Brian Donaldson talks to Rory McGrath and Philip Pope ahead of their appearance in Monmouth next week.

It’s the yin and yang approach that serves Rory McGrath and Philip Pope so well. For their Bridge Over Troubled Lager Volume 2 tour which visits Monmouth Savoy next week, the rough and ready Rory will complement the prim and proper Pope as the duo tear through songs about reality TV, rude words and happy blues while Pope’s mash-up of Schubert and heavy metal could only be achieved by someone with an exemplary musical pedigree.

“Rory will come up with an idea and lyrics and put it to a basic tune, sometimes a very good tune that I don’t have to do anything with,” states Pope while McGrath counters: “Mostly, he’ll rewrite it so it’s too complicated for me to play. Chords I’ve never even heard of will suddenly appear: ‘what happened to that simple tune I wrote for you?’ But he is a very good arranger and he’s somewhat held back by the limitations of my guitar playing. Although I’d say that my playing has improved; I hardly made any mistakes the other night.”

Chances are that any errors that might crop up here and there will be forgiven by their fans who will no doubt lap up their natural camaraderie that will be expanded upon for the tour. As McGrath explains: “We’ll have a running theme that we’ll develop about our relationship. He’s quite serious and wants to do a nice show for the ladies and gentlemen . . . ”

“And you’re constantly mucking about,” chips in Pope.

Never slow to insert a sporting analogy, McGrath describes their show as: “An hour and a half with an interval. Like a football match, only with smaller crowds. We’ve got quite a lot of new songs now; I think we’re building up what they call an oeuvre. We’ve got well over an hour of tried and tested material for this year, which is exciting.”

McGrath and Pope have opted to take on the road what some argue is the most difficult comedy genre to get right, that of musical comedy. Bill Bailey, Tim Minchin, Flight Of The Conchords, David O’Doherty and Bo Burnham have all achieved great things in that field, but there are swathes of wannabes who may have been able to master an instrument but failed to accompany it with laughter.

“We try to write songs that are genuinely funny as opposed to just witty or gently mocking the government of the day,” says McGrath while Pope states, “I think music and comedy can work very well together. But what we do is driven by a comic idea rather than, say, simply parodying a band. I suppose one or two might start from the music first, so there’s the updated Barry Manilow song but the others are more idea and lyric-led.”

McGrath adds: “When Phil does his Bob Dylan song, he could just do one of his songs and an impression and that would be funny enough, but to move that along, we thought ‘well, Dylan is 73 now, so what is he complaining about?’ And it’s all the things that any 73-year-old old man would be complaining about now.”

The pair may be some way off such veteran status but they do still have long and distinguished careers in comedy. Among McGrath’s credits are co-founding Hat Trick Productions, his long-running panellist stint on sports quiz, They Think It’s All Over, being part of the stupendously popular Three Men . . . series alongside Dara O’Briain and Griff Rhys Jones, and publishing a book about birdwatching entitled (naturally) Bearded Tit.

Alongside Angus Deayton, Pope was a member of parody pop band the Hee Bee Gee Bees, wrote music for the Fast Show, Harry & Paul, Yonderland and Outnumbered, played Lord Nelson in Blackadder’s Christmas Carol and Tony Angelino in Only Fools And Horses, and appeared in BBC Four’s recent The Life Of Rock With Brian Pern. And, whisper it (or shout it from the rooftops), co-wrote The Chicken Song, which hatched from ITV’s iconic satirical programme Spitting Image and soared to the top of the charts where it stayed for three weeks in 1986.

“I remember Radio 1 wouldn’t play it because it was keeping the likes of Robert Palmer, Michael McDonald, Peter Gabriel and Steve Winwood off the top and I was a bit embarrassed, really,” recalls Pope. “But Queen bass guitarist John Deacon said to me ‘don’t knock it, a number one is a number one’ and back then you had to sell hundreds of thousands of records to get there. It’ll be on my gravestone, I know that.”

As students, Pope was part of the Oxford Revue alongside Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis, and Tim McInnerny, while McGrath appeared in Cambridge Footlights with Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie. Whether their own parents approved of such youthful showbiz shenanigans is unclear, but now McGrath and Pope are both in the position of witnessing offspring make their own first steps into the world of comedy. McGrath’s daughter Annie is 50% of double-act Twins, while Pope’s son Will is part of sketch group Bristol Revunions.

“I said to Annie, ‘why don’t you get a proper job, be an estate agent or undertaker, people are always to going to need to live somewhere or die’,” says McGrath. “She works all day and does her comedy at night, she works really hard and pays her dues, not like her lazy dad. My son is a recently qualified doctor and I sometimes get the impression he disapproves of both me and Annie; I sometimes imagine him looking down his nose at me and saying ‘you need to sort your life out, dad’.”

And as for Pope, “Mine had said he wanted to be a lawyer like his mum but then he got the bug for doing comedy and I can’t blame him. I agree with Rory, as a parent you get more responsible about it, but if it’s in the blood . . . ? Maybe if I’d said to him, ‘you should go into comedy’, he’d have rebelled and become a lawyer.”

The paths of Rory McGrath and Philip Pope have crossed on various projects down the years such as 1980s Channel 4 shows Who Dares Wins and Chelmsford 123. Their later musical collaborations included Death By Country and ‘dad-rock’ album Dark Side Of The Moob before they put together the first serving of Bridge Over Troubled Lager at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe.

“People think our show is for people our age,” reckons McGrath, “whereas I think it’s for people younger than us; some younger ones might look at us and think ‘oh, there’s two dads singing songs’. But when we have younger people in, I think the show is much better. We’re not as fuddy duddy as people think.”

Catch the pair at Monmouth Savoy on October 2. Visit for ticket details.