Not to be confused with Bill Bailey
AFTER a summer schlepping round festivals armed with just a guitar, there’s nothing that musical comedian Mitch Benn likes better once autumn draws in than to gather his band back together and go on tour - particularly if the schedule includes a stop at New Greenham Arts.
“It’s one of my favourite venues, because of its incongruity,” explains Benn. “Where once there were nuclear weapons and peace campers, there’s now an arts centre and curry house. It’s a wonderful victory for counter-culture.
“I seem to remember that the food is rather good as well.”
Benn, who performed in Greenham last year, is also looking forward to seeing a few familiar faces in the audience: “I like to play places we’ve played before because it builds up a following of people who have an understanding of what we do and what fun can be had.”
So, for those uninitiated into the world of Benn and his band The Distractions (originally so-named because they comprised two female musicians who by Benn’s own admittance were rather easier on the eye than he), what treats await on his current Rhyme Lord tour?
“Well, I can definitely say this is the best show we’ve ever done, and it’s getting a great response,” states Benn. “People are jumping up and down and still laughing, which is quite difficult when you think about it. There’s loads of innovations, more visual and physical stuff than previous shows.”
The show involves parodies of various musical artists and styles, including a prog-rock adaptation of the children’s classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. “I’ve always wanted to do a prog-rock opus, but it had to be based on a short book, as otherwise it would go on for ages. This is a one-and-a-half minute-long epic.
“Another thing I do is rap the plot of Macbeth, as it would be done by Eminem. That’s been going down well, which is quite surprising really, as there shouldn’t be that many people who know both Shakespeare and Eminem well enough to get it. I love the fact that it shouldn’t work, but it does.”
There’s also a song called I'm Proud of the BBC which has rather started a pro-BBC movement on the tour. “That one’s been getting standing ovations,” says Benn. “I know that the BBC do employ me a lot [he’s a regular on Radio 4’s The Now Show], but this is something I feel very passionate about. People are sick of being told how much they should hate the BBC, and they seem to have been waiting for someone to say this.
Benn says that he is the only act he knows who attracts both teenagers and their parents, a success he puts down to the fact that he’s “on before The Archers”, then spends his summers performing in the comedy tents at rock festivals. “Most of the year it’s just me and a guitar. But it’s performing with the band that I enjoy the most. It’s an opportunity for me to do things on my own terms.
“In this show, comedy and music are fused at a very fundamental level. It’s one hundred per cent both.”
Mitch Benn & The Distractions perform at New Greenham Arts on Thursday, October 21. Tickets cost £12/£10 from The Corn Exchange box office on (01635) 522733.
- First published in the Newbury Weekly News, on Thursday, October 7, 2010, and online at www.newburytoday.co.uk