Friday, 31 July 2015

Rehearsing on Your Tod.

I knuckled down on my show today, in preparation for next week's two-night run in Camden. 

I started by doing a staggered run-through, to allow time for the stories to settle and for me to connect with the material again. It's easy to disassociate yourself from what you're saying, particularly when there's no-one to say it to; if you run the material too often in this way, you get used to saying it quickly, and end up doing the same thing in front of an audience. I have a habit of disconnecting, particularly when I've been doing something for a while, so I want to keep this in check.

It's frustrating having to work without an outside eye. I had discussed the possibility of a friend directing it for me, who'd been present at all of my Brighton shows and gave excellent feedback, but this didn't happen. It's a shame, as he was the right person for the job, with an opinion I trust. I'm fully aware that working without a director isn't the way to do it. It forces me to rely on my own judgement - and everyone needs a little nurturing and steering once in a while. This is something I'll address next time I do a show alone.‎

This slow, staggered rehearsal definitely helped. I did another run immediately afterwards, addressing the changes I'd made in the previous one, while still trying not to rush. The show came in at about fifty minutes, which is pretty much how I want it - but there's more to keep in check. Still, it's not a bad place to be at this stage, with another week left to tighten it. ‎

David For Sale.

It’s not often you find out your flat’s up for sale when your mum spots it in the local paper.

I’m exaggerating slightly. My home isn’t actually on the market, or at least, not as far as I’m aware – though this small, niggling detail didn't prevent a picture of it from appearing in last week’s Comet, to illustrate a property of identical specifications that’s in the same block. Apparently, mine was the more photogenic of the two. Who am I to argue? After all, I live in it. Thank God I wasn’t doing anything inappropriate in the front window.

(...not that I ever do.)

It’s a bizarre mistake for the estate agent to make. It’s not just a picture of the front of my property that’s in the paper, but the side and the back as well. You'd only need a shot from above to build up a three-dimensional composite image.  If they’d knocked on the door to ask me, if I could have stood next to the building to give a sense of scale.

I guess they send a photographer out with the postcode alone and hope for the best. I’m glad I didn’t spot them, or I’d have thought they were casing the joint. Maybe it’s a scam, like the one with that guy who repeatedly pretended to sell the Brooklyn Bridge. I can’t see a one-bedroom flat in North Hertfordshire drumming up the same tourist interest.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

IYIE #11.

Last night, we prerecorded the next 'Doggett & Ephgrave: In Your Inner Ear', as I have a gig on Sunday.

It’s both worrying and impressive to note that, on completing the recording, we’d reached a total of twenty-two hours of us wittering on. That’s a lot of blabbering, in anyone’s books. By a week Sunday, there’ll be a day’s worth of In Your Inner Ears available to download from the SG1 website. I can only imagine the force behind the fist of the person who’d want to punch me in the face after listening to them all in real time. I wouldn’t begrudge them hitting me; in fact, I’d condone it.

The topic for last night’s show, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, was ‘life’, which was suitably vague. It gave Glyn, Steve and me another chance to vent our collective spleen over the many ludicrous situations we find ourselves in in everyday life. Steve’s stories were particularly entertaining. I never knew that the handlebars came off his bike during his cycling proficiency test, or that the examiner offered him the chance to complete the test on foot – and there was me thinking we’d discussed everything.

The show ended with the catchily-titled ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now, You’ll Never, Never, Never Know Me Quiz’, in which me and Glyn tested the knowledge our knowledge of each other. See below for my questions to Glyn. Tune in to Sunday's show to hear the answers:

1)  Why didn’t I learn to swim as a child?

2)  What prompted my parents to give me my intended birthday present of a Paul Daniels Magic Set early as a child?

3)  What’s the name of my older brother?

4)  What comment did my dad make about a barmaid immediately after proposing to my mum that made her think twice about saying yes?

The High Life.

It’s hard to sing a top Bb discreetly in a tiny room in a shared office building without drawing attention to yourself.

I say “sing”, when I in fact mean “screech”. The reason for my repeated attempts to hit a note that's a tone out of my vocal range was I was putting together a jingle for this Sunday’s In Your Inner Ear, which we’re prerecording tonight. It wasn’t a pretty sound, I can tell you. It didn’t help that I was trying to achieve the impossible task of singing both full out and quietly at the same time. It's a good job there wasn’t a mirror in view, or I’d have been subjected to some strange facial expressions in the process.

The other people in the building must have heard me. It would have been hard not to. They probably wondered what the hell I was up to. “Why is the socially awkward half of those two blokes who rent that broom cupboard as a workspace shouting the word ‘life’ at the top of his voice?” they'd have thought (or words to that effect). “Is he in the midst of a Doctor Frankenstein-like experiment?”

I managed to pull it off in the end. I now have a temporary respite of a few days, before I have to sing a top B . If I’d kept the helium canister that used to live in my garage, I’d be laughing. Laughing and floating. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

"Not For Me, Thanks; I'm (Not) Driving".

These days, I’m unable to drink alcohol to excess - or at all, it seems.

Last night, I met my friend Rob for a long overdue catch-up at our once-regular haunt, The Spice of Life in Soho. Whenever we used to rehearse for the Buddy Holly show, Glad All Over, or whichever gig we were working on, we’d factor in a drink (or three) afterwards. It was an unwritten rule. Invariably, I’d head home far later than intended, with my body on the outside of a fair share of Guinness. Despite my recklessness, I’d cope with this alcoholic intake. It was a good way to unwind from the day’s work, which was often spent in the shittiest of shit rehearsal studios. Yesterday, in a change to the usual pattern, I only had two pints – yet despite drinking next-to-nothing, I’ve spent the the day feeling like I'm recovering from a ten-hour stint on a fairground rotor.

It was worth the nausea. It’s always nice to see Rob. We seldom get the chance to meet these days, which is a shame. He’s a good friend and a great person to work with. We connected as soon as we first met, and have shared many a laugh ever since. I’ll stop praising him now, for fear of bringing on the same sickly feeling in everyone else. If it does, don’t let anything stronger than peppermint tea pass your lips; at least then, you should be all right.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Circular-Breathing Bill.

By holding the long note at the end of ‘Lovely Day’, Bill Withers created a rod for his own back. 

(Jump to the 3:02 mark)

When he made the record back in 1977, he was 39-year-old man at the peak of his abilities. Holding a top E for eighteen seconds would have presented a challenge, but one he could both accept and fulfill. Spin forward to 2015 and he’s seventy-eight. Sustaining it now would be a near-impossibility; it’s no wonder he bowed out of the music industry in the 1980s, as he did.

If he was still touring, his audience would bay for blood if he couldn’t hold it. If anything, they’d expect a note twice as long as the one in the studio recording. On taking an in-breath, he’d spot a punter holding up a sign with ‘DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY’ written on it, and bottle out. It would be too much pressure. The only way out would be to present his mic to audience and let them attempt it instead.

Holding the title of 'Second Longest Note in UK Chart History' must be a poisoned chalice. If Bill had kept on for another three seconds he’d have beaten his nearest contender, Morten Harket, and had all the plaudits to himself. Still, I imagine the Tetley Tea money must be a small source of comfort. It’s like Blur vs. Oasis: Withers may have lost the battle, but he definitely won the war.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

IYIE #10

Tonight saw the tenth episode of In Your Inner Ear; a small milestone that's suddenly crept up on us. 

Bizarrely, less than an hour before the show started, we weren't entirely sure where to go to broadcast it; the station is about to move home, and we couldn't get hold of the guy in charge to find out if they'd changed location yet. I can't imagine them having a similar problem at Broadcasting House. We ended up driving around the outskirts of Stevenage with forty minutes to go, trying to find a DJ's house to pick up a key for the studio, which it turned out hadn't upped sticks yet; it's the one of the few times in my life I've felt an affinity with Anneka Rice on Treasure Hunt (in public, that is).

Despite the confusion leading up to it, the show was enjoyable to do. As with last week, it was very relaxed. We had to plan it independently of each other, as we hadn't had time to meet up to discuss it. This didn't matter. It gave the stories an added freshness that helped chivvy them along. Before we knew it, the show was done. I may even have dreamt it. 
The next three episodes will be prerecorded, as we're unavailable to do them live. This will probably make them even more relaxed. I may take a foot-spa with me to ease things along, Would that be a step too far?‎

The Obsessive-Compulsive Promoter.

I don’t know what to do with myself when there's no Mostly Comedy to repeatedly check ticket sales for.

It’s the first thing I do when I switch on my computer. Then I do it again…and again. If I’m walking down the street, I’ll check it on my phone. It’s a habit I can’t get out of. I think I’m obsessed.

It’s not about making money; if we set the club up with that as our motivation, we went into the wrong business. I just want to see that it does well. It’s a mixture of pride and compulsion: I can’t get the Mostly Comedy ticket-selling-monkey off my back.

If anything, I should be pleased to have a break. Our next date is in September with Stewart Lee, which sold out in four hours back in June. Before long, we’ll turn our minds to finalising our Autumn / Winter line-ups and then put them on sale. I’ll have another list of gigs to fixate about then. At least it stops me from constantly flicking all my light switches on and off. There are worse things to be obsessed about.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Mostly Comedy Summer / Sun-mer Special

I was delighted with how last night’s Summer Special went. 

Me, standing up.

The fact it went so well was due in no small part to our technician Paul Williams, who’d rigged the lights and sound prior to our arrival, meaning for the first time in seven years, we arrived to a space that was nearly set up and ready for us. His attention to detail, particularly with lighting, gave the show an extra kick that lifted it from a standard Mostly Comedy to the ‘special’ of its title.

(I would have worded that better if I’d had more sleep.)

Glyn and me, standing up.

We were pleasantly surprised with how well the show worked in the space. While we’re both very familiar with The Sun Hotel, having attending gigs and meetings there in the past (Glyn’s wife also used to work there), we weren’t sure if it would be right for comedy. I’m pleased to say that we were wrong; it was the best Summer Special by a long chalk, with a great atmosphere  - and a bar that, for a change, we didn’t have to staff ourselves.

Roisin Conaty, standing up.
It helped that the line-up was excellent. Roisin Conaty made her first Mostly Comedy appearance, taking the stage in the first half to road-test some new material that was warmly received by the crowd, who were clearly delighted to see her. I got the impression most people weren’t used to watching work-in-progress - least of all from the act they may have specifically come to see - and loved the informality of it, and the chance to hear her do new stuff.

Joey Page, standing up.
Joey Page was great and lovely as ever (sorry for the ego-massage). He’s one of the few acts to have played nearly every Mostly Comedy venue in Hitchin, Edinburgh and London. Then we had Phil Kay, who's my favourite stand-up. He was on unfollowable form, which was convenient, as no-one had to follow him. 

Phil Kay, standing (and mic-ing) up.
Mine and Glyn’s material went well, as did my five-minute solo set. All in all, it was a great night. Now the Summer Special has passed, Mostly Comedy goes into its annual August hibernation. We’re back in September with Stewart Lee, which is something to look forward to - so look forward to it, damn it. 

While My Guitar Gently Sleeps.

Is this the dullest album cover of all time?

I may be consumed with anti-Eighties bias. The sleeve for the Beatles’ White Album has a lot less going on. I’d argue, however, that a minimalistic cover with just the artist’s name embossed on it and a limited-edition serial number is preferential to a photo of a man in a cagoule, particularly if they’re also sporting a mullet.

I should clarify that I’m a fan of George Harrison. I’m also fond of all-weather wear. I just don’t think the two should have mixed in this context. George may have been an avid gardener, but when he came indoors to pose for the photographer he could have at least changed his outfit.

The record itself is a feat for false advertising. Every song, bar one, was released between 1979-1989, which is a very narrow margin. A compilation that claims to contain Harrison’s finest work yet misses off My Sweet Lord and All Things Must Pass is very suspicious.

I’ve never seen a hairstyle take in so many directions. Not only was George an exceptional slide player, he was also pretty nifty with a comb and wet hair gel. He was a man of many talents. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Working Over Coffee.

This morning, I decided to venture into my old haunt Caffè Nero, to do some admin before going to the office to rehearse.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in to work. There was a point, a year or so ago, when I’d come here every day. It was a great way of getting out of the house to spur myself on to write. When you’re self-employed and haven’t got much in the diary, it’s easy to stay at home and do nothing. You wind up not speaking to anyone all day. If I hadn’t made a point of walking into town each morning, finding a table in my favourite coffee shop and then getting out my laptop, this blog wouldn’t exist. I also wouldn’t have worked up any stand-up material; Hitchin’s branch of Caffè Nero has a lot to answer for.

As soon as we started renting an office, I came here less and less. Having a room to work in was invaluable, particularly when putting together my show. While Caffè Nero was great for writing, I obviously couldn’t use it to say my material out loud. If I had, I would have got a lot of strange looks.

While I love our office – and it still excites me to go to a space that belongs to us – it can be lonely. I miss the conversations with the Nero staff, which would break up my writing. Counter-intuitively, it’s harder to motivate yourself when you’re in a room on your own. There’s no physical distinction between admin, writing and rehearsing. Everything feels the same. This is why I returned to Caffè Nero today. I knew I could email tomorrow’s line-up and do any last-minute admin for the gig, have some lunch and then walk to the office to rehearse my show. That’s the plan, anyway. I’m fully aware of the amount of biscuits that await me. The jury’s out as to whether I’ll use the afternoon to tighten up ‘…and Ephgrave’, or to get fat. Stay tuned to find out.

Wristy Business.

I’ve strained my wrist. [INSERT YOUR PUNCHLINE HERE.]

The annoying thing about being a man with a wrist injury is that if you mention it to anyone, you get the same knowing look: a look that says, “I bet I know how you did that. A little too enthusiastic, were we?”. It’s the same when you catch a cold; complain once and you’re accused of suffering from man flu. I’d happily get pneumonia if only to show these people up. Men can be ill too, you know.

I’ve always had weak wrists [INSERT PUNCHLINE NUMBER TWO]. It stems from being a guitarist. I’d often have problems on tour. If you’re playing for two hours a night in different conditions and at varying temperatures, it’s easy to strain them. You’d then never have sufficient time to let them heal. I’ve put up with it since I was in a band as a teenager. Though I seldom play these days, it still flares up; it wreaks havoc with my juggling.

It happens to my right hand most often, which isn’t so bad, as I’m left handed. I can still do basic tasks, like lift a kettle or flick a v-sign. This time around, it’s my strong hand that’s suffering. It's difficult to write. Most frustratingly of all, I can’t open a packet of biscuits; how’s a guy supposed to get his sugary fix?

If I’m still in pain after tomorrow’s show, I’ll make a doctor’s appointment. In the meantime, I'll try to source a wrist support. If I get a funny look from the chemist, I’ll punch them in the face, which will hurt them as much as it hurts me.

Monday, 20 July 2015

I take Mahatma Off to Them.

If you held me at gunpoint and asked what my favourite rhyming Indian restaurant name was, I’d have to say the Gandhi, Sandy. 


It’s up against stiff competition, to be fair. The Ravi Shankar, Bognor only misses out through being fictional and a half-rhyme at that. Despite the photograph finish, The Gandhi, Sandy wears the crown; whoever came up with it deserves a mention in the New Year Honours List.

I spotted the sign for it eight years ago, whilst posing for photographs to promote Glyn's and my sitcom pilot Chipped, Battered and Burgered. The piece was set in a chip shop in the early 1980s for which we needed a suitably old-fashioned backdrop. Glyn’s dad (who runs the Town Fryer, Hitchin) had just taken on a shop in Sandy that was perfect for the job. It only took half an hour’s snapping and a little subsequent Photoshopping to transform Bedfordshire’s branch of the Town Fryer into the Fiscothèque in our script.

There was us, thinking our made-up name was good, only to be scuppered by one that existed in real life. Sometimes, you just can’t write it. 


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Post-show Ramblings.

Tonight’s episode of In Your Inner Ear was the most relaxed one to do.

Maybe it’s because our chosen topic for the evening – being dull – is very close to our hearts, be it intentionally or unintentionally. Or perhaps, now we’ve reached our ninth programme, we’ve got into the groove of what we doing enough to not be flustered by it. Whatever the reason, it felt good to do. It was less like making a radio show, and more like having an enjoyable conversation, without tipping so far off the scale as to become self-indulgent (though I’ll confirm this when I’ve listened back to it).

The only frustrating thing is the quality of the broadcast, which is very variable. This is something the owner of the station is aware of (as I’ve mentioned previously) and is trying to fix. The studio moves to different premises shortly, possibly before next week’s broadcast, which will allow the chance to look at the set-up from scratch, and improve it. Either way, the station has a great feel to it, with lots of good intentions behind it – and the gear is good too. We’re also grateful of the opportunity.

Unfortunately, we need to squeeze in three prerecorded episodes at some point before the end of the month, to cover the three weekends in August that one or other of us is unavailable. This will be a challenge, but I’m sure we’ll manage it. Let’s hope we don’t do them all in one go; there’s only so much of our own collective company we can take.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

My Aladdin.

Around six or seven years ago, when I was still teaching drama, I wrote a pantomime for one of the schools I worked at.

I’d often write scenes or songs for this particular school. The great thing about the students was they were all very talented. A lot of the older kids had a firm grasp of comedy, which helped me tremendously when it came to writing the script. I knew I could drag the dialogue toward my own style for the most part and they would understand what I meant.

That said, I had to bear in mind that I was writing for an age range that spanned from six to sixteen, which was quite a width. I also wanted to keep to most of the panto traditions, to give the kids an understanding of the idiom. Yes…”idiom”.

The story I based my script on was Aladdin. You’ll find the prologue below. It was performed by the entire school, with different students taking different lines. There’s nothing funny in it, save the appalling 'station / washer-woman’s relation' rhyme, but it isn’t awful. If you’re an out-of-work actor teaching for a little extra money and you’re stuck for something to do with your class, then feel free to rip me off. Be sure to make their performance as hammy as you like:

CHORUS:        Come one, come all – and listen well
                        To this small tale that we do tell.
                        A story that, though centuries old
                        Before your eyes, now will unfold.

                        This tale of ours, it doth concern
                        A boy they said would never learn.
                        A lowly washer-woman's relation
                        With ideas far above his station.

                        Aladdin was this young man's name
                        Who quickly leapt from rags to fame
                        Though the road he took risked ever after
                        Living in fear of the evil Abanazar.

                        Some called him foolish, others brave
                        To step inside that haunted cave.
                        Yet never once did our hero flinch
                        'til the magic lamp was in his clinch.

                        And all these actions I speak of
                        Were solely in the name of love.
                        And love, they say, must conquer all
                        The good will win – the evil, fall.
                        So settle back and hear our story
                        And revel in Aladdin's glory.
                        Though afore we move things on apace
                        We must stop by an evil place...

Dulcet Tones.

Singing a one-word five-part harmony of a minor seventh chord has been a weekly event for the past few months. 

The reason I've been unleashing my inner-Beach-Boy is to record jingles for our new radio show; one for every topic-of-choice, going up a semitone each week. While the results are amusing, I can’t help but think I’ve created a rod for my own back. The first chord was a Cmin7, with a top C as its highest note, which was easy enough to reach. The chord for Sunday’s show (episode nine) is a G#min7, featuring a top G#, which is a semitone higher than the peak of my official vocal range. If I carry on like this, by September, I’ll be singing notes only dogs can hear; dogs, not Doggetts.

Perhaps I’m being over-dramatic. I can use different chord inversions in future to prevent any unnecessary screeching; either that, or come back down the scale. I’m the one making the rules here, damn it. Having said that, I like to challenge myself. I won’t stop until I reach frequencies that break the windows of North Hertfordshire. Call me Kiri Te Kanawa, but not to my face.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Excuses, Excuses.

It’s very hard to rehearse a stand-up show with Bryan Adams’ '(Everything I Do) I Do it For You' blaring from the doorway of the upholsterers’ workshop opposite.

I know that's a specialist excuse. It also isn’t valid. The six-minute-and-thirty-three-second running time of Adams’ signature hit takes up a tiny fraction of a typical working day. It’s the only song the upholsterers have played since I’ve been in the office and they've only played it once. I’m just looking for a way out.

The hardest part to being self-employed is getting motivated. This is particularly the case when the lion’s share of the work is done. The show is written and has already been performed in front of an audience; I just need to tweak it. But how can I do this, when both the kettle and the biscuit barrel are within arm’s reach?

There’s a shade of Parkinson’s Law to my situation: "work expands to fill the time available". It’s like completing GSCE coursework: however long you've been given, you still do most of the work the night before the deadline. Or is that just me? Whatever the logic, the less Canadian soft-rock I’m subjected to before my next gig, the better.