Boothby Graffoe at the Glasgow Comedy Festival

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by steve Bennett

Many of the headliners of the Glasgow Comedy Festival are of a particularly spiky sort: Jerry Sadowitz, Frankie Boyle, Doug Stanhope… By way of contrast, Boothby Graffoe is about as challenging as a warm bath, infused with the Radox of whimsy.

Back on the road after a couple of years writing for Omid Djalili’s BBC One show and touring with Canadian wit-pop group The Barenaked Ladies, Graffoe shows no sign of departing from his comfortable mix of layered, folksy songwriting and arch, offbeat humour. The result is not laugh-a-minute stuff, but a richer, more comically nourishing hour.

He puts the music, not the laughs, first – although each of his lyrical tracks has a wry wit in its DNA. Graffoe revels in ambiguity – the title of his new album Songs For Dogs, Funerals… is testament to that – and the measured melodies and repetitious structure of songs allow him to tease that along.

Providing accompaniment is the multitalented Nick Pynn, whose spirited fiddling can evoke the spirit of an Irish shebeen or even the death throes of a tortured budgie. Who knew a violin could be witty? And he gets one solo moment of glory, too, the palindromic So Many Dynamos, achieved with the aid of live looping, played back in reverse – not the only time a little electronic jiggery-pokery adds an extra element to proceedings.

But mainly this is a unplugged performance, warm and enriching. The songs are inspired by folk, varying in pace from the quietly ambient to the lively toe-tapper. One about the infamous Hartlepool monkey-hanging even has the jaunty spirit of Bernard Cribbins’s Right Said Fred. The inspiration is offbeat, and while there’s more than one romantic ballad from a stalker’s point of view – that old staple of musical comedy – even here he adds unexpected twists.

Between the songs, Graffoe gives us more of his dream-like surrealism, including his old favourite trick of giving voice to his pets; his cat becoming childlike in its naïve questioning, his dog dumb but stoic. It’s therefore something of a departure when this long-time Amnesty supporter launches into a plea on behalf of Gary McKinnon, the autistic-spectrum computer hacker fighting extradition to the States after infiltrating Nasa’s systems. But just in the nick of time, the rug’s pulled away for a devastatingly effective payoff.

That’s typical of the humour in the songs, too – using compellingly descriptive language to lead the listener a very long way in one direction before the inevitable switcheroo.

As well as showcasing the new CD, this show features a couple of greatest hits, including the warmly received Kittens In A Bag and the pacy alphabet song (‘How you gonna Z if you can’t sleep’ etc…). I’d give you the title, but these tend to be standalone, longwinded thoughts with no relation to the track, as that much-loved ambiguity rears its head again.

What isn’t ambiguous is Graffoe’s linguistic and musical skill, producing an hour of atmospheric ‘mood comedy’ sure to leave you with a warm feeling inside.

Review date: 24 Mar 2011
Reviewed by: steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Glasgow Stand

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