Delighting audiences with their sophisticatedly silly songs since 1983 and now viral sensations, Fascinating Aïda have established themselves as the undisputed queens of cabaret. Buzz talks to chief songwriter Dillie Keane on online fame, wild touring habits and climate change.
With millions of hits on YouTube for your comedy songs, what’s it like being viral sensations? Do you get the same satisfaction from your online audience as you do from those who come to see you perform?
It’s a completely different experience. The warmth from our live audiences is just wonderful – it’s like being in a room with friends, and you can’t replicate that with a screen! But it is very pleasing when you see the viewing stats moving up. When Cheap Flights hit its first million viewers, I was on holiday in a slightly remote bit of the Amalfi coast. We had terrible Wi-Fi and 3G, so I had to lean out of the window to get it, and watching the digits move from six figures to seven figures was a thrill I will never forget.
Do you think the style of the group has changed much since 1983? Are modern audiences much more open to your more, shall we say, risqué songs than they once were?
Yes, we’ve certainly pushed the envelope over the years. The style has become more topical and political, more satirical and less daft. We can still be very silly, but we’re no longer silly for silly’s sake!
Since the start, the two lasting members have been yourself and Adèle Anderson. As the Lennon & McCartney of cabaret, could you tell us about your long-running creative partnership? When you first met, did you have any idea that you would be working together for almost four decades?
Like any creative partnership that lasts such a long time, we have our ups and downs. It’s like being married to someone you never fell in love with, or had sex with, so it can sometimes feel like you’re trapped. But when it goes well, it’s terrific. We’re in a pretty good place at the moment. And no, I didn’t have any idea we’d still be doing it decades later. I particularly remember a journalist asking us if we thought we’d be working together for ever and Adèle said, “I don’t think it would be very dignified if we were still doing this in our 40s.” And yet here we are in our late 60s!
The third member has changed over the years. This tour sees the return of the brilliant Liza Pulman, who first joined in 2004. Could you tell me about how she joined the group?
I heard of Liza through a friend who had seen her in a cabaret of Jason Carr songs, and filed it away in the mental Rolodex. So, when we went through one of our periodic traumas of losing yet another soprano, I asked if he could get in contact with her and see if she was interested. She’d never seen the act, but she was willing to give it a go. Liza’s a very pragmatic person and really appreciates the solidity that can come with working with an established group, and she knows how much we value her contribution. She’s also started writing with us, which means we all own the show, and I think that’s important.
Could you talk me through the process of how you come up with a new song?
That is, of course, the million-dollar question. I suppose what happens is I’ll come up with an idea and a style, and we then discuss the idea endlessly until one of us says something illuminating or pithy, and I’ll say, “That’s the hook!” And then we’re off and running. It can take days.
The latest tour seems quite demanding. Do you find the touring life difficult? I imagine it’s pretty wild, being on the road with Fascinating Aïda…
I’m sad to report that our wild days are behind us. At 67, I haven’t got quite the puff I used to have, so no more carousing till the wee small hours. It will be early bed with Netflix most nights! This upcoming tour looks pretty easy, with short journeys everywhere – we all take it in our stride.
Does the show change over the course of the tour? Do some jokes/songs work better in certain areas of the country than others?
The show will morph a bit, yes. This can be for all sorts of reasons – a song might suddenly seem inappropriate and will need replacing. And we have another section which is rewritten almost daily. It will be interesting to see if the political stuff goes better or worse in different areas of the country, as Brexit has opened sharp divides and who knows? We might well find differences in audience reaction. It’ll be a first if we have – we’ve never noticed a difference between, say, Preston and Bath, or Newcastle and Swindon.
I see that you started a very entertaining blog quite recently – Shit You Don’t Need, about eco-friendly living.
I’m very proud of my blog. I love doing it – it satisfies my inner geek! It tries to persuade people to avoid certain products or ideas that harm us or the planet through careful research and some humour. We’re suckered into thinking we need stuff, and we use – and waste – far too many products. I’ve been an eco-bore for decades now, and yet I still find that I’m using stuff I simply don’t need, so I’m still adapting.
We can’t expect to load the poor old planet with our debris and for it not to suffer. Governments have been supine, big corporations are stuck in their ways, and that situation doesn’t look set to change. So, we have to change our ways, and pressure the government and big corporations into action.
From Brexit to budget aviation, your songs have always remained topical. Isn’t it about time that we had a Fascinating Aïda anthem about climate change?
But there is one! It’s called Lerwick Town – a funny but bleak fantasy about how the climate has changed so much that we now grow pineapples and mangoes in the Shetlands. It’s back in this show and it’s a bit darker now. As a result, it’s hitting home better. Also, I think people are at last beginning to believe that climate change could be catastrophic, and that we can’t ignore it, so the dark ending is now received with a gulp rather than a laugh. That’s a much more satisfying response.
St David’s Hall, Cardiff, Sat 15 Feb. Tickets: £25. Info: 029 2087 8444 / www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk