Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Edinburgh and stuff

It's been a really busy few days, or week even, and annoyingly the caffiene isn't wearing off. Well, it's annoying because I know that when it does wear off I'll be a useless man. Still, having found out I got a works bonus I then promptly booked 'Is It Too Late To Save Oscar Pike?' - our new show, in for two days at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Just the two days, just a way of keeping my name out there, and because I'm really proud of this script. I'm really proud of the the way it's started too - had a rehearsal with the full cast tonight and alongside myself (somewhat awkwardly playing the title role) there's Kev, Izzy and Alice - all awesome people whom I'm thrilled to have in this team. Shame that Alice probably can't do the Edinburgh performance, and there's no way I'm acting at the Fringe, but we'll re-cast a little in the summer. Before that though we're performing it with this cast on May 12th for two performances in one night at CB2 cellar in Cambridge, our regular haunt. It's going to be performed in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust, specifically for the 'Three Peaks Challenge' which my workmates/friends Liz and Mick are doing for the cause, hopefully we can raise them a few extra quid for their very difficult and worthy mission. We've got 7 rehearsals, I need to learn my lines, or perhaps more specifically, I need to find a method of learning lines, and then put that method into action.

Also over the last few days I was back in the studio with Laura Tapp to finish recording the singles and also the extra acoustic track. She's really good you know - she's got an outstanding collection of songs that she can just start playing randomly, I'm very excited about both being on this release and also releasing it on the label. Meanwhile the tour with Aidy is gathering momentum nicely with more dates booked in for early July, the gigs are continuing to pile up with all manner of bands (Eureka Stockade summer festivals, Flaming June, Paul Goodwin, Trevor Jones) and tonight before my theatre rehearsal I had a lovely meeting with Andrea from Dowsing For Sound about the future direction and it's a very positive one indeed. This has all the hallmarks of being a rather special summer.

Currently reading: my own script, constantly, baffled by the amount of words
Currently watching: Friday Night Dinner, White Van Man
Currently listening to: Revere - Hey! Selim; The Divine Comedy - Absent Friends

Gig report: NZ Earthquake Appeal Charity Show @ The Haymakers, Cambridge

Bands: Flaming June, Aidy, Eureka Stockade
Venue: The Haymakers, Cambridge
Date: 27/03/11
Audience: Nice, fairly full
Sets: Flaming June - Rejoice, Under My Skin, Rumplestiltskin, You Do Moody So Well, The Insane Ex-Girlfriend Parade, Nerves Of Steel, The Wizard, Wednesdays And Weekends; Aidy - not sure (some new stuff, and the stuff we normally play); Eureka Stockade - not sure (opened with 'She Got Good', ended with 'All Alone', all album stuff)
Notes: We'd been building up to this one for a while - 5 bands playing in aid of the victims of last month's New Zealand earthquake. A good friend of mine, Clare, is from New Zealand, so it made sense that I put on some kind of gig, which she helped out with brilliantly. I'd had a long weekend of socialising at a friend's theatre show, a recording session with Laura Tapp, a mate's 30th and a then a trip to London before getting back in time to play the gig so I was pretty knackered. To then play with three different bands was pushing it a bit, but we got through it. Flaming June were once again excellent - they consistantly are, they just put everything into it and even when my own energy levels are down it's hard not to get them back up when everyone else is up for it. I then moved from congas to drums to play with Aidy, who put a cheeky new song in the set which I wasn't aware of and as a result didn't really play to the best of my ability, but when we got back to the rehearsed stuff it worked nicely. Fred's House - an awesome new band from Cambridge, then played half an hour which gave me a breather and a chance to say my thank yous to those who turned up, before a sweaty, fast set with Eureka Stockade which technically wasn't my best but I made sure I put everything into it, and we went down pretty well I think. Violet Bones headlined and typically stole the show, as we expect them to. A long night, but we raised over three hundred quid for a very good cause so completely worthit.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Recording with Flaming June

Good weekend that. On Friday evening went to a charity event in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust that was organised by some work friends - top evening all round with excellent tunes from The Judge Reinholds, The Travis Waltons, Esquilito Foundation and Richard Eccelestone - all of them top notch. Saturday evening went to catch Helen Arney do her brilliant thing at the Cambridge Science Festival for her scientific comedy event, 'Festival Of The Spoken Word' which was rather excellent.

Today though I finally got to be creative for the first time in about 4 days, back in the studio - this time with Flaming June. A great session, back at Half Ton (where I have previously recorded with Losers, Our Painted Nature, Eureka Stockade, Alighting, Ethan Ash and Under The Streetlamp...as you can tell, I like that place very much) with the ever fantastic Rob Toulson. Never seen such a complex mic set-up on a pair of congas before, but that's the kind of professionalism we're dealing with here. I had to leave at 5pm with things in full flow - all percussion takes for the 4 tracks nailed fairly early on, with Louise, Clare and Steve all starting to add their magic to it. Not sure where we are with it now, but can't wait to hear it - in particular 'The Boy I Knew Before I Met You' which was sounding particularly good. Hopefully we'll get the release out there soon, Mr. Toulson seems to have done a fine job in capturing our live vibe whilst making it sound polished at the same time.

Had to dash as I was asked to be a judge at the first ever Inter-University Drama Festival. My fellow judges were acclaimed playwright Fraser Grace, Tim - who is the chairman of BAFTA, and David who is the Arts Editor for The Independent newspaper. Predictably, I felt a little uncomfortable at first in such esteemed company, scruffy old me with bad posture and a shaving rash. But as the evening progressed I enjoyed it thoroughly - I've never been made to feel so welcome anywhere before as I did tonight, capped off by being given an expensive bottle of red as a thank you, such lovely people. I'll even go as far as to say I felt comfortable (apart from the bit when I had to go on stage in front of a packed ADC theatre audience to explain my thoughts on how the Cambridge entry was written - my heart was going a bit fast then...), and as the evening progressed I even started to feel that maybe it was right I was on that panel - maybe doing all these things that I do does make me somebody who has an opinion that matters. Not that it's about me of course - it was about the plays, with superb entries from Cambridge, Bristol and Oxford Universities, it clearly meant a lot to everyone involved. Bristol won by the way.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

New material and stuff

It's been a good couple nights for the creative juices. Last night I was back in a small rehearsal room to start learning two tracks by Michelle Bessant. Michelle was the songwriter in a band called Siskin I played in years ago, and she's written two excellent political songs that really set the mood for living in a financially struggling United Kingdom in 2011. She approached me about drumming on them a few weeks back, and having introduced her to producer Rob Toulson, the actual recording of them should take place very soon. Rehearsals were good fun - I'm not normally a hip-hop drummer but there was a real element of it there, and, under my recommendation, we had Gav Sirisena on bass. I recommended him because he's an awesome musician, and he was really on it last night, some proper funky stuff going down and with the tracks now learnt I'm looking forward to getting them recorded and eventually out there.

Tonight I was back at my regular haunt of CB2 restaurant in Cambridge to have a chat with 2 actors - Kev and Izzy, about my ideas, and also run through the new script. It was perfect actually - they're both up for being in my filmed series of plays (yes, I know we were told previously that theatre doesn't work on film, but we have ways and ideas and it bloody well will) which will be four plays I wrote a long time ago - 'Bed', 'Sugar Sugar', 'Crackerjoke Writer' and 'Drop Me With Dignity'. Looking back at the scripts a couple nights ago I've realised 'Bed' is still probably the best thing I've ever written, very annoying considering I wrote it in 2006. We did Brighton Fringe with it back then (four star review) and it's since been selling well in Canada, but it'll be nice to produce it ourselves again. With all the four plays, Kevin Wright will take the lead role - all of them are 'awkward young man' - it'll look like a series even if the situations are very different, ala Hancock's Half Hour.

We then had a full run-through of my new script, 'Is It Too Late To Save Oscar Pike?' - which I've been moaning a lot about recently. It works though, big style, I'm pleased to report, and considering the last time I tried out new non-Christmas material at CB2 late last year all four plays I had just written didn't work at all, I'm really happy with this. The tempo seems nice, the lack of happy ending but still satisfying conclusion works, all this deliberating seems to have paid off. Hurrah! Izzy really suited the role of 'Maddy', which was a lovely thing because I've known Izzy Nicolson for a while and really like her acting - but she's never been in one of my plays before and you never know if it's going to be a good fit or not, but it bounced along perfectly and we're all very happy with it. One slight problem though - the play itself is obviously about a guy about to turn 30, and even the performance date we've got booked for Cambridge is two weeks before my 30th. The script was a chance for me to get some things off my chest, and I'm very happy I did do - but I did write it with me in mind to play the lead role, and knowing my limitations as an actor, kind of like on-stage therapy, wrapped in a 50-minute comedy. Everyone seems okay with me taking the role, apart from me - fuck it's wordy, I'll never learn it! Why do I write such complex dialogue? Yet the general consensus is that the dialogue needs to be that way to drive the story along. I've got a couple days I think to work out if I can learn this and do it myself, or hand it over to a real actor...either way, Paul Richards - playwright, is happy enough tonight.

And my other happy thing of the week is the tour with Aidy (and Dave the bassist) in on. Leave has been booked, ideas exchanged, and we'll tour as an acoustic trio in early July (starting on the 4th, to be precise). One gig booked so far - that's for the Wednesday and that's in Leeds, but with Watford, Lincoln and somewhere in Devon also close to being confirmed it's starting to look like a proper tour, need a few more dates yet but we're all very excited.

Currently listenig to: Chris Difford - Cashmere If You Can (best album of the year so far, and lovely to meet him at a gig at the weekend - it's a great release - proper wordy pop, with some genuine touching moments)

Monday, 14 March 2011

Gig report: Flaming June @ The Cornerhouse, Cambridge

Band: Flaming June
Venue: The Cornerhouse, Cambridge
Date: 14/03/11
Audience: Nice, scattered, but very appreciative
Set: Rejoice, Stop The Ride, You Do Moody So Well, Nerves Of Steel, I Know What It's Like (no drums), Insane Ex-Girlfriend Parade, The Boy I Knew Before I Met You, The Wizard, Rumplestiltskin
Notes: We (Flaming June) head into the studio at the weekend to record a new EP, and ever the professional, our producer Rob Toulson (my bandmate from Eureka Stockade and a brilliant producer/engineer of many great things) wanted to see us either in a rehearsal or live before the sessions so he knew exactly what he was letting himself in for. The gig tonight at The Cornerhouse was booked purely so he could see us, it was fairly low-key event that we didn't really advertise as such - it's difficult to get people out on a Monday night especially if you're gigging a lot (thanks though to Aidy, Jack and Steve for making the effort to pop down). With just two bands on the bill and a long old wait between soundcheck and performance, and with what looked like an audience of 3, we didn't think it was going to be a classic, but would at least serve it's purpose of Rob seeing us. On the contrary though it turned into a proper goodun - possibly even the best we've played this year, suddenly there was an audience (the headline band, their families, and my mates - it felt like enough in such a small venue) and they seemed really into it - and it was a raucous, fiery Flaming June showing tonight, it almost came out of nowhere. Should also mention the soundguy, a young chap who I've seen there a few times but I'm rubbish with names, because the sound tonight was absolutely top-notch. I didn't think this was on the cards - but I had a really good evening. My only fear is that we put so much into the actual performance we may have drained a little energy with the forthcoming recording, but there's a good few days to recover I guess.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Gig report: Aidy @ The Portland Arms, Cambridge

Band: Aidy (with Dave on bass and me on congas)
Venue: The Portland Arms, Cambridge
Date: 12/03/11
Audience: Half-full, polite
Set: Not sure - 9 songs, ended with 'Washing Machine'
Notes: Nice gig this - we opened a charity event called 'The 100 Mile Playlist', raising money for local lad Sam Robson who is running both the London marathon - and then back to Cambridge, to raise money for the Epilepsy Society. Met him before the show, nice chap and really driven, really glad that he had such a good turnout last night and raised lots of cash. As always for the opening act we didn't have the biggest crowd, but still - for an opening slot we had a half-full venue which was pretty good all the same, and the audience were cheery enough to make us feel welcome. Fuelled by a post-rehearsal fry-up at Aidy's, we bashed through the set, I thought we were pretty tight and it's a good reminder of how a couple hours of running through the set before the gig can really help the performance. The band after us were a 9-piece funk band called The Titanics - they were excellent, although I'm still baffled as to how they got 9 of them up there in such a tiny venue, it worked though. Feel a touch guilty for not seeing the other 2 bands, but it had been a long week and I just felt the need to get drunk with my mates at the bar, they sounded good from what I could hear though. Ended the evening back at my good friend Jack's house (conveniently a 2 minute walk from the venue), in which we all drank excessively and listened to the genius of Graham Parker till the early hours. Happy days. Back to bed now though I think.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

New material, over-ambitious ideas, world stuff

I've finally nailed the first draft of my new script, 'Is It Too Late To Save Oscar Pike?' - it's taken a few different directions to what was originally intended, but I feel much more comfortable now. It's timing at about 50 minutes at the moment, which in itself is perfect for a double hander with another new play I'm working on at the moment (working title of 'The Stranger At Terminal 13'), but I'm also very aware it's so incredibly rambly at the moment, and 10 minutes can easily be trimmed. It felt like a tough play to write that one - probably because about 70% of it is a true story, with issues close to my own heart, and it wasn't as easy to express my own fears as I thought it would be. The directions it's taken are probably less exciting, but more believable, and I feel very comfortable with it as a proper story now - not a series of nice scenes, which is what it was for a while.

I've also been working hard on the ideas for a new musical project, 'Death By Congas', which I won't go into great detail about now until the ideas are a little more consilidated, but I'm very excited about it, and I'm lining up some top-notch musicians to be a part of the madness of it all as well. Hoping to record it early next month, with some film work to go alongside it. It's ambitious, and I'm still not too confident of the line between 'storytelling' and 'songs', and if I get it wrong it'll be a pretenious pile of nonsense. If I get this right though it could be really something, we'll see.

Feels like I've been locked up in this flat for months working on new material and not really getting out there as much as I'm used to - but in theory it's only been a couple months of being in 3 or 4 nights in a week, staring at a screen and gradually going crazy. Really keen now to get this material out there, and on top of the summer gigs (as it stands I'm playing 7 festivals this year, with more to be confirmed) and further little nuggets of opportunities creeping up onto the horizon, I think this is going to be a really good few months.

On a different note, I recently organised a benefit gig for the victims of The New Zealand Earthquake - organised with my good mate Clare, who is from there. It's at the end of the month, and really is the least we can do and we've got some cracking bands playing. Then yesterday there was the whole Japan earthquake situation - which is 8 times the size of the New Zealand one. Now, this isn't a competition, but suddenly I'm thinking - do I organise a second charity show, this one for the Japan victims? Or do I just split the money from the show we do have to both causes? Or is that not fair on the NZ folk we'd said we'd help who are still in dire strates and need all the help they can get? We joked when organising the NZ show that we'd 'best put this show on soon as soon as possible because there will be another world crisis soon' - but this has turned to reality. A friend pointed out to me earlier that the Red Cross can't actually help Japan at the moment because they've not asked for it - as a country Japan seems to be well funded and can cope with this without international aid. That solves that problem then, but it's a pretty horrible time for the certain parts of the world right now I guess - times like this I'm grateful to be living in a sleepy village in the middle of nowhere void of any action whatsoever.

Currently listening to: Elvis Costello - My Flame Turns Blue, Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo

Currently watching: Friday Night Dinner, Mrs. Browns Boys (I hate it - but I'm addicted to it at the same time)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Recording with Laura Tapp

My first recording session of the year took place this weekend - recording drums for my latest Cracking Tunes signing, Laura Tapp. We've been trying to do this for a year or so but due to various reasons we've had to cancel the odd session, so it was nice to finally get these tracks down. We recorded a double A-side single with Marto Randle as our producer (and he also played bass, guitar and keys, because he's a nice chap) in his newish studio in Melbourn (the one in Cambridge, not Australia, sadly). It was such a good session - I always enjoy working with Martin on projects like this as we go back many years, and Laura herself is a huge talent. Her voice is just different to other female singers I've worked with - there's a gravelly nature to it, but she's always in near-perfect tune and it's really strong. She writes good songs too - proper pop songs, uplifting stuff, lovely to drum to (*muso alert* for one of the tracks, 'Curtain Call', I got to play my little 10" Sonor sub-snare as a main snare, really snappy but never found a use for it until now, sounds great *muso alert over*). I knew she was good but I didn't know she was this good, the studio seems to bring out the best in what she does. Such a nice vibe all weekend - 2 days, 2 tracks, no pressure, everything done well, lots of banter, lots of mutual appreciation happening, just perfect. We're mixing it next Sunday and also recording a quick acoustic track (with congas) for a free download too, and then releasing the main tracks in April. I like it when things are this easy, despite having a huge hangover today following Tom Tilbury's 30th birthday celebrations last night, my head still hurts from it now.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Gig report: Flaming June @ The Tap & Spile, Lincoln

Band: Flaming June
Venue: The Tap And Spile, Lincoln
Date: 04/03/11
Audience: Rammed, mostly nice
Set: Rejoice, Under My Skin, Devil's Daughter, You Do Moody So Well, The Boy I Knew Before I Met You, Insane Ex-Girlfriend Parade, Nerves Of Steel, I Know What It's Like (no drums), The Wizard, Little Love In A Cruel World, Wednesdays And Weekends, Stop The Ride, Rumplestiltskin
Notes: I'm exhausted - it's only 1.15am and I've not long got back, made it in good time considering it's a bit of drive, but this will probably only be a short post because I'm up early tomorrow for studio sessions with Laura Tapp. This was a decent gig that probably deserves a longer ramble, arriving at the venue (with my friends Aidy, Dave and Jack, who kindly came along for the night out) we had a little while to catch our breath before soundcheck and launching straight into the gig. The venue was absolutely rammed - almost uncomfortably so, it was difficult to move, and the band performance area was tiny so it was a real squeeze, especially with the audience right in our faces. But there was such a nice vibe to the place, yeah it was a little rowdy, but it felt like they accepted us warmly and despite the odd sound problem it was a totally decent gig. It was a lively Flaming June performance tonight, we really had to dig in and go for it - we did, it was a long old set but it flew by. Standing outside the venue afterwards for much needed air, I looked in to see sweat actually dripping from the windows. A gig that perhaps took us out of our comfort zone, but we played well, pretty tight, my hands are hurting which is always a positive sign from a conga-based gig. Shame we didn't get to see Treehouse, the headliners who kindly invited us to play this gig (after they supported us in Cambridge recently), they're a lovely bunch of people and good band - but I literally couldn't get back into the venue to watch them as it was so busy. Anyway, hard work, but a good time was had by all, now sleep.