FASCINATING AÏDA: THEY’RE BACK AT LAST
St David’s Hall, Cardiff
Sat 15 Feb
With a career spanning almost four decades, Fascinating Aïda still manage to delight, charm and shock audiences in equal measure, with their latest tour They’re Back At Last! – a mixture of highly topical new material, old favourites, and, of course, their well-received viral hits. The core songwriting partnership of Dillie Keane and Adèle Anderson (“the Mick and Keith of cabaret, which would make [Liza Pulman] Ronnie Wood”) remains in very good health.
Despite the old-school musical styles on show, it’s quite remarkable how up to date their newest songs are, in terms of subject matter. Opening number Fake News is an instant classic of the group’s repertoire, showcasing their razor-sharp wit and skill for scathing satire. The latest version of the always hilarious Bulgarian Song Cycle (“a cycle of songs!”) is so topical that one piece was about an incident that happened only last week – the resignation of Sajid Javid as chancellor after Boris Johnson’s reshuffle!
Though Dillie makes some jibes about the sensitive dispositions of audience members under 30, the fact is that FA’s appeal is ageless. And this is coming from a 23-year-old boomerang kid, mind you, who’s been a fan since he was 17!
This tour sees the return of soprano Liza Pulman (easily the best third member that the group has ever had, in my view), whose soaring voice is easy to miss in all its splendour when it’s heard in the context of a comedy song. The vocals are exquisite throughout, regardless of initial sound difficulties. Pianist Michael Roulston is a superb addition too – a talented musician as well as a consummate performer himself.
Like a stadium rock band at their absolute peak, FA also perform some of their best-loved songs – i.e. those that went “fungal”. Their “greatest hit” Cheap Flights is played with all the energy and wit of the original (with all the fecks very much in tact), as is the fabulously filthy Dogging, which makes Victoria Wood look like Anita Harris. It’s a treat to see their send-up of tuneless German cabaret singers, Lieder, once again too, featuring the girls recreating the back-breaking choreography with quite astonishing athleticism.
But it’s not all laughs; FA fans will know that their music also packs plenty of emotional punch, whether it’s politically charged hymns like Socialist Britain (updated from its original 1994 version, written during the comparatively benign era of John Major) or genuinely heartfelt ballads like the spine-tingling Goodbye Old Friends. Prisoner of Gender – a stunningly performed song about Adèle’s transition that took the group a decade to write – emerges as an empowering anthem not just for transgender people, but really anyone who has struggled to conform to the stereotypes and social constructs of gender identity. Lerwick Town tackles the issue of climate change with an initially comedic tone in a tropical calypso style, before reaching an unexpectedly dark conclusion, which (as Dillie hoped in our interview) the audience receive with a gulp rather than a laugh.
It’s hard not to resort to hyperbole and superlatives when you see a performance of this calibre. Even after 37 years, Fascinating Aïda are showing no signs of slowing down.
words SAM PRYCE photos JOHNNY BOYLAN
Fascinating Aida are currently touring the UK. Tickets and info can be found here.