Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mitch Benn & the Distractions

If there's any pattern emerging from the gig reviews I put up it's that I listen to a lot of comedy on Radio 4. I'm not sure when this started. As far back as I can remember I've always found music relaxing to have on in the background; I like a real mixture depending on my mood and that can mean classical music or a movie soundtrack (anything by Jerry Goldsmith is great to work to) one day and anything from The Enid to Nine Inch Nails the next. It's aural wallpaper. I work alone in my little office for the better part of 6 days a week, 51 weeks a year (Saturday is shopping day and Christmas is for the family) -- believe me when I say I've heard my collection of CD's so often I can listen to them without actually realising they're on.

I'll listen to the radio when I'm digging around the internet. I try to keep up with the news and Mel keeps me informed of some of the more ridiculous things happening in the world by e-mail (stories like that of Sgt Podge, the cat, or the guy who was recently prosecuted for simulating sex with a bike). I think I like listening to shows that satirise the news because I get the jokes.

All of this preamble is to let you know I have broad tastes in music and I'm reasonably up to speed on what's going on. It's also my way of figuring out why I like Mitch Benn so much.

The thing is, he really knows music. When he writes a song about Jim Morrison he's got the sound of The Doors down pat... Coldplay... well, you've all heard 'Everyone Sounds Like Coldplay Now' surely? (If you've not, here it is at YouTube)... The Smiths... Duran Duran... Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals... boy bands... he's deconstructed the music, written a set of lyrics and put together an actual proper song "in the style of..." that could well be one of their songs. The musical number, "West End Musical", is like a maths papers where you're asked to show your workings -- the lyrics show you precisely how the songs are constructed.

Since he writes topical songs each week for various shows -- The Now Show, It's Been A Bad Week, Bremner, Bird & Fortune -- you would expect them to have a time limit, after which the humour wears out like some kind of radioactive decay. Not so. The news stories they were based on may have been wrapped around your fish and chips six months ago but the songs are still as fresh as the day they were headlines and that, my friends, is because they are properly constructed songs rather than gags. Funny as all hell but, first and foremost, songs. Musical comedy where as much care has gone into the music as the comedy.

He's also as sharp as a tack when it comes to lyrics and they're not necessarily all parodies of bands or musical styles. I remember thinking that "Let's Have A Minute's Noise For John" was the most poignant and sincere tribute anyone managed to produce at the time of John Peel's demise. And he's quick, knocking out a song about, yes, Sgt Podge during the interval.

Mitch was backed by The Distractions -- this time Kirsty Newton (above) on bass & keyboards and Milo McCabe on drums. Although everything above makes it sound like Mitch is playing a solo hand in the show's success, that's not the case: the band are a vital component to the show and deserve plenty of praise for their part in making this one of the best night's entertainment we've had in some time.

I am shamelessly a fan.

Further info: Mitch Benn website.
Albums: Radio Face (2002), Too Late to Cancel (2004), Crimes Against Music (2005), Official Bootleg (2007, on sale at gigs only).

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