Fascinating Aida reach new heights
After being together as a group for more than 30 years, Fascinating Aida have reached new heights – not because of prime-time television or even a massively successful album. It’s all down to the internet.
The comedy cabaret trio whose satirical songs have more bite than a hungry Rottweiler wrote a song called Cheap Flights about the problems of booking a bargain fare with a cheap airline. They filmed the song and uploaded it to YouTube – and it has been viewed almost 12 million times!
It has an unexpected fan: Michael O’Leary of Ryanair who loved the song so much he insisted on putting a link to the video on the airline’s website.
Dillie Keane was one of the original members of Fascinating Aida which started in 1983. She is currently touring with the group whose new show Charm Offensive will visit Nottingham, Buxton and Chesterfield this month. So why have the group been going for so long?
Says Dillie: “I think people love our sheer cheek. The fact that we are musically very solid means the songs are always comfortable on the ear.
“The quality of the song-writing is really high – I’ll be honest, I don’t think there’s anyone writing comic songs in the English language to touch us for quality and consistency. We’re incredibly brutal with each other and with ourselves to try to make the writing better. There’s an honesty and integrity at the heart of what we do which people instinctively warm to.”
That honesty – and a lack of modesty – is why you will not find Fascinating Aida on television. You might think the group would be ideal for programmes such as the revived Sunday Night at the London Palladium but Dillie says it will not happen.
“Television doesn’t suit us really. There’s too much hard work between us and the end product. The songs are very long and television producers always want to cut them, to sanitize them and that would be terrible. I’m not having somebody trying to change them.”
Louise M “Dillie” Keane was born in May 1952 in Portsmouth. She studied music at Trinity College, Dublin and acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
She put her acting career to one side when she started Fascinating Aida. The following year Adele Anderson replaced one of the original members; her writing partnership with Dillie is one of the reasons for the group’s continuing success.
Adele Anderson has sung jazz and cabaret at London’s Pizza on the Park and the Langham Hilton. Theatregoers in the East Midlands may remember her from her appearance at the old Derby Playhouse in 2006 when she took the role of Cinderella’s stepmother in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.
Liza Pulman joined Fascinating Aida ten years ago, stepping in at short notice when the previous soprano left. She says Dillie is an “amazing composer” and her songs “are a great privilege to sing”.
Liza is now an integral part of the group whose impressive achievements continue to grow. Fascinating Aida have played more than 100 theatres in the UK and Ireland, has toured Australia three times including a month at Sydney Opera House and have also performed in New Zealand, San Francisco, New York, Berlin and Singapore.
The group have released seven CDs, three videos, an autobiography and a songbook, and have been nominated for several honours including three Olivier Awards.
So what can people expect to see in Charm Offensive?
“We always have to put a few old songs in to keep the long-term fans happy. I’ve been told by my producer that we have to do Cheap Flights. But this show is very different from previous shows.”
Fascinating Aida audiences often shout out ideas about what the group should write about, but usually they do not take the bait.
“We have broken that rule once,” Dillie explains. “We got so many suggestions from people in the teaching profession that we wrote a song about Ofsted. Generally, though, we take our ideas from the world around us.”
Despite being on the road for more than 30 years, Dillie does not mind touring and uses the time before a show to explore.
“I really enjoy getting to know Britain a lot better than most people. I love this island that we live in.
“In Chesterfield I want to go to the church with the wonky spire because I’ve only ever seen it once briefly and many times from the train.
“I don’t get tired of travelling because if I did that would be the end of it. It’s part of life’s contract. You say to yourself I’m going into showbiz and you have to travel.”
The Charm Offensive tour is due to end next Easter. Fascinating Aida will then take a break for about 18 months while the three of them write their next show, although they may undertake their own projects as well.
“We all agree that everything we do solo mustn’t threaten the group but it’s also quite healthy for all of us to go off and do things on our own,” says Dillie.
“The three of us get on very well, given that we’re stuck with each other and we travel in close proximity all the time.”
One of Dillie’s most successful ventures away from Fascinating Aida was not exactly a solo undertaking: in 2006 she joined Grumpy Old Women Live, the stage show based on the television series of the same name. She teamed up with Jenny Eclair and Linda Robson for a 40-date tour which was followed by a four-week residency in the West End.
But she clearly relishes her involvement with Fascinating Aida. She is looking forward to returning to these parts because the audiences are “fantastic” and Buxton is “an old friend”.
Dillie’s brand of humour is apparent when she sells the group’s latest tour: “Fed up with the endless recession? Got any money left after paying your bedroom tax, losing your child benefit and being robbed by a Cypriot bank? If so, cheer yourself up at the cheapest and cheeriest show in town!
“Oh, and 30 years . . . who’d have thought that we’d outlive the VHS? Expect topical new songs hot off the press plus some outrageous old favourites as Fascinating Aida continue to grow old disgracefully!
“Listen, trying to explain a Fascinating Aida song is as bad as trying to explain someone else’s joke. Come along and find out in person!”
* This article first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Country Images magazine