John Hegley is nearly 55, yet there's still a rebellious streak in this figure with a greying quiff and a wonky pair of glasses. Tonight, he squeezed subversion into much of his set, from a tale about wearing women's briefs at Luton Town FC to an appraisal of Jesus's catering skills: "He made a lot of sandwiches and none of them had pork in."
He is best known for his poetry, but Hegley's deadpan style and his penchant for setting his verses to the mandolin proved that he is an equally adept singer, musician and comedian. "You've done well in the first half; let's not spoil it," he said mock-sternly after the interval. A bluesy number about a dog that had wind crooned without a hint of irony had many in the crowd weeping with laughter.
Hegley's "friends" added an extra dimension to the show. Using a sampling loop and loo brush launched to a frenzied Russian countdown the eccentric Andrew Bailey re-created the Soviet space programme live on stage. Perhaps not quite as experienced or absurd as the others, Neil Bob Herd performed a country-blues routine that nevertheless garnered nods of recognition as he sang about the fallacy of discovering one's genius while drinking.
There was a tangible warmth when all three performed together; Herd strummed, Bailey tapped and Hegley's mind meandered. What would a guillemot make of its existence? Why did an American visit Luton in the 1960s? And is it appropriate to fry an egg in a wok? (No.)
Despite the seemingly mundane and at times ridiculous nature of these musings, Hegley's willingness to share such intimate thought processes made for a profound connection with the audience. Simultaneously the geeky misfit, the sensitive soul and the class clown, he touched all of us with his deeply human approach to life. And like his mother "cleaning the household surfaces like she had to get below the surface of existence", he led us a little closer to the unplumbed reaches of our psyches.
No surprises, then, that Hegley along with his accomplices received two encores. Silence descended as he examined mental illness in "Car Driver Bill", while a rumination on Christ's plight "if that's a Good Friday, I wouldn't want a bad one" induced roars of appreciation.
The spontaneity and enthusiasm in Hegley's performance was amazing for a man who has been at this for 30 years. Maybe the quiff and specs will eventually give way to a toupee and bifocals, but here's hoping he sticks around for at least another 30.
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