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Another gig

I had another gig on Thursday, although my record of gigs in consecutive weeks won’t last much longer. That could change.

Anyway, it was back to Cirencester, keeping with my unintentional new policy of only doing gigs fairly close to home and within the same county. The last time I performed at the venue was my first gig in ten months at the end of August last year. Back then, the room was packed, and people were spilling out of the back of it.

But this time, it was a fair amount quieter. Traditionally, the summer months and lighter evenings are bad for comedy, which thrives on the darker nights. When it’s hotter and gets darker later, people either want to go to beer gardens or just drink anywhere outside. And I suspect that was very much the case here. There were about 12 people in. But then, I have always preferred playing to smaller rooms as there’s no real pressure and I have greater freedom to piss about. And that is exactly what I did.

I was on first and successfully tripped up on the small stage I didn’t see as it was a very small step off the ground. Fortunately, it was just a small stumble. They were a really friendly crowd and laughed loudly despite their small size. Ultimately, I think I probably enjoyed it far more than they did, given said pissing about.

I even found someone in the audience who also used to be a reporter for the same paper as me, albeit some 25 previously. Still, he knew my former editor and another ex-colleague. It is a small world, with the world of local papers far smaller still.

I now don’t have another gig for a couple of weeks, but may try to make that change.

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A booking

I had my second gig of the year on Wednesday. It was at an alternative book club night in Cheltenham, where comedians do material specifically about books.

I’d like to say that I didn’t have time to prepare anything because I was only drafted in a few days before. But the reality is, turning up unprepared is familiar ground for me even if I have been given enough notice.

But I do just so happen to be an actually published writer, aside from on here. So, I rehashed my reporter material and made it relate back to books as much as possible. My main excuse was that my former editor at the paper was colleagues with Terry Pratchett when they were both press officers for an old group of nuclear power stations. Possibly, but they were definitely colleagues somewhere.

I tried a few new bits, some went really well, others not so well. The first seven minutes of my ten-minute set went very well.

What didn’t work was a bit about something about the book I carried around in my bag for silent reading in English lessons in Year 8 and 9 at school. It was a tie-in to the 90s TV show The New Adventures of Superman, and it was called Deadly Games. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it was about, as I never actually read it and only pretending to read to smash the system. I once had to describe it to the class and much of my description was about the front cover. I tried comparing the TV show to a microwavable carbonara I’d often be eating while watching the show on Saturday evening. None of this material worked.

Regardless, it was a fun gig. The room had a really nice atmosphere and I had the freedom to piss about, which I always get the most enjoyment out of. I have another gig on Thursday.

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Stunted growth

After getting a little too cocky with my hops growth, the normal order has been restored. In a month, my largest vine has barely grown three inches.

Looking at pictures of them, they were a lot happier last month. Then again, April was a much sunnier month, then there was a wet May, and June looks set to continue with this.

The people growing hops up the road started slow but are now almost double the height of my lot.

Arguably mirroring my progress on the comedy circuit, the hops reached a certain level and then got too comfortable and stopped growing or developing any further. Then others who started the same time later have gone on to comfortably surpass this.

Thus far, anyway. I’ve added some fresh manure to the soil and I’m watering them regularly. You may continue the metaphor if you choose to.

Fortunately, I have a couple of other sites for the hops and the middle one is quickly making gains on its taller neighbour. I’m just saying, I have other projects on the go too, and I will keep telling myself that.

But it is a reminder that comparing yourself to others is a fruitless task, or perhaps flowerless in this case. Regardless, I’m still beating my progress from last year when I was spending most of the time trying to encourage the vines to grow on an obelisk I’d assembled.

In gig news, I have another gig this week. It was a fairly last-minute edition and is also in Cheltenham. It’s an alternative book club night, so I am going to have to try and write some literary-based material.

Then the following week, I have another gig in Cirencester to maintain my unwritten requirements of only performing at nights close to home. And I’m fairly confident that I haven’t done gigs in consecutive weeks since January 2020. Later in the year, the plan is for this to be a regularity. And with any luck, I’ll have a decent amount of hops by then too.

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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.

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A gig. An actual gig

I actually have a gig this week, making it my first gig of the year.

Since I finished my run at NZ Fringe at the start of March 2020, my gigging numbers still haven’t even broken double figures during the pandemic. As tallies go, it’s not that impressive. Still, it does make my run of five gigs between August and November last year look especially prolific.

I’m opening the show on Thursday, which always carries the extra responsibility of getting the night off to a good start. I am expecting some rust to be evident, although not built up quite so heavily as August’s comeback gig.

And while I’m being paid, I’ve been told that I can slip in some new material in the middle part of my set. Normally, I would appreciate such an offer. The problem with this is that I don’t know if I have any new material that’s ready. The new stuff I’d been trying out at gigs last year had been going pretty well, which you might say is no longer new material as it was first tried six months ago. Well, you’d be wrong. A handy definition is that new material is stuff you keep trying out until people laugh when you want them to.

Some new material can be ready to be dropped into a paid set with near immediate effect after one or two outings. Yet other new material can take several outings of honing and refining before it’s where it needs to be. Ultimately, the deciding factor is whether or not people laugh loudly enough for where you intend them to. However, there are occassions when the material just needs to be consigned to the scrap heap for all eternity.

And while the stuff I was trialling between August and November last year was getting laughs, the material definitely needed refining. And three gigs over three months wasn’t really enough to be certain that it works. This is just another reason why gigging regularly is so important. I mean, I won’t be doing so regularly after Thursday. And I don’t know when my next gig will be after that, but I do know the processes to follow even if I choose not to follow them at this exact moment in time.

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To not to Fringe

The Edinburgh Fringe early bird deadline has passed and I have not put in a show application or even made any provisional enquiries. For those not in the know, the early bird deadline means you can get your listing in the main Fringe brochure for a discounted rate. But even that still costs about £300.

I’ve been looking at some of the shows that are on sale on the EdFringe site, mainly my venues of Fringes past out of curiosity. Even looking at the website evokes feelings of terror that were an annual occurrence during the entire 2010s decade.

But it is fair to say that Edinburgh Fringe is what kept me doing comedy for as long as I have. Particularly after I moved to Manchester, I would be ready to quit out of the frustration caused by not doing enough gigs, or not doing well enough at the gigs I was doing. I could be on a poor run of gigs when living in London, but the efforts to get to and from gigs were significantly less and I never had to worry about keeping my eyes open on the trip home afterwards. I also wouldn’t have to worry about what time I got back and if I would get enough sleep to function effectively at work the next day. The tube took away a lot of stress from gigging, even if it did have its downsides.

Anyway, in my hour of need, August would roll around and remind me of exactly why I did comedy. This is largely due to the intense daily release of endorphins and dopamine caused by performing. And if I did have a bad gig, then I just get back up the next day and aim to do better. And it almost always was.

So, the odds are now that I won’t be up performing there in August this year. I am refusing to formally use the phrase “never say never”, which is flawed as it includes two mentions of the word you’re saying you won’t say. I may yet receive an offer that is hard to refuse, but I probably won’t. I am not expecting one to come through. And that’s fine. I was toying with going up for a week to try out some new material, but I would then need to do gigs to prepare for that.

I actually do have a comedy gig booked in a few weeks. So far, it is the only one I have booked for the year. I don’t have any urge to leap back into it, although if my gig goes well then those endorphins and dopamine may cause a rethink.

I probably won’t get back into gigging regularly until I’m back in London and a September move remains on the cards. Although don’t ever say a word that sounds like ever but starts with an N.

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More about hops

I missed an entry last week, mainly because I forgot. It’s commitment like that that gets me all the traffic here. So much traffic.

I may as well talk about hops again, as there’s quite been a considerable amount of growth in that department. One vine is now higher than a metre.

The man who helps my mum with the garden theorised that the reason behind the rapid growth is that the hops are right underneath the wall vent for the oven. So, heat comes out of the vent straight onto where the hop roots are, causing them to grow rapidly. It’s an interesting theory and might be correct, especially as the vine nearest the vent is way out in front of the others. While about a metre away, another hop plant is barely only a shoot.

I haven’t seen my neighbour recently who’s also growing hops. Last year, his first year saw masses of flowers compared with my 1.5 and I could easily see them when I walked past his garden. But this year, I can’t see anything yet and my attempts at peering through his hedge are proving unsuccessful. At the moment, I think my hops are more advanced.

How tall will mine actually grow? That, I do not know. But at some point in the next few months, I’m going to need to get on a ladder and balance precariously as I rig up some sort of structure involving bamboo canes and garden twine on the front of my house. So, I have that to look forward to.