Category Archives: Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra

Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra and JimBob at Dingwalls

MFMO Dingwalls set list

The set list - click to embiggen

[No Music on Monday today – instead, a gig review]

Last week I had a fun diversion from the stresses of album-writing and office-moving, in the form of a gig with the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra at Dingwalls in Camden.

It was a brilliant night – probably the best gig I’ve done with the orchestra so far – featuring a set of original MFMO songs (courtesy of the incredible musical imagination of composer Martin White), a selection of songs from Gutted, a “Revenger’s musical” performed at Edinburgh this summer, and a set featuring the orchestra along with the legendary JimBob (out of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine).

First up was support act the Graham Mearns band. They sounded great and I wish I’d paid more attention, rather than scuttling about backstage wondering if (or rather when) I was going to throw up my dodgy Chinese takeaway.*

Graham Mearns Band

The Graham Mearns band doing their thing

The MFMO set was good fun, and I managed to count most of my parts correctly. This is the main reason I don’t do orchestral work – I can’t count for shit. There wasn’t much room to move on stage:

MFMO on stage at Dingwalls

MFMO on stage at Dingwalls. Not much room to move.And there was even a gong! How cool is that?The gong. Just brilliant.

Next came three songs from Gutted, featuring JimBob, Helen George and the Penny Dreadfuls. Apparently there’s going to be a semi-staged, fully-orchestrated performance of the musical in London next Spring, so watch this space. Judging by what I heard, it will be a really fun night.

JimBob then took to the stage for a quick acoustic set on his own, then came back after the “Unstoppable Fax Machine Overture” (Martin’s clever Tchaikovsky pastiche featuring melodies from Carter hits) for a crowd-stirring performance, complete with singalongs and bubble machines.

JimBob Carter USM

The mighty JimBob

Here’s a cheeky backstage pic:

Amy Butterworth backstage at Dingwalls

The lovely Amy Butterworth, tarting herself up backstage at Dingwalls

And the MFMO the night before during rehearsals:

MFMO Rehearsing

MFMO rehearsing - not a lot of room here either

*It did stay down in the end, but it was a close run thing…

9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People

The MFMO rehearse for the gig in a freezing studio in Hammersmith. It was worth it in the end 🙂

I’ve had a bit of a thin month, gigs-wise (not weight-wise – the onslaught of cake and mince pies is taking its toll…) And although it’s a welcome change from my usual pre-Christmas gig madness – a few years ago I ended up doing a gig every single day for about two weeks – I am basically a big girly show-off and love to be on stage.

My Christmas wish was granted on Sunday, as I got to be on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo, playing with the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra as part of Robin Ince’s self-styled “folly” – 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People.  Far from being a night of religion bashing, it was a glorious celebration of rationalism and science, communicated via the twin media of comedy and music. And it was bloody brilliant.

Firstly, massive, massive props to Martin White, erstwhile leader of the MFMO, who was up till all hours arranging the orchestral parts and putting up with our whinging about being cold and hungry, and errant brass players.  He is a star of the highest order. I get a hard time dragging my harp around to gigs – I can’t begin to imagine how much hassle it must be to take a whole orchestra about the place.

Anyway, from where I was sitting (right at the front of the orchestra, woo!), I got a great view of the backs of such comics as Dara O’Briain, Al Muray (who had a cheeky twang of my basswires when he went past), Robin Ince, Richard Herring, Chris Addison, Natalie Haynes, John Gordillo, Mark Steel, bendy Ben Moore, the legend that is Barry Cryer and the lovely Shappi Khorsandi. Due to the monitoring it was a bit hard to hear everything they all said, but the bits that I caught were pretty much all hilarious.

As well as the comics, there were musical acts – Joanna Neary did an odd little dance which involved spitting her teeth out (you had to be there…), Robyn Hitchcock sang a song about evolving, Baba Brinkman rapped about evolution (really gutted I couldn’t hear most of the lyrics), Gavin Osborne did a lovely sweet little song about a stargazing nerd’s seduction, and Jim Bob (out of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine) did a big number with us about the angels going on strike. Does that make us the Unstoppable Sex Machine Orchestra?

And not only that, there were scientists too! (It was a pretty long show – whole species had evolved by the end of it). Simon Singh merrily took the piss out of Bible codes, Ben Goldacre ranted about the nocebo effect with barely a pause for breath, and Brian Cox awed us all with the majesty of the universe.

I got a tingle down my spine as I watched Richard Dawkins reading from his books, wreathed in dry ice (though four readings was possibly too many… just saying). And Jonny Ball was good too, steering clear of the controversial material he’d used earlier in the week, wheeling out plenty of groan-worthy jokes and demonstrating Newtonian mechanics with a ball on a string.

For me, the best moment of the night was the grand musical finale, led by Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden. What started as a gentle ballad, pleading for Christmas peace and quiet ended with a riotous, anarchic singalong, culminating with Martin rising up out of the stage playing the Apollo’s enormous organ. Brilliant and uplifting. Who says atheists can’t celebrate at Christmas?

The Apollo's hugely impressive organ *snigger*

Roll up for the Karaoke Circus!

You know it's going to be a good night when there's a man dressed as a giant rabbit

On Friday night I had the privilege of playing at Ward and White’s Karaoke Circus – proprietors Ms Danielle Ward and Mr Martin White.

The concept is beautifully simple – get together a live band, the bones of an orchestra, some comedians, some suitably drunk and/or shameless members of the public and get them to perform live karaoke.

While the concept may be simple, the execution is not. Songs start in the wrong key, the brass section are caught napping, the singers forget to come in, and I miss most of my cues due to an inability to accurately count 27 bars of rest. In my defence, I only have ten fingers. And a short attention span.

But that all somehow makes it even better.  It was a bloody brilliant night, and even though I don’t think the harp could be heard further than a 5 ft radius away, it was great to be right at the front. Dave Gorman did a lovely version of my favourite ever Christmas song – Stop the Cavalry – complete with a panto-style sing-along lyrics board.

Dave Gorman takes to the stage

Highlight of the evening was Chris Addison and a very brave last-minute stand-in doing Fairytale of New York, shortly followed by Chris Addison and a very flustered Jessica Hynes (still in her coat and fresh from the theatre) doing it again.

Chris Addison and Jessica Hynes do it once more, with feeling

Everyone gave it their best shot, and while there were too many performers to mention everyone, special mentions go to Ben Miller and Tony Gardner’s Bing and Bowie impressions during Little Drummer Boy (good grief that song is dire), the powerful lungs of the girl who took on Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas, and the talented teenage jailbait (Jack Gardner, I believe) who did a near note-perfect rendition of ELO’s Mr Blue Sky.

Oh, and the boys from Pappy’s Fun Club probably got the biggest (possibly unintentional?) laughs of the night, as Little Pappy threatened to make a bid for freedom. Here’s a tip, fellas – If you’re going to jump around stage wearing nothing but your pants, loose cotton boxer shorts may not be the ideal garment of choice.

The boys from Pappy's Fun Club - in need of more than moral support...

Finally, everyone came back on stage for a blistering rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, complete with over-emoting, terrible falsetto and much headbanging. In the words of the Baron, one of the night’s judges, it was “Utterly BRIIIILLLLLIIAAAANNNTTT!”

Bohemian Rhapsody, as you've never heard it before. Or ever will, except in a horrific nightmare. You know, one of those ones where you're late for a plane, or have no clothes on in the middle of the High Street.