Two Eggs and the walking dead – day two of writing a book

By the end of day one book writing, I had written about 1500 words that at least survived until today without bitter or frustrated deletion.
I have a habit of thinking, “just before I move on to the next section, I’ll read back what I’ve done.”
Then, I bowdlerise and slaughter those words for the rest of the day, so I remain perpetually where I was. To avoid this, each time I finish something that reaches the status of “that will do”, it will be moved into a separate draft. I will be banned from returning to it until a first proper draft is finished.
Then, it will return to the abattoir of my judgemental mind.

Procrastination number 5 was going to the dentist. He prodded my gums until my mouth felt like Countess Bathory. For the first time in memory, I went to the Notting Hill Book Exchange and bought nothing. This is highly unusual. Since Kirk, Luke and Matt are no longer there, the lack of lengthy conversations on 1970s horror TV series, Robert Aickman and WG Sebald means I have lost the extra time when I changed my mind on books like Condensed Chaos: An Introduction to Chaos Magic, The Oxford Book of Animal Behaviour or The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and Hyper-Aesthetics. (These are often the impulse buys that find their way into the Book Shambles Box of Books prize for Patreon & Paypal supporters – here is one winner describing their box of books).
I miss those days of ruefully wishing that one day we would all be able to see the deleted Late Night Horror adaptation of Ringing The Changes, retitled Bells of Hell. That is the sort of counter chat you want to have in a bookshop. If the Bells of Hell is ever found, it will be hard to live up to Alan Moore’s memory of it, which he elegantly regaled with me over a two egg Fiorentina pizza.

With the blood rust taste in my mouth subsiding, I wrote another 350 words on the train, but they didn’t survive beyond dusk.

Procrastination number 6 was sorting the piles of books who have reached a high tide point that means they are almost at the edge of my bed. Sweating and swearing for six hours, I have now put the stacks in a different order which should be helpful, but might just be a different method of spine confusion.

During Procrastination 6, I found time to fit in procrastination of procrastination by having a hasty argument on Twitter with a person of the hard right who hides behind the term libertarian as it sounds less ugly and reprehensible.

After midnight, it is beyond procrastination time. I watched Barbet Schroeder’s More on the BFI player. I had no knowledge of it except that it was usually sold it in one of those BFI cases that made you think, “I must have that, it is probably cultish and very important”. It was a bleak tale of heroin addiction and death, but with a lot of sunshine and seascapes, as if Judith Chalmer’s had helmed Drugstore Cowboy.

With seven waking hours of Saturday left, I have not given up all hope of writing any of the book, but I suddenly remembered that I had to deliver a short story based on a thought experiment for a short story collection I know little about. It is about shoes and death.

End result –

Words written for a book – 1923
Words written for the book – 0
Coffees – a low 2
Twitter arguments – 0 (so far)

I will be hosting a screening of The Great Dictator at the Slapstick festival on 21st January (day after President Trump’s inauguration) with Neil Innes, David Robinson and Grace Petrie and also doing events about Keaton, Rik Mayall and lots more.

Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles is available here – guests include Geoff Dyer, Stewart Lee, Natalie Haynes, Alice Lowe…

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Typing at Strangers for Money -day one of writing a book – a history of procrastination

Now is the time for procrastination.
I want to write a book.
I have to write a book.
There is a deadline.
This morning, I dreamt that Amy Schumer was doing a show at a theatre in coastal Kent. It was not well-attended. I explained to her promoter that it was odd for her to only be doing one show in the UK and for him to have chosen a coastal Kent town. My dream mind made up an ornate Victorian town that does not exist beyond my head. The rest is the sound of my alarm and my son. Folkestone is trending on Twitter this morning, this is not enough synchronicity to present a paper to the Jungian delegation.

Procrastination part 1 – tweet about the Book Shambles podcast. Check how many people are listening. Check whether you need to have an argument on social media.

The book was inspired by a Radio 4 documentary I made with Alex Mansfield. After the death of Robin Williams, I read some of the articles that footled with the idea of “the miserable clown, who makes everyone else laugh while they shed tears for the pointlessness of existence”. As alluring as this myth is for comedians, it ennobles us, I wanted to challenge it. I interviewed Jo Brand, Simon Amstell, Barry Cryer, Josie Long and scrutinised the BBC archives for enlightening interviews with Frankie Howerd and Tony Hancock. Jo Brand, who had a career in mental health before taking to the stage, summed up my thoughts most succinctly. She didn’t see most comedians as mentally ill, but felt that most she knew were damaged people. Finding the subject impossible to condense into an hour, I decided to write a book. I was taking a break from stand up as my head had gone grey on the inside as well as the outside, so what better way was there to take a break from doing stand up than to spend the time off writing about stand up.

Procrastination part 2 – Hmmm, what music should I write to. It can’t have vocals. Should it be Ennio Morricone soundtracks? Free Jazz is too disconcerting. Most jazz I have will jar my sentence construction. That’s all my weird dance cello albums out too. Philip Ridley talked about Shostakovich on a recent Book Shambles. Yes, it will be Shostakovick, it may civilise my writing.

After writing 25000 words about comedians and the possibility of melancholy, I went off the idea. Or rather, I found a better idea. Reading Sarah Bakewell’s superb At The Existential Café on the way to hear her speak under a Marylebone skylight, I realised the book needed to be bigger.
Comedians are exaggerated human beings. They can be noisy summaries and pointers to what it is to be human. They are not some special other species, they are a magnification.
Rather than write a book about comedians, I’d write a shorter book on the whole of humanity, that should be a challenge and a good alibi for spending days reading peculiar and esoteric books about the human condition.

Procrastination part 3 – what colour Post It notes go best with the wall I am going to use to keep track of it all, and should I use string to connect all the ideas up with?

I had a title I liked, Shouting at Strangers for Money, but now the book has changed, that has been vetoed. The working title is now You’re a Joke…and So Am I or should it be I’m a Joke…and So Are You?

I had written 35,000 words, though increasingly I realised that it was a 35,000 word introduction, or perhaps 7 introductions of 5000 words each, a bit like my stand up shows. I was writing it on tour with Brian Cox, and being reasonably thorough. Then, one morning in Bristol, I woke up and Donald Trump was President Elect and I slumped into an expansive period of “what’s the bloody point of creating anything”. Despite its intricate equations and expansive images of the Cosmos, physics doesn’t always lift you out of an existential slump. The indifference of the universe to our ultimate annihilation can be deafening.
Now I realise that inaction through existential gloom is just what the hard right are relying on to embolden their agenda of spite and venality, so it is time to type again. I aim for 80,000 words by 4th February.

Procrastination number 4 – write a blog post on writing a book.

Typed words so far – 0

Coffees – 2

Social media and email checks – 4

Tweeting links to Stevie Smith poems – 3

Sarah Bakewell is one of many recent guests on Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles. Alice Roberts is our latest guest, and Philip Ridley will be available in the next few weeks.

I will be hosting a series of events at the Slapstick Festival in Bristol, including a celebration of Rik Mayall, a screening of Beckett’s Film with Buster Keaton, and Alexei Sayle’s top comedy moments.

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Exhibitions from Sydney to Wakefield 2016

After a solitary first half of 2016, mainly writing in the attic and creating occasional one off shows for festivals, the second half has mainly been attached to Professor Cox. From Glastonbury Monkey Cage via an Australian tour, a musical with Eric Idle, and finally a 48 date UK tour, I have been there to interrupt him noisily or be used for body parts if his spleen or pancreas fail (he’s already had most of my hair).

While traveling, I have tried to find time to visit art galleries in each of our destination. The near silence and elaborate daubs or struck stone have given me rewarding doses of humanity while civilisation seemed to increase its speed of disintegration. We were together the night before BREXIT, as he looked at the incoming polls, he said, “we’re alright. we’re alright.”

We were not alright. The next day we traveled to Glastonbury in a sullen gloom. The horror of the EU exit decision was not so much down to adoration for this far from perfect neo-liberal organisation, but because it seemed to be the breaking of a seal that would now release new levels of abuse, justified with the words, “I’m just saying what everyone is thinking”. The miserable, self-aggrandising words of those who cannot imagine that anyone else’s mind is not a festering cess pool. The night before the Trump election saw a similar chain of events.

I do not want to give up. I wish I didn’t care, but I do. Art intervals have given me air in this claustrophobic political stink pit.

Of all the galleries I have visited, mainly municipal, not one has been without something beguiling, beautiful or disturbing. In no particular order, here are the eleven that have made the greatest impression on me.

  1. I often visit the Turner wing of the Tate Britain, but it wasn’t until this year that I had the Damascene moment of truly seeing the light of Turner’s light. Firstly, it was a lone picture in LIverpool’s Walker Gallery that froze me to the spot.

2. Then, there was the Turner exhibition in Margate where I just sat and stared. This was a magnificent experience.

3. I took a detour to visit The Hepworth. I had last been near Wakefield on a Monday, a deathly day for art visits as most galleries are closed. Fortunately, I had just enough time in between York and Leeds to see the Stanley Spencer exhibition a few days before it closed. As I had hoped, the humanity glowed.

4. As impressive as this exhibition was, it was when Spencer didn’t dominate the room that I was mournfully dazzled by him at The Herbert in Coventry.

5. Due to scatty attention to emails, I turned up to the dance studio for a rehearsal of Eric Idle’s Entire Universe when I was unwanted. Rather than ruing the day, I went straight to Tate Modern to look at the Georgia O Keeffe exhibition. What flowers! What colours! What pelvis bones!
As chance would have it, Eric’s wife, Tania was also at the exhibition. As further chance would have it, we do not see each other there.

5. At the Gallery of New South Wales, I queued for tickets and talked about death with my friend Carolyn. I was disappointed by the Frida Kahlo exhibition, but that was unimportant, as I was then taken by surprise and captivated by Julian Rosfeldt’s Manifesto, a collaboration with Cate Blanchett.

5. I was offered a wine tasting excursion in Canberra, but despite the grapes sounding luscious, nothing could deter me from a Diane Arbus exhibition. Why be wooed by a Semillon when you can be enraptured by whey faced 60s war fetishists and eager boys with toy grenades.

6. The Whitworth gallery contained the exhibition with my favourite title of the year, In a Dream You Saw A Way to Survive And You Were Full of Joy, and Elizabeth Price populated it with the works of imaginations that inspired her.

7. A room with a cast of William Blake’s head, a tattooed torso, and one of thos Frank Auerbach paintings that scares my sister, what’s not to like in York.

8. My fondness for the House of Illustration has not stopped me from missing far too many of their exhibition, but with a father to nag me, and one failed trip by the two of us in deadly Monday, we finally made it to the Edward Ardizzone exhibition, and we were glad.

9. Despite spent years in Cheltenham, I had never been to the Wilson Gallery. Inside, I found the funniest, absurdist, satire menu of humanity and a terrific exhibition of the Cheltenham Illustration award.

I enjoyed many other things, in particular the loud lady of Sheffield commenting on the bums of statues in the gallery and Maggi Hambling’s sketches at The British Museum. And there was the Tate Modern exhibition of Elton John’s photography collection.

And if I have to name the most delightful and inspiring exhibition of 2016, it must be the Robert Rauschenberg.

We have recorded plenty of Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles this year, including Nick Offerman, Alan Moore, Sarah Bakewell and Noel Fielding. Coming soon, Alice Lowe, Steve Backshall, Alice Roberts and Philip Ridley. All shows are HERE.

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The Doctors took my offal – abstract expressionism and intrigue

Two skeletons fighting over a pickled herring is just what I needed to regain peace of mind.
I had spent too long without shape and form.
There had been shapes and forms, but they could not be ordered into a reflected reality in my head.

The Royal Academy’s Abstract Expressionism exhibition has been broadly lauded. With under two weeks to go, I was haphazard with my morning paperwork so that I could get to the Pollocks and de Koonings. By room three, I was overwhelmed.
My savannah brain was seeking recognisable pattern in all this colour, but without a gazelle in the grassland to be seen, it was dumbfounded. With my limitations, I think two rooms a day would have been more manageable. The conversations around me were the most academically analytical I heard in a gallery this year.
My favourite views were not close up, not that you need to get too close to this grandiose, yet often sparse, paintings. It was looking through the arches from one end of the gallery o the other, to Lee Krasner’s The Eyes in the First Circle.
It looked like a repeatedly overwritten cave wall, a sandstone palimpsest.
In room one, I decided to try an experiment. I would look at the paintings both with my glasses on and off. My inner optician would ask, “and does this look better with…or without. With…or without”. Most looked better with, but I was interested to note that the central focal point of the paintings sometimes changed when blurry. With my glasses off, Ashile Gorky’s Diary of a Seducer could have almost been a Renoir, with them on, it was nothing of the sort.

More than any other form of painting, I want to know the state of the artist’s mind as they paint.
Does it come from anger or joy? What do they imagine an audience will make of that work? Do they imagine it all?
As I can’t see a story in the image on the wall, my reaction becomes baser. It is just down to colour and shape. I like at one de Kooning and think, “what a spectacle!”, right next to it, I see another and think, “there is nothing for me here, it looks too much like yoghurt.” We are sent further adrift when we lose the lifebelt of at least being able to say, “oh I see, he was trying to draw a horse”.

There was a time that if I read on the wall, “In Barnett Newman’s galaxy austere verticals suggest an embryonic galaxy, while William de Kooning’s biomorphism lends a strange sentience to erstwhile abstract motifs”, I would have reeled disconsolately. “Why can I not see it?” I would have yelped before being led from the gallery by a strong hand. I used to see less and less because I was looking so hard to see “the right meaning”. Now I am not so insecure, or I am stupid enough to gain satisfaction from my own reaction, however simplistic or wrong-headed it might be.
I particularly enjoyed seeing Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock’s earlier work, before they found the style that is renowned.

I enjoyed listening to people agonising over which canvases were really figurative. I liked the de Koonings which were just anchored enough in a reality that had almost lost all its shape.
And the Pollock canvases become harder to leave once you see his statement, “no chaos, damn it.” The room is busy, so your staring is interrupted, but the more you look, the more you see a plan, and the more you see the intensity of a man stood above a canvas working out the path of thick streams of paint.

“That’s just a black dot”, said the boy, as he walked past Adolphe Gottlieb’s Penumbra (one of my favourites in the later rooms, with Robert Motherwell’s In Plato’s Cave no.1).
Without judgement, scorn or scalding, she replied, “it’s art isn’t it”.

The café was hectic and the cake was £5, so I decided not to return to the lemon drizzle until I was ravenous.

The James Ensor exhibition, curated by Luc Tuymans, is a sadistic, deathly, funny delight. It is Edward Gorey, Walter Sickert and David Lynch. Tuymans describes James Ensor as “a scenographer, depicting a strange world that was neither tangible nor imaginary, populated by inscrutable beings.” This is a turn of the century Royston Vasey. As well as numerous skulls and skeletons fighting over pilchards and the bodies of hanged men, there are bad doctors pulling out the tubular offal of an outraged man, with the grim reaper stage right, walking in to collect his soul. These are video nasty Punch cartoons. The style changes from cartoonish to painterly, from front room to biblical epic. I bought a biography immediately. Chapter One – Outsider and Loner , this is no surprise. If you are attending Abstract Expressionism, I would make sure there is time to enjoy the macabre sorbet of James Ensor’s Intrigue.

Dead Funny Encore, new horror stories by Stewart Lee, Alan Moore, Isy Suttie, Alice Lowe and many more is out NOW.

My final DVD (with 4 shows) is available here (and download version too) 

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The End of Planet Earth…now Rio

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.

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A Night of drinking and swearing with Harold Pinter – No Man’s Land

I have spent the evening watching other people drink and abuse each other, and isn’t that what the days before Christmas are all about?

The experience of watching theatre live is brilliantly recreated when you go to see a play broadcast in a cinema. People cough at the most inopportune times, the rattling of plastic sweet wrappers is in THX, and the last people to arrive are the ones who are sat right in the middle of the row who have a neat line in very English apology.

This post fact world has made meaning increasingly elusive, so it’s a good time to watch a Pinter play. At £150 a seat for the live version, I decided that I would save £270 and go and see No Man’s Land on a screen. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are deemed our mightiest theatricals. I have been fortunate enough to be complimented on a joke by one at a secular do, and sat next to the other when he put a meteorite sample in the shade by pulling out his communicator badge. You see if you can work out which one did which.

The play is simple to summarise in terms of situation, but not in meaning. Two boozed men, one a successful writer, the other a down on his luck poet, drink heavily. Then, Pinter’s enigmatic tough guys come in and say, “cunt” and “cunts” and add a weight of threat. Then, there’s some more drinking, some revelation that may consist of half ghosts and confused memories, then there’s the slow fade as you hear the author say, “you work it out”.
It is a pleasant experience on the screen, which means that the transfer from live to transmitted doesn’t quite work, but you know that when you go in with your miserly, “I’ll save £270” attitude.
You are seeing a record of the event, so you cannot experience the tension of the event itself. Then you can play it back in your mind over the years, and as your grasp on truth and reality weakens, you can believe you really saw Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart performing in the flesh.

There is an incredible amount of drinking in this play. If the booze in the bottles was real, the actors would be off the end of the stage before they were 20 minutes into the first half. I started to worry about the quantity of apple juice acid that would be stripping away the enamel of the two sirs.
Ian McKellen has a wonderful, artful clumsiness that conveys the lower hand drinking at a wealthy table he rarely visits anymore, if indeed, he ever really visited much in the past. His clowning quality and rich array of comic faces remind you of why he was so good in Waiting for Godot. Patrick Stewart conveys the stillness that can come with success, the composure of comfort, suddenly broken my possible memories or jabs that briefly knock him from his position of rich comfort and sense of personal achievement.

Owen Teale and Damien Molony play “the servants” with Janus faces. The usual questions arise with their mix of menace, cultivation and the uncertainty of their real status in the household.

There is no easy out here. Sometimes, as disappointing as it would be, you may fancy an ending just so it makes sense. “You wish you were in hell, Spooner? Hahahaha, well guess what, you’ve been in hell all the time!!” or that moment you find out that everyone else in the room is a ghost or that everyone is in an asylum. You know, then the audience (California drawl) has closure. Because life so often doesn’t make the meaning clear, people can get antsy when the two hours they’ve paid for doesn’t given them the one neat ending their life has that week. The older I get, the more I like the “what the fuck did that all mean” ending. It gives me my money’s worth to know it’s not over for me when it’s over, I’ve still got work to do. I loved the division in the audience’s facial expression at the end of John Sayle’s Limbo. There are two very different ways of saying, “what the hell happened?”

What if I think I’ve worked the meaning of No Man’s Land out? It could be dangerous, because if I get it wrong (or maybe right), I may spend the rest of my life perpetually pickling myself in Macallan Whisky, but that might be for the best. This may be the time to scurry away from emotion by secreting yourself in a bottle.

Dead Funny Encore, with stories by Stewart Lee, Alan Moore, Josie Long, Alice Lowe and many more is available NOW.

My final DVD, containing 4 shows, is available here (and also for download)

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Not Enough Apple Pie for Some… but who wants old pie when you can have something fresh – The Wedding Present

I am writing about The Wedding Present sat alone outside on a dark night with a pint of bitter, this seems the right thing to do. My wife is out and the babysitter isn’t expecting anyone home so early, so I think it is better to drink alone in the dark.

Ever get the feeling you are in the wrong queue? Waiting to get into The Wedding Present, the middle aged men were swearily, noisily, exuberantly bantering and goading each other in that “we’re all having a jolly time now, but we may not all survive this night without some time in A&E” way that has a dose of threat in its laughter. Sure, I was excited about seeing The Wedding Present too, but I was keeping it all in.
Then, we reached the bag check and frisk. I took my Observer Book of Modern Art out from my duffle coat as it had quite sharp edges and may be confused for a hardback weapon of threat during a frisk. Next thing you know, I’d be pinned to the ground by a man in a yellow anorak of security, screaming that I must explain images of Rothko if I am to live.  It was at frisk point that we found out, with some relief, that we were in the wrong queue. This queue was for Definitely Maybe, one of the world’s leading Oasis tribute bands. I told the man behind us who also looked like a balding, bespectacled, sociology lecturer that he may be in the wrong queue too. He was. Relieved, we went downstairs to The Wedding Present queue. It was more peaceful. We didn’t need to make raucous noise, the band would fulfil that part of the Saturday night bargain.   Walking through the foyer, the sound of the Oasis night bled through the walls, it was going to get messy.

I am not sure which recording of a poetry recital Definitely Maybe began with (my money is on Yeats), but The Wedding Present began with Philip Larkin reading Going, Going…

“I thought it would last my time
The sense that, beyond the town
There would always be fields and farms
Where the village louts could climb”

Larkin suits David Gedge well. The lost or broken loves, the graffiti on walls, the sadness of landscapes.
I have played the new Wedding Present album more than any of their other albums since Seamonsters. I agree with the music paper reviewer of 1991 who wrote that if The Wedding Present had come from North West America, or even South East America, they would be more revered in their homeland.
Gedge looks like the boxer brother of Gary Numan (and a boxer who never lost a bout) and the warmth in his spoken voice between songs has a hint of John Shuttleworth, and I see all these things as good things.
This is not a hits set, and I hear some men loudly explaining in droning voices to bored wives that they are perturbed by the lack of Kennedy and Everybody Thinks He Looks Daft. The guitar is still loud and choppy, brittle, yet like granite too. Then, something with a hint of the complexity and beauty of the Durutti Column moves further to the foreground. I am particularly taken by the drummer, who is in possession of protean facial gymnastics.
I want to hear more of the new album, but this Saturday night crowd need raucous, but David Gedge does not solely follow the crowd. He has proved enough in his career not have to perpetually bow to the disciple demand, and many around me seem happy with that. I wish some of burlier fans realised that their girth diameter had increased since their last visit, as the eagerness of some of the rotund to move forward left bruised individuals in their wake. The lack of stage diving was a relief.

Audiences demand the songs of their youth, the songs that briefly have a hallucinogenic quality that will make them feel young again. They could feel younger still if, rather than shackling themselves to the hits of the past, they keep moving on, just as The Wedding Present continue to do so. Progression doesn’t mean you have to leave the old behind, but it gives you more to look forward to. (I should also mention the support band, Melys, who were very good too. i would have enjoyed seeing more, but was stopped due to my poor choice of queues.)

I was in a queue on Monday too, the urgent queue of Christmas parcels. I had some Book Shambles Book Parcel prizes to send (and YOU TOO COULD BE IN WITH A CHANCE BY GOING TO… ). A young woman was stopped for a chat by an elder who didn’t notice, or didn’t want to notice, that she was in a hurry. The young woman had been to see her daughter in the school nativity play. I know, and you thought they had been banned and replaced with a play about assassinating Salman Rushdie. “I thought your little boy was very good as the bleeding and dying Melvin Bragg. Such a pity the one playing the Ayatollah kept picking his nose”. Her child had got the star part of Mary. The old lady seemed very pleased and said, “you must be so glad she’s still a virgin”. Then, she laughed. Odd.

The Wedding Present’s new album is here.

My last live DVD is here (4 shows included) (you can download it too)

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