Godless Christmas (Take Two)

On Saturday 19th December I went to the fifth and last of Robin Ince’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People shows at the Bloomsbury theatre. (Although there was another show on the 20th at the Hammersmith Apollo). I had met up with Linzy, Shell, Kate, Simone and another Sarah for some dinner and with an exchange of cards and gifts, and tiny crackers with pictures of puppies wearing Santa hats on them,  it was the most Christmassy I’d felt so far this festive season. We made our way in the freezing cold over to the Bloomsbury and took up our front row seats. I was really looking forward to the show despite having seen it 4 days earlier. There were some different acts on the bill (no Johnny Ball this time!) and still plenty to get excited about.

After another introduction from curator and compere Robin Ince (and another musical intro from Martin White’s wonderful Mystery Fax Machine Brass Band) the first act took to the stage. None other than the closest thing many atheists have to a messiah, Richard Dawkins himself! Dawkins gave us a continuation of the Jeeves & Wooster pastiche which is his contribution to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, the recently published book edited by Ariane Sherine (the woman behind this year’s Atheist Bus Campaign). It was slightly odd if I’m honest but mildly amusing and Dawkins has one of those voices that you could listen to forever, and I’m glad I got to see the man himself in flesh.

Next up was Richard Herring, who did the same set as Tuesday night but was still very funny. His childhood stories are even funnier with repetition and reminded me of the stories I wrote as a child (I still have my ‘Work Sample’ book from primary school in which I had to do a piece writing and some sums at the end of every school year… it contains gems such as ‘The U.F.O’ (1987), ‘The Ghostly People’ (1988) and ‘Lost in the desert’ (1989)). After Herring I’ve lost track of the order the acts came in but there was more from Chris Addison (again the same set as Tuesday but his T-Rex impression never fails to be hilarious), Jo Neary (as Pan’s Person) once again gave us her interpretive dance to Cat Stevens’ ‘Moonshadow’ which was just as funny even when I knew what what was coming. We also had Robyn Hitchcock again. He played one of the same songs as on Tuesday with some great accompaniment from the MFMO. He then got some of the other performers up on the stage (including Barry Cryer, Ronnie Golden, Jo Neary, Gavin Osborn and Jimbob from Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine!) to join him in a rendition of his song Olé Tarantula, made even more hilarious by Robyn giving instructions to his impromptu backing singers (and the band) between each section. I really enjoyed Robyn’s set this time round, it seemed a lot more fun and in keeping with the rest of the evening than it had on Tuesday. We also had the BHA Choir again, with what looked like a few additional members this time, and another delightful version of Tom Lehrer’s Christmas Carol.

In addition to these we were also treated to some acts that I hadn’t seen on Tuesday – a high tempo and very enjoyable song from Philip Jeays (although I can’t remember what it was about!), science writer Marcus Chown gave us his own, very entertaining, science awards for those who have never been recognised to the extent he believes they should have been by mainstream science, and finally, truly awe-inspiring stuff on particle physics and the creation of the universe from physicist (and former keyboard player with pop band D-Ream) Professor Brian Cox. Brian is currently working at CERN with the Large Hadron Collider and although I didn’t entirely understand everything he was saying he has a great way of grabbing the attention of the audience and making what he is saying accessible to everyone.

The first half was rounded off by Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden with another outstanding performance of their song Peace and Quiet and they were once again joined by a variety of backing singers and the Mystery Fax Machine Brass Band.

Mr Ince continued his excellent wrangling skills into the second half which began with a brilliant song called Angel Strike from Jim Bob (of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine fame) all about (unsurprisingly) what would happen if the angels went on strike. I have to give special mention to Martin White at this point because the accompaniment once again was outstanding and just shows Martin’s talent in arranging orchestration to other people’s songs. There was more from the MFMO later in the second half with the ace song Thank You For Not Discussing The Outside World. Also returning from Tuesday’s show were Simon Singh with his Bible Code stuff,  Josie Long and her What do ghosts eat? cracker-joke based set, John Otway with his Bunsen Burner song, and Baba Brinkman with the excellent Rap Guide to Evolution. We also saw the return of Ben Goldacre, once again speaking faster than I have ever heard a man speak, but this time with fascinating stuff on the power of the ‘nocebo effect’ whereby people in trials experienced side effects even when taking a placebo and that people who were given a muscle relaxant but told it was a stimulant showed the same effects you would expect to see had they actually been given a stimulant! You can read more about the study here. 

One of the new acts for the second half was Howard Read (Big Howard) and his cartoon sidekick Little Howard. The Howards, both Big and Little are the stars of a show on CBBC but the act they gave us certainly wasn’t suitable for the kids. I’d never seen or heard of the Howards before but I found their act (involving an invisible duck called Lenny and a made up invisible bear) to be very funny and one of the many highlights of the evening. 

Another comedian who I hadn’t seen before was, star of Peep Show; Isy Suttie who joined the ranks of guitar players on the bill with her very funny (and remarkably well sung) song about how there are plenty of cunts in the countryside. It was just a shame that there was only time for her to do one song. Lastly (although he didn’t appear last) we had Gavin Osborn, the man I had been very disappointed not to see on Tuesday. Despite talking about a new song he had written about William Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley for the occasion, in his backstage interview with New Humanist magazine, Gavin actually performed his song Glow in the Park (about sex and the stars) which I had seen before in Edinburgh. Although I would have liked to have seen the new song, I was still very happy because the song we heard is played on ukulele and when I saw it in Edinburgh it was before my own uke playing adventures began, so this time it had a whole new dimension as I tried to work out the chords Gavin was playing.

So there you have it – another wonderfully entertaining evening courtesy of the tireless work of Robin Ince. I was disappointed to miss the Hammersmith show but apparently it’s going to be on BBC4 in the new year so keep your eyes peeled for that. You can also see all the backstage interviews on the New Humanist YouTube channel

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