Bill Bailey

Bill Bailey

Real name: Mark Bailey
Date of birth: 13-01-1964
Born and raised in the West Country, Bill Bailey showed an early passion for music, forming the school band Behind Closed Doors.  It was also at school that he acquired the nickname Bill, thanks to a geography teacher who was a fan of the song Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey?

He seemed destined for a career in music; being the only pupil at his school to study the subject at A-level, before attending the  London College of Music.  In his early years, he performed with an 'enthusiastic if unsuccessful', four-piece band called The Famous Five. But he says he always felt the urge to slip jokes into the set.

Bailey also had a passion for theatre, and he spent much of the Eighties touring with a Welsh experimental theatre company, which he combined with a job as a lounge pianist and a keyboard player in a jazz trio. But one night Bailey saw comic poet John Hegley, who inspired him to combine music and comedy.

In 1986 he formed a double act, the Rubber Bishops, with Toby Longworth, who was replaced in 1988 by Martin Stubbs.  Around this time he was also performing with  London topical comedy team Newsrevue.

Once the double act dissolved, he formed the pub band Beergut 100, and started performing stand-up solo.  In 1994, he performed  at the Edinburgh Fringe with Sean Lock with the show Rock, about an ageing rockstar and his roadie

The following he returned with his debut solo show, and in 1996 earned a Perrier nomination for his show Cosmic Jam. The show was later recorded for TV, but it took until 2005 for it to be released on DVD.

His Perrier success landed him several TV appearances, including a captaincy on the ill-fated Channel 4 sci-fi panel game Space Cadets. But three years after his Perrier success, Bailey was writing and starring in his own BBC Two show Is It Bill Baile?y, featuring  musical parodies, surreal sketches, and stand-up.

He continued to tour and  won the Best Live Stand-Up award at the 1999 British Comedy Awards. In 2001, he toured with Bewilderness and in 2003, he took to the road with Part Troll, following its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 2007 he made the move to arenas, with the live show Tinselworm.

In 2000, he took the role as long-suffering Manny Bianco in Dylan Moran's sitcom Black Books, which cemented his burgeoning TV fame.

Now he is probably most famous as a team captain on comedy pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks, taking over from Sean Hughes in 2002. Bailey has also appeared regularly on QI, Spaced, and as a guest on the likes of Room 101 and TV Heaven, Telly Hell.

Bailey has also been a straight actor. During the 2003 Edinburgh Festival he starred in a production of Twelve Angry Men, alongiside other comedians and two years later appeared opposite Alan Davies in an Edinburgh Fringe producton of The Odd Couple. He voiced the sperm whale in 2005's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie  In 2007, Bailey appreared in a West End revival of Harold Pinter sketches, Pinter's People, which he helped bring to the stage.

He is also a wildlife campagner and presented Wild Thing I Love You which began on Channel 4 on October 15, 2006.

He became a father in 2003, and named his son Dax after the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 character.

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© Andy Hollingworth

Bill Bailey: Larks In Transit

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend

No one would accuse Bill Bailey of being too slick; nor would he ever want to be seen that way,  

His circuitous non-jokes, subverting the formula through surrealism, are a well-established part of his shtick, and he gets further big laughs from things going wrong, whether it’s screwing up a cue, breaking his Swanee whistle or forgetting the words to the folk-rock epic he wrote based around an iPhone alarm tone. It’s all shrugged off with the cheery resignation of a man who knows these things happen, and isn’t about to start fighting fate.

He lives up to his familiar image of the slightly bumbling, perennially affable cove, by reminding us that he’s patron of the Barn Owl Trust, a correspondent for Saga magazine and once appeared in Midsomer Murders. Trouble is not his middle name (it’s Robert).

While amiable, engaging and amused by the world, his low-status West Country demeanour is a Trojan horse for some sharply withering lines. His florid descriptions of politicians, especially, makes him a verbal caricaturist, evoking images that are patently absurd yet capture an essential truth about their targets.

But for all he gently mocks himself as a long-haired, beard, left-wing comedian, satire is not his knapsack, which is a shame as he dances around Brexit pretty nimbly, combining it with an assessment of the British psyche as a mix of nationalistic pride, reckless stupidity and – crucially – never taking itself too seriously. He could say more about the folly he clearly believes the nation is embarking upon, but maybe Southend-on-Sea (Leave majority: 15,000) isn’t the place to do it.

Instead, this is just one strand of many in a selection pack of comedy treats, which is never less than highly entertaining, even if it might fall short of being the substantial meal some of his more philosophical musings suggest he’s toying with.

From the beginning, Bailey sets up the show in a cod-professorial way, chomping on his pipe and asking his audience about the origin of days of the week, right up the street of fans who love him on QI.

The Larks In Transit title refers to his stories from his globetrotting adventures making wildlife documentaries. His backdrop is a giant circular antique-style map centred on Tibet – it’ll look great on the DVD – and we zip through Brazil, Estonia, Indonesia and, erm, Northumberland where he’s either bugged by fans or saddled with locals who set him up for disappointment, which of course is the default setting of almost every Englishman.

Elsewhere there are jokes about falconry – of course there are, that’s the perfect Bill Bailey subject matter – and the 991AD Battle of Maldon in which Earl Byrhtnoth and his thegns were defeated by invading Vikings.  You might think that is totally original thought… but in a sign of how almost nothing is virgin territory in comedy now, Daniel Nils Roberts dedicated a whole Edinburgh show to the skirmish last year.

Genre-defying mash-ups are, of course, all present and correct. That iPhone remix doesn’t quite have the impact of some of his earlier, similar efforts – perhaps because the original ringtone is more obscure – but the Tom Waits version of Old Macdonald Had A Farm is a gem, not least for the inventive ways Bailey comes to E-I-E-I-O. And he encores on a crowd-pleasing musical medley that includes his party pieces of a classic-rock medley played on the bells, and a foot-stomping Irish reel.

What larks, indeed!

Bill Bailey's Larks In Transit is on tour until June. Click here for dates.

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Published: 6 Feb 2018

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