those souls prepared to devote their skills to pure entertainment.

Bailey, a better-than-competent musician, could probably make a living on technical ability alone (for all we know, he produces hits for the likes of Hear'Say in his fabled shed – no, no, that would be just too cynical). Instead he's played up his reputation as a Great British eccentric, the music teacher the kids adore, and someone who'll never inspire a disgruntled "I could do that." It's no surprise, then, that the audience includes an array of comedy luminaries such as Rich Hall, Simon Pegg, Jessica Stephenson and Linehan and Mathews).

As ever the long-haired West Countryman refuses to live up to a portentous stage entrance. Rambling on until he feels comfortable enough to attack the keyboard, he throws in some self-loathing for his origins (including an excellent "ooh-arr" snatch of Madonna's "Music") and gags about cheese sandwiches. He confesses to a hatred of owls and plays a Theremin with his tongue, a trick to match Hendrix's guitar/teeth interface.

Bailey's genuine fascination with sonic tools makes him unique. By themselves his musical steals aren't exceptional – when he's not impersonating someone, he veers towards the vocal style of Bob Dylan. Yet his joy in triggering ridiculous samples, such as his absurd but strangely comforting Drum and Bass Daytime Babylon (This Morning meets Ali G) or a multi-culti rendition of the EastEnders theme, is palpable. As one of a handful of comics who do not lie when describing their show as a gig (an event that needs roadies and stage equipment that cannot be carried on public transport), he's put in some serious effort before even reaching the stage.

It's pretty much the same show as his current Bewilderness video, yet his comments about the Taliban (attitudes to women learnt from "golf clubs", facial hair from "folk music") and his show-stopping American ballad on the subject ("taking the razor of freedom to the beard of hate") have a sharper tone. Somewhere between John Peel and Tommy Cooper, could a man be more English, in the best way, than this?

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