Time for the Bill as Limboland comes to Ireland

Bill Bailey is famed for his winning mix of music and comedy and his new show Limboland, coming to Ireland later this year, will feature his unique take on the 'Happy Birthday’ song. He talks to Brian Campbell

Bill Bailey brings his new show to Belfast on October 4 and 5
Bill Bailey brings his new show to Belfast on October 4 and 5 Bill Bailey brings his new show to Belfast on October 4 and 5

PLENTY of fans at the Glastonbury festival last weekend would rather have watched a classically-trained musician headline instead of Kanye West.

Comedian Bill Bailey took music lessons from a young age, studied music at A-level and progressed to the London College of Music, before making his name in comedy.

And he said he was sitting at home waiting for the call to replace the injured Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters before the self-styled `greatest living rock star on the planet’ got the nod to headline.

“I was thinking `Look, if you can book Kanye West then surely you’re booking comedy acts?’ I did think I was in with a shout,” he laughs.

Bailey says he remains a big fan of Glastonbury.

“I am. I’ve been there many times and performed there many times over the years. But I do think it’s a bit of a shame that the coverage is all about the bands. The comedy, theatre and cabaret at Glastonbury is extraordinary and it never really gets a shout.

“That stuff is more interesting to me than a lot of the music that you see. The cameras never make it over to those fields. Why televise Mumford & Sons when you can televise a bloke and a giant spider?” he laughs again.

Bailey is gearing up for a huge new tour, kicking off in late September and running through to mid-January. And the first seven dates of the Limboland tour are in Ireland, starting with Galway and taking in Dublin, Belfast and Cork.

“The plan is to try it out there and work out the wrinkles,” he laughs. “No, I’ve already toured the show around Australia and New Zealand, so it’s in pretty good shape.

“There are some local bits about politics and events so I can rewrite sections of it and there’ll be a lot more adaptation as the tour progresses.”

He says he loves playing in Ireland and recalls his first visit in the 80s when he was in the comedy duo The Rubber Bishops with Toby Longworth.

“Over the years I’ve played a lot in Ireland. That first time, we were dressed in cassocks with studs and chains, so maybe coming to Ireland dressed like that wasn’t the best idea.”

He prefers playing venues such as the Ulster Hall and Olympia Theatre to arenas. “Yeah, I prefer venues that are a bit more intimate than your big enormo-domes. Those are a bit impersonal. Arena gigs can be fun but they’re for more of a spectacle, like Barney the Dinosaur on ice. Or, you know, a big tractor show. Or big agricultural equipment being dragged around by cartoon characters. I’d pay to see that.”

And does he think there is a particular breed of hecklers in Ireland? “There’s heckling everywhere you go. Irish audiences aren’t shy about getting involved and I like that; it’s more joining in with a point and it’s a supportive thing. It’s never just mean.”

Bailey, based in London, explains the various themes in his new show. “Shows get put together in a haphazard way but I realised that there were a lot stories this time and it’s probably more personal than any other show that I’ve done,” he says.

“The general theme emerging was this gap between how you imagine things are going to be and how they actually are. It’s quite an interesting area to explore for comedy.

“When I was a kid I watched shows like Tomorrow’s World where the future was meant to be shiny and bright and technology was supposed to fix everything; that’s not really the case now.”

He will also discuss a 'disastrous’ family trip to Norway to see the Northern Lights. “I had this vision of us, the whole family, having this almost transcendent experience of us standing under the Arctic sky and seeing this beautiful sight and then it didn’t work out like that at all,” he says. “It resolutely wasn’t that. I’m only able to talk about it now, put it that way.”

And there’s a strand that takes in another Scandinavian country and the 'Happy Birthday’ song. “I went on a trip to Denmark, which is apparently the 'happiest’ country in the world. It didn’t seem to be more or less happy than anywhere else, so it made me think about what the nature of happiness is. How do we define it and why is that what we should aim for and aspire to?

“I say that longing and sadness are just as valid, so why are we obsessed with happiness? That led me to think about the Happy Birthday song. It’s such a dull tune; such a dirge. I thought it needed a bit of a rewrite. I’ve written it in the style of Kurt Weill. It’s a little dark but I’m hoping it’ll catch on.”

So will there be any limbo-dancing in Limboland? “No, there won’t be. Not at this stage anyway, but I’m not ruling it out. If some of this other stuff doesn’t work, then I’m going to do a limbo-dance.”

As well as being one of the biggest names on the comedy circuit, Bailey also appeared in the popular comedy show Black Books opposite Irish stand-up Dylan Moran.

“Dylan lives up in Edinburgh so I don’t see him that often. I see him occasionally and I bumped into him in London one time and we went into a bookshop together and the staff were a bit freaked out; they thought it was a hidden camera show or something,” he laughs. He says he’s also a fan of Tommy Tiernan and Ardal O’Hanlon – “all great wordsmiths”.

Bailey also shared a stage with fellow musical comic John Shuttleworth last weekend – at the London Palladium in a benefit gig for Multiple Sclerosis.

“What a bill that was. I was on with Martyn Ware from The Human League and he sang Being Boiled, one of the songs of my youth; then I was on with Sooty and Sweep and Toyah [Willcox]. I performed [Foo Fighters song] All My Life in the style of Sooty and Sweep. I mean, who needs Glastonbury when you’ve got a bill like that?”

Bill Bailey brings Limboland to the Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 4 and 5. For tickets, visit Waterfront.co.uk or call 028 9033 4455. He also plays Galway’s Black Box on September 30, Dublin’s Olympia on October 1, 2 and 3 and Cork Opera House on October 6.