Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Oscar Pike - show 3

It's probably too late for me to be writing this as I'm feeling very rough and should be sleeping, but it's nice to get things off my chest sometimes. Tonight we were at the ADC Bar for the first of two nights of 'Is It Too Late To Save Oscar Pike?'. The more I think about it, the more I'm proud of this show - it's probably the best thing I've written, but the production itself exceeds that, I've said it before and I'll say it again - Michelle Golder (director) is a genius, she didn't do anything different tonight but the quality of production shines through in a different venue sometimes and the way in which she has produced my rambling little script is a marvel, in a different space yet it still works a treat. Okay, let's be honest - I wasn't all that tonight, I felt very rough last night and never really shook off my bad throat and occasional sense of dizziness, and going into the show I was far from at my best. My own performance was a little slow, some of my comic timing wasn't there at all, this was below-par Paul Richards. But compared to what? The second show at CB2. Which was probably the best we've done it so far. Thing is though, and this probably sounds arrogant now, our bar has been raised over the last few weeks, so even tonight when I wasn't the sharpest we really got away with it. I say 'we' - me, I mean, the rest of the team are consistently outstanding, in fact there are times when they drag me along a little and keep the show going. By the end of tonight's performance I was back in the zone, I just took a bit of time to get there. As a whole though it was still really strong, no major cock-ups, it was nearly a sell-out which considering sales weren't all that good beforehand was a real bonus, and the added bonus of having Fred's House play live at the end made it all feel like a proper good show, a good night out. The team moral also seems really good, lots of high-fives in the pub afterwards, lots of banter, we're becoming a nice little unit. The audience themselves seemed to really enjoy it, so I should probably stop being so negative about my own performance. It's just...well, this is the best thing I've written, this is the best production of any of my work, and deep down, perhaps very deep down, I've always felt there was a performer in me. This goes back to the days when I used to watch my Paul Merton Live At The Palladium video as a child...I can do this, and this is such a good opportunity, good material, outstanding production team, good audiences, but I'm still not quite hitting it just yet. Tomorrow it's the last date before a long break and then Edinburgh Fringe in August. I'd like to do more with this show but realistically we probably can't - everyone is so busy, and I just don't think working with anybody else on this apart from this team would work, so I must enjoy this one while I can. Suddenly tomorrow night at the ADC feels like a big one to me, to realise that potential. We've been close, but tomorrow night we'll fucking storm it.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Gig report: Trevor Jones Band @ Native Tongue, London

Band: Trevor Jones Band
Venue: Native Tongue, London
Date: 28/05/11
Audience: Sparse, but lovely
Set: All I Am, Badman, Shine A Light, I Don't Wanna Talk About It, Alive, Roll On The Rain, She Was Me, Old Fashioned Woman, Falling
Notes: After playing our one song gig in Bedford a couple months back, tonight was the first full gig for the newly formed and indeed titled Trevor Jones Band, a band perhaps that given my current schedule I shouldn't have agreed to play more gigs with but a band that I really enjoy and just can't help myself. Normally in these situations a 'first gig' would be a nervy affair, but there was none of that tonight - we were composed as a band that has been playing for years together, not three rehearsals. That's probably because Trevor has been writing outstanding songs for a very long time now, and has been gigging in a duo with Tony the bassist for a while, whilst Bill the guitarist has been playing at a top level for decades and me...well, I've played in one or two bands. It really works, you know, really solid, a lot of that has to be down to the quality of the way the songs have been crafted, but also from the attitudes from all involved, it feels like a healthy project to be involved with and I'm looking forward to the next 3 gigs (2 in Cambridge, 1 at the Water Rats in London) and hopefully we can do more after that (Trevor does have another drummer in the wings for anything my schedule doesn't allow, such is the professional that he is). Tonight's gig was in probably the friendliest venue I've ever played in. Having been picked up by Tony, we arrived in good time, to be greeted by the promoters - Duncan and Chris, who are the nicest promoters I've encountered in years, and we had a good lengthy soundcheck, followed by flattering praise from our hosts. Native Tongue is a nice venue - a hidden doorway next to Subway (where we ate, it was lovely, although that's a pointless fact), neon lights and a good sized stage, with a fantastic house drum kit, and an everso slightly swanky wine bar feel to it - only slightly though, as this is very much a gig venue. Due to the fact that there was the Champions League final taking place we had a very tiny audience, in fact all we had was the other acts and the bar staff, normally I would frown at this and feel a little demoralised, but when everyone in the room is so enthusiastic and we all felt like one team, supporting each other, it was a completely wonderful evening. I'm no hippy but it felt like there was a lot of love in that room tonight. Okay, mutual appreciation at least. We were on the bill with basically various different ukulele players...still not sure why, but they were all great (especially Caroline Grannell - what a voice) and some really old guy with a massive beard who stunned us all with his heartbreaking, stirring ballads - I don't think any of us saw that coming, incredible stuff. Our set was warmly received and you know - rightly so, I'm not just saying that because I've had a couple pints and now enjoying a nightcap, we played bloody well tonight. Okay, so the ending of 'Roll On The Rain' was slightly messy, but the rest of it buzzed along nicely, whether it be the chilled ballad, or the funky Latin stuff. 'Alive' was pretty spectacular, whilst 'Falling' has such a groove I even got a bit carried away. It felt like a perfect mixture of good musicians complimenting each other - nobody overplayed, everybody respected the song, yet it still sounded exciting somehow. From a personal point of view I feel like tonight I've finally found the drum sound that defines me as a drummer. I've been really taken to the whole hot-rods on tight snare, with hi-hat tomfoolery but solid grooves on the bass drum and snare feel over the last few years, but have always struggled with new rods - basically they sound too fixed, too controlled, yet if I was going to play with brushes instead the notes wouldn't be defined enough. To cut a long story short, as I appreciate non-drummers will find this boring, I've realised that a new pair of rods, with the top rubber bit taken out (so the wood themselves is really loose) and replaced with a tiny bit of gaffer tape three quarters up on each stick is the way forward - offers enough flexibility for trickery, but also enough beef to it for the solid note in these acoustic type situations. Cool, glad I've cleared that up. It was a great gig anyway, I don't think I've ever had so much praise for a performance as I did from that audience afterwards, one person even shouted kind things about 'the drummer' before we'd left the stage. I'm fickle, but these things mean a lot to me. Nice trip back with the band in Tony's people carrier with good banter, a near-perfect way to spend a Saturday evening.

Monday, 23 May 2011


As I start typing this I'm nine minutes into my thirties. This probably won't be a long post as I'm clearly getting old and should probably get some sleep soon. It's been an excessive few days, as predicted, but having spent the last few months analysing where my life is heading, what I should have achieved, what I haven't achieved, I've actually realised something - I should probably bloody well stop moaning and actually get on with it. I had a brief chat today with a friend about where we all were 10 years ago - Paul Richards at 20 was probably only earning only about six grand a year less than he is now, so with inflation, I've probably gone a bit backwards there. I've got more friends now than I did back then (and a fair few of them are the same, which I'm happy about), but then again life isn't a popularity contest and besides - in ten years you can meet a lot of people, I'd be worried if I didn't. Back then I lived with my parents, I now rent the smallest flat in the world, it's not a huge leap of progress and I still can't cook. On paper, you could argue not a lot has really changed - I'm still undecided about whether to have long or short hair, to be shaven or unshaven, if I'm the kind of guy that should be wearing a suit jacket all the time or scruffy t-shirt and ripped jeans. But a lot has changed. The area in which I have clearly progressed in is the creative stuff - the Paul Richards at 30 differs from Paul Richards at 20 because of the Edinburgh Fringe shows, the many gigs, the experience and knowledge and skills developed as a playwright and drummer. I probably thought I had them back then, but I really didn't.

I had a great time at my slightly early birthday bash on Friday; Flaming June, Helen Arney, Aidy and Eureka Stockade all played and several people enjoyed the jam session afterwards. I got stupidly drunk on Jaggerbombs and can't remember the last two hours, that's a bit alarming, but it was okay I think. That's done with now, the 30 year-old Paul is a focused character, I've spent the last three months wrapped up in thoughts and my productivity has gone down a lot (okay, so I still wrote a play, which has now opened in Cambridge with me in the lead role, played some gigs and did some recording, but that's nothing...). No more deliberating, my list of things to do looks very exciting. First thing on the list - stop talking about it so much and crack on. After I've had my sleep, of course.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Recording with Paul Goodwin

'Fresh' from a week of being theatrical, Saturday found me back behind the drums to do a spot of recording with Paul Goodwin. It was a nice, if slightly surreal session - I've recorded in a few strange places in my time but drumming at full volume in a primary school classroom was a certainly a bit different. Aside from the bright drawings on the wall, colourful childish stuff hanging from the ceilings and humorously tiny chairs, a classroom actually makes a great studio - the acoustics were brilliant. The reason why we were there was because local producer Sam Inglis had some new recording equipment to try out, and the chance to record Paul whilst he he had a rehearsed band available (which is very rare, he's very much a solo performer but his backing band of Dave, Andy and myself were ready after Jack's birthday gig last week) it made sense to record Mr. Goodwin electric, considering the largely acoustic nature of the artist's previous recorded history. We recorded 7 tracks, and it was a nice session with good banter, a desire to get things sounding as good as possible and above all - superb songwriting. Not sure if these recordings will ever see the light of day, but I hope so, because some of the material is breathtaking and it was a pleasure to be on them.

Is It Too Late To Save Oscar Pike - first 2 performances

Difficult to believe this was a couple days ago now, but finally found time to sit down and consider what was a long, but frankly brilliant evening. Perhaps the whole good diet thing did work out after all - I felt in good shape going into Thursday evening, although nerves were continually threatening to get the better of me. Okay, so they were just performances at CB2, a venue we know inside out, a venue we have been performing in for about 6 years now. But this was more than that - this was me, on stage, for an hour, with no hiding place. Preparations had been relatively intense, Michelle is an outstanding director who knows how to get the best out of me - but how can you prepare for the fact that you're about to blurt out 32 pages of dialogue and there's every chance you'll dry up and let yourself down? In front of friends and colleagues? After talking about this show for weeks on end to everyone? As well as the excellent direction of Mrs. Golder though I was also extremely grateful for the backing of an outstanding fellow cast - Kate, Izzy and Kevin all helping make me feel very secure and have the experience/ability to save me if I do go off track, whilst Matt's lights and Alan's sound were both so on cue we knew we were in safe hands. With all the preparation possible, I went into the shows knowing that it could easily fall apart at any moment, but in short, it didn't. Okay, so the first 15 minutes of the first show was a little slow, but I put that down to nerves more than anything, but by the end of that one we were buzzing along nicely. And with the second performance we were completely in the zone - it was like I was dreaming the play at times, felt very comfortable and any sense of doubt had disappeared - probably because I know the script inside out by now having been working on and off with it since nailing the first draft in January, but also probably because everybody else around me seemed equally comfortable. It was touch and go, but it's all come together rather wonderfully, even the worrying scene in which I was just in my pants. Both audiences were lovely and laughed when they were supposed to, lots of money for Teenage Cancer Trust was raised, I felt lucky to be working with such a brilliant team on this, my friends who came to see it are the best friends in the world - fact. I think the fact that I took a week off work just to secure the lines in my head is a reminder that I'm not really an actor, even if I was playing an exaggerated version of myself, but this has been a wonderful experience. The slightly scary, but exciting thing, is that this journey has only just begun - with the ADC Bar performances on May 31st/June 1st, a little jaunt to the Edinburgh Fringe, and probably another show or two somewhere else too. And the 'tattoo' on my back of Bruce Willis from Thursday's performance is still there, got a worrying feeling I may be stuck with it.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Dress rehearsal

Dress rehearsal tonight and, almost disappointingly, it wasn't spectacularly good or a total disaster. Was a bit slow, a bit nervy at times, I need to remember to breathe during long monologues, and I need to remember to wash my shirts as my sweatiness may be causing offence to those around me. But with the wonderfully designed set on stage for the first time, the flashy lights, the 80's tuneage...blimey, it's like a real show. I need to calm down, I've been really nailing it over the last two rehearsals but the dress rehearsal tonight saw me revert back to my nervous, unsure state. The rest of the cast are outstanding. It's close - but it could still go either way.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Week of the show

On Thursday 'Is It Too Late To Save Oscar Pike?' opens in Cambridge. I know I've been going on about this for a while now, but this show is starting to mean a great deal to me, to the extent that I've taken the week off work to prepare myself for it and to generally chill out a little bit. Today hasn't been the most productive - I blame the heat, woke up too early and decided to get a hair cut so I look more 'in character' (Oscar is essentially a smarter version of me) and then delayed any productivity by doing the kind of things that I only do when I'm trying to avoid doing something really important, such as ironing and cleaning the bathroom. In a minute I'll write my column for the Hunts Post and reply to emails which have been building up, and then reply to a few more queries from the media about the show, and then probably do some more cleaning...but I need to focus on the show because it's this week, but how many times can a man look at a script in one day? Last night's rehearsal was encouraging, although I'm still getting one scene wrong - the same scene I've been getting wrong since the first rehearsal, the dialogue is a little repetitive, see. I blame the writer. But at least I'm not getting the whole play wrong, like I was a few weeks back. We're making good progress - some of it even looks really slick, it's all very exciting. Tomorrow I'll be going over lines with Michelle the director during the day, before a rehearsal in the evening, and then on Wednesday it's the dress rehearsal, and then Thursday two performances - both of which are complete sellouts (we've actually oversold tickets, not sure how this is going to work). I've also been taking the advice of others, and mostly Michelle, about my lifestyle ahead of this production - my energy levels are withering a little during the hour of the play, I'm looking a little pasty...so this week I'm also intensively exercising (well, a good solid hour a day), quitting the energy drinks (well, kind of) and eating lots of vegetables with my meals (well, carrots), this could really change the way I live altogether. We'll see, if Thursday dies on it's arse, slobby boy Richards will no doubt return.

Currently watching: How Not To Live Your Life - Series 2 (DVD), Family Guy
Currently listening to: Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (without question the album of the year, possibly life changing), Madness - The Rise And Fall
Currently reading: Dawn French - A Tiny Bit Marvellous
Currently sporting: A trendy new haircut (well, it's a little bit shorter)

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Gig report: Jack Whelpton's 30th @ The Portland Arms

Bands: Flaming June, Paul Goodwin
Venue: The Portland Arms, Cambridge
Date: 08/05/11
Audience: Plenty of them, despite the excessive heat, enthusiastic for both bands
Sets: Flaming June - Rejoice, Under My Skin, You Do Moody So Well, The Boy I Knew Before I Met You, Stop The Ride, Nerves Of Steel, I Know What It's Like (no percussion), The Insane Ex-Girlfriend Parade, Rumplestiltskin, Little Love In A Cruel World, Wednesdays And Weekends; Paul Goodwin - Ghost Of Paddy's Night Past (Paul G solo), Forked Tongue, Watertight, This Place Is Dead Anyway, You Won't Break My Heart, Happy Ending (Paul G solo), 60 Miles With A Slow Puncture, Cold Case, Soaked To The Skin
Notes: Jack's a very popular figure on the Cambridge music scene, in fact I very much doubt there's a local band that he hasn't seen - and he champions a lot of them too, somebody who is geniuenly a fan of live music. For his 30th he hired the Portland and booked his favourite bands, I would have been there anyway as he's a good mate but I was really happy that he chose one of my regular bands, Flaming June, to play a full set. Among the other acts was Paul Goodwin - somebody who I honestly believe is one of the best songwriters I've seen in Cambridge over the last few years, it's folky, emotive stuff but it certainly pulls the heart strings. He hadn't played a full band gig for a long time, and his 'regular' drummer, Micky, was on holiday so I got asked to dep, an offer I readily accepted. Such is Jack's popularity the Portland was often heaving, perhaps considering the heat to an uncomfortable level, but there was such a nice vibe throghout the whole night. The headliner, critically acclaimed Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker, was jetlagged so actually went on first - she's amazing, I see what all the fuss is about now. That was followed by my good mate Bryan's new band, The Narrow Sound, who were equally enjoyable. Next up was Flaming June and, even though it's been a while since our last show, we blasted through it with full energy. Given the humidity I was really fighting to play the songs at full speed at times, but we did - as always we put everything into it, there was so much energy on stage I'm amazed we kept going at full pelt. There was a slight restriction for me - because I had to bring both my drums and congas with me and my car isn't that big, so it was just the one conga for this one but it still did the trick, as much as my hands really hurt today which suggests I probably got a bit carried away. With litterally just ten minutes to put my essentials back on my drums I was then drumming for Paul Goodwin, alongside his regular band members Dave Greeves (electric guitar, guested on the Eureka Stockade album and also played the launch last year) and Andy Brown (bass, the guitarist/singer in Eureka Stockade...it's a small world sometimes). A completely different style of music, I had to be more restrained, and although I completely arsed up the start to 'This Place Is Dead Anyway' (which ironically is the easiest of the lot to play) the rest of it was pretty good I think - well, more than pretty good for just 2 rehearsals, and with songs of that quality you can't really go too wrong anyway. By the end of it, having played two fairly long shows in a row in the sweatiest room in Cambridge I felt both physically and mentally drained, but it's all completely worthwhile as I actually enjoyed every second of it. We then all drank beer until about 4 in the morning. Home now, finally, and somehow need to get my energy levels up in time for tonight's crunch rehearsal for 'Oscar Pike...' - I think a trip to Tescos to pick up a certain energy drink may be in order...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Gig report: Eureka Stockade @ Stortfest

Band: Eureka Stockade
Venue: Stortfest, Bishops Stortford
Date: 01/05/11
Audience: Sparse as to be expected for an early festival slot, but appreciative and made us feel happy
Set: Through Every Darkness, All Alone, Without You, I've Been There Before, Heroes Fall
Notes: This was a lovely day - at times near perfect in fact. Having been picked up by Nathan the bassist at 10am, we were at the festival within an hour and were instantly impressed by Stortfest - just the way it was ran for starters was top-notch. It's on a nice little site - not too big, but by no means not the smallest festival we've ever done, with plenty of people and attractions everywhere, loads of stages, good food options, and above all a really nice vibe to it all. Possibly because it was bright sunshine, and a Bank Holiday weekend, and I probably also felt this because in the company of Andy, Rob, Nathan, Vicky, Dan and Tina I knew it would be a nice day - lovely people who I know well and the banter, beer and sense of happiness remained throughout the 9 hours. Managed to catch a little bit of a ukelele orchestra who played some unusual but brilliant covers - notably 'Rabbit' by Chas & Dave, in between hanging out in our backstage tent which had everything from comfy sofas to complimentary beer, Red Bull, wine, water etc - we generally got the impression we were being looked after very well. We played on the main stage, on just after half 1, it was a short set and to be honest flew by a little too quickly, I felt we were really getting into it and then it ended, but nothing wrong with our performance technically at least. Still not happy with my current snare sound but I know this snare is so good and we've been through a lot together so will have a little change of skins I think soon, sounded too plasticy today, but that's just my concern everyone else sounded great. We were joined on stage for every track by the brilliant Anna Scott on cello, she played on our album and also did a couple of our bigger gigs last year, and she's such a natural musician that even without a rehearsal with her it sounded often beautiful. After our set we ate well, had a couple more beers in the hot sunshine, chatted, watched fellow Cambridge band The Willows perform an oustanding set in the acoustic tent, and then ended the evening watching Britpop legends Dodgy play a storming show. 18 years later they've still got it - and perform with such enthusiasm and clarity, 'Staying Out For The Summer' will be ringing around my head for a few more hours. Headed back at 8pm, knackered, not drunk but certainly 'relaxed', didn't catch the headliners on our stage - The Boomtown Rats, but 9 hours there felt just about right, it was a really good day.