Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Comedy in a Vacuum.

Today was a classic 'me day'. 

The big event was the preview I had booked in at The Actors' Temple on Warren Street; a preview I ended up having to cancel as I only had one person booked in. Some people can barely scrape an audience in double figures; I barely get more than just myself. To be fair, it's often the way with Edinburgh previews; there are so many going on that the market is saturated, and mine didn't have the intrigue of being part of a double bill that could draw in more than one fan base (I use the phrase 'fan base' very loosely). 

I knew the state of the numbers earlier on the day, but went through the motions, in case they picked up. The biggest frustration was I had to find a way to carry all of the equipment I needed for it on the train by myself (my wife brought things with her as well when she joined me, but she couldn't leave for London until she finished work). It wasn't so much thaqt the equipment specific to the show that was the problem; more that I had to take sound equipment too, as the venue doesn't have a P.A. 

Glyn's and my techie friend extraordinaire Paul had agreed to loan me a speaker to plumb the mic and the audio from the slideshow into, which he'd left on a trolley at The Sun Hotel for me to pick up, but when I went to collect it, I soon realised there was no way on God's Earth I'd be able to fit it into a taxi, let alone drag it along with everything else. So, in the end, I had no choice but to go to the local electronics shop and buy an emergency guitar amp to take in its place. Thankfully, I'm made of money. 

(Spot the sarcasm.)

Though I didn't have a show, the evening wasn't wasted, expensive though it was. I did a run at the venue while my wife took a few notes (which I haven't heard yet: watch this space). It may have ended up being a costly and awkward-to-get-to rehearsal, but it was useful to do. I still think it would work better with an audience. 

King of Admin.

When you regularly organise shows like I do, far too much of your time is taken up with logistics.

Such was the case for me today, and primarily tonight. I have a preview in London tomorrow that I organised, booked and promoted myself at a venue I’ve worked at previously, which doesn’t have much of a tech set-up. Consequently, I’m taking most of the gear there myself. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I had someone coming with me to share the load, but sadly, a couple of people who’d originally been hoping to do this had to pull out unavoidably. As a result, I spent most of this evening with my brain zoned out, as I tried to figure out a feasible way of carrying everything I need on my own in one go; if only I possessed a pit pony.

Part of the reason for my brain freeze was due to spending a long day split between rehearsing, organising, promoting, procrastinating…and other words that end with ‘ing’. It can be hard to multi-task with such little assistance, as in an ideal world, you’d shoulder the burden by handing over the admin work to someone else, so you could prioritise on the show's content; I long for the day when I can do this.

Thankfully, I (sort of) got there in the end, thanks to the help of my unofficial unpaid assistant: my wife. Without wishing to appear cloying, I couldn’t do it without her; I wonder if she’d consider being my understudy too? She probably be funnier.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Random Acts of Kindness and Encouragement.

I was feeling a little forlorn about trying to drum up interest - and an audience - for Wednesday's preview, and all the admin that goes with it, until I received a nice email from someone I'd invited, expressing frustration that they couldn't come. 

This might sound like a standard response, if it weren't for the fact that this person -  who shall remain nameless - is of a high enough profile / doesn't know me that well to feel obliged to reply, yet they still did, and were really lovely in the process. They only said a few words, but it was still enough to make me feel more positive about what I was doing; particularly after a challenging day. 

Working on your own can feel like a uphill slog. You fluctuate between feeling good about what you're doing and being generally unenthused by it. You have to constantly keep yourself in check, while splitting your time between writing, promoting, rehearsing, improving and keeping faith in what you're doing when faced with more than your fair share of obstacles, rejection and disinterest. With this backdrop, you'd be justified in giving in, if it weren't for the odd bit of kind encouragement here or there. A few nice words can turn everything around. So, I'd like to thank this secret person for their well-timed email; it really made a difference. 

(Just to clarify, it wasn't Billy Pearce.) 

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Who's Asking?

Today, in lieu of my usual style of blog post, I thought I'd share a written interview I completed today to promote my Edinburgh show. It will no doubt crop up online again in edited form, but below you'll find the unexpurgated version; it's utter filth.

(I bet that roused your interest.)
What was the inspiration for this performance?

Most of the material started out in my daily blog, which I began three years ago, after being advised by the workaholic stand-up Richard Herring in an interview recorded for my double act’s podcast that it was a good way to hone your craft. Doing this helped me sidestep overthinking what to talk about, and gave me a database to call on when I’m stuck for ideas. It stands as an embarrassing record of the slapstick that haunts my existence; I’m like flypaper for mishaps.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

I eyeballed myself in the mirror Robert-De-Niro-in-Taxi-Driver-style and asked if I wanted to do it. Apparently, I did. Working solo is a relatively new experience for me. I’ve been half of the comic duo Doggett & Ephgrave for a decade, and before that, I was in a band. I wrote most of the songs, but was able to hide this fact by surrounding myself with other band members, which was cunning on my part.

These days, I rely on my wife and my double act partner (who aren’t one and the same) for feedback. I have a friend who’ll often travel with me when I’m gigging and give me notes; other than that, I get my critique from my audience. In a ‘whether they laugh’ sense; I don’t need them shouting out improvements.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’d wanted to perform in some form or other since I was a kid. My mum remembers losing me on a childhood holiday, only to eventually track me down entertaining an ad hoc audience I’d pulled together from the other kids staying at the camp; I was an irritating little git.

I wanted to be a magician initially. I was a huge fan of the Paul Daniels Magic Show and spent most of my time practising tricks. Daniels lit the touchpaper for me becoming a performer. I was lucky enough to get the chance to tell him this when he played my club Mostly Comedy late last year. He was still at the top of his game. It’s such a shame he’s no longer with us.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m writing sketches or scripts with my partner, it’s more rigid and tied to what’s on the page. Stand-up is a lot more fluid. Some of the stuff I say has never been written down; so much so that it can be easy to forget the content, if you have a long break between shows. Thank God for my phone’s audio recording facility.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Spiritual enlightenment. That, or they’ll laugh a bit.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I’m not averse to bribery or threats. Other than that, I tried to make it funny.

As I mentioned previously, much of the content began as a blog post. I then went back to it at a later date and riffed it to myself, to see how it sounded out loud. I might bring the topic up on my double act’s radio show; trying to make Glyn laugh at it. Finally, I’d test it at new material gigs or at my comedy club, before eventually stringing it into a show; then I added pyrotechnics to spice things up a bit.

(NB There are no pyrotechnics.)

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I see it as a mix of stand-up, slides and story telling, with a lot of self-deprecation thrown in. I reckon it could translate into a contemporary dance; excuse me while I locate my leotard.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Reading Away.

Today, I went into my favourite bookshop Eric T Moore for the last time, before it closes for good tomorrow.

I always told myself that if it shut up shop (so to speak) I’d be inconsolable. It's a wonderful place, full of nooks and crannies in which you could lose yourself for hours if you so wished. It has an amazingly broad stock, with just about everything you could wish for. I went there most when I was at drama school across the road, and whenever I did, I’d always find the play or reference book I was looking for. It has an air of Mr Benn’s shop about it, in that it feels a little magic. Or at least it did, until the magic ran out.

When I visited it today, many of the shelves were already bare, with taped-up boxes strewn about the place, ready for the move. Thankfully, it’s not closing entirely, as it will still exist as an online venture, but while this offers some small consolation, it won’t be the same as browsing in person. It’s less tangible for one; I’ll miss the smell of the books, which was comforting in its own way.

A lot of my favourite Hitchin businesses are closing at the moment. Soon, there'll be nowhere left to go. The bookshop is the most shocking loss of all. it's been there since 1965, totting up fifty-one years, which is impressive. It’s a shame that over half a century later it will be turned into a house. It will be a nice house, admittedly, but that isn’t a reason to celebrate. At least it’s presumably listed, which is good.

I said goodbye to the proprietor today, and told her how much I’d miss the shop. She told me how so many people had been saying lovely things. Apparently, one couple had their first date there. That’s pretty romantic. It just goes to show what books can do.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Out in the Wilderness.

From my personal political standpoint, today was a very depressing day. 

I got home from packing up Mostly Comedy late last night, shattered by the events of the day; so much so that I barely remember writing my blog, as I was falling asleep as I did it. Literally; I woke up on my sofa at 5am, with my cat on my lap and a crick in my neck - but no sooner had I checked the BBC News website and seen the lay of the land Re. the Referendum than I knew I wouldn't get back to sleep easily. The political landscape had changed in a day; the deal that was struck six years before my birth was unravelling: Britain was about to leave the EU. 

I watched Tuesday's BBC Referendum debate with irritation. Were we not supposed to notice the Leave campaign's decision to use the soundbite "take back control" in answer to very question?; a statement that's as vacuous as it's lacking in substance or meaning. Were we meant to be oblivious to the thin veneer between Boris Johnson's assertion that leaving the EU would make us safer and more prosperous, and his being motivated by personal political ambition? Did I have to harbour the same skewed take on immigration that much of tabloid press had been spoon-feeding us for years? Apparently yes.

I'm embarrassed by what the rest of Europe (implying we'll still be a part of it) must think of us. I'm frustrated by how the vote seems to have been loosely split between the older generation wanting out and the younger one wanting in, when it's the latter who'll be lumbered with it for longer. I don't like to start the day confronted with Farage's bullfrog-like face gurning with glee at how narrow-minded and small the UK will now be. Jobs will be lost and ties will be cut, with Scotland and Northern Ireland possibly wanting to jump ship. At least Brussels won't be able to restrict our bananas; will anyone still ship us bananas?

Happy Hitchinites.

The cheer in the room when I introduced Stewart Lee at tonight's Mostly Comedy was extraordinary. 

The people of Hitchin - or its comedy non-Tory contingent at least - fucking love him. This is evidenced by how quickly he's sold every time he's been on the bill; this time around, every ticket was gone within an hour of the event being put on sale. Understandably so, as when he's in full flight no other act could beat him; the intelligence of his delivery and his points of reference are razor sharp; it's no wonder he's so highly regarded within the comedy industry. 

Tonight's line-up was impressive all round, with Norman Lovett being our other big-hitter of the night. He complemented Stewart perfectly, thus sealing the deal of a great night. We knew when booked them on the same line-up that it would be a night to remember...and without being smug, we were right. 

Our stuff went well tonight too. We had a super-quick get-in, as there was an event in the Ballroom earlier on the day, but we (and our assistant Paul) still managed to get everything done, despite the stress of it. We resurrected the Dutch Phrase Book, which we haven't done in years...bit it still got a good reaction. All in all, it was a great night, but now I'm going to sign off; I'm too tired to write coherently.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Crimes to Music.

After over twenty years in my possession, I have to face facts: my guitar amp has been lost or stolen. 

Me and my Marshall Valvestate had a good innings. We'd been through a lot, from my earliest rhythm & lead guitar fumblings, to various incarnations of Big Day Out and beyond. It was my rehearsal companion, my vocal P.A. at small-scale gigs and - most recently - my piano stool when I didn't own a piano stool. It was also a cumbersome pain in the arse. We lost contact for a while, after I left it at a friend's house in Hove following a gig in Bognor...but we eventually had a tearful reunion. I then used it at a couple of previews of last year's stand-up show and left it at the venue because we had another date in the diary (which was eventually cancelled). I kept meaning to pick it up, didn't get around to it, and now it's vanished without a trace. Fuck it. 

It's not the venue's fault; it's mine. I should have gone to get it sooner. The staff were helpful and apologetic, but the general consensus was that someone probably helped themselves to it; I hope that carrying it gave them blisters. With a bit of luck it isn't properly earthed. So begins my acoustic period.   

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

What to Do and When to Do it?

I’m a little torn over what material to do at tomorrow’s gig, and at other shows in the coming weeks.

Today, I reminded myself of a few stories I'd workshopped last year; some of which made it into last year's show. I have a habit of forging ahead without thinking of the things I’ve written previously, that still have legs (which is a confusing image). This comes from having no guide except myself; sometimes, I don't remember what came before or whether it was good.

The problem is deciding where my attention is best served in the context of my rapidly depleting Edinburgh Fringe deadline. I’ve got stuff that worked well in Bath and Brighton this year, and stuff that worked well last year in Brighton and Camden. There are also blogs I’ve earmarked as having stand-up potential, but haven’t tried live yet. What should I look at first and what should take precedence?

I’d like to try a mix of old and half-finished new stuff at tomorrow’s New Material night, but I only have a five-minute set. It’s also the only gig I have before next week’s preview (except for Thursday’s Mostly Comedy, when I probably won’t do anything solo). On top of this, I have a routine in mind for Edinburgh that I keep cutting from previews due to overrunning that could do with shoring up. The sensible thing to do would be to include it tomorrow, but I like to take the concept of a New Material night literally. If only someone could make these decisions for me.

I know I should prioritise. I’ve got a fair few gigs in-between next week’s preview and the one booked in July, that I can use to try both the new and the much older stuff. It would be more useful to use tomorrow to iron out the story I keep cutting, so it’s better for next week. I could do with a few more gigs (and /or previews) in the short term, to make the best of my time. Anybody want me? “Have show, will travel.”

Monday, 20 June 2016

Meetings and Bookings.

This morning, I met with Glyn to plan this week's Mostly Comedy; both in an administration and a 'what will we perform at it' sense. 

We resurrected and rehearsed a piece of material that's perfect for Thursday's gig, which takes place on the day of the EU Referendum; you can't let an event like that pass without making reference to it. I won't disclose too much about what we'll be performing, in case anyone coming to the show reads this - it's nice to maintain a little mystery - but it's suitably European in theme. We watched a video of the material, recorded at one of the first Mostly Comedys before we ran it over ourselves. it was nice to rediscover some funny lines and moments we'd forgotten about, and while it's not new to us, it will be new to most of the audience. That's the best we can manage at the moment, when we don't have time to come up with anything else. 

After Glyn left the office, I set to work at finalising dates at an additional venue we'll be taking on in the new year, and sent some emails chasing up a few potential line-ups. While it was good to get all of this done, I had hoped to spend some of the time looking at stuff for Edinburgh. At least things are looking promising for Mostly in the coming months; everything I did today was still positive. I also booked in another solo gig in July, so all in all it was pretty productive. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

R.E.[T.V.] M.

Worryingly, I seem to have reached the point in my life where I regularly fall asleep while watching television of an evening. 

This isn't a good thing; if anything, it's a sign of advancing age, I never did this in my twenties, so what's changed? Am I more active during the day or am I having later nights? I'd attempt to solve this quandary, if it weren't for the fact I'm fighting a slumber battle as we speak; my heavy eyes inspired me to write this in the first place. 

A lot of it's to do with comfort and energy. I was watching an episode of Columbo last night, and was about half way in that I started to feel the seductive pull of sleep. I changed channels to catch coverage of Lionel Richie's set at Glastonbury and was instantly fully awake; his energy and commitment cleared the fug from my head; suddenly, 'All Night Long (All Night)' had a completely different meaning.

This near-narcolepsy reminds me of when I used to play the guitar at my dad's house as a kid. He'd ask me to play a song, and would fall asleep a few bars in, forcing me to throw in the odd loud vocal tic or aggressive strum to wake him up. I never knew my singing voice was audio chloroform until then. It's no wonder my band didn't get signed; no-one ever got to the end of our demos conscious. 

Classic Hitchcock.

Today, I went to a screening of my favourite film North By Northwest at the Prince Charles Cinema in London. 

I first watched it as a teenager; sucked in by the story when it was shown on TV late one night, and having to stay up until the end. It's a masterpiece of tight screenwriting that's as witty as it is gripping; subtly acted by an exceptional cast under the eye of an iconic director. Cary Grant gives a pitch-perfect performance that predates the suaveness of Bond, except his wisecracks are actually funny; even if he sounds alarmingly like Tony Curtis' impression of him in Some Like it Hot. 

It doesn't matter how many times I see the film, it's twists, turns and set-pieces are still exciting; whether you're watching the characters stumble around the faces of Mount Rushmore or watching planes dust crops where there ain't no crops. The only weak bit is the final sequence, which suddenly cuts from Eve Marie Saint dangling from a mountain to her being pulled into a train compartment bed by Cary Grant; still, what's a couple of cheesy lines between friends when the rest of the script is so good. I would have loved to have been in it, if only it didn't predate me by twenty-two years. Oh well; you can't be alive for everything.  

Friday, 17 June 2016

Fancy Meeting You Here.

Today, I experienced the awkwardness of walking past the same man twice: once, as he left his house in the morning, presumably on his way to work, and once, when he returned home. 

It was a moment we both silently acknowledged. He probably thought I was staking out his property. Thank God I wasn't wearing my trusty balaclava and carrying my trusty mace; it was at home, being greased. 

We managed to pass each other on exactly the same point on the pavement, thus consolidating the weirdness. I resisted the urge to give him a high-five, as he didn't look the type; after all, he was wearing a gilet. Maybe tomorrow I'll put on the one I had to buy for a casting once, and give him a wink; that'll stop him trying any funny business. 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Gigs, Trains, Friends and Toast.

Tonight I did a short spot at Touching Cloth, to road-test a couple of bits and bobs of newish material to see if they work. 

As to whether they did, I'd say "probably yes", which is a good enough outcome. I kept my set loose, and if anything had too much to get across in just five minutes, but I came away from the venue feeling relaxed, which is a good indicator, particularly after a stressful week. 

I bumped into my friend Sarah on the train home, who kindly gave me a lift back to Chez Ephgrave (the place where I live). It's the second time we've stumbled across each other this week, though the first time was more special, when I came out of Waterstone's in Hitchin at the precise moment she was walking past while dialling my number on her phone. I appeared like a well-read incantation; " If you call me, me will come."

Today started with another friendly hook-up, when I met Glyn for breakfast, to discuss what we'll be doing at Mostly Comedy next week. We also popped by Hitchin Town Hall (with the Town Centre Manager in tow) so Glyn could do a recce of the venue's technical set-up, ready for a Hitchin Festival event in a few weeks. It's the first time I've been in there since the building's long, drawn-out revamp; as to whether the hall itself has been improved is up for debate, but it's a surprisingly big space, which is worth keeping in mind, in case we want to put something on there in future. 

I now plan to wind down from the day with tea, toast and an episode of The Simpsons; never let it be said that I don't know how to relax. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Posing in the Ephgraveyard.

If I ever get around to recording a solo album, this should be the cover. 

It was taken by my wife while we were out for a walk at the weekend. She's an excellent photographer, who's responsible for most of the photos Glyn and I use to promote both Mostly Comedy and ourselves - including my current headshot - yet she doesn't see her own ability. This particular picture came about as the result of a little fiddle with her phone. I like the moodiness of it, and how it manages to capture the massive gaping hole at the back of my head so perfectly; it's a wonder I'm still lucid. 

While I was joking about the album, it's a shame that I'm no longer making music. I can't remember when I last picked up my guitar other than to move it, which is ridiculous when what I did with it used to define me. My focus has shifted away and I wonder if it will one day shift back. 

I had a small pang for playing in a band whilst watching a Latin group at a gig last week. It's not a style of music that interests me, but I found myself inevitably drawn to the way the bassist had locked with the drumbeat and for a moment, I wished that bassist was me. It's not like it isn't something I've done countless times myself - it had got to the point that I'd gigged so much, and had scored out so many bass, guitar or piano parts to play once at some uninspiring event or other for next-to-no money - but to play with a band you connect with is still a great feeling. It's instinctive. I got the music in me, man...or it could be just wind. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Fresh Metal.

I'm being overwhelmed by Smint tins. 

For whatever reason, Smints are my present mint of choice. Extra Strong Mints are overrated - they're not all that strong - and Polos are old hat, yet the Smint has sufficient taste and potency to tick my breath-freshening box (singular). 

A major deciding factor in my current brand preference, if I'm honest, is the packaging: Smints come in a sturdy tin that you feel you should keep for future use, once the contents are gone; throwing it away would be a crime against the planet, yet recycling doesn't seem to be an option. So, what happens when you get through as many mints in a week as me? You end up with a pile of scrap metal on your coffee table, that's what; my cat can't move for clinking. 

There must be something I can use them for, though I can't for the life of me think what. Perhaps I could keep plectrums in them, or small change, or use them to put together and store small-scale sewing kit, though I'd have to mark each tin so I knew what was in it. It sounds like a lot of work. If only they sold refills, it wouldn't be such a waste. This is the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Not The Bayeux One.

The Carole King album Tapestry has been my 'getting-ready-in-the-morning' soundtrack for the past few weeks. 

It's been a favourite album ever since I was a student, which makes for a pleasantly gentle way to usher in the start of a day. I've always been a fan of a well-crafted song, which is something of a Carole King hallmark, ever since she started writing with her first husband in the early Sixties. Tapestry may be an unimaginative choice for a favourite LP, as it suggests I haven't delved that far into her career, but it's still an undoubted classic; anything with '(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman', 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?' and 'You've Got A Friend' on it can't really fail; if nothing else, it proves she likes writing songs with long titles. 

Next month, she's set to perform the album live in its entirety for the first time at a gig in Hyde Park, which I would have loved to have gone to, if it weren't for the expense; I can't justify paying £100-ish to be nowhere near the action. I may as well just play the CD through a PA while I listen from the next room. It's a shame I can't afford it; would a Kickstarter campaign be viable option? 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Ecclesiastical Wildness.

It was great to finally cross off watching Kim Wilde sing Kids in America in a church from my bucket list today. 

She was performing alongside her brother Ricky at St Mary's in Hitchin, as part of a scaled down version of the town's annual music festival Rhythms of the World, which celebrates its 25th birthday this year - but then, who isn't?

Theirs was the shortest set of the night, but the most anticipated; not least by me, who last saw Ricky Wilde when my old band Big Day Out recorded a demo at his studio in Knebworth eighteen years ago (I think I've got the numbers right). He championed us at the time, having judged us the winners of a local Battle of the Bands, and swore he'd get us a record deal, yet for some bizare reason we decided to opt for one of my dad's friends from work as a manager instead; recording our best songs at a different studio before going to Wilde's, where we worked on lesser material. It's fair to say that we were idiots. 

Kim and Ricky were only on for fifteen minutes which was a shame, as I'd have happily watched them play for much longer. They closed with their biggest hit, with us inevitably joined in with "Woah-oh"s. I've mentioned before that the song's a bit of a guilty pleasure, though I don't know why I felt embarrassed by it; there's nothing wrong with a good pop song, and it's a cracker.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Appetite For Destruction.

I started the day by knocking a framed poster that's been up in my kitchen since I moved in eleven years ago off the wall with the legs of my ironing board, smashing the glass and sending it flying everywhere

(My life is all thrills.)

It was galling to start the morning with such catastrophic slapstick. It may sound low-level to you, but the sound of shattering glass and the subsequent sweeping up (with my cat at my feet) was too much for a man who'd only just woken up. It didn't bode well for the rest of the day. 

Thankfully, it wasn't a sign of things to come. After cleaning up the Kitchen Incident (Guns N' Roses album title?), I walked / ran to Hitchin station, to get the train into London for a casting. I arrived at the suite in good time, so I decided to set up camp on a bench outside, to eat my lunch before I went in. My actor friend Adam Astill suddenly appeared next to me while I was mid-banana, surprising me and then reassuring me about the nature of the casting, which he'd been in for himself. It's always nice to see a friendly face. 

The audition went well enough for me to feel I'd satiated the demons of my early-morning ornament distruction, but didn't inspire me enough to rescue the remains of the frame that slipped behind the recycling bin; that's a job for Future David and not for me. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Garden City Comedy.

Tonight, I moseyed - yes: "moseyed" - along to watch a couple of Edinburgh previews performed as part of a new weekly comedy venture run by the excellent illustrator and poet Mushybees at the Dot to Dot gallery in Letchworth; how's that for a long and winding sentence?

I had a great time. The evening started in a slightly surreal way, after meeting with our IYIE co-host Stephen outside the station, when we walked into town to get something to eat at the Cultiva Lounge; a bar with an artsy, opium den air, that happens to be housed at the site of a former Argos, where I worked as a cash-strapped teenager. 

(They strapped me with cash.)

"That was where the stock room used to be," I said to Stephen (and to the guy behind the bar), "and there used to be an old-fashioned lift there at the back". 

Steve was interested; the barman looked bemused, wondering why I felt the need to tell him in the first place. Didn't he care that I worked there nearly twenty years ago? Are we living in the future?

The venue - a lovely little art gallery on The Wynd - made for a comfy low-fi place for a gig. The audience were small, but receptive, and the shows were great. I felt self-conscious at first - when don't I? - but a glass of red wine in the interval eased me in.

With a bit of luck, the gig will continue, and with a little more luck, I'll do a preview there myself in a few weeks. I wish Mushybees the best with the venture; now, I intend to wind down with a cup of tea and look over a script for a casting tomorrow; it's been a while. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

On Broadway.

Today, Glyn and I went to a meeting to discuss our involvement in the gala performance that's set to launch the adaptation of the Broadway Cinema in Letchworth to a purpose-built theatre space. 

This is something that's been on the cards for us for a couple of months now, since the venue's creative programmer got in touch to express interest in what we do, and in bringing Mostly Comedy to Letchworth - as well as obviously continuing our Hitchin dates - in the New Year. That, however, is part of the long game; initially, the theatre is concerned with putting together a memorable show to kick off their refurbishment, and to mark the 80th Anniversary of the cinema itself. 

Today, the team assisting with production met to discuss ideas and pool contacts. We've already booked two high profile comics to be part of our chunk of the show, which will hopefully give a flavour of what Mostly Comedy is about, should it become part of the theatre's programme. Outside of that, there are a lot of big names and grand ideas that will be amongst the night's line-up; today was just a chance for us all to meet and to touch base as to what the whole thing will be about. 

It should be good, as there's a lot of talent involved (with us making up the numbers). It will be nice to be a part of it. We also got a free lunch out of it today, which was not to be sniffed at. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

You've Got A (Few) Friend(s).

Today, was a day of sociability, and a nice break from the frustration of the past few weeks. 

I met with my friend Rob in the morning, who's working as a DJ for a station in Milton Keynes, and who'll drop by Hitchin on the way when he can, for a coffee and a catch-up. He's one of those people I don't get to see as much as I'd like but, when I do, we pick up where we left off.

We know each other through music, having met when working together on the Buddy Holly show I used to do, on my second year of doing it. Rob played Buddy before me, then went into 'The Mousetrap' in town the year I took over (I'm talking Agatha Christie; not pest control or Linford), meaning I missed him the first time around. When he returned, he took the rhythm guitar / emcee role (enjoying the break from the big glasses, I think), and our mutual interest in rock 'n' roll and sixties music - plus our shared sense of humour - meant we soon connected on the road; then Glyn joined the team as Tour Manager, with the same sense of humour, thus sealing the deal. The three of us set up the actor / muso show 'Glad All Over!: A Sixties Celebration' a few years later, trying to right all the wrongs we'd seen on other tours - and if it weren't for other commitments, finances, and our waning interest in that type of work, we'd probably still be doing it. 

Speaking of Glyn, we bumped into him as Rob was heading off, and had a super-quick catch-up. He came in on the tail-end of a conversation, which was probably confusing, but I'm sure the three of us will get around a table soon for a proper natter; I hate the word 'natter', but it's late, so it'll do.

Following that, I briefly met with Glyn's and my IYIE co-host Stephen, so he could fill me in on some news. I went home, knowing I'd hadn't done any of the work I'd meant to do and for once, not feeling guilty about it. All in all, it was a good day; not a good blog, but a good day nevertheless. 

Brand's Hatch.

I thought Jo Brand’s recent BBC4 sitcom Going Forward was pitch-perfect.

I have a penchant for comedy that’s naturalistic and bleak; there’s something strangely uplifting about finding humour where it shouldn’t naturally be. Life is frequently framed by awkwardness and mundanity (or mine is, at least) - even at its worst moments; if Eric Idle can be optimistic whilst being crucified then so can we.

I watched it with a tinge of jealously, as it’s something I would have loved to be in. It was full of understated, well-observed, laugh-out-loud moments; much like its predecessor Moving On, which is worth digging out if you haven’t seen it. That’s provided you don’t mind watching something that’s not afraid to be dark; this probably says a lot about my mindset.

The Reluctant Listener.

I didn’t intend to listen to tonight’s episode of In Your Inner Ear as, to be honest, I was a little sick of my own voice and thought processes (I’d spent a few hours, trying - and failing - to write), but I’m glad I did, as it cheered me up.

That wasn’t meant to sound arrogant. What I enjoyed was hearing back the banter from my two favourite funny friends (glib) Glyn and Stephen, and the sense that, however unplanned it may be, it comes out sounding like a show.

I’m often nervous before the programme airs, because I haven’t heard it. We record it in real time in a two-hour block, as the station no longer supports a live broadcast, with no time to do a retake, so there’s always a risk that it might be shit. It’s yet to be that, but watch this space:

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My favourite part of tonight’s show was the least prepared bit: me, questioning Glyn on his favourite liquid and receptacle to carry it and the random conversation that ensued. It was good to hear when I’ve been struggling to write and over-thinking every sentence: sometimes, when you just say stuff, it just works.

Friday, 3 June 2016

My Little Furry Friend.

Today, I was sad to learn that a friend's cat who I'd been popping by to feed and keep company for most of the week died last night.

Inevitably, my first thought was 'was it my fault?'. I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, and there was no suggestion that the owner thought I had, but I still couldn't help but feel responsible. The cat had a heart condition for which she received medicine every day (cunningly hidden in a bowl of tuna), which she knocked back all week like a little trouper. Her twin sister who lived with her is slightly more predisposed to be friendly, but if you settled on the sofa and ignored her she'd eventually come to you, and roll onto her back for purry tummy tickles; I'm much the same myself.

It's such a shame that she's gone. I hope her sister won't be too lonely or confused and her owner isn't too upset. On writing this while travelling on the tube, I absent-mindedly flicked a cat-hair from my jacket, before realising there was a 50% chance it was hers; why is life so bittersweet?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Everybody Hurts, Sometimes.

Today saw my first visit to Winchester, since I injured myself there twelve years ago, while rehearsing for panto at the Theatre Royal. As ailments go, it was pretty niche: I slipped a disc in my back while doing a one-man Chinese Dragon dance. Who hasn't done this? EVERYONE.

Thankfully, today was cartilaginous disc displacement-free (at time of going to press). It felt good to satiate the demon (not a euphemism). While the method with with I sustained the injury was amusing, it was terrifying at the time, as I wasn't sure how badly I'd hurt myself. I could barely stand, let alone walk, and spent the rest of the day laying on the rehearsal room floor in agony, until someone could take me to A&E. 

Once we'd ascertained the nature of my injury, I stayed on in Winchester until the day before the show opened, receiving regular physio in the hope I'd be fit enough to do the run, until the director decided at the eleventh hour (quite rightly) that it would be too much of a risk. I went home with my tail between my legs - literally: I was playing the part of Ratty - with my car seat reclined at a 45• angle, as I couldn't get in any other way. It was a career low-point. 

...but enough of past ailments. I was in town today to do a gig at the club Pin Drop Comedy. The crowd were small but lovely, and the host and other acts were lovely too. I only stayed until the end of the first half, as the journey back is epic - I'm in the midst of it as we speak - but it was worth the effort. I'd happily return; just don't ask me to throw any Oriental shapes.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

IYIE #28

Tonight, we recorded this weekend's episode of In Your Inner Ear, reaching the rather non-specific milestone of Show Twenty-Eight.

It didn't feel as smooth as last week's show to my mind, but I'll reserve judgement until I hear it back. The recording sped by, so that's a good sign. There were a few amusing moments now I think back, so maybe I'm being too hard on it; we'll find out on Sunday when it goes out. 

The problem with getting this many shows in is you start to question whether you've already told the stories you offer up. We've made a vague note of what was discussed when, but it's not straightforward to cross-reference. The topics we chose are also fairly generic and often variations on a theme, so a few tales are likely to come up more than once.

One thing you can always rely on is the dubious nature of the song Glyn chooses for the infamous segment Glyn's Corner. This week's selection was by Savage Garden; I forget the title. Still, I seem to remember their back catalogue being much-of-a-muchness; by commenting on this I'm out of my comfort zone if I'm honest. I can't separate them from Soundgarden in my mind; well, I can, I just refuse to.