Saturday, 30 April 2011

Adam Ant, A talking bush and a gang of tiara-ed banshees

It's been a while, I realise. You'd think that not having any gigs two weekends in a row would give me plenty of time for writing and that was certainly the plan - I have an Edinburgh show to write, three new songs to learn, two blogs to maintain and I'd even promised myself I'd have another look at the kids book I wrote a decade ago that got as far as a literary agent but my refusal to rewrite sections of it meant it got unceremoniously shelved. Sadly however I have spent most of the time "socialising" and have got absolutely bugger all done, to be honest. It's been a laugh though. There have been an endless procession of nights out celebrating something or other and I'm just going to pick a few of the high/low points for general perusal and in no particular order (They've all merged, anyway) as things will no doubt occur to me as I'm writing.

I should begin by saying that an increasing number of chavs have been screaming at me out of their car windows on one particular road in Letchworth that happens to be en route between my flat and the town centre. It's happening just as they roar off the roundabout at the bottom as I am turning right. Whether this is coincidence or some collective burberry conspiracy I'm afraid I don't know, but it is starting to freak me out a bit. Last Wednesday I travelled to London for my mate Gav's birthday party. He's a TV & Radio media type and had booked the basement bar of Soho House for his annual shindig. I set off relatively early in the now-usual bright sunshine and reached the chavabout in a relatively perky mood when suddenly "Gwaaaaaaaoooohhhhuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhaaaaaakkkkkk!" - an unearthly howl was unleashed from the back window of a relatively smart hatchback that to say the least, made me jump. The laughter of a hundred collected brain cells disappeared up the road, I steadied myself and carried on, stopping for a swift beer in La Concha before getting on the 6.29pm to Finsbury Park. Effortless journey, tube straight to Leicester Square, whole thing done in under an hour and then Adam Ant walked past me on Charing Cross Road.

I say this flippantly because it was the briefest, most casual, un-noticed-by-passers-by-but-genuinely-amazing moment of my life. The first single I ever bought was "Antmusic" in (I think) 1980. I was ten. For the last thirty one years I've wanted to meet the man to tell him what a huge impact he (and his music) have had on my life. Looking back he's been profoundly influential in many ways more subtle than others. Perhaps the most obvious one is in the lyric to "Friend Or Foe"

I want those who get to know me, to become admirers or my enemies.

I have never bothered with casual acquaintances or people who just think I'm all right, throughout my life. I've put up with people publicly (in the main) but have always been fairly outspoken and the most liable to split a room in company. It's done me few favours, really, and I could probably have had more success than I have done if I could have held my tongue. Anyway, on this occasion I couldn't hold it either, although not in my more accustomed style. I seemed to be the only person who had noticed him on that particular section of Charing Cross Road, deep in conversation (as he was) with what appeared to be a personal Assistant of some sort. He was fully bedecked in his latest look

I walked past this bloke on Charing Cross Road and he looked like this
And was obviously going to or from an official engagement. Our eyes never met and as I walked past him, close enough to almost brush his shoulder, I heard myself say "oh that will be Adam Ant then", out loud, to nobody in particular.

"oh that will be Adam Ant, then"

Thirty one years I'd waited to speak to him and that was the best I could come up with. He didn't look up, I don't think he heard and by the time I looked round he had disappeared, presumably down the steps of the tube, possibly into Leicester Square itself. I realise lots of other people I know have probably met him. I also realise that he might not be as great as I have always built him up to be, but this was my moment and I couldn't have blown it any better. I got to Soho House, signed Gav's guest book, got a glass of red wine (for £7.50!) and spent the next few hours telling anyone I was introduced to that I had just walked past Adam Ant. It was actually a really good party and I was quite entertained by how few people appeared to know Gav himself. There were a few of his mates there but a lot of the rest were work colleagues from Channel 5 or Capital Radio etc. who were only passing or vague friends. One guy suggested we should all have had a "speed dating" hour so we all had to talk to each other for a minute each to begin with. It would have been both a good idea AND a good laugh. I settled for just walking up to women who were pretty who were chatting to men I had already been introduced to. There was no shortage of either. I was delighted by the company of publicists, producers, DJs, continuity announcers, a girl who wanted to give up her job with Tesco to go and work for the RSPCA and one lovely young woman who (when I mentioned I ran a burlesque show which was how I had met Gav) told me that she was having burlesque lessons herself and did I think her boobs were too big? I've had far worse opening encounters with the opposite sex, far worse.

I left there in time to get back to Kings Cross and buy a double whopper with fries and a diet coke for a full £1.11 cheaper than the wine had cost me by the glass in Soho House, caught the fabulous 11.15pm home (first stop, Letchworth!) and was in bed by midnight.


On Thursday night I went round to my mum's for dinner (Roast pork and about fifteen veg) and then took a stroll down to The Tavern for band night. Shortly before the chavabout a souped-up little shiny thing shot past me at breakneck speed and someone shouted out the window "BUSWANKER!". I was, to say the least, a little taken aback but not really surprised. I got a pint in and struck up a conversation with a girl whose rump I apparently slapped the other night (on invitation, I hasten to add), a girl with a cigarette burn on her collarbone and a bloke with a lighter burn on his thumb. They had both, it became clear, brought the burns upon themselves by daring people to injure them whilst under the influence. I told them about my latest drive-by abuse and they were appalled - not because I had been disrespected by my youngers but because I had not been anywhere near a bus stop. Apparently the abuse stems from a show called The Inbetweeners which I had sadly never seen. Apparently I'm just glad I wasn't carrying a briefcase. Big Howard showed up for a couple of jars

Little Howard wasn't allowed in the pub
And we talked Edinburgh, touring, the dangers of booking a gig in Wimborne the night after The Royal Wedding and why it was easier to fill a theatre if you were a pre-school TV star than one for the under-twelves. Last orders were called and I began the walk home. Five minutes into my journey a bush shouted at me. I took another couple of (slightly wobbly) strides and then it shouted at me again. I stopped and looked round at it. Then it shouted again

"Oi! Mate! Give us a fag!"

I replied that I was not about to give a bush a cigarette, even if it was a female bush. A girl then walked out of the bush and started talking to me. I told her I would have to put her on hold as I was talking to a bush. She laughed. I asked her what she was doing in a bush


said a bloke emerging from the bush doing his flies up. I explained I hadn't got any cigarettes and kept walking. I got past the chavabout without incident and then a car ploughed past me and someone screamed something unintelligible at me about fifty yards up the road. When I got in I started reading a book about hostages in Central America and it made me feel better about myself.


The Royal wedding was actually quite nice, all things considered. I'm not really pro- or anti- Royal and I wish the couple well. Any wedding brings back memories of my own so there's always a pang of sadness but anyway, I'm not here to get all maudlin and you're not here to read it. I spent most of the afternoon doing absolutely nothing other than eating well and watching TV, before finally getting out and again walking in to town to catch the 8.29pm to Hitchin as I had an appointment with The Vic. There was the inevitable scream from what looked to be a Peugeout 305 as I neared the chavabout and the journey was otherwise uneventful. It hadn't really registered that it was also a bank holiday but within seconds of reaching the pub (about a quarter to nine) there was no doubt whatsoever. EVERYONE was steaming pissed but the men (As usual) weren't of particular interest to me - oh no - it was the women - all gloriously smashed, all tottering on slingbacks, all drinking champagne and cocktails and (mostly) in tiaras that had been provided by the bar. The most entertaining were Georgie (girlfriend of my very good mate, Limburn, who was also in attendance in body if not mind) and her friend Donna. Donna said to me "I won a medal this morning for looking the most like Kate Middleton!". Georgie also had a medal round her neck. When I asked her how she'd won that she said "Three legged race". I made some remark about me not needing a partner for the three legged race and before it had registered with Georgie, Donna had bent almost ninety degrees and stared directly at my crotch before saying simply "Naaaaa... you'd need someone". Her tiara had slipped a little and her eyes were glazing over. Her drink was hanging limply from her weakening wrist and her head was at a slight angle. She took a little time to re-focus on my face and then said "I do look like a beautiful fucking princess, don't I?". I felt it best to simply nod my head and say "yes Donna, you do"

Prince William (Duke Of Cambridge) and Donna
I left The Vic about eleven, stopped briefly in The Croft (nothing happening), hiked down to The Kings Arms (plenty happening but not really of interest to me), nipped round to Chic Bar with Andy the Derby County fan, lost Andy the Derby County fan and took the long walk back to Hitchin station, caught the 1.26am train to Letchworth and successfully walked home without getting shouted at by either chavs or bushes. Punk rock tonight - anything could happen.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Impromptu guzzling, Tasmanian Devils and ungrateful rockabilly girls!

I'll summarise the first half of last weekend and then get to its undoubted highlight. I went down my local in Letchworth on Thursday in my hat. The evening began sensibly enough and then I bumped into Sammie from La Concha and some of her staff, immediately switching from real ale to Pinot Grigio. One bottle in and I was bombarded with demands to explain why I wouldn't let everyone try my hat on (I consider it to be an item of clothing and wouldn't let people try my shoes on either) before someone asked me what I did for a living. I replied honestly and then he said "tell me a joke then". he didn't ask. He instructed. I explained I wasn't at work. He asked why that made a difference. I asked him what he did for a living. He said he did car rentals. I asked him to rent me a car. He told me he wasn't at work. I was having a battle of wits with an unarmed man so decided to bring myself down to his level by getting another bottle of PG. By the end of the night we were firm friends. I don't remember what time I left.

On Friday I went round to my Dad's to watch Norwich City v Nottingham Forest. The latter (my team) lost 2-1 and are now doubts even to make the Championship play-offs and another season in relative obscurity beckons. I had a walk down The Tavern for a couple of late ones to cheer myself up. When I walked in I was greeted by bar staff chuckling to themselves and asking me if I had had a "Good time" the night before . Apparently it had taken them a good three quarters of an hour to get me and my new best friend out of there. I settled into a round with Bob (landlord) and Tom (his son) and leisurely quaffed Youngs ale (only £2.40! A bargain!) until towards the end of the night when I was accosted by some late entries to the pub who I am the barest of acquaintances with. I was refused a repeat of Thursday's antics so retired to my flat nursing a bottle of Rose wine and in the company of said latterday rowdies. They were like Tasmanian Devils once in domesticity and it took me a good hour to get rid of them. I began to know how the bar staff felt.

Your average guest at Casa Edwards
Saturday night saw me remembering I worked for a living and I drove down to Forest Hill to do a great comedy show that I play all too rarely. It's in a pub called The Hob and is one of South London's longest running shows. A small(ish) audience were treated to compering female double act "Chambers & Nettleton" who warmed them up beautifully for the opening act who went on and proceeded to talk for twenty minutes (in graphic detail) about his sex holiday to Thailand. It was incredibly graphic but intelligently self-deprecating and the audience were left open mouthed by the denouement to his turn, as were the other acts. I went on second, safe in the knowledge that there really was nothing I could say that could possibly shock anybody. I had a great time. I wish he could open all of my gigs.

...And so to Sunday and the day of The London Marathon, which I sensibly slept through. I had been invited to "Help Japan", an all-day rockabilly & psychobilly benefit gig at Dingwalls in Camden. Obviously I asked partner-in-crime and general drinking buddy Steve along. Leaving the quite excellent Lisa to oversee his pub for another stretch, we got the train down from Luton and got to Camden for around half two and got stuck in to some Turkish wraps and Galician pork stew for a hefty lunch in preparation for what was sure to be a massive bender. It wasn't. We queued up for forty five minutes only to get in and find the bar so crowded that it was taking a further twenty to get served. The first few bands were all of a muchness and the promise of a score of them by eleven looked unlikely to say the least as endless raffles and kit-changes slowed things up to a snail's pace. Things suddenly started ramping up about 7pm when a lot of the more traditional rockabillies buggered off. This was a double score. On the one hand, the bar emptied sufficiently for us to really get stuck in AND in rapid succession I was treated to Porky's Hot Rockin', King Salami & The Cumberland 3, The Space Cadets, Coffin Nails, Restless and to cap it all off, King Kurt.

King Salami & The Cumberland 3 with special guest idiot in foreground
Various very funny things happened - at one point I nipped outside and a drunk woman asked if she could try my hat on. I said "No". When she asked why not I replied that it might knock the fascinator she was already wearing. She demonstrated her chagrin at this by punching herself in the side of the head. She then staggered off, fell backwards on to the courtyard cobbles and was helped to a seat. about an hour later she was still there. Her friend was treating her for what appeared to be minor concussion. Her friend then did the same thing and we were all treated to a flash of her leopard skin knickers. During the last band a girl next to me was knocked over by a few guys dancing behind her. I offered to help her up. She blamed me for the whole thing, called me some quite unspeakable things and threatened to kick me "in the nuts". She was dragged away by a lovely lady in a stripy top who had seen everything and apologised to me. Bemused, I went back to jumping up and down like a demented old colonial.

Steve thought it would be a good idea to take a photo of the line up so we could remember who was on. The order changed out of all recognition, as did my perception of reality by the end
The gig over, A quick look at the time saw us beyond midnight and with no chance of a tube back to St. Pancras so we started yomping down to Euston in search of a cab, stopping only for takeaway chicken on the way. A taxi procured, we got back to S.P. and got a painfully slow train that didn't get in to Luton until 2am. The (suffering) Lisa had stayed up in the pub and was armed with a Chinese takeaway and a film they both allegedly wanted to watch called "Leap Year". It's actually worse than "Last Of The Airbenders" and kept me up and grumbling until 4am with Lisa chuckling at my constant moaning and Steve (Who slept throughout).

I woke up at 8am on the wrong end of his sofa to a text from my friend Lorie who informed me that my car alarm was going off. I thanked her and told her I planned to do nothing at all about it as it was 8am. I got up about eleven and felt like I'd run the London Marathon, stopping at the drinks points for booze and take away rather than water. It dawned on me that Steve and I had effectively been on our feet for fourteen hours the previous day, standing awkwardly, dancing, yomping or running up and down escalators. It's a miracle I'm here at all, it really is. Spare a thought for Steve though - he did the whole thing in flip flops.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

New comedians, old problems

The Lastminutecomedy Club New Comedian Of The Year Competition 2011 is the new, improved Bedfordshire Comedian Of The Year 2010, expanded from the original two heats + final to six heats, runners-up final and grand final. Last year I greenly booked the first twenty acts who applied and over the two heats saw a ramshackle collection in both attitude and ability, going from the eventual winners (Jay Foreman and Carly Smallman) becoming regulars on the comedy circuit to the mentalist who ran on to the stage at the first heat, grabbed the mic off me, threw the stand to the floor, jumped up and down on it until it broke and then spent three minutes berating Cheryl Cole before running out into the street and punching a wall.

This year I took a bit more time, viewing over two hundred Youtube clips before picking sixty of the most able entrants, dividing them amongst the heats by style, experience, sex (No point having all the women in one show) and wherever possible, proximity to the shows themselves which took place (in order) in Biggleswade, Langford, Luton, Hitchin, Letchworth and Chigwell, with varying degrees of success. I had contacted the local newspaper for each show about them sending a journo down to be one of the judges. There would be cash prizes for the winners and runners-up at each gig who would all progress in the competition. I'll run through what happened, heat-by-heat.

Ten acts booked, eight arrived, seven did well, audience liked it a lot. Landlord got on at the end and did a bit himself. He was actually quite good. No members of the press showed up. I stayed up until 5am with the landlady drinking Jack Daniels and getting angry about everything.

Ten acts booked, five arrived, all did longer, four did well, audience liked it. Organiser of event heckled me throughout. The local school had made "crowns" for the winner and runner up, which was a really lovely thing to do. No press. I drove home in a bit of a huff, went down the pub and drank quickly and efficiently.

Eleven acts booked (by accident), nine arrived, all did well, three did fantastically well, audience absolutely loved it. No press. A comedy punching match wtih the daughter of my mate's girlfriend resulted in a man asking if we "Were married".

Ten acts booked, seven arrived, some looked worried by size of room (it's big), last act stole the show, audience seemed to enjoy it. No press. I went to The Vic afterwards and watched a 21st Birthday party descend into chaos.

Ten acts booked, eight arrived, all did well, some shot themselves in the foot, audience enjoyed it. No press. Got in the Tavern about 11.45pm Drunk by one.

ten acts booked, nine arrived, two did really well. The rest went from "interesting" to "Appalling". I don't think anybody really enjoyed it. I know I didn't. Three of the acts left without even saying goodbye, which was a bit rude, I thought. No press. To add insult to injury I had to drive home as I had to get up early to do a comedy workshop at an assisted housing centre in Houghton Regis.

So what have I learnt? Well, quite obviously, I need to book more than ten new acts into a comedy night if I want ten to be there. The excuses were legion and I must congratulate the ones that DID appear when they were supposed to. They all gave it their best shot and the vast majority of them were punctual, polite, professional and a joy to have around. Some of the no-shows had fallen ill to a mystery bug that clearly affects nervous performers on the eve/day of their show. Several had car trouble. All expected me to believe them. A couple more had taken paid gigs rather than do a comp, which was fair enough. Two of them had actually dropped out at very short notice because they had got in the final of another competition which was the same night. This wound me up because not only were my own shows clearly of lesser importance to them but also because neither of them clearly backed themselves to do well in either competition and if you don't think you can win, what's the real point of entering?

I have also learnt that despite my efforts, very few of the comedians had spoken to each other prior to their heats, despite me letting them all know who was on. I had somehow managed to get four acts from Wales in the same heat and they all managed to travel independently of each other, one or two of them grumbling at the great expense they had gone to in order to perform. I felt like reminding them that they had applied to enter under the conditions of the competition and at no time had I offered to buy their train tickets.

Additionally, I have learnt that some people are destined to live in a little bubble, ignoring all outside factors, advice or even barked instructions. One act had asked on his facebook page two days before the Langford heat (That he was booked in for) if anyone else was driving up to Bedford on the Thursday night of the competition as he couldn't get a train back from there after 10.30pm. I noticed it and commented on his status that the gig was not in Bedford and wasn't on Thursday, but in Langford on Friday...

...Twenty minutes later he messaged me telling me that he didn't think he would be able to do the Bedford gig on Thursday because he couldn't get a train home after 10.30pm. I replied to his message in capital letters: THE GIG IS NOT IN BEDFORD ON THURSDAY BUT IN LANGFORD ON FRIDAY AND THE NEAREST STATION IS BIGGLESWADE, FROM WHICH YOU CAN GET A TRAIN BACK TO LONDON AS LATE AS MIDNIGHT...

...His next message was fascinating and said simply "I'm sorry but I will have to turn down your offer to enter the competiton as I have work on Monday".

A couple of acts also emailed me after their heats to tell me that they should have got through to the finals (Which take place in Devon) and that the judges were wrong/biased/idiots. I only replied to the one who didn't accuse them of anything but simply expressed his surprise that he hadn't won completely. I gave him my own appraisal of his performance and some reasons why I felt he had not progressed. I haven't heard back from him.

Finally, I have also learnt to not bother inviting the local press to anything unless you are going to chauffeur-drive them there, buy them drinks all night, take them for a curry afterwards and pay for their taxi home.

Still, none of this has detracted from what ultimately has so far been a success and I'm already planning ways to improve it for next year. I'll let you know about the runners-up final and the final itself in May, shortly after they occur, should I survive them.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Dolly's 2nd House Party - the director's cut

I thought I'd break from the usual travelogue this week and recount a singular event, that being Dolly's Second House Party at my friends Sam & Maria's on Saturday night. It really had taken a lot of preparation by both myself and the hosts but by the time we got to 7pm and the first arrivals, the following had been achieved:

(Sam & Maria)
Clear lounge (venue) of sofas and put them in dining room (acts dressing room). Fill venue with fourteen chairs that have been successfully borrowed. Put mirror in dressing room. Construct outside lavvy from chemical toilet and shed. Vet and invite eleven friends and get their ticket money for the event. Make excellent signs. Dress room with shimmer curtains (essential). Give ticket money to organiser (Me).

Additionally corral another thirteen people and somehow get the vast majority of their money as well. Go to Sainsburys and spend £208 on cider, lager, beer, guinness, rum, gin, vodka, red wine, white wine, rose wine, budget Bailey's derivative, cranberry juice, apple juice, orange juice, diet coke, coke zero, regular coke, caffeine-free coke, diet lemonade, various tonic waters, large bags of nuts, box of Black Magic (in addition to previous £12 spent on case of Stella (Fighting lager)). Book comedians and burlesque dancers, remember to bring ribbon and scissors. Liaise with comedian and pick up dancer from station.

Bring over four bar stools, plastic pint glasses, half glasses, wine glasses, ice buckets, implements and other bar paraphernalia or as I like to call it baraphernalia. Generally be a good egg and organise booze supplies in kitchen to create quite hilariously well-stocked bar.

Steve enjoying the show. The woman in the bottom right hand corner is NOT crying, honest.
The first hour's "meet & greet" was tame enough as the two groups of friends mixed easily and the drink began to flow. Both comedians were drinking with the crowd, both dancers were staying in their dressing room in what appeared to be abject terror. We called people in to the venue at around 8.30pm and advised that those that had been before sat at the front. Those that had been before did not, leaving the lovely Chloe and Vicky perched in the driver's seats. Both appeared fine. I began the show with my latest unofficial opening and put on the first act, Pam Ford, who over the next ten minutes destroyed Maria's good character to the great hilarity of her invited guests.She was followed by burly star Dolly Rose who delighted with a bunch-of-grapes balloon pop. I called a break. Chloe and Vicky were fine.

Delightful Dolly Rose balloon-popping
Now the booze was flowing. As Steve worked up a sweat in the kitchen I perused the back yard and dressing room with equal interest (All the ladies looked lovely and the one's we'd booked were in varying states of undress throughout the night - of course I was in and out of the dressing room - I'm not an idiot). Pam was escorted to the neighbours, complaining of laddered tights. I didn't pry. We reconvened for part two. Transvestite musical and artistic comedian "Mushy Bees" took the stage to no shortage of applause and laughter and (from some quarters) confusion. He was followed by the lovely Lena Mae who peeled flowers off herself but didn't sing because she had a sore throat. I didn't ask. Everybody went wild. I called a break. Chloe and Vicky were sweetness and light.

The rum had already gone but the rest of the booze appeared to be holding up all right and the chilli nuts were an absolute hit. Whoever had said they wanted cider was obviously lying. There was still a lot of cider. I reminded everyone to get two drinks for the next section, because we were playing "Roxanne". We got back in the room, , I dropped my trousers for a second helping of comedy pants, we had a quick game of "Heads & Tails" for three sticks of rock (when I had remembered the rules - it's very complicated) and then got on with Roxanne. Someone always messes up on Roxanne and this time it was the lovely Vicky, who on instruction (and accepting her fate) very calmly polished off a good half a pint of white wine in one hit. Dolly Rose came back on and did another dance which involved her losing weight, somehow. We called another break, things were running late and the only abstainer of the night, Kris, offered to drop her off at the station. They departed. When I'd asked him what he wanted to drink (several days before) he said "I don't drink, can I have a box of chocolates?", hence the Black magic. Chloe and Vicky were fine.

In the break I asked for a photo of me in the outside lavvy. I think it came out rather well...

My mother is so proud
Time for the last bit. People fell back in to the room and collapsed on each other. I did my best to get them (and myself) settled and re-introduced Fam Pord, who staggered back on for another ten minutes of screaming Aussie vitriolic brilliance. She tottered off in fresh tights and a cowboy hat. Lena Mae came back out dressed in red. The audience howled, hooted, whistled and cheered. She finished her act with an explosion of glitter and left to rapturous applause. I tried to wrap up the show. Chloe and Vicky tried to take it over. I had no choice but to let them. After performing a minor burlesque double act of their own, Vicky threw herself prostate on the glitter and began making "Snow angel" movements. Everybody drifted out of the room, some climbing over her. More drinks were had. Vicky & Chloe enlisted the help of the previously well-behaved Rhianna for a bap-flashing episode in the kitchen which I was not a party to as I was in the dressing room paying off the turns.

Vicky. Snow angel or glitter devil?

...And then we all went to the Arena Tavern. The Arena tavern really wasn't expecting that. I spent most of Sunday aching and wondering what had happened. It's now Wednesday night and things are only really coming back to me now. Pammy has been complaining of flashbacks. Lena Mae has admitted the end of the party terrified her. God only knows what she would have made of the pub. Maria has been complaining loudly (and justifiably) about glitter and nobody, nobody can wait for the next one...