Review: Twonkey’s Kingdom & Nest of Knickers

Twonkeys Kingdom: *****
Nest of Knickers: ****1/2

Twonkey’s Kingdom (at the Brighton Fringe 26th May 2012)

‘The Atlantis move in Chess… is where you replace all your rooks with shrimps, then pour a glass of water over your opponent.’

Other than friends, fans and reviewers, none of whom can be entirely trusted to give you the best indication of how a show is shaping up, Twonkey’s Kingdom may have played to only a handful of regular Brighton Fringe ‘punters’ during its short run. As Vickers said in the excellent A Room With A Comedian interview, a musician can practice on his own and perfect a show, but a comedian has to do his polishing in front of a real, live, and possibly hard-to-please, audience. On that front, the Brighton Fringe may not have served its purpose. But fortunately, the show is already a fabulous cornucopia of first rate comedy and new songs. It wasn’t entirely clinically delivered throughout, Vickers describing it as ‘ramshackle’ at this stage, but it’s still a beautifully crafted 50 minutes of theatre, comedy, cabaret, whatever you might call it.

Some tried and tested material from last December’s Variety Night has made it to the actual show (so far) including such hilarities as his Pub Quiz Answers and The Pub Guide for Pricks. Silent movie star Lon Chaney gets an anthem in his honour (not the Lon Chaney Jnr immortalised in Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London, but his old man). It’s nothing short of a new Vickers classic, a beautiful thing even on first listen, with some interesting changes and a superb vocal.

There’s not a weak moment in any of the new songs or sketches. I wont spoil them for you, but look forward to finding out more about Humpty Dumpty’s offspring. And the less you know about Captain Chips going in, the better. Two songs from the show (and possibly a third) didn’t make it to the CD, but they’re both as good as any that did and may have been late additions (Lilly Bumper, and a track which may be called Twonkey’s Kingdom). He also sang I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles which didn’t make a lot of sense (it didn’t last year either). But if everything Vickers did could be explained away by a mere mortal like me, well, he just wouldn’t be Mr. Twonkey, would he?

The funniest moment of the night was probably unplanned. Some of the audience had asked for an encore and Vickers, always obliging, went to the iPod for a backing track. He couldn’t find it. With the iPod still on speakers, and the click wheel not on silent, he went on the clicker train at 100mph through what seemed like thousands of tracks. ‘Oh, here it is, yep, got it…. no,’ and off we went again. Like Austin Powers taking a piss, it was a question of how long he could get away with it and it felt like the best part of 5 minutes. Hilarious. And the track he found was no less than a remix of Playboys With Hunchbacks. We salute you sir. (Will this ever appear on CD?)

The show, and the entire Twonkey Trilogy, ends strangely enough with a radio announcement that ‘Hitler is Dead’. I read this as Vickers saying ‘fuck you, you can finish a trilogy successfully with the death of Hitler’. I sat there sheepishly corrected. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Please tell all your neo-Nazi friends (we all have ‘em) to get themselves to Twonkey’s Kingdom in Edinburgh this August. They’ll be back from Euro 2012 by then and true catharsis awaits them, guaranteed.

It has to be said that Twonkey’s presence in her own eponymous show is now almost non-existent. It is possibly only in this context that Twonkey deserves comparison with Taggart. If that affects whether or not you’ll attend the show, you’re even madder than Vickers. You owe it to yourself to move heaven and hell to see Twonkey’s Kingdom with your own eyes. You wont regret it.

Anyway, about that ‘Atlantis’ move in chess… can you still do it after you’ve castled?

Nest of Knickers

‘I started to chuck my muck like a broken hay bale cutter’

Another new Vickers CD, less than a year after the last one. Incredible. It officially features 18 tracks, but two of these are just sound effects, and there’s also a hidden track, so it’s really 17. Since you’re counting. Vickers may have worked out that the world’s best selling album ever, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, featured just one unique characteristic, a creaky door. So Vickers, going for Gold, opens with one here and then adds another at the end for safety (or just pure greed).

If I had a little niggle with Vickers’ last album Oom-pah!, it was that I preferred the live vocals on Lillian Gish and Hot Beryl compared to the distorted versions on the album. On Nest of Knickers, the gulf between live performances and the studio counterparts is even more pronounced. The vocals on almost all of Nest of Knickers‘ songs have been tweaked to one degree or another (Eggs Benedict being an honourable exception).

Remember what I said about new song, nay, instant classic, Lon Chaney? As soon as I got home I put the CD straight on, excited as a schoolboy. The music began, so far so good… and then the vocals kicked in. It was a sound I can only describe as like a dying Aled Jones shrieking as he realises he’s being pulled into hell. Not what I was expecting at all. I thought perhaps it might be a vocal nod to Chaney himself in one of his trademark roles before I remembered he was a silent movie star. It may grow on me, but right now it’s not quite the masterpiece it was in Brighton.

The same goes for Goat Girl to an extent which not only has weaker vocals, but bizarrely has a sabotaged chorus on the CD (it sounds like the tape is chewing up) for reasons which escape me. It is one of five unreleased Dawn of the Replicants tracks (does this mean the group are officially defunct?), all of which feature Vickers vocals in the older Replicants style (the hidden track, possible title Midnight Feast, is very good indeed). However, I prefer the way he sounds live during Twonkey (and on The Leg CDs). One Replicants track from the CD, Yabba Yabba, sounds like it was re-recorded for Twonkey’s Kingdom by Paul and Pierre, his main collaborator on this disc. I preferred the new live version to be honest. The tracks composed with Pierre (who is this talented mystery man?) are all sublime. Two tracks, The Magic Invisible Song and Fizzy Lemonade, didn’t make it to the live show but are album highlights, easily worth the £5 cost on their own.

Other than that… it’s another unique Vickers CD with musical and comedy treasures galore and one that holds up to the classic Oom-pah!. This year’s Crimp Drizzle – a minute long dose of wonderfully atmospheric weirdness – is definitely Sheep Woods.

All spoken word tracks are five star romps and I’d probably give this disc the nod – just – over Oom-pah! for the comedy selections. Jennifer’s Robot Arm is not only vintage Vickers – fab, funny, creepy, tragic, Grim(m), beautifully delivered – it also features a wonderful, almost subliminal, musical backing which is just the icing on the cake. It even includes a mystery – what finally happened to Butch Battersea? – that will keep you up nights.

But it’s the 5 minute long spoken title track, Nest of Knickers, which is nothing less than Vickers’ Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s been stripped for parts to an extent in Twonkey’s Kingdom – successfully, I should add – but to hear it in all its glory is an absolute must. Kenneth Bennett deserves his own chat show. And every girl Vickers ever offers to buy a drink should hear this at least once before deciding to accept.

There is a single holdover from last year’s show. And Bookclub definitely deserves preserving on disc. The book reviews – all mini classics from Twonkey’s Castle – are delivered by Nettle Nights, and not ‘Nims’ who did such a good job with them last year. Maybe it’s the same person. Perhaps changing the name is just a bit of advance solidarity with Glasgow Rangers.

The album, basically, is an absolute must-own despite my reservations about some of the vocals. But if someone wants to jack into the Twonkey’s Kingdom soundboard at Edinburgh to make a bootleg CD replacing a few tracks with the live vocals, then that’s an easy five stars. Maybe we’ll eventually get a cleaned up Lon Chaney vocal on a compilation of silent era misfits with Chaney, Lillian Gish, Bess Houdini and whoever else Vickers immortalises in song between now and then. I have a fiver on Max Schreck.

Well done Mr Vickers on another timeless disc. And respect also to the fine collaborators (Dawn of the Replicants, The Leg, Steven Vickers and the mysterious and brilliant ‘pierre’). It’s a million times more memorable than Paul Buchanan’s Mid Air, believe me. Count the days until August when you can all buy a copy.

Must listen to (comedy): Jennifer’s Robot Arm, Nest of Knickers

Must listen to (songs): Sheep Woods, Fizzy Lemonade

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