Why did I think I knew what orthogonal meant? To be fair, I had been drinking.
David McAlmont asks me if I know what orthogonal means. I say yes. He then says, “what does it mean?” The Oliver Hardy lobe of my brain looks at me with disdain and shakes its head. My Laurel brain comes up with something about being one of those paintings with a hidden image that can only be viewed from the side. Yet another after show party ends in artistic definition shame.
Friday morning began as all mornings this week began, with a message from someone else pulling out of the Compendium of Reason at Hammersmith Apollo. By 9am, a replacement was secured (thank you, Milton Jones).
The Brian and Robin Compendium of Reason has become a regular Christmas event. We weren’t going to do one in 2016, but as I left last year’s event and saw the professor drinking champagne with New Order, I expected a drunk text at 4am saying, “maybe just the one in 2016?”
So it goes.
Having had New Order, Alison Moyet, Charlotte Church and The Cure in the last couple of years, each year gets harder than the last to curate.
This year, we were lucky to have Jack Liebeck’s quartet playing our audience in, then Brian and I went on to dick about, goad each other and introduce Public Service Broadcasting. They were spectacular. I went out front and the security guard and I agreed they should come back and do a full night at Hammersmith.
Helen Czerski kindly put her slides aside so our incredible technical team could perform the nearest things to miracles that are allowed in a show grounded in science.
Our first computational biologist of the evening, and last on this occasion, Andrew Steele presented a very funny statistical analysis. Now here is the problem, because I am running around backstage, I miss most of the content of the speakers. So here is a hasty rundown –
Festival of the Spoken Nerd went on to do their “last ever show…of 2016”, I believe the slides were back to front.
Steve Backshall did not goad a snake or paso doblé.
Adam Rutherford explained things about Charlemagne which have ramifications for us.
Chris Lintott told us about gravitational waves, one of the most exciting science stories of recents years, there are black holes AND lasers in that tale. (I recommend Janna Levin’s Black Hole Blues if you want to know more).
Alice Roberts was an angel god explaining to a Neanderthal the ways of evolution (Caveman was Ben Garrod).
James Acaster performed his award winning stand up in an award winning way.
Nitin Sawnhey closed the first half, which was only overrunning by 30 minutes, with two songs including a beautiful cover of Life on Mars with Eva Stone.
INTERVAL and that slight panic, exacerbated by the noisy drinking of those who had done their time on stage.
Round Two began with The Hackney Colliery Band. Sophie Ellis Bextor was introduced, after a very short reading of Kurt Vonnegut, and performed the Prince cover of the night, Nothing Compares 2 U. Then, Clifford Slapper accompanied David McAlmont’s cover of Bowie’s Sweet Thing. This was almost the final Bowie song of the night.
Then a brief panel with Professor Cox, Chris Lintott and Paul Abel answering audience questions on dark energy and black holes.
Lucy Cooke talked about the bum glands of beavers and then showed some that had been extracted from a dead beaver. I hope it was a dead beaver.
Blue Peter’s Greg Foot pulled out a gun and shot Matt Parker. Ben Goldacre broke his record for speed talking. Milton Jones presented the main pun section of the evening.
Then, Brian and I introduced someone to introduce the band, we thought it best to have an astronaut, so we asked Chris Hadfield. Chris Hadfield explained the physical effects of journeying into space and back with no hesitation, deviation and only vert slight repetition of an occasional noun.
Then, Duran Duran performed a greatest hits set. They opened with Planet Earth, cued by Chris Hadfield explaining the vision of planet earth can barely be summarised in spoken word, so here it is in song. Curtain up, and an audience looking and thinking, “bloody hell, that really is Duran Duran”. Planet Earth slid beautifully into Space Oddity, this really was the final Bowie appearance of the night. End on Rio, vast confetti cannons fire.
Then, we all had a drink and I tried to bluff my way in orthogonal understanding to no great effect.
As usual, about halfway through I became stressed and antsy, having smiled to the point of lunacy just one hour before as Public Service Broadcasting played Spitfire. This was due to the overrunning as usual, and a collision with a couple of tweets. I was only on Twitter to see the audience questions for Brian, but saw someone complaining. Some complained they wanted to see more of the Professor, others were disappointed that things weren’t exactly as they had imagined they would be. The fact that these splinters of negativity were surrounded by cock-a-hoop tweets of delight made no difference. I am a dick when it comes to this sort of thing.
There was less of both Brian and I this year, we felt that we had done lots of public events this year and it might be nice for everyone to see lots of other stuff. That was always the point of these shows, we are just hosts who have curated a night of things we delight in. Later, someone moaned at the brevity of Chris Hadfield’s appearance, about 7 minutes, but that was because he was an extra special guest. So some people, rather than count this being an extra treat, can turn it into a disappointment. It makes you wonder if it is worth adding treats if they are going to ruin someone’s night.
I want everyone to be happy, which is problematic due such a thing being impossible and if it were possible, we’d be a far duller species. In the end, I think it was wildly successful for most and has hopefully made about £20,000 to be shared amongst charities including Medecins Sans Frontieres and Sophie Lancaster Foundation. Whether you like it or not, we’re back next year with another top secret bill. Do you trust us?
Tickets on sale HERE.
This week’s Book Shambles will be a “Books of 2016” special with all our Hammersmith guests talking about their favourite book. You can also hear full show with Chris Hadfield. You can find new Cosmic Shambles site and trailer with Prof Cox here.
Josie Long and I are bringing a slightly lower key version of this sort of comedy/science/music chaos to New Zealand and Australia in March. tickets HERE.
I’ve already said this elsewhere but it bears repeating: you all did a splendid thing yesterday. It was glorious. I’m so glad you’ve given the running order here, because everything went past in a blur. Maybe it’s my advancing years, but on more than one occasion I was sitting there thinking “I’m never going to remember just how utterly brilliant all of this is.”
And yes, I absolutely trust you – next year’s ticket is already bought.
We’ve been to every one of these that you have done (it’s become our start of Christmas) and I have to say I cannot see how anyone can complain. The work that must go into organisation must be incredible. There is no other event like it for a mixture of science, comedy and music. It is a simply brilliant idea, very well executed. Ignore the moaners, the whole thing is brilliant. Thank you for doing it.
It was a great show. Not everyone will like it, but hey there were a lot of us who just love these nights, hell, I fly in from Ireland and was in no way disappointed, Duran really helped though, my favourite band since the eighties, and one that never crossed my mind. On a funny note, when I booked my tickets I got the seat map reversed and instead of having first row seats I had last row seats! Even with that it was a great show.
Having not attended a Compendium in the past, my wife and I had no idea of what to expect…we had a fantastic time and to subsequently discover proceeds were going to charity made a great night even better. The sad fact is that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but I strongly suspect you certainly succeeded in far more than pleasing the vast majority of people who attended. My wife’s only regret is that we didn’t manage to secure stall seats – the fact that we were tucked up in the circle meant that John Taylor remained blissfully unaware of her ‘plans’ for his immediate future! Our thanks to you and everyone who selflessly gave up their time for very deserving causes and our entertainment. Next year is booked – I think you can safely take that as a vote of confidence. Oh, and the running order is much appreciated – thank you 🙂
Robin, ignore the negativity. The thing I love the most is discovering acts and people I would never have seen otherwise. Do I love everyone you have on over the years, no, but never regretted seeing them. Next years tickets are already booked and I will be suggesting to my friends that they should come as well. Keep doing what you do and ignore the haters.
It was a remarkable evening as usual. So many delights, the fastest four hours passing I’ve ever known. We bought next tickets for 2017 before we’d seen this years extravaganza.
I don’t know how you do it year after year. Thank you from four people who can’t wait for next years treats.
This all sounds amazing, I am so envious of everyone who went! I want to buy tickets so much, but going to London during the “Christmas trade period” would be so tricky (for self employed in retail)… Ahh, I wanna go!
Thank you Robin – your summary blog after each year’s Compendium prolongs the joy 🙂 Astonished to discover Milton Jones was a last minute replacement. He was wonderful – made me laugh so hard my tummy hurt!
I am so sorry to hear the complainers dampened your evening. In contrast to their experience I spent the whole evening in a state of disbelief that a mere £30 could allow me to witness four and a half hours of utter brilliance in so many different forms. (I have bought one of the £46 tickets for next year and still consider this to be an absolute bargain for this show.) Alongside MSF and the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, which other charities does the Compendium support? I would love to make an additional donation to each; it feels like the least I can do after such a tremendous evening.
Thank you so much for everything you do (Christmas Compendium, Infinite Monkey Cage, Book Shambles, Cosmic Genome, etc.). I get bogged down by life so frequently and lose sight of what really matters but the above always help me reset my outlook and remind me how lucky I am to be alive here and now. THANK YOU!
It was my first show last night and I thought it was wonderful. Thank you, Robin. I will definitely be coming next year and bringing as many people as I can.
Robin – it was fantastic. Ignore the very, very small number of complaints. As a follower of the hashtag I saw the posts you referred to – they were outnumbered by many times by people like me who thought it was wonderful. I love the surprise guests, no matter how short a time they are on stage for – its why we keep coming back, and why all the good tickets for next years event have already gone. For us out front the overrunning is part of the fun. It hadn’t occurred to me that it costs (but of course it should have – I help to run a small theatre). Just ask everyone to chuck a fiver in a bucket on the way out to pay for it. We would.
I get the idea that if you had Dawkins and God mud wrestling naked on stage someone would complain that a proper ring would be more appropriate.
This was truly one of the most amazing nights, full of wonderful surprises, amazing information and brilliant music. The fact that you do all this for charity is just remarkable. We booked for next year on our way home and will once again look forward to it for a whole year.
I thought it was truly spectacular.
Apart from the novelty of a science oriented entertainment show (or an entertainment oriented science show), the ticket price was worth it just to see Milton Jones live for the first time and Duran Duran. My friend’s wife, who was a teenager at the height of their fame, was practically wetting herself with excitement.
The only tiny criticism I have is that the announcement of the sale of next year’s tickets was done on Twitter just before the show started which meant that, by the time we found out about it (not being regular Twitter followers), all the seats back to row S had already been sold.
That aside, this was the best evening’s entertainment (and education) I have had for a very long time.
sorry about the ticket sales, they went on sale slightly earlier than expected (meant to go on sale at midnight) and I don’t think we expected the sales to be quite so fast
We still got tickets in the second row of the circle. We’ll miss the confetti storm but we’ll be looking down on Brian’s shining hair instead of up his nose so it’s not all bad.
Looking forward to next year. Thanks for a wonderful evening and thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment.
I would love to know the tracks that Public Service Broadcasting played. An absolutely superb start.tonan excellent evening.
it was Sputnik, Go and I forget the third
Possibly Spitfire, if your blog is to be believed?