Arthur Smith at The Corn Exchange

Here is my review for the Wiltshire Gazette And Herald published online today

Arthur Smith at The Corn Exchange on Saturday 6th June

Arthur likes Devizes. He takes time before his gig to wander round the streets with a fag to get a feel of the place. He’d like to tarry a while but has to rush off afterwards to catch a train. He has done his homework, much to the approval of his old physics teacher, Terry Hall, who has bought a ticket to see how the old boy turned out. He is world renowned and prolific, with regular appearances on television and Radio 4, yet there are no airs to this man and he is frankly not Grumpy at all.

Arthur has read the Gazette and is party to the sorry tale of the scamming fish salesmen in the villages. He places Devizes firmly between Melksham and Marlborough in the socioeconomic hierarchy of Wiltshire, remarking that, in comparison to Balham, our kebab shop reminds him of Downton Abbey. He refers to the quirks and foibles of other parts of Britain and likes a nice regional variation. He jokes about the Festival, aware that we have Bran the Blessed booked and that our Chairman is not to be messed with. He plays with the audience, getting us to bleat like sheep. The lovely “Carrie from Melksham” has a sheep cry to die for and she gets to read out the comments from the audience about what makes us grumpy: Cyclists without bells saying “Excuse me” on the towpath, litter on the Green, having to stay sober to take Arthur to the station and other inconveniences.

He sings, recites his own poetry and that of others, cracks off one liners and rambles through longer tales. He shows how Ladysmith Black Mambaza wrote a song about him and does Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah like Lee Marvin; reminisces fondly about his childhood, telling a tale of a shower of shorts and giggling girls; touches on controversy, proposing a society for the promulgation of assisted suicide for those deemed by the grumpy to be suitable candidates, yet never goes too far; upsets Yorkshiremen, but only slightly; he judges his audience wisely and pulls himself up for swearing; he makes us laugh, a lot.

Arthur Smith is a bit of a paradox. He reads John Dryden’s “Happy The Man” and finishes off with “Simon (Arthur) Smith and his Dancing Bear”. His act is laid-back and laissez faire, delivered deliberately as if he were middle-aged, disillusioned, tired and past his prime, yet through his material shines hope, joy and empathy for the human condition. Devizes loves him and it appears that, as he is observed cheerfully posing for photographs with Terry Hall and the event sponsors from The Kennet and Avon Brewery before departing for the train, he shares the love.

Gail Foster

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