Sunday, 23 February 2020

(Hot) Water Water Everywhere

Bouncing along the motorway to Liverpool on Monday in the pouring rain I thought back to my previous appearance at Hot Water Comedy, easily the most well known club in the city. A Sunday night with a well natured and small but perfectly formed audience, Anna and I had performed a couple of raps to a reasonable response. This time I was travelling with a parody playing guitar and a couple of new lines to introduce them. I expected another small test-audience to try them out on.

Which isn't what happened. Walking out as the opener to a lineup of what turned out to be seriously experienced pro's, I addressed the sold-out hundred seater with a couple of new lines that fell flatter than a bottle of opened lemonade that had been sat in a cupboard for three weeks. "The good news is I'm actually a musical comedian," I said picking up my guitar and launching into I Will Eat Pies - a song that has never failed and picked up the audience before the end of the first verse. By the end of the song I'd got them clapping along and warm enough to ensure I could stumble through another new link that half-worked before playing Ex On Fire and adding Taxidermist to the list of jobs for me to find a rhyme for. The reaction was really good and certainly better than the non-musical bits deserved. All of which went straight in the mental bin on the drive home.

Two hours before my show in Chorlton on Thursday I was told the venue had an electrical fault and it was off. This at least gave me the evening to work out some new links that would hopefully work better for Saturday in Dewsbury, and also the time to make a start on coding a computer game to tie in with Disco Divorce Party this summer. Yes, really.

Saturday night arrived and I was now not only bouncing to my venue for the night but also slaloming around the scenic soaking roads of the Peak District having decided to make my way north via the alternative to the M1. More suited to a 4x4, the Micra held its own and I was soon parked up near the Railway Station. This being my second place I'd pulled up to after deciding not to leave my motor just around the corner from a group of people burning rubbish in a bin outside a row of houses.

The New Turk was a modern pub with a large stage in the corner and a small but attendant audience. Positioned as it was due to the bar, the audience sat in two groups at right angles to each other with a vast chasm of dancefloor before the chairs and tables started, creating somewhat of a virtual moat. Despite this novel challenge, the show went well with several seasoned pro's delivering effortless laughs. This time 50% of my links worked to some degree, with one joke definitely worth keeping. By the time I get to the Didsbury Comedy Competition at the end of March I may actually have enough chat to fill the one and half minute portion of the five minute set that isn't a song...

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Parody in the Gallery

The skies were grey and the wind was doing its best to invite the waves to a party on the pavement when we took shelter in the Tate Liverpool last week. My post-birthday weekend away had been full of cheer and Chinese food and was concluding on the Albert Docks.

Following a wander round a room festooned with what appeared to be bedsheets someone had run a paint roller over I was on the second floor working out if the Lowry was imagined or observed (spoiler alert, it turned out to be a bit of both) when a rampaging horde of pre-teens entered the room armed with clipboards and ambivalence to their surroundings. What self-employment had given me in terms of flexibility to mooch around a gallery on a Monday it had also gifted me with primary school trips. 

I smiled to myself as a tired looking teacher intervened on a group of boys who'd discovered a sloped window sill and had promptly started to use it as a slide; glad to no longer be the one having to give the stern looks and false outrage that 9 year olds might not find a video installation of a Chinese light bulb factory as entertaining as a small painted incline. I moved on and ten minutes later had written parody lyrics of Valerie with the title Galleries. Inspiration strikes in the most unlikely of places.

Elsewhere in the past seven days things continue to move forward with the Glossop Comedy Festival with the first acts now confirmed for spots across the the weekend starting July 10th. These include the award winning Tom Little, Radio 4 featured Ali Woods and Guardian-endorsed Matt Hoss plus a number of other high profile rising stars from both the local area and further afield. 

Our own show, the improbably named, "Annie and Angela's Disco Divorce Party", will close the opening night. Less to do with any sense of ego and more down to the sheer pragmatism of not wanting to coordinate a day's worth of shows on the Saturday or Sunday in a wedding dress and heels. That show is certainly building up to be something pretty special whilst the whole weekend is set to be a full on melee of mirth. The full program and website will launch in April.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Anything Goes in Glossop (so long as it's comedy)

99p sandwich in hand, last night I rushed down the hill to host the first Anything Goes of 2020. Originally conceived as a celebration of local talent from across the arts it rapidly transformed into a melting pot of comedy talent from all over the north with local performers thin on the ground but some kind of audience always willing to watch those travelling in from Huddersfield, Liverpool and beyond.

The rushing had been self-inflicted. Prior to tonight, AG had always been advertised as starting at eight but the new posters promoted a "social" from seven where performers could shoot the proverbial and locals could get a few drinks in beforehand. 
To my surprise and delight, this actually worked and the place was already buzzing when I stepped through the doors and headed up to the room above. A few sofas thrown about into rows later and we had a performance space. The angle poise desk lamps were pointed towards the mic stand and the disco light started flashing. It was half seven and time to assemble the stage raiders for the night.

After enduring most of 'Dancing In The Moonlight' courtesy of the venue's centralised sound system and removing a pair of swim shorts that had been covertly hung on the mic stand whilst I was downstairs, I got things going with a chat, a short strum on the subject of abandoning your final pint of the night and a full song about Lidl.

The short-hanging group of four lads on the front row seemed happy enough with this. A prominent feature of tonight, their spirits increased in direct proportion to the spirits they drank. Though disruptive to a point, they were good natured and provided plenty of crowd-handling practice for the acts as well some easy jokes. They may as well have had "Welcome to Glossop" tattooed on their foreheads.

Throughout the night we had storytelling, quick fire one liners, songs, a tonne of puns, occasionally cerebral observations and a small bucket of filth. With sets between five and eight minutes the pace was rapid and by the end of the night fourteen comedians had done their thing and it was time to give everyone a round of applause, hear the lads make random references to ketamin for the umpteenth time and drift out into the High Peak air.

Join the Facebook page here. Apply by email. No video necessary and, so long as there's space, I never say no.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Friendly Denbigh

Last Thursday I jumped in my car and headed off on a close to two-hour drive to Denbigh in North Wales for a gig at their local theatre. With over seventy tickets sold in this proper stage-with-tiered-seating venue it was a chance to see if the parody songs work when the audience weren't half a metre from your toes.

As the motorway narrowed to a dual carriageway the traffic thinned out and I turned off onto a quiet road that twisted and bumped its way through valleys with little to report except an abandoned pub with railings directly outside its door, no doubt designed to prevent its once-inebriated punters stumbling into the road at closing time.

Denbigh drew near, my sat-nav lost reception and I found myself parked up alongside the local Lidl. Finding the venue just after 8pm I could hear co-host and MC, Nia Lloyd Williams, rousing the assembled and I navigated my way to the bar and had a quick chat with a couple of cheery retiree-volunteer bar staff before finding the backstage area up a red carpeted ramp festooned with an array of scattered bistro garden furniture sets.

In the dressing room I found promoter and co-host Sarah Lloyd and comedian Diane Fitton chatting away beside a big showbiz mirror and desk. By this point I could hear Jack Kelly opening the show and the crowd seemed in high spirits. I made my way out from backstage and loitered just outside the main room watching the next act on stage through a gap in the curtain. Anthony Grogan had a similarly positive response to Jack.

After a short break Sarah Lloyd and Diane Fitton were on and this time I had found the other entrance to the main room at the back and so could come and go without disturbing anyone. The crowd gave plenty to both of them and the time had come to get the guitar tuned and wait it out to close the event as the final act on.

Before me, Kath Marvelley got some good laughs and Nia went on to do the introductions. 

"The next act has tunes on iPlayer!" she announced, "...ah, I mean iTunes. And he's got a great song called Meal Deal which has been going around my head for ages, it's a real earworm! But he's not playing it tonight. I think you're all going to enjoy joining in with his songs. At least I think that's what you're going to do. It's Andy Quirk!"

As introductions go it was fantastically random - full of references to the First World Problems rap act instead of the one I was performing that night, topped off with a promotion from being a struggling musical presence in the long tail of online streaming to a performer cherry picked by a national broadcaster. I honestly loved it.

I opened with some chat about not being a local and bludgeoned to death the riff to Smoke On The Water in tribute to a man drinking Guinness for reasons too convoluted to describe here. The audience laughed nervously. Deciding that it would probably be best to just launch into a song I played, "I Will Eat...".

Within a few bars the slight awkwardness that had threatened to set in dissipated and the laughs came. After that it was good times all the way, complete with an applause break I had to actually pause the song for. After that it was on to ,"My Ex", and more laugh out loud moments and some creative job suggestions that stretched my rhyming ability to breaking point. Ten minutes done and it was time for some post-show chat, a can of coke and a long drive home. 

With any luck we'll be able to bring Disco Divorce Party here at some point because the locals are class. 

"I Will Eat" in Denbigh

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Happy Valleys

It's been a week of gig bookings, performance preparations and crowbarring acts onto the Anything Goes lineup.

This Thursday I'm off to North Wales for a comedy night in Denbigh (as promoted by this smart little poster on the right.) My second venture over the border in the name of funny and my second booking thanks to Sarah Lloyd and her partner Nia. The venue photos suggest an actual theatre and with plenty of familiar names on the bill I'm very much looking forward to it. With FWP on hiatus and DDP still very much in production it's PftPD time. The guitar is tuned and ready to go.

Having taken January off to get the rest of my life in order, gig booking is back in full swing with gigs in Liverpool, Bolton, Dewsbury and Didsbury in the diary for me and my budget six string. The last of these is a competition, only the third I've ever entered and the first with the parodies. Though only a small affair it provides the motivation to really hone the act and with 5 minutes on the clock for the first heat I'm forced to do more of that talking stuff as two songs is too long and one song will leave a lifetime of stage time hanging if I haven't got some funny to front load with. I have a plan, Wales this week will tell me if it will work.

On the DDP front, Manchester now joins the dates for full show previews in July alongside Buxton and Morecambe. Sidestepping the actual festival in favour of a split evening with Tom Short's Star Wars show at Gullivers we'll be promoting the proverbial out of it beforehand to get bums on seats. After popping up on BBC Manchester last year we'll aim to visit them again alongside the LoveMCR Youtube channel and anyone else we can convince that an hour in our company is an hour well spent.

The only other DDP July date that's yet to be confirmed now is the one at The Glossop Comedy Festival and given I'm running that I'd say there's a good chance we'll get a slot. It's going to be a tough job allocating shows for the big weekend though as applications have been more than numerous and some people will be, unfortunately, left disappointed. Shortlisting will begin in Feb and by the end of the month the bill should be confirmed. Then it's a just a case of convincing large numbers of Glossopians and those in the surrounding area to come and enjoy the carnival!

The next Anything Goes Open Mic is at Isaac's in Glossop on Feb 6th. 14 acts are booked for either 5 or 8 minutes spots. It's going to be one heck of a show so make sure that if you're in the area you come down and enjoy a cocktail and some comedy. Socialising from 7pm, show starts at 8.

Monday, 20 January 2020

The Script Writing Begins

She is very knowledgeable. In her spare time she follows current affairs. She knows about everyone who’s having an affair in our town. And to check they’re still current, she follows them...

Scripting a comedy show is a tricky beast. In our previous Edinburgh hours there was a simple, but effective formula:

1. Pose a question to the audience that relates to the next song.
2. Improvise some quips in response to their answers.
3. Tell everyone their job in the next song.
4. Perform the next song.
5. Repeat 4 times.
6. Anna J performs a surreal monologue.
7. Return to steps 1-4 and repeat 3 more times.
8. Bucket Speech. End.

This worked well. Not least because both of us were in full time work with long hours and the idea of learning anything more than the songs themselves was unrealistic.

This year things are different. This year we've dialled down the day job hours in favour of a little work-life balance. This year I decided to swap the golf visor for a blonde wig and a show that really only works as a full show and can't be diluted into something shorter than a twenty minute set.

This weekend Anna and I embarked on our first run-through of the songs since last week when we worked on who was exactly singing what in each track.

Singing is a big part of this show, unlike First World Problems which tended to only detour from the rap in choruses. My strongest singing voice up to now has been a low baritone with more than a hint of Phil Oakey from The Human League about it.

However, in DDP (an acronym for Disco Divorce Party which sounds like a department of government) I'm pushing a Gemma-Collins-having-a-breakdown vibe and this needs a little work as I currently start songs sounding nominally like the "fabulous" GC herself before turning into anyone from Michael Caine to the randy grannies created by Harry Enfield. Anna, of course, has only to switch up the moody Anna J to someone less adolescent and is already in fine voice.

Still, the songs themselves are, in my considered opinion, very much all killer and no filler and are in many ways a lot more ambitious than those in the FWP cannon. Recordings will not be online anytime soon though (see previous paragraph.)

The script is in development. The quote that kicked off this entry is from the start where we introduce each other in the style of a gameshow / dating profile. As a barometer of sophistication this will probably be as cerebral as it gets but who knows, it's taken me two hours to write two links so we've got some way to go next.

After that, learn it all - leaving opportunities for audience interaction and improv - and after that...

Dance routines.

As you can see from the photo, our cat is very much looking forward to this.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

New Year, New Blog

Happy new year everybody! having recovered from the mince pies, prosecco and turkey it's into 2020 with plenty to be getting on with.

Let's start with the most obvious. The blog's had a refresh. A refresh in the same way that demolishing a house and rebuilding it is a refresh. There are now pages for all my comedy endeavours both on the stage and behind the scenes in one convenient place. Gone is the original website (how very 2019) - here is the central hub blog with it's link-enabled tentacles reaching out to the various Facebook pages, Twitters, Instagrams, Soundclouds and numerous other things that take up all the time that should be going into writing and producing actual material. What do you think? All feedback appreciated. So long as it's positive because this has taken ages and I'm in no mood to change it.

So what's going on in real life? 

First and foremost, Anna and I have launched a Facebook page for our new show, Annie and Angela's Disco Divorce Party. Set to take our musical comedy up to a whole new level, I've written a whole bunch of new songs and been experimenting with contouring whilst everyone else has been watching Dracula and the remake of A Christmas Carol (spoiler alert, Scrooge likes Christmas by the end.) Combining the best bits of First World Problems (catchy multi-genre songs, audience participation, a general disrespect for the conventions of an Edinburgh fringe show) with drag, disco lights and something resembling an actual script (ish) we've got a long way to go before we have anything like the full hour worked out but we've already got some provisional dates booked in and at least one song will be on Youtube with a video by May. 

Secondly, applications for the Glossop Comedy Festival are now open. Running from the 10th to 12th of July more info can be found on the Facebook page for anyone interested in performing. Following the success of the Oakwood Fringe in 2019 I'm looking forward to this full weekend event being even better and the start of an annual event here on the edge of the Peak District.

Thirdly, I'm slowly but surely putting dates in the diary for appearances with Parodies from the Peak District. I've got a competition in a few months so now I've got an albums-worth of tracks in the sack (the benefit of only having to write the lyrics I totally admit) give me a shout if you happen to be a booker. Links to video etc can be found here.

And last but not least, Anything Goes returns to Isaac's here in Glossop on Feb 6th - moving from the first Wednesday of the month to the first Thursday. If you'd like 5 or 8 minutes (experience depending) just drop me an email.