From playing Metallica at Knebworth to the Strictly dancefloor, Bill Bailey's now set for Comedy Shindig in Herts
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
There's not many people who have danced to Metallica on Strictly Come Dancing and played Enter Sandman live at a metal festival.
Bill Bailey has done both, having performed the Tango to the thrash metal legends' signature song on Strictly last year.
He also performed the track himself when he was a stage headliner at the 2011 Sonisphere Festival at Knebworth House – playing Enter Sandman to thousands of metal fans on horns during his set.
"I don't think anyone has ever done that," admits Bailey.
"I don't think anyone's played metal riffs on car horns at a metal festival and then danced a Tango to it on a dancefloor. I think that's a first! It's a bit of a random one..."
For those that only knew him previously as Dylan Moran’s put-upon assistant Manny in Channel 4 sitcom Black Books, being a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, or his twin roles in Simon Pegg movie Hot Fuzz, Strictly Come Dancing introduced the award-winning comedian and multi-instrumentalist to a new audience.
While the 2021 Strictly celebrities have just been announced, Bailey's the current king of the BBC ballroom, having surprised many last year by lifting the Glitterball trophy at Elstree Studios with professional partner Oti Mabuse.
Regarded by some as the series' comedy 'joke' booking when the 2020 celebrities were first announced, Bailey confounded the sceptics, took the competition seriously, and waltzed off with the main prize.
- 1 Drug dealer caught after being pulled over for using phone on A505
- 2 No Cambridge fireworks display on Midsummer Common this year for Bonfire Night
- 3 Of all the places in all the city to park an uninsured 4x4
- 4 11 questions to decide how Royston you are!
- 5 MPs vote on whether raw sewage should continue to be pumped into waterways
- 6 HGV crashes into car damaged in earlier incident
- 7 Royston's George Crotty selected by GB for World Boxing Championships
- 8 Cambridge Film Festival returns for its 40th outing
- 9 25-year-old admits Royston drug dealing
- 10 Man arrested on suspicion of drugs offence after two warrants issued
"It was a big surprise to me," admits Bailey.
While on paper different characters, it was the perfect partnership on the dancefloor.
Bailey pays tribute to his Strictly partner's professionalism and outstanding choreography, saying she's "a brilliant dancer and a great coach".
"She is one of the best teachers there is. Oti's very determined, she knows how the competition works, and she was the current champion last year.
"She identifies what your strengths are and plays to them, and works the choreography around that."
He adds: "It was one of those serendipitous meetings where we both got on really well and we are both very similar in many ways.
"Superficially, obviously, we're very different. We're from different backgrounds, different countries and different generations.
"But actually in terms of work ethic and how we see work, and being quite driven, we're very similar.
"So we had this great friendship based out of mutual respect and we worked really well together. And I thought, 'I don't want to let her down'.
"But I also wanted to try and enjoy it and show respect for the dancers and all the work they put in. They are incredible athletes and amazing to watch.
"When you see them rehearsing and dancing up close, you realise the level of athleticism, grace and concentration, and mental strength you need to do it day-in, day-out.
"I wanted to pay respect to that, rather than just show up and be the kind of joke character and be fired out of a cannon dressed as a stoat!"
While winning Strictly was a recent high point for the 56-year-old comedian, the show's oldest champion, so was headlining Sonisphere at Hertfordshire's home of rock, a venue that has hosted greats such as Led Zeppelin, Queen, Oasis, The Rolling Stones, Metallica and Iron Maiden.
Bailey looks back fondly on that Sonisphere 2011 performance, with his Sunday night headline slot on the Saturn Stage taking place just before masked Iowa metallers Slipknot closed the Knebworth festival on the opposite Apollo Stage.
"It was quite a punt by the promoters," recalls Bailey. "They were taking a bit of a risk in some ways, getting a comedy booking for a metal festival.
"It wasn't like on one of the side stages or the comedy tent. It was on a main stage. I was on the Saturn Stage headlining. It was me and then the crowd went down the other end of the arena to see Slipknot.
"So I was performing in front of Slipknot fans. I was thinking, 'If this goes wrong I could be torn from limb to limb'.
"It was a huge punt in many ways and a big challenge. It was one of those things where we thought we'd just have to go for it."
He quickly put together a "brilliant" band featuring Feeder keyboard player Dean Deavall, guitarist James Maddison, drummer Jason Bowld, who has played with Killing Joke, and his guitar tech Trevor Dawkins on bass.
"It was a great triumph," says Bailey. "I'm not blowing my own trumpet, it ended up being that. Out of adversity we had this incredible gig.
"It was in the middle of a storm, there was a Biblical rain storm, there was water all over the stage, all over the electrics. It was like, 'Oh God, the potential for this to go wrong was huge'.
"But it turned into a fantastic gig. In fact, it's probably one of my all-time favourite gigs."
Despite playing Enter Sandman, Bailey missed Metallica's 'Big 4' show at the same festival as he was performing a charity gig with Deep Purple at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of The Sunflower Jam charity, playing cowbells on Smoke on the Water.
Bailey played the main stage at Latitude in Suffolk last month, again attracting a huge crowd for his Sunday morning slot, and will be in Hertfordshire on Sunday, August 22.
"For years and years and years, comedy has always been seen as a sideshow at festivals," says Bailey.
"But comedy is now big news. It's mainstream entertainment.
"When people go and see comedians now they go and see them in arenas."
Returning to the festival stage following the easing of restrictions on live events, Bill Bailey will be headlining the Just The Tonic Comedy Shindig at Church End, near Bishop's Stortford.
Next Sunday's Little Hadham line-up also includes Ed Byrne, Milton Jones and Reginald D Hunter. Due to travel issues to the UK from abroad, Rich Hall has had to drop out of the festival, but Shappi Khorsandi has been added to the bill in his place.
As well as blazing a trail for comedians at Sonisphere Knebworth a decade ago, Bailey has just enjoyed a week-long residency at The Royal Opera House in London.
He says it was a huge privilege to perform his Summer Larks show at the prestigious Covent Garden venue earlier this month.
"It went really well," Bill tells me. "It's an amazing venue and it's quite an honour to have played somewhere like that. There's only one other comic that's played there and that was Jackie Mason."
He adds: "This is one of the iconic venues of the world. It's an extraordinary place with an amazing history. And I've taken a stage where Handel premiered some of his works!
"It has an extraordinary pedigree and legacy. You just walk through the venue and you are reminded of it at every turn; the kind of people that have played there.
"There's a huge photograph of Rudolf Nureyev backstage, there's photographs of iconic operatic productions throughout the years, so you really get a sense of the history of the place just being around it."
When asked whether his picture will adorn the walls soon, he laughs: "Well, I hope so!"
His show at the ROH has been filmed for a future broadcast on the BBC.
Ticket holders at next weekend's Comedy Shindig in Hertfordshire will get a taste of it.
"I'll be bringing a lot of elements from the show that we performed at the Opera House, as much as I can practically," reveals Bailey.
"There'll be lots of instruments, lots of music, stories and tales of travel.
"I was in two minds about it before the Opera House shows. I was thinking, 'What do we talk about in these times?' All we've talked about is the pandemic. It dominates every aspect of our lives and it's weird not to talk about it.
"But at the same time, people want a bit of escapism. So I try to strike a balance. I acknowledge about the situation we are in, and then I do the show as normal.
"A lot of the show is, perversely, all about travel and travelling around the world, which is the sort of thing we've not been able to do.
"But in a curious way, it's what people want to hear about, I've found. They want to be reminded there is a world outside and this is a temporary situation.
"It's a bit of escapism, a bit of fun and hopefully the essence of the show that was on the Opera House stage."
Ahead of appearing in Herts, Bailey has a sold-out 'work in progress' show at Cambridge Junction on Tuesday, August 17, as he hones material for his upcoming UK tour, En Route to Normal, which he started writing before we'd even heard of COVID-19.
While we are 'En Route to Normal' here, the pandemic has put Bailey's international touring schedule into a state of flux. While we are talking, he reveals that his forthcoming dates in Australia might now be off, due to another lockdown Down Under.
Fans in the UK can still travel to see Bill Bailey at the Comedy Shindig on Sunday, August 22. Visit https://churchendcomedy.com/ for ticket details.