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REVIEW: Bike to the Future ★★★

Brian Madigan's Fringe gigs are never the average songwriter showcase, having more to do with provoking and subverting the expectations of the audience.




Brian Madigan’s Fringe gigs are never the average songwriter showcase, having more to do with provoking and subverting the expectations of the audience. He’s a little trapped into an “expect the unexpected” scenario, tho’ I think he steps round most of that like something unmentionable on the pavement. This does make for an uneasy balance with the actual material, which is conventional enough message-laden acoustic pop songs, albeit with a sly sense of humour. Perhaps the high concept would go better with the more abstract instrumental pieces which are his bread & butter output as a working composer - maybe in some of the previous shows he did more of this - I think I’ve only seen one other and this is at least show 4 of an annual series.


Brian wastes no time in showing us he doesn’t take himself over-seriously

Brian wastes no time in showing us he doesn’t take himself over-seriously - he makes his entrance a gag about being late for his own show, and then comes on again to the mock-heroic theme from the Python movie that’s definitely not about him.

The running gag this time - not over-extended - has all the other musicians running late as well, and exchanging phone messages between songs. This does in the end boil over into one not showing up at all - not, I believe, actually part of the original plan - but the thread is getting hard to follow at that point, and sometimes these things just can’t be helped.

By the end there’s a 4-piece band, 8 singers, plus a pair of globetrotting puppeteers

Fiddle player Rob Whale is a useful addition to proceedings when he does make it onto stage, providing contrast, counter-melody, and lift, and by the end there’s a 4-piece band, 8 singers who - in typical BandNamedBrian style - appear unheralded just when needed, plus a pair of globetrotting puppeteers whom I am assured really were met entirely by chance and only last weekend. They could have been part of the bike theme [the helmeted singers likewise] but oddly that bit is rather under-played [oddly too because Mr M is clearly a cycling and green transport advocate], possibly because of the middle-class comfortable reticence he alludes to in the between-song chats. Or maybe it’s just a pun for the title. Like the earlier shows, there is at least as much content in between as in the songs themselves, probably more honesty and less artifice, and this may highlight a problem with the material in general. Incidentally a couple of nights later I saw Nick Harper deliberately make the introductions part of the show in a still more assured manner.

Brian’s audiences are never allowed to get too comfortable, which is probably a good thing, and by the end are made to stand and sway and sing along, which as any performer will tell you makes for a better experience all round (when you get over the hurdle of instigating it), though maybe not all audiences agree. The applause at the end was enthusiastic and honest, though I’m left wondering if it’s time to shoot the concept off in a completely different direction.


★★★


Bike to the Future by A Band Named Brian was performed at The Old Theatre Royal on the 1st June 2022, as part of Bath Fringe Festival.


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