A Day In The Countryside
Yesterday I headed out to WILTSHIRE for a work meeting. It was a lovely day to do such a thing, both because of the weather (which was SPRING-LIKE) and the fact that it is the week before Easter which, in an academic setting, is basically one long Friday afternoon with hardly anybody about, so you can do other stuff without worrying (too much) about DISASTERS occurring while you're looking the other way.
For some reason Academic Types always seem to think it is a really good idea to book meetings at 9.30am so that those travelling have to get up at half past awful to get there, and I very nearly fell into this trap myself when organising this trip. However, sense prevailed and we arranged to meet just after lunchtime, which meant i was able to get my train at an EXCEEDINGLY sensible time. The train was one of the new high-speed GWR trains which have ACTUAL LEGROOM in them and functionining toilets, it felt like EXTREME luxury the whole way there!
I was meeting somebody at Bath Spa University's Corsham Court campus, so instead of going to Actual BATH I got off at Chippenham and then STRAIGHT into a bus. I was very impressed with Chippenham's Integrated Transport - the bus stop is DIRECTLY outside the station and there were buses WAITING when the train pulled in.
Twenty five minutes later I got off the bus in CORSHAM which looked like something off the TELLY - I deduced later that it had been in POLDARK, largely due to all the shop window displays that said "We Was On POLDARK". I walked along streets that seemed to have come straight out of Jane Austen, and then into Corsham Court itself which looked EXACTLY as you would expect a manor house to look. It even had its own LORD living onsight! As I walked up to the house I thought "What is that horrible noise?" and then turned a corner to see a) GROUNDS that looked like Mr Darcy would come wandering through at any moment in his soggy undergarments and b) a PEACOCK!
I went inside for an Actually Dead Good meeting about a system which Bath Spa use called FIGSHARE which we currently HAVE and are trying to work out what to DO with, and then the people I'd met very kindly took me for a guided STROLL around the grounds where OH MY WORD we saw an Actual Peacock Actually Peacocking i.e. its ginormous TAIL was up and fanned out. It was ASTONISHING - it's one of those things we see so much in BOOKS or ILLUSTRATIONS but I don't think I've ever seen one in real life before. It was RUDDY HUGE!
And so I made my way back, through fictional Truro, a bus ride in the sunshine, and then the train home. If you ever get the chance to go and talk about computer systems at another institution, I would highly recommend Corsham Court!
Touring - Lessons Learnt
It's now a fortnight since the end of the 'No Headliner Tour' with Mr M Tiller, which I think is sufficient distance to examine what LESSONS we can LEARN from the experience. I have identified FOUR (4), as follows:
The first, as detailed previously (and indeed throughout the tour), is that ROCKING around the country with Matt was GRATE fun. I would highly recommend him as a TOUR BUDDY and officially Would Tour With Again if consent was given!
The second is that doing gigs once a week is RUDDY GENIUS. The driving principle behind it was that Matt and I are both MATURE ROCKERS and so cannot be doing with the TREADMILL of doing gigs on subsequent days, and this turned out to be very wise as even playing a gig once a week was KNACKERING. This is partly because of all the travelling, late nights and early starts, but also because we ROCK SO HARD that it takes about a week to recover.
Another truly excellent aspect of weekly gigging is that you know there's always another one coming up, so if one gig doesn't quite work out how you expected in some way then it doesn't really matter as it's NOT the only gig you're doing. For instance, when the Leicester gig wasn't the SELLOUT SMASH I'd hoped for it didn't spoil the evening, and I was able to actively ENJOY the very lovely people who HAD come.
The other aspect of weekly gigging that I really enjoyed, and that brings us on to our THIRD lesson learnt, is that it gives you plenty of time to learn DIFFERENT songs for each show. In the past I have tended to fall back on an "uberset" of GUARANTEED BANGERS, which is good for Actually Remembering The Words Most Of The Time, but is less good for VARIETY and, especially, for writing new stuff. I'd also found it a bit embarrassing in the past when I'd play with people who DID change it up a bit - I especially recall being vaguely ASHAMED when I toured with G Petrie and, especially, G Osborn, who were forever introducing new songs into the SUITE, while I was basically doing the same set every night. Thus I wrote up a list of about 45 songs to have a go at and, in the weeks leading up to the start of the tour, diligently went through trying them out. Some of these songs were abandoned, some got straight into the set only to never return, others took several weeks of practicing before I was confident enough to actually perform them in front of people, and some even got written along the way. In the end I did THIRTY FIVE different songs, as listed below, with number of gigs in brackets:
Crumbs, that is a LOT of songs, and a LOT that only got done once too! Initially I had MAD ideas about doing entirely different sets from night to night, but it quickly became clear that there were some songs that I WANTED to keep doing, notably the newer ones like Two Blokes, One Pub and You're A Tory Now which both got played on six out of the seven dates, so I let myself off and DID them.
FORCING myself to play different songs also forced me to practice a bit more too, and made me more LIKELY to because it gets VERY DULL trying to practice the same songs over and over again. It also made me think that, without wanting to blow my own trumpet or anything, some of these songs are PRETTY GOOD. Clubbing In The Week, for instance, could be wheeled out a lot more, even though it has basically now become FOLK MUSIC, with the previously HILARIOUS idea of going into a nightclub and feeling as if "Everybody in there looks like they are half your age" now passing ACTUAL FACT and heading instead towards WILD OPTIMISM.
The fourth and FINAL lesson I learnt from all of this is more of a reminder really, that going and doing gigs is not just about, well, going and doing gigs. The thing I loved most about the tour was the fact that I got to travel around meeting up with some of the EXTREMELY lovely people I have got to know in almost thirty years doing this ridiculous thing we call ROCK. Doing gigs irregularly, and especially doing them mostly in London as I have done lately, makes you forget that sometimes really nice people that you LIKE will sacrifice a perfectly pleasant night IN and come OUT to see you, and that once the business of the GIG is over you can sit around with them and have a chat. This is clearly the BEST bit about touring, and the main reason that I would like to do it again!
Not just at the moment though - I'm still worn out from this one!
Cologne Part Two: Mini-Break!
Saturday in Cologne began at an exceedingly pleasant, leisurely pace, although it did feature one of the most terrifying natural phenomenons known to man over breakfast. The hotel we stayed in had a BUFFET system, and goodness me but you do NOT want to get in the way of Germans In Search Of Breakfast. They are a delightful and charming people, but Quite Determined about the morning repast.
Saturday was technically the start of the Weekend Mini-Break segment of our trip, so we then moved to the traditioanl first point of business on a mini-break i.e. going on an Open Top Bus Tour. As mentioned many times before, Open Top Bus Tours are BRILLIANT, and a FLIPPING SUPERB way of getting to know a city. We had a lovely 90 minutes sat on the top deck learning many Fascinating Facts about Cologne, getting our bearings, and also realising that Cologne is a BIG place. When I came before with The Vlads we only really saw the centre of town and the area between the Ibis and The Blue Shell, but there it turns out to be HUGE!
Once off the bus we popped into a bar for some more Kolsch (it is ACE) before attempting to get a bus out to Ehrenfield, where there were apparently some nice places to eat. Unfortunately our tram didn't come - it spent about 15 minutes being stuck at 9 minutes away - so we decided to abort that mission and instead go to Sattgrun, which turned out to be FANTASTIC. It's an all Vegan restaurant a bit like Tibit's, but instead of WEIGHING plates you just pick the size of plate you want and fill it up. There was a very small sign asking people not to PILE UP grub although, this being Germany, people didn't need to be told not to take the piss, so didn't. It was all very sensible, and also RUDDY DELICIOUS. We had CAKE too!
Next we went to had a look at the inside of the Cathedral, but could only get into a small section at the front as I think they were closing. This was not really a problem - the main attraction is the FRONT anyway, and my dears once you have been in Peterborough Cathedral you have pretty much experienced Cathedral Perfection anyway - and instead myself and The Cloisters In My Quadrangle went for what turned out to be a LONG and FAB walk alongside the Rhine and out to the 'Crane Buildings'. By the time we got back to the hotel we were DONE for the day, and ended up having our tea, and some more BOOZE, back at the hotel. It was lovely!
Sunday began somewhat earlier, as we had more to do before our plane left, but we discovered that the aforementioned Germans In Search Of Breakfast were still stomping determinedly towards the bread rolls. Once we'd eaten we packed, dropped our bags at reception, then headed over to the other side of the city centre to join the Free Walking Tour. We got there slightly early so had just enough time for another Kolsch and some pretzel sticks (an EXCELLENT combination) before setting off on what turned out to be a HIGHLY informative and also VERY FUNNY stomp with a guide called Sidney. I now know a LOT more about how and why people in COlogne are, basically, cool and groovy, and also why the city's coat of arms has three crowns and eleven black tails, AND what the "Chunkel" (sp?) dance is. We went off for lunch halfway through but, when Sattgrun turned out to be closed, went back to find the group again, and we were glad we did, otherwise we would have missed the BUCKET SPEECH at the end. This was just like the one we were all meant to do on the Free Fringe, and included a section in which he clearly mentioned 10 Euros during a joke which, he said, his boss said they "had" to do. His boss was right to say so!
After that we found ourselves back at Heumarkt so went to our favourite pub (the same one we'd been to on Friday) and were amazed to discover it also did VEGAN SOUP, so had some of that alongside... more Kolsch! We are are nothing if not committed to experiencing other cultures! We then went back to the hotel and headed for the airport (on a double decker train!), where we discovered our plane back was PACKED, so we didn't get a row to ourselves, let alone one EACH, but apart from that the journey was FINE.
In summary then, Cologne was BLOODY BRILLIANT. Can we go again please?
A Conference In Cologne
Thursday morning began for me at the truly APPALLING hour of 5am, for LO! I had a plane to catch, to the wonderful German city of COLOGNE, where I was to attend a conference about comics fandom.
All right, it wasn't JUST to attend a conference, it was ALSO to have a weekend there with The Kolsch In My Glass, who was coming a day later. We had taken a bit of a RISK booking it, as at time of booking the UK was meant to be leaving the EU while we were there, so there was a good chance we'd have some HEFTY delays, or even NO PLANES AT ALL, on the way back. Still, Cologne is a nice place to be stuck, and the aforesaid Clauses In My Contract had LONG predicted there would be no Brexit anyway, so we took the chance. NOTE: she is usually right about this sort of thing!
My journey went SUPER SMOOTHLY - I got the high speed to St Pancras, the tube to Paddington, then the Heathrow Express to the airport, which was all FAST, if not CHEAP! I only had hand luggage, so it took 10 seconds to check-in with a machine, and I found myself through security with an HOUR to spare! The plane was not full, possibly due to more cautious people than us NOT booking, so I got a whole ROW to myself (so even had a NAP!) and then I walked straight off the plane onto a train, and was in Actual Cologne less than an hour later. It was amazing!
It was all so PEASY that I had time to pop to the hotel and drop my bag off before getting a U-Bahn to the conference at Cologne University, where I FINALLY got a bit lost finding my way round campus. I popped into a building and a VERY helpful German gave me a MAP. Germans are GRATE!
The first day of the conference itself was dead interesting, with a FASCINATING session about The Gift Economy (the idea that fans share their work with each other for free for the love of their subject matter) and how that is disappearing, to be replaced by PLATFORMS (e.g. Patreon) which allow fans to pay each other for what they're doing. There was also one about nostalgia and "anti-fandom" and then a keynote which pretty much brought all the THORTS of the day together.
I also saw some RABBITS sitting on a mound in the middle of the campus. We don't have THAT at UAL!
It was dead good, but it didn't finish until 8.30pm, by which point I was KNACKERED, so decided to head home. I got to the tram stop to see nobody waiting and a message going across the message boards, which I used Google Translate to discover said "No trams from here". I then used MAPS to walk home, and discovered that there'd been an accident up the way, so it was all shut. "Thank GOODNESS for Smartphones" I thought as I stomped along, although WEIRDLY my route took me to the area round the hotel that The Validators stopped in for Popfest last year, so for the second half of the route I knew where I was!!
The next day dawned MUCH later as I was KNACKERED. The first session was a meeting of an academic society, to which we were all invited but which I felt I could probably miss without worrying too much (and also without forcing people to speak English!). The second was about Gender which is officially an Interesting Topic but a) not vastly relevant to My Research Interests b) something I'd been to several times before and c) not as appealing as a much needed LIE IN an hotel breakfast.
So it was that I left the hotel at a very leisurely 1pm to stroll down to the University, taking a slight diversion to see The Blue Shell, site of last year's COlogne PopFest, as I went. I arrived at the venue at 1.35pm to discover that the afternoon session, which was meant to begin at 2pm, had already started. One does not wish to reinforce national stereotypes, but surely only in Germany would an academic conference session start EARLY!
There were two REALLY interesting talks in this bit (and one not so interesting one), about FASHION and then HIP HOP. The former used Chris Claremont's run on the X-Men to talk about the meanings of costumes, uniforms, dressing, visual systems, othering, and narrative use of clothing. In other words, a whole lot of FASCINATING things I had never really understood/thought of before. The latter basically explained why Hip Hop is a) the way it is b) a superhero narrative, and CRIKEY it was compelling, to the extent that when the speaker said "Grandmaster Flash" (as an example of Hip Hop artists giving themselves superhero-like stage names) I had to suppress an "AHA!" It also VERY MUCH convinced me that the Doctor Doom really IS a hip hop character - the poor beginnings, the oppression, the personal injury, the rising up against his enemies, the fights, the regrets, and especially the castle and visible signs of success. Move over Noah Hawley, I feel a SCREENPLAY coming on!
As everything finished I did manage to actually SPEAK to a couple of people (very brave) before heading off to the hotel and then to the railway station, where I was just in time to meet The Times On My Timetable, freshly arrived from the UK. She too had had a whole row of seats to herself on the plan - we both realised that this might have been because hardly anybody else in the UK had advance booked seats on what was meant to be Brexit Day!
We trundled off through the streets of Cologne and, again thanks to Google Maps on my phone, found Heumarkt and the very same pub where The Validators had first sat last year. The Beer In My Glass was VERY impressed by the system of bringing many small beers to your table, and we did indeed enjoy MANY small beers, all while discussing how BRILLIANT the Germans are. I reckon that we should put the whole March To Leave on a plane/high speed train to Cologne for the weekend, then they would happily agree that these are people we very much SHOULD be in a club with!
Last Of The Summer Winos
On Sunday night I headed into London's glittering West End... well, London's glistening Bloomsbury, which is quite close, to see Mr B Fischer and Mr AT Smith in their show Last Of The Summer Winos at The Museum Of Comedy. ABSTRACT: it was dead good.
The Museum Of Comedy is a RIGHT funny old place, tho possibly not ENTIRELY in the way intended. It's the CRYPT of a Church and it is FULL of comedy memorabilia, which altogether gives it the air of a rather odd Church Jumble Sale. There seem to be a LOT of over-sized papier-mache heads of long dead comedians seemingly dumped on the back of chairs, and vaguely remembered props dangle from walls. I think a guided tour would be a MAGICAL thing to do, but failing that it's a tiny bit creepy!
It's still a GRATE place to see a show though - the sense of being in a damp cave makes it feel like you're in Edinburgh, and the room where the gig actually happens is fab. This show began with Bob and Drew coming in and shaking hands with everybody before offering round a tin of biscuits and then making cups of tea for those who wanted it. They also clearly indicated that this was NOT the official start of the show, which I am very much in favour of!
The basis of the whole thing was their BLOG where they have been watching every episode of 'Last Of The Summer Wine' from the very start, considering the growth of the characters and even, as the show itself pointed out, the wider transmedia aspects of the universe created. I mean, it all sounds MAD to me - what kind of LOONIE would want to spend years blogging about an entire fictional series in the original order to investigate character development and transmedia? KRAZY!
It was an extremely interesting, also funny, and especially AMIABLE evening in which they argued very forcefully for 'Last Of The Summer Wine' NOT being the boring, claustrophobic, OLD PEOPLE's show that I remember it as (largely due to watching it as a teenager round at my Nan's) but instead a British comedy classic with much richer THEMES and characters. It is the greatest tribute I can pay to this show that it actually made me want to go back and WATCH the programme again on purpose!
The most INTERESTING FACT was the SHOCK REVELATION that there was NEVER an episode with the three main characters going downhill in a tin bath! The idea that there WAS comes from a) an episode where Compo went downhill ALONE in a PORCELAIN bath and b) a BBC licence fee advert starring Reeves & Mortimer (and Matt Lucas) as "Three Blokes In A Bath". Well I never!
Also excellent was the fact that they had an INTERVAL halfway through - a normal Fringe show lasts for an hour which is just about fine when you're a) a gentleman of a certain age who b) has had a pint, but for an EXTENDED show like this one it was essential, and looking round the audience, most of whom were a) gentlemen of a certain age who b) had had a pint, it was very grateful received!
In summary then this was a funny and INFORMATIVE show that CARED for its audience by supplying refreshments and regular comfort breaks. If there is a higher recomendation for an evening out I have yet to hear it!
We Went To See England
On Friday after work I went to the PUB to meet my Step-Father Mr CM Smith, for LO! we were FINALLY going to redeem the VOUCHER what we gave him for his 70th birthday some NINE months ago, and go to Wembley to see ENGLAND!!
We had a pint and then some tea before heading off to get the Metropolitan line to Wembley along with approx 9,000,000 other people. I thought we had PLENTY of time to get there, but the train took AGES and then it was the usual slow stagger down Wembley Way to get to the ground. Halfway along there was a big sign saying "BAG CHECKS" so I dutifully went over to get someone to check mine, and was told that it was "too big" and would have to be placed in the special Bag Storage Place. This, apparently, was "in that car park" but when we went to look the car park contained only cars. "Sod this", I thought, and put my rucksack on UNDERNEATH my coat. As we got closer to the ground I felt a bit NERVOUS about getting DONE, but also quite relieved when I heard other people complaining bitterly about having to pay a TENNER to put a bag in the "cloakroom". When we got to the gates I leant backward, thinking this would make me look like a fat man with unusually forward legs, and continued in this pose while I was FRISKED by security. I felt quite the REBEL when I got through, although it did make me wonder QUITE how good security is.
The game had already been going for a couple of minutes when we got in, so it was a rush to get sat down, which meant that it took a while to fully appreciate WHERE we were. I've been to Wembley TWICE before, both times to see Posh, both times VICTORIOUS, but I'd never been right down at near ground level before. We were 17 rows back from the pitch, more or less in the same spot we sit when we go to Posh, and the pitch looked WEIRDLY the same size. I mean, I know it IS the same size, but when you see international football on telly it looks MUCH bigger, but here there were a bunch of normal sized blokes haring around who, every so often, you realised were REALLY famous. "He's got a Dele Alli haircut," I thought. "Oh. He IS Dele Alli."
In retrospect the game itself was GRATE, but at the time I had assumed my usual attitude at The Football of sitting there unimpressed. This is because I have been to a LOT of unimpressive football matches, often with the aforementioned Mr CM Smith, during which we sit quietly, occasionally go "What was THAT about" and more often try and work out why the referee blew the whistle just then when we weren't paying attention. THIS time however there were Actual Silky Skills on display, and the team WE were supporting were the ones that HAD them! I was very much hoping Raheem Stirling would score, because I think he is dead good, and CRIKEY he scored THREE of them! There was much cheering, and indeed some jumping around.
After it was all over and we'd eventually got back to Kings Cross to catch our respective trains there was time for a Swift Half in the station pub, where they were showing a replay of the match on telly. It was weird, because it LOOKED like what it always does on the telly, but NOT how I remembered it. Also, it looked REALLY EXCITING - and I realised that I had actually BEEN there, and suddenly got a late delivery of all the excitement that had accrued over the evening. I mean, COR! We actually went to see England!
People's Vote March
On Saturday The Words On My Placard and I headed into central London to do some ACTIVISM by attending The People's Vote March.
The aforementioned Stops On My Tube Line suggested that instead of going for the announced NOON gathering at Marble Arch we instead aim to get to Green Park just after 1pm and join the march there, thus avoiding the usual interminable waiting about and then AGONISINGLY SLOW shuffle down Park Lane. This turned out to be a GRATE idea, and one shared by several hundred other people, who all came out of the station at the same time as us!
The march itself was ENORMOUS. We are more used to going on Anti-Badger Cull demoes, which have a slightly more SELECT crowd, but this felt like half the country was there. We had out "I (heart) EU" banners ready, and it was fun to look around and see all the creativity that had gone into everybody else's. Doing "funny" banners seems to have become a THING at demos over the past few years, and it is something I SUPPORT, not least because it gives you something to look at while you're trudging along. It was also VERY noticeable that there were no SWP or similar banners this time (as I guess they are, for reasons I am obviously too FALSE CONSCIENCED to understand, pro-Brexit) but instead a wide array of anger and GAGS. There was also a wide array of PEOPLE (and children, and dogs) of all sizes, shapes, colours and backgrounds. The weirdest thing about the day was when I kept seeing POSH people and I'd assume that they were somehow lost, but then one of them would turn out to be carrying a "Piss Off Farage" placard.
We shuffled along to Trafalgar Square and then stopped on Whitehall to eat our sandwiches, which meant we got to stand and watch as LITERALLY THOUSANDS of people marched past us. It was remarkable what GOOD HUMOUR everybody was in - Billy Bragg has said that the point of a demo is to remind everyone that they are not alone, and GOODNESS ME but that was certainly the case here. We were ALL doing this together and it was lovely!
We got up to as far as Downing Street, but couldn't get any closer to Parliament Square where the main speeches were being given. However, we DID get close to a video screen, where we heard Caroline Lucas be ACE, and then got close enough to SEE Tom Watson be... well, let's say "slightly disingenuous" about whose fault it all was. I'm PRETTY SURE he voted FOR Article 50 and AGAINST the People's Vote didn't he? Still, at least it was NICE to see SOMEBODY from the Labour front bench there.
THAT, however, was pretty much the only slightly sour note in what was otherwise a LOVELY afternoon's stroll amongst like-minded and DELIGHTFUL people. I don't know if it'll do any good - I have no doubt Express Columnists will claim we were all RUSSIAN BOTS, and I was amused to see twits on twitter saying we were ALL MIDDLE CLASS just for being there - but it's heartening to know that at least we made our opinions known. In the words of so many poets, FUCK BREXIT!
The Tour Is Over
After our Cocktails And Pie exploits in Sheffield the other week Mr M Tiller went looking for Pieminster Pie Outlets in That London, and was delighted to discover that The Hope in Fitzrovia, just a few minutes round the corner from The King & Queen, was one such purveyor. So it was that we met at half past five (or half past PIES as he said!) for a celebratory end of tour PIE. I had mine with Swede and Carrot Mash - goodness knows what me aged 8 would have thought if he'd known I'd ever eat such a thing by choice, but it was DEAD nice!
We then went round to the King & Queen where Totally Acoustic was scheduled to happen, and were extremely pleased to find Mr S Hewitt already there. The three of us went upstairs, got the room set up, and then settled into waiting for our audience to arrive. To my GRATE delight the audience DID arrived, and so at around 7:40pm Matt went on and did his FINAL set for the tour.
It was, as ever ACE, if only slightly spoiled by some berk singing along quietly with every song hem hem. Halfway through the set Matt presented Jann, TOUR SUPERFAN, with a bottle of 7-Up to mark the fact that he had been to all SEVEN gigs, and also the promise of a TOUR MUG! He'd done one for me too but they hadn't arrived yet - they look FAB!
As I said several times last night, touring with Matt has been BRILLO. I have been blessed - BLESSED - over the years to have toured with some Very Good Eggs, many of whom even turned up to see us on THIS tour, and Matt is very much welcome within that particular pantheon of HEROES. The FABNESS of his sets is only a tiny part of the joy of this tour, especially compared to the Excellent Organisation, Ongoing Chats, and of course PIES that have been such a part of it. Several people last night asked if there was anything that had happened that WASN'T on the blog - they claimed that sometimes on my blog they can read between the lines and see where I have OMITTED certain things, which I of course could not comment upon - but for this tour there honestly hasn't been. It's all been fun! HOORAH!
Anyway, after Matt we had a short break and then I done THIS:
There was a WHOLE LOT of new songs in there, and a COMPLETELY re-written version of Rock & Roll Mayhem which I wrote especially for the evening (with an A3 sized lyric sheet to help me through it!). I started off with a BIT that I'd thought of that morning, saying that I had listened to the British people and heard them when they said they were TIRED of me forgetting my words, that I was on their side, and blamed it all entirely on the bar staff downstairs. I mention this now because I'm pretty sure that in a few weeks we will all have entirely forgotten Theresa May's speech and have no idea what I was on about!
The rest of the gig seemed to all go well and when I'd finished the main set Matt very kindly encouraged an encore. "Come back and do a few more," he said. Steve, I feel, spoke for the Will Of The People by saying "Do ONE more", which was very wise. We all needed a wee and/or another drink by then!
All that remained was to sit around having a natter, try out some whisky (turns out they make ACTUALLY NICE whisky in the Cotswolds, who knew?) and then say our final farewells. It has been a BLOODY LOVELY tour all round - thanks to everyone who came, and especially thanks to Mr M Tiller who suggested it. Let's do it again some time!
One of the (many) GRATE things about doing a weekly tour, I am finding, is that you get into a right good RHYTHM. Last Thursday night I packed my bags with the usual assortment of clothes, toileteries, MERCH and laptop, took it all to work on Friday, and then just after lunchtime left for Paddington where I got the train to Bristol, got slightly lost (as is THE LAW when arriving at Bristol Temple Meads), found the Premier Inn I'd booked in, had a shower, and then set off for the venue. I have done much the same on SEVERAl gigs so far, and it is a lovely way to travel!
The venue this time was the New Bristol Brewery, which was ACE. I was told when I arrived that I shouldn't worry, it was much nicer inside than it looked from the outside, and it WAS. Outside it was an industrial unit on a dark street, inside was a lovely warm bar that was part of an Actual Genuine Real Brewery. Everyone was VERY friendly too, even giving us a LOT of free beer through the evening - the 'If Bristol Could Talk' beer was described as FRESH and it really was, it was delicious!
Matt and I soundchecked, then we were joined by the ever delightful Mr Gavin Osborn, who I had not seen for AGES. We were ALSO joined by a LOT of other people - the bar had a 75 person capacity, and we'd sold 68 (!) tickets which, with door sales and guests, meant it ended up being a SELLOUT!
Gav went on first, and as it was his first gig in about three months he decided to do a HITS set and OH MY but what hits they were - singing along with 'Albert' and all the others reminded me of just how GRATE he is, to the extent that I worried about following him. Still, on I went and did THIS:
It went pretty well I think - I was very pleased to do TWO (2) songs that I'd not done before, and there was much happy singing along throughout, but there was some Heavy Lifting for me. I think it was because of the venue's TIN ROOF, which meant that ANY talking ANYWHERE, even at the bar, got amplified, which meant that anybody else who wanted to say something to their neighbour had to SPEAK UP, and so gradually throughout the set the volume of talking got louder. It wasn't like people were being RUDE or anything, but by the end it did make it difficult to be heard - as in so many cases, I believe DRAPES would be the answer here!
I was followed by the MAGNIFICENT Mr Tiller, who was GRATE as always, even including a song that I had not heard before, on this tour or elsewhere, and a proper actual encore too! It all finished WELL before closing so there was time for YET MORE beer, including a BROWN ALE that tasted a) a bit like cola and also b) DELICIOUS, and also some CHAT with the lovely people who had come down. I think I must have caught a cold, or possibly been hit on the head with a heavy object at some point though, as when I left the building I found myself slightly CONFUSED, and it took about twice as long to get back to the hotel as it did going. I can think of no other explanation!
In summary then, gigs in Breweries a) are GRATE though b) may require DRAPES, while touring is just FAB in general. Only one date left now, at Totally Acoustic on Thursday. I'm going to miss all this when it's done!
Talking about Spectrums
I was up and about early on Saturday morning to head to SURBITON which, despite my suspicions, turns out to be an actual place rather than a comedy made-up name. I don't know, first Croydon turns out to be real, now Surbiton - perhaps that package holiday to Narnia wasn't such a daft idea after all?
I was there to meet Professor Will Brooker and a couple of other Gentleman Of A Certain Age/Inclination to talk about people's memories of ZX SPECTRUMS for a film what Will is making. He said in his email that we should meet in reception and that we'd recognise each other by being the oldest people there. He was not wrong about this.
We spent the next few hours walking from floor to floor in the building. Kingston University (where we were) has colour coded FLOORS, and each room has at least one wall painted the colour of its floor, I guess so you always know where you are, as otherwise they all look exactly the same. His cunning idea was to film each of us talking against the backdrop of one of these coloured walls, again (I imagine) to make us (mostly) middle-aged white men look a bit different to each other, and also to echo the screen colours of the Spectrum. Having seen some screen shots later on I must say this was a GRATE idea!
We each did a brief interview on a different floor, keeping the three of us together throughout. This made it all feel a lot more comfortable, especially when you were the one talking as you could see the others nodding along with you. In between the interviews there were LENGTHY periods of us all just talking about ZX Spectrums, and most of THAT was someone saying the name of a game and the rest of us REMEMBERING. Saying "Dun Darach" or "Pyjamarama" OUT LOUD felt incredibly DECADENT, as these were SECRET WORDS that none of us had spoken out loud for DECADES. My BRANE started to hurt after a while as it was continually being forced to go and dig out information it hadn't accessed this entire century, but it was all a LOT of fun, and made me want to dash home and get an emulator running!
Once we were all done the four of us popped round the corner for a coffee, where much the same thing continued. The only sad thing really is that the film isn't due to be finished and shown until the futuristic space year 2022 - I don't know if I can wait that long!
Latveria In The Cold War
I took the day off work last Wednesday, to go to... well, to go to UAL, where I work, but for a different reason than usual. For LO! I was heading to the London College Of Communication to spend the day at a conference about Transnational Comics.
It was DEAD GOOD - there were lots of interesting talks, my favourite being the keynote given by Dr Ian Horton about Donald Duck in The Netherlands. Walt Disney comics are still hugely popular in Europe, and he showed how in a single issue there were stories taken from four or five different countries, also different time periods, with different backgrounds showing markedly different places. He talked about the weirdness of Donald sometimes clearly being Dutch and knowing how things worked, and sometimes clearly NOT, as well as how the different time periods all seemed to happen simultaneously. It was MOST INTERESTING, and I reckon gives a pretty good idea of what this Transnationalism is really ABOUT.
I was doing a presentation myself, about how portrayals of Latveria (Doctor Doom's fictional homeland) changed over the course of the Cold War. It was an adaptation of a talk I did nearly two years ago, and it was a VERY different experience doing it this time. The original version had been my first comics presentation, so I STUFFED it full of quotations and footnotes, and read most of it off a piece of paper. Since then I've realised that it's actually better to SUMMARISE and express the BIG POINTS from a place of KNOWLEDGE i.e. have an idea what you are on about and what you want to say, but instead of working it all out like a SPEECH, use the SLIDES to guide yourself through it, more like a GIG.
This way is a bit more NERVE-WRACKING but does involve a lot less LEARNING of text, and also tends to be a lot more entertaining to watch, I reckon, and it all seemed to go pretty well. The only downside of it was that, originally, I was meant to be doing a PAPER based on the original presentation but, after getting EXTENSIVE feedback from the peer reviewers, I'd decided not to. Now I'm thinking maybe I should! CURSES!
Taking ROCK To Manchester
I haven't played many times in Manchester, and so I wasn't sure what to expect when I headed off for this gig on Thursday, but my hopes of a GRATE night were raised when I arrived in town and received a text from my colleague Mr M Tiller informing me that we had ALREADY sold EIGHTEEN tickets! I know this is not quite Coldplay levels, but I am always amazed when ANYBODY books a ticket in advance (what if you can't go? why risk a fiver?!?) so was DELIGHTED!
I was even more happy to arrive at the venue, Gulliver's, and find that it was DEAD NICE. Matt had got the PA system set up, and then we enjoyed the traditional 10 minutes of trying to get the lights to work before having to call the landlord in to stop the whole thing flashing on and off like a DISCO RAVE PARTY.
I keep saying that the nicest thing about going back on the road is that you meet old chums, and this was entirely true again, notably with Ms E Pemberton and Ms C Birkby rolling up. There was time for some chat and a pint but then I had to go and sit on the DOOR - I really like doing the door at gigs, especially when we're also doing the lights and the sound and everything, it makes it feel as if the room is OURS for the duration! Matt went out and SCOOPED up everybody, and then it was time for me to go on and do THIS:
I had a BLOODY LOVELY time. Usually when I do a gig I get to the song before last and think "Yes, it is time for me to finish now, my angelic voice is gently hinting at amphibian qualities and I have perhaps ROCKED everybody almost TOO much" but on this occasion I could have gone on for AGES more. As you can see above, it was a funny old set full of songs I hardly ever play live, with very few actual HITS in it - I have a BIG list of songs that I want to try out on this here tour, and now that we're over the halfway point I thought I'd better get on with DOING some of them!
After a short break Matt went on and did, I think, the best gig he's done of the tour so far. They have all been GRATE, but this time it was like he was SURFING on WAVES of LARFS all the way through, with all sorts of silliness and big belly laughs at all points. It was an absolute DELIGHT to watch, and especially to feel the whole room DIGGING what he was doing, and especially especially when he did songs about his WIFE with his Father-in-law in the front row. It was ACE!
I had originally had Hey Hey 16K on my setlist, but when I got to it I thought "This doesn't look like an audience that would be too bothered about ZX Spectrums" so didn't bother. However, when the show was over it turned out that someone had come SPECIFICALLY to hear that song, so a small group of us went into the back room to do it. I bet you do not get THESE levels of service with Mr B Springstreen, although if you did he would probably be better at remembering all the words.
So ended yet another GRATE night of what is turning out to be a GRATE tour. We're in Bristol next, on Friday night, if you are in the area I would advise coming along, it will be FUN!
Today is that most wonderful of days related to food items - PANCAKE DAY!
There have been loads of songs about other parts of the year, notably Christmas but also Valentine's Day, New Year's Day (sepcifically how quiet it is) and of course everybody's birthdays, but there's never been one about Pancake Day.
For LO! this is the new single, out today, from John Dredge & The Plinths, the band what I am in as a sort of cack-handed Johnny Marr to John Dredge's Morrissey without the embarrassing bits (we should put that description on the next press release, it is a sure fire winner), along with Andy Harland as Mick Joyce and the mysterious Bob Burgon as Andy Rourke. The song's available to buy and stream on all the usual sites, most notably the band's bandcamp page, and we are SINCERELY hoping that it will be the song that, in future, everybody looks to when they need to run a news item on the telly about Pancacke Day or have a MONTAGE in a Romantic Comedy about Crepes. We're basically hoping it will do for Pancake Day what Prince did for 1999!
There's a whole other EP of Plinths songs to come later on in this year, but for now we hope you "flipping" (flipping!) well enjoy this one!
Rock And Roll Mayhem In South Yorkshire
The 'No Headliner' Tour continued last week with a trip to Sheffield which was packed - PACKED I say - with mayhem of a rock and roll kind.
It began with a terrifying SEVEN MINUTE delay to our train from London to Doncaster which meant that we missed our connectipon to Sheffield, despite the fact that Mr M Tiller has a fantastic APP on his phone which told us exactly which platform we needed to leg it to. What it didn't tell us was that the platform we ended up on had an ACTUAL PUB on it, The Draughtsman, which was a DELIGHTFUL place to a) wait b) have a pint in. There was then FURTHER TREPIDATION when we got on the next train and realised that we might have to buy new tickets, as it wasn't the one we'd booked for! PANIC!
But then the very nice ticket inspector was fine about it. PHEW! MAYHEM!
When we got to Sheffield we had AGES before showtime, so decided to have our tea a bit early. We were staying at the home of The Landlady (who now lives up there) and she'd promised us that she'd do us a MICROWAVE PLATTER for when we got home, so it seemed like a good idea to eat now. As we wandered down the road we saw a sign that said "Vegan Pies" - I feel that it is vitally important to support vegan/vegetarian endevours, ESPECIALLY when they involve PIES, but also cakes and beer, so we went in. It was VERY nice, and once we'd finished our tea Matt said that he was half thinking about maybe having a cocktail. The waitress said it was 2-for-1 so what could we do?
It would have been rude not to really.
After all that it was time to head for The Green Room, where we found our sound engineer for the evening, Brad, setting things up. Soon Mr T Eveleigh, promoter, arrived, and soundchecks were had. We met the headline act, Mr Roger Davies, and then we welcomed the various marvellous people who had come to see us. There were a LOT of them, and they were VERY marvellous - I flipping LOVE going to Sheffield because there are TONNES of bloody brilliant people there, a huge number of whom came along!
The evening kicked off with Eve's Alias, which is Tim's new ACT - apparently this was their first gig, but if they hadn't mentioned it one would not have known - and then Matt took to the stage and WOWED the assembled throng of Sheffield Indie Royalty. He was so good in fact that he made me NERVOUS of doing quite as many UNFAMILIAR (to me) songs as I'd been planning, so switched it round a bit and did THIS:
The gig finished with Roger Davies, who was dead good - he doesn't SOUND like Ivor Game, who I've booked for Totally Acoustic as many times as I can, but he did REMIND me of him, in that he had all these SONGS that sounded like there were covers of HITS I'd never heard, but weren't. He was good!
We then settled into CHAT, until one of the aforesaid Indie Royalty suggested we ACTUALLY DO go on somewhere else after closing, so a whole heap of us ended up crossing the road to The Devonshire Cat for EVEN MORE BOOZE and also GOOD TIMES, accompanied by various other delightful types such as the travelling army of Plymouth Argyle Supporters who have joined us on tour. It was BLOODY GRATE, and it was only the realisation that we had to get up in the morning that dragged us away to a taxi, and thence to the previously mentioned Micro-Platter.
It was a BRILLIANT evening, as it pretty much always is in Sheffield. Touring is GRATE!
The Validators At The Roundhouse
Friday afternoon saw me heading back to the Midlands, for LO! The Validators were playing their first gig of the year, and we were playing THE ROUNDHOUSE!
All right, it was the Derby Roundhouse rather than the slightly more famous London one, but still, it was Quite A Big Deal for us. We were booked to play at the Derby Winter Beer Festival, a gig which I was understandably rather excited about playing - I have BEEN to many beer festivals, but actually PLAYING one has long been a dream!
I thus got checked into my nearby hotel (I suspected I would not be wanting to do any travelling after this particular gig!) and then went to meet Mr FA Machine outside the station before heading over the bridge to the Roundhouse, where we found a GIGANTIC queue. Luckily Frankie knew what he was up to, and we found a Security Guard who waved us through the VIP entrance. Top Beer Festival Tip: it's much easier to persuade people you are "In The Band" when you have a guitar to wave at them.
We had a drink and a wander around, and I must admit I started to feel a bit nervous, as there were LOADS of people around. The people themselves looked, to quote Tim later, "like a Fall gig" (who'd've thought?) but I was a bit trepidatious about how they'd react to us bellowing at them. I was thus quite relieved when we found our stage, in a marquee attached to the main building, where people could CHOOSE to visit or not.
The rest of The Validators arrived in The Tigermobile, and Emma foolishly asked for my advice on How Beer Festivals Work - I was VERY happy to give it! We then went back to the stage area and met the other band. Tim had been in contact with their drummer, and it turned out that they had a LOT in common. Look, for instance, at this delightful picture of the two of them!
Kevin, their drummer, had ALSO been in a Band You Read About In The Melody Maker back in the day - Adorable! Tim INSISTED that he had not been the first to mention being in a band before, and of COURSE we all believed him, and it was a delight to see the two of them together. Also, should Tim ever be kidnapped mid-tour, we know where to get an almost identical replacement!
We did our soundcheck (which sounded LOUD), bumped into various PALS, and then wended our way back to the stage to do THIS:
It was A BIT OF A WEIRD ONE! It was a set of HITS, The sound was GRATE, and we sounded, if I may so so, PRETTY FLIPPING GOOD with shockingly few errors, and the audience down the front BOTH liked it, but everybody else in the marquee pretty much ignored the whole thing! It felt STRANGE - we'd BLAST through a song VERY loudly and then the aforesaid two chums at the front would clap... and that would be about it! I am a VETERAN of beer festivals and very aware of the fact that people are there for the BEER and not the acts, but it did feel odd to be on the other side of things!
Still, it was good fun, and what followed was MORE good fun as we staggered around in various combinations of Validators trying out all sorts of BEERS and having a bit of a yack. We also watched the other band, who were a (really good) indie covers band, doing a broad selection of songs that went down A LOT better than ours had! I think their lead singer must have been a bit of a Liam Gallagher fan though, as surely there is no other reason to cover a Liam Gallagher solo single? Other than that though I doff my ROCK hat to them, for LO! they got the whole tent going in a way we certainly did not!
Eventually time was called and we were forced to depart, thus concluding what turns out to have been our first gig in Derby in FOURTEEN YEARS! Fear not, Derby, you will not have so long to wait for our return, as we're hoping to be back in May... for another Beer Festival!
The Tour Hits Leicester
I had the afternoon off work on Wednesday, in order to head to my old stomping ground of Leicester to perform once again at The Leicester Comedy Festival. This time I was doing a show with Mr M Tiller, as part of our 'No Headliner' tour, rather than the more usual Mr S Hewitt, but just like Steve Matt was at the station early, and our ensuing journey went off without a hitch. We got to Leicester about two hours earlier than we needed to be for the show, due to tickets pricing, so we went to a nearby cafe, where Matt spent the two hours doing some work on his modern laptop, and I spent the two hours on the phone to My Literary Agent. Crumbs, it was a LONG conversation - we had spoken for an HOUR the night before about the next batch of changes to THE BOOK and overnight I had had a Good Old Think and come up with some IDEAS what we talked through at some extreme length. He is DEAD excited about the whole thing, hence the LONG discussions which, hopefully, will make the finished MASTERPIECE even better than what it is already. HARD TO IMAGINE I KNOW.
While I was talking NOVELS and Matt was typing TV PITCHES two Comedians (including one Off The Telly) came in for a cuppa too. It was SO GLAMOROUS!
With our work done we headed over to the Globe for a VERY MUCH needed pint, pausing only for a Vegan Sausage Roll from Greggs on the way (my first, it was good!). We were soon joined in the pub by Mr C Fisher, Mr T McClure, Jan from the Plymouth Argyle Supports Club (London Branch) (AGANE!) and then various delightful audience members. The only thing we DIDN'T have was a representative of the Cookie Club who we were doing the gig for. It turned out that the person they'd arranged to do the door for us hadn't turned up, but they IMMEDIATELY sent someone else running round the corner to sort it all out, which was GRATE, and meant the show was able to go on!
Matt went first this time, with an ACTUAL FRENCH TEACHER (it turned out) doing 'Henri'! He also did his song about his family being Tories, which was a) GRATE but also b) meant I had to take MY song about people being Tories out of the setlist, and do THIS instead:
I also tried to do Chips And Cheese, Pint Of Wine but drew a complete BLANK on the words. Other than that it all went pretty well, and I was especially pleased to get all the way through Hibbett's Golden Rules Of Beer as I'm planning to do that at the Validators gig at the Derby Beer Festival tonight!
We packed up, thanked the audience, and nipped downstairs for some more BOOZE, and I was once again reminded that the BEST thing about touring like this is that I get to see various PALS around the country. It was LOVELY, but all too soon it was time to head back to the station, where we saw the same two comedians ALSO waiting for their train back to That London. It's handy being able to do a gig like this without staying over, but it didn't half feel like a long journey home!
And so ended the first section of TOUR - next is a string of gigs where I'll be staying OVERNIGHT in different cities! PREPARE FOR MAYHEM!
Over the weekend myself and The Ducks On My Pond went to Walthmstow Wetlands for a stomp around. It's what used to be (and partly still is) the reservoirs that you go through the middle of on the GOBLIN line after Blackhorse Road, but it's been spruced up with a visitor centre and signage to make it into A Thing You Can Go To rather than A Thing You Go Through. They've done a nice job of it too!
Getting there was easy, on the secret train that goes twice an hour from Stratford to Tottenham Hale i.e. the same train I used to get when me and Steve used to practice at Bally. The short walk to the wetlands involves crossing the border into Waltham Forest, which was one of those ABRUPT changes where it stops being Tottenham and becomes almost LEAFY.
The Wetlands itself is a bit like that too - there's trees and lakes and WATERFOWL so you could almost be in the countryside, but then if you look to the horizon you can see that it's surrounded by tower blocks and clumps of SKYSCRAPERS off in the distance. It also reminded me of The Olympic Park, where I live but don't like to go on about it, as a man-made place inching towards wildlife but with constant reminders that you were in a city. We were on the lookout for BIRDS - we didn't spot any Kingfishers or similar, but DID see a LOT of DUCKS. I like ducks, so this was fine with me!
We may not have seen any rare plumage, but we did get to do a bit of CELEBRITY SPOTTING - I'm pretty sure we saw that bloke who was in 'Scrotal Recall'/'Lovesick' and also the start and end of 'Sex Education' (you would know him if you saw him). I did the traditional DOUBLE TAKE which he noticed, then we both did Polite Casual Pretending Not To Notice It Had Happened, which felt very sophisticated.
It was a great visit, but crikey, we was KNACKERED when we got home, there is a LOT of reservoir to walk around!
Taking The Tour To Camberwell
On Sunday night I packed up my gig gear (guitar, MERCH, clean t-shirt) and headed out to CAMBERWELL, for the second night of the No Headliner Tour with Mr Matt Tiller.
We were playing at The Joiner's Arms, one of those venues that I've HEARD about for years but never actually been in. It was dead nice! The front of the pub is A London Pub (i.e. it has one of those MASSIVE bar areas in the middle that London Pubs seem to love) and the back room is, well, a back room, with a stage area and a pool table. I knew we were in safe hands, venue-wise, when someone came out before the gig started and put a cover on the pool table so nobody could use it while the gig went on - sometimes in the past I've done gigs at pubs that almost seem to resent the fact it's happening, and determinedly maintain things like the pool table or juekbox, but the Joiner's very clearly LIKED having gigs on, and did it very well.
Matt was already there when I arrived, and after some table shuffling and a brief, yet perfectly executed, soundcheck we were ready for people to arrive. Amazingly, LOADS of them did, including various Cresswells, Greens, Gilroys and Sarlls, and also my little brother! It was a GRATE turnout, full of friendly faces, and it almost felt like an imposition for me to go on and shout at them. ALAS that was what I was there for, so after a fulsome introduction from Matt I went on and did THIS:
I REALLY enjoyed it. As previously stated I am setting out on this tour with the INTENT to do lots of different songs, so this time I did an almost entirely different set from what i did in Croydon last week. I've got a big list of ALL the songs I've been practicing, with ones I've already done marked, so in a way it does make it easier to PICK the setlist, though it feels a bit weird not to have access to all of the GUARANTEED BANGERS that I'd usually fall back on. The main thing is that it forces me to do more than just the old Uberset, and give some of the NEW songs more of a chance - as you can see from the above there were a LOT of them this time, including the world debut of An Office Ballad!
There was a BEER interlude then it was my turn to go on and introduce Matt, who was of course FAB. I'm really enjoying playing with Matt on these gigs, I think our styles are COMPLIMENTARY yet Sufficiently Different to make for a Good Evening Out. I'm ESPECIALLY enjoying the 'Henri The Lorry Driver' song, which is a wonderfully different world of delight every time - last night he got a GENUINE (very drunk) FRENCHMAN to join him and it was HILARIOUS!
After the gig there was time for chat and also some MERCH SALES, which is something I very much enjoyed, before fond farewells and then a LENGTHY journey home featuring an entirely kaput Jubilee Line. Apart from that though it had been a BLOODY GRATE night - it turns out that touring is ACE, come and see us on the other dates and I'll prove it to you!
Stage Times Furore
Yesterday there was an article in one of the tawdry free tabloids saying that The 100 Club were going to stop publishing stage times. This caused an ONLINE FURORE with sensible people pointing out the 300,000,000 very good reasons why this was stupid, some Perfectly Nice People saying "It's to make you see the support band" and 17 wazzocks saying "It's about the music maaaan."
The 100 Club claimed that the reason they were doing it was to force people to come early and see the support bands because, hey, they could be the next big band, yeah? Obviously this is a load of bollocks, as the only reason they want people there early (as casually mentioned in a follow-up on the BBC) is so that you're forced to spend more money at the bar while you wait. "If people come here and see another band we are going to make a bit more money but it's not going to pay the rent on Oxford Street," he says. No, I imagine you make that money from hiring out the venue, what with that being YOUR BUSINESS and everything. Also, if venues like The 100 Club were ACTUALLY PLEASANT places to be in, and sold beer that DIDN'T turn you inside out the next morning, then people WOULD spend more time in there, rather than going to one of the MANY much much nicer around Oxford Street (who I imagine also pay rent) before heading down to see the band they had ACTUALLY PAID FOR. As The Beer In My Glass remarked when we discussed this, if the venue did things like telling you ACCURATE times when you went there you'd have a much nicer time and so would be MORE likely to go AGANE and spend MORE money too!
I'm all for going and seeing the support band, having been a support band for the VAST majority of my gigs, but if you are the ARTISTE you specifically DO NOT want an audience of people who explicitly DO NOT WANT TO BE THERE. These are the absolute WORST people to try and play for - they will refuse to listen and talk LOUDLY all through your set, spoiling it for anyone who actually DOES want to see you, and will on occasion get on stage and try to PHYSICALLY REMOVE you so that their mates can come on and, invariably, play an hour of "blues funk with an indie twist", generally while wearing HATS.
What you need is a set-up like they used to have at the Bull & Gate, back in the 1890s when I used to play there. That had an ACTUAL PUB which you could sit in and chat, undisturbed by whatever dreadful nonsense you were sharing the bill with, a dedicated GIG ROOM without a bar or toilets which was JUST for seeing bands in, and between the two a sort of halfway house with a BAR and some seats where you could hear the bands and, if you were curious, pop in to see them. This meant that punters could CHOOSE to go and look at someone they'd not seen before, rather than be forced to SHOUT over them, and once they were in it was up to the BAND to try and KEEP them there.
It all comes down, I reckon, to who you think that gigs are FOR. I have been a gig-goer, a promoter and, of course, an International Rock Star, and in all those guises it has been clear to me that a gig is for THE BLOODY AUDIENCE. They're the ones who've come out to be entertained and have often PAID for the privilege. It's the JOB of the promoter to persuade them to come (by doing things like TELLING THEM WHEN IT'S HAPPENING), and of the band to ENTERTAIN them when they get there to such an extent that they a) want to come again and b) buy your MERCH. Oh and, of course, c) GET THEIR MINDS BLOWN BY HOW AWESOME YOU ARE.
Sadly, many many bands what I have experienced over the years think the gig is for THEM. These are the ones who have all the costumes and pre-worked BANTER who get upset if it doesn't go exactly how they imagined, or the ones who do not even LOOK at the audience, let alone speak, and then complain that they didn't clap enough. These sort of bands or acts would be MUCH happier if they stayed in the rehearsal room, and to be honest so would the rest of us!
In conclusion, then, I would say that it IS worth going to see support bands - they're usually crap because ALL bands are usually crap, but occasionally one isn't - but GOOD LORD if you have bothered to turn up then, as long as you don't spoil it for other people by e.g. standing at the front and talking loudly all the bloody way through the gig, you are free to come and go as you PLEASE. Any band, or promoter, that thinks otherwise does not deserve an audience in the first place!
The Tour Begins!
On Thursday night last week the 'No Headliner' tour began, as all major international ROCK tours should, in Croydon. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: it went pretty well!
I took the exciting new(ish) Thameslink route there, which goes DIRECTLY from underneath St Pancras and is DEAD handy. It's also not hugely busy, partly because TfL seems to be keeping SCHTUM about it. When I tried routeplanner it told me all sorts of long ways round to get from where I work to East Croydon, but the national rail planner had no such problems. I wonder if that's on purpose, to stop to many people using it? I ended up coming back that way too, on a train that was going all the way to PETERBOROUGH! THRILLZ!!
The gig was at the Urban XChange Bar, which I'd not been to before, so I diligently researched it and found that a) I had to leave through the SIDE entrance of East Croydon Station (i.e. on PURPOSE rather than ACCIDENTALLY as I have before) and then b) go through Croydon's Hotel District. I wasn't aware that Croydon HAD a Hotel District, but it does make a lot of sense, location-wise, and sure enough it turned out to be a district full of HOTELS. It was also a bit confusing, with me ending up back near the main entrance of the station before I eventually found my way back to the correct venue, wherein I found Mr M Tiller and Mr T Eveleigh, ready to get things going.
The venue is part of a HOTEL (see above re. District) which meant I could order my TEA directly from the Hotel Restaurant next door, which felt quite fancy. I continued my experiments drinking BEER again rather than Lager too, which again worked dead well as, SCIENCE shows, I do not get quite as DOOLALLY drinking Session Ales as I do drinking LAGER BEER.
Various delightful people rolled up, not least Mr B Parker who I'd not seen for AGES, and soon it was time for the SHOW to begin, with Big Tim doing the introductions and local ARTISTE Mr D Sears on first. Dave mentioned several times in his set that the audience was "quiet" during the songs, as if it was something he wasn't used to - he is one of them FOLK musicians, so maybe people at those sort of gigs CHAT throughout? I always remember being confused seeing folk music played in a pub with the singer apparently unbothered by people YACKING, so maybe that's how it works?
Next up was Matt who OBVS was GRATE - he did some fab NEW songs including a dead good one about being CLUMSY, but my favourite bit of his set was when he did the French Lorry Driver one. This is where he gets someone on stage to "translate" his French story, and starts with him asking for someone who can speak French to come on stage. The first volunteer was eating a pizza, so couldn't spare the time, and nobody else wanted to do it until a chap at the back decided to help him out. He'd shouted things out a couple of times already and practically strutted on stage, so I wondered whether he was one of those people who want to mess things up and/or be difficult, but he was actually BRILLIANT! He read the whole thing out properly, except for one line which he DID A JOKE with, and was all round MARVELLOUS. I love it when that sort of thing happens, it was An Theatrical Moment!
Then it was my turn to go on, and this is what I did:
It seemed to go all right - it was a bit difficult to tell because the stage lights were quite bright, so the only people I could see were the members of The Plymouth Argyle Supporters Association (London Branch) who'd come to see Matt. They looked happy, so I took that as a good sign!
I must admit I was a bit nervous as this was my first gig of the year, and my first actual full-length PUB-based solo gig since I last played in Croydon, nearly ten months ago! This meant there were a couple of ERRORS (notably getting the verses mixed up and occasionally re-written during Being Happy Doesn't Make You Stupid) and I think I rushed through the CHAT a bit (although nobody seemed to complain - just being polite, I expect), but otherwise if felt GOOD. I very much enjoyed singing Mental Judo, and was ESPECIALLY proud of myself for doing You're A Tory Now, which I had only actually finished writing the day before!
It was a GRATE first date of the tour, and hopefully a sign to ME that doing new songs is FINE. I have a list of about 38 potential HITS to bring out over this string of dates, and hopefully I will try and DO most of them, rather than what I usually do i.e. chicken out and do the same UBERSET on every date! If you're in London, Leicester, Sheffield, Bristol, Manchester or ENVIRONS then do please come along to one of the tour dates and see how I get on!
As mentioned last time, I'm currently going through the process of 'Confirmation' for my PhD. This sort of thing apparently works differently at different universities, but at UAL it's basically the bit where I have to prove that what I'm doing is sensible, and that they should definitely let me do it as a PhD. This seems a bit over the top to me - is there anything MORE suitable for research than Doctor Doom between 1961 and 1987?!? - but I am HUMOURING them.
As part of this process you have to present an ASPECT of your research in front of your PEERS, so on Monday this week I rolled up at an all day SYMPOSIUM to do exactly that. I'd taken the day off work to do it, so it felt a bit of a let down to still turn up AT work on my day off (NB I work at UAL too), at the same time I usually get in, and then just go to a different room. Also, I know the people who RUN these events, as they only sit a few desks back from me (and excitingly have Access Databases which I know how to fix)!
Once it got going it was not entirely the same as my day job, as there were a lot more POWERPOINT presentations than in a usual day. There's a HUGE range of research topics being done at UAL, and so some of the talks were VERY interesting and some of them were Somewhat Less So (to me anyway), but I was constantly Mildly Distracted by the fact that I was on LAST, and so had to wait until the VERY END to do my bit.
When it was eventually my turn I went up and did a version of the paper I gave last November at the Transitions Conference, all about Doctor Doom's appearances in 'Not Brand Echh', Marvel's rip-off of 'Mad'. I made a few changes, like explaining the idea of the PhD a bit at the start, and cutting out some of the more esoteric gags (I guess not everybody finds J Michael Straczynski's run on 'Amazing Spider-Man' INHERENTLY AMUSING), but otherwise it was pretty similar and, actually, good fun to be doing it again.
Afterwards there was a panel discussion and, JUST like last time, everybody else got piercing questions about their research and MY first question was 'Who would win out of Magneto and Doctor Doom?' I don't know why, but pretty much EVERY time I do a comics presentation, no matter how HIGH FALUTIN' the event, people ask this sort of question. Luckily I knew the answer ("It's always Doom, except if he fights Squirrel Girl"), but the other questions were a bit trickier, notably when somebody asked me what the contribution to knowledge was and I went OFF ON ONE a bit about how studying comics is PRECISELY as viable as studying films or books.
Everyone seemed to think it went well, although my supervisor did warn about being TOO FUNNY (a constant trial!) as it gave people from Other (SNOOTIER) Fields an excuse to dismiss Comics Studies as Not Serious and Not Important. My initial response, which I expressed at the time, was "Screw Those Guys", but I guess that doesn't really work if you're trying to get Art Historians to give you funding.
Hang on a minute, is that what I never got funding for the PhD?!? WHY must I be so CONSTANTLY HILARIOUS?!? It's not fair!
Pulse Pounding Publications
Those of you who are regular readers of Marvel Age Doom, my ongoing blog where I read through every appearance of Doctor Doom in Marvel Comics between 1961 and 1987, will already be aware of the EXCITING NEWS that I have had my first comics studies academic paper published. Those of you who are not regular readers, give it a go - it's basically the same as this blog, except that the main character is from Latveria instead of Peterborough!
The paper is called 'In Search of Doom: Tracking a Wandering Character Through Data' and it's in a journal called IMAGE: The Journal of Interdisciplinary Image Science which you can read for FREE online. It's all about how I used databases to put together the ENORMOUS list of comics I'm reading and will, I feel, be fairly interesting to anyone who reads this who is ALSO interested in comics AND/OR computing. I mean, I know that most of you are SPORTS STARS, SUPERMODELS and ASTRONAUTS, but I guess there might be somebody out there who falls into the former categories?
I'm really chuffed to have got this out there. It's based on the paper I did when I went to Tuebingen last year, and it was HEAVILY helped along by Lukas Wilde, the chap who ran the conference. He was EXTREMELY concerned about it all being CORRECT, and as a result I reckon it has come out PRETTY GOOD, so much so that I'm going to be re-using the article as part of my PhD Confirmation process, which is currently ongoing. More on that, next time!
A Band Meeting
It was CHRISTMAS in Leicester on Saturday night - I know this because when I checked into the Premier Inn that afternoon the receptionist said they'd got quite a lot of Christmas parties staying. She then asked what I was in town for.
"A Christmas party!" I replied. For LO! It was time for that that most FESTIVE annual event, the Validators' Christmas Curry! Last year's was in Leicester and it was SO nice that we decided to have it there again, and so it was that I dropped off my bags, popped back to the station to collect Mr FA Machine, and then walked over to The Ale Waggon for pre-dinner BEERS, and also a BAND MEETING.
It was, as ever, flipping LOVELY to get everyone together again, and also incredibly EFFICIENT. We discussed many issues pertaining to the year ahead, not least a decision have a go at recording a new EP. As Tim said, we can't be in the 2019 Dandelion Radio Festive 50 if we don't actually release anything!
It was also a chance for me to experiment with drinking ACTUAL BEER again. For the past year or so I've been trying to reduce YEAST intake by drinking LAGER instead, but it doesn't seem to have achieved all that much, so I thought I'd trial a return to ALE. It was a trial I very much enjoyed taking part in!
With all business concluded we strolled round to Kayal for our curry, which was ACE. At first I was a little disappointed that the portions actually fitted on our plates, but later on when I did NOT have eyes BULGING with food I was grateful. It was dead nice!
We discussed the usual topics that all insane rock and roll bands do - writing wills, the works of JK Jerome, wellbeing practices etc etc - and had a flipping DELIGHTFUL time all round. Normally I'd come away from these events sad that we wouldn't be seeing each other again, but happily we're playing at the Derby Winter Beer Festival in a couple of weeks. We don't know what time we're playing or anything, but I'm pretty sure I'll have a chance to try ALE again!
Culture In Camberwell
Sometimes I think I should hire this blog out to Time Out or The Face or something, as it is basically a CULTURAL DIARY full of HIGHBROW ARTS. For instance, today's missive is all about an ART SHOW what I went to on Wednesday night, in distant Camberwell.
I was there to see some Performance Art featuring The Artist Tom Smith (AKA my baby brother, leave him alone, he's only little), taking place at the South London Gallery, which happens to be right next door to the Camberwell College Of Art where I sometimes have to go with WORK. I thus knew how to get there and arrived a good half hour before showtime, which mean I had plenty of time to sit in the cafe and have a nice, but VERY expensive, cup of coffee, and a nice, but INCREDIBLY expensive Small Can Of Lager. £4.50 for a coke-sized can of lager?!? I've lived in London a long time, but even I had cause to raise an eyebrow!
The show itself was GRATE, although it was a bit weird a) seeing things that Thomas had TALKED about in the pub for the past year appear before mine eyes and especially b) hearing him tell stories about his youth that I KNEW to be untrue. It was all I could do to restrain myself from jumping up and shouting "You never had a Lazer Disc player! NOTHING IS REAL!" There was also a dead good bit which he'd TOLD me about where (spoilers) everything seemed to go wrong, which was done SO convincingly that I thought it actually had!
Anyway, it was dead good and it was called Messages From Friends and it was dead good and if you go be nice to him because HE IS ONLY SEVEN.
After his bit there was a BREAK, during which I discovered that certain ROCK skills are very much transferable to ART i.e. as SOON as the lights go down for the interval you need to DASH to the bar otherwise there'll be a MASSIVE queue. How I chortled at the poor fools queuing up five minutes later, as I sipped another can of LUDICROUSLY priced lager!
Good Grief, Charlie Brown
On Saturday The Panels In My Strip went to see Good Grief, Charlie Brown, at Somerset House, an exhibition about Charles Schultz, 'Peanuts', and art inspired by it.
It was DEAD GOOD.
We'd been meaning to go for ages, and it was WELL worth the wait. It was set out over two LONG rooms over two floors, with double sided boards throughout the middle, almost all of which featured the original artwork for several strips. The best thing about THAT, obviously, was that there was a lot of 'Peanuts' to read, but there was all sorts of information along the sides packed with new (to us) FACTS. I grew up thinking of 'Peanuts' as just another cartoon in my Nan's newspaper, not much different to 'Garfield' with its cheesy gags, tonnes of merchandise, and sligthly sentimental cartoon shows. I never thought of it as anything more than that at the time, but seeing it in this context made me realise how funny it was, and how touching it could be too. Also, things like Schultz's support for feminism, and the introduction of Franklin, and his invention of the term 'security blanket' and... well, lots of things, were all EXTREMELY interesting.
I was also surprised to see 'Peanuts' described as the longest ongoing work of art produced by one person. I'd just assumed that, like most daily newspaper strip cartoonists, he'd used a studio of some kind, especially when it all got famous, but apparently not. I suppose that is why you can see the style change as it goes along, especially in the first few years.
In theory it was also an exhibition about the art that 'Peanuts' had inspired, but to be honest we didn't pay much attention to that, and I didn't see anybody else doing it much either. The central displays were much too interesting to be distracted by a big Charlie Brown jumper, although I DID really like Good Old Gregor Brown, an extremely clever version of Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' using the 'Peanuts' characters which was respectful to BOTH.
The one thing they didn't seem to mention much was the commercialisation of the strip. There were LOTS of displays of actual Merchandise (including some copies of the Peanuts Books which I'm sure I wasn't the only person to SNIFF as they passed by) but not much discussion of what some people would say was an oversaturation, to the point where PILLOCKS like me only saw the Cuddly Toys and not the stories themselves. Other than that thought it was BRILLIANT - I would highly recommend it, and also a trip through the GIFT SHOP on the way out!
Afterwards we headed up to Angel to attend the BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS of that most marvellous of humans, Mr J Jervis. We'd gone for the EARLY session, before the main evening DO at The Lexington, which meant we got to spend a lovely few hours chatting to him and Mr B Clancy before they had to go round the corner, while we got to go home for curry! It was the perfect end to a ruddy DELIGHTFUL day!