WHEN Britain entered into its first lockdown of 2020, Bill Bailey relished the changes around him.
The streets around his home in London were empty, traffic noise was non-existent, and the long-time bird enthusiast picked up on the birdsong of species not usually heard in the city.
For Bailey, it was bliss.
"I've just found out that it was the quietest that Britain has been since the Industrial Revolution, which is, like, 200 years ago, so it's an amazing moment in history," he tells Weekender.
"I felt almost guilty for actually enjoying the lockdown. I thought, 'There's this terrible tragedy going on around us and yet I am enjoying this tranquility. Is that wrong?'. I felt these conflicting feelings and then, you know, realising that it was so quiet that even little things we were doing around the house started to irritate me.
"Me and my wife and my son, we're in our house and we all have our own little spaces, but I would sometimes take my shoe off and scratch my foot and my wife's going 'Stop that!' and I went 'What ...?' and she says 'It's annoying, that sound, what is that sound? It's you scratching your foot!' I was like 'Well, normally, you wouldn't hear this'. So there were downsides [laughs]."
The award-winning comic and star of the hit British comedy Black Books returns to Australia in October and November with his new show, En Route To Normal.
Fans can once again expect Bailey's brand of witty humour and music, intertwined with thoughts about the events of the past 18 months and the way the world has changed. It's a topic that, he says, is unavoidable.
"It's changed the conversation, literally. People don't talk about the weather now. It's actually given British people something else to talk about," Bailey says.
"When you meet up with someone it's not, 'Ooh, it's a bit chilly, innit?'. Conversations now start with, 'Have you heard about the new Kent variant?'
"My concern about this whole thing and doing comedy at this time is, you know, do we talk about this subject? Because it is all we talk about.
"If I went out to a show and people started talking about it, would I think 'Oh, God, no, I can't even get away from it here' [laughs], so I am aware of that but the fact is I have to acknowledge it because it would be weird not to.
"What I do is I use it as a jumping-off point to talk about my own experience and how that's triggered all kinds of memories, and how this period of reflection has actually allowed us to consider what's important."
Like the rest of the world, Bailey did binge on the Netflix series Tiger King but his 2020 was arguably more productive than most.
He wrote and published a book, Bill Bailey's Guide To Happiness, competed on - and won - British television dance contest Strictly Come Dancing, and wrote a bunch of songs for his new show.
"Initially it was sounds of lockdown that found their way into the music, you know, like birdsong," Bailey says.
"The sound of blackbirds at four o'clock in the morning mixed with wind chimes, so I sampled that and put that into some music. We had a few Skype family calls, so the Skype ringtone became a familiar sound in the house and that then turned into, like, a '90s club banger.
"iPhone ringtones turning into sort of lo-fi hip-hop soundtracks."
It has been three years since Bailey performed in Australia. His return follows a sold-out tour of New Zealand earlier this year, where he also filmed a new comedy panel series, Patriot Brains, for SBS.
"It was quite surreal to be there, to be honest, because the country has almost returned to normal," Bailey says.
"Venues are full, people are out and about. It was like being beamed to another planet.
"I did a few outdoor shows in England last year, but it was only OK. People were shivering and holding thermoses. It's outdoors in Britain, so it was always a risk [laughs]."