Where I’ve been

September 1, 2009

I am now unemployed. My last day of work was August 17th. Rather than sit about burping I have managed, somehow, to be busy. I’ve done a gig, two days of filming in London, moved into a new room at home, spent a week at the Dartington Summer School, witnessed multiple tantrums from a 4-year old in Totnes and broken my phone.

Moving into a new room doesn’t sound particularly strenuous, but it did involve some unsettling experiences. I had to look under my bed for one thing. There I found a long-lost, nightmarish, world; a jungle of spider webs, mouldy socks, an unfinished cup of tea from February and an invoice for £77.83. Something bit me as I thrust an arm through this horrible debris to grab my bicycle pump.

It also took an astonishingly long time to move, especially as I got distracted very easily. My new room is up a flight of stairs and I decided to move all my stuff up on August 21st, just as Stuart Broad began to slice through the Australian first innings. This was such exciting cricket that I had to stop and listen to it and, having moved a metronome, my wooden giraffe and some slippers, I gave up and went to watch the cricket in the pub.

It is September 1st now, and most of the junk has finally moved upstairs. I’ve tried to order it nicely, but am perturbed by the presence of a ‘Tuffers’ Ashes’ DVD next to a Chet Baker CD. Where on earth am I going to put my coconut? Should my collection of Empire magazines be sorted in a chronological order? Sigh…this is harder than work.


In between moving, I spent an intense, but mightily enjoyable week with the Trinity Chamber Choir in Dartington for the Summer School. Set in the grounds of a beautiful Tudor Estate, the Summer School holds masterclasses, concerts and workshops every summer. The place is filled with musicians young and old, singer and instrumentalist, professional and amateur, sane and severely loopy. The grounds of the estate are wonderful. If you walk through the gardens you will find stone steps leading to woodland, lawns, fountains, Japanese gardens and a Henry Moore sculpture.

Staying in the slightly dilapidated ‘Foxhole’ accommodation (student rooms next to a cricket field) I walked past fields of corn and through the gardens every morning for Main Choir rehearsal at 9.15. Then it was two further two-hour sessions; one for the Trinity Chamber Choir rehearsal (a group of singers from Trinity College, London plus me and other ringers) and a conducting workshop (with the Trinity choir as guinea pigs). It was exhausting but immensely satisfying and when finished, with a pint of beer and some Burts crisps (the finest), I would sink into a deckchair and look over the Devon countryside.

One of the great things about Dartington is that it is full of slightly mad musicians lugging around instruments, singing on the lawns and bitching about conductors. At one point, a stereotypical brass player joined our group. He unzipped a small rucksack and pulled out several bottles of beer and wine and case of cigars. He became known as ‘Booze Bag’ and when not parping out notes from his trombone, was seen swaying in and around the pub or a party, before declaring in a voice entirely devoid of consonants that he had to walk home (several miles away). Somehow he managed it every night without serious injury.

Other characters included ‘Old Father Time’, an ancient, tiny, bearded, hunched-back man who shuffled around wearing sport shirts. One day he was Ryan Giggs at Manchester United, the next he was Simone, but I’ve never seen a figure less likely to be able to run, let alone be a sportsman. A large, mad Dutch woman fished out coins from the fountain to pay for her coffee. My favourite character was a white-haired gentleman who ran the music shop, where he sold music scores, books and Imperial Leather soap.

One morning, as my great friend O-J and I were climbing the hill on the way to choir, he drove past in a large people-carrier. Seeing us he stopped and wound the window down. He offered us a lift in the most fantastic way, by asking; ‘are you content to walk?’ We climbed into the back where there were no seats and sitting cross-legged, clung onto the sides as he nearly crashed into an oncoming vehicle. Eventually, as he neared the car park, he stalled. ‘We appear to have stalled; might as well get out here’.

Whilst telling the other singers about this little adventure, it became clear that ‘are you content to walk’ would become a catchphrase of the week. Indeed, the slightly ‘old duffers’ voice we used, morphed into a character called ‘Brian’ and we spoke in this voice almost non-stop for the final few days. It is slightly intimidating being around a group of singers whom you do not know, but I think most of them embraced the idea of me talking as a doddery old man and I met some good friends.

It was a fantastic week. One evening I went to a cello recital followed by Japanese ghost stories. The concert I did with the Trinity Chamber Choir was great, and included an ace piece by Richard Rodney Bennett that had a solo octet where the first sopranos and tenors sang top Cs with fruity harmony below. It felt very weird to leave behind, as though saying goodbye to an unusual, but highly delightful world.


Without wishing to scare anyone, I plan to write long and tediously about how much I love September and Autumn. I don’t, however, love it when September rains all over the cricket. Stupid time (sorry Autumn).


The Joy of the Fringe

August 11, 2009

It is August. The football season has started, barging its way past the cricket season (which apologises meekly and raises its cap) and flopping all over the media. Whilst it is comforting to have it back in some ways – I am able to talk to taxi drivers once more – it always seems like such a shame. Like an alcoholic who has stopped drinking over the summer, discovering that life is more interesting and fun without the booze, but who lurches back onto the bottle and becomes tedious again. I’m not sure who was supposed to be the alcoholic there; me? Britain? Civilisation? You decide.

But August is really all about the Edinburgh Fringe. Every year, there are countless articles about how the festival is getting too large, too expensive and losing its charm. Well sod off; I’m sure it’s all true, but the Fringe is still a magical experience whether you’re there or just following it in the media. I went for a couple of weeks in 2005 (with a slightly woeful sketch show) and, despite being in a pretty bad state, had an amazing time and saw some fantastic shows and acts. Oh and I spotted pre-fame Alan Carr in a kebab shop.

This year, I’m going up for one night. It’s absurd, like going to Glastonbury to listen to a single song. I’m up there to do a concert. I hope to go out afterwards and catch one of the late night gigs that start about midnight. These are a collection of acts doing chunks of their show; sometimes it runs as a fairly ordinary comedy gig, sometimes something special happens…

In 2005, I went to the ‘Phat Cave’ just after midnight with a couple of friends from the show I was in. They met Jimmy Carr before going in, who was very friendly and joined them for a photograph. Inside, it was noisy, hot and the booze was flowing. I spotted Stephen K. Amos leaning against a pillar (I do a lot of ‘spotting’ when it comes to Edinburgh…it’s quite frustrating for all concerned…all my ‘spots’ tend to be slightly obscure comedians that no one else knows…they subsequently become famous and I’m made to look like a celebrity-obsessed twot)

There were some great names due to appear that night; Jimmy Carr, Demetri Martin (Beetle-haired American one-liner comic who is in Ang Lee’s new film, won the Perrier in 2004) and Tim Minchin (Aussie musical comic, won the Best Newcomer that year). Rather than all do 20-minute sets, they decided to collaborate. Carr was about to do an American chat show, so he decided to run his jokes past the audience (obviously) but also a panel of American comics including Martin and another, unknown guy (who I spotted).

He’d tell the joke and the audience would laugh. So far, so normal. But then the American comics would deconstruct it and offer better ways of telling it or perhaps a better use of American slang. It was a joy to watch. Then, having commented on Carr’s jokes, the unknown American was urged to get up and do his own set. I think Martin had gentle ribbed him for being on stage as a bit of an unknown quantity and kept telling the audience that his jokes were all about ‘airplane food’ (the epitome of hack material).

So the unknown American got to his feet eventually and the audience noise dipped as we waited, with baited breath, to see if he was funny. The atmosphere was quite tense and incredibly exciting. The American (who was a large, ungainly fellow with a likeable but slightly odd, pudgy face) began by saying that when you set up an account at the bank, they have in place a system in case you forget your password. You are allowed to create a question that is personal to you – people usually go with ‘what is your mother’s maiden name?’ or ‘what was the name of your first pet?’ – so that only you will know the answer. He decided to go with ‘how much do you weigh?’

You are then allowed to choose the answer you give to the question. He went with ‘How dare you ask me about my weight – that’s incredibly rude!!’

There was the slightest of pauses – a mini-mini-second as it all sunk in – and then the audience bellowed with appreciative laughter. It may not sound funny written down, but it was a great routine and his presence on stage with two more successful comics was assured. By the end of the night, all the acts joined together for a song, with Tim Minchin playing the piano. Suddenly, from the audience leapt Rain Pryor (daughter of legendary US black comic, Richard Pryor) to join in (she is a singer and comedienne). I hadn’t spotted her so the surprise was wonderful.

It was such an electrifying evening; the spontenaity, the big names, the sudden appearance of a fellow act, of a new guy winning over the crowd, of great gags and fun, uplifting music at the end. I staggered back to my bed at 3am feeling inspired. The Fringe is magical.

Note: the large, unknown American turned out to be Eugene Millman, the landlord in ‘Flight of the Conchords’.

I’ve just moved in with my dealer…

July 29, 2009

I haven’t written anything here for a while. My life has been just too damned interesting and action packed that I haven’t had the time. What with making sandwiches and turning lights on. And off. Drying my toes after a shower, putting stuff in bins, stretching. Simply not enough time to write.

However, coming soon to a blog near you;

1)      Recording Monteverdi Vespers with New College

–         includes hilarious ‘Roy of the Rovers’ comment

–         why there should be period singers as well as period instruments

2)      Tour to Germany, again with New College

–         how I almost missed the flight

–         drunken cricket with cleaning equipment in youth hostel

–         Bret Easton Ellis fever

3)      My mother’s 60th birthday (the big social event in Tunbridge Wells last weekend)

–         trying to explain ‘modern comedy’ to baby boomers

–         seeing my sis

4)      Why I like Hover-Flies

–         why I like them


In the meantime, I did gig #7 last night. It was probably my best one yet and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was originally planning to do it all ‘off-the-cuff’; talk to the audience, make jokes about my shirt and things in the room. However, I was shunted on last and watched as practically all the other acts chatted to the audience and, by and large, got very little humour from or out of them. I was also scared of the other acts – there seemed to be a few coming down from London who had their own websites and amusing haircuts and tons of experience. I imagined them doing ten minute sets of pure London comedy gold – cutting edge and hilarious – and so, just before the evening started, dropped all plans of improvising and decided to bring out the old material so as not to make myself look like a prat.

As it turned out, once again the best act of the first two ‘halves’ was Oxford’s very own Paul Fung. Paul looks inherently funny. Not hilarious – he has normal teeth, short hair and no weird accent – but, as my housemate said, he is ‘endearing’. He is big and broad, has a fun beard and looks like the Professor from Sliders (John Rhys Davies when not in a fez or Orc-hunting). His material is intelligent, analytical, absurd and full of subtle turns of phrases and asides. I want him to do more stand up because I think he’s really good. He will probably read this so I should also say that he isn’t perfect; he owns seasons 1 and 2 of Dawson’s Creek.

Anyway, the Londoners – those frightening immortals with their big city ways and inherent comedy faces – turned out to be a mixed bunch. Some good, some dreadful. It was good to see Iszi Lawrence do a brief set. She was on first, even before the compere (always bending the rules is Iszi) and thus played to a crowd that had not only not been warmed up, but were reluctant even to sit down.  She was okay, got some good laughs but was unremarkable in a way that was both understandable (anyone would have struggled going on first) but also a bit reassuring! I was at University with her when she started doing comedy and she seems to be doing really well. It would be good to see her perform to a lively crowd.

I went on at about 10.45pm after the previous act had played a 4-minute song on a banjo  about reading Proust on the bus. How do you follow that? By telling the same joke over and over again. During my small amount of new material, I explained how I hated those t-shirts which have jokes on them. You may find the joke funny when you first see it. You may even laugh. But that person is going to wear that ‘joke’ for the entire day (or four if he works in I.T). So it is the equivalent of being told the same joke over and over again. In case the audience couldn’t imagine that horrible thought, I did exactly that. I told them this joke;

“I just moved in with my dealer. We’ve set up a joint account”

About twenty times.

“I just moved in with my dealer. We’ve set up a joint account”

Sometimes slightly differently.

“I’m moving house. My new housemate is a drug dealer. We’ve decided to set up a joint account”

And so on.

It was the most fun I’ve had in a gig. I’d do an old routine (football percentages, BNP, getting old, guide dogs) which would go well, then say ‘I’ve…err…just moved into a new house’ and begin all over again. I’d stare at individual members of the audience and recite the joke again in monotone, or stride around the stage telling it in a jaunty fashion. It would get laughs, then silence, then a few sniggers. Breaking it up by doing the old routines worked really well. It was fun. For the first time I took the gig at just the right pace. I mumbled a bit, tripped over some of the set-ups and didn’t start especially well again, but I think it was the best yet. Plus my lovely housemates were there to see it so it was all good. Which reminds me, “I just moved in with my dealer…”

How Apeeling

July 14, 2009

My sunburn is beginning to peel. I’m having a certain amount of fun seeing how big a piece of skin I can peel off each time. I say a certain amount of fun; it’s also making me feel slightly nauseous. It reminds me of an obsession that took hold of me when I was studying GCSE French. We had these large text books which were laminated. One day, I noticed my text book had a slight tear on the cover lamination. I tore the lose bit of plastic off. Now I had a book, covered in laminated plastic, but with a small hole at the bottom.

Throughout that lesson I continued to tear bits of the plastic off, enlarging the hole so that it became a perfect square. This hole troubled me during double Geography and Latin, and by the time the next French lesson came about, I had one thing on my mind; tearing the whole sodding laminated plastic off that book. I would spend entire lessons peeling off huge swathes of the stuff whilst simultaneously telling Luke, the guy sitting next to me, about my marvellous day ‘a la plage’, my ‘dejeuner’ and the ‘discotheque’ in the evening.

I finally purged the entire front cover of its laminated prison, but it still didn’t feel right. It soon became apparent that the back cover’s lamination had to go too. So I once again wiled away the hours pulling, tearing and ripping these bits of plastic off the book. That done, I liberated the spine. Then the inside bits that overlapped.

Then Luke’s book needed doing. The front. The back. The spine. The inside bits. Tearing, ripping, destroying.

I got a B.

CRICKET: I’m still recovering from the end of the first test of the Ashes. It was an absolutely fantastic last day with Collingwood playing a classic Test cricket innings of old. He even got out at exactly the right moment in terms of the dramatic narrative of the match. Unfortunately, with the last hour and a half to go, and having followed it all day on television and radio, I had to rely on a carefully concealed mobile phone to bring me updates. I was in church singing evensong, once again cursing God that his bloody services always seem to coincide with important sporting events.

So there I was, ploughing through the Magnificat by Tallis, one eye on the conductor, the other on my phone. My right hand held the music, my left turned the pages of a hymnbook to secretly get the score across to the bass sitting next to me; the hymn number signifying the England total. I was quite pleased with that; it made me feel like a spy passing on important information amongst the enemy.

Illicitly listening to or following cricket can be very exciting. I once sat through a one-on-one music tutorial at school concerning four part harmony. Unbeknownst to the teacher, I had a small radio tucked into my jacket and an earpiece in my right ear concealed by my hand. At one point Ashly Giles picked up a wicket and I let out an excited ‘ooohh!!’, confusing the teacher who had just reprimanded me for use of parallel fifths.

As I stood in church on Sunday, signalling to the bass that Monty was in (by looking a bit lost and wafting my left arm ‘bat’ about carelessly) I yearned to be listening to Test Match Special. I could imagine the roars greeting every forward defensive shot, the crowd leaping up and knocking over their pints, fingernails and whole hands gnawed away in the tension. Boycott cackling as the Aussies grew impatient. Blowers babbling away, flustered and getting it all wrong (“so it’s Lillee bowling to WG Grace…oh my dear old thing!”) and the roar that greeted Monty, Anderson and England as they held out for the draw.

But no. Instead, a little message appeared on my phone; ‘result: draw’, just as the congregation finished the Lords Prayer. Not very emotive and exciting, but England had only achieved a sort of Dunkirk victory, so it seemed rather appropriate. Let’s hope they can regroup and sort out the bowling. I won’t be able to follow the Lords Test, oh no, I’ll be in Germany on a choir tour. Sodding God.

The Daily Clissold

July 8, 2009

My apologies for a long and tedious description about cricket uploaded yesterday. I think it was the sunstroke that convinced my addled brain to run the story. I’m beginning to make my body sound like a newspaper;

Brain: weary old editor. Sits smoking a cigar and shouting at the rest of the body. Although Grumpy and prone to losing his temper, still liked by his staff.

Fingers: the hacks. Churn out lengthy articles about cricket, gig nerves and dieting.

Ears: researchers. Poorly paid and envious of the fingers.

Eyes: photographers. Zoom around on scooters. The left eye also moonlights as a superhero (Eyeman) whilst the right one, affably naïve and wearing a bowtie, idolises Eyeman without realising it is his rival photographer.

Mouth: newspaper seller. Stands on corner of street wearing a flatcap shouting the headlines in a broad New York accent to anyone who looks like they’re involved in a thriller or murder mystery.

(Deep) Throat: mysterious source. Provides information for fingers and ears.

Nose: gossip hack. Hangs out with celebs like Timothy West.

Kneecap: sports writer. Liable to get a bit pretentious.

Bruise just above the right elbow: cartoonist. Makes political points by imagining Gordon Brown as an enormous cat doing poos that are Britain shaped and drinking milk from a dish named ‘Blair’.

And of course the newspaper villain, ‘Sun Stroke’. Able to manipulate Brain and make him run endless stupid ramblings about cricket. Wants to include page 3 girls, awful puns and really easy crosswords.

The perfect Delivery

July 6, 2009

You could say I caught the sun this weekend. You could also say that having caught the sun, I then daubed its cancerous rays all over my face, neck and arms in an effort to turn myself into Barney the dinosaur. It looks like I’ve been rummaging in a huge vat of strawberry milkshake for some keys lost at the bottom. There are points on my upper-arms where my skin goes instantly from pasty white to bright purple. I was tricked by the great English summer. One moment I was fleeing torrential rain, sun cream as distant an idea as a British tennis champion, the next I was being slowly cooked on a cricket outfield. But oh, was it worth it. I may now having burning, unpleasant skin and a sun-ravaged mind, wandering confused and lost within my brain, but it doesn’t matter because I bowled someone with the perfect off-break.

At 11am the annual New College chorister cricket match began. It was an amusing sight out on the field, with each team made up of a couple of energetic and sporty players, running and shouting, one or two nursing terrible hangovers, wilting in the sun and praying that the ball would avoid them, and the choristers themselves. Half of them were up for the game, excited at the prospect of playing alongside adults and full of (annoyingly) youthful energy. The rest were a ragtag collection of strange children. Some, on the boundary lost in their own world, recited poetry to the sky. Others made daisy-chains at fine leg and one was being chased by a bee at midwicket.

As with all amateur cricket matches it seemed, on the surface, to be a harmless, jovial few hours full of good-humoured, gentle sport and people wearing silly hats. Underneath, however, bubbled the tensions, insecurity and feuds typical of a gladiatorial team game like cricket played by friends and colleagues.

The best method of survival is to adopt a rather lackadaisical air and to use a self-deprecating turn or remark after every failed exertion. When batting, if you make a huge swish, miss the ball completely and do your knee in as you topple over, you should smile, shrug and make a rather unsubtle comment about the amount of beer you’ve just drunk. Any dropped catch should be accompanied by a humorous pratfall, any horribly wide full toss by a loud ‘blimey!’ or ‘whoops!’. Meanwhile, the brain rages inwardly at the useless body, ‘F***! Come on arms, hit the titting ball! Feet…SORT IT OUT!!’

To fail in these matches is unthinkable. It provides a year’s worth of ammunition and wisecracks for your friends. Last year, Max – a fantastic chap (and reader of this blog…hello!) – had the ignominy of being bowled first ball by his friend and fellow bass choral scholar, George. The event was captured for all eternity by his girlfriend who had dutifully taken a picture of his batting, only to capture the moment the ball, going past a despairing lunge, clattered into this stumps. In that moment, George achieved the ultimate one-upmanship and the rest of the choral scholars sniggered and made a point of mentioning this moment as often as possible. His ‘golden duck’ has passed down in legend, a moment both of complete triviality but also utter humiliation. He could have gone on to take all ten wickets with his bowling, win the Nobel Peace prize and father 80 children that afternoon, but people would still say ‘bad luck with that duck’ and smirk knowingly.

There was no such incident this year. Max batted for a few overs and bowled sharply. Nick, whose inconsistent bowling had been heckled mercilessly throughout, hit some lusty boundaries with the bat and retired, relieved, with reputation intact and 26 runs. My own contribution was not looking good. As last year, I came out to bat with just one over left. On the last delivery of the innings I made room and heaved an ugly smear, missed the ball and heard the sickening ‘clunk’ of the impact of ball on wicket. The bowler was a young tenor who will take my place in the choir next year. Although a very likable guy, he serves as a reminder of my own failings being that he is young, talented and highly valued by the choirmaster who doesn’t rate me. For him to take my wicket, albeit from a desperate slog, signified a damaging blow to my self-worth. I mumbled a ‘well bowled’ to him during lunch and watched in the field as he came out of bat and lifted his first ball over my head for four. Talented, young, bastard.

A few minutes later I was bowling my only over of the match. I decided to send down loopy off-spin and the first two balls came out ok, but were hit for a single by Max and two runs from the young, talent, bastard tenor. The next delivery will stay in my memory for a long time. I tossed it up outside his off stump and he came forward, looking to drive. The ball pitched on a good length and turned sharply, past his bat and pad and onto the middle stump. I went crazy, dancing down the pitch like Monty Panesar, yelping and either squashing nearby choristers or causing them to flee in panic. I reached the wicketkeeper and babbled something like ‘Vaughan…to Tendulkar…did you see? Hahaha!’

It was, without doubt, the best off-spin delivery I have ever bowled, if not my best delivery ever. I can still see it lure the batsman out of his crease, spin about a foot, go completely through him and hit the wicket. It was not recorded, photographed or filmed. It would not have stayed in anyone’s mind beyond that afternoon. It was an entirely forgettable moment in the history of humankind, but for me it was absolutely brilliant; the coming together of luck and application in one perfect moment to outwit an opponent who threatened to make me feel like a useless lump.

Afterwards, the young tenor added graciousness to his other qualities (the bastard) by congratulating me and admitting that he’d been thoroughly bamboozled by my delivery. I felt a bit ridiculous about celebrating in such an over-the-top way and told him that I was as baffled by the sudden turn as he was, that my leaping about was as much to do with surprise as it was jubilation.

For the rest of the match I played poorly, dropping two catches. But it didn’t matter. I’d had my moment, even if nobody else cared or remembered. I then proceeded to bore everyone I met with lengthy descriptions of that one delivery and my triumph, whilst they stared at my purple, grinning face, thinking I must have severe sunstroke. I think that encapsulates the futility and joy of cricket.

Post-gig Terror

July 2, 2009

There is a Star Trek film theory whereby every even numbered film is good and the odd numbered ones are pants. I’m not a huge fan; if I had to watch either Star Wars or Star Trek I’d probably go with the latter. The clue is in the second word of each franchise; it’s either ‘Wars’ or ‘Trek’.

My gigs tend to be the opposite; it’s the odd numbered ones that go really well both personally and in general. Tuesday night’s gig was #6.

It’s not that I didn’t get anything out of it; I enjoyed performing immensely and felt pretty good afterwards. It was just a very, very hot day and the audience, stuck to the leather sofas and seats, were quiet and perhaps understandably lethargic. I watched from the back as the first three acts – all of whom have stormed it at the venue before – saw their jokes evaporate into the air. Rather than plunge me into fear and depression, I felt great. If I bombed horribly I would be in good company.

During the break, the promoter bumped me up the bill so I was due on second.  I decided to be as lively and energetic as possible. I actually got off to a good start (it usually takes me a minute or so to get going/really firing). I mentioned that the fans made my shirt blow up revealing a bit of hairy belly and that it was like an ugly version of that famous Marilyn Monroe image over the subway vents.

My opening material went surprisingly well, considering that I’d written it an hour earlier. I feigned annoyance that, after hearing of Michael Jackson’s death, I had written all my material about it, only to realise too late that it wasn’t General Sir Michael Jackson who had died. Cue awful military puns about the peace corps/corpse and my assumption that Neverland was another name for No Man’s Land.

The rest of the new material got some laughs. It was very hit and miss; they seemed to like me saying that my sex life was like a rollercoaster ride, “people get on, go up and down for a few minutes, screaming…then vomit” but my impression of a runner being interviewed immediately after the race hit a wall of silence so hard that I almost got whiplash. Fortunately the old classic, “it’s terrible…(silence)…much like that last joke” got a few laughs instead.

Once again, although I was very pleased with my confidence and eye-contact with the crowd, I spoke far too quickly, racing through what was very underwritten stuff anyway. I just sort of stopped at the end and shambled off stage which was a shame, because I think if I’d ended with a bang, or even just a self-deprecating remark then the set could have been judged a marginal success. None of the routines failed as such, there was always one or two jokes or expressions that got a good response, but there were gaping holes and lots of waffle.

Still, you learn from the tricky ones. I think I should have jacked in the final routine and just talked to the audience. I was feeling confident, relaxed and spontaneous but I thought I’d better plow on with what I’d prepared. It’s a common theme in performance – “slow down, take your time, enjoy it” – but I’ve got to keep reminding myself onstage.

The show closed with a good set by Tom G, a very supportive and likeable chap who’s been gigging for about 3 years now and is a well-known face on the Oxford circuit. I think his experience stood out here; he bantered with the audience with quick-witted humour and took his time. I’d like to think that after him I was the second least bad performer on the night, which is no disrespect to the other guys, but everyone struggled in the environment. Bring on gig #7 – hopefully more like Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (in successful terms).

Pre-gig terror

June 30, 2009


That was a manic, nervous laugh full of excitement mixed with terror and a touch of indigestion. These are the feelings I get a few hours before a gig. They’ve just kicked in, a bit later than usual. I’m going to the Open Mic night at Baby Simple this evening where I did my first gig back in January. I’ve performed there a couple of times since, but tonight I will be using completely new material, stuff that isn’t properly formed or have much structure (or even jokes). I drew up a basic set list on the toilet at lunch (a notepad would have been more useful); it includes stuff about Wimbledon, war re-enactments and lego.

The other thing about tonight is that I’m not entirely certain that I’ll get a slot. I’m not on the bill, although the nice promoter has said there might be space near the end of the evening. Thus, I’ll have to sit through a couple of hours of other acts before I can get up on stage. I hate this part.

I’m not a huge laugher a lot of the time. I don’t really smile that often either. In fact, I probably look like I’m thinking about a particularly tricky and rather morally dubious logic puzzle most days. Therefore, put me in an audience to listen to lots of up-and-coming comedians as I try to memorise a whole load of barely formed jokes, ideas and routines, and I really am not in the mood to laugh that much.

Once, at Edinburgh, I sat in the audience for a sketch show, a group I had performed with on several occasions. I made up one third of the crowd. The other two were Japanese and looked lost. Trying to laugh at people doing sketches I’d seen, rehearsed and helped write, a dozen times, was agony. My first attempt at a laugh sounded horribly sarcastic and seemed to echo round the small room. The Japanese couple looked round and I think they smiled for the only time in the whole hour. My second guffaw was genuine, but came at the wrong place, completely drowning out a punchline. I was laughing about an amusing mistake in the build up, a fact only known by me and the cast. Eventually I sat there grinning inanely and doing very loud sniffs at all the right places. The show over, the Japanese couple passed me some tissues and a lemsip on their way out.

And then there’s the competitive side. I do really want them all to fail; to tell a feeble gag and watch as the audience, silent at first, then start hurling beer glasses, chairs, grenades at them whilst stringing up effigies and setting them on fire, then getting a little mob together, a few burning torches, and descending upon the hapless comic’s house and burning it to the ground, cursing his very name for evermore, all the while letting the Daily Mail know that he was a paedophile and hated kittens and, depending on the current faze, did or didn’t like James Corden.

Actually, I really don’t want that to happen at all. I’m a big fan of some of the new acts I’ve seen and gigged with in Oxford, and have been to see them when I’m not performing, laughing as they do well, and commiserating with them afterwards if they haven’t. If a comic does well then the likelihood is that the other acts will too – they’re warming the audience up for you. My first ever gig went really well because I had gone on after three top acts. The audience, riding high on the wave of laughter and happiness, were happy to continue. If I’ve done a gig myself, and it’s gone well, sitting down and listening to the other acts is a huge joy for me.

But tonight, there are acts on that I know are good but won’t make me laugh. They’re slick, clever and funny but none of them are my friends and I will be very nervous. Every laugh they get I will curse. Every well written and thought out routine will make mine, fumbling around in my head, sound pathetic. I cannot fall back on any of my ‘best stuff’, the dead cert laughter-inducing material. But most importantly, I won’t be relaxed. I won’t be able to settle into their world, warm to their personality or admire their intelligence. I’ll be thinking ‘should I do the Lego gag?’

Please read the Guardian

June 29, 2009

Thought for the day: If Russell Brand writes a blog, won’t the title sound a bit racist?*


I’m getting old. There are the usual signs confirming this; grey hairs, expanding waistline, listening to radio 2. But the worst one of the lot is the ‘late night butterfly effect’. In the distant, hazy days of my riotous youth, I could do all manner of nonsense and there would be no consequences. Now, a late night on Friday has a terrible effect on the entire weekend. It wipes out much of Saturday, turns Sunday into a day of mourning and I’m still feeling the emotional/physical strain on Monday which means that the week has started badly thus leaving me as a hopeless, crippled wreck by the following Friday.

On Saturday morning, at 5am, I had the most beautiful walk back to my house from the pub. It was completely deserted, save for the odd cat darting in and out of sleeping houses, and the early morning mist enveloped the world – buildings, trees and cars loomed mysteriously in the distance. I walked past my local Co-op and picked up the morning edition of the Guardian from a bundle outside that had just been delivered**. I think I even whistled a tune as I sauntered, carefree, down my road, swaying slightly and confusing a cat by apologising to a lamppost. I fully intended to read the paper in the garden as the first rays of sunshine filtered through the mist, but as I got into my room I collapsed headfirst onto the bed and completely squashed the review section.

A few hours later I was staring at a piece of cheese during the birthday lunch for my girlfriend’s mother. I then lay in some grass as the afternoon sun boiled my head and by 6pm I was singing evensong, very badly, at Christ Church cathedral. On Sunday morning, I woke up at 6am unable to breathe. Without my inhaler I staggered out of bed, wheezing horribly. Inhaling some steam, I read for an hour and a half and it didn’t get any better, so I wheezed back to bed. For some reason I awoke half an hour later feeling much better, but singing the morning service was hard; “Oh clap yours hands together (wheeeeeeeeeze/cough/splutter) all ye people”. By the time Sunday evening came along, I was whimpering for bed and yearned for pyjamas, book and someone to tell me everything was going to be alright.

I wish I could go back in time, find my drunken self in the Half Moon and admonish him; ‘LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE…wheeze…(or will do, I suppose, given I’m from the future)…wheeze…YOU MAY BE HAVING A GREAT TIME NOW, BUT LOOK AT THE STATE OF ME! …wheeze… I CAN’T BREATHE, I HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO EAT…wheeze…MY EYES HURT AND THE REVIEW SECTION OF THE SATURDAY GUARDIAN IS UNREADABLE!!’


I may have been in a zombified state for most of the weekend, but I do feel that I had a culturally diverse three days. On Friday night, I went to a drum and bass night. I’ve never been to one before and I certainly didn’t intend to. It was full of tall, spotty teenage boys sulking along to the music. Once I’d had enough beer I announced myself onto the dance floor by doing a bit of flailing and the odd jump. I really hate dancing unless the objective is to look like an idiot. This I can do and it seems to go quite well with drum and bass. One of the worst evenings of my life was spent in a club playing R&B. Everyone swayed poutily, looking sexy and cool, whilst all I wanted to do was bounce up and down, knees and elbows in the air like an old man at the seaside being told he could have a free ice cream.

Anyway, it was drum and bass (or is it drum n bass?) on Friday, Stanford/Bairstow at evensong and then the theatre on Saturday. I went to see ‘The Winslow Boy’ at the Oxford Playhouse. Usually, I only see creaky old farces at the Playhouse, where the aging middle class audience titter noisily as an actor from Midsomer Murders says something exasperatedly about ‘those awful mobile phones’, with his trousers round his ankles.

Well, the ‘Winslow Boy’ was fantastic. Based on an actual case of a boy expelled from naval college, and the long and gruelling court case fought by his father to clear his name, it reveals the sacrifices and sad effects it has on the family as the case drags on. Set in the Edwardian Age, it had the poignant reminder of an impending world war, with one of the characters saying that he had joined the army reserves because he was ‘looking forward to a bit of a scrap’.

The script was funny and absorbing, the acting terrific and the star of the show was Timothy West. He has a fantastic ‘actor’ face; his eyebrows curl laconically this way and that over beady, piercing eyes and his large chin presents a lugubrious mouth usually hanging down at the sides. He also has a very interesting bald patch; I know this because he was sitting in front of me on a bus headed for London after the show. It was very exciting. I can reveal that he spent the journey time reading a book and eating a salad. Not sure whether to send that into Heat magazine.

So after the cultural highlights of drum and/n bass, choral music and the theatre, I helped put up a shed on Sunday afternoon. I should really have gone to Nordic poetry reading in a Buddhist temple to really emphasise my culturally diverse weekend, but it’ll have to do.


* In case that isn’t clear; My Bloggy Wog

** Yes, I did steal. I’m not happy about it. But I think the £1.60 they lost will be made up in sales due to the advertising from this blog. Thus; “if you’re feeling blue, a bit lefty and guilty about everything, why not head down to your local Co-op and buy the Guardian?”

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

June 26, 2009

So the King of Pop is dead. It feels very odd and, in that baffling and slightly nonsensical way, sad. Whenever I’m in a bad mood, I put on his Number Ones cd and feel better. So thanks your majesty of Popness. Here are a couple of bits about Michael Jackson;

The Simpsons is, seasons 3-8 at least, the greatest television programme ever. There is nothing more wonderful than one of those episodes where two fantastic, down to earth storylines run seamlessly together providing the structure for a continuous stream of sight gags, parodies, in-jokes, political/surreal/sick/witty humour where not one word or scene is wasted. The Simpsons started Season 3 with one of my favourite episodes, ‘Stark Raving Mad’. The previous two seasons had decent moments and funny elements, but it hadn’t quite gelled together to make something great. The animation was patchy, it was a bit slow and the emphasis was on Bart, the rebellious young brat. However, by season 3, the ‘star’ of the show became Homer.

In ‘Stark Raving Dad’, the first episode of the season when The Simpsons went from being sporadically amusing to the best thing on television, Homer is horrified to find that all his white shirts have turned pink in the wash, thanks to Bart’s lucky red cap;

“Marge, I can’t wear a pink shirt to work. Everybody wears white shirts.  I’m not popular enough to be different…”

 His fears are confounded when he is spotted by Mr Burns and sent to an asylum. Here, amongst many references to ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, he finds himself sharing a room with a huge, balding white man calling himself Michael Jackson. They bond, Jackson teaching Homer to moonwalk (unsuccessfully) and share this brilliant exchange;

Jackson: You seem like a nice guy.  Why’d they put you in here?

Homer:   ‘Cause I wore a pink shirt.

Jackson:  I understand.  People thought I was crazy for the way I dressed…

Homer:   What’d you wear?

Jackson:  One white glove, covered with rhinestones.

Homer:   [crosses his eyes and does that `bebebebebebe’ thing with his lips]

Hmm, perhaps that’s more of a visual thing. If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand. As all good episodes, there is a sub-story running alongside. Bart forgets Lisa’s birthday and hugely upset, she considers him a brother “in name only”. He then incurs the wrath of the entire town by spreading the news that Michael Jackson is coming to stay at their house (after he and Homer are released from the asylum). Huge crowds await outside the house but are horrified when Michael Jackson steps out of the car and reveals himself to be a fat, 6 foot 5 white guy. However, having upset everyone, Jackson and Bart combine to write Lisa a birthday song which they sing to her at 6am the next morning. She proclaims it the best present she’s ever had.

Jackson: [in his normal, gravelly voice] Well, my work is done here.

Bart: Hey, Michael, what happened to your voice?

Jackson: This is my real voice.  My name is Leon Kompowski,  and I’m a   bricklayer from Paterson, New Jersey. All my life, I was very angry. Until one day, I just [Michael Jackson voice] talked like this. [in his normal voice] All of a sudden, everyone was smiling at me, and I was only doing good on this earth.  So I kept on doing it. To make a tired point, which one of us is truly crazy?

Homer: Not me, I’ve got this!  [shows his certificate saying ‘Not Insane’]

Marge: Bye-bye, Leon.

Lisa:  You’re a credit to dementia!

Leon saunters down the sidewalk, singing Lisa’s birthday song.


I was in Edinburgh for the festival in 2005. One evening my good friend Rupert and I drove into a petrol station. As we were filling up the car a van drove in, parked, and the slide doors on the side pulled open to reveal a miniature disco. Two guys got out and started handing out big afro wigs to bemused onlookers. Then, with a yellow light flashing on top of the van, ‘Don’t stop ‘til you Get Enough’ started up, surging over the petrol station. The two guys began to dance and were soon joined, timidly at first, by other people pulling on the wigs. Rupert, giving me a look as if to say ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life’ wandered over, took a wig and joined in. Soon there were a dozen people, all strangers, wearing huge afro wigs, dancing together with vigour and joy to Michael Jackson. In a petrol station. When the song finished, the dancers stopped, handed back their wigs and walked back slightly sheepishly to their vehicles.

I’ve always regretted not joining in, but just watching this surreal yet joyful little spectacle cheered me up immensely from what had been a difficult few weeks. If you ever see me chuckling to myself, it’s probably because I’m remembering this.