Recorded live over two sold-out nights in Manchester’s Three Minute Theatre, Is He Joking?, the debut album by satirical singer-songwriter, Chris Tavener is available now on CD and DVD. Cleverly, the show begins with an internal monologue (which the live audience are privy to) as Tavener tries to get himself prepared to go on stage. This is an ongoing gag which runs throughout the evening, with this “inner voice”, consistently second guessing, distracting and sometimes “talking for” the “real” Mr Tavener. That said, this is also something that works better as a DVD joke, as it is Tavener’s visual engagement with his psyche which makes this this technique work.
“Are we ready to rock, Manchester!?” asks Tavener to an enthusiastic audience, before confessing “This is a soft song” and performing, ‘Praise Him’; his ode to former One Direction heartthrob, Harry Styles.
While his on-stage banter and seemingly off the cuff one-liners are decent, Tavener has an undeniable talent for observational “it’s funny because it’s true” humour, and this really plays into his songwriting.
‘Let’s All Go To A Festival’, for example, is a scarily accurate summary of attending a weekend-long music festival, the charmingly vulgar ‘Modern Romance’ has some pretty relatable images but perhaps no lyrical observations are as accurate as ‘Postcard Home’; a song about travelling during a gap year, which is crammed full of hilarious imagery that feels completely true to life…even if one’s own experience of gap year activity has been vicariously lived through the persistent posts of an annoying friend on social media.
Another clever write, is ‘Phoney Supremacy’, written from the point of view of Tavener’s hammed-up mistrust of iPhone users, which starts life sounding as if it could be a close-to-the-bone right wing, Daily Mail rant:
“…When you see that they’re coming over here, there’s a million more in a single year/ They speak a different language and they’re not compatible with the rest of us, they look out for their own/The government won’t make it stop/I saw one in my corner shop near home/I just don’t like the people that use iPhones.”
It’s much funnier when he does it. Believe me.
Billed as a satirical singer-songwriter, it is part of Tavener’s remit that his lyrics are the standout part of his performance, yet I feel would be doing him an injustice to overlook his musical talents; the ragtimey ‘Apocalypse Prediction’ is wonderfully fingerpicked for example and ‘Cliché Blues’ uses a very convincing, drivey blues pattern, appropriately loaded with all sorts of clichés from the blues genre; from waking up this morning, to meeting the devil at the crossroads.
In short, Mr Tavener is very good at what he does, and his excellent observations, wonderful turn of phrase and musical ability make for a very funny, very engaging and very enjoyable debut album. While there isn’t that much in the way of bonus material with either the DVD or CD (extra track on DVD and lyric book with CD), the show itself is a strong enough selling point to take a punt on this. Good stuff.
Christopher James Sheridan
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Artist’s website: http://www.christavener.co.uk/
‘Modern Romance (She’s So Drunk) – official video from 2016: