Letting the songs do the talking
Mitch Benn & The Distractions at New Greenham Arts on Thursday, October 21
TAKING to the stage with a belly full of curry and a head full of the finest comedy songs known to man, Mitch Benn declared New Greenham Arts to be his favourite venue in the country before launching into a high-octane set which showcased both his ability to craft a wittily topical lyric and his well-attuned ear for mimicry and pastiche.
While some comedy songs can be a long time waiting for the punchline, Benn’s material is a giggle from the get-go, kicking off with The Interactive Song, which mixed various musical and comedy style such as “prop comedy in the style of Kate Bush” and “shaggy dog story in the style of Bruce Springsteen”. He has 15 years-worth of material to select from, and took the audience all the way back to his first-ever comic ditty, I Stole Your Heart. It was about a medical student - you can guess the rest.
Much of Benn’s material started life as topical songs written at a rate of two a week for BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show, a process he described as “a nightmare in a slow news week”, before launching into “a song that virtually wrote itself”, a Rolling Stones-style tribute to Keith Richard’s palm tree-related accident called Get Out Of That Tree. He also demonstrated his quick-composition skills by creating a new ditty on the audience’s suggestion regarding the Royal Navy’s budget cuts during the interval, although he did have the advantage of setting it to the sea shanty tune of Drunken Sailor.
Despite The Now Show providing his most high-profile work, Benn appeared most satisfied with his musical pastiches, particularly those which would only work with the backing of his Distractions, comely bassist/keyboard player Kirsty Newton and drummer Ivan Sheppard. Highlights included West End Musical, demonstrating the key attributes of any such hit show, the quick-change Moving Around, during which the trio swapped instruments several times, and He’s Gone, which saw Newton take lead vocals to pay tribute to the strange popularity of teen death ballads in the early ‘60s.
Old Benn favourites such as Ikea - reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song - and his Shakespeare/Eminem Macbeth mash-up put in crowd pleasing appearances. But the night’s centrepiece was Benn’s current single, I’m Proud of the BBC, a list song with a meter reminiscent of the children’s literary classic Each, Peach, Pear, Plum, announcing in random - but rhyming - order, the many shows and personalities with which BBC Television and Radio have enriched Britain's cultural heritage. Unsurprisingly, Benn’s beloved Dr Who received several mentions in the lyrics, eliciting cheers from the audience on each occasion. Benn knows his crowd very well indeed.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, October 28 2010