FRIDAY SONG, Dillie Keane, LOOK, MUMMY, NO HANDS (1997)
Something great can happen when a funny songwriter decides to put humour aside and go for the heart. While the jokes are waiting in the wings, the song taking centre stage acquires a power all of its own.
Think of Noel Coward and ‘Mad About the Boy’, or Jake Thackray and ‘To Do with You’, or Randy Newman and ‘I Miss You’ – I’m sure you can think of examples by Loudon Wainwright, John Prine, Tim Minchin and others.
Dillie Keane is one of the best and funniest writers working today. With Adele Anderson, with whom she often writes songs, she created Fascinating Aida, an astonishing trio who provide audiences with a rare double-hit of pleasure – musical sophistication and mercilessly brilliant comedy.
And they don’t play the game. Dillie and Adele speak and sing as they find. On the whole, the entertainment establishment is wary of songwriters whose contribution to the great yuletide songbook has a chorus which goes,
Dillie’s way of marking the lockdown was not to write a teary ‘We’ll Meet Again’ number or a rib-tickling ditty about social distancing. No, she provided A Song for Dominic Cummings – which manages to be both coruscatingly funny and moving, as well as hitting a political target.
In this grindingly humourless age, it’s not the sort of thing to win you friends in high places.
Apart from the jokes and the performance, what I like about Dillie’s and Adele’s approach to songwriting is that it’s direct and fearless. They take no prisoners. They not afraid of going too far – in fact, going too far is precisely the point. They embody the famous TS Eliot dictum,
‘Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.’
The same quality of directless is what l love in Dillie’s more serious songs (although ‘serious’ isn’t quite the right word – as with all funny writers, everything she writes has a light tug of humour beneath the surface).
There’s the pain and loneliness expressed in one of her less well-known songs ‘The Blues Have Got a Skeleton Key’. Her tribute to her father ‘Flowers in Winter’ is extraordinarily moving and should be included on any Dear Daddy playlist (with Dan Hicks’, ‘Song For My Father’, Loudon Wainwright’s ‘Older Than My Old Man Now’, and Martin Simpson’s ‘Never Any Good’).
It was a tough choice but in the end I’ve gone for ‘Look, Mummy, No Hands’ as this week’s Friday Song. In four minutes, it captures – cleverly, economically and to a lilting melody in 3/4 time – the pain and joy of childhood, growing up, parenthood and growing old. It contains the truth of family life, how each of us is connected yet alone.