Tuesday, 31 December 2013

He Sees You When You're Sleeping.


They say that Christmas is a time to think of those in need. Bearing this in mind, I’ve yet to see anyone in a more desperate situation this festive season than this pair:

"You better watch out..."

I spotted them outside a beauty salon in Hitchin this morning. I assume they were put there with the intention of enticing people in. Either that, or the staff hoped their clientele would be too terrified to leave the premises once they’d seen them.

At first glance they appear to be the epitome of Christmas cheer. Then you notice their mangled legs and the horror of their situation becomes apparent.

What if they come to life like Kim Cattrall did in the Eighties? One can only imagine the hideousness of their gait; a lifetime of physiotherapy couldn't put that right.

It certainly doesn’t seem like much time was taken over their decoration. Perhaps they were dressed at gunpoint? I hope their staff put more effort into a make-over.

Maybe they were put there to warn you what will happen if you don’t pay for your treatment?

At least I only had to pass this monstrosity once. I feel sorry for the people who work in the surrounding buildings; for them, Twelfth Night can't come soon enough.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Wicked-pedia.


The plus side of not having a Wikipedia page is I don't have to be confronted by my own, open-ended death date.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve looked someone up to be faced with such morbid information. That said, it can be fascinating to see a person's life and career summed up in just a couple of short sentences.

One can imagine the glee that some must feel when updating a person's entry with a bit of breaking news; it's like playing a small administrative part in someone else's life story.

I dread to think what mine would say. It would probably bug me.
  
It like the time I Googled myself to discover that the most popular related search was this:

 

The question is: how many people entered that for it to become a standard? I can only hope that MySpace has a sudden surge in interest, so I can subtly redress the balance.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Slade-Dropper


Today, I became what I most despise: a name-dropper.
 
I promise it wasn’t intentional. It was also justified within the context of my conversation. This doesn't matter; I still did it.
 
I was discussing my least favourite episode of Doctor Who (the one that features Peter Kay) when I mentioned, without irony, that Noddy Holder told me he was lovely.

The reverberation as his name hit the ground would have stretched as far as Guernsey. It probably had more impact than when Noddy shouts, “It’s Christmas”.

It’s worth clarifying that I’ve only met him once; it’s not as if we have each other on speed-dial. Paul McCartney has also called me “man” on two separate occasions, but that’s another story.

Thankfully, I have enough self-awareness that this won’t become a habit. If I ever do it again, you can slap me in the face.

(Though Dave Hill might step in to break things up.)

 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

My Forgotten Masterpiece.


Yesterday, I had my own personal ‘Yesterday Moment’.

(The second yesterday above refers to the Beatles song, Yesterday; the first to when the moment took place. Have I made my meaning any clearer? Probably not.)

It’s fairly well known that the song came to Paul McCartney in a dream. He awoke in the bedroom of his girlfriend Jane Asher’s house with the melody fully-formed in his head. He crept over to the piano (carefully negotiating his way past all of the cake-baking equipment) and worked out the chords to accompany it.

Yesterday, the same thing happened to me (minus the house-proud redhead). While I was sleeping, a brand new song began forming itself in my mind. My only problem was that when I woke up I couldn’t remember how the bloody thing went.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s very frustrating: why can’t my brain have some sort of tape recorder incorporated into it.

What if Macca had had a similar problem? If he’d woken up to Asher rabbiting on about her forthcoming role in the feature film Alfie, the outcome might have been different.

It’s a shame the same can’t be said for ‘Wonderful Christmastime’.

In my dream-state the chord sequence seemed pretty intricate. It was played on an electric guitar with a clean, simplistic sound; the melody following a repetitive structure whilst the progression changed around it.

It’s possible that the song wasn’t an Ephgrave original. I might have been dreaming about Cher, Neneh Cherry and Chrissie Hynde’s 1995 Comic Relief single ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’ and subsequently forgotten about it.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the case. Eric Clapton certainly didn’t crop up to play a moody guitar solo.

I guess I’ll have to chalk my missing song up to experience. I won’t let it happen again, though: from this moment forth I’m sleeping next to a musical arranger.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Song 1.

Music often acts as a soundtrack to my life.

This is partly due to my job; as a professional musician (*stifles a laugh*), I spend much of my time learning songs en masse for a gig or show. As a result, it’s probably unsurprising that music evokes so many memories; just a few bars can instantly send me back to another time and place.

Bearing this in mind, I thought I’d introduce an occasional series to my blog; sharing a few of the songs that make me reminisce (like Desert Island Discs, without breaching any copyright).

Song number one is Blur's The Universal.



I can pinpoint the event this reminds me of to a specific date: Tuesday 2nd of April 2002. Not because I have an amazing memory; I just used to keep a diary.

This was the first day I firmly believed my band would get a recording contract.

Me and BDO's drummer Chris Hollis, biting fists before a gig at Bombora (2000).

Big Day Out had been together in one form or another since 1996, though things didn’t really kick into gear for another four years. We scaled down from a four-piece to a three-piece, dumping all our old material in the process. Suddenly we had a new lease of life; consequently, people started to take an interest.

Back then, my band meant everything. It was the only thing I’d ever really wanted to do. I went to drama school, but purposely chose the one nearest to my hometown, so I could continue without interrupting the group's progress.

At drama school, our gigs became a social event. At each day’s registration, the Principal would ask me if I had anything to promote and I’d announce our latest news. Coach trips were booked to most of our London shows, with the students regularly frequenting our monthly residency at the local bar, Bundeena / Bombora (which eventually renamed itself The Croft; where me and Glyn would host Mostly Comedy in years to come.)


(We also had our first ever gig as a three-piece at The George in Hitchin, where Doggett & Ephgrave later launched the club; the same old venues tend to follow me about.)

Spin forward to early 2002 and the band had started to secure some pretty high-profile slots as a support act. This was the same year that I was due to graduate from drama school; it was a busy time, constantly flitting between acting and music.


We’d supported the popular Glasgow band - and Blur’s label-mates - The Supernaturals a handful of times (whose biggest hit ‘Smile’ is never far away from use in some advert or other). This was a big deal for us, particularly as they had been one of my co-writer and co-frontman Mark Smith’s favourite bands.

Things began to fall into place as they started actively promoting us; on one memorable occasion, before a gig at Bedford Esquires, I mentioned to their keyboardist that I hoped we’d one day be as successful as them.

“Rubbish”, he replied. “You’ll be far bigger than we ever were; you’ll be massive.”

Their lead singer, James, also promised to put a word in with their record company.

Spin forward to the 2nd of April 2002. I was sat in the front room of my flat listening to Blur: The Best Of. As the opening bars of The Universal kicked in, my mobile rang.

I paused the CD and answered the call. It was Andy Ross from Food Records; a subsidiary of EMI. He told me that James from The Supernaturals had insisted that they check us out. He asked me to send a copy of our demo (giving us a special code-word to mark the envelope with, so it wasn’t ignored) – and promised to catch one of our London gigs in the near future.

I was dumbstruck. I hung up and un-paused the CD to hear Damon Albarn croon "It really, really, really could happen".

It really, really, really was.

Sadly things didn’t work out. The record company dismissed the recording quality of the demo but were impressed by our songs. Andy Ross was set to catch our next London gig at Camden’s Dublin Castle on the 31st August, by which time I’d graduated from drama school and been offered and accepted a UK tour.

Thanks to me taking the job, the gig was cancelled. Big Day Out split up soon afterwards.

BDO's final gig (28.07.02)
After the gig. I'm chatting to Glyn; three years before we became Doggett & Ephgrave.

For years this ate me up. I hated that I'd been the cause for our misfortunes; at least, that was how I saw it.

Eventually, I let it go. I found other things to aspire to; Big Day Out became a happy memory.

We reformed for a one-off gig in 2008, to raise money for mine and Glyn’s first Edinburgh Festival. It was a wonderful night; it was nice to draw a line under the band, now that it no longer mattered to me so much.

BDO reunion gig (24.07.08).

I’m still in contact with the other members. Our drummer, Chris Hollis, is one half of Mostly Comedy’s one-time house band, Spandex Ballet – and Mark has various excellent musical projects on the go. Doggett & Ephgrave both appeared in his band Sons of Guns' last video, Bad Blood, which was directed by Chris.



Whenever I hear The Universal, my mind is taken back to that phone call, and the excitement of what I thought the future would hold.

...it nearly, nearly, nearly did happen.




Thursday, 26 December 2013

Starboard Man.


Yesterday, I visited my mum for Christmas - and while I was there, I spotted something that drove my OCD through the roof. 

I noticed it when I popped upstairs to use her bathroom (I won't share too many details). Whilst using the facilities, I looked down to see an ornament sitting next to the toilet with 'STARBOARD' written on it. 

My problem was the ornament was situated on the port-side of the room.

(I know: I'm pathetic.) 

If I'm honest, I wasn't certain - but being the sort of person I am, I looked it up (thank God for Wikipedia). I was right: 'port' is left and 'starboard' is right; meanwhile, my mum's objet d'art was sitting in the port position, burning a hole into my retina. 

I don't know why it bothered me so much. It must be the seaman in me (...steady). My grandfather was in the navy; if he'd ever used my mum's bathroom, he never would have stood for it (unless he was going for a wee).
 
I could move the ornament; that would be rude. I just had to accept it was in the wrong place and concentrate on the job in hand (horrific mental image).

I probably needn't have worried: technically, port and starboard are determined by whether you are facing the bow of the boat or not; if the toilet was the vessel and I was sitting on it, the ornament would have been to my right, in the correct position. 

When it comes to judging the naval bearings of my mother's bathroom, it's all a matter of perspective. 

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

On the Savour's Blog.

"So this is Christmas - and what have you done?"

I'll tell you what I've done, John: I've written this. Not that you'd care; you've probably got plenty of things to busy yourself with in the festive afterlife, rather than bothering with the ramblings of a person that you've never met.
 
(NB. I stuck the word 'festive' in front of the word 'afterlife' to make this blog more Christmassy.)

This would also be an unfamiliar format; sadly, you missed out on the internet. Yoko is pretty au fait with it, though; she's even on Twitter (something that I've already covered here).

I've cheated a little bit with today's post, if I'm honest; despite uploading it on Christmas Day, I'd written it the day before. I'm sure this is allowed: even the Queen pre-records her Christmas message. 

This does come with an element of risk. What if a major, catastrophic event occurs on Christmas morning, to which I haven't made reference? Suddenly, this blog will seem irrelevant. What if a celebrity has passed away? Not mentioning them would be callous.  

I guess I'll have to suck it and see; it's not as if I'm renowned for my topicality. If someone has died, I'm sad to hear it; if something good / bad / tragic has taken place, I'm suitably delighted / upset / distraught about it. 

If there's one thing that will definitely be relevant, it's this: I will hope that you have a splendid, restful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. 

I'd also warn you to refrain from over-eating, except that's a Christmas given. 
 
Meanwhile, that's a Christmas gibbon:
 
(nonchalant.)
Happy Crimbo: War is Over.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Gimme Shelter.


Yesterday, my umbrella bit the dust.

I bought it in August of 2008; just a few days into mine and Glyn’s first Edinburgh Festival. It was purchased out of necessity – anyone who’s experienced a Scottish summer will know what I’m talking about – and stuck with me through thick and thin ever since.

In all that time not a single bad word has passed between us. I probably shouldn’t be surprised by this: after all, it’s just an umbrella.

But what an umbrella. I bought it in Boots at the foot of the Royal Mile, during a brief respite from a depressing day of flyering (there were plenty of those). Glyn got one too - though our third cast member, Cal Tumminello, decided to opt for just a plastic bag instead.

It was the wettest summer the city had seen in years; consequently, Cal soon became the wettest Italian.

Our matching pair of brollies was a source of constant confusion; the handles were a slightly different colour, though I could never remember which was mine. They also came spring-loaded, with a satisfying automatic release; if push came to shove, they could double as a weapon.

My then-new umbrella even had a brush with fame, appearing briefly in a BBC2 Culture Show special:


(That picture pretty much defines popular culture.)

Five years on, my brolly has met a bitter end; yesterday’s 35mph wind proved to be one gust too many. I’ve brought an identical replacement; sure, it looks and feels the same, but it doesn’t hold these memories. I get a small buzz from the unfamiliarity, but nothing else.

At least my other one had a good innings.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Mugshot.


Today, I popped by my friend Sarah’s studio to exchange Christmas cards. While I was there, she made me a cup of tea in a Take That mug.

This gave me ample opportunity to pull my ‘holding a Take That mug’-face.

(Twat.)

I never realised I had a ‘holding a Take That mug’-face until I posed for the picture - when, all too soon, it became apparent. All it took was a couple of seconds of being looked at through a viewfinder for my natural, relaxed expression to be replaced with a gurny, pointy, cuppy-holdy one.

This is often the case when someone gets out a camera (except for the cup-holding bit). This leads to me to worry that in years to come, all that will be left of me will be a string of face-pulling photographs.

It reminds me of the time I posed for a caricaturist as a kid. For some, inexplicable reason, I decided to pull a face throughout the sitting that I’d never done before or since.

He picked up that I was doing this and told me to relax. I said I would, then continued with my unnatural expression.

It was like I'd misunderstood which one of us was supposed to be doing the caricaturing - and was not content with letting him send up my facial features without exaggerating them a little bit myself. Whatever the reason, the resulting cartoon looked nothing like me (unless I pulled my special one-off face).

So, should you want to take a picture, it’s best to take me by surprise. Don’t ask me to pose for it: unless you want to see me impersonate a Spitting Image puppet of myself.

(Don't let it be said that I ever over-think.)

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Golden Brown.


If television programmes are to be believed, the Seventies were brown.

As I was born in 1981, I'm unable to comment on this theory first-hand. Whilst being a couple of years shy of the opportunity to offer an eyewitness account, I’ve certainly seen a lot of secondary evidence. 

Anything that wasn’t brown was a brownish-grey or orange.

Take Columbo, for instance. I’m a big fan of the dishevelled detective, owning the complete series as a DVD box-set. There are two things I’ve learnt since watching so many episodes back-to-back: that instances of homicide in 1970s' Los Angeles were alarmingly high – and that most were committed to a sepia backdrop.


It’s as if they’d decided to work to a very specific colour-scheme: nothing darker than Peter Falk’s cigar; nothing lighter than his raincoat.

 
If only the perpetrators had stuck to this formula with more rigidity, they could have got away with murder. A young David Dickinson would have been lethal.

Columbo isn’t the only seventies cop-show to work to a limited spectrum; Starsky & Hutch and Quincy are little different. It seems strange when following the Sixties so closely; the psychedelic shades of the Summer of Love must have seemed a dim and distant memory.

This fondness for a pooey palette seems to have continued into the early 1980s; something that was reiterated just this evening, when I caught a rerun of an early, Bob Monkhouse-hosted episode of Family Fortunes on Challenge. 

Perhaps they'd stained the set with tea in an attempt to age it:


 
If Bob had just come back off his summer holidays you never would have seen him.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Full of Beans.


I’m spending far too much time in coffee shops at the moment.

It’s become an almost daily occurrence: either to kill time before a casting, or to finish off my daily blog. It’s helped me to be more productive – I’ve more inclined to work when out of the house – but I do get a little fed up with the enforced solitude.

My caffeine intake has also gone through the roof; I’m currently shakier than an overworked Judy Finnegan.

(This must be a by-product of being married to Richard Madeley. For her; not for me.)

The hardest part is the constant flitting from one extreme to another; starting the day with a couple of hours in your own company, before psyching yourself up to walk into a casting. I always function best when I’ve had direct contact with others first thing; the longer it takes to have a proper conversation, the less likely I’ll be at ease when it comes to it.

Thankfully, I’m not the only member of my social group who’s like this. Yesterday, I was joined in the coffee shop by my school-friend Steve; his first trip out of the house that day – and when he ordered his drink, the girl behind the counter asked if he wanted hot or cold milk with it.

“Just white milk”, he replied.

It’s probably best for the most socially awkward amongst us to stick together.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas in the Eighties.


We’re now just a few days away from the dreaded C-word. I refer not to c**t, not to cancer, but to Christmas.

I used to love Christmas when I was a kid. I can remember staring at the Postman Pat clock at the end of my bed; tracking the painfully slow progress of the minute-hand as it dragged its way across the clock-face; waiting for the allotted time that I was allowed to check my presents.
 
One year I became the proud owner of a Big Yellow Teapot. Looking back, this seems an unusual concept: a strange marriage between a dolls house and an outsized drink-dispenser. It’s the sort of thing that never should have caught on; Eighties children just had different expectations.

Another year we got a ZX Spectrum. I remember sitting in front of it for hours with my dad, whilst we programmed a primitive tennis game from scratch; entering the seemingly endless code from the back of the manual.

(I’m not entirely sure that it was worth the effort.)

I used to decorate our tree. I took great pride in the responsibility, though it took a good few years to learn the 'less is more' approach. My early attempts were pretty chintz-tastic.

The other day we put up the Christmas tree in my flat - and as we did my mind went back to those early Christmases. I wonder what happened to all the decorations that we used to have, that I can still picture so clearly.

I hope my mum didn't throw them out.



Thursday, 19 December 2013

Picture This.

I’m addicted to taking amusing photographs.

Well, I find them amusing. It’s a little subjective; some people may not find them funny at all. Regardless of what any detractors might think, I just can’t help myself.

I've grown used to the strange looks I get when taking them. I’ve been faced with countless flummoxed expressions whilst documenting something seemingly innocuous. I try to be discreet, though I'm often unsuccessful: I was once thrown out of a bookshop in Cork because I took a photo of this:


(God knows what they thought my reason was for taking it.)

I've come to accept that it doesn't matter what people think; the end usually justifies the means. It's also been the source of a lot of comedy material; the best pictures often end up incorporated into mine and Glyn's live act.

(I'm thirty two years old.)

My problem is I’m a natural pedant (any Daily Mail readers should look this up before scrawling it on my wall). I'm infatuated with small detail; if something is badly worded or formatted, I tend to pick up on it. I hope this doesn’t sound too smug; I’m just as happy to criticise my own mistakes as I am with other people's.

I've saved scores of amusing pictures over the years; so many that it's embarrassing. Still, people do hoard worse things on their hard-drives.


This obsession does have one depressing upshot: in years to come, everyone else will have photographs of friends and family to cherish; I'll just have pictures of signs, window displays and household implements. 

At least I will have laughed a lot.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Little Victories.


I derive far too much pleasure and satisfaction from being the first person off of a train and through the ticket barrier.

I consciously plan ahead for it. It's pathetic. I'll position myself in the optimum carriage (the second from the front for Hitchin; the first for King's Cross) and will be by the door with my ticket in my hand before we pull into the platform.

I do this because: (1) I'm late, (2) it's late, or (3) because I'm a bit of a dick. 

I'm never rude about it. I don't push and shove; I use subtlety and stealth to ensure I'm out first.  

If alighting from public transport was an Olympic sport, I'd probably be a multiple gold medallist. 


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Come Follow the Bland.


Sometimes, a thought will enter my head that is so mundane that when I catch myself thinking it, I realise just how dull I have become.

I had two such moments yesterday, both in quick succession. I was making leek and potato soup (one of my few specialties) – and as I chopped up a leek I thought about how it clearly a member of the onion family.

I mulled over the similarities for a good few minutes before I realised what I was doing.

I’ll usually also chop up a couple of small potatoes to put into the soup, but as I was making a large batch, I decided to use just one big one. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to use the peeler on it; I made a mental note to remember this for future reference.

I guess this is what happens as you get a little older; the small things start to get you through the day. My life is littered with these moments; I daren’t list too many, for fear of tarnishing my public image.  

Oh, go on then: just one more.

The other day I was walking through town when I passed a large shop that had recently closed down. The property has recently changed hands and the shop has since been gutted in the process.

For weeks the windows have been whitewashed out; now, on walking past, I noticed that masking had been removed. I couldn’t resist a little peek in.

“Bloody Hell”, I thought, as I gazed around the abandoned premises. “That unit is massive.

The time has come for my personality transplant.