Jonny and The Baptists are the kind of band you wouldn’t mind spending an evening with in the pub – although you’d be wise to avoid any establishment claiming that name if it sells more than beer. As they make clear in a typically witty protest against the advent of wasabi nuts and fancy cuisine, they have standards.
Fronted by the gravelly voiced Jonny Donahoe – whose onstage persona is somewhere between Matt Lucas and Boris Johnson, but a great deal more likeable than both – this comedy blues group specialises in songs that combine parody with charm and a huge amount of fun. Their lyrics are astute and satirical, but not self-regarding. They aim as much at the back row as those blessed with a good enough grasp of French to follow Jonny’s gently mocking ode to his racist grandparents.
Their set list, which consists of ‘true’ stories and protests about anything that takes their fancy, plays to the same knockabout caricature of middle-class life as Jonny’s beguiling on-stage bluster. In one song, gangly long-haired guitarist Paddy is exposed as the victim of a brutal mugging by feral prep school boys in Ladbroke Grove.
The band’s keen ear for the socially ridiculous isn’t just reserved for broken hearts in supermarket aisles. Concocting a night of passion between Jonny and Paddy, they tackle the gay blood ban with wit and a lyrical lightness that makes its point without brow-beating you. And a song about keeping libraries relevant by having sex in them will have you laughing yourself hoarse.
Their madcap surrealism spins itself into songs of lunatic genius, including one hilarious tale of being stalked through a house by a knife-wielding Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl’s illustrator. Sung at a shout by a bulging-eyed Jonny and accompanied by the shriek of a violin, it’s brilliant bordering on nightmarish as it reaches its crescendo.
There’s nothing arch or pretentious in their approach. Adept musicians, they play with musical form with the glee of children rummaging through a toy box to see what they can make. The rapport between Jonny, Paddy and violinist Amy is relaxed and unaffected and the occasional trip over a chair or set malfunction just adds to the atmosphere. They’re the first to laugh at their mistakes, folding them into the comedy of the night.
This boisterous joie de vie is key to what makes Jonny and The Baptists so good. Whether bantering with the audience or with each other, they’re natural stage performers and a laugh to be around. You’ll be a convert before the end of the first song.
First published by Exeunt magazine