Mitch Benn and the Distractions

The Round – 22/11/09

Reviewed by Reza Mills

Musical comedy has had something of a renaissance in the past few years thanks to the efforts of Bill Bailey, Rich Hall (as Otis Lee Crenshaw) and ahem; Tim Minchin. You can now add Mitch Benn to that delectable list. Mitch has been plying his trade since 1994 and is a regular writer and performer on Radio 4’s ‘The Now Show’ as well as ‘Its’ Been a Bad Week’ on Radio 2.  You might even have seen him on BBC1’s Watchdog at various times. In addition to all this Mitch has a regular touring band called ‘The Distractions’ (a knowing nod to Elvis Costello’s The Attractions perhaps?) which he formed back in 2003 and with whom he has released 7 full length CD’s, the latest of which is called Where Next?. Lancaster is the penultimate show on the current tour.

The Distractions are a trio consisting of obviously Mitch Benn on Lead Vocals/Guitar, long time collaborator Kirsty Newton on Bass/keyboards and back-up vocals and a replacement drummer (whose name I’ve forgotten, sorry whoever you are!) for other regular Tasha Baylis. The Round is for the most part packed with what seems to be your stereotypical ‘Radio 4 listener’, something Mitch picks up on. Curiously there are very few younger people present, could it be that Mitch is too cult even for them?

Those not familiar with Mitch’s work, think of a less surreal, more topical Bill Bailey and your halfway there. Like Bailey, Benn is an extremely proficient and talented musician, capable at turning his hand to most musical styles. He covers the gambit of genres ranging from Jazz-fusion, heavy metal, rock opera, hip-hop, and ska. The Distractions work very well as a collective unit, very tight and cohesive despite the many technical difficulties present on the evening. You could say there were many ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ present tonight; see this comedy stuff is contagious. Its’ credit to Mitch who shows himself to be the consummate professional that he continues and preservers through all the hitches and difficulties with the equipment. Lesser men would probably have thrown in the towel in frustration. In fact Kirsty does a fine job of entertaining the audience whilst Mitch tries to iron out the problems faced by his guitar. Whilst Mitch is clearly the star and the reason why we’re all here, Kirsty should not be forgotten. She does have a very fine voice and in fact takes the lead on an early 60’s twisted love song called ‘Now he’s gone’.

The evening is a successful mix of friendly banter and music, Mitch often giving a brief synopsis of the number about to be played. Highlights include a great Heavy Metal pastiche called ‘Oh IKEA’; Mitch doing a great Steve Harris interpretation, with the old machine gun bass and yo-yo eyebrows. He also does a hilarious Morrissey micky-take, whining away in ‘Never went through a Smiths phase’ and a great Eminem/Shakespeare collaboration called ‘(Macbeth) My Name is’ complete with hockey mask and gangsta strut. In tribute to The War of the Worlds, he performs his own rock opera ‘The very hungry caterpillar’ a song that recalls Meatloaf in places, suitably bombastic and silly this is a new song taken from ‘Where Next?’ Referencing the constant slew of ‘previously unreleased’ Beatles albums flooding the market he performs ‘Please don’t release this song’.  Could equally be applied to the countless Jimi Hendrix albums released posthumously.

‘A minutes noise for John’ is a lovely, heartfelt tribute to legendary Radio DJ John Peel done in the style of a 1977 punk band (in this case The Undertones – one of John’s favourite bands) and ‘Sing Like an Angel’ is a savage satire sung in the perspective of an X-Factor wannabe. Mitch also shows off his improvisional skills when just before the break he asks the audience to come up with at least 3 topics that he has to write a song about in the interval. The 3 topics were Floods (my suggestion), Tuition Fees and a murdered girl who was served as a kebab. He plays this song at the start of the second half.

Needless to say there were many highlights to the show, but I thought I’d give you all a taster of what you can expect when you go and see him for yourselves. You can catch Mitch either on air on numerous programmes (too many to list at present) or on Watchdog, believe me its’ even worth putting up with Anne Robinson.

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