I hate going to a stand up comedy club and one of the comedians walks on stage with a guitar. You pay good money to see a couple of hours of jokes, observations and carefully crafted satire – and then one of the acts decides to bash out some hastily stuck together chords with the tritest of rhymes for want of real material.
The tunes aren’t good enough to merit being listened to as songs in their own right, and the lyrics aren’t funny enough to stand on their own as jokes. And then there’s the inevitable dummy where a line ends with “luck” and you’re supposed to be fooled, based on the context, into thinking the next line will end with the word “fuck”. Except it doesn’t. Hilarious.
So when a seasoned and genuinely brilliant stand up comedian decides to take to playing the guitar (as Boothby did in his live act some time ago) I became dubious. How wrong I was. He has never disappointed. His live shows are a mixture of great songs interspersed with sublime stand-up material.
His album “Boothby Graffoe And The Following People” is a fine example of this live performance, but this latest album, the splendidly titled “BANG! Is This Your Vehicle, Sir?” sees him in the studio with a larger ensemble than ever before.
This is not a “comedy record” as it were – this is a fully fledged musical outing with a fantastic group of artists accompanying the effervescent Mr. Graffoe.
From the opening salvo of “Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman” we are treated to genuinely excellent, well-crafted songs. It veers between indie-pop/rock and folk and has the same whimsical air of the Barenaked Ladies or The Divine Comedy in style, but lyrically a darker and more melancholic sense of humour is at work.
With hints of Billy Bragg, Leonard Cohen and even Bob Dylan (no, really) this is folk music for the 21st century.
The lyrics to tracks like “Trampoline” and “The Captain’s Address” have a vein of humour but are so laden with pathos that you are struck by how well Boothby tells a story and creates characters in your mind in such a short space of time. What he does so neatly is peppers the sometimes glum subjects of his lyrics with splashes of warmth that are never twee and always welcome.
“Boy Could She Wave” and “Fish With Feet” are brilliantly surreal and there are laugh out loud moments too during “Lullaby” and “England” amongst others.
Even his inimitable barbed satire shines through in the odd line here and there but it is so swift and so subtle, despite being harsh in its attack, that you barely notice it at the time. Like being cut with a knife so razor sharp you don’t notice the pain until after you see the blood.
So many of these songs require two listens to fully grasp where they are going and the cheeky reveal that is so often favoured by the “comedy songwriter” is used very sparingly, but to great effect.
Mention has to be made of the mutli-talented Nick Pynn who breathes life into a lot of these songs and splashes a little colour in the darker sections of the album. With a range of musical styles on offer this album is inventive and interesting throughout and I defy anyone not to love it after a couple of spins.
Why this man isn’t as big as Tim Minchin I don’t know, but this album has been praised by the Aussie pianist himself as well as Stewart Lee, Eddie Izzard and many others.
If there is any justice in this world then this album (coupled with his sublime, concise and always brilliant comments and quips on twitter – @boobygraffoe) will launch Boothby to well-deserved prominence.