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Archive for May, 2022

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My Chemical Romance: I’m not MK

This week, I went to my first music gig since… Well, I couldn’t actually remember when. I’ve just checked and it was in 2018 when I was still living in Manchester. Although I found that particular night pretty underwhelming, it wasn’t enough to put me off going to another gig for four years. I don’t quite know why I didn’t go and see anything for the next year, but then everything shut down for two years after that.

And it would have been longer still if I hadn’t had a sudden change of heart this week.

I was going to see My Chemical Romance, for who I make no apology (it’s death or victory) about bloody loving. They used to be something of a guilty pleasure that I wouldn’t openly discuss on social media for fear of being mocked. But I stopped caring about being cool way before even the pandemic.

I discovered them in 2005 in our uni house as I’m Not Okay was regularly on the music channels. I initially dismissed them as another generic emo band. Then I heard the guitar solos and that got my attention, as I instantly have more interest in any band that deploys guitar solos. In fact, that is also what attracted me to The Darkness – another widely dismissed band I have a strong fondness for. When it comes to guitar solos, I am like a moth but only attracted to the widdly-widdly sounds.

Unlike many other bands from the same genre in the mid-2000s, MCR write great songs with interesting lyrics and are rarely formulaic. I don’t know how you could accuse any band of being generic if they ask Liza Minelli to guest on one of their tracks.

The Black Parade is quite possibly my favourite album ever, which I instantly connected with when it was released in Autumn 2006. I like to think of its influences as being somewhere between Queen’s A Night at the Opera and Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas. There was something about the uncertainty in my newly post-uni life when it was released that obviously made me gravitate towards an album about dying and coming out the other side. Little did I know that this was a handy metaphor for my comedic activities, where I died multiple times.

I originally booked my MCR ticket on my phone using the dodgy Wi-Fi at a dodgy hostel in Perth in January 2020. And the show was rescheduled twice since then due to the small matter of Covid. I had half-forgotten that I had a ticket and even a couple of days before, I didn’t think I was going.

It was in Milton Keynes, which is a massive pain in the arse to get to from the south-west. Trains take far too long and I probably wouldn’t be able to get one back, so would have to stay over. Only, I’d left it too late to book anything and everywhere was fully booked. The closest hotel was about £180. Then I looked into driving and all the parking at the stadium was booked up. I asked a comedian mate from MK if he knew anywhere and he made a few suggestions, but it was all a bit uncertain. And if there’s one thing I really hate, it’s driving around in a rush and trying to find somewhere to park my car.

So, that was that. I wouldn’t be going. Also, I could only get a seated ticket that was right up in the nose bleeds. That barely even counts as a gig.

That was until I started listening to their albums. And the night before MCRmas, I decided that I would be going after all. I booked a Travelodge midway to avoid a two-hour late-night drive, which would inevitably involve road closures. And I’d park at the nearest train station if there were any spaces.

The drive there to MK was reminiscent of those horrible and sweaty drives on the A-roads through mainly Yorkshire in the summer of 2018 to perform comedy gigs.

Then, about eight miles away, traffic predictably ground to a halt. My Googe Maps said there would be a nine-minute delay. So, I waited for nine minutes. And there was still a nine-minute delay. This went on for some time. It turns out that the police had closed off the road ahead due to what must have been a nasty car crash. I saw a fire engine coming away from the scene and an ambulance heading in the other direction.

Still no re-routing from Google Maps. I had a quick look at the map and saw that there were some backroads I could take that should get me back on route. Surprisingly, my plan worked perfectly and I didn’t end up on a dirt track or in a stream. I was back heading where I need to go and there were plenty of spaces at the train station. Now, I had to rush to get there in time to see the start of MCR’s set.

Almost as soon as I arrived at the venue, the band appeared on stage. I couldn’t have timed it better. Well, I could. I could have gotten there earlier and managed to find my seat for when they arrived on the stage.

When the band started playing Helena and the stadium around me erupted in song, I realised why I had made the effort. I bloody love this band. And hearing a crowd all singing together again really made me realise how much I’ve missed this sort of thing during the pandemic.

I watched the first five songs while also looking around for where I was meant to be sitting. It turns out many of the stewards working at MK Stadium also have no idea where the stairs are to the upper levels.

I eventually found my seat after about 30 minutes into the show. And everyone around me was bursting into song, even on the upper levels. It was a great show and the band sounded like they’d never been away. I am so glad I decided to make the effort, although my vocal chords are less enthused. And I’m now weighing up whether or not to go to another show on the tour.

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Music festivals

This week, I added another gig booking to my diary and I will be performing at a music festival in July. The best part is that I get a free weekend ticket for doing so, and it’s only about a 30-minute drive from my house.

I have been to see many bands over the years, particularly when I was at uni. But I have never actually been to a music festival. I’ve always liked the idea of going to one, just never got around to it. There have been a few near-misses over the years.

When I was 15, I’d been planning to go to Glastonbury with my best friend for months. We had it all planned out and it wasn’t going to cost us a penny. It was a couple of years before the organisers erected those massive fences and back in the days when you could get to the site by walking through a few fields and stepping over the odd bit of wire. And that’s exactly what happened.

Only, I didn’t end up going. My friend had managed to get a lift down there a day earlier than we’d originally planned and tried to call me to let me know, but I was taking my dog for a walk at the time and missed my chance. I’ve always quite fancied going there at some point and told myself how I’d just wait until I’d get invited to perform in the comedy tent and I could go free. Let’s just say, I’m still waiting on that. Still, that plan has come to fruition for another music festival. The rest will now surely fall like dominoes.

I did buy a day ticket to Reading Festival in 2004, but didn’t end up going as I’d been to Paris to see The Darkness (who else?) a couple of days before decided I was too tired. Rock n Roll. Getting home again would have been difficult without a car, as I seem to remember planning on getting a train to Swindon around midnight, and then just hanging around at the station for about six hours to wait for the first train of the day.

I did get a press pass to Radio 1’s One Big Weekend I was a reporter, which I only went to as my colleague who arranged it couldn’t go. The highlight of that was finding a tenner on the floor and going out of my way to blank Vernon Kay in the VIP area. Regardless, the event wasn’t technically a music festival as there was no camping.

Of course, one of the main reasons I haven’t been to a music festival is the lack of access to a decent toilet for a few days, especially given my unfortunate history in that department. And because the festival is so close to my home, I am planning to make full use of the facilities and come and go between both locations throughout the weekend. It may not be an authentic festival experience, but I can live with that.

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The admin secret

This past week, I finally stumbled on the most successful and effective approach for comedy admin. And by comedy admin, I mean emailing or messaging promoters to book gigs.

It has nothing to do with being persistent yet polite. And it’s also not about being organised.

This is starting to sound like one of those YouTube ads that hooks you in with a subject you’re half-interested in and spends five minutes explaining how you won’t believe what the secret is, before getting you to click on a link to an external site. And then the same ad will follow you around forever.

Well, I won’t be doing that here. Because it turns out that the secret of comedy admin is to drink four pints beforehand. And the evidence is in the fact that I sent two messages after this level of alcohol consumption and got two gigs, thus proving a 100% success rate. That’s what I’ve been doing wrong for the past few years. I haven’t tested the levels of pints yet to see if three or five pints are more effective. I am quite content to believe I stumbled across the perfect formula immediately.

Although it could quickly become a problem if I’m trying to do admin during my lunch hour at work.

Things are starting to pick up, albeit incredibly slowly. To be truly successful at comedy admin, you need to keep doing it over the long term, but my liver may not be so appreciative of this. Still, you can’t argue with the results.

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Gigging again

On Thursday, I performed a stand-up set for the first time in six months.

In these Covid times, I have had a few long gaps between gigs. So, I almost know by now where the issues will arise in my performance. I may say a few lines in the wrong place and may also end up doing some freewheeling that borders on rambling. And my throat may also give out at some point. These first two points were correct on Thursday, but the third was thwarted by a throat lozenge. Yet despite these imprecisions, it went rather well. I’m not going to claim I “smashed it”, but it was fun.

I was on first and they were a really nice audience. In fact, a board game bar and cafe are pretty much my ideal crowd, even if many in there were a good 40 years younger than the punters I attract in Edinburgh.

Going so long between gigs, I find that much of my material is still in the muscle memory banks, but the rhythm is a little disrupted. I tried out a couple of new lines that went okay. I even bought back a line from 2011’s Mixed Bag, which served me well for several years before I dropped it when I realised how long I’d been doing it. But you’ve got to take the laughs where you can, especially if you’re not gigging regularly.

The gig was in Cheltenham, which I still get easily lost driving around despite having visited there numerous times in the past 30 years. For a few years, I was even going there every week.

And with the Cheltenham location, I continued with what I claim is low carbon comedy of only doing gigs fairly close to home, when in reality it is laziness. Then there’s also my unwillingness to pay more for petrol than I’m being paid for the gig. Also, I really hate driving to gigs when working full-time. Admittedly, I can now hop straight into my car at the end of the working day, instead of taking public transport for four miles and then having to queue to get out of the city.

But still, the combination of a race against the clock to get to the venue and then finding somewhere to park are two of my least favourite things about performing comedy. I am still traumatised by the horrendous drive to Newcastle in 2017, with two full hours of delays.

These factors kind of limit the number of gigs I can do, but then I’m not looking to go back into gigging at full-throttle until I’m back in London.

That said, the gigs are starting to increase in numbers. When I was at the gig on Thursday, I received an email asking if I’d like to do a spot in Cirencester in June. And one of the acts from Thursday has booked me for a gig in the Forest of Dean in July. If I can do a gig in May, I might even record one gig a month. Considering I used to do four gigs a week, this isn’t exactly impressive. But it is an improvement.