Friday, 31 October 2014

Crappest Maracas.

I bet I know what happened. 

There's only so many common faults a batch of maracas* can have. Either the stems all snapped or the innards burst forth. The latter is an amusing image.

I can picture each maraca-buyer** skipping home, delighted with their purchase and desperate to try them out. I said ‘them’ then rather than ‘it’ because they’d never be sold singly. Owning one maraca is weird.

Imagine the glee on the purchasers’ faces as they stand in their respective kitchens, taking their big scissors to the plastic packaging to free the percussion that lurks within; their happy looks soon switching to frustration when the shrink-wrap puts up a fight. I just wish I hadn’t discussed these people in plural as it confuses the image.

How many shakes did it take to release the beans? Was it enough to constitute a rhythm? It would turned their kitchen floor into a death trap. You don't get that with castanets.

I once saw this when I was out walking.

A lonely maraca lurking in the undergrowth is a sorry sight.

*collective term.
**The current US President. 

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Total Pants.

Yesterday, I threw out a bin bag full of underwear. North-Herts-based fetishists, take note.

This wasn’t a 100% commitment to commandoism. I didn’t dispose of every pair I own. The reason for this pants purge was simple: I’ve recently acquired a tumble dryer, and the sudden upsurge of fresh laundry has led to a battle for drawer space. There I was, squeezing all of my favourite boxer shorts into a non-existent gap, when there were so many pairs sitting untouched beneath them. Removing the detritus was a victory for common sense.

I wasn’t particularly hesitant about the job in hand. Anything that didn’t meet my basic criteria went in the bag: if they looked too big or too small, they were out.

I was surprised by how many I didn’t recognise. I must have bought most of them myself. I found one pair covered in Christmas trees, which had to be a gift. What better way to mark the festive season than covertly, beneath your trousers.

One pair that would never be resigned to the dustbin were the y-fronts I wore in an advert for Spongebob Squarepants. They're a family heirloom.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A Deeper Cut.

Even though it happened twenty years ago, I still vividly remember the time my parents said the Wings song Magneto & Titanium Man was shit.

(Not their exact wording, but the sentiment.)

We were speeding down the A1 on our way back from Weymouth, returning from a holiday I’d won in a talent show. I was obsessed with magic as a child, and would carry a few tricks with me whenever we went away. I'd entered the first heat of the competition on a whim, while on another family break to the Isle of Wight. It only took a coin trick, a rope trick and a quick burst of the linking rings to secure a place in the final in Weymouth, where I sank without a trace. So I wasn’t in the best mood in the car to start with.

My parents let me choose the soundtrack for the journey home, to keep my spirits up. I handed my mum a C60 of Venus & Mars that I’d taped from the LP (I had eclectic tastes for a child of the 80s). We were just five songs into side A when the atmosphere turned sour. My dad turned to my mum and said, unequivocally, ‘This is crap’.

I felt affronted. I liked Wings and I loved that song. It may not have been as accessible as Jet or Band on the Run, but it was one of my favourites. I knew there was often a clash in taste between different generations, but not usually because the child liked something from their parents’ era. I quietly fumed to myself for the rest of the journey.

I’m not sure why I still recall such a fleeting and innocuous moment. It certainly suggests my childhood wasn’t too traumatic. At least it made a change from always listening to Cliff Richard’s Private Collection. Now, there’s a title that’s become more sinister of late.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Actors: Know Your Place.

When you work in theatre, the Front of House staff sometimes like to keep you in your place. 

I have a lot of examples seared into my memory. They're my personal Vietnam, without the flashbacks. Take, for instance, the time I was on tour with Buddy Holly and the Cricketers, playing a venue in deepest, darkest Ireland, and one of the ushers came up to me in the green room mid-interval, jabbed a finger in my chest and said, 'Well, I couldn't hear you'.

She seemed to labour under the misapprehension that, as well as playing Buddy, I was also in charge of the sound mix, and had given myself insufficient level as some kind of personal affront. The dressing down wasn't over yet. With her accusatory digit still extended, she proceeded to go around the rest of the room. 

First the bassist. 'I could hear you.' 
Then the rhythm guitarist. 'I could hear you.' 
Then the sax player. 'I could hear you.' 
Then the drummer. 'I could hear you.' 
Then finally back to me. 'But I couldn't hear you.'

Another memorable incident took place in the bar of the Theatre in Hunstanton, when an elderly volunteer told me she hadn't been able to see my face in the show because it was obscured by my microphone. I didn't know my head was that small.

'You needed to stand further away', she said.
'But then you wouldn't hear me', I replied. 
She shook her head like she was an expert in mic technique.
To be fair, she obviously had issues with distance: her drawn-on eyebrows were at least three centimetres too high up her face.

My best / worst example happened in the bar of the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, post show. Every Summer and Christmas they stage a sixties-themed comedy, of which I used to a regular cast member. On this particular occasion I was chatting to one of the ushers, who’d seen me in a lot of stuff in the past.
 ‘So what do you do work-wise for the rest of the year?’, he asked.
‘Bits and bobs’, I replied. ‘In my job, you're always jumping from one thing to the next’.
‘It must be hard’, he replied. Then came the bombshell: ‘It'd be even worse if you were an actor.’

He’d just watching me acting for the past two hours. Fuck’s sake.

Monday, 27 October 2014

My Barren Brain.

I’ve spent the last hour staring at my screen, trying to think of something to write.

This is frustrating, as I wanted to finish two blogs today: one for now and one for Sunday. I’d planned to hold one back to allow more time at the weekend to work on my stand-up. It’s easier to do that then, as the building our office is in will be empty, and I feel less of a dick talking out loud. I’ll still feel a bit of a dick – that goes with the territory – just not as much as usual.

Of course, nobody’s insisting I write every day except me. This self-enforced deadline is arbitrary. But you can’t get over a year into something and then stop. That would be defeatist.

I’ve been really enjoying it lately, despite today’s blip. It’s been invaluable, both in keeping my brain ticking over and giving me the confidence to tell – and sell – a story. The last year has been an exercise in trying to find my voice. I think that's forming. Now, I’d like to do the same thing in a live context.

I may be blabbering today. That’s down to lack of inspiration. If so, you may be better off skipping to some of the other blogs I’ve written this week. Start with the one about my dad forcing me to like The Shadows. I was quite pleased with that.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Crap PR.

Pray silence for the world's worst tagline.

How is that a boast? You don’t get kudos for simply doing the thing you do. You need to do it well. I know that Domino’s Pizza do pizzas. It’s there in the title. I don’t need them to tell me twice.

I can’t decide whether ‘It’s What We Do’ sounds lazy or defensive.  How often have people accused them of not making pizzas for them to need to assert that they do? I don’t recall there being a backlash. Or could they not be arsed to think of something better?

On the flipside, I spotted my favourite tagline of all time about a decade ago in Blockbuster Video.

Despite the long-forgotten Pukka Pie connotations, it’s still genius; Domino’s Pizza, take note.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Load of Hank.

From early on in my life, my dad tried to impinge on my musical taste.

I must have been ten when he offered to buy me an album as a treat. I’m not sure what I'd done to earn it. I remember being given a Paul Daniels Magic Set when my pet rabbit died, so perhaps the circumstances were similar. My parents' gift-per-grim-reaper-visit technique gave me a distorted sense of mortality; it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I accepted I wouldn’t be rewarded every time someone or something close to me shuffled off this mortal coil. Thus ending my killing spree.

We were walking through Stevenage Town Centre when my Dad put forward his offer. He said I could have any album I wanted.
I searched my head for ideas. A band came to the forefront almost instantly. I’d spent most of my childhood flicking through my parents’ record collection; when you haven’t got siblings, you take your entertainment where you can. When it came to choosing my favourite artist, one name kept coming up.
‘I quite like The Beatles’, I said.
‘No you don’t. You like The Shadows.’ Before I could complain, my dad had grabbed my hand and dragged me into Smiths.

I came out moments later clutching this.

I sat in front of my Hi-Fi system that afternoon, disappointed. Four sides of sterile instrumentals lay before me on double-cassette. My God, it was shit. Calling a fifty-song-compilation by any artist their "greatest hits" would be a bit of a stretch. The Shadows could whittle it down to twelve at a push. 

I’m still a big Beatles fan twenty-three years later. The Shadows still leave me cold. If my dad wanted their album he could have bought it for himself. He didn’t need to use me as an alibi.

To be fair, my dad did buy most of my guitars for me. One of them is a Beatles bass. I also own a Fender Stratocaster. It’s black though, not red; I wasn't going to fall for the same trick twice.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Search Me.

I sometimes question my past Google searches.

Thankfully Gmail trumped stigmata for the top spot. If the latter had been more popular, it would have called my entire internet history into question. I suppose it could be worse. I could have been looking it up on NHS Direct. Which no longer exists, by the way. Bloody Tories.

(Which is not a reference to stigmata in Government.)

At least I wasn’t looking up something inappropriate. You won’t be arrested for researching stigmata. I don’t think so, anyway. Not unless you’re scanning the internet for ‘stigmata teens’. I’d like to hope this isn’t a real fetish, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Either way, I’d sooner remain in ignorance.

In reality, I was just checking my facts for a joke. I search a lot of incongruous subjects for this reason. As a result, I’m a mine of useless information. Still, it keeps me busy.

All in your Jeans.

There’s a point in the early hours of the morning when jeans become noisy.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment, but it tends to be when you sneak into your bedroom after a gig, at 2am, in pitch darkness, trying to be quiet so as not to wake your wife.

It’s at this time that denim is at its swishiest. It doesn’t make that much racket during the day. When I walked through Hitchin town centre this morning, the streets were packed. Most of these people were wearing jeans. Despite their abundance, I didn’t hear a single example of thigh against thigh. Perhaps I wasn’t listening hard enough.

What is it about the dead of the night that makes walking in jeans so dinful? Maybe it’s a sound we’ve got so used to during the day, we just blank it out. It’s like Hoppípolla by Sigur Rós: it’s on television so often we never hear it.

Thank God I wasn’t wearing cords. Then I would have worked up some serious friction.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Dad Jokes.

I find myself in a bit of a stand-up material-based quandary.

I’ve written a short routine about my dad that I’m quite pleased with. I tried it out at last Wednesday’s London Mostly Comedy and it was the most well received part of my set. Now, thanks to an act dropping out of tomorrow’s Hitchin show last minute, I may do a little solo stand-up to fill time. I’d like to do the skit about my dad, but he’ll be there, and I don’t want him to be offended by it.

I shouldn't think he will be. There’s nothing malicious in it. I’d just sooner not do something that references him directly the first time he watches me perform on my own. He’s very supportive of what I do and I wouldn't want to upset him.

I could put something else in its place, but that would be risky. I plan to try out five minutes of new solo material at our London show each month and then do it again in Hitchin, to solidify it before I move on to the next bit. There are a few other stories I could tell, but I’d like to wait until they’re tighter. Having to juggle the running of the gig, making sure the acts have arrived and are happy, recording the podcast and appearing on stage is stressful. It’s best to not have to waste much brainpower over trying to remember what you have to say.

Glyn has seen the set and says I’ve got nothing to worry about. My wife also signed the idea off. I even ran the routine past my mum over the phone today, who laughed and said it was fine. The only person left in my inner circle now is my dad himself. I'll find out what he thinks tomorrow. If it doesn’t go well, I may be on the look out for a new father figure.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Feeling Glad All Over.

Of the many – some might say too many – projects me and Glyn have set up, the one I’m proudest of is 'Glad All Over!: A Sixties Celebration’.

(c) Tim Parker

The show came into being in a pub; the Spice of Life in Soho, in fact. We met with our friend Rob Maskell to discuss the idea of putting together a show to raise money for one of our Edinburgh Festival runs. Me and Rob had gigged together a lot in the past, and often expressed an interest in setting up our own actor / muso show, in an attempt to put right a lot of the self-perceived wrongs of the various shows we’d worked on previously. 

Suddenly we had an excuse to do it. We booked a date at The Queen Mother Theatre in Hitchin that Summer and put together a band. The premise was simple; the show would be a two-hour gig built around a four-piece band who were all singers and multi-instrumentalists, plus three additional female singers. We wanted to cover as broad a selection of Sixties music as possible, rather than shy away from the ambitious or left-field. Most of all, we wanted the band to be authentic, energized and of a similar age to original artists.

GAO Artwork. Ooh. Authentic.

Once we’d settled on a set with a natural build that would sit well with the cast’s musical ability, we started to work out our arrangements. It was fun piecing it together. I’ve always loved working Rob. We know how to get the best out of each other musically, and laugh a lot while doing it.

Amazingly, our cast all agreed to do the first show for expenses, as they knew we trying to raise money for mine and Glyn’s Edinburgh show, while also attempting to put together a side-project that would bring more work and money for everyone in the future.

We only had a week to rehearse a show that was quite musically ambitious. Everyone stepped up to the plate. It was a joyous and creatively satisfying week. We had a shit-hot band who had great attention to detail and wanted to get everything just right.

Me, Glad All Overing. (c) Tim Parker.
That first show felt like a real achievement. We played to a sold out crowd who were soon up on their feet. We carried on booking dates in a number of venues over the next few years (around mine and Glyn’s then-ridiculous workload); finally being able to pay the rest of the cast properly, though sadly we were seldom able to pay ourselves. Such is a producer’s life.

Sold out show at Gorleston Pavilion.
The highlight had to be playing a private function in front of Dave Clark of The Dave Clark Five (the band who wrote and recorded the song our show was named after, no less) and Noddy Holder from Slade. It’s not often you get to sing a song in front of its original artist, plus one of the most distinctive rock voices of all time. Thankfully, they loved it and said some really nice things. Me belting out The Small Faces’ Sha La La La Lee while Noddy Holder danced and sang along in front of us was one of the most surreal – and exciting - moments of my life.
The GAO cast, with Dave Clark and Noddy Holder.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Suspicious Package.

While on the bus today, I spotted a small black plastic bag on the seat opposite with the top tied up, and was worried that it might contain a poo. 

Nobody laid claim to it. No-one wanted to sit next to it either, though the bus was almost full. Each time we stopped, the people boarding would make a beeline for the empty seat, then shun it when they saw its ominous luggage. Or should that be “loggage”? A poo bag is the ultimate space-saver. 

It was the tied-up top that made it suspicious. It was too small to contain a bomb, yet big enough for bum-product. The colour of the bag only added to its sinister atmosphere; black polythene can mask a multitude of sins. 

No-one picked it up by the time I got off. It sat there, enjoying the benefits of an empty double seat. If I catch the same bus back and it’s still there, I may be tempted to loosen the knot. 


There was no sign of the excretal sack on the journey back. It was just full of teenagers on their way home from school. Hoping to squeeze on the bus while surrounded by thousands of school kids felt a bit like trying to get a lifeboat on The Titanic.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Everyone's a Critic.

Every Strictly Come Dancing audience member that groans after the judges give their feedback is a professional choreographer.

That must be the case. How else would they have a sufficient understanding of what Craig, Darcey, Len and Bruno are about to say to boo before they’ve finished their sentence? They’re all experts. Either that, or they’ve watched too many pantos through the years.

I sometimes wonder if they’ve even seen the show before. It took me minutes to spot the pattern to Craig Revel Horwood’s comments. He starts with the bad and ends with the good. It’s not hard to get to grips with.

What these on-beat-clapping mouth-breathers don’t realise is you seldom get positive feedback in the performing arts industry. A director or choreographer will usually only tell you when you’ve got something wrong, not when you’ve got something right. You work at such a lick, there’s little time for affirmation. If you get no notes, you're doing well.

That said, I know it's television. The floor manager will be stoking them up. It doesn't matter. it’s still irritating.

I wonder how many hormone injections they give Bruno before each broadcast. I bet his dressing room's a cage. That man would have sex with a table.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

I've Just Seen a Face.

Last night, I dreamt I was having a chat with a musician who, as far as I know, doesn’t really exist. When I woke up, I started thinking how incredible it is that the brain will make up faces.

That’s if you believe it does. A quick Google search brings up plenty of websites suggesting it doesn't. One popular theory is that everyone featured in dreams are people we’ve seen in real life, however briefly, and then subconsciously stored away to play the bit parts in the soap operas that form in our minds while we're in a comatose state.

That seems unlikely to me. If we can invent places and situations, both consciously and subconsciously, what’s to say we can’t do faces? Or is everything that enters our head based on personal experience? That would suggest it’s impossible to have an original thought.

But then the brain is an incredible and unfathomable thing. I’m often surprised when memories that were long forgotten suddenly pop back into my head. A place or a smell - or even a smelly place - can entice recollections that had been suppressed. That’s why I’ve not visited ‘Nam since the 70s.

Maybe everybody I've ever met or seen in a photograph is locked away beneath my cranium. If so, this might explain why I still remember Louise Nurding's October '97 edition of FHM so vividly.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Step in Time.

Don’t you hate it when a car drives past you with Beat It blaring from the radio and you try not to match the tempo with your feet?

This sort of thing may not happen to you, but it certainly happens to me. Yesterday, in fact. There I was, innocently walking down the street at 139bpm when a Rover-driving Jacko fan appeared alongside me with his window wound down and his bass turned up. Try as I might, I couldn’t break from the rhythm. Thank God he wasn't listening to Billie Jean, or he would have expected the paving slabs beneath me to start lighting up.

The speed of the traffic was such that he was next to me for ages. The awkwardness went on far longer that it should. It felt like my own personal mash up of Motown’s 25th Anniverary special and Saturday Night Fever’s opening credits. I should have been wearing flares or white socks.

I was relieved when he eventually pulled away. The next track on Thriller is Human Nature which is in half-time, and I don’t think I’d have been able to cope with that.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Mostly Kay.

At last night’s Mostly Comedy, Phil Kay complimented us on our material. He also briefly referenced it in his set. That's something I'll store in my head for a rainy day.

Having him on the bill still excites me. The first time I watched him (in 2008, during our first Edinburgh run), he blew my mind. It was painfully funny. Literally. I laughed so hard and uncontrollably that my whole body ached, and I felt like my soul might escape through my mouth. It was the cleverest, most intelligent, most perfectly-constructed-while-being-off-the-cuff set I’d seen in my life. 

His Hitchin Mostly Comedy debut was a turning point. He was the only big, established act we’d approached up to then who we didn’t know personally. Just the thought of him arriving was intimidating. Thankfully he's lovely. He performed to one of our first sold out crowds for well over an hour and left them wanting more. He’s been back many times since. We’ve also interviewed him for our podcast.

Yesterday’s show was good all-round. We had a nice-sized audience who were very responsive. They liked mine and Glyn’s stuff. I also made my solo stand-up debut (which, thankfully, Phil wasn’t there to see. I didn’t need the extra pressure). My set was short but well received. Doing it felt strange yet satisfying. It was great to make a start. I’m looking forward to trying out some more.

Not only did Phil say nice things about us last night, he also used my harmonica. The important thing to remember when booking him for a show is to hide everything.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Ephgrave's Investment.

It’s hard to earn a living as a self-employed performer. So much so, it helps to have a nest egg. Thankfully, I do. Here it is:

I received that bank statement in the post this morning. Reading it made me breathe a sigh of relief. It’s good to know that my future is secure. I can age, safe in the knowledge that I’ve got something to fall back on. There’s a lot you can do with 72p.

I could buy four tins of Tesco’s Everyday Value new potatoes and still have twelve pence to spare. Three tins of their own-brand spaghetti bolognese would give the same change. If someone leant me 3p I could splash out on a 800g loaf of white bread. They have twenty-five slices. Pop it in the freezer and defrost it a piece at a time and you could eke it out for three and half weeks.

The one thing I haven’t considered is inflation. The average life expectancy of a man born in 1981 (like me) is 71. By the time I retire - if I can ever afford to - the prices will have shot up. My HSBC Instant Access Savings Account doesn’t even offer any interest. If I put nothing else in, I’ll get nothing else out. I’d better start depositing some serious bunce and quick.

As an aside, I just made the mistake of subtracting my age from my life expectancy. I urge you to never, ever do this.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Joker.

I sometimes indulge in little jokes for my own benefit, or to entertain – or irritate – my wife. Take this shopping list, for example:

This morning, I made a few additions:

It now looks less like a collection of items we need for the house and more like an assassination list. Perhaps I should burn it. I’d hate it to be used as evidence in a future court case.

For the record, I haven't got an issue with that three-man hit factory. Their music isn't to my taste, but that doesn’t mean I want to wipe them off the face of the planet. Provided they don’t move in next door and keep me up all night with their distinctive backing tracks, we needn't have a run in. Earth's combined population of 7.1 billion people should be enough to ensure our paths never cross.

I don’t know why I persist with these jokes. Living with me must take a lot of patience. If my wife isn’t mentioned in the New Year’s Honours List, something’s clearly amiss. 

Pete Waterboatman.