SATIRICAL cabaret trio Fascinating Aida are heading for their 40th anniversary next year.
How they will celebrate remains under wraps, but the comedy singing group’s founder, Dillie Keane, is delighted to be back on the road for 61 winter and spring dates with key writing partner Adele Anderson, who joined in 1984, and Liza Pulman, who first teamed up in 2004.
Among the shows will be York Barbican on Saturday and Scarborough Spa Theatre on May 13.
“We first toured this new show in the autumn, and it was such a relief. It felt like going home,” says 69-year-old Irish actress, singer, pianist, comedian and columnist Dillie.
“Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed in the wings, thinking ‘’I’m home’. I love being backstage too and all the routine that goes with that.
“After nearly four decades, I’m enjoying it as much as ever, having started the group as something to do when we weren’t acting!”
During lockdown, Dillie penned three songs that she posted on YouTube. “I’m not one for livestreaming,” she says. “There’s something depressing about seeing people performing a ‘show’ from their bedroom.
“Instead, I wrote these rather bitter and angry songs. There was one about Cummings ‘wanting all us old people to die’ [Song For Dominic Cummings], and one about Gavin Williamson ‘stuffing up the education system’ [Song For Gavin Williamson].
“Then, Nothing To Do Blues (‘and all day to do it in’), that came about from the moment when I was queueing in a little farm shop and a chap turned round and said, ‘Sorry, I’m taking ages’, and I said, ‘that’s OK, I’ve got nothing to do’. I got that one properly edited and made a little film of it.”
Those songs will not feature in Fascinating Aida’s set. “No, they were of the moment and they would only have been in my solo show,” says Dillie.
She had anticipated spending her pandemic-enforced hiatus from the stage rather differently. “I always felt in my year off, ‘I’ll write my autobiography’; ‘I’ll write the novel of my dreams’; ‘I’ll read [James Joyce’s] Ulysses and Proust’…
… “Well, I did start Proust – I’m halfway through the first book! – and I listened to 13 Anthony Trollope stories read by Timothy West and enjoyed some audio books, and I grew a lot of vegetables. I’ve now used almost all the courgettes; pounds and pounds of them.”
Experiencing the Nothing To Do Blues, Dillie missed seeing shows as much as she missed playing them. “It broke my heart,” she says. “I will go and see anything. I’m very eclectic. High opera. Low opera. Mongolian throat singers. Anything you can name.
“Not being able to see stuff was a killer – then someone told me it took 18 years to reopen theatres after the plague.”
From 1984’s Sweet FA to 2012’s Cheap Flights and onwards, Fascinating Aida have captured the political and social fixations of our times. For 2022, Fascinating Aida’s cabaret compound will combine “old favourites, songs you haven’t heard before and some you wish you’d never heard in the first place” as Dillie, Adele and Liza are joined by musical director, composer and pianist Michael Roulston, under the direction of Paul Foster (whose credits include Kiss Me, Kate and Annie Get Your Gun at Sheffield Crucible).
“I think there are several reasons for our longevity, and one of them is that we’ve always had a director for our shows, which is incredibly important,” says Dillie. “You should have someone on the outside to say, ‘no, this is better’.
“Working with a director makes it sharper focused, and we now have the wonderful Paul Foster, who I worked with on another project [a solo show off-Broadway and on tour].”
Summing up Fascinating Aida’s chemistry that will be clicking once more from January 29 to June 20, Dillie says: “We’re terribly finickity, driving each other crackers! But when we get a line right, when we’re together in Liza’s kitchen, or mine, it’s wonderful.
“Like when we were writing a song about one thing, and Adele came up with a few lines that were nothing to do that but were all to do with ‘fake news’, I thought, ‘that’s awfully good, we should use that for the opening song’.
“We stopped what we’re doing and wrote the new song in full, writing everything in black and white terms: that’s how True True True Or Fake News came about.”
Further assessing the trio’s bond, Dillie says: “A very silly sense of humour helps too. That’s never changed. People come up after a show and say, ‘have you been hiding in my kitchen? You are singing about my life’.
“We’ve also never been starry. We’ve been relentlessly down to earth; there’s a genuine rootedness about us, and we’ve never been seduced by the idiotic side of showbiz.”
One other factor lies behind Fascinating Aida’s continuing success. “Satirical songs are different to doing stand-up, where the rules of comedy say you’re not allowed to repeat old jokes, but though a song like Cheap Flights is no longer topical, people still sit there in hysterics,” says Dillie.
“Songs are a different discipline altogether. Give us a stand-up script and we wouldn’t be very good at it, so we say, ‘let’s keep the chatter to a minimum; let’s stick to the songs’ as we seem to be rather good at them!”
Fascinating Aida, York Barbican, Saturday (12/2/2022) and Scarborough Spa Theatre, May 13, both at 7.30pm. Box office: York, yorkbarbican.co.uk; Scarborough, 01723 376774 or scarboroughspa.co.uk.
Copyright of The Press, York