Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Computer Karaoke.


Where would I be without YouTube’s lyrical assistance?



If the video-sharing behemoth didn't exist, I would never have worked out how many yeahs there are before my favourite Sam Cooke song ‘Bring it On Home to Me’ fades out - and I need this information to survive. I’m too apathetic to count them myself.

That said, you should never trust the internet when it comes to music. It always lies. The most frustrating byproduct of being an actor / musician is having to score out instrumental parts by ear. Listening to song after song in two-second bursts while you pick out a figure that’s buried in the mix is one of the most tedious and brain-exhausting jobs on the planet. It makes you despise music. Every so often, against your better judgement, you’ll look to online tab or sheet music for a shortcut. It’s never accurate. Lyric sites aren’t any better. They’re the World Wide Web’s equivalent to a game of Chinese Whispers; maintained by people with tiny earholes and a less-than-basic grasp of English.

(Picture them.)

People who upload lyric videos often seek unnecessary recognition. Finding a photograph, sticking it onto Window’s Movie Maker and typing a few words over it doesn't warrant a title sequence, least of all if you want equal billing to the artist.

I also often question their interpretation:


There’s a fine line between a ‘Yeeeah’ and a ‘Yeaaah’, so choose your vowels wisely.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Niche Fan Site.


Thank God the About My Area website isn’t.


It would be awful if it was. We don’t need a site devoted to something as filthy as that. I don’t mean filthy in a literal sense, as I have excellent personal hygiene. Ask anyone.

Every time I hear its name (which is regularly, as it often comes up in conversation) I have a little giggle to myself. This sometimes becomes a snigger, then a chuckle, then a chortle. If I titter then I’ve gone full circle. That sounds like slang for an 'area' and we’re not having that. "Titter ye not".

Whoever came up with the concept for About My Area didn’t consider the anatomical connotations. Perhaps there aren’t any. It could just be me. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Monday, 29 December 2014

No Buddy Knows.


I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided I no longer wanted to be Buddy Holly.

It was at 7:31pm on Friday the 30th October 2009 in Greenock, Scotland; barely a minute into my umpteenth performance as the bespectacled 50s rock star. This had nothing to do with the town, the venue or the audience, all of whom received us generously. It wasn’t in any way related to the man from Lubbock himself, who is still a personal hero. The final straw was purely technical.

The show started with the MC warming up the crowd, while I stood in the wings - big glasses on my face and a Fender Stratocaster around my neck - awaiting my first entrance. On finishing his spiel, the MC would call for a roll on the drums and shout "Give it up for Buddy Holly". I’d then bound on from stage right, bring the drummer off (not sexually) with a downward swipe of my guitar neck, and launch into the opening riff of That’ll be the Day.

This didn’t happen in Greenock. I played the riff confidently, but nothing came out. Something wasn't working. The band stood in silence, unable to start without me. We were f**ked.

In most Actor / Muso shows you’re not on your own. There’ll be a team of people off stage, ready to help you. You’ll have a guitar tech on hand and plenty of spare equipment. Not in this instance. All we had was the cast and the Company Manager / Driver (Glyn) who was in the box, cueing the lights. If something went wrong you had to fix it yourself.

I was trapped in the spotlight with nowhere to go and no-one to help me. I looked at the guitar pedals at my feet. My set-up consisted of a guitar, a lead, a pedal, a lead, a pedal, another lead and an amp. Each piece of kit hadn’t worked at some point on the tour. Nothing had been maintained. The root of the problem could be anything.

I scrabbled about on my knees, taking pedals out, trying different set-ups, all while the audience watched in silence. The time it took me to get a sound out of my amp felt like forever. It was horrendous.

It was at that moment that I knew I was done. It didn’t help that I had to be up first thing to catch a flight down south for a long day of teaching. Things had come full circle. I’d been too many vans, stayed in too many B&Bs and been in too many similar situations. It was time to move on. After two hours of rock and roll music, that is.

I’ve done the odd Buddy gig since then, but only when the circumstances were right. I don’t see myself doing it again; certainly not long term. It’s nothing against the show or the company, who gave me a great opportunity and a lot to look back on – but sometimes you need to look to the future.

I wonder if I could make a living as Bobby Vee?

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam.


Should I click on the link?


I’m not asking because I'm concerned about my intimate statistics. I just want to know for certain if the email is spam. A number of things suggest it is: the eccentric spacing of the subject text; the sender’s name (who’s called Eudora, for Chrissakes?); the unusual accents in the content (no-one puts a breve over the I in ‘penis’). The fact it’s about engorgement of the male member suggests it’s unsolicited, but that’s not my main concern. The reason I’m dubious is I received another email recently about cheap watches, and the formatting was too similar to be a coincidence. 

 
It’s got to be shifty. They’ve got to come from the same source. There’s nothing wrong with running a business with more than one specialty (like cobbler / locksmiths), but incorporating time-keeping with genitalia is a step too far. There’s no such thing as a cock-clock.

It must be hard making a living in penis enhancement when your correspondence is instantly assumed to be a con. Traders in cut-price timepieces have it easy.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Early Days(vid).


I’ve spent the last few hours dashing off a bit of autobiographical stand-up.

It focuses on my childhood. It came out in a fury (“…said the actress to the bishop”): partly because the ideas have been gestating for a while (in my 'brainwomb'), and partly thanks to having had a break from the office. It helps that no-one is about. I can speak without being heard. This gives me freedom to talk material out, rather than staring at my screen, worrying about the wording. I record it on my phone as I go; stopping every so often to have a listen and a tinker with it, before recording again.

I’m pleased with the narrative that’s forming. It’s good that it relates to me and is not derivative of someone else’s material (unless there’s a comic out there with an identical upbringing). But will it be accessible and funny to an audience? There are gags in it, but it’s hard to judge their strength when they’re based on things I’ve always known.

If nothing else, it’s my own story. It will probably work better in a solo show than a club gig, but that’s fine. At least I’m getting stuff down. The more I do now, the less I’ll worry when I try it out. It will also save time when I write my autobiography.

Friday, 26 December 2014

"Later on in the Show."

My Christmas present from Glyn Doggett will never be bettered.




Some things in life you can predict and others you can’t. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on the streets of Sarajevo on 28th June 1914, the breakout of the First World War was nigh-on inevitable (his band namesake, considerably less so). When Mr & Mrs Chuckle were blessed with the birth of Barry and Paul in the mid-1940s, the boys' comedy duo was destined to be. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, that hairy-chested KITT-driving lifeguard was bound to end up dancing on the remnants – but if you told me Martin Roberts from Homes Under the Hammer would congratulate me on getting married, I would have told you to shut the front (f**k) door (up).

If you don’t watch television in the morning, the significance of this video may be lost. Any out-of-work actors will lap it up. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve woken up to Martin’s voice, extolling the virtues or pointing out the pitfalls of an endless stream of properties I'd have been too apathetic to renovate. The man is a legend.

His message is forty seconds of bliss. I don’t know how much Glyn paid for under a minute of personal screen time from my favourite daytime TV presenter but, by God, was it worth it. I'd have been happy with just the first seven seconds.

I like how he presumably reworked Glyn’s notes, calling me Dave over David, to make it more matey. His delivery is professional as ever. I just wish he’d popped in a few Hammer catchphrases to seal the deal.

(Joking aside, it's very sweet. Adding the part about his own wedding was a nice touch.)

It’s fair to say that Glyn's raised the bar with this gift. Next year I’ll have to equal it. I’ve no idea what I’ll get him. Something tells me a message from Gary Barlow will be out of my budget.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

We Are Family.


Today will be the first time I’ve spent Christmas Day with both of my parents since the early 90s.

It’s more by accident than design that it’s been so long. We don’t despise each other. We’re not an estranged family being reunited à la Surprise Surprise, which is good, because Christmas is hard enough without having to put up with either Holly Willoughby or Cilla Black. What if Cilla sang? She’d start quietly, as ever; lulling you into a false sense of security until that full-on Scouse foghorn comes out. If Holly was there, she’d bring her friend Fearne Cotton, and I can’t be dealing with that.

My early Christmas memories are probably the same as most children of the 80s. They’re a sea of paper chains and chintzy tinsel (good band name), over-decorated Christmas trees, paper hats and playing with my presents. It seems like a lifetime ago now, which is fair enough, as for me, it sort of is.

Today is a moment of note. It’ll be a nice way to round off a year that’s had both high and low points. It won’t be the same as my childhood Christmases - I’m too old to play with a Big Yellow Teapot - but it will be nice. My mum is bound to get too competitive over a board game. Of that there’s no doubt. It’s also my first Christmas with a wife. That’s far too grown up for my liking, but I like it nevertheless.

Happy Crimbo Everybody. The question is, who doesn’t ‘Crimbo’ have an H in it when ‘Christmas’ does? Bloody alphabet. 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

"Life."


I exclaim the word ‘life’ to myself with alarming regularity.

I did it twice today, on the ten-minute walk from my flat to my office: once, when the neighbour who always blanks me lived up to my expectations despite me saying hello, then again, when I wound up doing an impromptu disco dance trying to pass someone on the street, then apologized - though it wasn’t my fault - to no response. “Life”.

I sometimes feel like I’m in the midst of a battle: Me v The World. I then realise I’m being a melodramatic, self-obsessed megalomaniac. I’ll then get distracted by thinking about megalodons, then award myself with a biscuit for my knowledge of extinct sea creatures and my top-class diagnosis.

Today is an exception. It’s Christmas Eve. Most people are too preoccupied with what they haven’t done or bought yet to look where they’re going or say hello. With that in mind, I’ll let everyone off. If it carries on into the New Year, I won’t be responsible for my actions.

Perhaps I should call next year's stand-up show 'Life'. It would be a great excuse for stitching together disparate material. I could also walk on to Des’ree, which is a bonus.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Sitting Target.


I don’t think Costa in Stevenage spend a lot on this advertising campaign.



I saw this sign in the cubicle of their unisex toilet. I hope it wasn’t the venue. You could only fit seven people in there, tops, and the lack of power points would necessitate a completely acoustic performance; Mumford & Sons could play to an audience of three, but you’d never cover your overheads without charging a fortune. It would also be awkward.

The owner of the marker pen was clearly a big fan of quavers (the note value, not the crisp). He could have thrown in the odd crotchet or treble clef to spice things up. Semibreves wouldn’t have read out of context. They’d just look like eyes.

I like it that the poster comes in installments. Maybe each sheet was put up a week apart to create tension, like Charles Dickens used to do with his novels, or Stephen King did with The Green Mile. They didn’t stick them to toilet doors; they serialized them. I think you get my point.

At least it’s not as bad as this other lavatorial notice I spotted on the train the same day.


Sometimes loo roll isn’t enough.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Creative Musings


I’m suddenly feeling enthused by my comic intentions for the New Year. I must hold on to this and try to stave off the inevitable dip.
  
Over the last few days, I started to feel a little overwhelmed by my plan to write a solo show, and over whether I could even do it. A lot of this came from the pressure I put on myself to write something every day, and to keep churning out new product. Nothing I do is enough. I need to move on to the next thing and quick.

This can be good and bad. It keeps the creative side of the brain ticking over, but it also wears it out. It becomes an endless cycle of self-expectation, with no let-off.

On Saturday, I read through the last few months’ blogs, with my notepad out, writing down what I felt had potential. I then went into the office on Sunday to adapt them, but because I was too tired, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. None of it seemed funny.

I now see this as just that: tiredness. My wife told me recently that I should take a day off. My first thought was "you think I work? I don’t". But she was right.

This evening, I met up with a friend I’ll be sharing previews with in the New Year, to look at some venues. In doing so we had a good chat, and talked each other up. He’s generous with his praise, but is also very honest. He'll be good to work with. He laughed at my proposed title for the show too, which was a bonus.

The trick will be to try to enjoy the process, to get better at what I do – but to not feel the need to work incessantly (says the man who still doesn’t think he does enough). I'll start by not giving this the redraft it clearly needs.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Antithesis of Stage Schools.


Of all the weekend performing arts schools I’ve taught at - and there have been quite a few - the one that was the most fun was in Harlow.

The atmosphere was great. The staff got on brilliantly, had total faith in each other’s ability, and the students were lovely. Going there was never a bind, despite the early start. Any tiredness would soon be fixed by a black coffee and a biscuit.

I worked there for four or five years; long enough to become a permanent fixture and to gain the students' respect. The saddest part was watching them grow up and leave. I remember one boy really not wanting to go. I understood how he felt; I knew how much my drama club meant to me when I was his age. It was where I felt safest, and most able to be myself. Being a teenager can be hard, man.

(Apparently I grew up in the Sixties.)

For me, these clubs are about giving children confidence. If they decide to work in Performing Arts in the future that’s great, but this shouldn’t be the emphasis. If you bring someone timid out of their shell, even briefly, you’ve done something right.

I started out teaching singing, then moved to drama. I enjoyed this the most, for the freedom and - more than anything - for the laughs. I have a reasonable sense of humour (hence the day job), but the wit of some of the students in the top class was razor-sharp. I’d set them impro task after impro task, then watch and learn. It was inspiring to see so much unfettered talent.

I like to think I inspired them too. One particular singing class sticks in my mind, when I taught them Here Comes the Sun. They were impressed by my guitar playing and asked what other Beatles songs I knew (they were into Beatles Rock Band at the time). The session turned into a mass sing-along, which the school’s principal walked in on and joined in. You don’t get that often in the workplace.

I’d write them songs and scripts to order. The last show we did was a pantomime. Rehearsals were haphazard, but the performance was great. I was proud to see how they pulled it off.

I look back on those years fondly. I’ve worked in lots of other schools with lots of great kids, but Harlow was special. It’s not often you hear that. 

I found a card from one of the students the other day when I was tidying up. It made me smile. For me, that's what it's about.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Trains, Trains and Automotrains.



I’ve discussed previously on this blog how I love overhearing conversations. Not in an illicit FBI-tapping-John-Lennon’s-phone-in-the-mid-70s type way, more when you catch a snippet of a confab out of context. Hearing an isolated nugget without explanation brings no end of entertainment, particularly when you’re as easily pleased as me. 

Getting the complete picture can be just as good. Two of my favourite examples took place on a train passing through Stevenage. I’ve presented them below in script form. Feel free to act them out with your friends. It’ll be cheaper than licensing something from Samuel French.

Exhibit A: Mother and Son. 

The boy, who is about nine, stares out of the window as the train pulls into the station. 

BOY:   Is this the place with the stones?
MUM:  What?
BOY:   Is this the place with the stones?
MUM:  What stones?
BOY:   The big stones. 

Pause. 

MUM: No. That’s Stonehenge.

Exhibit B:  Female Theatrical Advice. 

LADY: (To her friend) I saw terrifying play in the West End the other week, called The Black Woman.

Sometimes, people don’t think before they speak.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Mints with a Four-Hour Window.


The best thing about After Eights is they come housed in their own, miniature filing cabinet.

Flicking through those tiny open-ended envelopes makes me feel meticulous. I can briefly hoodwink myself into thinking I’m an organised person. I also feel like a giant businessman, which is a pleasing byproduct.

It gives me an insight into what it must be like to work in an office. I’ve never had a proper job (save a brief stint in Argos which doesn’t bear thinking about). Sitting on my sofa, browsing a box of dark chocolates could be the closest I ever get. I just need a tiny desk, phone and in-and-out tray for my experience to be complete. Oh, and a spider plant. And a salary.

It’s like cross-referencing confectionary: it’s tough, but someone’s got to do it. This was how I spent my evening. There were two downsides: (1) it reminded me that I need to do my tax return, and (2) it made me feel sick. Another reason to dislike Nestlé.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Sinking Feeling.


The person who invented taps that only work when you press down on them is on my list.

They’re the bathroom-fitting equivalent to the chocolate teapot: a device with no rhyme or reason. Their inoperability suggests they were intended as some sort of ablutionary tax dodge, or designed for a futuristic three-handed race.

(...which isn't a school sports day event.)

I understand that they’re meant to save water. The motivation behind their design is ecologically sound; a tap that’s been left running is at Number Three of my Five Least Favourite Things to Walk in on in a Public Toilet. They may have pushed environmentalism a little too far, however, by preventing people from washing their hands at all.

You can’t fit a decent scrub into a one-second time limit (something my nan always said to me). You either have to wash a hand at a time - adopting a strange one-hand-clapping / hamster-massaging motion - or ask the person at the next sink to hold it down for you. Be sure to make it clear you're talking about the tap; you don't want to get a reputation.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

2015 Festivities.


I’ve spent the day editing a couple of short videos to use when applying to festivals for my proposed 2015 solo show.

At the moment, I’m not sure how far I want to take it. I had intended on applying for Brighton, which is next May, but haven’t decided where I go from there. By which I mean, “Will I do Edinburgh?” Deciding to do Brighton is in and of itself ‘the big one’, as it gives me less time to write something, whereas doing Edinburgh is ‘THE BIG ONE’, because of all the financial – and emotional – implications it contains.

The question I keep coming back to is “Will I be ready to do an hour when I’m still at relatively early stages as a solo stand-up?” I think I will. I’m just not sure whether it would it be best to keep it low-key first time around, both financially and in-front-of-industry-ey. In which case, I’d probably do Brighton and Camden next year and Edinburgh the year after. I don’t have to make a final decision quite yet, but I will have to do it soon.

As it stands, I’ve made a few small plans for the early 2015. I shall be sharing some split bill previews with a comic friend once a month from Feb-May, plus possibly performing a 30-minute version of the show as part of a season of new comedy writing in March. Both if these will give me a deadline to start working to. I had intended on starting to sketch out a rough outline for the show today, but got caught up with editing the two promo videos (bloody technology). I also have a couple of title ideas I’m mulling over. Now, I just want to get on with it.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Walrus was Paul.


I just read an article on the Daily Mail website that told me Paul McCartney has returned “after 25 years out of the music business”.


I found this surprising. I hadn’t realised he’d been out of the limelight for so long. I was sure I remembered him doing something since 1989. I must be mistaken. The Daily Mail always checks its facts. If they're wrong, it's an easy gaffe to make: McCartney does keep a constant low profile.

Didn’t he close Live 8, the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee concerts and the Olympics Opening Ceremony? Didn’t he organise a massive benefit concert in New York in the wake of 9/11? Didn’t I see him at Earls Court in 1992, at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 1994, at Sheffield Arena in 2002, at The Roundhouse in 2007, at The O2 in 2009 and at Maida Vale Studios last year? If it wasn’t Paul McCartney, then who the fuck was it – an exceptionally convincing, ageing animatronic?

Maybe the conspiracy theorists were right. Perhaps the real Macca died in the late 60s and was replaced by a doppelgänger with convenient musical ability, while under intense public scrutiny. Stranger things have happened. Look at how popular the Daily Mail is.

If McCartney has been out of the business for a quarter of a century, none of these albums were released.



None of these tours took place.



…and he didn’t rap in that video. I have to admit it's a shame about the last one.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Pleasant Valley Sundae.


I have an addiction that’s spiraling out of control. The time has come to address it. So here goes: I’m hooked on Marks & Spencer’s Triple Chocolate Sundaes.

It’s a secret shame that plagues every waking moment. It doesn’t help that I live 176 yards from an M&S Garage. That’s no distance when you have an obsession. Their fridge in is practically in view from my house. This doesn’t bode well for my calorie intake. 

There was a point when I was eating them every day. I now ration myself. I didn’t want to end up the subject of a Channel 5 documentary or buying clothing from Jacamo. I’ve got standards, after all.

It’s still a battle. Most dinnertimes I’ll hear the dessert start to call. I wonder if the staff have noticed how often I buy them. I'll hide it behind my other shopping, like I was buying porn. Not that I’d know.

It’s particularly bad when I don’t get anything else. One time, the guy behind the counter offered me a spoon, like he thought I'd eat it on the petrol station forecourt. Things aren't that bad yet.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A Pair of Discs.


You know you’re having a proper clear out when you stumble across these formats. 


I’ve never been ruthless when sifting out my redundant belongings. It’s not like these two means of storage will come to use. Why do I even own the second half of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds on MiniDisc when I’ve never had a MiniDisc player – and what was my problem with sides one and two? I’ve never been keen on Forever Autumn, but I’m not adverse to having a copy of it in my house. If anything, I'm a completist.

Perhaps the other half of the album is on the floppy disk. Maybe I split it across two mediums in an attempt to preserve it. This didn’t work. The only music they’ll now make will be as a result of me banging them together. I hope someone else backed it up. If not, I’d like Tom Cruise’s 2005 film version to meet the same fate.

It’s strange to think that fifteen years ago both Mini- and floppy disks were still popular. If I had declared their imminent obsolescence in the mid-90s no-one would have believed it. That last sentence is best read in a Richard Burton voice.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Cast No Shadow


Going for castings at the moment feels a little bit like pissing into the wind.

The process of doing them I really enjoy. I feel most comfortable in front of a camera, doing something small, naturalistic and throwaway. Most of the stuff I go up for is quirky or comedic, which suits me. Yet I’m not getting any jobs. It’s beyond disheartening.

The frustrating thing is a lot of them seem to go well. I often make the casting director laugh, usually for the right reasons. I’ve been penciled for jobs so many times I can’t look a stationery shop in the face (which is good as they don’t tend to have them). It doesn’t make any difference. No pencilling turns to pen.

It’s hard to keep upbeat about it and not let it affect your performance. It's starting to feel like an endless unbreakable cycle. I’m bored of it. I just need one job to break the seal.

I keep reminding myself that I’ve got them in the past. I also keep getting close. It’s not like anything’s conspiring against me. I’ve just been unlucky of late. When I eventually get something, probably for some obscure brand of cleaning product, I’ll be unreasonably excited. It’s worrying what you end up aspiring to.