Sunday, April 28, 2013

Half the Benn he used to be - review of Mitch Benn

Mitch Benn at New Greenham Arts, on Friday, April 5

MUSICAL comedian Mitch Benn is half the man he used to be. Well, very nearly - he lost 10 stone (from a peak of 25st) on an intense diet in 2011, and has kept most of it off. And so, his current tour, Reduced Circumstances, based on his Edinburgh show of the same name, is inspired by his fight to overcome that least rock & roll of addictions - food.

The tour’s name also refers to it being Benn’s first solo tour, without his usual live backing duo The Distractions, and involves a little more conversation and less singing than his past performances. Armed just with a teeny tiny guitar and an iPhone looper app, Benn partly moved away from his usual social commentary to delve deep into his psyche and explore why he had an urge to overeat, although he concluded that it was not down to a traumatic childhood or the fault of his parents “which was a relief to them when they came to see the show”.

Benn didn’t spend the entire show navel gazing - Reduced Circumstances also references the current state of the nation, and his cheeky musings on the subject ranged from the insightful - comparing the banking crisis to his daughter learning to walk - “she was fine until she noticed that nothing was holding her up” - via the educational, in the form of a rap about quantum mechanics; to the delightfully silly, such as his new song Bouncy Druids, inspired by the full-size blow-up Stonehenge featured in the Olympic opening ceremony.

As a stalwart of BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show, Benn composes songs at short notice to reflect the week’s news, but while expressing a little disappointment that the show is currently off-air, he chose  to keep last week’s biggest event on the down-low, other than a comment on the BBC’s decision not to play the Wizard Of Oz song in full was “making a political statement which playing it would not have been”.

As one of the BBC’s most vocal supporters, as showcased in his epic list-song I’m Proud of the BBC, Benn was clearly frustrated that the corporation had bowed to pressure on this occasion. But what has baffled him most about the world in recent times has been the response of some of his larger fans to his weight loss, who have expressed feelings of betrayal. “I didn’t do it to be smug, I just wanted to see my daughters grow up,” he explained. “It was a case of breaking their (the fans) hearts, or literally breaking mine.” 

Aesthetic improvements may be solely a by-product of the health benefits of Benn’s weight loss, but with his twinkling blue eyes, he is looking damn fine these days, and still has a good pair of lungs on him. Reduced Circumstances may be a departure from the performance norm for Benn, but (along with a forthcoming science fiction novel), it suggests a career longevity beyond a back catalogue of current affairs songs, which owing to their very nature, are bound to have a limited shelf life.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, April 11, 2013

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