The Gig: Lothian Comedy, The Town Hall, Penicuik, Scotland.
The Date: July 10th 2010
The Line Up: Demitrius Deech MCing for myself, Stuart Mitchell and Christian Steel.
I don’t gig in Scotland much. In fact I’ve not been to Scotland much at all. Over my thirty four years I would probably struggle to name many more than a dozen instances where I’ve taken a trip north of the border. This probably wouldn’t be that odd for your average England resident were it not for the fact that half of my DNA is supposedly predisposed to deep fried food, alcohol and rain. My entire family on my father’s side is Scottish and yet I’ve spent a surprisingly small amount of time in the country of their origin. Admittedly, the need to trek north was greatly diminished by the considerate way in which my gran, aunt, cousin and other members of my extended family moved to Cheddar in Somerset over the course of the 1980s. Subsequntly the semi-regular trips to East Kilbride from my early childhood dried up as soon as anyone we’d be likely to visit lived a stone’s throw away.
As of 2010 I’ll confess, rather sadly, that I currently know more comedians based in Scotland than I do members of my gene pool. My tanglible connection with my Scottish heritage extends to little more than a love of Billy Connelly, a good single malt, an occasional craving for a haggis supper and an ability to translate Rab C. Nesbitt dialogue for my Glesgae-challenged friends. I cried during Braveheart though I suspect this is less because of my identification with the struggle of my (semi) countrymen and more because I am, at heart, a massive hand-knitted poof.
Nonetheless there’s a certain sense of comfort when I drive past the sign that welcomes me to Scotland. I should point that I don’t feel the need to stop the car, step out, embrace the sign and boldly declare my homecoming. I’m not the equivalent of a fourteenth generation U.S. citizen that declares himself to be Irish to anybody without the reflexes to finish their drink and make their excuses. It just feels rather pleasant in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. Pleasant in the same way it did when I landed in Toronto a couple of years back. It’s reassuring to be reminded of my odd Anglo-Scottish DNA cocktail that was shaken together in Canada.
Penicuik is around twenty minutes south of Edinburgh so my route to the gig was familiar enough to bring memories of my trips to the Festival flooding back to me. Driving up en masse with ComedySportz in 2007 and playing an extended game of Do Rap that was anything but family friendly. Driving back with ComedySportz in 2007 and, in a moment that would come back to haunt me, coming up with a game to pass the time where you took the word “dance” out of things. I don’t remember much about the trip up in 2008 but that’s probably because I got off the plane from Vancouver two days previously and gigged solidly. In fact, the first week of the 2008 Edinburgh Festival is a little blurry overall. You weren’t there man, you don’t know what it was like!
I’d been given a call time of 7:30 so I made sure to head out for Penicuik in plenty of time. I even showed remarkable willpower by driving resolutely past Westmoreland Farm Shop at Tebay services en route in case spending thirty quid on meat made me late as well as bankcrupt. As a personal point of pride I almost managed to drive non-stop from Manchester to Penicuik pausing only to make sure I had enough petrol to get back. I’ve been caught out by rural petrol stations that have the temerity to actually close at night. Barbarians! I wandered into the venue at 7:30 for an 8:00 start feeling rather pleased with myself and my professionalism. Turns out that the booker had pulled the rather sly trick of telling me a start time that was forty five minutes early, with the show actually kicking off just before nine. I felt simultaneously patronised and disgruntled at the fact that I gave up my opportunity to load up at Westmoreland for an epic breakfast the next day.
As a result I found myself at the venue with over an hour to kill. The Town Hall was really nice, had a friendly vibe to it and the space we were going to be performing in looked absolutely massive. It was a room better suited to a modest barn dance or a wedding reception than a cosy comedy night. The sound and lighting system were superb and the room had a proper stage. It did, however, effectively dwarf the tables that had been set out cabaret style. Subsequently the wise decision had been made to move the mic down onto the floor amongst the tables rather than booming from above like an overenthusiastic lay preacher. High ceiling though… It was going to be brutal if there wasn’t a good number of people in.
Ged, the man behind the venture, and his partner Louise genuinely couldn’t do enough for us. I was led down to the green room and told to make myself comfortable. Bottles of water were provided as well as a fruit basket and a large tray of sandwiches. Leaving me in charge of a tray of sandwiches can be a tactical error as there’s a good chance I could demolish the entire thing based purely on getting into a rhythm. They were also cut into quarters which, on some level, means you can eat more as they would take up less room. I’m aware my logic is flawed somewhat. Fortunately I managed to fend off my gluttenous urges via a combination of willpower and the proliferation of egg mayonnaise. I’m not a fan.
Ged, having been a promoter working in music, was keen to make sure that the acts were as happy as possible. I’m still genuinely touched by this, especially as I’ve been to numerous gigs where my meek request for a pint of water before the gig clearly marked me out as some sort of troublemaker. Louise, in particular, was so keen to be accomodating that I felt compelled to tell her to calm down in case she gave herself a good natured aneurism.
Stuart, the open spot for the night, arrived slightly flustered as he was lined up for a showbiz double-up that night alongside a gig in Edinburgh. The clock was liable to be his enemy on this night. I toyed with the idea of offering him the opening slot and going on in the middle. Then I rather selfishly thought of the drive home that awaited me and decided to stick with Plan A. We chatted for a while and I was most impressed with Stuart’s work ethic. Despite having less than a year on his comedy totaliser he had already made the effort to gig as far around the country as time and money would allow him. Remind me how easy I have it compared to Stuart should I ever complain about my occasional lengthy drive. Stuart also mentioned that it was getting harder and harder to get stage time locally, hence his determination to make the most of both of his gigs that night.
The MC Demetrius Deech (Hereafter known as Deech as I’m a lazy typist…) and I go back many years, all the way back to my days as a goose-shit green open spot straight out of Nottingham. Based in Gloucestershire as he was we often found ourselves on the same bills dotted around the midlands. In particular I played a gig for him in Cheltenham where I tripped going onto the stage and wiped out in a way I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I went down like a sack of shit, hitting the floor with such force that the audience were genuinely too concerned for my wellbeing to laugh for the first five minutes. Well, that’s what I tell myself…
By the time the show started there were around thirty to forty people in attendance. Not a bad number for a local comedy club in a rural town but, it has to be said, they rattled a bit due to the size of the room. Often these local gigs (For local people…) provide a much broader cross-section of society than your city centre shows. Looking around the room we everyone from teens to retirement age. A table of friends, a table of family. a table with two couples on it… Challenging and exciting at the same time because you know you’re going to have to try to engage everyone.
Deech went out to MC and it became apparent rapidly that those in attendence were pretty much lovely and up for a good time. They were a little self-conscious though that can be understandable when the room’s big and the numbers aren’t. That said they were keen, attentive and happy to respond to questions asked of them. Deech’s MCing started off alright but flagged a little when a few of his lines fell a little flat, in particular a slightly bizarre joke about Welsh people being created when the English and Scottish breed. I didn’t get it, then again I was deep in pre-gig mode. Deech got them all cheering for the opening act and on I went.
It was a lot of fun. Essentially this was a no-pressure gig for me and I took the opportunity to cut loose and enjoy myself. The slightly unorhodox set up of the room provided plenty of scope for improvisation and banter with those in attendence. Ged had rather cunningly made up a banner with the traditional comedy club rules which loomed rather imposingly to my left. I joked that this provided the gig with a slightly draconian subtext, more akin to a cult meeting or a comedy club set in Victorian London. I subsequently chastised a group of young girls for displaying their ankles quite so shamelessly.
Material wise I had a chance to mix some newer stuff in with some tried and tested. My stuff about feeling older at student gigs went over well and the Always gag is a definate banker now. During Word In game I managed to flub my words slightly but fortunately pulled it back with a spot of banter. I was lucky enough to be blessed with a girl that worked in Oxfam in the audience. This led to the true story of Jason “Entertainment” Cooke arriving at Jabez Clegg for the Comedy Balloon with a selection of spot prizes he’d bought from a charity shop. One of these was a tube of chocolate body paint. Bearing in mind that many charity shop donations are made posthumously this was not a train of thought I wanted to ride on for more than a couple of stations. As it was the first time I’d performed a set in several weeks I was really pleased with how it went, finished on some thing about taking the word “dance” out of things to a nice response and managed to put the gig over at the end as well. Mission accomplished.
I have to confess that I found myself with a little bit of a crush on the girl that worked in Oxfam. Pretty, in posession of a gloriously sexy gentle scottish accent and first dibs on second hand clothes. Who could ask for anything more?
Sadly the road beckoned so I packed my gear up and headed off into the night. I would imagine the rest of the show went swimmingly. Ged was more than happy with my work and also tremendously receptive to a couple of minor tweaks to the night that would help it in the long run. There was also talk of some other gigs starting in the area so with any luck I might get to visit my one-half-homeland more frequently. As gigs go it was a definate tick in the win column. It’s also quite nice when you gig in front of someone that hasn’t seen you for a while and they seem genuinely impressed at the progress you’ve made. Christian had arrived just before the show started and was kind enough to buff my ego a bit before I buggered off.
I stopped at Westmoreland Farm Stores on the way home. They were shut. Then again, I was full up on sandwiches. Those little ones are surprisingly filling.
Gig Score: 7/10
Lesson Learnt: Reiteration that I’m at my best when I’m cutting loose and having fun, albeit with a good solid bedrock of material to fall back on.