'I never got why Malcolm Hardee was so revered' | Fascinating Aïda's Dillie Keane on her most memorable gigs © Steve Ullathorne

'I never got why Malcolm Hardee was so revered'

Fascinating Aïda's Dillie Keane on her most memorable gigs

Fascinating Aïda have just kicked off their 40th Anniversary Tour, running through to the end of March. Here founder Dillie Keane shares some of her most memorable gigs

Best gig

 Magical Alice Springs, 1988. (I’m very old now.) 

We’d been there in 1986 and had a ball, and we were so excited to be back that we didn’t notice that our tour trunk containing costumes, props and mics didn’t come off the plane. The trunk flew on to Adelaide… and then back to Darwin… and then back to Adelaide, where they gave up trying to get it to us in time for our gig the next day. 

It was eventually sent up as freight, but not in time for our first performance.  Which meant we had to scratch a show together from nothing - our outfits were what we had in our suitcases, my ‘cancan’ frock was made for a 14-year-old from the local dance school and we had to do our choreography with cable mics, and of course they got horribly twisted up and we had to stop the show several times to unknot ourselves. 

We’d explained our disaster to the audience at the top of the show and every time anything went wrong, they just laughed more. They were wonderfully forgiving and game, we kept getting the giggles and it was just the most joyous show we ever did. 

Worst gig

The Tunnel Club in Greenwich. Fuck me, it was a bear garden. 

Most of what we do is wordy and requires listening. Not good for the Tunnel. Malcolm Hardee, who ran it, relished the chaos and encouraged the audience to heckle and shout from the moment an act got on stage so the act had very little chance. It was aggression on steroids. 

We survived – just about – but it was a hateful experience and we never returned. I never got why Malcolm Hardee was so revered, he wasn’t nice to women performers. 

Gig that taught me the biggest lesson

After my best friend’s funeral. Also 1988. 

The funeral was in Prestwick and after the wake, I flew down to Heathrow and drove to Swindon where the gig was. Having kept it together at the funeral and the wake afterwards, I cried solidly all the way. I was broken-hearted, we were devoted friends. I didn’t know how I was going to get on stage. 

At 7.50pm, something happened and I stopped weeping and managed to get my make-up on. I was only five minutes late getting on stage and mechanically got through the first couple of numbers. 

Then Adèle’s mic broke down. She went off, leaving our then soprano, Denise Wharmby, busking on stage. And then Denise’s mic went. I was alone on stage, and I have no idea what I did but I told jokes, sang, played the piano. Who knows, I might have done cartwheels, but the others seemed to be offstage a long time!  

Anyhow, I held the stage for about 10 minutes and I remember being hilarious – and believe me, I hate having to improvise. I learned that you can and must leave your private life in the dressing room, and it stood me in good stead last year when I had to complete the run in Edinburgh after my partner died. 

The audience have troubles and griefs of their own and they’ve paid to have a good time. Their good time pays your bills. Be strong, get through it. 

Best heckler

Oh dear, another from 1988… well, it was a momentous year. 

We were in Karratha which was then a growing mining town on the west coast, a long way north of Perth. Population then 15,000 - it’s huge now! 

We were playing in school hall on a temporary stage, and our changing rooms were in another building about 50 metres away. Both were air-conditioned - but the short walk from one to the other wasn’t and we were wearing heavy black robes which we would whip off at the end of the first number to reveal our glamorous frocks. 

It was 40 degrees outside. Disaster - our much lacquered 80’s hair flopped and melted, and our faces ran with sweat. In darkness, we took our places on stage, and as the lights came on, a voice came from the back. ‘Christ, turn the lights back off again.’ 

We pissed ourselves laughing and when they saw we had a sense of humour, it was plain sailing from then. Great heckle.

Most unusual location

Quite a few.

  • A raft on Australia’s Gold Coast with a large, very flash gold car behind us (a Porsche, I think??) singing to some car executives across a waterway. 
  • On a balcony in La Palma singing to a huge garden full of powerboat enthusiasts who were a very long way away and mostly hidden by olive trees. 
  • In a hedge fund manager’s astonishing duplex in NYC and being handed very fat envelopes after. 
  • The Dartmouth bandstand when the power had to be paid for with 50p pieces into a meter
  • My sister’s church hall where I had to improvise lighting with a load of bedside lamps borrowed from her house and her neighbours’ houses…. 

Curiously enough, none of these were in 1988. 

Fascinating–Aida's 40th tour

Fascinating Aïda’s 40th Anniversary Show is now touring, including a date at the London Palladium in February. www.fascinatingaida.co.uk

»  Fascinating Aïda tour dates

Published: 13 Sep 2023

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