THOUGHTIFIER: A MUSICAL COMEDY SHOW
I’ll always remember the day I interviewed comedian, musician and actor, Bill Bailey. Not just because it was a privilege to chat to one of Britain’s best-loved personalities, but also for the fact that I was sitting in my car in a service station somewhere near Peterborough, balancing my notepad, my phone and my recording device, whilst trying my best not to give any clues as to my temporary, somewhat unprofessional working environment. I think I managed it. At least, I hope I managed it.
On the other end of the phone, Bill was as professional as ever, particularly when he was telling me all about his upcoming Thoughtifier tour. Described as ‘a magical, musical mystery tour of the human mind, along with some other pressing matters about whales, biophilia, and unrequited love, amplified with music’, it promises to be a show unlike anything we’ve seen before.
“It’s ideas and thoughts… how music began and how it’s influenced music today. There’s also an audio-visual screen in the show… it’s making fun of Artificial Intelligence. I’ve called it Terry. It’s getting to know me now, so it’s like having an unpredictable mate on tour with you… you never know what it’s going to say next. It’s new tech and live chat. There’s also a digital laser harp.”
Bill, I learned, is a classically trained musician who can play pretty much anything. As he put it: “If it’s got a neck and strings, I can get a tune out of it.”
He’s also learning to play the bagpipes. But it’s not the woodwind instrument that springs to mind when he tells me this, it’s the character he played in the comedy series In The Long Run, first screened on Sky One in 2018. Created by Idris Elba, Idris himself played Walter, a London-based immigrant from Sierra Leone. Terence ‘Bagpipes’ De La Croix was Walter’s best friend, brilliantly portrayed by Bill in all three series. It was, I told him, one of my favourite comedy shows, the 80’s nostalgia offering an additional layer of humour. And his response when I asked if there was likely to be a fourth series?
“It was great fun so… never say never!”
Moving on from Bagpipes, I asked Bill about his recent adventures down under. Bill Bailey’s Australian Adventure, has recently been screened on Channel 4 and, incidentally, proves that he can also play the accordion (an Italian accordion from a second-hand shop to be exact) as well as a keytar. I never knew there was such a thing!
“It was an epic road trip. We travelled about 4,000 miles around Western Australia. There were so many highlights but one of the most memorable was swimming with a whale shark. It’s the biggest fish in the ocean, they can grow to around 60 feet. They don’t eat people – especially not bearded comedians – they’re not dangerous. They eat plankton and small fish… they’re gentle giants and so mysterious.”
You can witness Bill’s amazing whale shark experience in episode two. However, watch the entire series and you can also see him cuddling an orphaned euro (a sub-species of the kangaroo), eating native pepper berries, finally understanding Aussie rules football, paddleboarding on a pink lake, visiting the famed town of Gnomesville, trying to dodge a curious emu, and wresting with a… high-vis jacket. I kid you not.
It’s clear from watching his many adventures, and also from talking to Bill, that he has great affection for the people of Australia. In fact, he’s toured Australia and New Zealand numerous times before and has just returned from a 14-date tour of New Zealand with his Thoughtifier show.
“I did Australia first, many years ago…. and I did comedy festivals in New Zealand, back in the day. It’s a beautiful country. And they’ve got a similar sense of humour to us, which is quite a novelty.”
I guess that’s always a bonus for a stand-up comedian, but there’s so much more to Bill’s latest show than jokes and amusing anecdotes. For sure, if he’s able to recount any of the many weird and wonderful experiences that he enjoyed in Western Australia, in that wonderfully dry sense of humour of his, then it promises to be a thoroughly entertaining show.
“It has a bit of everything. Spoken word, performance, acting, dancing. That’s the great thing about stand-up, it allows me to do a bit of everything. It gives me the freedom to do all the things that I love.”
Of course, at the mention of dancing, I have to ask him about Strictly. It might be over three years since he lifted the Glitterball Trophy with his partner, Oti Mabuse, but we all remember him strutting his stuff on that dancefloor. Particularly as he was the oldest celebrity ever to win the competition (aged 55).
“It was an amazing, unexpected experience.” His statement is followed by a laugh, as though he still can’t quite believe that he took part, let alone won the trophy.
“Don’t forget, it was the year of the pandemic, so it was a very odd year anyway. That just made it even more odd.”
As much as he enjoyed the whole Strictly experience, he’s adamant we’re not likely to see him on any other reality TV shows anytime soon, the thought of eating witchetty grubs and other jungle delicacies, clearly holding no appeal. So what does he have planned beyond his Thoughtifier tour?
“I love exploring new places. I’d love to visit Antarctica. And I’ve written some music so… I’d like to do more of that. Maybe write something for TV or a doco.”
That’s a documentary, in case you were wondering. Which reminds me, he is actually credited with the original music on Bill Bailey’s Australian Adventure. In the final episode, he can also be seen (and heard) creating music using a laptop and a midi keyboard. He calls it a “notebook of music” and refers to it as “just thoughts”. Based on that snippet alone, I look forward to hearing what else Bill has up his musical sleeve.
In the meantime, his UK and Ireland tour begins in Dublin on 9th February, runs through to 11th March, and includes two dates at Glasgow’s SEC Armadillo on 16th and 25th February. It’s unlikely, though, that he’s performing anywhere that he hasn’t already visited at least once before because, by his own admission, he’s performed in every corner of the country. I seriously doubt this (surely he’s exaggerating?) until he tells me about the time he appeared at Stornaway.
Stornaway? Really? He confirms this with another wildlife related story.
“The marine life in Scotland is extraordinary. I’ve seen orca and minke whales… I went fishing when I was in Stornaway. There was no wind, the sea was like a millpond, it was lovely and sunny. I caught a fish… a mullet or something… and I presented it at the venue. Then they prepared it and cooked it! Where else in the world would that happen?!”
Not at the SEC Armadillo, that’s for sure. But the story does remind me of his passion for wildlife and the natural world. His TV career has included a mini-series titled Baboons With Bill Bailey, filmed in Cape Town. He also presented Wild Thing I Love You in 2006, a series focusing on the protection of Britain’s wild animals. And in 2009, he presented Bill Bailey’s Birdwatching Bonanza.
Of course, Bill is perhaps better known for his appearances on other TV shows such as Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News for You, and the panel game QI. In fact, with a career spanning over three decades, chances are we all associate Bill Bailey with something different, be it stand-up, music, Strictly or, in my case, In The Long Run. The good thing about that is, he always has plenty of stories to entertain us with.
I wonder if he’ll mention the dinosaur footprints… or the eco-friendly quad bike ride… or the fossilised ghosts of perverts…? Yes, you read that correctly! Well, his whimsical ramblings are known for raising a few eyebrows as well as plenty of laughs.
Our conversation was much briefer than I would have liked, but Bill had to take another call and I had another 350 miles to drive. I end by asking him how he would sum up his career so far.
“Not too bad.”
An understatement, if ever there was one.
Bill Bailey’s Thoughtifier is at Glasgow SEC Armadillo on 16 and 25 February 2024. Full ticket and date information can be found at www.BillBailey.co.uk