Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Universal
PERFORMER: Bill Bailey; BBC Concert Orchestra/ Anne Dudley
CATALOGUE NO: 827 2069 (PAL system; 5.1 surround; 16:9 anamorphic) 169 mins Blu-ray: Universal 827 4407 (PAL system; dts 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic)

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When it comes to ‘tour-guiding’ the orchestra, Bill Bailey is no Benjamin Britten. But then, as Eric Morecambe might have pointed out, Britten never played the Glasgow Empire, nor did he venture to take the mickey out of Chris de Burgh.

The Remarkable Guide is never going to get filed on the shelf next to Berlioz’s Treatise on Orchestration, but those who don’t know their piccolo from their contrafagot will certainly pick up a few insights along the way. And although Bailey fingers a few instruments Young Person’s Guide-style, the more useful model is Prokofiev. What Bailey and composer Anne Dudley have done is to create a Peter and the Wolf for the 21st century in sketch form. And in the course of sets imagining the Dr Who theme as a Jacques Brel song, or creating a ’70s American cop show, there’s a subtle subtext not only to do with the orchestra, but also how the language of music works. 

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There’s a nice line in whacky anarchism too. Is that the ghost of Gerard Hoffnung giggling at Saint-Saëns’s ‘Swan’ performed on a herd of cowbells? In the fly-on-the-wall, behind-scenes ‘Extra’, Bailey is found at the console of the mighty Albert Hall organ rehearsing Strauss’s Also Sprach: ‘it feels like you’re playing the building’ he confides. And that’s what he proceeds to do for the show’s duration. Play on! Paul Riley