In the year that the Fringe staggers punchdrunk back into life, there is something very reassuring in being at a Peter Buckley Hill gig. When the mad professor of the Free Fringe is at work in his Canon’s Gait HQ (albeit in the upper bar, due to basement flooding), you sense all is right with the world.
Even more reassuringly, the man himself seems in fine fettle. In 2019, he billed PBH and Some Comedians as “the last ever year for the show that started the Free Fringe”, and you feared it was true. But like Sinatra, that farewell tour turned out to be a false sunset and thankfully, he’s back. Shambling as ever. Easily thrown off his train of thought. In need of a guitar tuner. You wouldn’t want him any other way.
In fact, PBH veterans may observe he’s more together now than in days of yore. There is structure, a set list he more-or-less sticks to, various hats he dons at more-or-less the right moment and minimal bodge-ups. The classic dad gag of the title provides a running joke to hang his songs around, but as befits an idealistic old hippy – he even does a parody of Aquarius on where the 60s dream went wrong – his main themes are the trouble with politics, religion and the royals. Starmer gets a pasting, even more so than Johnson, for his opposition (or lack of it). The economic wisdom of building a new yacht for a nonagenarian monarch are sarcastically pondered. Best of all is Welcome Back Jesus!, a resurrection anthem to fill the gap in the market for Easter songs.
It’s funny funny, as opposed to car-crash funny, as has sometimes been the case with a PBH show. His eye for the absurd is always apparent, be it songs about flinging flamingos or his parody on what other people you may search for inside yourself besides “the hero”, and although he sometimes stumbles to get them out in the right time and meter, there’s always great wordplay. Plus, for added entertainment value, he does all his linking patter in Gregorian chant and encourages us to do likewise.
PBH sits at the junction of various loveable but dying comic traditions – 1960s eccentric nonsense a la Ivor Cutler/The Bonzos, 1970s folk-comedy crossover and 1980s old school leftie ranting – with an added bizarre charm all of his own. For that alone, leaving aside what he’s done to preserve the Fringe spirit via the Free Fringe, he deserves a packed crowd for as long as he continues to turn up here. As much as any trip to Pleasance Courtyard, if you haven’t laughed, groaned and side-eyed at Peter Buckley Hill at least once in your life, have you even “done” the Fringe?