An amusing behind-the-scenes anecdote? Er… Let’s see. I’m wearing two T-shirts under the polo neck because it was a cold morning and I looked like I was smuggling two small etheric beam locators up my jumper. How’s that?
More sensible music is on the way. I have a video idea using a conveyor belt and for a couple of years I’ve been hoarding shoe-boxes and vitamin tablet tubes in an effort to construct one myself. It’s not working but stay tuned. At least I’m getting my vitamins.
I’ve been performing at the Edinburgh Fringe.
On the second night here, I crept into my small bedroom at 4:45am (after editing a video to promote the show) and managed to puncture my inflatable bed with the door. I tried sleeping on it for a while (“I can sleep through this!” Pshshhsh. “I can sleep through this!”) but now every day I add some more Sellotape and rubber glue to try and staunch the air haemorrhage. By the time I leave, I’ll be sleeping on a six-foot Sellotape cocoon and doubtless will emerge as some kind of butterfly creature.
So at this point, my inflatable bed is sagging but doesn’t completely deflate. I know how it feels.
I have actually managed to get into the rhythm of the Fringe. I was even at an award ceremony last night. Someone spilt a pint of beer over me, so I did at least come home smelling like a drunk. Rawk.
I’ve only seen a few shows as I’m uncharacteristically busy. I was supposed to see Deathship 666 (“Airplane meets Titanic!”) this morning but I couldn’t get in because, appropriately, it was rammed.
But I have seen:
Tomas Ford (like the Phantom Of The Opera if he made electroclash industrial techno cabaret. Highly recommended.) http://tomasford.com/
Die Roten Punkte (clownish punk and tight songs) http://dierotenpunkte.com/
Mr.B (slick, smooth and charming; well-written chap-hop) http://www.gentlemanrhymer.com/
Jennifer Wong (amiable punster) http://jenniferwong.com.au/
Sex With Animals (charismatic leonine discussion of the reproductive habits of Ryan Good of San Fransisco) https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/sex-with-animals
Rob Lloyd: Who, Me? (theatrical monologue about Dr. Who’s influence. Rob not only looks like David Tennant, he also looks like Tomas Ford) http://www.roblloyd.com.au/projects/who-me
A Brief History Of Beer (intoxicating and educational romp) http://www.wishexperience.com/
Eric Hutton (experly delivered vocal journey through imaginary musical genres) http://erichutton.com/
I Need A Doctor: The Whosical (wonderfully ramshackle and delivered with witty gusto - much like the show that inspired them) http://ineedadoctoruk.tumblr.com/
Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra - Paul Vickers (soon to be in an Eccentronic video too. Watch this space.) http://twonkey.blogspot.co.uk/
Kriss Foster And Friend (Lorraine Bowen meets Tim Ten Yen meets John Shuttleworth meets Brett Domino Trio meets, well, me, I suppose. Great stuff.) http://krissfoster.co.uk
Tom Binns Does Ivan Brackenbury (spoof hospital radio. Breathless, witty, densely packed and skillfully delivered) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Binns
And I saw a bit of Massive Horse, and they’re ace too. http://massivehorse.com/
This will be the final weekend of Eccentronic’s Neurovision show in Brighton. (2pm at the Quadrant! Be there or be absent!) Below is a video to give you the idea…
I’ll have you know that the sponges for the puppets cost 25p each.
(The video makes slightly more sense if you watch on YouTube, where you can see the annotations. Slightly.)
Next week, I’ll be focussing on my solo show at the New Wolsey Theatre Bar in Ipswich. I’ve been told that I could prepare a ‘greatest hits’ show, which presumably would be I’m Not Comfortable Inside My Mind and Big Bongo Theory. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll do something else instead.
It’s interesting that the link is for Pulse 2012, this being 2013 and all. I suppose it’s never too soon for retro.
I’ve also been meaning to prepare a post about atheism (short version: I’m for it). I notice that some of my songs have phrases with God in them (such as “so help me God” in Cuts Both Ways) and I worry that I’m giving the wrong impression. But then, once a song has been released, it’s no longer mine to dictate what interpretation the listener should have. I’ll keep thinking and maybe finish that essay soon after I’ve re-mastered the tracks for my new album. It’s out this year! Honest!
(Photo by Rachell Smith)
I’ve been spurred into posting because a demo I sent to the Wife In Space website (http://wifeinspace.com) has been posted and re-tweeted and might be doing the rounds. It’s me reading out every Dr. Who story title in three minutes, to my electro version of Murray Gold’s “I Am The Doctor”. https://soundcloud.com/wifeinspace/wife-in-space-next-time-by
I’m not used to this kind of attention but I had something similar last year. For a friend’s 40th birthday, I did a jokey track using samples from The Big Bang Theory. Another friend did a video for it… and it got 12,000 hits in a month. Only got 15 likes though.
And I’ve also been preparing for the next Eccentronic show, which will have a (vaguely) Eurovision theme. http://eccentronic.co.uk
All these things are fun and it’s lovely to have the attention. They aren’t my ‘serious’ music, but I’m not complaining. That would suggest that the frivolous side of me isn’t as much a part of me as the pensive, angry and melancholic sides. In my live shows I’m parading around in cardboard costumes and clowning around, accompanying songs about death or whatever. Am I mis-representing them? It’s the same person being daft as being maudlin.
Anyway, I’ve finally finished the new album, which I’m hoping to release within the next couple of months on Antigen. http://antigenrecords.com
The photo above was taken by Rachell Smith, after I posed for her on a trampoline. http://www.rachellsmith.com/
Before I get waffling about burlesque, I’d like to make two musical recommendations for discriminating Fringe-goers: cheerful and catchy electro from Massive Horse (http://massivehorse.com/ - performing at Moods, 1 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA); and the intense theatrical electroclash of Tomás Ford (An Audience With…) (http://tomasford.com/). If you like my music, and even if you don’t (are there such people?), I can’t recommend these enough.
So, then. Frank Sinazi’s Das Vegas part two…
Making Betty Grumble look like Audrey Hepburn.
Burlesque featured heavily in the show. I’ve always found burlesque a rather more spiteful and aggressive form of entertainment than is probably intended, although the Das Vegas performers were attempting to subvert and extend the form in some way.
I’ll stress that this is my purely subjective experience; I’m not accusing burlesque performers of misandry! “Spiteful and aggressive, John?” I’m a big fan of the Carry On films and burlesque is in the same silly camp, er, camp, surely? Of course. And I’ve performed nude many times myself. One difference is that as a middle-aged man, I’ve never felt able to tease the audience and don’t feel I have power over them; the spectators are always complicit and see me as a joke, if anything. Burlesque seems (chiefly) predicated on the audience’s desire to see a naked woman. The performer knows that she has something that the audience want to see and so she holds the power. Perhaps she’ll grab a man from the audience, make him kiss her glove and get down on all fours. She can reach into his mind and control him through his own desire. He’s betrayed by his own brain, a victim of his own biology.
Perhaps I’m over-thinking this. I suppose I just feel a bit manipulated. I should also point out that although two of the burlesque artsts invited me to join them on stage - to walk around on all fours or kiss their glove - they accepted my demurral without fuss.
Woman have been objectified for thousands of years, of course, and it’s only reasonable that they turn the weapon of the male gaze on its wielder. They’re reclaiming the gaze, in the same way that words intended to mock and bully, like ‘nerd’ and ‘queer’, have been reclaimed and are now worn as a badge of pride. They’ve taken control of their enemy’s weapon, used it on themselves and become stronger.
I suppose I don’t want to be associated with that gaze, though. I don’t want to be ribbed for objectifiying women, even if it’s a good-natured ribbing. It makes me the enemy of myself. Because I can’t deny that I do objectify women - and doubltess men, too. I’ve thrown my hands up about such things before (http://johncallaghan.co.uk/post/21208771272/on-the-waving-around-of-ones-bits) and didn’t reach a conclusion then, either. People are beautiful, of course, and it is fitting that we find them so. When does that turn into objectification?
One performer in Das Vegas, Emma Maye Gibson, no doubt had all this in mind when she created Betty Grumble (http://bettygrumble.com/BETTYGRUMBLE/HOME.html). She’s a grotesque over-statement of the classic subject of male leering; so made-up she resembles a sick clown and infantilised to the point of idiocy. Her voluptuous figure is used to titilate but any drifting into dreamy idealisation of the female form is subverted by Ms. Gibson throwing women’s visceral nature back at the viewer (literally).
I was probably just a bit tired, though. And maybe jealous - after all, I want to be desired too. But as a man, if I’m ever “lucky enough” to be the focus of admiring objectification, I can don it and shrug it off when I want to be recognised as myself again. I’ve no reason to be angry because I wield the weapon and never have to look down the barrel.
Frank Sinazi - Das Vegas. Part one.
[This review contains very mild SPOILERS for the show.]
The really impressive trick is how he got the traffic lights in there.
The first show I saw at this year’s Fringe was Frank Sinazi’s Das Vegas. As the name suggests, the character is mid-way twixt Sinatra and Hitler. I was very tired and somewhat numb, with all my energy taken up trying to keep a pleasantly blank expression rather than falling asleep. How unfortunate, then, that I ended up in the main front seat visible from the stage. Having my illuminated waxen death-mask face fixedly staring at them throughout didn’t seem to put the performers off, though.
The humour of the show is more complex than the conceit might suggest. The altered lyrics and inter-song banter largely involves Third Reich puns. But what, exactly, is the joke? Some people are amused by the shock value of taboo-breaking, although anyone who comes to a show by an artist called Frank Sinazi surely knows what they’re getting. Maybe it’s the roller-coaster factor - some people like to be shocked and confronted with taboo-breaking in a safe environment with no consequences. And this isn’t the kind of humour which tells the audience to ‘deal with it’ and that they shouldn’t feel threatened by talk about certain uncomfortable topics. Examples of these might be subjects which the mainstream has yet to have fully come to terms with but are increasingly being accepted, such as drug-taking, abortion or homosexuality, at various times. However, Das Vegas’s jokes which seemingly make light of fascism are exploring territory which is thorny for a reason other than a reactionary audience. It’s right to mock Nazism to reduce the credibility of any loons who want to adopt its ideology and iconography. But truly horrendous things were done in Nazism’s name and it remains a threat, so we shouldn’t let our only image of Nazis be Herr Flick from ‘Allo ‘Allo. Some ‘shocking’ humour tames uncomfortable issues and makes them palatable; fascism doesn’t need such treatment.
In short, the show didn’t really tickle my sense of humour, despite my love of puns, but I respect its intentions and feel it was well-performed.
Incidentally, the most deliberately tasteless gag (Anne Frank revealing her concentration camp number) was de-fanged by a sound cue mistake, with her entrance accompanied by The Stripper. The audience had thus already played out a more bleakly challenging scenario than was performed.
There was burlesque too. More on that tomorrow…
I’ve got a lot of verbiage coming up about two Fringe shows, one of which I never even saw. Before that, in this final week of the Fringe, maybe I should rattle through a few other shows that I saw and would recommend, eh?
I got lucky, actually, and every show I attended was enjoyable. I normally try and avoid stand-up comedians, largely because there’s a good chance it will be an hour of tiresome dick/alcohol/excrement/paedophile jokes, but to my delight the stand-up I saw was of high quality and charming. And I even saw a musical, too.
Nothing to do with the shows; it’s just a nice photo of Edinburgh I took.
Greatness awaits Lauren Shearing and Sarah Pearce. Their Bad Advice showcases their wit and charisma. They’re personable, smiley and actually have jokes and everything.
Andrew O’Neill is the Next Big Thing. Any show which references The Caves Of Androzani is very likely to score points with me, especially if the performer has the Seal Of Rassilon tattooed on his arm. These things facilitate that immediate connection which I’m so insistent is a part of stand-up. It’s not a real connection, of course; Mr. O’Neill neither knows or cares who I am. But for the hour of his show, it helps both of us if I can assume that he’s my friend, and he makes it easy.
Apine Horn with Flange Krammer's show revolves around puns, delivered with shameless gusto. While I'm in a confessional mood, I must admit I had very little change on me when I went to see him, so I shame-facedly was unable to donate much. He deserved more, and his show's for charity, too.
Reanimator - The Musical gave me much more for my tenner than I was expecting. The front three rows (the “splash zone”) got even more still. It’s the US equivalent of a panto, a grand guinol fluid-fest. It’s like a more hygienic GG Allin gig. In the gents’ afterwards, men drenched from head to toe in gore scrubbed away, crying “it’s not coming off!” It’s not just the melodies that will stay with you. H. P. Lovecraft would be proud.
Your tour guide through Twonky’s Kingdom is Miss Hypnotique’s former bandmate in the Dawn Of The Replicants, Paul Vickers. He proves that in comedy, as with music, ‘personal and idiosyncratic’ does not necessarily mean ‘indulgent and inaccessible’. Cracking and unique stuff.
Official site: http://twonkey.blogspot.co.uk/
Fan site: http://twonkeyland.wordpress.com/
Also unique and idiosyncratic - and very Fringe - is Eggball. At one point the performer adopts the persona of a grumpy Mancunian shark, who I dubbed ‘Shark E. Smith’, to the amusement of nobody.
Roland Rides The Rail’s (sic) takes the form of a lecture from a train-spotting eccentric, who turns out not to be the drab cliche, but an altogether more eccentric eccentric.
The venue is Finnegan’s Wake, which amused me. The Joyce book doesn’t have the apostrophe, you see; the pub having a misplaced apostrophe when the show does too struck me as very apposite, as I explained at tedious length. Until someone pointed out that it got that name because there used to be a ‘dead body’ called Finnegan over the bar. Then the pub burned down, so he’s not there any more. Er.
Helen Keen’s Robot Woman Of Tomorrow show begins with an idea which haunts many a person of my generation - where is the future we were promised? It remains upbeat, though, and is full of thoughtful and cosy humour.
Hiroshi Shimizu, not the film director, has a stand-up show Japanese TerminatoL. He looks resplendant in his distinctive orange tracksuit - say hello if you see him, he’s a very nice chap.
And there were loads of other wonderful-looking acts who were all on at the same time as we were. Maybe next year.
From August 1st - August 13th I was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, performing the Eccentronic show We Won’t Rock You (http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/cabaret/eccentronic-presents-we-won-t-rock-you-free, http://www.eccentronic.co.uk/). Here are some of my thoughts about the other shows.
To illustrate this post, here’s a picture of me camouflaged in a purple suit on a purple background. Can you spot me?
My enduring memory of Edinburgh 2012 will be of the poor chaps and chapettes performing Machinal (http://www.machinal2012.com/). It’s a grim play by Sophie Treadwell about gender issues and capital punishment. Imagine you’re watching Oxford University Dramatic Society’s version: everyone is in 1930s gear with pale faces and the atmosphere is sombre. There’s a poignant scene where one of the characters mournfully asks “listen… can you hear that?” And rather than the reflective silence which was the intention, the audience gets a high-energy techno version of ‘Agadoo’.
Yes, we were next door. The first I knew about the problem was ten minutes before a performance, when OUDS’s apologetic and imploring director came to our set-up to plead with me to reduce the volume. While I was talking to him, an equipment problem meant that our entire sound cut out as we were about to begin. He somehow resisted the urge to say “that’s about the level we’re looking for, thanks!”
I kept the volume at its lowest possible level and it was still audible next door. We were even mentioned in their reviews - not enough detail to put on our posters next year, but still a better write-up than we got in Three Weeks.
It was no-one’s fault, of course. They were simply unlucky that their theatre piece had been scheduled next to rock gig in a nightclub. I re-compressed the sound and noted the correct levels. But with so many different acts using our stage things inevitably got changed. I honestly tried my best to keep everyone happy without compromising our show. One evening my co-performer was unable to hear her cues. Of course, they could hear her cues next door. They were polite about it, although I’m sure a few members of OUDS must have had fantasies about using the electric chairs in their show on their neighbours…
(It’s only occurred to me now that one possible cause was the layout of the speakers at the nightclub; it isn’t just the performance area which has a PA, but also the bar, for instance. Oh well.)
Curiously, the lower volume may have worked in our favour; we had a wider audience demographic than we were expecting, and having a less intense level (and clearer comedy lyrics) meant that the show might have had a larger appeal. We certainly got more enthusiasm from our crowd than I was anticipating. And OUDS can perform in peace once more, now the run of We Won’t Rock You has ended. If this were a comedy script, the act that was replacing us would be My Bloody Valentine, of course.
I even wrote a song expressing my sincere mortification but I’ll wait a little while before posting it anywhere; I wouldn’t want them to think I was taking the mickey. So my apologies to OUDS; I hope the rest of your run brings the house down.