Monday, 31 January 2011

A mare with the Mayors and an innocent little drink in Cambridge.

A couple of weekend nights with differing outcomes, as described below...


The remit was simple enough - show up to the venue, wait for dinner to finish, get up and do a short set of local material.

The complications were legion - the venue was a local masonic lodge, the audience was made up of local dignitaries, council chairmen and all the Lord and Lady Mayors of the County. Dinner ran late and the "support" act was the local council chairman offering a heart wrenching speech and award ceremony, a prize draw and a blood-raising auction where local business figures attempted to out bid each other (show off) leaving bruised egos and no small amount of heightened bravado.

The result was obvious - I struggled and in doing so unwittingly insulted the audience table by table, walked off to the sound of my own feet and got the whole thing captured by the local press for posterity.

The aftermath was fabulous - several younger councillors gathered around to congratulate, the local chairman who had booked me remained defiant in his choice of entertainment and the High Sheriff was apparently tickled pink and apparently there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in the room at the look on the Mayor Of Stevenage's face.

The comment of the night came from a waitress at its death. A councillor asked her if she thought I would  like to come in to the bar for a drink. She said, quite damningly, "I doubt it".


The remit was simple enough - show up in Cambridge and have a few drinks for Tim's birthday.

The complications were legion - Tim had left for Cambridge at 1.25pm with ten or eleven other rowdies, I didn't get up before 3pm and didn't set off until just before 7pm. By this time the rowdies were dispersing, no-one seemed to know what pub they were in and my directions were "Walk down the main road to John Lewis and turn left, walk a bit further and phone us".

I got to Cambridge just after 7.30pm and started walking down the main drag into town. It's a very long way. Very long. By the time I got to John Lewis I was cold and annoyed. I turned left and then received a text from Tim which said simply "The Anchor, Silver Street, by the river". I don't know Cambridge at all well but I figured it would be further down the route I'd taken. It was, with a minor bit of jiggery pokery, and I found them around 8pm, ordered a pint and took in the group. I only knew a couple of them but (As is so crushingly and embarrassingly usual) they all seemed to know me. Tim was pleasantly pissed and joyously accepted my suggestion of a round of shots. Six rums were cunningly procured with mental dexterity that left the barmaid on meltdown (I ordered three discounted "doubles" and asked them to be put into six glasses), further pints were had and we moved on to first a bar called The Fountain which looked great, had great staff but sounded terrible and then a really nice bar (Whose name escapes me) where we decided to head back to the station. It had been a nice light one for me and I contemplated a pint in the Tavern (my local) and a short walk home.

No chance.

How many bloody times do I end up writing "No chance"?

As the carriage doors closed and the train departed I was accosted by a mob of galoots that I've known for two decades. They too had been out on a birthday celebration and were heading for "Afters" at Bar '85 in Hitchin. The train reached Letchworth and they didn't let me off. Well, I didn't take a lot of persuading, to be fair...

A brisk walk to Bar '85 was followed by a couple of pints of Guinness and some shots to finish a night off that had been beautifully soundtracked by the legend that is Charlie Frame, standing in as an "I'll play what you want" DJ to great effect. Those in attendance were treated to the B52s, Sisters Of Mercy and plenty of other 80s classics, as was befitting a bar of that name. We hit 1.30am and surely everything was over now? Wrong. Someone said the magic words "There's a reggae night on at the football club and there's a bar until 3am". It was cold so we got a cab the 400 yards to the gig and walked in, unchallenged, to a room full of the local Afro-Caribbean population, fantastic music and a huge array of West Indian delicacies served willingly by half a dozen old matriarchs. I filled my boots with a huge plate of spicy traditional cuisine that they let me have for nothing and scoffed another couple of pints in the company of Gareth the Welsh mentalist. He (astoundingly) recounted a story from a couple of years back when two girls had come back to my flat for reasons that genuinely escape me, one got high in the toilet (I didn't know she had any drugs), the other got more drunk and maudlin and I left them to argue amongst themselves when I went to bed. In the morning there was a note saying thanks for letting them stay and that they had nicked my vodka. What I didn't know was what happened next. Gareth filled me in - apparently they had gone directly round to his to settle whatever argument they were having but by the time he got to his front door to answer it they were having a full on fist fight and rolling around on his front porch, screaming at each other. He had the nerve to blame me for it! I supped up indignantly, bid him adieu, walked into a wall and then zig zagged  up to the taxi rank to get a cab home.

The lovely old Islamic taxi driver knew me and we talked fundamentalism and Hosni Mubarak for the three mile, twenty quid ride home, I'd managed to turn a quiet night into a massive one and judging by the pile of clothes on my bedroom floor when I woke up today, I hadn't made it into the lounge when I got home. Lovely.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

A Canarian holiday - the hard way

(Sorry - this really is a long one...)

Five days off, money in my pocket, what's a guy to do? Why? Book a last minute holiday to Fuerteventura and tell my mate Steve he's going as well, of course...

...And so it was booked. A four-day, four star all-inclusive mini break to the hotel Arena on the outskirts of Corralejo on the very Northern tip of this desert island off the North West Coast of Africa, sociable flying times, good weather forecast and a decent historical novel about Roman conquest under the arm. What larks!

Well, not exactly.

The flight was at 7.40am from Luton so the obvious thing to do was to go over to Steve's pub the night before and play through with his dutiful other half and her incomprehensible daughter involving a few games of "Spoof", several pints of Pure Ubu, several shots and a decent amount of red wine to go with one of the most awful films I have ever seen in my life "Last Of The Airbenders". Once I'd stopped chuckling at the fact they kept saying to each other lines such as as "I knew you were a bender!" I settled down in awe of its awfulness and apparently, it's only part one! Good grief. It was a bad omen. The Romans would have sacrificed something to make up for it. My only sacrifice was to not have my usual Hawaiian-style travelling shirt with me for the first time in probably ten years. It would come back to haunt me.

We had followed the Ryanair directive to the letter, checking in online (to save money) and only taking hand luggage (to save money). We got a cab around 5am (to be in plenty of time) and lined up in the queue for check-in, with our online boarding passes in our hands. It was not a long line and (being still drunk) we entertained a couple of the people around us with our randomness, not least of which when we reached the front of the line to be told (of course) that we had already checked in and had no need to be there. The bad film, the wrong shirt, now an unnecessary queue - the omens were foreboding, Gods below! Obviously to get back on track we were going to have to resume the more normal practice of getting held up going through customs and then sinking Bloody Marys.

Fortunately that happened. I was told I wasn't allowed to take my shaving gel through OR my miniature aerosol "Lynx" deodorant (For the ladies). Then I took them through anyway when the customs officer in question forgot to remove them. NOW - SURELY! I HAD THE RAW MATERIALS TO BUILD A BOMB! We settled down to a couple of tomato & vodka nightmares, the first of which was the hottest one I have ever had, got onto a relatively empty plane, were snoring before take off and enjoyed interrupted and increasingly dehydrated sleep over the four hours we were in the air. The descent wreaked havoc with my ears. I don't know whether it was a fraction quicker than usual or whether my own partial (self-induced) ill health  contributed to it but for several minutes I felt like I was bleeding long streams of blood out of them and the pain was excruciating. I'm normally fine on flights but this was a bugger. Allfather! This did not bode well for the coming battle...

We got through the airport without incident and after minor consternation tracking down our transfer coach were dropped off at the four star hotel Arena where we were told that we had been moved to another hotel, bustled into a cab and sent on our way before we had the time to ask why. It really was devastatingly efficient. We checked in to the (Three star) Hotel Brisamar a little after 2pm and found ourselves in a ridiculously huge apartment and sporting our all-inclusive wrist bands with pride. Everything looked tickety boo, we had a simple lunch accompanied by a small sangria and headed off into town.

For the next three nights we drank so much and stayed out so late that I don't really have anything to say about the days, except to report that the weather was exceptionally windy*, hot in small bursts but ultimately disappointing and I only sat in it for a couple of hours as I continued reading my historical novel about Roman wars against The Persians. I received a text from my mother late in the afternoon of the Tuesday gloating that there had been a mudslide in Corralejo because she had seen it on the local news on her more clement neighbouring island of Gran Canaria, where she was bizarrely spending a week with my father as I sunned myself not fifty miles away. This mudslide had followed a deluge the night before we arrived which it turned out accounted for our our change of hotel - the four star Arena had flooded! Not wearing my traditional Hawaiian travelling shirt was clearly having a portentous affect. Normally when I go away I remark at some point "Nobody tells me anything on this island". This time - they had - I was fully informed.

I'm going to have to do the nights in order:

Monday: We walked a long way into Corralejo looking for a good place to drink and it all just seemed so tourist-centric with Sports bars, "British" pubs and "Full English Breakfasts" that we were on the verge of turning round and going back to the hotel when we espied, in a back street, a bar called "Weirdos". We approached. It had a sign on the door "Poker tonight - 9pm". Well that was us sorted out. We hot footed it back to the Brisamar, enjoyed a passable three course meal with Sangria and headed back down to potentially our late-night haunt for the week. It was very quiet. There was a barmaid, a man on a computer and a guy in the corner. As we ordered our first drinks, the guy in the corner departed. We got chatting to the barmaid - she wasn't - she was the co-owner, Caz. The guy on the computer joined in. He was the other co-owner, Lawrence. We played a little two euro buy-in friendly poker tournament. I decided on a strategy of telling people, Caz in particular, what I had got each time. They hardly ever believed me and I won a number of hands, eventually coming second to Steve who got lucky, of course, as I am a far better poker player than him. Caz said I was the most surreal poker player she had ever played. I had won with hands I wouldn't normally stay in with, Ace/9 (Unsuited) 7/9 diamonds that landed a flush on the flop. Steve bought shots. The next thing I knew it was 5am, Steve had Lawrence standing on his head and drinking half a lager and Caz was telling me her (not uninteresting) life story. We staggered home. By Zeus! What a night!

With Caz and Lawrence,  by the toilets, in Weirdos. Unspecified hour...
Tuesday: The meal of the week in the hotel (featuring stuffed peppers, terrific lentil soup, chicken kebabs, sangria and a ridiculously sweet dessert) was followed by a trip in to town to find a sports bar showing the football. Steve (Arsenal fan) was upset that his favoured team had hammered Ipswich and made it to a cup final with the first chance of silver wear in five years for the simple reason that his hated Man Utd had come back from a two goal deficit to beat plucky Blackpool. There is no pleasing some people. The bar was thoroughly unpleasant. The people in it were professional ex-pats - loud, brash, ignorant. We left as soon as the final whistles went and stopped off in a rock bar called San Miguel that was overpriced in the extreme. There was a decent enough band on in there. The weather wasn't great, we hung about until half ten, then ventured back to the hotel only to find the bar shut at eleven and was rubbish and sparsely populated anyway. We banged back on to the strip looking for another good bar, thought we'd found one, ordered a drink, they closed up around us and said the only one worth going back to was San Miguel. Now we're not ones to tar a place with a brush after one visit, particularly when it's now the only place open, so we returned. We ordered more drinks, the barmaids took some of their clothes off, climbed on the bar and began gyrating to "YMCA". This was followed by "In The Navy" and finally "I will survive". Steve asked me if they were playing these for our benefit. I spoke to a very effeminate Spanish hip hop enthusiast. It definitely wasn't us they were playing the tunes for. A young Danish drunkard called Brian approached. He was a stockbroker on holiday with his folks. They had given him a pass for the night. He had grasped that nettle with gusto. Things got blurry. We left, I think, by 4am.

Wednesday: Hotel compadres Andy and Tracy (A very nice couple from Leeds) had agreed to go All exclusive** with us this evening and come to a steak house recommended to us by the Weirdos but we nevertheless nipped in to the hotel restaurant first for a couple of free drinks (Well we wanted our money's worth, after all). A leisurely stroll and some excellent map reading from Steve later and I was sat scoffing a fabulous (peppered) sirloin steak and quaffing Rose wine with Tracy as Steve and Andy got stuck into a very large amount of char-grilled goat that looked delicious. The service was fantastic, we lost track of time and didn't make it down to Weirdos until gone eleven. As we approached, Caz and Lawrence were outside talking to a Northern Irish guy. She asked him how his bar was doing. He said that it wasn't a bar any more, it was a restaurant. I said "Why - have you started doing crisps?" he smiled and said "Aye - and nuts". They had already played poker. There were a few more people in there and others continued to turn up, almost as if on shift. The table was set up for another little tournament. There were more players this time - The Northern Irish guy, Theo the Swedish grebo, Lawrence, Caz, Steve and myself. With a massive twelve euros on the table, I was determined not to come second again to Steve. My strategy tonight was to lie about what cards I had.and only play traditional hands - high pairs, suited aces, suited connectors. I knew that Caz would have told the others how I played and it would be a position of strength for me. On the second hand I landed the worst cards in no-limit hold'em, namely an unsuited 2/7. I announced to everyone I had a pair of Kings and made a big raise. Everyone folded except Caz. The flop was unhelpful to any possible hand that would have followed a big raise. Repeating that I had Kings, I went all in. She followed. To say I had made an early mistake would be the understatement of the night. We turned our cards over and my hopeless 2/7 looked on forlornly as her pair of kings knocked me out. I retreated to the bar to laughs of derision. Andy and Tracy consoled me through floods of guffaws.

Steve, myself, Tracy, Andy (To our eternal shame we lost them on the last night so I have no way of contacting them to show them this rather happy photograph)
Theo joined me soon after. A brief conversation followed

Me: You look like you are in a band, Theo
Theo: Yes I am in a rock band called "Assbastard"
Me: Do you have anything recorded?
Theo: Actually we were in the recording studio last week finishing off our first album, 'Death Party'
Me: Fantastic! ...And what brings you to Fuerteventura?
Theo: I am on holiday with my mother.

Buoyed by her early success against me, Caz went on to win the poker, the Irish guy went back to his "restaurant", Theo departed, we outdrank everyone who came near us. Andy & Tracy left and we began playing various drinking games with our new favourite bar owners until 6am, when we retired, broken.

On Thursday Steve brought me in a cup of coffee. I looked out of the window. The wind had finally dropped but it was overcast. "Nevermind" I thought to myself - "That might clear up later". I asked Steve what time it was. He laughed and said "Gone four". We did little, I finished my interesting book on heroic Roman failure at the hands of the marauding and duplicitous Sassanids, we ate a quiet meal, I had a single rum and diet coke and retreated back to our splendid apartment for an early night as we had an 8.10am transfer back to the airport.

8.10am. We had been told in no uncertain terms that we must be standing outside the hotel at 8.10am. The breakfast room didn't open until 8am. I hadn't seen breakfast so far and was determined to get some, even if I only had eight minutes (allowing two minutes walking time). We were greeted with some amusement by the staff who I think assumed we had come straight from a night out. We wolfed down bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages and beans and drank coffee. The cold meat / cheese/ fruit counter looked delicious. We could have stayed there for ages. Instead, we stayed outside the front of the hotel for ages. From precisely 8.10am until 8.45am when the bloody transfer coach finally showed up. The rest of the trip home was a breeze and being sat on the back two chairs on the plane, we were delighted to find out we would be alighting from the rear and for the first time ever, I was THE FIRST PERSON off the aircraft. Lucky travelling Hawaiian shirt? Pah!

* Thanks to those of you who have pointed out that the translation of "Fuerteventura" is "Strong wind". This was an exceptional weather system that blew in off the Atlantic. There was also a deluge and mudslide in Corralejo but it is not called Diluviodelaluddelodo. 

** All Exclusive - A phrase I have coined to relate to Steve and I's ability to go to a hotel where all food and drink is gratis and spend most of our time going out and buying things.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

...And as usual the funniest comedian was the bloke running the club...

I can't remember the last time I played The Comedy Cafe. it has to be at least three years, maybe four. It's a shame. I've always enjoyed getting on stage there, even though I never know what I'm going to get from one of London's most unpredictable audiences. It's also one of the city's most iconic venues and is for, me, what a proper alternative comedy club was always supposed to be. It was built down a side street in an unfashionable part (And entrance to) The East End. That the street later gentrified has taken nothing from it. It looks great from the outside, particularly when it's raining, the bright cartoon-style logo a warm welcome on a dreary night.

The Comedy Cafe - please not clearly marked double yellow lines.
Customers are welcomed on arrival, there is a roaring fire in the bar area, a free cloakroom (Well it's a coat rail) and the enormous portions of food that are served represent decent value for money. The stage is well lit and the audience are sat depending on the size of their group at rectangular tables, cafe style. The promoter, Noel, is a legend within the London Circuit for being brash, quirky, short-tempered, flamboyant and often hilarious. He has as many enemies as friends and I don't think he'd have it any other way.

Just like any other old-fashioned comedy club from the "old days" it is also renowned for being "lively".

Thursday night certainly was. I parked up in the demarcated space by the kitchens and went in to be confronted by a near-empty room. Eventually enough tables were filled for us to start and a small audience of not more than forty people began chatting happily to myself (compere for the weekend) and my three partners in crime: Matt Rudge, Geoff Boyz and Rudi Lickwood. Hardly anybody got any material out and it descended into a Jeremy Kyle - like experience where every attempted joke was met with a drunken but happy comment from some table or other. Nobody wants a gig like this every night and it's not what comedy's about but on this occasion it was terrific and everyone left happy. I got in my car and drove home a happy and somewhat relieved man.

Friday was very different. I parked up in my demarcated spot by the kitchens and faced an audience of more like a hundred. The same bill awaited and there was a general air of excitement in the room. I think we all looked forward to getting on stage but it was definitely me first. Just as I was about to start Noel made an announcement from the off-stage microphone "Will the person parked outside the front of the building please come to the bar immediately".

Well that person was me. Rather sheepishly I approached the bar, declared my guilt and he went absolutely spare "Quick! Move it! There's a tow truck outside! You can't park anywhere on the street in Hackney before midnight!". How the bloody hell I had got away with it the night before is beyond me. Fortune would have it that they hadn't got the clamp on when I got there and as I got in the car to move it they simply drove off. I was whisked into a space marked "Private" and ushered back in to start the show.

My opening "set" was a joy. There were comedy gifts all over the front tables, almost to the point of cliche and it seemed like I could do no wrong. I couldn't really - I just had another fabulously enjoyable night. It wasn't perfect and I got a little too comfortable on a couple of occasions and had to to "Get them back" but on the whole, compere and audience were one and for the second night running, everyone had a thoroughly nice time. I backed the car out of my private space a tad gingerly and drove home.

Two down, one to go.

I showed up nice and early on the Saturday and parked in the space marked "Private", feeling rather smug that I effectively had parked illegally on Thursday and got away with it and then for the last two nights had my own special space bang smack in the middle of the city. I swaggered in to shake hands with staff and comedians alike - this was my gig this weekend and I was glad to be alive. The intro music began, I strode on to the stage and got nothing. Nothing. No round of applause, nothing. No cheer. Nothing. It was a capacity crowd. Nothing. Suddenly I was working again, suddenly I really was at The Comedy Cafe. Suddenly I was going to have to prove myself all over again. Suddenly there was heckling - not the nice sort of the first two nights, but the drunken, lascivious, aggressive heckling that only the combination of bastards and alcohol can provide. I quietened them down and got them focussed but it took at least ten minutes and I hardly got a laugh during the whole time I was up there. I put Geoff on. He worked really hard. They liked him but he came off sweating. There was an edge to the room that I had seen so many times before but thought I had left behind. I knew I was going to have to re-invent myself in the next section.

Fortunately, I did. I went on stage with my guitar, didn't bother really engaging the audience and just banged out material as quickly, clearly and efficiently as I could. They talked through the first number, listened to the second then laughed at the third. I'd got them. I'd fucking got them. I didn't waste time. I shot through another couple of gag-heavy ditties and got Matt on. He had to work hard, but he got away with it.

Another break. I walked outside just in time to catch Noel running down the street after a woman who had deposited a bottle on the ground in his view. He was apoplectic. She was to say the least, shocked. He screamed "Lady! Hey Lady!" and bolted after her, blocked her path and shouted into her face "Go back and pick that f***ing bottle up! Don't you f***ing dare drop litter like this. I should call the f***ing police!". Stunned, she walked back to the scene of her enviro-crime, picked up the bottle and as she walked away, attempted a defiant "F*** you!". Big mistake. In front of a now amassed crowd he screamed back "I wouldn't f*** you if you the last f***ing woman on this God-forsaken planet". Men began cheering. He was high-fived. She was a nubile twenty-something in high heels, mini skirt and boob tube. He was a fifty-something gnarled man sporting a fedora and a bad case of bile. It was beautiful and he was completely justified. Then a drunk bloke staggered past and dropped an open two-litre bottle of cider right in front of us. Noel looked round at me, smiled and said "I'm not shouting at him - he's f***ing massive".

Noel Faulkner - on a one-man mission to clean up Rivington Street...
I went back on stage, told one joke and put Rudi on. He had a fantastic gig. Of course he did - the rest of us had done all the hard work earlier on...

Monday, 17 January 2011

the Sex Pistols? In Letchworth?

Friday night saw me head off to The Plinston Hall, Letchworth, to see my mate's band "The Pistols", a terrific Sex Pistols tribute band who I've seen on a couple of occasions previously. The first time was at the drummer Toby's 40th birthday party a couple of years ago when, in the spirit of the Saints & Sinners theme, they all dressed up, with the lead singer going the extra mile and actually being  Beetlejuice.

The second time I saw them was when I booked them for my (now defunct but soon to be rekindled) cabaret show "Dollyremixture" where they both shocked and delighted the audience with a shortened set that left everyone in the place wanting more.

Now by happy accident I discovered they were playing down the road on a rare night off when I had no other plans. The ticket price of eleven quid seemed a bit steep (particularly as they were playing for free the next night in Stevenage) but victim of circumstance as I was, it was then or not at all. Problem: mid-January, big venue, steep entry fee. Would there be an audience?

I needn't have worried - of course there wasn't.

Well, I had bought ticket 61 but I think they must have started at 21 as I never counted more than forty people in the room. I saw the lead singer outside while the support band (The Merk - not bad) were on and he asked how many were in. I said "About forty". he was over the moon. Toby the drummer had told him there was actually no-one there at all. Oh you drummers! Of the forty-ish there, the self-appointed king of the party was a very curiously be-mulletted late 70s New Wave throwback in drainpipe jeans and authentic sneakers who was air-guitar-ing and singing along to the pre-show 70s and 80s alt. rock classics that echoed around the cavernous venue. Never mind, I thought, he'll have calmed down by the time the bands start.

No chance.

It was actually his vaguely demented twatting about across the whole front third of the dancefloor that had sent me outside in the first place. While The Merk were on a few of the younger members of the audience joined him as they bopped along to their friends/boyfriends brand of quirky modern indie-punk. In the break they withdrew to the safety of strategically placed tables and chairs toward the back of the abyss. He carried on jumping about and mis-calculating the ends of songs with three-seconds early flourishes that left several of us open-mouthed. He sang The Jam's "in The City" in a fat bloke's face. This was when I realised he looked like Bruce Foxton, former Jam bass player and similarly pouty mullet head.

I'm not wanting to project that I wasn't having a great time but the pints of Toby Bitter I was drinking also tasted of line cleaner.

Finally, The Pistols took the stage and I went and stood as close as could be reasonably expected, the lead singer (bedecked quite splendidly as "Country Life Butter" Johnny Rotten)

Not the same gig, but the same outfit for the would-be Lydon...
commanded the audience in his best Johnny Rotten voice to gallantly "Take ten strides forward" and they miraculously did, The Pistols dived headlong into "Holidays In The Sun", Bruce Foxton started f*&^ing careering about and everyone took a rapid ten strides back again, leaving a huge no-mans-land between band and fans. Over the next hour or so this expanse was occasionally populated by fat old skinheads by default (blokes who had gone bald) grabbing each other, pushing each other, spilling each other's beer and trying to out-man each other. Johnny Rotten called them all the "C" word repeatedly and quite clearly meant it but they thought he was in character, no-one really expected them to do an encore but they did anyway and it was brilliant. Actually they were entirely brilliant throughout. Sid Vicious did a glorious "Something Else" and got the swan song of "My Way" which was a great way to finish. Steve Jones AKA Steve Tones (My mate Colin) took a fair crack at Silly Thing and pretty much everything The Sex Pistols ever laid down to vinyl was covered - even "Belsen Was A Gas", which is probably the only song of theirs that really has become anachronistic, was very much of its time and probably really ought to be dropped. it's just a bit too blatant a diatribe for 2011 and if there was a minor low point in the show for me, that was it - not the fault of the band, just the subject matter.

Post-gig I went round the pub with Colin (Steve Tones) and shortly afterwards Paul (Johnny Rotten) came in to tell him he had to give him a lift home to Stevenage as Toby (drummer) had left without him. Punk's not dead.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Comedians Annual (month late) Christmas Party

Many, many years ago some comedians in London decided to have a party in the upstairs room of The Comedy Cafe in mid January. The owner, Noel, was very obliging and enjoyed taking all the money they had made at Christmas parties. This became an annual event. I first went along in (I think) 1996. It was a bijou affair - maybe fifty of us max and what a roll call! Jo Brand, Jools Holland, Matt Lucas, Ed Byrne, Brendon Burns, Hattie Hayridge, Jeff Green, Alan Davies, Al Murray, Terry Alderton - the list goes on. My brother and I beat Ben Elton and Dave Thompson at table football. It was smashing and went on well into the early hours. Then for some reason or other I managed not to go for another eleven years. Things had changed. Now the upstairs of the comedy cafe was a huge sprawling bar and there weren't about fifty professional comedians there, oh no. They had been replaced by about three hundred and fifty "Open Spots" marching up to strangers with their CVs, reciting their achievements to anyone who would listen and handing out business cards. The smattering of old pros that were there were cowering in corners, desperately trying to have a good time in the midst of what had become some sort of sales conference. Over the last few years things finally came to a head and this year it was decided (reluctantly) to move the party from The Comedy Cafe and to try and get it back to what it had been before.

This inevitably has pissed a few people off and certainly it was a relief to be "on the list" when the invites went out. The conditions were quite clear this year - you are NOT invited unless you make a living out of stand up comedy, or words to that effect - and what a difference it made. I must apologise if this blog sounds a bit snooty (it won't for long - things always quickly fall apart where I'm concerned).

The party was last night. I got the train from Letchworth at 6.59pm, alighted at Finsbury Park, jumped straight on a Piccadilly Line train to Piccadilly Circus itself and then walked up and down Shaftesbury Avenue half a dozen times regularly walking past people who looked a bit like comedians until I eventually found the little doorway with "Century" above it and strolled in. (The people in the story from now on are all comedians or comedy promoters or the such like). I walked up the first flight of stairs behind Steve Best who said  "Hello mate! I must have walked up and down Shaftesbury Avenue half a dozen times trying to find this place". As we signed in, Wayne Saunders walked up behind us and said "Hello guys! I must have walked up and down Shaftesbury Avenue half a dozen times trying to find this place". The party was on the roof terrace (4th floor), we signed in and decided to walk it, rather than take the lift. By the top we were all out of breath and decided to take the lift in future. I'd figured showing up a couple of hours after the thing officially started should be ample time to not be the only one there. Oh no - we walked in to a sparsely populated "Outside" that was in fact "Inside". Susan Murray (organiser) had enlisted Wendy Wason (Mover and shaker) to find us a venue where smoking would be possible. She came up trumps. Century's roof terrace is built literally on its roof and you can sit next to the chimneys. It is walled on all sides, has heaters and a fantastic canvas "temporary" roof thus making it completely inside but also legally outside, which means there were ash trays in it. It was like being back at school. We sat grinning from ear to ear as various people who hadn't been able to have a fag inside for over three years lit up and loved it. I remarked that if the outside was really like this, I would be an "Outdoors" person. We weren't alone for long.

I shall briefly try and list the people I spoke to and my apologies to any I left out:

Neil Macfarlane
Steve Best
Paul Sinha (We talked about Biggleswade)
Wayne Saunders
Paul Rickets
Verity Welch
Dan Evans (Refreshingly clean-shaven)
Ian Moore
Miles Crawford (Who wears "Beckham" - pass it on)
A woman I don't know but everyone else did.
Jo Caulfield (We talked Psychobilly)
Marian Pashley (We talked Shakespeare)
An American woman that I managed to piss off within seconds of meeting her.
Simon Houlihan (Good friend) with his lovely girlfriend Trudi.
Katherine Webb (She informed me she had walked across half of Spain with one buttock)
Pierre Hollins
Jo Jo Smith
Pete Jonas (We talked about his Edinburgh infamy)
Ron Vaudry (Briefly)
Richard Herring (More briefly)
Peter Graham (Exceptionally briefly)
Hattie Hayridge (We had our annual hug)
George Egg (We talked beards, I think)
David Whitney (Who wasn't drinking but still sounded drunk)
A very nice man in a hat who is a mate of David Whitney
Timandra Harkness
Keith Dover
Rob Heeney (who wants to watch women undress in my flat in a couple of weeks)
Susan Murray (We swore at each other a lot)

By the time I had finished talking to them I had also consumed a very large amount of red wine at a fiver a glass (with tip) and knew that if I was going to get home on the train I would have to leave around midnight-ish. I bade my farewells, spoke at the top of the stairs to Ben Norris for quite a long time about I-know-not-what, descended the huge amount of steps, walked outside, realised I hadn't got my coat, ran (RAN!) back up the huge amount of steps, talked to Ben again, picked up my coat and then got persuaded not to go home at all but to go round to The Pheonix Arts Club with Susan and a few of the later-night revellers. Several of them all said I could stay at theirs (I was bound to miss the last train) but I took up Susan's offer of a couch I could sleep on as she's on the Victoria Line so I wouldn't find it too taxing to get home the next day.

We walked to The Phoenix. It was by now pissing down with rain. I bought Susan a drink by way of thanking her for the offer of the couch. She then promptly fucked off to God-only-knew-where. I hit the vodka and sodas and talked at greater length to those who had carried on the party - namely (I think)

Rob Heeney
David Whitney
Jo Caulfield
Neil Macfarlane
Pete Jonas
Some others

I think we left when it shut. The problem is, I don't know when it shut. What I do know is that several people offered me a couch for the night (In Susan's continued absence) but I had (by now) belligerently decided that I would get the first train home from Kings Cross as none of them were handily placed for me to get back there in the morning. They got in taxis and on night buses and I began walking in entirely the wrong direction in the deluge.

Kings Cross is not handily placed when you are absolutely sure you know where you are going but you are in fact wrong.

I walked for well over an hour, at one point stopping in a red phone box to get out of the rain. There were lots of prostitutes cards in there. I called one of them to see if she could help with directions. She couldn't. All she could tell me was where she was. Fat lot of good that was - I was trying to find Kings Cross, for crying out loud. I hung up. I carried on going wrong until I came to Chancery Lane tube station. Since it was a good distance due East of where I had begun and Kings Cross was a good distance due North from where I had begun, I cracked and hailed a black cab. I got to Kings Cross at 5.06am. The first train back was 5.45am. I got a coffee and spilt it all the way up and down platform 8 on my way to platform 10b and collapsed onto a surprisingly comfortable seat, waking up an hour and a quarter later at my stop - very fortunate indeed. It was still throwing it down so I got a cab home as well. To be honest with you, my legs had gone.

When I woke up today I had blisters on both heels and a nagging suspicion that I had probably upset a lot of people. I'll keep you posted*

* This from Rob Heeney in response to the above (it may be the first of several):
"Your memory is clearly letting you down, sir ....
I dragged you out of Balans ages before it closed. You were heading back to mine with me when you took a massive strop at the cab driver for charging £25 to Crouch End (which is actually a decent deal) and stormed off into the night"

Monday, 10 January 2011

THIS is why old men should not be allowed on Facebook...

I'm currently ankle-deep in emails, facebook events and various other e-mithers that are all of my own volition. The reason is simple - I'm organising The Lastminutecomedy New Act Of the Year Competition, 2011. It takes place throughout March and April in the various rooms I book for and involves sixty (SIXTY!) new-ish comedians with varying levels of ability and varying attitudes (If the emails are to be believed) towards competitions of this nature. Perhaps what has impressed me most (And made me all the more determined to do something about it myself) is the way that seemingly ALL new acts have excellent Youtube clips and it's thus made whittling down all the applications a challenge.

What has impressed me the least was the casual and careless nature of some of the entries that simply mind-boggled at times. I think it is a basic courtesy when emailing someone to know a. their name and b. the company they own/work for/represent. My favourite entry so far (I did relent and let him in the competition after initially wanting to bash his head in with a half brick for being daft) was a guy who shall remain nameless who sent me a message that began

"Dear Rod, I would like to enter the Central London Comedian Of The Year Competition and am available for the heats in Herts, Essex or Luton".

We'll let go that I'm not called Rod and it's not the Central London Comedian Of The Year Competition but I draw the line at people not knowing where Herts, Essex (And Luton) actually are. For those of you reading this from overseas, they are not in Central London. I let the guy in the comp anyway because his Youtube clip was really funny. I'm not an ogre. I also have his introduction on the night he performs written above, so should really thank him for it. One act also left a "Y" off the end of his email and gave me the slightly worrying sign off "Man Thanks". I shudder to think what "Man Thanks" could actually be but I'm pretty sure they involve a sigh, an expulsion and less than the requisite amount of gratitude than I think I could reasonably expect.

This has all coincided with the delivery of the recording of the gig I did in Southampton before Christmas (When I made my entrance via a back-lit cupboard full of smoke). It's great. It's also 25 minutes long and in Hi Def, making it a whopping 1.5GB in zipped form. This obviously makes me incapable of doing anything other than watching the thing. I need an expert to cut it up into morsel-sized Youtube clips so I can catch up with the millions of New Acts and get an internet presence of more substance haste post haste. I don't expect the comedy bits to go viral but the introduction is brilliant and (I am convinced) could make me a cyberspace sensation. My problem is the expert - my local techie Tim is exceptionally hard to pin down (He drinks more than I do) and I am floundering to nail down a night with him when we can put a few things together. I also have a pilot quiz show, a recording of a gig live in Dublin and a special show called "Is Star Trek Voyager Good For You" to turn into a showreel. I'm going to have to buy him a bottle of something nice as a result, I guarantee it.

The real reason old men shouldn't be allowed on Facebook is best summed up with a transcript of a messaged conversation I had with Steve (Landlord of my current favourite pub in the World, travelling companion and close friend) concerning the Facebook event for his next comedy show on Thursday February 3rd:

Steve: Oi! How come you haven't invited me to the next comedy show event in the pub?
Paul: I don't think I've even done an event for it yet.
Steve: Yes you have, you idiot - it's here (gives link)
Paul: (Checks link) Ah yes so I have - I also notice that I have invited you. It says you are "Awaiting reply".
Steve: Ah.

I'm not sure who should be banned from the web first? It's a definite toss up. Balls - I might do a poll.

My shows at the weekend all went OK and I have to say that Paul Sinha was terrific at all of them and would have stolen the show most other weekends except that he was on with the gloriously ridiculous Rayguns Look Real Enough. They had major technical problems in Hitchin (Someone had left the Induction Loop on for the Deaf and it led to horrendous feedback from Luke Real's guitar pick up - not that The Deaf minded). They had what verged on an elderly audience in Letchworth who didn't know half their songs but then were different class in Biggleswade. I'll let Paul Sinha tell you about that though as it's in his own excellent blog. He stuck around that night and by the end was singing along with them along with the rest of us.

Oh! On the Saturday night I went over to Steve's after the Letchworth show, got a little drunk on Old Rosie cider and then watched "Death Proof". Well, he watched "Death Proof", I fell asleep during the opening credits. I woke up at 5.35am with a message on the screen saying "Would you like to watch the movie again?". Obviously I said yes! I still had a full glass of wine and the cat on my legs wasn't moving so I couldn't go anywhere anyway. I pressed "play" and got the message "Please enter your pin". How on Earth could I possibly know Steve's pin? I was momentarily shattered that I wouldn't get to see it after all and then I had a "Eureka!" moment. Steve - I thought to myself - is as stupid as I am (See above) - I bet he's just got the default pin! I pressed 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 into the remote and the film started. I realise I have given his password out to the entire world  but I don't think that in the unlikely event anyone would break into the pub they would forego removing every item of value within in favour of reclining in his leather armchair and watching old movies all afternoon. They would however probably do that at my place. I've got bugger all worth nicking.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Another year, another 365 days of idiots

2011 (Or "Twenty One One" as I'm calling it) does actually bode quite well. Plans are afoot at the comedy clubs I run for a big April New Act Competition which I'm really looking forward to running, I'm off to Fuertaventura at the end of this month for a mini break (All inclusive for £147 - I couldn't turn it down), got The Psychobilly Meeting again in July, Edinburgh throughout August (confirmed) and the threat of the PPBowls garage punk festival again in Italy in October. In other words, pretty much every other month involves a trip away and I know I'm fortunate to be able to do it.

So why, at the moment, am I so lethargic? Well it's poker and cricket again. The climax of The Ashes has coincided with a return of the gambling habit which costs me far more in lost hours of sleep than it does financially. I just about break even online at the moment but the amount of time I have to put in to achieving this equilibrium is leading me to get up about 3pm in the afternoon and I'm not getting a lot done.

I had a couple of nights out between Christmas and New Year with a particularly odd incident on December 30th. I nipped out late for a couple in The Arena tavern and was presented with a surprisingly large pre-NYE crowd of reprobates and ne'erdowells, many of whom I was not familiar with. Two such bone headed galoots approached me towards the end of the night (As I sat quietly nursing a "Directors" ale) and one asked me for a roll up. He was very polite. I rolled one for him. Then he was less polite and demanded one for his mate as well. I rolled my eyes with the second lot of tobacco and as I handed him the two thin white sticks he suddenly declared "Mate - don't worry about him" (pointing to the other one, who for the first time I realised was standing up but had his eyes closed) "He's just f***ing pissed". At this point his mate opened his eyes and called him a bombaklart.

This is a little-known insult amongst myself and my friends and owes itself to the West Indies more than North Herts but I let it go. The subject of the insult then reared up at the vertically comatose insulter and started giving him grief. An argument (of sorts) escalated exceptionally quickly, there was some jostling and as it looked like turning into a fight I took a punt and shouted (in my best patois)

"Blood! You is not a bombaklart! He is just pissed innit! Leave him be and get him out to smoke your stuff!"

Before doing that whippy finger thing we all used to do in the 80s and declaring


To nobody in particular. They both burst out laughing, I was forced to high five one of them and they stumbled out laughing to themselves. I don't think they were expecting an unshaven forty year old white boy cradling a pint of real ale to be able to talk to them in "street". Anyway, it worked. On the way out I said goodnight to the prettiest lesbian in Letchworth and she said "Actually I'm not lesbian any more - I'm seeing how it goes with a bloke". I asked her to have a word with Ami (See last blog).

On Friday I drove to Newcastle on purpose. I was doing The Hyena Comedy Club and it has a reputation for being brutal. It wasn't. It wasn't easy, but it was manageable. Decisions by the staff to provide the performers with free drinks all night did ease the process substantially and also led to another incident. I was introduced to the daughter of the friend of the woman running the night. Still with me? She was one of the waitresses and had, until recently, been living in China with her mother. I remarked that she had beautiful dusky eyes. She responded by telling me I had a fine moustache. I replied that I had been cultivating it for a while, to which she stopped and said

"Cultivating? You sound like yeast!"

There was some laughter, but not as much as when I replied "Well I am rather like yeast - very few women want me in their knickers".

It's rare you get a moment like that and actually think of a decent retort. It obviously backfired - I was introduced to everyone as "Yeast Boy" for the rest of the night, which went on until some time after 2am. I have no idea how I got home (or indeed why I left) but when I got back to the flat provided for the acts by the club (and judging by my phone records the next day). I called up everyone in America that I have ever met.This may well be a good year for T-Mobile as well.