Sunday, 31 January 2016

Batchelor Pad Blues.


I watched the Billy Wilder film The Apartment for the first time tonight.

I’ve loved Jack Lemmon in everything I’ve seen him in, and this was no exception. He brings warmth to every character he plays and is always in complete control of his performance. He makes being awkward look strangely effortless, often throwing in little bits of subtle comedy business that seem an accident at first glance.

I find it strange that I haven’t watched many Shirley MacLaine films, despite her being such a well-known name. Like Lemmon, she brings lots of warmth and sweetness to her character; though I was sure she’d see that MacMurray’s selfish Mr Sheldrake wasn't worth it by the end, the outside chance that she wouldn’t was a worry. Then I remembered which two actors were pictured skipping into to distance hand in hand on the poster and realised I had no cause for concern. It would be too miserable an outcome if they didn’t work things out.

Like that other Wilder favourite, Some Like it Hot, the script is tightly written with not a word out of place. The cinematography is lovely and the turn-of-the-Sixties style has lots of class. I wish people still dressed like that now, damn it. Sod it: tomorrow, I’m buying a bowler hat.

Taxed Off.

In the end, submitting my self-assessment tax return yesterday was very anti-climactic. 

It would have been nice if there'd been fireworks, or a triumphant fanfare bursting forth from my computer. I would have liked to have high-fived the studio audience, or be lifted onto the shoulders of my team. Even the offer of a cup of tea and a biscuit would have been enough to mark the moment, but in reality, all that happened after I clicked 'submit' was a moment's silence while I waited for confirmation that it had gone through, the receipt of a submission code, before setting about the rigmarole of shutting down my computer and packing away all my receipts to move on to something else.

That said, there was a slight sense of relief. While I've yet to miss a self-assessment deadline, there's always the worry that this year might be the one. Thankfully, it wasn't. The only other thing I felt was amazement at managing to survive on such little earnings. One thing's for certain: you don't become a performer for the money; you do it for the admin. ‎

Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Final Countdown.


It's disconcerting to receive emails like this in your inbox.

 

Is it a death threat? Have I only got 2.29 days left? If someone’s taken out a contract on me, they shouldn’t be leaving a paper trail, even if it’s only in an internet sense. Or are they okay as long as no-one prints it out?


This campaign only works assuming you’ve committed to memory what Thebestof are counting down in the first place. Clearly I haven’t, or I wouldn’t be writing this. Or maybe I have and I’m being obtuse (or trying to find something to flesh out a blog post.)

This isn’t the only confusing subject-line to appear in my inbox this week. On Thursday, I received this:


The question is, where’s Duncan?

Say What?


We prerecorded the seventeenth episode of our internet radio show ‘Doggett & Ephgrave: In Your Inner Ear’ tonight in our office, ready to go out on Sunday.

The show’s topic was ‘What?’, in the sense that we discussed things that have shocked or confused us. The theme was broad enough for us to talk about anything, as when you’re seventeen programmes in, you start to run out of ideas. It begs the question whether the next three episodes will be ‘Where?’, ‘How?’ and ‘When?’; I hope not.

I enjoy recording in our office more than in the studio, as we have a more relaxed set-up. We’re in control of what we’re doing and know how to use our own equipment. The audio quality is also better, which makes the show more enjoyable to listen to (or that’s what I keep telling myself).

While I enjoyed the show, I wish I’d taken more time to get to grips with the stories I’d chosen to tell before we started recording. I spent much of the afternoon finding appropriate what-related songs to put in the play list, when I’d rather have been going over my material. Finding things to discuss isn’t ultimately that difficult, as I scour my blog for posts I’ve written in the past that relate to the chosen topic, and then use them as a springboard for my bits in the show. Not being overly familiar with the posts before the recording helps keep things fresh, but if I’d read them a few more times beforehand, I’d probably hit the bullet points better. That said, I don’t want it to sound scripted; not that it's likely anyone would think that.

Friday, 29 January 2016

"You're Working for No-one but Me"


As is always the case, I’m totting up the figures for my Self-assessment Tax Return at the eleventh hour.

I’m not concerned about it, as I’ve got things in hand and the end is in sight, but I'm irritated with myself that if I was just a bit more organised, I wouldn’t have this annual rush to the finish.

The problem is however good my intentions are, the last thing I want to do when I’ve submitted a return is to think about getting my records in order for the next one. Then time passes and I forget about it, until before long, it’s the end of January and Moira Stuart, Adam Hart Davis - or whoever is fronting that year’s HMRC poster campaign – is banging on my door (metaphorically speaking).

Even though I say it every year, this is the last time it will be like this. For a start, I’m already being shrewder about the receipts I keep (unlike in 2014/15, where I wasted a couple of hours binning ones that were irrelevant, and separating those that won’t apply to 2015/16). Doggett & Ephgrave have also taken on a new accountant to look after our increasingly complicated financial affairs. Neither of us want to end up in prison, though if we did, at least it would take away the pressures of compiling our tax return, or having to vote.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Funkadavidelic.


BIg Day Out's 'Simplicity' was probably the closest I ever got to writing anything funky or sexy.



(Phwoar. Funky, sexy David.)

Like the majority of our demos, the studio version didn’t quite do the material justice, as a lot of the energy was lost. It didn’t help that in this instance, we mixed down everything bar the drum tracks in one session, and then overlaid a separate mix of the drums again later. God knows why we did this; we must have been off our heads on disco biscuits.

It revolved around a riff we had already used in a different song, Sensible Shoes, which was scrapped when our lead guitarist left and the group became a three-piece. Sensible Shoes - like a lot of our earlier incarnation’s material - was more of a novelty song than anything, but when we slowed the original riff down, we started to get a bit of a groove on.

(I just said that in all seriousness.) 

The song was about being left hanging by a girl that you liked, who wasn’t convinced that she liked you back; such is the teenage experience. I had The Beatles’ 'Drive My Car' and Stevie Wonder’s 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours' loosely in mind when I wrote it, but thankfully, the results sounded nothing like this; I didn’t want to end up in the midst of a lawsuit.

The drums were recorded at The Square in Harlow, and all the other parts were recorded in my flat (though this wasn’t the reason for our eccentric approach to mixing it). I played guitar and sang, Mark played bass and joined me on backing vocals and Chris played the drums. The neighbours didn’t complain, even when we got to the shouty bits. “Good on ‘em,” I say.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Plan, Plan, Planning.


I’ve been concerning myself with admin today for a couple of work-in-progress dates that I’m doing at the Bath Comedy Festival in April.

As is always the case when you’re self-producing a show, getting the paperwork done is part-satisfying, part-frustrating; you can’t help but feel that the time spent filling in forms, choosing promo pictures and writing blurbs would be much better spent deciding what you’re actually going to say on stage when you're up there. This becomes a small, yet important background detail.

I remember chatting to a well-established comic who was previewing one of his Edinburgh Fringe shows at Mostly Comedy a few years back, and remarking on my frustration with this admin / writing balance. He’d recently been taken on by one of the country’s biggest comedy producer / agencies, and told me how for the first time since he’d started out, he hadn't had to consider the organisational side of things once; everything was in hand. Being relieved of all the background work meant he could concentrate on writing his show (which went on to do very well indeed...not that I’m jealous).

This would be the ideal scenario, but sadly, isn’t an option for me (or me and Glyn) at the moment. The best I can hope for is to get most of the desk-work done A.S.A.P., so I can turn my brain to being funny A.S.A.P. too. I long for the day when someone will do the first bit for me.


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

McDoo-wop.


Whenever anyone asks me what my favourite accidental barbershop harmony is – and let’s face it, this happens a lot – I point them toward the 45-second mark of the secret track at the end of my old band Big Day Out’s Seven Heavenly Lemony Lemons From a Seven-Eleven in Devon album.

(Listening to that just cheered me up.)

The scene where the above recording took place was colloquially known as the Red Room in my old flat (appropriately above a Barbershop in Hitchin) and the date was late 2001. The personnel behind the doo-wop were me, the band’s drummer Chris Hollis, and my flatmate, the actor David Garrud – and the inspiration behind it was McDonald's now long-defunct Supersize Deal.

I can’t remember what brought the song about, but I suspect we'd just had McDonald's takeaway. Whatever the reason, one thing led to another and I picked up my acoustic and started to chug my way through a simple 12-bar blues riff. It wasn’t unusual for Chris and me to improvise comic songs (a couple of them ended up in his comedy band Spandex Ballet’s repertoire in later years), nor was it strange for Dave to be about when we did it; I'm just glad I had the foresight to document this particular one with my Dictaphone.

What made the song special was the ending. We’d sketched out a harmony to finish on, but when it came to it, we got the arrangement wrong, but what came from our larynxes was far better than what we'd planned. It was a musical fluke Brian Wilson would be proud of. We marvelled at that last ‘supersize deal’ for weeks; we must have been starved for entertainment.


As an aside, I can recall my band having a long discussion over whether the ‘Lemony’ in the title ‘Seven Heavenly Lemony Lemons From A Seven-Eleven in Devon’ was a step too far. We only went with the name because we wanted something that would be difficult for a DJ to say on the radio. It could have been worse; we nearly called it ‘The Llama Palaver’. It’s fair to say that Big Day Out were dicks.



Monday, 25 January 2016

Bedpain.


I somehow managed to pull a muscle in my shoulder this morning while stretching in bed.

There aren’t many people who could injure themselves by doing nothing; it’s a talent. If I can inflict pain and discomfort on myself when I'm lying in a relaxed state, just think what I can do standing up; by replicating the Angel of the North’s stance I would break every bone in my body.

I didn’t realise how much I used my shoulder until I injured it. It turns out it’s my integral joint. My left shoulder is my Achilles’ heel, which is a hell of a setback on my sideline as a body-popper. Henceforth, you’ll only see me in a neck brace.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Bouncy Bouncy.

Of the many songs you might expect to hear blaring from a car as it cruises down the High Street, Bobby Vee's Rubber Ball isn't one of them.

Yet despite the incongruity, that's exactly what I heard today. Winding down your windows to subject all and sundry to your music is obnoxious, but it's somehow less so when what you're listening to is so jaunty. Vee may have followed in Buddy Holly's footsteps and fronted The Crickets, but a rap star, he's not. I saw him at a gig at Shepherd's Bush Empire in the early-Nineties and he couldn't have been less ghetto if he tried.

The man behind the wheel had big (rubber) balls to pull it off, particularly while he was held at the lights. I'd struggle to rustle up the requisite facial expression for the situation if it were me; it's not a song to scowl to. 

I understudied the part of Vee when I was in Bill Kenwright's touring production of 'The Roy Orbison Story', back in 2003. I only went on as him once, at the Sunderland Empire (the scene of Sid James' sad demise). I sang a medley of his songs whilst darting around the stage like an early-60s-pop-star possessed. I may have taken Rubber Ball's lyrics too literally. ‎

Blinded by a Former Cabinet Minister.


I’d like to know where Michael Portillo sources his garish blazers.

I'll often catch a bit of his BBC2 programme 'Great British Railway Journeys' of an evening, post-Simpsons, and while I find the subject interesting, I’d probably turn to another channel sooner, if it weren’t for the lurid jackets he wears. Their dazzling effervescent nature lures you in, like a crustacean hypnotized by the bioluminescence of an anglerfish’s ‘light’. No sooner have you adjusted to a blazer / trouser combination (salmon / yellow) than another outfit bursts forth (turquoise / red). He’s a Tory test card. 

I have to say I quite like him, political leanings notwithstanding. I have to say it, because he’s holding a gun to my head. He snuck up on me, which is surprising considering his taste in clothing. I once spotted him in the audience at a performance of 'We Will Rock You', but then, how could I not?

Friday, 22 January 2016

Cat Does It.

A cat is a useful pet to have when your home has insufficient heating. 

They act as a living, buzzing hot water bottle, if that isn't too terrifying a concept. You can even trick yourself into thinking that their sitting on your lap is a display of affection, rather than a ruthless bid to rob you of your warmth. If you died of hypothermia, they'd find another, bleaker use for you; "It's the circle of life," as Tim Rice would put it (and he always bloody does). 

I got up early this morning, after having laid awake for what seemed an eternity, unable to sleep. Within minutes, my cat had led me to the kitchen to show me where her food was kept; she's good like that. She then sat  on me for hours, while my storage heating system did its inept, puffy, stuffy, airblowy-yet-not-actually-warming-you-up thing. My flat was built in the late-1970s. I blame Thatcher for it. She probably laid the cornerstone; the coiffured, pogonphobic bint.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

He's Electric.


It’s always good to experience something new (he says, hyperbolically) and today I did just that, by having an ECG. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Like anyone with a query, my first port of call was the world’s most faultless resource, Wikipedia. The 22nd word in their definition, ‘electrodes’, stood out like a sore thumb, leading to visions of cattle prods, or of Frankenstein’s monster being summoned to life. Thankfully, this didn’t perturb me, as I couldn’t either being offered on the NHS.

The nurse warned me when I came in that she may need to shave my chest, as the adhesive pads they use to attach the electrodes to the body don’t always stick to hair. She said this before I’d removed my shirt, so I must let off a musky testosterone-filled Tom Selleck-like vibe. Either that, or she was looking for an alibi for her manscaping fetish. Whatever the case, it turned out not to be necessary, which was a relief, as I didn’t want to leave all patchy. 
 
Even though it was completely painless, I couldn’t help but be a little tense. The more I became aware of this the more anxious I got; so much so, that I was worried I would scupper my readings. I tried to ease my mind by focusing on the Mr Men poster on the wall to my right, but it didn’t work, as it was just too busy; it was like a metaphor for the planet’s escalating population, though I may have been over-thinking it. At least I wasn't made to run on a treadmill, like Homer in The X-Files episode of The Simpsons; I wouldn't have wanted to mesmerise the nurse with my undulations.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

My Naked Face.


It was inevitable that I’d briefly experiment with a tache when I shaved off my beard this morning.

I looked like a gimp, as you’d expect. Thankfully, no-one saw me, as I was alone in the bathroom at the time (a place where I seldom have an audience). I hadn’t intended to remove the beard at first, just tidy it up, until intrigue got the better of me; after a while, you start to wonder what’s lurking beneath. In my case, it was just my face, which was grimly predictable.

I’m could never pull off a moustache (not literally), even as a Movember-inspired novelty; I just don’t get the below-nose coverage. Not that they’re a good look, unless you’re Selleck, Boycie or a Pepper-era Lennon. That's the only lip-warmer I’d flirt with, if Rufus Hound hadn’t got there first. In fact, I tried it today. I’ll let you into a secret: it looked shit.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Calling Doctor Sleep; Get Up Now (Wake Up Now).


I finished reading a novel this morning that has had me gripped for weeks. That book was Doctor Sleep; the sequel to Stephen King’s never-see-topiary-the-same-way-again horror classic, The Shining. 

Until a month ago, I hadn’t read one of his books for years. I’d assumed they were just for teenagers; how wrong could I be? They're not Point Horrors by a long chalk. I resumed my love for his work with the appropriately titled ‘Revival’, which I withdrew from the library on a whim. A few weeks before this, my wife asked me if I fancied reading the follow-up to The Shining, and I said that I didn’t. I then saw it in the library when I was at a loss for book, and thought ‘Sod it’ – so sod it, I did.

Latter-day sequels are best approached with caution, particularly when the original is highly regarded; Blues Brothers 2000, The Green Green Grass and Still Open All Hours spring to mind. At least Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan nearly saw the demise of the sleazy, bad-accented Chekov, thanks to a slug in the ear canal from a big-haired Ricardo Montalban…but I digress. Doctor Sleep had none of these faults. It was the definition of a page-turner.

I put it down for the final time today (except for when I take it back to the library) to find my cat staring at me from across the room. If you’ve read it, you’ll know why this unnerved me. As long as I stay away from room 217, I should be all right.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Deathtop Computer.


Nothing starts the day better than receiving a cheery email.


Stumbling across this as I scrolled through my mobile inbox yesterday with a bowl of Sainsbury's Wholewheat Biscuits in one hand and a cat on my lap (God knows how it got there, as don't own any pets) put a spring in my step that lasted until bedtime. "Oh yes, of course," I said to myself, "I'm going to die, and something will have to be done with my remains. But would I prefer to decompose over an extended period, or be burnt to a crisp?" 

I’m glad I wasn’t eating toast.

I'd like to think that I'm a realist. I'm also not particularly squeamish. Perhaps society would be better prepared to face mortality - and the inevitable admin that comes with shuffling off of it - if we didn't sweep these thoughts under the carpet. How will my family know I'd like my corpse to be fired from a cannon into the barrel of a second bigger cannon, if I don't tell them? There are only so many brochures on heavy artillery you can leave about the house without irritating your wife – and there’s still no guarantee she’ll get the hint.

Hopefully I’ll get an email tomorrow with the subject line ‘Afterlife or Oblivion?’

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

I Want You, Back.


The model of a spine in my Chiropractors’ window is lit throughout the night.

(I’m referring to their business and not their personal address, hence the position of the apostrophe.)

I discovered this piece of backbone-based trivia whilst on the bus yesterday evening. By the time I zoomed past, the shop was shut and all was dark, save the spinal column window display, which was rendered beautifully visible, thanks to a strategically positioned lamp. It stood there like a vertebral version of a Barbers’ pole, hoping to encourage business. Only passing arthropods would feel left out.

You might think this was a waste of electricity, but I don’t. The world starts to look very dingy in mid-January when the Christmas decorations come down. Yawning spaces appear in front rooms, where trees once stood. Streets that felt safer after midnight, thanks to festive illuminations, revert to their usual streetlampless, pitch-black, stabby, council-cutbacks-lead-to-fear-filled selves. In light of this New Year bleakness, who’d begrudge a blazing dorsum? Sorry: this morning, I swallowed a thesaurus.


University Challenged: Volume Six (11.01.16)


For me, no Monday would be complete without a spot of Twitter bitching about the teams competing in that night's University Challenge. It’s my least appealing characteristic, second to the features sprouting from the front side of my head.

I’d been unable to luxuriate in my predilection for student-contestant unpleasantness for few weeks, due to BBC2 airing a handful of Celebrity UC specials; those quasi-famous participants weren’t good fodder. This week, I was back with a vengeance. See below for Monday's posts; they weren't big or clever.



8:08pm: Queen's Belfast's Mallon could kill you with one look.

8:09pm: Paxman, channelling Alan Partridge. #Moribund

8:10pm: Clegg and Russell look like children dressed as the middle-aged.

8:11pm: Sowood nearly burst while saying "Pulsar".

8:13pm: Mallon drank from the wrong grail in The Last Crusade.

8:15pm: Bon Jovi? BON JOVI?!

8:17pm: The day Russell grows anything approaching facial hair, I'll eat my hat.

8:20pm: St John's Clegg.



8:21pm: Ruddy Shimmins sounds like a censored swear.

8:24pm: After the show, Mallon punished the rest of his team for every incorrect answer, in his sex basement.

8:28pm: Just when you've recovered from the irritation of being subjected to a team-member's face, they cut to another.

    Monday, 11 January 2016

    Bye Bye Spaceboy.

    Like the rest of the music-loving planet, I was shocked to wake up to the news that David Bowie was dead.

    It didn’t and still doesn’t compute. I had no reason to think he was less mortal than the rest of us, yet somehow, irrationally, I almost believed that he was. It wasn’t just his breakthrough early-70s hits and those accompanying videos / TOTP / Old Grey Whistle Test performances that made him seem otherworldly; it was also his face. No-one had looked or sounded that way before him, and it’s a fair to say that no-one will again.

    I can't imagine anyone not respecting him for what he did. As a Beatles fan, I’m used to people taking the devil’s advocate route and saying they were overrated; contradicting a generally perceived opinion is an easy card to play. But not with David Jones. His constant reinvention and reinvigoration - combined with his recent dodging of the limelight - created a persona it’s impossible to knock. He even managed to rise above the soulless 1980s (and those questionably tight trousers in Labyrinth) relatively unscathed, and there aren’t many musical artists that can say that.

    Personally, I’ll always associate his songs with Mostly Comedy, as his '1969/1974 Best Of' compilation has been the interval house music at nearly every gig we’ve run. Somehow, it never got boring; you simply can’t apply that adjective to the man.

    One of the first things I did on hearing the news was listen to his 2013 comeback single, ‘Where Are We Now?’. It gave me goosebumps. I would suggest doing the same when you get the chance, and then cheering yourself up by flicking through this.

    Major Tom was right. The stars do look very different today. Bye bye spaceboy. Safe flight.

    Sunday, 10 January 2016

    High-whattage.

    I discovered today, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it's best to not attempt to sing a top Ab   Immediately after a large fried breakfast.

    (After eating the fry-up, I mean; it hadn't just sung an Ab itself.)

    The reason for the post-meal screech was I'd decided to pop to the office to record the jingles for next week's SG1 Radio show after a spot of petit déjeuner (French) with my wife (English). While the timing wasn't perfect, it was still easier than last week's 'session', when I had barely recovered from losing my voice; it seems my vocal range is less hindered by a stodge-coated gullet.

    (Pleasing image.) 

    The theme for next week's show is 'WHAT?!', in the sense that we'll be discussing the things we find ridiculous, or don't understand. While I like the topic, I hadn't accounted for how hard it would be to sing the word 'what' twice in quick succession, without the second one sounding like 'twat'. I decided to make the most of this accidental boon; in a two-hour radio show, you create your humour where you can.

    The station repeated last week's episode tonight, as we were unable to find a time this week when the three of us were all available to record a new one. I'm looking forward to doing it; if all else fails, we'll throw in a few extra 'twats'. With three already hosting the show, I'm sure that no-one will notice.

    Saturday, 9 January 2016

    The Handy Handheld Handyman.


    Yesterday, my dad - being the technical genius he is - fixed one of Doggett & Ephgrave’s most important pieces of kit: our slide-show remote.

    Sexy beast.


    The catchily-named Logitech R-R0001 2.4 Ghz Cordless Presenter has been an invaluable, yet silent companion to our live work since we started using a projector to do our two-man stand-up back in 2008. It’s been on stage with us at the Edinburgh, Brighton, Camden and Leicester Festivals, during all of our Leicester Square Theatre dates (and a fair few at The Soho Theatre), plus gigs at various other London venues (including the 100 Club), in Hitchin – and in the lighting boxes of every theatre our musical show ‘Glad All Over!: A Sixties Celebration’ took in during its bijou tour; the little battery-powered chappie gets about.

    Our live act revolves around a Keynote presentation running on an off-stage computer, that I control from the stage with the remote in my left hand, while I hold my mic in my right. I’ve put the specifics on record to ensure accuracy if they ever make a Doggett & Ephgrave biopic. Not if: when.

    Our remote was reliable until early last year, when it would occasionally fail to trigger the slide-show. It then died during my solo run in Brighton in May. We looked into replacing it to discover it had been discontinued, and that all later models didn't have a volume control, which was essential to our act. Without it, I can't adjust the level of the audiovisual clips that regularly feature in our material. Functioning versions of our original remote now sell on Amazon for over £300.

    (I bet you're hooked on every word.)

    We’ve tried various brands since, but none live up to the job; they either don't have the range or the reliability. I was starting to panic, until my dad stepped in with his soldering iron to repair the first one. This means we can eke out the Star Trek Porn Letter for another decade; the audience's loss is our gain.