Though music is a personal strong point Blowback played to many passions. The following was an interview with the comedian Bill Bailey. Most of all I am pleased with the way we chose the location to suit Bailey’s character. A very Blowback trait.
I get to the travel tavern a bit late, it’s four in the afternoon. Bailey is already sitting in the canteen area with a pot of tea and a selection of individually wrapped bourbons in front of him. I sit down, he’s got me a cup and I pour one out. Earl Grey, excellent facilities.
There’s no-one else about, it’s self service (naturally) and all the other guests are out of the hotel getting on with their lives. We are in limbo – neither arriving nor departing and the furnishings reflect this. White crockery, cream table cloth and hideously garish floor.
‘It’s like you’re taking time off from your life, it takes a back seat while the tour happens. It’s such an unnatural state, you’re out of sync with the natural world. Time is different, you eat, drink, sleep, work’ he becomes quite animated ‘all at different times. It becomes a daily struggle/battle/challenge to get all the things done that you have to get done. All the stuff that you can normally do in office hours, you can’t do. You’re doing other things, you’re sleeping or traveling or trying to get decent grub. It’s impossible, it becomes a holy grail to get a decent meal!’
Bill’s tour manager pokes his head round the door to make sure I found him alright. I make some lame joke about looking everywhere in this room and something like his beard blending in with the paisley floor… the TM leaves.
‘You need someone who’s a bit on the case…Yeah you get to a point on the tour when you want as little hassle as possible. You turn up at a hotel, they give you an envelope with a key on it, you don’t even have to sign anything or answer any thing like’ [Bailey adopts petulant child’s voice and does the universal face pull for Spacca] ‘”Do you want this?” or “do you like this?” You literally just want to walk in, they hold up the envelope, you snatch it from their hands and you walk straight to your room – without a word…’
We start chatting about his fans, people with no agenda coming up to him and talking to him. He says he always makes an effort, it must be difficult to do though when you’re in mid tour daze: A wizard in a trance.
‘Well the only time you’re sort of out and about is at service stations! Because you’re in the car to the gig, at the gig or going back to the hotel. Also it’s quite a weird situation, it’s three in the morning. There’s this ghostly pallor to everyone, they see me and they go “Is that…erm” and they figure it’s a hallucination. They go “I’m sure I saw Bill Bailey buying a…panini!.. at four am… or maybe I dreamt it.”’
Off stage Bill may come across as part zombie but on stage he is part troll. A modern one man band playing a multitude of instruments.
‘There’s kind of a balancing act, because it’s just me on stage there’s only so much I can physically play. I was looking at the video, at one point there’s a keyboard, a drum machine, synthesizer, a sampler, a theramin and a bazuki being used by me at the same time. Maybe I should get a band or maybe just chill out a bit, just…” [Bailey becomes psycho-American] ‘“let it go Bill” There comes a point when the technology becomes a hindrance, I always wanted the technology to serve the comedy and hopefully that’s what it achieves.’
A moment when this happens, perfectly on the DVD – Part Troll is his performance of Portishead doing the alternative English anthem: Ziper Dee Do Dah. It’s worryingly convincing.
‘There’s a few things about that, firstly every tribute I do is always an affectionate tribute and the other is that their style is so distinctive, that people will recognize the sound. So we’re acknowledging that the band has a very original and unique sound, merely mentioning the band conjures up a sound. And in order for the gag to work, well the music has to be absolutely bang on, it has to be right, so I make that a feature. It’s an aim of mine with every tribute I do, to make it sound exactly like it might sound if they were to do it. It’s like a painting, you have to keep stepping back until you get it absolutely right.’
Where as audiences seem to get instantly bored when they hear the same material again, this is not as true with music. I wonder whether Bill has any plans to tour just the music with a band.
‘I had a plan to do it this year but I couldn’t fit it in with the tour. It’s something I really want to do, because there’s quite a lot of it now built up over the years. I’ve just written another one now, so it seems to be a particularly creative patch.’
A crumpled traveling salesman ambles into our eating area, nods a brief acknowledgement and turns on the TV hanging from the bracket in the corner. He sits watching BBC News 24 whilst Bush’s electioneering rhetoric blarts out. There’s an anti-Bush song in the new material and jokes about the Axis of Evil
I ask him if he is becoming more political.
‘Well it is inevitable, it’s such an all consuming thing and it just creeps into your comedy. I used to do it when I was in a double act and we always used to do songs that were topical in some way. When I started doing my own standup, I decided to explore more the musical side, stories and surreal comedy. Now I’m going back to it, I’m revisiting the side of what I used to do. If there’s rich pickings there, then it’s valid source material. You have to move on, you have to challenge yourself, find the thing that you find hardest to do and then do that.’
We have a break and crack open the Bourbons. Bill has had the last few months off, uncharacteristically he hasn’t used that time to travel, but in a way he has. He’s had a son which he named after a Star Trek Simbiont character, Dax. I wonder if having his son has affected his attitude to the big wide world.
‘Not at the moment, I don’ think so, not consciously’ [Bailey adds mysteriously] ‘I think that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the personal development within yourself. You speak as a parent, suddenly you’re responsible and grown up – you have dependents. I think that maybe introduces a subtle change because you start to examine yourself and look back at this wreckless, aimless, bumbling life you’ve led up to now.‘
On his website, Bill’s most recent entry into his Blog is apologising for his absence. He said that he suddenly realises ‘hours have flown by and you’ve been grinning inanely.’ I ask him how it’s changed him and when something so wonderful happens he may lose his inspiration in the banal.
‘I think you have to be clearer about the other parts of your life then, you have to organise yourself a bit more and focus in on professional life and a private life. Professionally it gives you more focus because – yes it’s fantastic! I think really things don’t bother you that much any more but perversely other things do, you become more irritable and less tolerant. And more prone to go off on a rant about something. For example, I’m trying to get him out of the car and someone honks a horn, previously I would have ignored them, but now I just go mental! Bag of shopping, you know, small child, honnnnkk…I’ve nearly got into a few fights over it…So I suppose I’ve become less tolerant of errr intolerance.’
His eyes flick up to the side with his trademark bewildered look then he smiles. We crack open the bourbons and finish our tea. Time to move on.