Out of the bag - Dead Cat Bounce

This article is from 2009.

Out of the bag

They may have upset everyone at Mo Mowlam’s memorial gig but Dead Cat Bounce are now flying high. Jay Richardson discovers why they’re big in Nigeria

If you’ve never actually met rock’n’roll sketch band Dead Cat Bounce, you could be forgiven for thinking that these guitar-wielding Dubliners occupy a place so far ahead of the curve that they’re on the outermost tip of the zeitgeist’s serrated edge. Their debut gig was attended by Will Ferrell and representatives of Irish broadcaster RTE, who subsequently handed them their own TV series. And their name? A shrewd prophecy on the world’s economic recession? Channelled into a 2008 Fringe sketch show that opened with stockbrokers standing over a dead prostitute? Ouch! What savage, foresighted satire!

Sadly, their seemingly oblivious cool is only partially so. At the 2005 Fringe, Shane O’Brien gave a talent scout for Armando Iannucci the cold shoulder in favour of his warm pizza. Unconvinced by the man’s credentials, he preferred to focus on his dinner. And their name – which refers to the temporary rally of spectacularly falling stock – simply came from searching for economic terms to accompany the stockbroker sketch, and currently attracts millions of financial spam emails. Yes, they’re massive in Nigeria.

With O’Brien on bass, Demian Fox on drums, Mick Cullinan on keyboards and James Walmsley on guitar and lead vocal, the quartet – who met at Dublin’s Trinity College – at least marry sharp sketch writing with a mastery of various musical styles, everything from barbershop to fist-pumping stadium rock. On stage, the ‘three failed musicians, plus Shane, ‘who’s not even that’, project more swagger than most preening indie bands, yet they remain tighter than any number of solo comics without the arsenal of amplifiers and microphones to literally trip them up.

Nevertheless, they’ve had some spectacular foot in mouth incidents. Four years previously, as part of the sketch troupe H-BAM they engineered their own ‘Springtime for Hitler’ moment at a memorial concert for Mo Mowlam. London’s Theatre Royal had been staging The Producers at the time and in front of an audience of 2500 they performed a sketch entitled ‘Graham and the Nazis’, in which a loud, flatulent fratboy crashes a Third Reich rally. A technical glitch led to a huge picture of Mowlam appearing on a screen just as two large swastikas unfurled on either side.

Cullinan recalls ‘banners and cannons going off everywhere’ as former Labour party leader Neil Kinnock rose to speak, while O’Brien remembers ‘coming off in my Hitler costume and Jeremy Irons just standing there, sadly shaking his head. Even at the party afterwards, people like Lulu and Dawn French were just walking past, trying to avoid us,’ he says, lowering his head in shame. Fox claims that Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow congratulated them though, saying ‘“I know what you were trying to do, boys”. He’d obviously decided that if you don’t get it, it’s working on levels of irony and intelligence that you must respect.’ Luckily, Mowlam’s daughter filmed the whole debacle, so it should appear on the internet sooner or later.

Having juggled both a sketch show and radio play at last year’s Fringe, Wired finds them as ‘more a band than a sketch group,’ claims Walmsley. ‘Let’s just call it burlesque and get the nipple tassels out!’ rejoins O’Brien. ‘We’d go nude. Actually, we did a sketch as strippers, but people just laughed at our bodies.’ With the Chippendales appearing in the same venue, perhaps they’ll collaborate? Cullinan sniggers: ‘A load of women on their hen night, and we rock in?’ Typically, the group rely on suggestions from venue staff to find the most unintentionally funny Fringe shows. ‘You say “we want to watch something really good”,’ elaborates Fox, miming a sly wink. ‘And they deliver, they absolutely deliver.’

Last year though, they also employed O’Brien’s budgie, a birthday gift from the others to teach him responsibility. ‘I didn’t take that well,’ he admits. ‘But we used to throw flyers on the floor and whichever show he landed on, we went to it. We’d go out at six in the evening and not come back until six in the morning. His cage was left open, but he’d have been awake all night, thinking “should I have gone to bed?”’

‘Edinburgh aged that bird,’ sighs Walmsley. ‘We treated him well but by the end, the expression on his face … ‘ Fox laments. ‘He was just a beaten budgie.’

Dead Cat Bounce, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 622 6552, 8–30 Aug (not 17), 10.30pm, £8.50–£9.50 (£7.50–£8.50). Previews until 7 Aug, £5.

Dead Cat Bounce ... Wired

  • 3 stars

A rock & roll sketch show. 'Genius - ***** (ThreeWeeks). 'Comedically perfect - ***** (Dubliner). 'A sketch show with a brain and a black sense of humour - **** (Chortle.co.uk). As seen on RTÉ television.

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