I’ve been on a little tour. I started out on Tuesday night in Wivenhoe. I used to live in Wivenhoe in 2005/6. I have very happy memories from that time of my life. While in Wivenhoe I proposed to my wife, wrote my first solo show and toured Aisle16’s Poetry Boyband pretty extensively. I also lived next door to my friend and mentor, the poet Martin Newell. Martin and I are still in contact and I saw him briefly before my gig on Tuesday. Those of you unaware of his work are missing out. He laments Old England like a bolshie, modern day Betjeman and his comic verse is unparalleled in its inventiveness. Look at his website – www.martinnewell.co.uk.
My gig was for PoetryWivenhoe. I’ve gigged for them before but at their old venue of The Greyhound. This time they were at The Royal British Legion and it was a nice room, feeling rammed with the 50 or so paying punters they had. I did two sets and performed all the new stuff alongside a couple of ballads. It was a really special gig, the audience were sharp and laughed hard at all the bits I most like myself.
Afterwards I slouched at the bar and chewed the fat with the landlord Martyn before heading over to the Greyhound for a few minutes to watch Martin Newell and his pals jamming old rock and roll classics. That’s something you don’t see in your average pub – a bunch of guys sitting round and jamming, and jamming well.
I stayed with my parents in Coggeshall and the next day headed off to London for a pre-record for The Verb, Ian McMillan’s excellent language and literature show on Radio 3. It’s on tonight by the way, 9.15, I think, but best check that. I was there to talk about and read a sizeable chunk of my work-in-progress – REVOLT!
It was good to give REVOLT! another airing but I have so much more to write and I’ve got to restart the process sooner rather than later. I need to do some research and I hate research. It’s boring. I like writing rhyming, metered verse and not really much else if truth be told.
After Broadcasting House I hauled shell* to Paddington where I ran into Simon Munnery. He had a wheely suitcase. I was pleased to see I travel lighter than the great man. In fact travelling lightly is one of few things I am genuinely good at. I got a vile train packed full of middle class cunts** to Oxford where I was met by my good friend Tom, with whom I had a couple of pints and chewed the proverbial.
My gig was for The Oxford University Poetry Society (OUPS). The society is now being run by one of my old students – Anna McCrory. Anna is one of the most delightful people I have ever met and I’m dead glad we have kept in touch. Hopefully all my students will rise to positions of power one day and I can live the Life of Riley.
I had a longer set this time and used the opportunity to debut my next Edinburgh show. As it stands it goes:
The Paunch! | Jean-Claude Gendarme | Scandal! | Barry Vs. The Blob | Jeremy, Who Drew Penises On Everything | The Model & The Spot | Weekday Dad | Bloody Hell, It’s Barbara.
It came to 50 mins or so, and there are few little intro bits that I haven’t learned yet so it’s long enough. A lot will depend on what I call it as the title will frame the show. It’s not got a tight theme and it’s not telling a story, which is why I considered calling it Jeremy, Who Drew Penises On Everything (and other poems) simply because it’s a memorable title. Though I fear it might also be too silly and therefore put people off.
However, there is a loose common theme. All the poems have been written to be funny, accessible, bawdy and sensationalist. I have had a tabloid newspaper aesthetic in mind for these poems. For that reason I am considering the title – TABLOID! I think it would be a cleverer title but the drawback is that it might raise expectations that the show is more coherent than it really is. Or perhaps mean that I feel the need to shoehorn poems in more.
I think, on reflection, I will try the TABLOID! route and see what the little bits of script around the poems feel like.
I left Oxford after an average cooked breakfast in town and travelled to Birmingham at Thursday lunchtime. I’ve gigged in Birmingham remarkably few times in the last 13 years – last night was my 3rd time. I was feeling pretty ill (as I am now) by the time I arrived so I spent the afternoon in bed, which is a shame as I’d have liked to have seen the city beyond the depressing sprawl of interconnecting shopping centres that surround the station.
The gig was for Apples & Snakes West Midlands, which is run by the lovely Bohdan Piasecki. It was in the upstairs room of a pub called The Victoria, which is right on the edge of Chinatown. I was closing the gig and by the time I got on stage I was aswim in booze and snot but I turned out a pretty solid performance and the poems went down really well. In fact, I really enjoyed it – the audience were sharp and they laughed well at the jokes.
It’s fun working out which poems are your bankers when you have a new set. I have started opening on The Paunch! because it’s easy, not too fast and gets across something of myself to the audience. It went down really well all week, but particularly so in Brum where the audience seemed more comedy-inclined.
Jean-Claude Gendarme is the oldest poem in this new show (18 months now) and it’s a banker, except with teenagers who don’t seem to go for the Carry On style humour.
Barry Vs The Blob goes down better in some places than others – usually when the audience are more of a poetry crowd and they realise how tricky it must have been to write. That said, it’s unusual enough that it’s a real banker now.
Jeremy is perhaps a bit less so, it’s never bombed but it’s perhaps a bit juvenile for some audiences.
Barbara is perhaps a bit crude for others but the performance of it means that I get away with it, and besides it has enough clever rhymes to twist a few laughs out of any audience.
Weekday Dad doesn’t always kill, a younger audience is less interested, obviously, and the opening stuff works much better with an audience that has some knowledge of feminist theory (but really only a little is needed, it ain’t clever or anything). That said, I think most people appreciate the sentiment and it’s a nice counter to the filth.
I’ve done Scandal twice this week and I had really positive feedback from people in Oxford. It is really long and it is about politics so it will inevitably put people off. I will continue to road test it.
That leaves The Model and the Spot which is the one I’m considering dropping. Subject wise it’s pretty horrible as it stands and that will put some people off. Doing it as a duet with Tim Clare over the summer for Aisle16 R Kool! helped add to the sense of silly pantomime which is what I want for it, but the jury is still out on it as a solo piece.
I guess it all depends whether I write a suitable replacement before August, which I guess I might. Until then I will continue to experiment with what I have.
Anywho, I’m on the train back now. I’ve got a gig in Beccles tomorrow and one next Friday in Diss and then I’m pretty much done until after the baby has arrived. Lorks!
Oh, and I had a poem published in the Spectator last week. For those of you not into right-wing periodicals, here it is:
You cheated on your girlfriend
so now she’s at my place bitching with my wife
while I carry your life
down staircases in torn plastic bags.
We load my car with lever arch files
in boxes meant for oranges.
It’s shabby. These things are not you:
the pink plastic backpack, the forgotten fleece,
The Tesseract by Alex Garland.
We shift unloved items
through the still night.
You show me your new house,
its Bond villain windows
and too many chairs.
You tell me about your new girlfriend,
she’s American, maybe you’ll go and live there.
I get it.
The attraction of starting again.
I talk up a clean slate as we lug boxes
and reassemble shelves. You toast cut ties.
Until the sweat starts to dry
and it’s time for me to go home to my wife and son
and leave you hanging curtains.
* I don’t have an actual shell
** I am also a middle class cunt, that’s probably what was so horrible about it – like looking in a mirror