I’ve come to Australia to do Cynical Ballads as part of the Melbourne International Festival. It’s an exciting and pretty daunting prospect for me. I’m doing five nights (plus one matinee) at The Malthouse Theatre. I’m in their middle space which is 200 seats. I’ve played bigger venues in the past, but usually without any hope of filling them. Here, the idea is that we sell most, if not all, of those tickets. The Melbourne Festival is a big deal. The program is packed full of people like Billy Bragg, Thurston Moore and Antony & The Johnsons. To say nothing of all the big theatre productions that play places like The Barbican and The Southbank when they are in England. Then on page 30 & 31 there’s little old me. Actually, scrub that, it’s not daunting, it’s just exciting.
I think perhaps I just feel like I have to say it’s daunting, but in reality I’m well up for it. The programmers know what they’re doing, if they think Cynical Ballads deserves a place in this line-up then I’ll take it. These will be the last Cynical Ballads shows, after weeks of slogging away in gloomy basement venues this is the treat that comes from producing a good piece of work.
So, I’m not daunted, I’m just excited. And tired. Right now, I’m tired. I’m jet-lagged, bloated from stodgy plane food and not really keen to get out of my Pyjamas and go and explore. I’m deep into the 3rd series of The West Wing and right now I feel more like I’m in DC than Melbourne. Plus it’s 7am here and there’s not really a lot doing outside right now anyway.
I didn’t get extra leg room seats on the plane. I like being 6’4″ but not on planes. There is no way for me to sit that doesn’t mean my knees are pushed up against the seat in front. It’s not much fun for 14 hours (which was the length of the SECOND flight). I should probably get over it, it’s not the most important thing in my life right now, but I’ll probably talk about that more than anything else this week. Curious how my mind focuses on the physical inconveniences more than anything else. Hey you’re doing some cool shows this week!. Whatever, my knees hurt for a few hours.
I’ve been to Melbourne twice before. It’s an ace city. Out beyond the main grid it looks cool, especially up in Fitzroy where it appears like an Instragram filter’s been placed over every street. The food is good, the coffee is great, the people are nice and the weather is better than at home. Though it has just been raining, but probably only because it thought no one was looking. No one’s up at 6am. Apart from English tourists with jet-lag. It was probably just trying to make us feel at home.
The challenge this week is all performance, which has been a theme these past couple of months. Touring with John Cooper Clarke was interesting. So much about what makes him great, what raises him above the standard fare, is his performance. When I say “performance” I’m talking all singing, all dancing, jazz hands performance, I just mean the way he carries himself on stage. He’s complete. He knows himself inside outside, we hang off his every word because he seems other worldly. If not above us then certainly off to the side, somewhere the rest of us don’t inhabit. I’ve obsessed over writing these past two or three years and it’s stood me in good stead. I’m a much better writer that I used to be (of poetry that is, these blogs are still a bit shonky) but to the average punter writing will only get you so far in this game. My ability to be convincing on stage has got me a long way, but there’s a lot of work to be done. I’m more confident now than I ever was, but I’ve still got some way to go. The more at ease you are with a crowd the more you are willing to take risks; to say things you have no idea will work. Then all you have to do is trust your mind. But that can be the next problem.
I know Cynical Ballads back to front. I’ve performed it about 70 times, these will be the last shows. So, what can I add? It’s been a while since I last did it, I have the advantage of it feeling fresher than any time over the last two years. The flow of the sentences and lines will feel stranger than any time since January 2011 when I started performing this show regularly. It’ll surprise me at times. It’ll feel that little bit unscripted. This is good. I hope I can bring my new found confidence to it. I want these to be the best performances I have ever given.
So, as I say, not daunting, just exciting.