Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Keep on Running.

Today was one of those few instances where I managed to get everything done I’d set out to do, despite a few flies in the proverbial ointment that could have slowed me down along the way.

The most important thing in my itinerary was running my extended work-in-progress set for tomorrow’s Mostly Comedy and ostensibly for my two dates in Brighton on Thursday and Friday too. I’d originally intended to bulk out the set in Brighton by taking my acoustic guitar and slipping in a couple of the songs that may make it into my show for Edinburgh, but if today’s run without them was anything to go by, that shouldn’t be necessary, as the running time came in at about forty-five minutes, which is more than enough for a Free Fringe show that should run slightly longer with laughs anyway (and at least two of the standing ovations I’ve grown to expect) while also accounting for a possible late start / finish and giving a little headroom for a quick get-out.

I ran each bit of material independently at first to remind myself of it and polish it a little before attempting a full run. I’m not expecting it to be completely plain-sailing tomorrow, but it’s already starting to stick in my head better and sits together reasonably well. I’m still sure I’m going to make extensive changes before Edinburgh to take into account my slight change in tact from the other day and my intention to make more use of the concept in the title ('David Ephgrave: My Part in His Downfall') but either way, this week’s gigs will be a useful exercise in trying out some new material while hopefully giving my confidence a much-needed boost after a difficult start to the year. I’m not expecting a particularly easy ride at tomorrow’s Mostly, what with the backfooting of being the act next-to-no-one will have booked for - Bobby Davro’s clearly the pull by a long chalk with quite a different demographic - and The Sun’s usual less-than-ideal space for holding a crowd’s attention, but that’s okay as I know what I personally want to get out of it; it’s a dry-run for Brighton ultimately if nothing else.

Today I also had to organise a change of date and venue for one of our forthcoming Mostly Comedy line-ups (I won’t let which one slip yet as ticketholders have yet to be informed, though I think we've managed to dodge the bullet as much as possible and protect the gig) while also potentially opening the door to increasing the capacity ever so slightly so we can fit in a few more people who missed out first time around. There was other stuff I did too, but I forget what now, partly as I’m being distracted by the fact my tumble dryer has just finished, plus I should really get to bed; at least then I’ll be as prepared as I can be for tomorrow’s fun, games and new material-sharing.

Newtony Newtony.

Today, I listened to the audio of a lost episode of the TV version of Hancock’s Half Hour that I haven’t heard before (the 'Horror Serial') and it’s testament to how good Galton & Simpson’s writing was and how well the cast brought the dialogue to life that it held up brilliantly without pictures and was just as funny as much of their best work.

The episode is included as part of volume one of the BBC’s Hancock Collectibles series, which I bought the other day (using a voucher given to me for my birthday no less) and was a treat to hear. I must have seen and heard pretty much all of their surviving work from this period countless times - not to mention a fair few of the lost episodes that were remade for BBC Radio 4’s excellent ‘The Missing Hancocks’ series (which I attended two recordings of, thanks to the kindness of Kevin Eldon) - so it was a definite treat to be confronted with an episode I’d never experienced. It was a bit like dreaming you were listening to an unreleased album by your favourite band as a kid (too specific?) in that it’s something you’d love to happen, yet it seldom does.

It's striking how well the series has stood the test of time, despite often being cited as the first ever sitcom, with this particular episode originally airing fifty-nine years ago. It goes to show how good the work was that it still sounds as fresh and is no less funny with all those passing years; it reveals just how many creative choices they got right, which is very inspiring. It makes me wish someone would stumble across audio / video of all the other lost episodes, as it’s such a crime they no longer exist. Perhaps I should offer an award for their capture?

Sunday, 20 May 2018

In The Beginning.

Today I find myself in the strange position of having had a very productive day preparing for my work-in-progress dates this week, while also feeling it’s quite likely a lot of what I’ve been working on won’t actually make it into the show I take to Edinburgh.

The reason for this isn’t to do with the standard of the material, but more because there are certain points I want to get across to fit the theme of my Edinburgh title ‘David Ephgrave: My Part in His Downfall’ that aren’t there at the moment, and by the time I’ve ticked them all off there weren’t be much room for what I already have. That’s not to say I won’t keep things in if they really work, but I suspect the biographical stuff I want to include will be more suited to the final concept.

Bizarrely, this had left me feeling encouraged, as I’m starting to see the beginning of an outline that might work, and that by writing more specifically to a theme instead of doing my usual stringing together of blogs that already exist as I did with the last three shows, the outcome will be better served. One thing that works in my favour is I’m used to writing quickly without too much over-consideration, thanks to keeping this blog in the first place, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to flesh things out; either way, this week’s run of three dates (taking in Hitchin Mostly on Wednesday and the two shows on the Brighton Fringe on Thursday and Friday) should be a good breeding ground to find out what works; I can at least try out material by treating it as a rough first draft that can be genuinely tinkered with before decamping to Edinburgh in August; the trick now is to remain encouraged and not be drawn into overthinking it.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

No Festivities For Me.

I was holed up in my office today while the Royal Wedding took place, knuckling down on material for this week’s work-in-progress dates.

Despite starting the day a little panicked by it all, I managed to have quite a productive day, I managed to write a short piece that has the potential to completely alter the direction for the show as a whole, and while I certainly won’t have time to instigate this change in tact before this week’s gigs, it’s at least injected some much-needed energy into proceedings and made me feel a little better about the whole thing.

As I’ve said a couple of times lately, the hardest aspect of it all is keeping motivated when I’m largely an operation of one. I’ve not been having the best time recently and could do with a confidence boost from an outside source, instead of always having to encourage myself. I have a few plans to combat this, plus I have my PR, so hopefully this will help; I’m bored of thinking about it, really; I just want to strike the right balance between working and resting up. That’s where my meditation definitely comes in handy.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Strum People.

One notable thing I took from watching Bill Bailey live in Stevenage last night was how he often uses music just because it's good without feeling the need to do anything comedic with it.

I found this encouraging when considering how to approach this year's show. Perhaps the main reason I’ve used my musical ability so sparingly in comedy in the past was because I was trying to distance myself from the actor / muso rut I found myself in, plus I didn't want to force-write a load of funny songs. While I’ve written the odd comedy song in the past - the most prominent being Ukulele Girl that I co-wrote with Chris Hollis, which featured on Spandex Ballet’s album ‘Seriously, Don’t Release This’ and occasionally in Glyn’s and my live work - they were composed for my own amusement, with no intention to foist them on the outside world.

When I used to do solo acoustic gigs - or even when I was in Big Day Out - it was always the banter that was funny, not the setlist. I had an obsession with songs being truthful and honest, and comedy numbers were by their nature a little too contrived and throwaway for me; I liked listening to them, but that was about it.

That said, I’ve thawed to the idea of using music recently. Last year’s Edinburgh show featured a handful of jingles I wrote to segue my material, plus the eight-second standalone ditty ‘John Snow’s Socks Go All the Way Up (He’s Got a One-Piece Body-Stocking Under There)’, and while I didn’t accompany myself live, I played everything on the backing tracks (ooh, get me). Now, I'm considering taking things further and introducing a few songs from my past that relate to the idea of charting my role in my own downfall (see my show's title) plus a couple of newer ones that will hopefully also sit comfortably with it.

My main concern is whether the songs will slow down the stand-up and stunt the reaction to it through not being strictly funny themselves. However, I keep returning to the fact that my main aim is for the show to be entertaining, and that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to squeeze myself into the carbon-copy world of your typical young(ish) white male stand-up. I want to be true to myself and make the best of my abilities, and to ignore my musical side is to metaphorically fire on half a cylinder. Don’t expect me to write a modern day ‘Jack the Peg’ though, for obvious reasons.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

And What Do You Do?

I long to establish a clear working structure to my day, so I can keep track of my achievements instead of feeling the goalposts are constantly moving, and avoid feeling chased, panicked or back-footed by the outside influences that inevitably get in my way.

This is one of the downsides to self-employment, particularly when the majority of your work is self-generated; it's hard enough to give yourself time to prepare for an acting (or actor / muso) job for an outside company, let alone when you’re working for yourself.

I have a musician friend for whom function gigs provide the majority of his income, yet his partner often forgets the gig is just a fraction of the job as he also needs to learn the music. While she understands this work needs to be done in principle, as far as she's concerned, if he’s at home then he’s available; consequently the majority of his preparatory time is spent doing odd-jobs around the house.

I know the feeling, though for a completely different reason. The two biggest contributory factors to my stress are the disproportionate amount of time spent on admin over creativity, and the lack of a general feeling that the work I do is justified so I need to put aside time for it. Shows don’t appear from nowhere; writing has to be done, and I'd much rather do it during office hours so I get the evening off.

I’ve begun making inroads to this, but it’s a gradual process. I’ve got better at not responding to emails past a certain hour, though I still feel I never truly clock off. Likewise, my phone is usually on silent when I'm working so I won’t be distracted. While mobile phones are a great innovation, it’s much harder to go off-grid in today’s social-media society, where everyone expects an instant response. Perhaps I'd be better-off in the Amish.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Meet You in the Falling Rain.

There’s something about the simplicity of this song that I can’t get enough of.

Macca’s first solo album is famed for its primitive sound and production, which came about as a result of it being mostly recorded at home with a very basic set-up. There's an honesty and directness that's striking compared to the intricately produced Abbey Road (or the over-the-top Let it Be). While there are still big moments - Maybe I’m Amazed is the most obvious - it’s the intimacy that comes across the most, of the kind McCartney didn’t revisit so consistently until 1997’s Flaming Pie or 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, a good twenty-seven / thirty-five years later.

While Paul’s debut album got a tough press when it was released, which wasn't helped by the recent breakup of The Beatles and the subsequent sniping from John, George and Ringo, it’s a far more solid affair than you'd imagine when listened to in retrospect; yes, some of it's a little throwaway and half-finished, but this may have had something to do with Macca’s need to clear the decks and not take things too seriously when faced with such a difficult backdrop. The result is a straightforward uncluttered collection of songs of which That Will Be Something is a highlight. Even George spoke its praises contemporaneously, which is surprising considering his low regard for Paul at the time. I just love the he rhythm he builds with just an acoustic, bass and drums and the percussive sounds of his voice. He also does one of his best Presley-style vocal turns; what’s not to like?