Comedian Bill Bailey will never forget one night he played Birmingham – and pulled off a vanishing act.

“I was in the middle of performing at the Glee Club some years ago,” he remembers.

“For some reason, I started to play the introduction to Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze on my guitar while high kicking with my feet. I don’t know why.

“I was prancing about the stage until the guitar lead got caught round my ankle and I fell backwards off the stage. I fell through the curtain and got wedged in a monitor speaker.

“It looked like I had deliberately vanished, like a magic act, and I got a round of applause – while I was shouting for help.

“There was a second, really bizarre, part to the story which I only learned about much later.

“Someone told me they had phoned directory inquiries to get the number for the Glee Club the day after my gig, and the girl who was manning the inquiries happened to be from Birmingham and happened to have been at the Glee.

“She said ‘I was there last night and a bloke fell of the stage – it was brilliant!’,” says Bill, putting on a decent Brummie accent.

“I’ve never been able to repeat that particular feat, not that I would want to. I’d probably break my neck.

“I’ve had some great times in Birmingham. I think the first time I played there was when I was in a double act with a schoolfriend called The Rubber Bishops.

“We did three shows in one night once. We appeared in London at 6pm, then Oxford, then drove to Birmingham to perform at a student ball at Aston University.

“We went on at about 2.30am but everyone was still wide awake because the evening was sponsored by Pro-Plus.

“Afterwards we felt a bit peckish so we went to a fantastic balti house which was still busy at 5am. We had a delicious curry and came out as the sun was coming up.”

Now Bill is coming back to Birmingham, bringing his Qualmpeddler tour to Symphony Hall on September 22 and October 2.

The quirky and amiable comic, who is also a classically-trained musician, promises “songs, philosophising and silliness on a grand scale”.

He’ll be making audiences laugh by musing on everything from the hiding skills of dentists to the consequences of lies, with some musical mash-ups thrown in. A reggae version of Downton Abbey, anyone?

“I started by touring Qualmpeddler around the Highlands and islands of Scotland, which was a great experience,” says Bill, 49. “Then I had a residency in London before touring it round Australia and New Zealand.

Comedian Bill Bailey is bringing his Qualmpeddler tour to Birmingham
Comedian Bill Bailey is bringing his Qualmpeddler tour to Birmingham
 

“So I’ve performed it lots of times, but it doesn’t get boring for me because it has evolved, and every night is different. There’s a part of the show that involves banter with the audience and that keeps it fresh. It’s better than being in a play. I’ve always baulked at the idea of doing a West End run or a musical because I can barely think about performing my own words for six months, never mind someone else’s which I can’t change.

“You can never predict what will happen in my shows. For example, the other week I had a very funny time at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. I asked a question – what’s the name for the top of your foot? – and someone shouted out a word and I couldn’t understand it.

“After a lot of back and forth, I finally discovered it was a Dutch word. It all got a bit hysterical, nobody knew what was happening and I lost it. It was one of those nights.”

In the show, he tells the story of rescuing a Eurasian eagle owl from a restaurant in China. It was a live owl, on the menu waiting to be eaten. He bought it for $400, drove to the woods and let it go.

This made his family holiday – he was with his wife Kristin and their 10-year-old son, Dax – more unusual than most, but then he’s always liked going off the beaten track. He and Kristin decided to marry 15 years ago while on the East Indonesian island of Banda Neira.

“It was a charming, brilliantly spontaneous wedding,” he remembers. “We turned up and said we’d like to get married, and the bloke said ‘How about Tuesday? And how many chickens do you want?’ We said we’d have three to eat, which was really pushing the boat out.

“We were the only European people to marry there and the whole island turned up to watch.”

Indonesia now has a special place in his heart and he was fortunate enough to go back to make the BBC documentary ‘Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero’, about naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. A keen naturalist and bird-watcher, is there anywhere else he’d like to go?

“I have a great desire to visit Antarctica,” he says. “I have an enduring love of birds and I love to watch birds of prey. In Scotland I was enraptured by white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Mull.

“We got quite close to a nest in a boat. I get a real thrill when I see them.

“I also take binoculars with me on the tour bus and I’ve managed to convert most of the crew. At first they were like ‘yeah, birds’ and then on the next tour they’re there with their own binoculars and bird books.”

A regular on QI, Bill is something of a Renaissance Man with his quick wit, intellect and interest in lots of subjects. Music is one of his passions and he plays a huge variety of instruments.

“I’m slightly less nimble with anything with a mouthpiece as I’m more of a strummer, but I’ll have a go at anything. I like anything with strings, or a keyboard or percussion.

“But I played the clarinet at school and I’ve taught myself the Alpine horn. I’ve never really played the violin but I expect I could pick it up.”

* Bill Bailey’s Qualmpeddler plays Birmingham Symphony Hall on September 22 and October 2. For tickets ring 0121 235 0600 or visit www.thsh.co.uk .