Two Hundred & Six

The Gig: Stand Up At The Gatehouse, The Gatehouse, Tyldesley

The Date: March 22nd 2011

The Line Up: James Blood MCing for myself, Danny Sutcliffe, Andy Watson, Phil Chapman & Jonathan Mayor

The home stretch. The final furlong. The light was very much visible at the end of the tunnel. After nearly a year of writing I was within spitting distance of completing the challenge I’d laid out for myself. Two more gigs before the end of the month and, as a result, only two more diaries to write before I could lay the entire project to rest. As a result I found myself in a somewhat unsual frame of mind. On the one hand I wanted to gig as much as possible but on the other I was quietly hoping that I didn’t suddenly find myself inundated with work. Yes, it might go some way to paying my bills but it would also mean another few hours spent at my laptop trying to wring a diary out of the night’s events. The tail was clearly wagging the dog. Probably just as well that the diaries are all but finished with as they were starting to drive me ever so slightly insane.

The diaries have attracted plenty of criticism over the year. Some, as you might expect, has been of the internet-specific white noise variety. The world wide web has given thousands of people a platform from which to vent their opinions regardless of their relevance, importance or validity. I, for one, am extremely grateful for this as it’s allowed to me to hurl hundreds of thousands of words into the electronic ether to be consumed or ignored by friends, foes and strangers alike.

The cosy, anonymous nature of internet feedback often encourages the keyboard critic to be forthright to the point of vitriolic over the slightest things. Many inoffensive videos on YouTube of folk indulging their passion for music, dance, song or their pet cat have become festooned with witlessly crude abuse. I can get a little carried away from time to time but I’ve never suggested that a slightly flat rendition of “Video Killed The Radio Star” is a crime against decency only punishable by forced seppuku. Despite the two hundred plus entries on my diary I’ve only drawn a few instances of hit and run cyber-heckling. My favourite being “You are a shit writer and you will never know why.”. Clearly the author felt that merely calling me a shit writer wasn’t enough. Maybe the superfluous six words were merely there because of momentum. Either that or he was deliberately leaving me with a cliffhanger. That’s the mark of a good writer.

A much more valid criticism is that I should be spending less time writing about old gigs and more time writing material for the gigs that are yet to take place. Theoretically this past year’s exercise in writing discipline should make the comparatively simple task of writing a few new bits each week seem blissfully easy in comparison. I certainly felt that way after a particularly strenuous backlog clearing session. Writing thirteen full diaries across five days came very close to driving me over the edge. I couldn’t even go to the toilet without rating it out of ten afterwards and trying to figure out what I’d learned. ( 4/10 Just relax and enjoy myself. I’ve been to the toilet plenty of times before, no sense putting myself under pressure.) I used to dread the idea of sitting down and spending an hour writing. After the last twelve months the idea of merely committing sixty minutes a day to my craft seems incredibly appealing, almost like an afterthought. It would appear that my initial strategy has worked. My diary has been the literary equivalent of running a mile every day with a backpack full of rocks. Coming up with new stuff should be like nipping round the corner to the shops.

I love what I do and I love to gig but I was starting to hate the double whammy of gigging and then writing it up afterwards. As a result I’d pretty much stopped taking on any gigs where the sole purpose of the excursion was to roadtest new material. This would be reflected in the number of gigs I’d do on a weekly basis. At the start of the year I was keen to fill my diary with absolutely anything at all to keep my gigging muscles toned. By the end of the year I wasn’t exactly turning the smaller unpaid gigs down but I wasn’t hunting them with the same voracity either. Two more gigs, two more diaries. Then it’s done. Done for good. Done. Done. Donedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedone.

Jonathan Mayor had been in touch asking if I could do him a favour and drive him over to The Gatehouse in Tyldesley to close the gig for James Blood. I like Jonathan, a road-trip in hois company is a good night in and of itself. I’m also hugely grateful for his on and off role as my infinitely more fabulous version of Obi Wan Kenobi. The estimable Mr Mayor’s advice has proven invaluable. More than happy to act as chauffeur for The Simply Gorgeous one on a night when I’ve nothing in the diary. On the morning of the gig James put a call out for an act to open the night for a modest sum. Okay, only three more diaries and then I’m done…

I got a text off of Andy Watson asking if he could nab a lift to Tyldesley as well. I told him he was more than welcome as long as he didn’t do any of his vocal warm ups in the car. Road trip! As a bonus we would be honoured with the presence of Clem, the very embodiment of loveliness, who would be taking her first trip out on her own after the arrival of her child. A chat and a tiny hug from Clem had been one of the highlights of any trip to The Gatehouse and it was great to see her again albeit briefly. In the end she had to scoot off during my set to see to her offspring but not to worry, unlikely she’d not seen it all before several times. I got my hug too.

The audience at The Gatehouse were a little splintered but come showtime there were plenty of folk sat around the front tables. My previous excursion to Tyldesley’s number one comedy night venue in December had felt less like a gig and more like an outreach programme for disaffected youth. The slack-jawed tracksuit clad self-fondlers were not in attendence on this particular night. Either they’d been carefull weeded out of the regular audience in the following weeks or we were up against a Snog, Marry, Avoid marathon on BBC 3.

James disappeared behind the showbiz backdrop so that he could introduce himself onstage without shattering the showbiz illusion. As a means of building up an audience it’s a far from unusual approach to ask them to cheer as if something fantastic has just happened in an effort to warm them up. Recently I’ve found that asking an audience to cheer as  if the price of petrol’s been dropped to fifty pence a litre has seen them suitably enthused and vociferous. On this partocular night James asked the audience to cheer as if the best person in the world was about to walk out on stage. He then introduced me as the best person in the entire world to somewhat baffled applause. The best person in the world? That’s a bit more pressure than I like at the start of a gig. Calling me the best comic in the world would have been ridiculous enough. Calling me the best comic in the room would have been eminently debatable to say the least. Nope… I walked out to take the mic at The Gatehouse in Tyldesley having essentially been introduced as the world’s greatest human being. I felt rather ashamed that I would be following this grandiose introduction with my usual brand of childishness. Surely as the best person in the world I should be above that sort of stuff?

In spite of the raised expectations I still went on to have a fun night of it. As I’d closed the place twice in the previous six months I was careful to avoid as much of my usual stuff as possible. Fortunately there were plenty of opportunities to come off script and have a bit of fun with the folk around me. The group in the small enclave to the left of the stage were a bit of a handful. Half hidden, half pissed but wholly lacking in self-awareness. They didn’t seem to want to shut up and one girl, Jenna, proved to be something of a challenge. She was nice but didn’t seem to realise how disruptive she was being. Managed to get a few nice big laughs by dealing with her and that definately made my life easier. A high-pressure intro followed by a zero-pressure gig and a chance to have fun. Have fun I did. Hopefully the audience had a bit too.

All thing considered it was one hell of a line up for a Tuesday night in Tyldesley. Danny Sutcliffe, a very promising new act, came on after I’d finished and had a belting time of it. The middle section consisted of Andy trying out a few new bits of material and Phil Chapman delivering in no uncertain terms. When the time came for Jonathan to close the night he did so in his usual spectacular fashion, dealing wonderfully with the occasional disruption from the left. One or two of the bolder chaps from the group took to wandering across the stage en route to the bar or bathroom. This, of course, left them somewhat vulnerable to Jonathan’s acidic wit.

It was a really good, fun night. I enjoyed the company of good friends off the circuit as well as a chance to flex my performing muscles on a relatively quiet week. Two more gigs, two more diaries and then I’m definitely done.

Gig Score: 6/10

Lesson Learnt: Next time get someone else to drive so I can take advantage of the free bar.

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