Brian & Robin's Christmas Compendium of Reason (2014)

Christmas is one of those times when traditions come into force. In the last 12 months I've started a new one; spending in a night in December at the Hammersmith Apollo at Brian & Robin's Christmas Compendium of Reason. Nothing celebrates the birth of Christ quite like 4 hours of science, comedy and music hosted by Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox.

Brian & Robin's Christmas Compendium 2014 Hammersmith Apollo





































This was my second year in attendance at this event and it was even better than the last one. The resident band were in (Steve Pretty's Origin of the Pieces) and the show was opened with them accompanying, well, a jazz laser harp. Yes, a LASER harp. It looks bloody hot, I wouldn't want to put my hand in that but it plays a lovely rendition of Carol of the Bells. 

You're never too sure about the line up for the show, which is part of the fun. I'd seen one announcement in advance (as I follow Robin Ince on Twitter and he kindly confirmed one act that was there on the Friday) and therefore I was gobsmacked when the second part of this musical opener was Eric Idle singing the most offensive Christmas song ever. EVER. I had my mouth agape in shock and laughter.

And with cries of 'Fuck Christmas! Fuck Santa!' we were off. Oh dear lord. 

The first half contained so many great sets including Professor Alice Roberts, who talked about examining evolution without the need for fossils, then Milton Jones almost punned me out of existence. I commented at this point that had anyone seen Milton and Ben Goldacre in the same room at the same time ? I thought I made a good point, soon to be dashed later, I have photographic evidence. Professor Andrea Sella was up next and he is exactly why I never buy front stalls tickets for this event, he's a chemist, things explode when he is on stage, a good fifteen rows between him and explosive chemicals are fine with me, thank you very much. 

Carolyn Porco was up next with some beautiful photos that she'd taken whilst heading up the Cassini project and was talking about the recreation of the famous pale blue dot photo that Carl Sagan asked the cameras on Voyager 1 to turn around and snap (it's a fabulous photo which you can see here). I'll post the photo below from the NASA website, open it and click into it. This is Saturn eclipsing the sun (I know, it makes me go gooey to look at it) there's a pale blue dot at the bottom right hand side of Saturn's rings (about 4 o'clock). That's earth and the moon photobombing Saturn. Awesome. 

NASA Cassini Saturn eclipse pale blue dot 19th July 2013
source: NASA

Josie Long was next on, who I love, and it was a true identifier of the standard of audience at these shows when Josie, currently studying her Maths A'level announced 'we're going to do a maths quiz!' and the audience cheered. Yep. Cheered. These are my people. I was out pretty quickly on this as I suck at maths but the person who solved the question was a 15 year old who is currently studying A'level maths. Well, he got it in the interval, the clever little devil. 

The Festival of the Spoken Nerd were up next to demonstrate how a bloody enormous toroidal vortex cannon filled with dry ice, accompanied with the right soundtrack, can make for variety show level of entertainment (I write this and realised how much I cheered and whooped that night, science clearly excites me a lot) and the final part of the first half of show was Professor Brian Cox talking about inflation. I don't care how smart I am and how simply he explains this (this is the second time I've seen him do this) I still don't get it. I just don't. I need remedial class. I need crayons. I cannot get my head around it. He closed with a lovely quote from Carl Sagan: 'For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love' which was quickly amended to 'For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through LOVE CATS', Brian hopped onto the piano and Robert Smith strolled across the stage to sing Love Cats. I think my brain was about to explode, thankfully we got an interval at that point.

For interval entertainment we got the Brian and Robin puppets. The short videos made for the show can be watched here.

The Q&A section opened the second half with Robin as chair, featuring Brian and Carolyn from the first half,  joining them were Jim Al Khalili and Chris Lintott to answer a few audience questions (my favourite being 'Interstellar: what the fuck was that?!'). Chris stayed on for his set next who kept relating the importance of the universe via the medium of gin (I paid great attention once that word got bandied around), Rufus Hound was up next to recite a story set to music by a trio of musicians (it's not often you see an accordion AND a tuba on stage together), followed by scientific rap (yep, you read that right) courtesy of neuroscientist Heather Berlin and Baba Brinkman. I kinda liked the science behind this set, as effectively Heather is researching the science of improv - if there are different neural signatures when improvisation is going on as opposed to when someone is reciting learned words and songs. Interesting! 

Next up, and always my favourite Dr. Ben Goldacre, who was talking about the pharmaceutical industry, the need to release NHS data to help better prescribing processes and the effect that this could have to allow people to take the most effective drugs in the most effective way for their particular health conditions. He's such good value for money; the amount of content that man can get into 12 minutes is impressive, you've just got to adjust your senses to be able to keep up with the speeed that he reels though information. 

Following a song from Grace Petrie and some more science from Helen Czerski, we were onto some more comedy courtesy of Dara O'Briain who was making a very hilarious and yet scary comment about the fact that we're running out of helium (it's used in MRI scanners, you guys, we kinda need those!) amongst telling us what things kids do much better than adults (namely, swimming pools and stairs, he's right too).

Just before the final act, the big musical one which I found out about the week before, Robin Ince suggested the audience make the pilgrimage to go see the Rik Mayall tribute bench on the roundabout in Hammersmith, just down the road from the Apollo, it was nice to see Rik get a mention, as he seemed greatly overlooked at the British Comedy Awards earlier in the week. 

Then, and I can only express this with the glee of a sixteen year old, The Cure played. 

The Cure Hammersmith Apollo December 2014

Eric Idle Hammersmith Apollo Christmas Compedium Brian Cox Robert Smith

They played a short set of Friday I'm in Love, Just Like Heaven, Boys Don't Cry and Close to Me. It was bloody marvellous. Robert Smith sounds exactly like he did on the mix tapes that my brother used to make me when I was a kid, which featured The Cure a great deal (I sent him a photo on the way home as I knew he'd be impressed with my choice of gig).

And that was the end. Well, almost. After jumping up and down at the front of the stage (the people you see at the front of the crowd are all the guests that I've mentioned from the show - they were first to create the gig pit) Brian and Robin returned to the stage to thank everyone for taking part and for sitting through it all. Brian said he felt sad it was all over.

'Cheer up Brian' were the words spoken as Eric Idle came back out on stage to lead up the most nerdy singalong to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life that mankind has ever witnessed. Behold: 

Look on the left, can you see puppet Robin and Brian? 

I guess that solved my 'Milton and Ben in the same room' query from the start of the night, huh? They're third and fourth from the left.

I pretty much lost my shit at this point. I went to see the Monty Python boys do their last shows together in the summer, so to be in the audience singing along with a Python again within 6 months again felt so special. And yes, that is Robert Smith singing along that you can see in the photo. THAT'S GOLD. 

That actually was the end. Last year at the end of the Christmas Compendium tickets for the next year were discussed and went on sale the next day. This year, they were already on sale: 

Brian & Robin's Christmas Compendium 2015 Hammersmith Apollo


I have already bought my ticket for the next one in 2015. If you like science and comedy it really is the best £30 you could spend on a night out in London and the ticket price supports some wonderful charities in the process, so it's a great way to spend your time and your money. I didn't manage to include every act in this write-up, some got missed off my notes entirely, I was enjoying myself too much to write detailed notes. That's a lot for £30, you have to agree. 

See you there next year, yeah? I'll be there on the Friday. Again.


EDIT: Robin Ince has done his version of this post here, where you can see the line up from the previous night too. Never a dull evening, always worth the ticket price. 

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