Taskmaster's Alex Horne brings musical comedy act The Horne Section to Portsmouth Guildhall | Big Interview
Here’s a new one to add to the list of unforeseen effects of Brexit: a tea towel crisis.
Musical comedy act The Horne Section sold out of the branded dish-drying cloths at their merch stand early on in their tour and are struggling to get more in for the rest of the dates.
‘Yes, we've sold out of tea towels,’ says band leader Alex Horne.
‘We sell more tea towels than albums, and I don't think that reflects well on the music...
‘The music's on CDs and people don't need CDs any more, but you will always need tea towels.
‘We've put in another order, but I think Brexit, weirdly, is now the thing stopping tea towels getting into the country.
‘So there will be more tea towels eventually.’
And he adds wistfully: ‘We might just stop doing music altogether and branch out into haberdashery.’
The six-piece have been regulars on our screens in recent years – they’ve been guests on Channel 4’s hit shows 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and The Last Leg among others – and they had a two-hour special filmed at the London Palladium broadcast on Dave.
They also have the chart-topping podcast, The Horne Section, which has been running since 2018 and features guests from all across the comedy and showbiz world.
Then of course Horne is Greg Davies’ right-hand man on the hilarious Taskmaster – a show which Horne created.
The group are currently on their pandemic-postponed belated 10th anniversary tour, which stops at Portsmouth Guildhall next week.
‘These are all postponed shows from last year, and there's been a real sense of enthusiasm from people to being out and doing something fun and forgetting about everything else for a couple of hours.
‘The first couple of shows were weird because we hadn't done anything for 18 months, but we're just enjoying being onstage again – and you stop taking it for granted, which is good.’
Although they couldn’t tour, the band have been able to keep busy with TV work and the podcast.
‘We got slightly lucky, because musicians really suffered – well, everyone suffered obviously – but they didn't have a furlough scheme or an outlet.
‘We know a lot of musicians and some of them went back to teaching, in my own band, some of them went back to that because they're usually touring with Madness or Robbie Williams and various people, so all of their work went.
‘But we managed to pick up a few bits and bobs where we worked out how to do things remotely, recording our individual parts on our own computers and then putting it together. You can't really do music over Zoom because of the timing issues!
‘We were lucky enough to get some stuff with The Last leg, and the Peter Crouch stuff (Save Our Summer on BBC One) was really fun.
‘But these are our first proper gigs back.
‘The downside is that there's a few bits of audience interaction that we're not allowed to do any more. I used to crowd-surf onto the stage at the start of the evening, and that's been stopped.
‘Actually, I think that’s probably a relief for everyone.’
When it comes to live music, fans want to hear their old favourites, but when it comes to live comedy, people want to hear new jokes. So where does this leave a group which straddles the two?
‘We struggle!’ Alex laughs. ‘There are people who want certain songs, even though they know the joke, but they like the song. But we don't like playing the same old songs, so it's a bit of a mix, about half-and-half of old and new.
‘With the band, we try to keep it fresh every night. If the audience can see the band are bored, everyone knows they're bored, so we always try to throw in loads of new stuff.
‘I think what we do is to disappoint everyone at some point.
‘The people who want old stuff don't get all of that, and the people who want knew stuff, won't get all that either.
‘We try to evenly distribute our disappointment, but also lots of people come not really knowing The Horne Section, they come because of Taskmaster or they come because of seeing us on 8 Out of 10 Cats..., so lots of people don't really know what they're in for.
‘We do try to do a bit of everything – there is a bit of Taskmaster in the show too, and there's a bit of other stuff you might have seen on the telly, and then there's a whole load of just mucking about.’
Do they have any ‘greatest hits’ they must play?
‘There's a song about peas which is our most requested one, which we did on The Last Leg's new year's eve show two years ago, and that's the one we can't get away with not playing – people get annoyed if we don't.
‘But people have some strange tastes – if we ask: “What do you want us to play?” You get an awful lot of different responses, and also, it's not like we're the sort of band who's had a number one hit.
‘So they get what they're given, really,’ he deadpans.
With the podcast, the band create a frightening amount of new material
‘I'm always amazed that real bands don't do more. I mean Adele, she's putting out her first album in six years. She's done 12 songs in six years – we do 12 songs a week!
‘I don't know what's wrong with these people,’ he says, faux-mocking.
‘These bands who put out an album every five years, I don't know what they're doing – I think you can overthink things.
‘And with the podcast, we have a motto: “Well, that's good enough for the podcast”, so it's a good place to churn stuff out and see if it works.
‘We just keep writing and putting stuff out and then we take the cream of that and put it in the tour's show.
‘There's some pretty ropey stuff in the podcasts,’ he admits.
Speaking of six years – Taskmaster began on Dave in 2015, switching to Channel 4 in 2019. For those unfamiliar with it, the Bafta award-winning show features a group of comics and celebrities who compete across each series in increasingly daft tasks. Their performances are then rated and scored by Greg Davies – the eponymous Taskmaster. Horne’s job is to oversee each task – and to be the butt of many of Greg's jokes.
‘It feels longer than six years ago we started doing it, because it has kind of taken over, but I am glad it's still going.
‘I think it touched a nerve in lockdown because people needed escapism – there's not a lot of seriousness to it, it's people being silly, and there's no politics either.
‘I think people now don't want to hear any more jokes about Brexit or Covid really – so it's a good bit of escapism.
‘And for us making it, it's kept us alive as well. The filming days are really fun.
‘We start tomorrow, actually, on the next series, so I'm in the house now getting things ready. It's been consistently fun – which is nice to have in your life.’
One of the constant jokes is 6ft 8ins Greg deriding ‘little’ Alex’s stature.
But as Alex reveals: ‘I am 6ft 2, but I have a reputation for being about 5ft 4 thanks to that.
‘People are very disappointed in real life when I'm actually quite tall. I actually quite like it.’
Beyond filming Taskmaster what does 2022 hold for Alex and The Horne Section?
‘There's always bits and bobs we try to squeeze in. Unfortunately there's a couple of projects I'm not allowed to talk about which sounds much more exciting than it is. We like to pop up on other things, I'm sure we'll do more Last Leg.
‘We're not doing the podcast at the moment, because we have got other things coming up, so I have to be mysterious about it...
‘It's a challenge to fit it all in, but it's a nice problem to have.’
The Horne Section are at Portsmouth Guildhall on Thursday, December 16, doors 7.30pm. Tickets £31. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
You can subscribe here for unlimited access to our online coverage, including Pompey, for 26p a day.