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30 years of Fascinating Aida
Dillie Keane has the kind of infectious giggle that, if she was at school, would ripple through assembly and get everyone into trouble.
She’s on about budget airlines and their crafty baggage charges. “Have you seen those jackets with all the zips – you wear everything you take onto the plane. I love that!” she chuckles.
Fascinating Aida, the much-loved comedy cabaret trio Dillie founded nearly 30 years ago, pays homage to the “50p flight” in their song Cheap Flights, an Irish folk spoof which has had more than eight million hits on YouTube.
“We’re an old codgers internet sensation – we’ve gone fungal!” beams Dillie. “I’ve no idea who’s putting it all out there, but I’m all for it. The great thing about YouTube is it bypasses a lot of the conventional media – the arts editors who say ‘we’re not doing them again’ and the telly people who won’t have us on – and introduces us to people who wouldn’t normally see us.”
Fascinating Aida bring their Cheap Flights tour to Bradford next week. As well as crowdpleasers like the gospel-inspired supermarket anthem Tesco Saves and their ode to Little Chef, there will, says Dillie, be “60 per cent new stuff”, including some local variations.
“We send up ‘waste of council money’ public sculptures, that sort of thing. We tweak songs and come up with new material on the hoof,” says Dillie. “There’s always a tiny bit of my brain going, ‘I wonder if there’s a song in that’.
“Sometimes a song ‘arrives’ fully formed, and sometimes the hook and the rhythm follows on.”
As well as being a musician and gifted comic performer, Dillie, 59, is an Olivier Award-nominated actress. Her theatre credits include Juno And The Paycock, Charley’s Aunt, one-woman show Back With You and Big Night Out At The Little Palace Theatre, with Sandi Toksvig.
Raised in Portsmouth, she studied music at Trinity College, Dublin, and acting at LAMDA. Fascinating Aida started in 1983, and when Adele Anderson joined the following year, the pair became writing partners. They have been joined by eight sopranos over the years, the latest being Sarah-Louise Young.
“It’s hard for a third person because Adele and I have a shorthand way of talking. We can be very abrupt with each other, but we need and respect each other,” says Dillie. “We’ve been together 28 years, it’s like a marriage.”
What gels the trio is a talent for musical comedy and a primal love and understanding of music in all its forms, from pre-war Berlin cabaret to hip-hop.
The beauty of FA, as they’re known to fans, is three women in posh frocks and pearls delivering sweet ditties masking biting satire and savage social commentary. Nothing is safe from their ridicule, not least New Age religion, modern art, business fat cats, Justin ‘amoeba’ Bieber, celebrities’ babies and Bulgarian folk music.
“In the beginning, a lot of people just heard these cut-glass drama school-trained voices and didn’t pay any attention to the lyrics,” says Dillie. “We always include something touching too; people forgive you for being rude if you’re a little poignant.”
The routines are pretty physical too. Dillie’s mock Marlene Dietrich number, sung deliberately off-key, is an FA highlight, along with her Down With The Kids rap.
“I was a ballet dancer till I was 12 and later a go-go dancer – it never leaves you,” grins Dillie. “I make a hideous show of myself. I loathe watching myself on film.
“I think the reason why there’ll always be fewer women than men in comedy is that to be funny requires an absence of vanity, and women are brought up to be vain. Men can just get on with the business of being funny but women are more self-conscious.”
What does she think of contemporary female comics, like Miranda Hart and Sarah Millican?
“They’re successful because they don’t have vanity. I admire that hugely,” says Dillie.
“As women we’re judged on how we look. That’s our enemy. My partner is very fussy when he’s getting ready, especially when it comes to ties, but once he’s out he doesn’t give it a second thought. For women, leaving the house is when we’re most self-conscious.”
She adds, rather sweetly: “When I started out in FA if someone I fancied came to watch I just wasn’t funny. I was scared of pulling faces and playing the fool.
“But when I met my partner it didn’t matter because he fell in love watching me on stage.”
* Fascinating Aida are at St George’s Hall on Wednesday, March 7. For tickets, ring (01274) 432000.