Gig review: Bill Bailey's remarkable guide to the orchestra


BILL Bailey gives value for money. And he doesn't mince his words. Simon Cowell is a "toxic blight on a generation", was his opening gambit, referring to the wisdom of those opting for a quality night out rather than one at home in the company of The X Factor.

For two solid hours Bailey held a packed hall enthralled by his well-oiled, off-beat celebration of the orchestra, now at the end of its UK tour. It made that other famous traditional orchestral display piece, Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, look like a quaint tea and scones affair.

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For Bailey has a musical brain – one that knows the theory as well as the practice. Adept on the guitar and keyboards, and a deft hand with the expandable Swiss alpine horn and cow bells, he was an integral part of a slick musical performance that encompassed his own rhythm group and the entire BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, under musical director and composer of much of the material Anne Dudley. Collectively, they had us laughing from the pits of our stomachs.

"Ever wondered what the bassoon got up to in the Baroque?" he ventured. Cue a pseudo Handelian overture which, when the trumpets and strings were successively stripped away, revealed a pawky cuckoo-in-the-nest that was the Bee Gees' How Deep Is Your Love.

But to get away with gags about augmented fourths and perfect fifths, and other unlikely technical jargon, is something else. The genius of Bailey's material – from his well-worn Belgian jazz version of Doctor Who, 'Docteur Qui', to his narrative spoofs on 1970s cop show soundtracks, EastEnders and rock opera – is its challenging mix of intelligent sophistication, unforgiving satire and jaw-dropping entertainment. In other words, the real X factor.