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A gig and travel plans

I had a gig last night near the Forest of Dean, sticking with my unintentional policy of only doing gigs this year in Gloucestershire. The only exception to this so far has been Bristol, which was part of Gloucestershire once upon a time.

I hadn’t heard from the promoter in about two months since the booking. So, I thought I’d better message him to find out if the gig was still on. It turns out, the gig was still on. But he’d forgotten I was booked. Fortunately, he still agreed to let me on.

It was a nice room and a really good turnout for late-ish July with about 20 in. In a small room, certainly felt much fuller. Probably at least half of my set was taken up with reading out extracts from Ross Kemp’s A-Z of Hell. As it worked pretty well at 2000 Trees the other week, I wanted to see how it went down in a comedy gig setting. The answer is mixed. The first half of it works pretty nicely, but I could feel the interest wane as I went on. I need to figure out where I want to go with it and how to end it. That said, the tried and tested stuff I opened with wasn’t quite as well received as normal.

On the plus side, a joke I wrote a few years ago – about a terrible gig I did in the West Yorkshire home town of a certain bearded serial killer – got some big laughs. I’d wanted to try it out for ages but would forget to do it when I had it written in my set. It’s always nice to get something positive out of a negative experience, even if the joke is rather morbid. But the night in question was my birthday, so I’m giving myself a free pass.

In other news, I am going to Edinburgh Fringe after all this year. But it will only be for five nights. I decided to book something last weekend. As I have zero tolerance for hostels after staying in too many in recent years, I thought I would try renting a room in student accommodation. For five nights, it came to £590. I thought I may as well go with it, as options would be limited and only more expensive.

Then I realised the dates I’d booked clashed with one of the train strikes, so I tried to rebook. The site then wanted to up the price to over £600, which was how much I paid to stay in Edinburgh for the entire month when I was last up in 2019. I tried entering my card details, but the site didn’t accept my card. So, then I just decided to cancel the whole thing. Instead of not going up at all, I looked on the same site I used in 2019 and found an en suite room in Leith for half the price of the other place.

And that’s where I’ll be staying for five nights in August. It’ll be nice to visit Edinburgh without the pressure of doing a show. But I know that after walking around there for five minutes, I know full well I’m going to be filled with feelings of envy and wish I was doing a show there for the month.


Two gigs, a festival, and a book

This week saw my highest number of gigs in a single week since March 2020, with a dizzying tally of two.

Monday’s gig just reinforced how much I hate driving to gigs, particularly those in city centres. I was down in Bristol. And despite having driven there many times, driving through the centre still confuses the hell out of me. If you get in the wrong lane then it’ll send you miles away from where you need to get to and stuck on the one-way system. Even the SatNav refuses to intervene and leaves me to it. Fortunately, some ultra last-minute lane changes saved me from that fate thanks to a considerate lady in the car behind me.

The gig was great fun. There must have been about 30 people in, which is an incredible turnout for a Tuesday night in July. And they were the best kind of crowd, weird and lively but engaged and willing to let acts go off on a tangent, as opposed to sitting with their arms crossed waiting to be impressed. My set went well and people said some very nice things afterwards. I was trying out a couple of bits of material that I’d not done post-Covid to see if they still worked, and it just so happens that they do. I had intended to try out some brand new material for Thursday’s gig but bottled it.

I need to do more gigs in Bristol. In fact, I need to do more gigs. Considering Bristol is my birthplace and only 30 miles from home, I haven’t done anywhere near as many gigs down there as I should have done over the years. Very early on in my comedy life, as in 16 years ago, I had a psychological block about never doing well at gigs in Bristol and would loudly berate myself afterwards on the drive back up the A38. Thankfully, this has changed with experience, for the most part.

And doing another gig is precisely what I did on Thursday, at 2000 Trees Festival. It was both my first music festival and my first time performing at a music festival. It was also about 30 minutes drive from my house and I was performing, which meant I was also getting in for free.

The day started pretty cloudily, which I was pleased about because I cannot function in the heat. Only for the blazing sun to arrive an hour or so before I was due to set off. I made a last-minute decision to take a bucket hat.

I’d planned to drive there in shorts, then change into jeans before I went on stage. It just feels weird doing a stand-up set in shorts, so I try and avoid it unless the heat makes it physically impossible. And when I arrived at the festival and got out of my car, the sun was blazing down and it was sweltering. I thought there would be no way I would be physically able to perform in shorts. Also, grabbing that bucket hat was already proving to be a good move.

I parked up in the artists’ area. That’s right, I am an artist. It’s not the best sign-posted festival, so I didn’t know where anything was or when bands would be on. I only knew the time I was meant to be on and that it was in the comedy tent. So, I went on a wander and it was baking. I walked through the centre of the festival, looking at tents and wondering what was in there. I didn’t think I’d be on in the metal tent, although I would love to give it a go. After wandering around for about 20 minutes, I found the Word tent. Was this the same as the comedy tent? It would appear so. I sat on one of the deck chairs that passed for seating and saw a couple of people walking to the backstage area. So, I explained how I was performing and asked if I could come backstage and store my bag somewhere. Then I walked out the back and almost immediately saw that it was the same place I’d parked my car.

About 20 minutes before I was due to perform, it was time for the pre-gig ritual of a poo. Fortunately, there were some backstage toilets. I mean, they were still portable toilets, but there was no queue for them. Once I’d achieved what I set out to do, I left the toilet and realised that my flies were undone on my shorts. Only, I could not find the zip to do them up, because it was broken. I would have to perform in jeans after all.

I was performing at the Alternative Book Club, which I did back in a pub in Cheltenham about a month ago. When I did that gig, I didn’t have anything prepared as I was drafted in without much notice. Only this time, I was prepared. Or as prepared as I could be with doing a set that was half new material at a festival. The plan was to start with some tried-and-tested material, before going into talking about a book.

But it was okay because I would be reading extracts from Ross Kemp: A-Z of Hell. I’d had the book lying on a table in my bedroom for about 18 months, then suddenly realised it was a perfect fit for the Alternative Book Club. This was the material I bottled out of doing on Tuesday.

Not only did it work well and mostly get laughs where I planned, but I also think I may have some decent new material here on my hands that could serve me very well indeed.

After my set, I saw some bands. As the festival is only half an hour away, I may well go back this evening to see some more.


No Fringe app

In August 2020, I did a very short-lived podcast called Edinburgh Fringe: The Year Off and asked my guests what they’d like to see improved about the festival when it returned. Because for at least a few years before the pandemic, the Fringe was getting harder mainly because it was getting so expensive.

I hoped that the year off would give the organisers the time to have a rethink about ways to make the festival better for performers. So, I was a little surprised to find out today that the organisers have scrapped the official Fringe app.

Actually, I wasn’t really surprised at all. I don’t know who the organisers run the festival for exactly, but it certainly isn’t for the performers. The official Fringe app was a really useful tool in getting people to come and see shows. It let the users know what shows were starting soon and where to find them. For many performers, it provided a lifeline. While it’s easy for shows to get lost in that massive brochure, having your show pop up on an app may help people find your show.

While some of the other promoters up there have their own app, having one with all the shows on really makes a big difference. It was a leveller. While the glossy shows with all the huge posters everywhere are certainly better funded, they may not have as interesting ideas as a smaller show with no budget.

For three Fringes, I refused to go in the main brochure and chose to save myself £300. That was until I decided to go in again during 2015 and ended up with packed rooms every day. So, being listed in the brochure definitely helps get an audience. But well done to the organisers for now making it much more difficult.

Another factor here is the cost of living crisis. I do wonder if people can afford to go up to the Fringe this year. As I said, the number of punters going to the Fringe had been in decline pre-Covid. And in 2019, the Military Tattoo was struggling to sell out. When that’s happening, you know there’s a problem. Then there’s the spectre of Covid still looming and infection rates are rising. It’s all made me quite glad I’m not taking a show up this year but also concerned because none of this bodes well for the future of the Fringe.


It’s a miracle

Just two weeks in, applying Miracle Grow to my hops every Sunday is fast becoming one of the highlights of my week. Crucially, I said “one of the highlights of my week”, implying that there are other high points.

And there are. The others mainly involve looking at the hops throughout the week to watch how much extra they have grown as a result of the Miracle Grow.

After a period of stunted growth, they are growing again thanks to artificial intervention. I only started two weeks ago, but am already seeing progress.

Plot 1 was well out in front back in April and by this point, I thought it’d easily have reached three metres by now. But like me, it struggled to grow taller than 5ft 8.5in. Not that I ever expected to reach three metres in height though. And now unlike me, Plot 1 is growing again. While some of the leaves are falling off, additional shoots are coming off the vine.

Meanwhile, Plot 2 started quite a bit later but is growing a lot more quickly now. And the tallest vine is now about six inches away from surpassing the tallest in Plot 1. In fact, Plot 2 is looking like the most promising destination for hop flowers, with about six vines all at various stages of growth.

There is a Plot 3, but there is one solitary vine that looks a little anaemic. Still, there is time for this to improve. Or die. One of the two.

I’ve been looking back at photos from last year and it’s still doing much better than then. And with another two months to go before the harvest, I’m still confident that I’ll do much better than the 1.5 hops mustered last year.

Hops are fascinating plants to watch, especially if you don’t have much else to do.

Onto gig-related matters, it turns out that my run of one gig a week could not be sustained. But next week, I am going crazy and doing two entire gigs in one week for the first time since March 2020.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.