Skipping to the end of the story a moment, Saturday night’s gig was a real pleasure from my point of view, but the journey onto the stage had a few downs and ups. All in, I left the venue in good spirits and was home in time for bed.
I’ve not been well for a couple of weeks, and this generally reduced my energy levels and made me feel like the period I’d taken off gigging would cost me heavily in terms of being prepared for the gig on Saturday. Similarly, I’d been recommended to do the gig on the piano in order to add a bit of something extra to the line-up. The promoter felt the piano would suitably fill the room.
Truth be told, though I had done some key rehearsing on my actual piano, I hadn’t opened up the stage piano and practiced on that, as I might perform it on stage. I rarely take the stage piano out on the road, and was going to have to wing it a bit. I’d just been too tired and otherwise busy to have a chance for any better preparation.
I decided to have a pre-gig nap, since the week wasn’t going to get any easier going forward, so went and took to my bed around 3 hours before I was due to leave for the show. I did get a little sleep.
I then recall having trouble turning off the alarm clock, looking at the clock, realising that it was way later than I was supposed to be setting off, and feeling god, this is a nightmare, and puzzling why I couldn’t even turn off the alarm.
Turns out I was actually asleep, dreaming of being late, with the actual alarm trying to wake me up not to be.
So, I had my performance anxiety dream.
It’s rarely about a gig going badly. It’s usually about being late.
Anyway, I woke up in time to pack the car and head off to the gig. As is usual with these sorts of things, I bundle into the car a bunch of stuff from my study/music room, and from the garage. Shall I take a PA system? No, don’t be silly, they’ll have one at the venue.
I arrived at the venue. I’d managed to park in a space about 1 foot longer than my car, just outside the place, and was feeling quite pleased with myself as I wandered into this theatre. I introduced myself as an act and asked whether they had a sound tech in. No. Ok… where do I need to look to work out how to plug an instrument into the PA system? We don’t have a PA system…
How does the comedian make themselves heard then?
We have radio mics.
Radio mics are generally the worst option when it comes to stand-up. However, a second radio mic could, technically, be put on a mic stand (I’d brought a spare) and pointed at the guitar on stage to provide amplification… but it’s not a great option, as then you’re rooted to the spot.
I went and had a look backstage. There were two radio mics. I went to the car. It turned out that me of an hour ago had thought to put in my little guitar practice amp. Rather useful. I could play the guitar via a lead into the amp and then mic up the amp.
There was a fair amount of jiggery and pokery involved as I ditched the piano (I’d brought the guitar as a backup too), and brought the guitar into play. I say I ditched the piano… I just left it in the boot. I’m not a monster.
Then it was time to rig up the guitar amp to play into a mic in a stand off stage. Lots of feedback. The radio mic needed a larger size mic clip than my mic stand has. Luckily there was a spare one. Unluckily it was broken. Luckily I had gaffa tape. I’m a pro.
Lots of fiddling with settings and other bollocks later, and I was able to play guitar in such a way that the guitar and vocals would appear to come out of the same PA system.
All of these challenges are somewhat unexpected. You arrive at a venue expecting to wire in a piano, and end up jury rigging a set up for a guitar… it’s not what was intended. But live performance is always about playing the room you have, rather than the one you intended to play.
I had a nice time with the audience. I did the joke about Broadway.
I mean… it’s not top billing… though perhaps it was for a while… I only got the Google alert last night when it wasn’t.
It’s also not had any notable affect on views or subscriptions… so it’s literally just a fact, but it made me smile.
I had a tweet liked by Moray Hunter:
It was a cheap joke, and Moray Hunter probably didn’t think too deeply about his like… but Moray Hunter is a bloody brilliant comic writer and performer, whom I’ve always admired… so I’m going to allow myself to be delighted that his finger slipped over the little heart button.
I also made the kids laugh with one of my favourite strange TikToks:
I am strangely obsessed by this. I think it’s because it reminds me of the management training I once had on coaching. You’re getting someone to form and commit to a plan of action so you ask them:
What will you do?
When will you do it?
How will I know it’s done?
In the same way, Dominic Monaghan is saying:
Will you wear wigs?
When will you wear wigs?
And it’s bonkers… delightful… silly…
Last night, and this is really the highlight of the day, my wife and I went to Birmingham (that’s not the good bit), buying cat food on the way (nor is that), and saw Joe Lycett’s show. We even managed to get a nice Japanese dinner beforehand.
Joe was supported by the brilliant Lindsey Santoro who knocked it out of the park. It’s lovely to see someone on the up, and she’s brilliant. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her, and booked her for our local show, so it’s nice to be proud of another “one of us”.
Joe, of course, was outstanding. His show was brilliant and then, in the last seconds, he did the thing which put the “extra star” on it. Making it 5.5/5 as far as I could tell… Wonderful!
I still feel like crap, but I’m generally feeling positive about it.
It’s a common problem I face when creating a bit of music. I’ll pour all my efforts into it, going into loops of 20/30 second takes, or listening to mix after mix of the song, only to find that in the subsequent days, the various hooks of the piece are now playing around my brain the whole time. The only solution is to watch it again.
Despite me watching it a billion times, it still has less viewing time from other people than the effort I put into creating it.
More throwaway routines, like this morning’s quick one that I knocked out:
These are more easy to walk away from. 20 minutes… ish… most of which was accidentally deleting the video files while I was editing them.
Anyway, some final thoughts about the DISCO track I’ve unleashed.
My usual bad mixing/mastering is at play here, so you can only hear things in the track if you listen correctly in different ways on different devices. Having said that, I think it’s pretty possible to hear all the important bits in the song.
There’s a trick I pulled in this, which I did in my last disco number as well. I have something that appears only in the introduction. It’s a little bass riff that would be a good hook, but you only hear it once. A little Easter Egg for me only. It’s something I like about Groovejet – there’s a fun percussion bit that starts it, that you want to hear again, but you don’t get to. Incidentally, Groovejet is also awesome for being a triplet melody over a 4/4 beat.
Anyway, what’s weird for me is that I really enjoy seeing the Silent Disco Parties on the video I made. I’ve tried to unpick why this is, since to all intents and purposes I think of them as being a total arseache – one worthy of writing a ranty song about.
I think it comes down to a few things, which you need to divorce from the fact that the people doing it are making the streets of Edinburgh “all about them” and are deliberately creating noise and obstacles that are irritating and intimidating to others. Ignore also them dancing around the homeless and lacking the self-awareness that might temper this flash mob nonsense.
The video is pretty beautiful because it’s set in one of my favourite cities
A lot of what they’re doing is daft
They’re really having fun
There are families and kids all just dancing to music and that’s quite wholesome
The leaders are teaching the group some good disco moves
For an unrehearsed troupe, they’re doing well
The leaders have some excellent ways of coercing the crowd and signalling what comes next, often dancing both forwards and backwards
Nice leg warmers?
One of them looks like super mario
There’s a bit with bubbles
Mainly, I just like to see people dancing to my music because I forced them to.
I’d not really been on top form for most of last week. I dragged myself through work things and took increasing numbers of off the shelf medication. The COVID booster on Friday, coupled with a troubled night’s lack of sleep on Friday night where I was obsessing about code, and comedy, and couldn’t rest, and was uncomfortable, and…
…well, it’s no surprise that I was largely immobile on Saturday, alternating between dozing and watching TV.
Sunday, I felt better. A bit. I thought. Maybe.
I decided to have the “I don’t want to be in bed anymore” equivalent of a duvet day, which for me meant time spent at my screen for my own purposes.
I started by doing some general editing work, which always runs late and stresses me out, and which I got on top of again.
Then I contemplated trying to write a song about how satire’s dead if the government keeps changing their minds all the time… but I changed my mind about how big an idea that was to fit into a song.
I had started writing a song about the rather irritating Silent Disco events I’ve seen wandering around Edinburgh making a nuisance of themselves. I went back to it to add a bit more to the lyrics. I didn’t have a tune yet.
Spoiler alert, the finished video at the top of the post is a clue about what happened next.
According to my phone, the recording I made of the first pass of a tune for this song was at 2.19pm. I was publishing it to various platforms as a complete piece, video included, some 10 hours later. I didn’t work on it the whole time, but I probably worked on it a lot in that time.
Around 5pm, I sent an early screen shot of the GarageBand session I was working on to a friend:
That was only really the start of things.
Let’s look at the process from start to finish.
I finished the lyrics, and I had a strong idea of how the song would be structured
I went to the piano to work out the chords and tune for the verse and B section – I’d call it a chorus, but I tend to write comedy songs without choruses per-se
I wanted a Stayin’ Alive style riff with guitar and bass doing something agile using pentatonic scales – I planned that out on the piano and worked out how to finger it on the guitar shaped instruments
I hit the New button in Garage Band and tried to create the scaffolding of the song
It was a few hours of pulling in loops from the garage band library, with a couple of bits and bobs taken from royalty free libraries on the net
The main thing was rhythmical loops, or fairly key-agnostic sounds that were Disco-like
I would be adding the guitars and bass later, along with other things that would be tuned to the actual pitch/key of the song
Then, I grabbed the stratocaster to record the chordy bits – you can see them on the picture as the first line of guitar… I was mainly recording in 8 bar chunks (or less) to create my own loopable bits
I recorded the bass riff on guitar first, I used a mix with some octaving so the guitar had a perfect bass counter part, slightly present in the mix – this would make the guitar/bass sound feel quite tight
Then I recorded the bass riff on the bass too
Then a second bass section
And various string pads
And whatever else I fancied
Then I recorded some rough vocals just to check the song held together as planned
This was done by someone whose voice had been unworkable on Friday and Saturday…
The Bee Gee vocals would have given me a coughing fit only hours earlier.
Anyway, I re-recorded the vocals having used the rough vocal for practice. The words are a bit of a mouthful. I auto-tuned a composite of my three main vocal takes for the main vocal, but I left the Bee Gee vocals un messed with. They sounded ok to me.
Finally it was time to make the video.
I had imagined green screening myself, but decided to stop short of that.
I had, at some point, checked if there was any footage online of the Silent Disco folks doing their thing in Edinburgh. I found a couple of their own promo videos, along with some other guy’s video from his own Edinburgh trip. At this point, I need to presume that crediting the source will be good enough for copyright purposes.
So, down to the process of making a music video on the night of composing and recording it.
My main process involved getting the backing track into the video, putting a few frames of some disco stuff at the beginning (a disco light and a mirror ball) and then creating all the subtitles.
I take a pride in subtitling videos when I choose to do it. I try to make sure the subtitles appear at the most musically timed moment, and are broken up to avoid spoiling punchlines before they’re due. When there are subtitles, it makes the video easier to edit, since you can always see where in the song you are.
Then I had to chop up bits of the found footage of the Silent Disco folks in order to create the scenes of the video. The fun part was making as much of it as possible line up with the tempo of the music. Well… I say fun… it’s rather tedious and time consuming, but it amused me every time I got it to work. These puppets on my screen were doing my bidding again.
And then I started to grow fond of them all. They actually seemed to be really throwing themselves into making the crowd dance and have fun… and while I find them slightly intimidating and rather annoying when I’m a neighbour of theirs in the street, I sort of “got it”. I think what I’m saying is that I like them when they’re dancing at 120BPM on my screen under my control… and they clearly aren’t taking themselves seriously, which is always appealing.
Still, the song had to be completed, so I assembled the video, uploaded it to YouTube, and stuck it on TikTok too, though it’s totally the wrong format for that platform:
Then it was done.
Writing wise, I’m rather pleased with it.
Musically, I’ve taken a fair bit from Stayin’ Alive, and the big horn hits from YMCA (used out of context here as a Psycho moment that I’m quite proud of). However, it’s also an original song. Kind of. There’s a bit of tune which is obviously from It’s Raining Men, and another bit I think of as the Cruel Summer bit. But that’s the point of writing to a genre, you get to inherit the various moods, feelings, motifs, etc.
Lyrically, I’ve crammed in tons of alliteration because I’m a writer showing off. I also packed in a fair bunch of Disco dance crazes and tried to connect them with suggesting harmful outcomes to these innocent members of the public, pictured dancing.
I’m not sure I agree with my own work here… but it’s clearly marked as comedy, so I don’t think it’s a call to actual arms.
For all I know these tours don’t run any more…
… though they were up to something in Newcastle recently.
The point is, I left my sick bed and finished something all the way through to release.
I didn’t watch Inside No. 9 last night, though I’d heartily recommend doing so. I’d also recommend listening to the BBC Sounds Podcast about the series by its creators.
However, rather than go off to my gig and make big rambunctious noises at an audience, in the hope of receiving raucous laughs as my reward, I had an early night and went to bed with my iPad and BBC iPlayer.
It’s odd to have the desire both to be the central figure in a room, which I seem to do professionally, both in my IT world and my stand-up world, and yet also crave peace, quiet and silence.
Perhaps they’re both the same thing. Perhaps it’s all about giving my thoughts space to do the things they want to do. God I sound awful. It’s not that I don’t listen and process the thoughts of others. I enjoy surrendering myself to other folks’ content.
My new favourite podcast is a music podcast Add to playlist which I enjoy by sitting back and having my mind expanded by the thoughts of others.
But yes. It seems that I either make most of the noise in a room, or require the silence for my own contemplation.
At the moment, I’ve got some sort of illness. Cold-like symptoms. Nothing too severe. Lateral flow test says it’s not COVID. But… critically… my voice is shot. Talking isn’t fun. So gigging was a no.
I watched the rest of the first episode of Philomena Cunk’s new series, that I’d started watching. She’s great, but needs to be appreciated in smaller doses, I think. Binge watching it would spoil some of the nuance. I then went on to attempt a rewatch of the Doctor Who “Flux” season. I rather annoyed myself by forgetting to watch the special that came before it… I’ve only seen that once too.
Flux is fine, but even when you realise that it’s setting up some interleaved characters and stories, episode 1 is quite unsatisfying and complex. Then episode 2 got to a point where it was boring, so I watched some TikTok and then went to sleep.
On second viewing John Bishop’s contribution is less jarring, but he still manages to be a 2D scouser while also being an actual scouser. This is all the more annoying considering that the episodes are written by a Merseyside born writer. Maybe I’m misreading the situation, maybe everyone in Liverpool is a living stereotype and this is gritty realism. I doubt it.
Anyway, the Doctor Who Brookside crossover moment was when I put it on pause. I’ll come back to it tonight, or soon at least.
The worst possible feeling is to get a call saying “Are you near the venue yet?” when you’re not, won’t be, can’t be, and have messed up the gig diary, thus burning a bridge with a promoter and missing out on a gig you could have done.
Next is the one where you’re on the way to a gig, only to realise you’re not going to make it, and have to cancel on the hop. I did that once because my daughter took ill and meeting her and my wife at the hospital had to take priority. The promoter was understanding, while also being… put mildly… a bit fucked.
Today’s sad decision is one I’ve not made many times, and last did when I knew I had COVID. It’s pulling a gig because you’re too poorly to do it. Right this minute, I’m not very poorly, but I’m losing my voice, and I’d rather regain my strength quicker, than spread whatever cold I’m currently cooking (lateral flow says it’s not COVID) while giving a lukewarm rendition of myself.
I’ve only had to pull a small number of gigs for illness and it sucks. It’s also the grown up thing to do.
Then there are the dates that disappear from the diary before they happen.
Slightly worse are the dates which shapeshift to different geographies when there are hotels booked at the original location.
And the dates where you’ve mucked up by booking it in the first place, because it clashes with something, so you have to remake the clashing plans, or unbook the gig, and then something falls through making the whole drama take you back to a worse state than you started.
It’s also probably not a good idea to overbook yourself on the assumption that all these gigs can’t possibly actually go ahead, or be that hard to do, and then discover that they are, and they are.
What I’ve noticed, though, across all the various diary hiccups, is that my dread of an empty diary is an ever present force in my life.
I look at gigs offered and then get sad when I have clashing gigs. I feel I can’t apply, so my diary’s emptier for it… except I can’t apply because I’m busy… so there are gigs. Similarly, I feel like my diary’s emptying, ignoring the bookings that I’m putting in, because it’ll never be enough. There’s always some week you can look at in the future which seems empty.
This is a sort of confirmation bias. The assumption is that my diary’s empty, I can look places where it is, I can filter out evidence of busy-ness, because of those places… rinse and repeat across more bookings and more days of this angst.
I have to avoid overbooking myself to the point that the family suffers (sorry… I fail at this a fair bit, but not as much as I succeed, hence the anxiety about the gigs not done).
But there’s always room for more.
And there are always places where I don’t get booked that I should be hitting up for bookings.
The problem with Ashley is that he’s always trying out his material on us.
On Friday night I was gigging in Willingham in Cambridgeshire. It was a total pleasure on many levels, and a bit of an arseache on one or two others.
Positives first though.
I stopped off at Cambridge services for a cheeky cold drink. I really wanted some sort of crushed ice coffee drink, but decided that the closest thing I wanted there was a McDonald’s thick shake. On the way to get my illicit sugar rush, I spotted someone unexpected. It was someone I went to school with. I saw him recognising me, or at least starting to. I tried to signal the whole “Yes, I know, I’m me, and you’re you, what a surprise” thing, which I did by a strange series of pointy finger motions.
We had a chat and worked out that we’d probably not seen each other for something like 18 years, despite keeping vaguely abreast of each other’s lives through things like Facebook and tales shared by a mutual friend.
Anyway, we shared our points of destination, and I, on the spur of the moment, made some sort of wordplay joke on the name of mine – Willingham. I followed this up with the “punchline tap dance”… you know the sort of musical hall “I’ve just made a funny” move that involves a stamp of some sort.
I then apologised.
I apologised that it does, on the face of it, look like I’m using the moment to “try out a bit”… but in fact, I’m often struck with the imperative to make jokes like that the moment they occur to me. It’s a genuine affliction. I can probably control myself, but often choose not to, and I apologise.
However, this encounter did cause me to write a workable joke. A short number of hours later, I was on stage telling said joke with all the pleasure of the shortest distance from idea to laugh. Without that encounter, I wouldn’t have even thought to make a joke. What I said was something like:
I randomly bumped into an old school friend in Cambridge services. He was off to York. I said I was off to Willingham. He said “where’s that?” I said “it’s just before forcing-’em”.
I can confirm that this sort of a joke gets a laugh on a Friday night in a working men’s club in Willingham.
Thanks for the opportunity.
So how did the night not spark joy?
Well, the aforementioned thick shake was way stronger than the flimsy paper straw they provided for it. I soon collapsed the straw with about 60% of the drink remaining. I foolishly attempted to drink it out of the cup once I’d parked at the venue. At first, it refused to come… then like a stiff ketchup might, it all came at once and nearly drowned me and, worse, nearly covered me with the evidence of my milky crime.
Luckily, I kept my face angled and slurped hard enough to open an airway and then scooby doo-ed the remaining face sludge into my mouth. A spare tissue in my hoodie pocket – I’m a Dad – fixed the rest of it, and I was free.
Then the venue itself seemed resistant to honour the promise of free drinks at the bar. My diet coke was issued with the caveat of “fine, but only this one”.
And when I tried to nip into the member’s bar to get a wee while the show was in flight, the venue manager essentially told me to get out and back into the function room… “But I’m here now, shall I just use the toilet over there..?” “No”.
So I had to wait until the break, since you generally don’t interrupt a performance you’re going to be in in order to use the toilet that’s in the middle of the audience space.
While it was an audience that made me feel very funny and welcome, and a good collection of acts that I was privileged to share a stage with, the venue made it clear that I was just some milkshake-faced outsider who needed to keep in their place.
I may have gone home via the same McDonalds for some other low-rent food to munch on the way home… of course I did… but minimal carbs in the protein-heavy night time meal for me, and no more thick shakes.
And I discovered a new podcast, which got me home in good spirits.
I’ve always said that the best feeling in stand-up is when an idea you have goes from ideation to laugh in as short a time as possible.
I think it’s fair to say that the ultimate example of this is in the spontaneous joke, made in the moment, that sets a room alight with laughter. However, we probably need to split this into two categories – ad libs and pre-meditated jokes.
Last night, in the shower before leaving for a nearby gig, I came up with a strategy for how I’d take the mickey out of the name of the place – Redditch. This was at about 5.30pm. I said it on stage about 3 hours later.
The second half of that clip, around the correlation between club name and other stuff, occurred to me within the room as I noticed people had brought takeaway chips with them to eat before the show started. Though the above was pitched as somewhat in the moment, it was all pre-meditated… that said, the chip eaters had brought their own cutlery from home, so we all premeditate and shouldn’t be judged for that.
For comparison, in this video, there’s a genuine example of ad-libbing. Some of it is taken from the big book of things comedians say in standard situations, and then it increasingly becomes specific to the moment.
I bring this up to comment on how it took me two occasions of chickening out on the song I eventually played before I allowed myself to write the appropriate gag in real time on the stage. Clearly I was capable of doing that, but somehow didn’t want to.
In the first instance, I quipped about a funny song title… but stopped there. That was handy because it was the fact that I came up with a second song title which gave me enough material to create the song that comes out at the end of the clip.
However, the first chickening out was me leaving those titles hanging and moving on to the prepared song… as I was playing it, and as the audience was being relatively luke warm with it, all I could think of was that we ALL (myself included) really wanted to know what the songs I’d promised would have sounded like.
I realised, while multitasking and playing the song I’d prepared, how the two proposed songs needed to be merged to get the outcome, and I decided, again while singing a song to an audience, that I probably had to do it, and what the rhyme would be that ended things.
Then after the prepared song, I brought the elephant in the room back up and decided to play it.
One chord in, I stopped myself. Why am I improvising in the key of A, for fuck’s sake? I asked myself.
I usually improvise songs in C where my musical brain has the least work to do. I also, however, have a bad habit of leaving my hands on the guitar in the current key signature of the songs that are coming up. It’s a bit of thinking ahead that I shouldn’t do… but there I was, in A, and trying to stop myself.
So I kicked myself up the butt and went back into a song, in a key I don’t improvise in, with one ending, and a start line, and no idea of where we’d end up.
What came out was basic, but you only need something basic when you’re in the moment.
In ad-libbing the brain to laugh distance is meant to be small and the expectations are lower to match.
All of these moments, pre-meditated, or streamed from the subconscious, are satisfying.
The lesson here is to relax and make more of them happen.