Bill Bailey Live Review

Posted on November 24, 2009

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra (with Manchester Camerata)
Bridgewater Hall
November 16, 2009
Review ratings stars

YOU can just imagine the morning Bailey woke up from a beautiful dream in which he’d performed his playful musical parodies with some of the country’s greatest orchestras.

In his hazy bubble, he roped in Academy Award-winning conductor and composer Anne Dudley, added some classical gloss to his own compositions and prized a punchline out of Handel’s Messiah.

That Bailey has been allowed to run with such a harebrained idea is testament to how well he is now regarded by both the musical and comedy fraternities. He is, after all, a skilled pianist with perfect pitch as well as being an A-list stand-up comedian.

And he’s been afforded such a luxury, complete with Dudley and an enviable list of orchestras playing one-off shows in their home towns, because his Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra is an entertaining romp on two levels. Firstly, it’s dusted with some of Bailey’s own compositions and curious observations, a few already familiar from previous tours (in particular his Cocknification of well known classical pieces).

There’s a reworking of his Bryan Adams tribute Hats Off To The Zebras and a particularly doom laden version of his anthem Insect Nation.

As always, it’s his wry attack on Chris De Burgh via a song called Beautiful Ladies that attracts the biggest laughs. If music is the delicious filling in a cup of science, observes Bailey, De Burgh’s oeuvre is “the cheap lager knocked over on the picnic table of disappointment”.

Tangential thoughts
Moreover, though, the show is a very unusual way to see and hear an orchestra. For many of Bailey’s fans, it’s likely to be their first live encounter with one; for those already familiar with classical concerts, it opens up a whole new aspect of the orchestra’s abilities.

For Manchester, Bailey has enlisted the Bridgewater’s chamber orchestra, the Manchester Camerata. Their interpretation of music from Bach to the Bee Gees is flawless, and proves the orchestra has comic timing of its own.

If the shows lacks anything, it’s the guide element it promises. Bailey makes occasional attempts to introduce the orchestra’s components, but we learn more about his tangential thoughts than the instruments themselves.

There are times when their involvement is just an indulgent luxury. But then there are others when this show lives up to its remarkable billing: the transformation of the Match Of The Day theme into a Jewish folk tune, the skipping blast of David Rose’s Holiday For Strings, or the Jacque Brel-style version of the Doctor Who theme (“Docteur Que?” whispers Bill in pidgin French).

A storming delivery of the News At 10 theme is made hilarious by some classic Bailey headlines: “Man buys France on eBay”, “Dish runs away with spoon, fork wins custody of saucer”.

But nothing beats the pleasure of Bailey and the orchestra’s rhythm section shaking their way through The Swan on Alpine cow bells, Bailey playing it for laughs like Eric Morecambe, dashing up and down the table to ring the bells. A marvellous meeting of musical and comic talent.