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Beardyman: One Album Per Hour

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

Improv has certainly come of age of late. Among the usual hefty crop of student troupes muddling their way through old Whose Line is It Anyway? games this Fringe are a raft of genre-redefining hits such as Austentatious, Voices In Your Head and the Henson’s puppets.

Now step forward beatboxer Beardyman with possibly the most ambitious of the lot: the promise that he will create a full album in an hour, based only on audience suggestions.

To aid him, the stage of the Gilded Balloon’s Debating Hall contains more technology than Nasa’s Mission Control; a command module of samplers, synths, drum machines, keyboards, iPads and effects doohickeys. To the side, another table packed with more computers, which provide a visual element to the show – for as if the music wasn’t demanding enough a project, a couple of sharp operators from production company As Described are making live videos, too.

Song titles and musical genres are yelled out, and often we take a vote between two likely sounding suggestions. The band tonight is called Basement Jockx, we decide, and compositions include the hip-hop track My Cousin’s Cats, the reggae number Dreadlocks Of Fire, and Kill A Rubber Duck, which just has to be ragga.

Beardyman – aka Darren Foreman – might have created a few new crossover musical genres too, I’m fairly sure Motown & drum & bass isn’t a thing. At least not yet; wait until the world hears Zombie Hedgehogs Of The Apocalypse.

My favourite thought was the trap-house hit Heartbreak Doesn’t Hurt When You’re High – great title, guy at the back. There’s a strong collaborative feel with the way the suggestions re generated, and we all feel responsible for the result. Which is rich since we had very little to do.

The music is faultless and, despite all the technology, all built upon beats Beardyman lays down from nothing more advanced than his vocal chords. That he constructs multi-layered songs while improvising lyrics relevant to the surreal suggestions shows a stunning level of multi-tasking.

As it happens, the words, usually as offbeat as the suggestions, can be lost under the power of the music, but concentrate and you’ll be rewarded. Getting DLT’s current legal case into a rhyming lyric was an special high. But it would have been an invaluable touch if the tracks had been made available online later, so the subtleties what has been uniquely created for this night could be properly appreciated, not lost in the moment.

But as it stands, this is an hour of dazzling skill from Beardyman, with an impressive collection of tracks that wouldn’t be shamed if played alongside commercial releases, and some nice visual gags in the videos. The bar for improv has been raised again.

Review date: 21 Aug 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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