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Mitch Benn & the Distractions - the glee club, 26/11/2004

simon gray - 2004-11-26, 01:25:00

"Mitch Benn is one of the foremost exponents of musical comedy in the U.K." - so opens the biographical notes in the press material for his current UK tour. 

I'm always somewhat dubious when I see an artist's own publicity manager make such bold claims about their clients, but in the case of Mitch Benn, the statement is more than justified. 

Is he a stand-up comic, is he a singer/songwriter, is he an impressionist, is he a guitarist, is he a bandleader ? For most people, to be able to do one of those well is an acheivement in itself, but Benn is one of those rarities who can actually do all five at once, & do it excellently. 

For his performance at the Glee Club he was unable to provide his usual gimmick, that of an all-female backing band because unfortunately his usual drummer Tasha Baylis was ill that night. A stand-in (male) drummer was hastily recruited for the night, with apologies in advance just in case anything went wrong. Although it was quite sweet watching bass player Kirsty Newton clearly helping him out all evening, the apology was not required as he filled the role almost perfectly with only one minor fluff which was turned into part of the act anyway - a feat made all the more commendable considering the complexity of some of the songs. 

Most of the material from the evening was drawn from Benn's current album, too late to cancel, a mix of satire, parody, & straight comic song. Benn switches seamlessly between different genres - sometimes even within the same track in the case of the Interactive Comic Song Machine where musical genres are matched with comic ones, so you get slapstick in the style of James Brown, or one-liners in the style of U2. In the Please don't release this song, not only does the soundworld sound like a perfect clone of late period John Lennon (remarkable enough considering there are only three members of the band), but if you shut your eyes it could be the man himself singing it. 

Nothing is sacred - if you were a Smiths fan in the 80s (or even at all) taking yourself as seriously as all the Smiths fans I knew did, be prepared to be upset ready to flounce off inSmiths Phase; but no English graduate or fan of the Reduced Shakespeare Company could fail to be impressed by The Tale of Macbeth in the style of Eminem.

Benn himself loathes pretentiousness, & the performance was entirely unpretentious - no big entrances, no poncey stages costumes, & no rushing off backstage immediately at the end of the show led to an evening which very much made the audience feel they'd gone round to a mate's house to listen to his band play a few songs & tell a few stories rather than the all-too-often situation of going to a gig by somebody who considers themself a rock legend. 

Whenever I go to a concert I always like to pay a bit of attention to the audience as well as the band, to see what they are made up of; Benn put it best himself saying "I see I've got the usual eclectic mix of bewildered Radio Four listeners, representitives from 'da kidz', & rapidly ageing thirtysomethings". I myself fit into two out of those three categories... 

The show closed with what seems to be rapidly becoming an anthem in itself - Let's have a minutes noise for John, Benn's aposite tribute to John Peel first heard on Radio Four's The Now Show. All in all, an excellent night out - but if you've not bought the album yet I would recommend leaving it until after you've had chance to see it live. 

My last comment is on the venue itself: strangely, it's the first time I've been to the Glee Club, & I can't say enough how impressed I was what a thoroughly friendly place it is, from the bouncers to the box office staff to the bar staff, all with smiles on their faces as you enter & speaking to you as if both you & they are normal human beings; a far cry from what I've got used to of walking into other places feeling like I'm being treated like a troublemaker before I've even got through the door. I look forward to going again. 

Further information: www.mitchbenn.com

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