September 1, 2016
It’s a terrible feeling when you realise just how much you’ve let yourself down. When you know how an earlier version of you (from younger days, when the world was at your feet and anything was possible) would despise what you have become, and would disown you, want nothing to do with you, would spit at you in the street.
I have reached that point, and I stand here ashamed.
We need to go back in time. Back to February 1984. I was 21 and just out of university. I was sharing a house with some people who are still very close to me and will be extremely disappointed in what I have become; Trev Neal, my comedy partner, and Clare Eden, my manager. Both like family, and both (well, Trev at least; I can’t answer for Clare) about to disown me.
In February 1984 I was a recent graduate from Manchester University. Me and Trev had decided by then that we were going to be a double-act. Trev had another year to go at university, so I got myself a job at a college in Manchester; Cornbrook Library, close to the bridge that Joy division stood on.
I had this photo, and many others like it, Blu-tacked to woodchip wallpapered walls.
I would cycle to the library every day. I was the only one who worked there. I opened it, I closed it. I built it! I stocked the shelves and labelled all the books on their spines according to the Dewey Decimal System. No one ever visited the library. It was a small room full of business books. I say no one; occasionally a member of staff would look in to say hello, which would lead to “Oh, you’re a comedian are you?”, which would lead to “tell us a joke then”, which would lead to “I’m not really that sort of a comedian?”
At least I was earning money. Every Friday, as a treat, I would cycle through town and stop off at a fancy outdoor beer at the bottom of Peter Street, next to The Gallery, and buy a bottle of whisky. I once bought a bottle of Pig’s Nose just for the name of it.
Over the weekend it would get drunk by me and Trev and any passing friends. So, just me and Trev.
Then Monday the bike ride would begin again. 7am, sometimes in snow that Joy Division could have created.
And sometime that February I bought my first ever The Smiths single, What Difference Does it Make?
The chart for the 12th February 1984 was a crazy mix of music. Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Relax was no.1, and then Queen with Radio Ga Ga was at no.2.
As a 21 year old I didn’t know much. But I did know that Relax was good (even though I hadn’t a clue what it was about – the joys of pop music, and why we should never get too hung up about what the kids are listening to these days), and that Radio Ga Ga was shit.
Compare and contrast:
And everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio – Queen
Hang the blessed DJ, because the music that they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life – The Smiths
The charts were at war, and we had to choose sides.
That week alone we saw these momentous battles:
You had to know where you were with your music. And on that day, the 12th February 1984, I sided with Frankie, the Style Council, The Smiths, Madness, Swans Way, Big Country, and Echo and the Bunnymen.
I’ve always said that The Killing Moon is the greatest song ever written, Ian McCulloch
In the charts that week were also some of those songs that were tricky to a boy like me. I hadn’t yet figured out what I thought of Holiday, and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and 99 red Balloons. I think I was just too shy when it came to girls.
And so to the point. That I’ve been putting off. The betrayal by a 54 year old man of his 21 year old self.
I’ve been running a lot recently. it started when I decided to run 10k in May to raise money for The British Heart Foundation*. And I haven’t stopped. This last month, August, I have run the most I have ever run, managing 210km.
and I run to music.
I’ve been running to all my old faves… though Joy Division is a hard sell to my legs.
And I’ve been getting a bit fed up of the same old song. So I went and bought one of those 80s 12″ compilation CDs (A 12″ mix, in general, is perfect for measuring 1km of running).
And… oh, I’m so sorry Simon. I’m so sorry young me. I’ve let you down. No wonder the old you is running. Don’t stop. And pray that the 21 year old doesn’t take up running. Coming after you. catching up. Ripping those earphones out of your bloody ears…
All men have secrets and here is mine
So let it be known
On the 12th February 1984 this song was no.5 in the charts. And now I’m running to it.
(* If you’d like to donate to The British Heart Foundation I have a Just Giving page here.)
November 29, 2015
It’s Something Sunday isn’t it. Yeah, it is. Something Sunday. Comes two days after Black Friday and the day after Shrug Saturday.
Something Sunday. The day before Cyber Monday. Two days before Tired Tuesday. Followed by What Wednesday, then Green Thursday, and then, a full week on from Black Friday, we have Just Friday, when all the magistrates use No Win No Fee claim forms as auxiliary toilet paper. Next Saturday is Next Saturday, when all branches of Next offer Same day Delivery, tomorrow. And then, we come full circle to the following Sunday which, at the moment, is flirting with calling itself Sallow Sunday; a day where all yellow gifts that have been left in sun-bleached windows over the summer will be sold off at bargain prices to the first customers who skin-tones match the product.
It’s difficult keeping up isn’t it? Do you remember the good old days when days just had a number, or a one-word name? Monday the 12th, or Wednesday the 29th… and so on. Do you remember? Think back. Do you remember when there was that Monday in your childhood that was just a Monday, any old bog-standard Monday, but what a great Monday it was? We all loved that Monday. I think it was Monday 16th July, 1979. What a Monday! Glorious. A Monday. With a number. 16.
The good old days.
And then came Saturday. Saturday 21st 1979. What an awful day. Mondays were never the same after that were they? Bob Geldof and his bloody pop song. Released on the 21st; completely buggering up the 23rd. So he didn’t like Mondays? He could have kept it to himself. But no, too late, he’d opened the floodgates. Blue Monday was next and the world was never the same.
And now here we are, on Something Sunday.
Let’s try and make the most of Something Sunday. Let’s try and make something positive out of the hell Geldof unleashed.
Let’s make Something Sunday something special. Let’s make it Strangeness Sunday.
Have I told you about STRANGENESS in SPACE?
(I know. I can hear you; “so that was his plan all along. To start off with some nonsense, some improvised rubbish, and then to slowly suck us all in only to bang on about his new thing.”
Yes. It was my plan. Sorry. Sorry Sunday.)
If you haven’t heard about STRANGENESS in SPACE, it’s a new audio sci-fi comedy me and Trev have done (done as in written, acted in etc) along with Sophie Aldred (Ace to Sylvester McCoy’s Dr Who). We’ve also had the most amazing special guests involved, including Doon Mackichan and Rufus Hound.
We’ve now written Episode 3, and the writing for Episode 4 is underway. We also have a great new special guest for Episode 3. Only the comedy legend that is Alexei Sayle! This is so exciting for us. It’s just amazing to be able to ask some of our favourite funny people and for them to actually say yes.
And the great thing is, because this project is crowd-funded, we have no suits hovering over us, telling us we can’t do this, we must do that. We are lucky enough to be able to do exactly as we want. And if we want Alexei Sayle in it, we ask and cross our fingers. And the great man said yes.
Crowd-funding made this happen. You all made this happen. It’s a great thing, and we’re all in it together. Tell me why, I do like crowd-funding.
But (oh, I know, there’s always a big but)…
We crowd-funded Eps 1 and 2 through Kickstarter. We went beyond our intended target enabling us to fund not one, but two episodes. But now we are on to Episodes 3 and 4 we need to raise the money ourselves and crowd-fund through our own website.
We’re getting there, but the sooner we can hit our target the sooner we can get our great cast back into the studio to record the next two episodes.
If you’ve enjoyed listening to STRANGENESS in SPACE please do take a look at our ‘shop’. We’ve lots of things in there costing from just a few pounds to… well… a few more. Anything bought in the shop goes straight towards our goal to fund the next episodes; to pay all the people who are working so hard on our behalf to get this made; our Production Team, our cast, all those helping behind the scenes. All these great people are working long and hard hours, and often for ridiculously favourable ‘mates rates’. I promise you, everything we spend is up there on that audio “screen”.
Here’s some of my favourites from the shop:
This is our first set of STRANGENESS in SPACE badges. You can get the set for £6 including Postage and Packing (posted and packed by me or Clare, with a handwritten note too).
We liked these so much we had a second set made too… a little more in the know for ‘Mirthlings’ who’ve listened to the first two episodes.
We’ve also got T-shirts, Beanie hats, Bags for Life. You can find our shop by clicking on this link.
Christmas is coming soon too. We have our own STRANGENESS “Merry Spacemas”card in the shop. It’s signed by me, Trev, Sophie, and Clare. It can be dedicated to whoever you choose. And we can post it to them for you, or we can post it to you.
If you fancy helping us get the next episodes made but you don’t necessarily want us to post you anything, why not consider sponsoring a page of our script. Each page can be ‘commissioned’ by you. It will have your name at the top of the page for all the cast to see and we will also email you the script once it is released. This is limited to the number of pages in the script, and at the mo we have 11 left. You can be one of our page commissioners for £20 and you can do that by clicking on this link.
Ok. Enough I think. Enough trying to flog you stuff for today. Enough Something Sunday. You came here for a bit of fun, I reeled you in, and then I gave you the hard sell.
But… if you can help, please do. We are having so much fun getting STRANGENESS in SPACE made, and we can’t wait to be getting on with the next two episodes.
Happy Sunday everyone. And remember, tomorrow is Monday. Just Monday. But do watch out for the Cybermen.
April 25, 2015
What a journey this has been! And we’re still Earthbound! (Hmmm… just confused myself there; Earthbound as in bound to the Earth not bound for Earth… tricky… reboot:
What a journey this has been! And we haven’t even left yet. Earth, that is. Snappy!
For those who know what I’m on about, you know. For those who don’t, it’s Strangeness in Space; a new adventure, a Space podcast, an audio comedy; devised, conceived, by four of us – Me, Trev, Sophie, and Clare.
The journey started about a year ago when we decided we wanted to do something together. Now, nearly a year on, we are reaching the end of our Kickstarter campaign.
Ooh! Kickstarter! I say that so casually, that Kickstarter campaign thing. A year ago I would have thought crowdfunding was (insert your own witty line here). A year ago I would have thought a ‘perk’ was (ditto). A year ago I would have… (finish this of yourself. And remember the rule of three! Then feel free to break it).
Anyway. My point. It’s a new thing and we’ve done it! We’ve succeeded! I would say just the four of us, but it’s been a team of seven. Maybe eight or nine. I don’t think ten. (And you others know who you are and you know just how grateful we are). And beyond that, the 550+ backers who are bold enough to come into Space with us. Without you, our backers, this wouldn’t have worked. With Kickstarter it is all or nothing; if you don’t raise the money you don’t get any of it.
BUT WE DID IT! A BIG BIG HOORAY!
AND WE HAVE PETER GUINNESS IN IT! BARNABY EDWARDS! SARAH MADIGAN! DOON MACKICHAN! CAROL CLEVELAND! DAVID ANNEN! RUFUS HOUND!
We’re a small team and we’re doing pretty much everything ourselves. When you get your perk the chances are I’ll have put the badges in the envelope. The chances are Sophie will have put the stamp on. The chances are Trev will have walked to the Post Office. And the chances are Clare will do the other 549. (See? I’ve already overruled the rule of three with a rule of four; that’s the problem with a quartet).
And now, with just over a day to go, I am pleading with all of you who have come on this journey with us, to pester your friends, pester your family; anyone you think would like to join us on this adventure… LET THEM KNOW THERE’S ONLY 26 HOURS TO GO!
Here’s the thing. We’ve reached our target, and we WILL get Episode 1 made. But Episode 2 is waiting and it’s ready to go! But we didn’t dare, we didn’t know… it’s a new adventure and we couldn’t have dreamed we could reach the funding for Two Episodes. But now I do believe we can.
To all who have backed us, spread the word! If you’re on Twitter, please retweet. If your on Facebook, please… refacebook? If you’re on the phone, please just casually slip it into the conversation.
Heck, Strangeness in Space isn’t a religion, but it’s as good as. And, occasionally, funnier. Spread the word!
This is where I picture some of our team putting their heads in their hands, thinking “this blog post was going so well, why did he have to-
Ok, ignore that last bit. Let me start again. Strangeness in Space isn’t butter, but it’s as good as. Spread the word!
£4 gets you a chance to hear the first Episode before it is made available to the public. And you get your name in our Roll of Honour.
£10 gets you an emailed script. £20 for a T-shirt.
There’s just under 20 different perks to pick from, suiting all pockets (what a weird phrase that is!) If you haven’t a clue what I’m on about with perks, just take a look at our Kickstarter page and scroll down the list of perks on the right hand side. You can find our page by clicking here.
26 hours to go! Our current backer are called Mirthlings (because the strange planet we visit is called Planet Mirth). calling all Mirthlings! Send the message out.
Let us recruit new Mirthlings! (sounds sinister)
Let us be like an army (but without guns and things… or people barking orders at us!)
Let us form a cult (Not a sinister one, like Scientology or The Moonies)
This blog post is going wrong.
Let us be Strangeness.
April 12, 2015
Ok, here’s today’s mission, should you choose to accept it:
Strangeness in Space is well under way. At this moment we have £13113 of our £15000 target! That’s amazing, and we are well on our way to getting the first episode made. But (and sorry to keep pestering) we won’t stop there because another £7000 will get the second episode made too!
A lot of you reading this will already have backed us. And a huge thank you to you all! (If you haven’t, and you want to, just click here). But today’s mission is simpler, easier, less taxing on the pocket. I am just determined to get a retweet from Richard Branson.
Let me explain:
Ok. Retweeting. It’s a Twitter thing. Some people are Twitter, some are Facebook. Facebook people don’t get Twitter, Twitter people don’t get Facebook. People who get neither are people with lives, and people who get both are people with no lives. Most of us fall in the middle. I’m a Twitter person. (We do have a FB page too, and I do go there; I just don’t know how it works).
Anyway, the Mission. Before it self-destructs.
Years ago, when we did Live and Kicking on Saturday mornings on BBC1 we did a sketch where we came up with a spoof product called “Branson Pickle”, and we thought “wouldn’t it be great if we got Richard Branson to do a voiceover for it?” Well, if you don’t ask… (see my past blog post).
Our producers got in touch with Richard’s producers (or whatever he has) and they said “Sure!” So, one Friday, during rehearsal, we went up to the sound room (sorry, I don’t know the technical terms) and we called Richard Branson so he could do his voiceover “down the line” (technical speak – I believe – for over the phone). It only turns out that he’s at his private island, somewhere off the coast of Saundersfoot!* And he’s playing tennis! With Obama!**
So, we are interrupting his tennis game! And he comes on the line and he does the voiceover for us! Thank you Richard.
And now, years later, I am pestering him again. Just for a retweet. See, he’s got over 5 million followers (it’s a Twitter thing, nothing sinister) and if his 5 million saw our Strangeness in Space kickstarter thing I reckon it could bring in a bob or two. And! We are off into SPACE! That’s Richard’s kind of thing.
So… The Mission. Help me out. Let’s get a retweet from him. If you get him to retweet our Kickstarter link we’ll give you a prize of some kind. Don’t know what yet. Something or other. What!? Stop asking! It’s just- you should be doing this for the love of it! Not for some damned reward!
Here’s a Space related pop song to allow us all to calm down a little.
* His private island is not off the coast of Wales. I am not allowed to divulge it’s actual location. it is is a well-guarded secret.
** Ted Obama
Everything else is true.
April 6, 2015
It’s one of the great pop songs. And since hearing it, it’s one I’ve always tried to take to heart. Yes, shyness is nice and (more often than not) the antonym is hideous. So, it’s always worth an ask. “Ask me, I won’t say no, how could I?”
Years back, last century, when I worked with Trev Neal on Saturday morning TV, we’d get to perform daft sketches with the stars of the day (Big Fun, Craig Machlachlanchlachlan, Nathan from Brother Beyond) and sometimes the stars of many days (Kylie, Cher, Mel Brooks). When it came to the Christmas and New Year shows there was always an attempt by our boss, Chris Bellinger, to up the ante, to aim high, to get the big guns in. And we would always ask for the top bananas. Year after year, for ten years, we’d hand in our wish list. Always the same names. And always, at the top of our list, the same two. We never did get Eddie Murphy or Gorbachev. But the point is, ASK! Always ask.
During one series of Live and Kicking we had a weekly feature called Every Loony Wins*. It was a daft phone-in quiz and we had a band as part of it, all played by kids from the audience. The leader of the band was called Des Tindeby (The Des Tindeby Band). And during their musical performance (miming to the very real Spike Jones and his City Slickers) a character would jump on stage (again one of the kids) as The Lone Yodeller (a Lone Ranger type, in a mask, yodelling like a loony). And each week we would end the segment by looking into the camera and saying; “Just who is the Lone Yodeller?”
When we reached the end of the thirty week run it was time for us to reveal just who was the Lone Yodeller. The obvious way to do this was for it to be one of the guests of the week. The only problem was (me and Trev being a picky pair) none of the guests were up to the task. (Anyone remember Little Danny Mangrove? or Nu Boxxx? Or Jennifer Bush?** No, I thought not.) And so we went to Chris… and we asked… we begged… please, please, can we get another guest. One worthy of the title of The Lone Yodeller? Chris wanted it to be Little Danny Mangrove. Little Danny, who was actually 6’2″, had just won Pop Zinger on ITV and his record company, BIGPUSH, were desperate for him to be the Lone Yodeller. They’d even recorded a special yodelling version of his current hit, A Pocketful of Promises, for him to mime to. We couldn’t have it though. We insisted; the Lone Yodeller had to be a bigger name. And then we asked Chris this; “if we can get a big name to play along will you let them be the Lone Yodeller?” This, of course, depended on who the big name was. We said to Chris; “if we can get Jonathan Ross to be the Lone Yodeller will you let him do it?” And Chris said yes.
Just one snag. We didn’t know Jonathan Ross. Not really. He’d been a guest before on the programme, but it’s not like we played tennis with him or anything. It’s not like we’d been to his house, or had his telephone number. All we had, on our side, was the ability to ASK.
It’s time to get to the races now so… we asked… we found a phone number for his production company and we asked… and they said “we’ll ask”… and we waited. And he said YES!
Jonathan turned up on the Saturday morning, played the Lone Yodeller and also brought along a friend of his who went on to declare “No! I’m the Lone Yodeller!” Our second Lone Yodeller wore a shoe hat, made from two shoes and a coat hanger. That was was Vic Reeves.
We’ve been asking again recently. We are working on a new thing. A Sci-Fi audio comedy adventure with me, Trev, and Sophie Aldred. Some of you reading this will already know about Strangeness in Space. ***
And we’ve been asking people to help us out with it. We’ve given up on Eddie Murphy and Gorbachev, but we have asked two top people who have only gone ahead and said YES!
YES! Doon Mackichan has said yes to being our narrator, Bounty Flightingale.
YES! Rufus Hound has said yes to being Atrocious Knocious, an alien hoverbiker who’s never even heard of Evel knievel!
All from asking.
* based on Nick Berry’s hit Every Loser Wins. We had a minor battle with some BBC bigwigs to get them to accept the use of the word Loony. I’d grown up with it, reading the works of Spike Milligan. It was accepted in the end when dictionary definitions, on the whole, gave the word two meanings; one meaning (and our one) was silly, the other mad.
** Ok, I’ve made all these acts up. And the ongoing business with Little Danny Mangrove. Other than that, this story is true.
*** A final ask. Please help us get this made. We’ve loads of perks available if you join us: T-shirts, badges, scripts, signed photos and artwork, etc. We’re not far off our target now, but the more money we raise, the more episodes we can make. You can back us here.
March 7, 2015
It’s almost time for Red Nose Day 2015, the biennial Comic Relief festival aimed at raising cash and changing lives for the better for people both here in the UK and across Africa. I always try and do my bit. Bit being the operative word here; I’m no mountain climber or road runner or ocean swimmer or dancer or baker. I’m more of a… well, I don’t know… last time round you lot donated over £2000 just to support me as I wrote about Everything But The Girl songs! What was all that about?
So this time around I’ve decided to do nothing. But I would like to tell you about two people who are going to try and do something. It was my wife Zoe’s idea. Last year she packed in her job working for Cadbury’s (Kraft, Mondelēz International, blah blah… I guess things had moved away from the innocence of selling Quaker inspired chocolate) and fulfilled her dream of opening and running her own cafe, The Archie Parker (named after our dog!)
And then she goes and says; “Why don’t The Singing Corner get together for Comic Relief and come and work in the cafe for a few hours?”
Yeah. Great idea.
Why don’t two fictional characters who I haven’t seen in yonks, reunite and come and make coffees for an hour or two? Assuming they can even operate a Fracino whatever it’s called coffee maker. Assuming they know their portafilters from their tampers. Assuming they exist still!
But I say I’ll give it a go.
First up I give Trev a ring. He used to be close to Don Singing (the Singing half of the Singing Corner). Trev follows him on Twitter (@DonSinging) and it turns out he lives in Angoria. This is a place that DOES NOT exist! We are off to a flying start.
I try and track down Bob Corner (the Corner half of The Singing Corner). He’s on Twitter too (@bobcorner) and it turns out he’s moved to Skandeborg. On the plus side, Skandeborg does exist. He runs the Marigold Ged Gard and is also regularly involved with Smukfest.
To cut a long story short, both have said they are willing to come along to The Archie Parker next Friday to do their bit for Comic Relief. Indeed Bob Corner tweeted last night that he is already flying over from Denmark, having booked a flight with cut-price Ildelugtende Ged Airlines.
So, they are going to be in The Archie Parker on Friday 13th. Me and Trev will be there too. We’ll be there most of the afternoon but I think Don and Bob will turn up at about 4pm. The cafe normally closes at 4, but for Comic Relief it will be staying open until 6pm, giving people a chance to nip in on their way home from work.
And Don and Bob will serve folk, clean tables, make coffee and sandwiches, and maybe sing a song or two.
All I ask of you is that you sponsor my wife Zoe, and her cafe, in their attempt to raise money for Comic Relief by bringing about the resurrection of The Singing Corner.
If you come to the cafe you can make a donation there and then, and (if it’s your thing) get a pic with The Singing Corner. A ‘selfie’, if we must.
If you can’t make it perhaps you’d like to make a donation anyway through Zoe’s Red Nose Day Giving page. She has set herself a £150 target (almost reached!), but the more money we get, the more The Singing Corner will do at the cafe. And I’ll do my best to get someone to film bits of it so we can shove it all on YouTube.
And I promise, on Don and Bob’s behalf, if Zoe can double her target to £300 they will sing their hit version of Jessie J’s Pants Tag. And they’ll do their best to learn it too.
June 10, 2014
In the early 80’s me and Trev met at Manchester University. We were doing degrees in Drama (one each). I can’t speak for Trev, but I was hardly the most academic of students. Nor was Trev. As our friendship developed, so did our interest in comedy, more commonly known then as mucking around a bit and getting up late.
We were blessed with having tutors who not only indulged our experiments in comedy but also actively encouraged it. (Every Monday night students would perform their latest experimental pieces at the department’s Stephen Joseph Studio, a converted church where we once tried an ‘alternative comedy’ take on Chekhov).
One of our tutors was Dr David Mayer (later to become Professor David Mayer). David’s daughter, Lise, was the girlfriend of a former student, Rik Mayall. The two of them, along with another former Manchester student, Ben Elton, had just written a new sitcom for the BBC called The Young Ones.
We had no TV. We were students; we had no money. Any money we did have had to be spent on beer. And tins of Goblin Dumplings (50p at Oobidoo. Everything at Oobidoo was 50p. That’s why their slogan was –Don’t ask the price. We always did.)
The Drama Department had a TV. And a video player! Every week David Mayer would video The Young Ones for us. And I do mean us, the two of us. Others may have come along too, but David, gently pushing us in all the right directions, knew it was important for us to see this show.
There’d been nothing like it. And it was made by students from Manchester! Not Oxford, not Cambridge. Manchester! It was the most ground-breaking Mancunion contribution to comedy since Frank Randle (and, if you have four minutes to spare to watch this clip from Somewhere On Leave, 1943, you’ll see that Frank would have fitted very nicely into the world of The Young Ones).
Sometime shortly after this, in 1983, David said; “Lise, Rik, and Ben are going to be at my house over the weekend. Would you like to come and meet them on Saturday night.”
Ok… stop. Take a big long break in reading. I’d like to leave a big long gap on the page but that’d be daft. Just imagine the time it’s taking me, even now, for this to sink in. Would we, two stupid students, barely out of our teens, like to meet the creators of The Young Ones? At our tutor’s house?
Let’s deal with David Mayer’s house first.
It was a Mansion of Myths. We’d never been there, but we’d heard the rumours. Apparently he had a shower with three heads! And a Picasso! And we were being invited there! To meet The Young Ones! (I know exclamation marks should be used sparingly, but… come on!!!)
Now, the meeting. Of course we went. We even prepared: We spent Saturday afternoon scooting around Oobidoo, looking for fun items and generally asking the price. We settled on a wind-up spider. 50p.
And so we headed off on Saturday night to our tutor’s home in the posh part of Manchester armed only with a wind-up spider. (I don’t know at what age we learn to take wine, but whatever age, we hadn’t reached it yet).
We arrived at the house. And whatever you read from this point onwards, I assure you, did happen. David greeted us and showed us into a huge half kitchen, half dining room, with a small dividing wall about three feet high in the middle. In the dining room half there was a circular table. And there was Rik, Lise, Ben… and possibly someone else (sorry someone else). David didn’t introduce us… oh, he may have said something like “this is Trev and Simon”… but he didn’t explain who we were or why we were there. The one other thing he did do was to ask us to keep an eye on some steaks he was grilling in the far half of the kitchen.
This of two idiots whose diet consisted of tinned Goblin products.
And David disappeared! Where did he go? To this day no one can answer that. But the best bets are ‘to have a look at his Picasso’ or ‘to have a shower’.
So… we kind of stood around. The others, at the table, carried on talking to each other. At one point we wound up the wind-up spider and let it have a little walk. It didn’t get much of a reaction. But then, why should it? These fellows had demolished a house in their first episode.
We hadn’t been asked to do much by our tutor. Just keep an eye on some steaks. But that wasn’t our forte. We did our best. We wandered over to the cooker. We looked at them. And then they burst into flames.
How can a steak catch fire? I’m sure it’s easy to burn a steak, to ruin it; but for it to catch fire?
Trev struggled to get the grill out. He did, eventually, but not before the fire alarm went off.
The rest is a blur.
On Monday night we did a daft bit of comedy at The Stephen Joseph Studio. It ended with us dropping some kind of large object off a balcony onto our wind-up walking spider. The spider was smashed to bits. And Rik, and Lise, and Ben were there.
Afterwards we talked about Saturday night. They had no idea why we were there or who we were. They said they hadn’t realised we were ‘comedians’. Which could have been a compliment or not, but either way we had a long chat with our comedy heroes. And for the next few days they were around and about. One night I played cards with Ben and Rik (Ben insisted on giving me money for a taxi home. I insisted on refusing it. I walked the three miles home in the rain. What an idiot student.) Another night we sat chatting with Rik in the bar at The Contact Theatre (the theatre connected to the drama department). He gave us lots of advice and he even gave us his phone number (before mobiles… this was Rik’s home phone number!) and told us to phone him whenever we wanted. He also gave us a quote to use on our publicity for our first Edinburgh show. He told us to use, “My favourite act!”
Up in Edinburgh, doing our first ever show in 1984, we walked past a poster for a band. I can’t remember the band, but I can remember the quote: “My favourite band”, Rik Mayall.
RIP Rik. Thank you. x
December 16, 2013
Following on from yesterday’s no. 6, Eddie Izzard, we move straight on to no.5. And, to quote Winston The Wolf from Pulp Fiction, “If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor”.
See, the thing is, I’ve been out all day and now I have to eat and then get to my choir’s social, where karaoke is king, and that starts at eight.
So… Number 5.
It’s Sean Lock! We hope. The tricky thing is to try and figure out what letter his head is. But since his name is actually Sean Lock I’m going to plump for an ‘O’. His head is a big ‘O’. He’s the Roy Orbison of comedy.
He’s a two 15 certificate comedian man, making him ideal for any thirty year olds.
He may have his hands down his pants.
Talking of pants, his cover with its swirly fonts makes me think a little of this:
Despite his down-turned mouth and the description of him as “punchy”, I doubt he is a violent man. Unlike Eddie Izzard’s DVD, he is not selling an Ultraviolent version of his act.
He is also “inventive, superb… undeniably brilliant.”
Well… do you dare deny it? I thought not. You can’t. It’s undeniable.
If you’re wondering what Sean’s Purple Van looks like, here’s a pic:
I am off to do my yearly sing of First Of The Gang To Die and Manchester. Bye.
Tomorrow, number 4.
Oh, and if you’ve never seen this video, give it a watch. It’s “punchy, inventive, superb… and undeniably brilliant.”
I can’t believe I’m starting with a diversion, but writing that title has just reminded me of one of my favourite Trev and Simon jokes. It comes from a never-screened pilot we made. Me and Trev are at home (Morecambe and Wise style) when the post arrives. Trev has received a Readers Digest type winning envelope (remember, this was last century). He is overjoyed, ecstatic. The letter tells him; “Congratulations! You have won a car”. Trev celebrates, unfolds the letter, and reads the remaining print; “digan”.
Well, I like it!
But to the point. It’s not often (at my time of life) that something can come along and knock you off your feet, but last night, on Twitter, Clayton Hickman (@claytonhickman) sent me a tweet that took my breath away. (Yes! I know! Knocked off my feet! Breathless! It’s a heady combo!) Clayton had stumbled across something so mind-blowing it might, possibly, just have ripped a hole wide open in my Atkinson-Shiffrin Memory Model (don’t worry- I don’t know what I’m on about either. it’s just a bit of fun. Try and keep up, it’s early days yet).
This is the story of a cardigan. We can trace the cardigan back as far as The Crimean War if we want to, but let’s not. For this story we need only trace the history of a singular and particular cardigan. A cardigan that goes back to the 80’s.
This cardigan, to the best of our knowledge, was first worn by Joseph Marcell in the serial Remembrance of the Daleks (the first serial of the 25th season of Dr Who) in 1988.
In time this cardigan would come into my hands. In the meantime Joseph Marcell would go on to become Geoffrey the butler in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Back to the cardigan. What happened to it? In the late 80’s, going into the 90’s, I worked on two Saturday morning live TV shows, Going Live! and Live and Kicking along with Trev Neal. We did comedy sketches and such, and we were also responsible for finding other comedy acts willing to appear on the show. One act we discovered wasn’t a comedy act but a musical act. We, perhaps foolishly, thought they might appeal to the Saturday morning audience.
The act was called The Singing Corner. We first saw them perform at The Velvet Percush’n in Amsterdam’s Kliegersstaffhen District. We assumed they were a spoof act, there was something so quaint and naive about them; but after talking to the club’s owner, Hansstraff Munck, it became clear they were for real, and so we asked for an introduction.
We met Don and Bob in the dressing room of The Velvet Percush’n. The two of them, in their psychedelic threads, blended neatly into the narcolepsy-inducing grasswhort curtains and hanging fabrics of the Percush’n’s inner sanctum and, what with the floating fog of jazz mist swirling around our curlicues, the two of us spent the first two hours of our meeting smiling not talking.
Eventually one of us spoke. Don was the first. All he said was ‘Hello’, and yet it took him seven minutes to say it.
11 minutes later and you couldn’t get any of us to shut up.
We assumed they were called The Singing Corner because each night they would sing in a different corner of The Velvet Percush’n’s 28 corners (the club was as famous for its many corners as it was for the calibre of musical acts that performed there; 28 acts every night, a different act in every corner). But no! It was a coincidence. They were called The Singing Corner after their names; Don Singing and Bob Corner.
(A little diversion: on Saturday 17th April 1965, the opening night of The Velvet Percush’n, the line up of acts was truly amazing. Take a deep breath: Bob Coats Trio, Melaniecholy, Dave Suave and his flute, Pancho, Bob Dillon, The Troublers, Sweet Toast, Brother and his Sisters, Carparque, Leslie Cousins, Donna Van Dyke, Long Jack Hankie, Melting Pot, Dizzy Dennis Dickens, EarthenWhere?, KFJ, Leo Sayer, Mustang Alley, David Singing (Don’s father), The Clark Fife Four, The Burds, The Beatles, Turtleneck Beach, Feather Conspiracy, The Simon Sisters, Waferbaby, Mardy Wah!, Big Clint McFlintlock, and (headlining) Art Garfunkel.
What a night that must have been. And, for the eagle-eyed, amongst you, I know that’s 29 acts! Don told me that his father wasn’t supposed to sing. He was there, ostensibly, as Long John Hankie’s whisperer (Long John Hankie could never remember the words to any of his songs ever since being diagnosed as forgetful by a recently qualified doctor and so always had a whisperer on stage to help out). Unfortunately LJH was also partially deaf and so David had to whisper louder and louder until, in effect, he was singing. The story goes his voice was sweet enough to make statues weep.)
So… back to wherever we were. Ah yes! Don and Bob and me and Trev in the dressing room of The Velvet Percush’n. A friendship started that night; a friendship that would last until it finished.
We persuaded Don and Bob to come along and perform on Going Live! They were keen from the start and (once we’d found our way out of The Velvet Percush’n’s dressing room) nothing was going to stop us from introducing The Singing Corner to the UK. (The 28 corners meant that the dressing room was a very unusual shape, and it was not uncommon for it to take an hour or two to find the door: rumour has it that Sixto Rodriquez spent 17 years in there.)
However, once Don and Bob landed in the UK, they started to get edgy. It didn’t help that the first thing they saw upon entering the country was Big Fun with their Handful Of Promises.
It knocked their confidence for six. And what could we say? The competition was tough in those times and we fully understood Don and Bob’s reticence.
Annoyingly, we had already told our boss, Chris Bellinger, that we had a great new act lined up. The kind of act that would make Big Fun look like medium fun. What could we do? How could we persuade the boys to give it a go?
Chris suggested we tried snazzying their image up a little, take them down the Kings Road, do a bit of shopping. He even gave us an envelope stuffed with cash to make sure we got top notch clobber. “Maybe something with hoods”, he said.
Now! This next part! It wasn’t my idea ok? All of the following was Trev Neal’s work.
Trev said (and this is verbatim. I was there), Trev said; “ere, Simon. There’s a pretty penny or two in this John Paul*. What say you we take these two geezers down the old BBC costume store and deck ’em out in some cheap duds? They don’t know the Kings Road from The King’s knackers. We get ’em kitted out and, in the process, we make a Salamander each!”
I wasn’t in favour. I mean a Salamander (slang for £78.90) wasn’t to be sniffed at in those days. But even so, it felt low.
Hey, it’s in the past now, and I may well be testing your patience with this post. The be all and end all is that I took part in the fraud, Don and Bob were taken by us to the BBC’s wardrobe department out in Acton, and Bob, thinking the Kings Road was inside a concrete tower block, picked a certain cardigan to wear.
The BBC costume collection no longer exists. Nor does its wig collection (not that Don or Bob ever needed wigs). In 2008 “the BBC management team concluded that the best option was to close the department and dispose of the stock”. Idiots.
Huge thanks to Clayton for making me aware of the cardigan connection.
* Trev used to call envelopes ‘John Pauls’ after the current Pope. it was a short lived Cockney style he experimented with between March and April 1990.
March 6, 2013
It’s Day 2 of my Comic Relief Challenge, wherein I try to raise £1986 for the charity. I’m proud to be part of Tracey Thorn’s #twittermillion team. We’re going to raise a million pounds! At least! And I’m going to do my part by listening to some EBTG tracks and learning from them.
Today’s choice was between two great ‘littles’; Ugly Little Dreams and Little Hitler. @Execcer chose Little Hitler. Hitler beats Frances, which, given the subject matter, is perhaps appropriately phrased.
Little Hitler is the closing track on Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. Like a lot of my favourite songs, from artists such as The Beautiful South or Jacques Brel, Elvis Costello or (at a push) The Jam, it’s a fierce song wrapped up in the most gorgeous of melodies. (Why ‘at a push for The Jam?’ Well, I guess it’s because sometimes they twist it around into a gorgeous song wrapped up in a fierce melody).
When Baby, The Stars Shine Bright came out in 1986, the 24 year old me would almost faint when, just over three minutes into Little Hitler, the big orchestral sound would be snatched away into a vacuum to be replaced by the gentler piano and bass. Have a listen and see if you too are overwhelmed by Stendhal Syndrome.
I’m hopeless at remembering lyrics or even understanding them. Some of my favourite Elvis Costello songs have been listened to for over 30 years and I still will have no idea what he means. But that’s ok. Music. Songs. To paraphrase Michael Haneke (who was, at the time, paraphrasing Truffaut) “if I wanted to send a message I’d have gone to the post office”.
So when I try to understand Little Hitler I think of it as being about the tyranny of men.
Not all men. Just men who have to be men.
In today’s guardian’s g2 Jane Martinson has written a piece about politician’s encouraging other politician’s to ‘man up’. Harriet Harman, whilst acknowledging the term as being sexist, urged David Cameron to ‘man up’ on a recent Andrew Marr show. She couldn’t think of an alternative. Jane Martinson thinks of an alternative; “Doing the right thing… is the most gender-neutral thing you can do.”
Little Hitler‘s men ‘man up’, yet do the wrong things.
Behind every big man there’s a small boy/ Drink to Stalin and Hitler and Jimmy Boyle
It’s an interesting move, linking Jimmy Boyle to Hitler and Stalin, and one I’m still trying to understand.*
Jimmy Boyle, the Glasgow hard man, the killer, the man who was sent to jail for murder. He spent time in H.M. Prison Barlinnie special unit (now no longer in operation); a centre putting rehabilitation, over punishment, at it’s heart. He was given a pair of scissors by a warden who then turned away from him. And Jimmy Boyle didn’t stab him. This was a move in the right direction.
The first verse of Little Hitler could be about Jimmy Boyle:
Little Hitler, don’t come round here again/ With your renegade politics, redder-than-thou-disdain/ Thought we were on the same side/ But with a fistful of nails and your knives from the Clyde
The song came out in 1986. At that time Jimmy Boyle was out of prison and a reformed character. He ran an art gallery called The Gateway Exchange in Edinburgh, aimed at helping drug addicts and, I would hope, anyone finding themselves troubled enough to want to change their life for the better.
I know this because in 1985 I met Jimmy Boyle. We were doing a show at the Edinburgh Festival, and our venue was The Gateway Exchange. Here we are:
We were young and we were foolish. I’m still one of those things. I’d read Jimmy Boyle’s books, A sense of Freedom and The Pain of Confinement: Prison Diaries. I was surprised when The Gateway Exchange gave us permission to perform at the venue and I was terrified about meeting Jimmy Boyle.
All was fine though. He was polite and charming. Every evening, when we trooped up to the venue for our performance, Jimmy would be standing outside. He said he liked being outside.
I can’t remember much of our time there. We did a show with Simon Bligh and Fred n’ Ginger (Anne Rabbit and Doon Mackichan).
Jimmy Boyle was very much the ‘man’ there, but he also had a team of helpers, one of whom went on to achieve some notoriety by getting crucified, without painkillers, in the Philippines. Perhaps this act relates a little to the ‘fistful of nails’. That man was the self-proclaimed dandy Sebastien Horsley who died from a cocaine and heroin overdose in 2010. We also met Sebastien’s then wife, Evelynn Smith. She was lovely, and I was saddened today to learn that she died from an aneurysm in 2003.
Here we all are, Jimmy Boyle on the left, then Sebastien, Anne, Simon, Evelynn… and I’m sorry to say I cannot remember the names of the next two… then me and then Trev.
And I must apologise to the woman who’s hair I am holding up. You are clearly uncomfortable with my foolishness. All I can remember is that I liked you, and, for someone incapable of expressing that at the time, I chose, instead, to lift up your hair. Sorry.
And if you’re heartless and hard/ Well this has made you what you are
At the age of 14 Jimmy Boyle stole a cash box at a fun fair and was sent to a school run by the De La Salle brothers ( a Catholic order of monks). in 2001 Jimmy said; “Today, I’m still haunted by the sound of breaking bones as a monk deliberately smashed a child’s leg to smithereens or the footsteps in the night that heralded yet another horrific rape of a terrified, crying child.”
Do I understand it? No.
Does it matter? I’m not sure.
Do I like it? I love it.
Here it is.
if you would like, or are able, to give to Comic Relief you can find my sponsor page here.
* Tracey let me know, through Twitter, that the song is not about Jimmy Boyle but about a bully she met who idealised him.