Comic Songs


Comic Songs


The Bush Theatre has moved to what used to be a public library. They now put on cabaret in the bar area. I thought I’d give it a shot for two reasons: I wanted to see if it would be a suitable venue for Chico Chica and, I am becoming interested in comedy music – some of the new Chico Chica compositions are taking on a comic turn. Hilary wants us to target the Edinburgh Festival in 2013 and our show is developing with this in mind. It’s an unusual step for Jazz musicians to make because Jazz is a serious art form. In Somerset Maugham’s The Moon And Sixpence there’s a passage about convention which resonated with me as it should with all artists: ‘It is not difficult to be unconventional in the eyes of the world when your unconventionality is the convention of your set. It affords you then, an inordinate amount of self esteem. You have the self-satisfaction of courage without the inconvenience of danger’.


So with this in mind, we will seek danger and to hell with the inconvenience. There is not a great deal of comedy music around especially when we consider that a hundred years ago nearly all popular music was comic. So when the Scandimaniacs appeared at the Bush Theatre I was there looking for inspiration. The evening was a disappointment but it did me get thinking about what makes good comedy music. The first thing – now I know this may sound obvious – the music must be very good. Chico Chica, that is Hilary Cameron, Barbara Snow and myself, are musicians first, so a good tune, which is well arranged and well performed is the starting point. 


But it is the lyrics which define a song as comic. Kinsley Amis, in his introduction to The New Oxford Book Of Verse gives the most satisfying definition of light verse I have ever come across. In it he quotes A.A. Milne: ‘It observes the most exact laws of rhythm and metre as if by happy accident’. Amis declares that the style must be conversational and without soaring poetic flights and imagery. For comic song purposes, rhyme takes on a supreme importance – though there are exceptions of course. Comic verse welcomes double and triple rhymes, in fact  you will hear an example of this in Chico Chica’s next show at the Map Café, Kentish Town. It’s a song which is a veritable triple-rhyme fest.


Then there is the performance. Comedy music is liberating in the sense that it allows songs to be sung in regional accents. A British singer from the Blues and Jazz traditions finds it hard to make the transition – they have to think in an American way and this can impede the comic sense.  Chico Chica get round this by being a Latin band – I don’t think anyone else does this. Will it work? Come to the Map Café on 26th April 2012 and find out.


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