9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People

The glittery disco balls in the foyer of Hammersmith Apollo reflected the excitement I’d been feeling all week for 9 Lessons and Carols and the long-awaited rise from the ashes of the brain. It’s not often I get to treat my Dad, Dr. Saronimo, and after seeing Robin Ince’s School for the Gifted a few months ago I knew it’d be right up his street. Plus I thought by seeing him in real life, it might get me one step closer to marrying befriending Dr Ben Goldacre.

One of the first things said on stage was the announcement that Rage Against the Machine – ‘Killing in the Name Of’ had beaten The X Factory to number 1 – a movement I felt proud to be part of, so I cheekily told my Dad the defining lyric. (I didn’t write it, Dad, that’s what it says in the song. Heh heh). I knew I was amongst friends.

The next three and a half hours saw scientists, journalists, comedians and musicians (professions which are not mutually exclusive, it would appear!) take to the stage.

Robin Ince was our host for the evening. He first entered my stratosphere as a comedian supporting Ricky Gervais a few years ago, but has since carved out his own career in a direction I for one condone! He introduced every act and kept the full-to-the-brim show moving as quickly as possible. In his links he ironically ridiculed the way science has fallen out of favour whilst barraging us with scientific facts, and mocked the creationist/Intelligent Design crusade to have creationism taught in science lessons. He is incredibly smart and passionate, which comes across when he talks and he really set the pace and tone for the evening.

Of the comedians I was most pleasantly surprised by Al Murray. I knew he was a smart guy, but I’ve never been a huge fan of his Pub Landlord character. He proved himself to be a competent wordsmith as he took us on a military-inspired journey proving God’s existence as evidenced by bacon! Chris Addison was his usual excitable-puppy self, traversing subjects and digressing which gave the impression he can think far quicker than he can speak! Shappi Khorsandi explained to us that she wasn’t allowed christmas due to the slightly unsavoury nature of an old man breaking in, creeping up to her room and emptying his sack! Jonny Ball seemed like he was from a different era with his slapstick and one-liners, but pulled it back at the end by bigging  up intellectualism and scientific methods. Nathalie Haynes,  Mark Steel, Richard Herring and the ever popular Dara O’Briain were also on the bill, each bringing to the table their own views on atheism, secularism and the demise of intellectualism and bagging a few laughs to boot!

Libel reform pioneer Simon Singh took the stage and talked briefly about his libel case against the BCA, asking us all to get involved at www.libelreform.org. He then moved on from libel to talk about the Bible (yes, I do know that rhymes, and yes, I also think he did it on purpose), in particular, the alleged ‘codes’ in the bible. He demonstrated to us that this is not magic but mere probability, using an example of Moby Dick predicting the tragic demise of Princess Di!  Dr Ben Goldacre bedazzled us with how coherently he could speed-talk in order to fit an overview of his investigation into treatments, placebos, no-cebos and patients exhibiting the side-effects they are expecting to. Or perhaps I was just bedazzled by his reason for speaking quickly – something to do with a data appendage… The demure Professor Brian Cox came on to talk to us about the LHC at CERN and his favourite things about the universe: the juxtaposition of the simplicity of the sub-atomic particles and the complexity and magnitude of the universe. See here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAVjF_7ensg for a video of the Hubble Deep Field Image.

The atmosphere became electric as Professor Richard Dawkins walked onto the stage and read excerpts from some of his publications. Ironically thought of as the god of atheism, we were told later that a teenager walked into rehearsals with a t-shirt declaring ‘Richard Dawkins is God’ he apparently quipped “Hmm, that means I believe I don’t exist”! It was fantastic to see him doing a reading live, as one of the most lauded and well-known atheists. His derision for alternative medicines and alternative uses for well-defined words such as ‘energy’ in the healing ‘profession’ came across loud and clear and had a slight air of intellectual snobbery – he knew his audience!

Gavin Osbourne played us a ballad he wrote about a young couple gazing at the stars in which he proudly manages to rhyme Copernicus and ‘her knickers’. Pan’s person was something quite different – a Character created by Joanne Neary, she performed an interpretive dance to the Cat Stevens song ‘Moonshadow’. Jim Bob collaborated with the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra to perform Angel Strike, which was beautiful and haunting. MFMO were the ‘house band’ for the Godless christmas and the 27 strong group were impeccably behaved in between their own performances and supporting performances, as well as being spot on musically! Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden were the final act to perform, blasting us with ‘Peace and Quiet’ to finish of the night! The musical act that stood out for me was Baba Brinkman who performed a peer reviewed rap to the backing track of I’m A African, musing that by trying to write an exclusive tune, Dead Prez had inadvertantly written the most inclusive lyrics possible!

In the middle we were set upon by Laurie Taylor, who is on the editorial board for The New Humanist . The Rationalist Association are the charity responsible producing the magazine and he explained their plan of action to relieve religion of its illogical and outdated hold over legislation and public services. I might subscribe, if only for the religious ‘Top Trumps’ you can only get with a subscription!

There was such a variety of performers and talks last night, it is a testament to all of them that the only problem was not enough time on each act to really get into it. There were a couple of acts, ones perhaps who didn’t have an academic background, who would have benefited with more time for their act to find their feet with us the audience, but the show was throughly enjoyable from start to finish. Robin Ince did a fantastic job and for all the jokes made about ‘Nerdstock’, I don’t doubt for a second they would be able to find enough acts to fill a weekend. My only question would be where to buy the tickets!


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