After seeing Beardyman, I had a good long hard think about how I would approach this write up, I was chatting to a lady who works at the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre and she was as bewildered as I was, we discussed a few angles and after much head scratching, we were both at a loss, let’s go back to the start and I’ll do my best….
Upon entering the venue, I was handed a piece of paper and a pen and asked to write down 3 song names, not ones that had been written before, just random ideas that popped into my head there and then, I asked the lady what it was all about and she explained that they were compiling a set list for the show?! I duly jotted down 3 completely random, off the wall song titles and tossed my suggestions into the bucket.
It was a seated gig and as it was a sell out, I needed to find somewhere to sit, pronto…. I headed into the auditorium as Beardyman was coming to the end of his soundcheck, found an unreserved seat on the balcony and started making notes. The setup on stage looked like something out of the Starship Enterprise, made up of a keyboard, 3 iPad’s, a guitar and more effects pedals and boards than even Jean Michel Jarre would know what to do with. To the untrained eye, I guess it must have looked like a 21st century electronic one man band set, all that was missing were a pair of cymbals to slap between his knees, saying that, I guess that even they would be there somewhere! I found out that his setup is fondly referred to as the ‘Beardytron 5000’.
Just after the scheduled start time, the lights dipped, silence surrounded the auditorium for what seemed like an unnatural amount of time, the eerily quiet moment pierced by a burst of flatulance and some male ‘guffawing’ from near the back row (nothing to do with me guv). Beardyman finally took to the stage, thanked the audience for being so quiet and introduced himself. From his comedy approach to the opening section, he showcased some of his beatboxing skills that were used to become UK Beatbox Champion in 2006, he retained his title in 2007 making him the first beatboxer in UK history to win two championships in a row. I think you can also safely assume that he doesn’t enjoy the output of one Mr Michael Mcintyre (can’t say I’m much of a fan either!).
A small red bucket was handed to him by his glamorous (bearded) assistant, this was no ordinary bucket as it contained (most) of the slips of paper that had been completed prior to the start of the show. Some of the ideassuch as ‘My brain is like an electrical storm’ and ‘Bogey burgers taste so good’ were simply too random and he excluded these right away, giving the audience a good laugh as he read them out and tossed them aside! One that did get selected was ‘Malcolm Fish Hands’ and he took no time at all to create a bouncy, Mr Men style backing track for him to talk over, telling a story about how the hero (Malcolm) went to the local library but was unable to pick up a book as his hands were fishes, very funny!
From the front row, he picked out a lady who was to act as timekeeper, she set her phone up and we were off. He explained that the first half of the show (act 1 if you want to pretend to be all ‘thespian’) would consist of some songs, made up completely at random based on the suggestions in the bucket (aptly renamed the ‘Swing Bin of Justice’), whilst the second half would be based on whatever the hell Beardyman wanted, “basically, lots of electrical weirdness”….
The first proper track to come from one of the suggestions was ‘Hot Sauce for the Soul’ which started out as a light beat, with Beardyman layering sounds and effects over the top until we were listening to something that most bands would take years to achieve. The next suggestion was ‘Underwater Space Quiz’, a quick demonstration followed of some crazy underwater style effects whilst a male quizmaster read out a question. Other amusing and very good examples followed such as ‘I Ate my Saxophone’, one of the highlights for me was definitely ‘The Jungle in God’s Bedroom’ which saw God as a 15 year old boy in his bedroom, with a rave tape banging away in the background whilst he thought about stopping masturbating and starting to think about inventing the world, such a mad idea! It soon escalated to a crazy jungle fused drum n’ bass fest that any budding DJ would have been proud of.
Someone suggested some Gabba Techno, Beardyman was more than happy to oblige and played a few seconds of pounding 220 bpm beats that no doubt pleased the one fan in the audience! He took a while to consider the merits of ‘The Virtues of Satan’, explaining how a metal track is put together and that there are 3 distinct vocal types to choose from;
- Summoning Satan (deep guttural roar)
- Cursing God (high pitched scream)
- Inhabiting Satan (generally disturbing noise)
He reached for his guitar and slowly built the various layers of sound until a full on death metal track was blaring out into the room!
‘You Miss What You Never Knew’ was then dragged out of the small red bin and off he went into a psychedelic trippy mash up of swirling keys, obscured beats and general electronic craziness.
After a 20 minute break, he took to the floor once again and performed a great rap about domestic bliss, whether this was rehearsed or not, it was hugely entertaining and got a huge cheer from the capacity crowd. He thanked the audience for continuing to support his music and said that the last 10 years have been great as he hasn’t really had a proper job in that time, opting to stand in front of random strangers and ‘fucking with electronic music equipment’ instead!
A bit more gabba techno popped up, luckily only a few seconds to keep the man in the 3rd row happy! Beardyman explained how Gabba sounded just like a day on the construction site before dragging another idea out of the ‘bucket of justice’ (or whatever it was called now), the title of the next track was ‘Man Can’t Live By Electricity Alone’ and he opted to perform this as a reggae number, ‘One Day My Beagle Will Kill Me’ demanded an explanation and the provider was all too happy to explain that he was looking to adopt another beagle from a website called www.allbeaglesareevil.com, not the kind of site name that you’d associate with a dog rescue centre but hey ho….
‘Hamster Party’ was hilarious, a mix of camp sounding keys and a pounding Euro pop beat (think ‘Party Boy’ from Jackass) interspersed with the odd unsavoury comment about introducing the cute and cuddly rodents to anal orifices, the results were utterly hilarious!
The set was then wrapped up with a trio of tracks including ‘Sinking into the Sofa Abyss’ where Beardyman name dropped many of the cliche daytime TV shows that people who aren’t in the office staring at a computer screen by 9am watch on a regular basis, I think Jeremy Kyle, Bargain Hunt and Homes Under the Hammer all got a slice of his wry humour in this one! ‘Arrival of the Octopi’ was the first time he had ever attempted a track about more than one octopus so he excitedly launched into a very regal sounding fanfare that created the perfect backdrop for the weird ‘Octopus’ themed lyrics, ‘Jenga of the Mind’ was performed in the style of a sea shanty and centred around an ageing fisherman who had clearly taken far too many drugs in his time and was unable to finish a sentence, a completely mental idea that the entire room just went with….
The encore saw Beardyman play one last track ‘Snoopy is my Master’ which included an American spoken dialogue over a light drum n’ bass backdrop before breaking down into a mental mix of heavier DnB and Jungle music. He then did a quick impression of David Cameron shagging a pig prior to thanking the audience for coming and wishing them a safe onward journey.
So there you go, as I said at the start, it wasn’t easy to ‘review’ the show as at any stage, you didn’t know what was coming, the way he approached the songs was amazing, firstly selecting a genre and then deciding on the basic format prior to loading up the extras to complete the track. I would struggle to describe how he makes the music and would strongly recommend anyone to get along and catch him at one of his live shows as it really is something that has to be witnessed to be believed!
Words by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Julian Baird