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Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

Hammersmith Apollo 20th December 2009

Finally I got to go to one of the best events of the year. I missed last year’s Nine Lessons due to a combination of circumstance and muppetry. But this year, this year I made it. I even managed to get a ticket close to the front in the stalls. In fact I actually managed to buy two tickets because I thought the first one didn’t go through. So I had two tickets for different seats. Not the best situation if you’re taking your girlfriend to something she’s never had any inclination to attend before. Fortunately there was a nice lassie who agreed to swap her ticket for mine that was closer to the front so my girlie and I could sit together. So thank you Ms S. Smith, you made my night.

Right here we go. You’ll have to forgive my memory lapse as I really can’t remember who two of the chaps appearing were. If you know please leave a comment.

This is the superb work of Martin Ronson who has very cleverly photoshopped an image of Michelangelo’s the Creation of Adam to make it appear as though Richard Dawkins is there. Brilliant. 😉

First on and compering the evening’s entertainment was of course the most splendid Robin Ince. He rapidly gave way to the first artiste, stand-up comedian Chris Addison who appears in The Thick Of It.


Next up was Richard Dawkins who I have never seen in the flesh before so seeing him here was something of a thrill for me. Professor Dawkins read some passages from his previous books intersperced with commentary and pointed anecdotes.

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Then in quick succession were singer-songwriter Gavin Osborn playing the ukelele and Mark Steel with his sarcastic and wry comedy stand-up.

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Simon Singh took the stage next with a presentation about the bible code and the absurdity of finding messages in large texts. Simon showed us the “predictions” (actually retrodictions) made by those who trawl through such (religious) texts for recondite patterns that say what they want them to say and how it is possible to find equally valid “predictions” contained within almost any publication. Moby Dick was used as his example within which were hidden messages about the death of Diana Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed. Most amusing.

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Natalie Haynes the New Humanist writer and stand-up comedian amused us next and then gave way to someone I almost wasn’t expecting to appear: Johnny Ball. Now I’m sure we’re all aware that Johnny said some things with regards to climate change the other day that have been the subject of much commentary and have led to him being labelled a climate change denier. Now I think this might be a bit hasty and would suggest that we not label Mr Ball a climate change denier. He seems to me to be simply mistaken because he appears to have made some assumptions and inferences based upon his personal anecdotal experiences. I’m sure we’ve all done the same at some point. It would be a mistake to alienate someone before we have the chance to educate them. Of course if they can’t be educated and/or refuse to understand the evidence and seem unable to accept that they may be making assumptions founded upon shaky ground then it’s a different kettle of giraffes. Personally I think Mr Ball would, as the face of science for children through the 1980s myself included, would be happy to be educated and would aknowledge he may be in error or perhaps he can present compelling evidence to support his position which will change our minds. If not then, well as Mark Antony said in Julius Caesar, “Cry “Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war”. Fill your boots. Johnny did an illuminating presentation about the movements of the planets in the heliocentric model of the solar system.

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Now this is the point at which my memory fails me I’m afraid. Hence my reliance upon the splendid commenters we have below who have told me that the chap on the left is the comedian and director John Gordillo who did some great, incisive and intelligent stand-up. The second chap is Laurie Taylor, the Chairman of the Board of trustees at the Rationalist Association and he made some excellent points regarding religion and religious privilege. Not a man to mince his words. Splendid.

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My brain started working again as I remember the next act very clearly. It was Baba Brinkman rapping his Guide To Evolution which is actually a damn sight more well thought out and interesting than it sounds. Never mind being catchy and clever. We all got to sing along to I’m A African next. Of course you think you’ve spotted a grammatical error. It’s intentional on Baba’s part. Why ? Well if you rap “I’m an African” it flows well but listen to the emphasis and which syllable the inflection highlights. It sounds like “I’m a Nafrican”. A Nafrican ? What’s a Nafrican ? Me neither. So you see the point. If you rap “I’m a African” you get the correct emphasis on the initial ‘a’ of African. You’re forced into it by the exotic grammar. Clever huh ?


Now came the most hilarous chap on all night. I’d never seen or actually heard of Al Murray before which was a surprise because my girlfriend knew who he was. Duh. Ah well, I was rapidly educated. This guy was absurdly funny. Really. There’s not much point in me trying to explain what he was like. Suffice to say that we now know that bacon is proof of god’s existence. Awesome. Completely brilliant.

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The most excellent Professor Brian Cox who is a particle physicist at CERN working on the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland was up next with a presentation of the basic building blocks of matter. He was followed by Jim Bob the stage name of James Morrison formerly with the band Carter USM singing one of his own songs.

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And now a highlight for me, Ben Goldacre. Unfortunately we were rather pushed for time so Ben had to speak at about half the speed of light in order to keep within the limits of his set. He spoke about the placebo effect and the completely amazing results of placebo trials including some trials of the nocebo effect. It’s really, really brain wrecking stuff. Wow. You should read up on it.

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Next to appear was singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock who I’d personally never heard of (you should be getting the correct impression that I know nobody). I didn’t understand Robyn’s song so couldn’t enjoy it. He was followed by the really wonderful Shappi Khorsandi who did an excellent stand-up routine with her notes felt-tipped onto her wrist. Brilliant 😀 Shappi gave way to Richard Herring who gave us an insight into his skeptical childhood by reading some of the bizarre stories he wrote down as a child. Very funny.

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Then I was surprised to see one of my favourite comedians Dara O’Briain walk onto the stage. I’ve really enjoyed Dara’s presence on Mock The Week and the clips of him on YouTube ripping up the homeopaths, psychics and religious wackjobs for arse paper. Awesome.

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After Dara came an unexpected treat in the shape of Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden who performed the ironic song Peace and Quiet. The noise was incredible and they had everyone on their feet clapping and whistling. Great fun.

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Barry and Ronnie’s song morphed into the finale with all of the performers, speakers and comedians on stage to take their bows.

A completely awesome show. We both enjoyed it immensely. And I’m looking forward to next year’s shows. I’ll see if I can make two nights so I can take in the Bloomsbury too. Excellent.

That’s it folks. G’night.

8 comments to Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

  • Peter Hammond

    Hey, glad you got a couple of shots of the organ coming up. My team and I restored it in 2007 and were there for the show to get it ready for Martin to play it.

    It’s a great sight coming through the stage floor eh?



  • It was fantastic. You certainly did a fine job on the organ.
    Would you like the larger versions ?

  • Peter Hammond


    Hope you had a good Christmas. Yes please, larger version of any pics of the show that include the organ would be great thanks. Please email to (5MB limit)

    Many thanks indeed.


  • Michelle


    I watched the show on BBC4 last night.

    Great stuff but I was gutted not to see Al Murray nor Dara O’Brian. Does anyone know why they were cut from the TV broadcast?



  • “Now this is the point at which my memory fails me I’m afraid. I honestly can’t remember who these two chaps were… the second chap is from the Rationalist Association and he made some excellent points regarding religion and religious privilege.”

    The second guy was none other than Laurie Taylor – Chairman of the Board of trustees at Rationalist Association see: &

  • Awesome. I’ll update the page now. Cheers dude.

  • Mark Lawson

    Stumbled upon this review whilst searching for the name of the unnamed gentleman pictured above. I got in touch with Robin Ince himself and he informed me his name is John Gordillo. We’re all happy now.

  • Nice one dude. I’ll update that now.