I caught Jonny & The Baptists‘ show last year at the Edinburgh Fringe when I was on the panel of the Amused Moose Comedy Awards. It was, deservedly, on the short-list.
Back then you could see the potential for some of the songs to court controversy. Jonny Donahue and Paddy Gervers are outspokenly political, but in a roundly jolly and cheeky manner. However, only one song rustled the Fringe grapevine: one that openly criticised the fact that gay men can’t give blood (it was censored by a TV station – go see them and they’ll happily tell you which one). But they couldn’t have counted on the amount of publicity their UK tour would attract thanks to them naming it The Stop UKIP Tour.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Nigel Farage is on the pay roll he’s worked so hard to draw attention to the pair’s work, albeit in an attempt to gag them. His party’s actions provide further mileage for the duo too; if you’re going to criticise someone for their opinion on your party best to check first what quotes from yourself and your members they’ve got to throw back in your face. This being UKIP there are plenty, the most famous of which is the connection suggested by David Silvester between gay marriage and climate change.
Despite the publicity it’s a disappointingly small turnout at Bury Met. Nevertheless we are a receptive audience, cosy cabaret seating aiding the atmosphere. Plus there’s a gig in Manchester to look forward to next month. Surely it can’t be too long before these guys are household names? There’s been a slow rumble of interest since their Edinburgh debut in 2012 resulting in radio appearances, multiple award nominations and widespread critical acclaim. They’re a tight twosome – there used to be three of them, which provides an extra chuckle as they’ve kept the now redundant plurality of ‘Baptists’.
It’s a nice dynamic. Donahue is the gregarious front man whose regular excursions off piste are greeted by a laughing but slightly shy Gervers, a quiet encourager of Jonny’s mischief.
They’re similar chatting in person. Theirs was the only ticket at the Fringe – of many press tickets I’d successfully booked – that I managed to royally fuck up having arranged it for the wrong day. I changed it, cringing in the knowledge that even if the gig wasn’t sold out they’d still have had to fork out for the comp ticket I didn’t use. Catching them at the final of the Moose competition I made a bumbling apology and promised to owe them a drink. Donahue was chatty and gracious, Gervers smiley, quiet but receptive.
Their upbeat demeanour is deceptive as the material is bitingly satirical. Opening up by suggesting that we save libraries by shagging in them as well as reading is absurdist but makes a bloody good point (using our libraries more rather than having sex in them that is). They move quickly to the now infamous UKIP song, which is incredibly catchy. After previously reminding myself of it on YouTube, it was in my head for days. Indeed, the music is simply executed but very effective with Gervers providing harmonies, the melody and the percussion via guitar slaps and foot stomping. Donahue, meanwhile, has a pleasingly musical theatre type voice and provides the banter between songs.
Elsewhere there’s a naughty reoccurring joke about recapturing the sense of camaraderie created in the country when we buried Thatcher (similar to the one when her own cabinet did it first in 1990).
They’ve been mildly criticised in review for not saying anything new but it’s so perfectly packaged and fun that it doesn’t matter whether they are attacking UKIP or observing that Brits don’t like to voice their complaints unless it’s about a lack of manners. Besides, there are moments such as the lovely subtle song to Donahue’s niece about the underlying sexism still inherent in our society.
Saying ‘hi’ to them once more at the end of the gig I find them as charming as the first time. Though I left still owing them those pints.
Jonny & The Baptists are on tour. For more information, follow this link: http://jonnyandthebaptists.co.uk/gigs/