Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Wedding Singer - musical

Last Wednesday evening I had a fairly late message asking me if I could possibly help out a couple old friends; Pam Jenner and Rob Wells, who had found themselves in difficulty with their forthcoming stage production of The Wedding Singer. The difficulty being lack of drummer. They fully understood the chances of me being available for four nights in a row (the length of the run) was unlikely, but by some odd twist of circumstances - ie; I had a gig cancelled and could nudge around some social engagements, I was actually free. As you probably have guessed my to-do list is a bit daft at the moment, it goes on for pages, and I really shouldn't be taking on another commitments...but then I did, for two reasons: 1) they literally could not find another drummer anywhere willing to take this project on at such short notice and without one the whole production - which is huge - might not happen  and 2) I'm crap at saying no. On Sunday, hungover from the Pidley gig shenanigans and having spent the morning recording percussion parts for the British IBM album, I arrived at Anglia Ruskin University to meet some of the friendliest people you could ever meet, and then to feel more than a touch daunted by the task ahead of me. I can't read music - I'm more about the soul and groove, but this was certainly a job for a 'reader', they gave me sheet music anyway (lots of it, it's a huge book) in the hope I'd follow it somehow. The songs are nothing like that of the film of the same name by the way, this is a proper musical - it was (and may still be) a big Broadway show, with huge swirling vocal lines matching the tight choreography. The kind of tight choreography an out of time/slightly lost drummer could really throw if he isn't sure of the material. Learning a whole musical - at this scale (big set, big line-up of musicians including full woodwind section and three keyboards) is about four months work. I had five hours on Sunday, followed by a dress rehearsal on Tuesday, to somehow get the hang of it. The thing is - there's absolutely no way I could have pulled out as soon as I met Emily - the musical director, and then the cast, because although I felt completely lost with it all for the first few hours it was clear they'd all put everything into this show and without a drummer it either wouldn't go ahead or they might have to have a backing track or something, which would be terrible.

I spent Monday evening in London watching my play, 'Probably The Greatest Goal Ever Scored' again in London with good friends (complete with Q & A with the audience in which I didn't let myself down: a first), and moaned a lot on the train journey back about the scale of the project I have to get my head around, and quickly. But alongside my negativity there was also this part of me which says...hang on, if I do pull this one off, I'll be absolutely shit hot. I then went back to being negative again, as we missed our first train and didn't get back in till 2am, and let's be honest - if ever there was a week I needed sleep, this would be it.

Tuesday's dress rehearsal was shocking. Absolutely horrible. In the space for the first time - I felt like a serious session muso in the orchestral pit, with my notes all lit up, and Emily - with such a huge task on her hands basically having to get a whole new band up to speed (I managed to rope my good friend Alister in on piano, because he's a genius and he's also someone I can rant to if it all goes terribly wrong).

Now, the problem I have, generally, is that I don't really have the ability to switch off from things. So many times have I taken on a project as a 'favour' but somehow became emotionally attached to it and find myself engrossing my whole brain into it just because I suddenly want it to work. This musical was a favour - a tall order, they probably weren't expecting too much from me in return but someone who turns up and can tick that drummer box. But having seen the set, the cast (all lovely and enviously talented people, I might add), worked with these musicians, I actually found myself starting to care, probably more than I should do. I've listened to the songs on repeat to the extent that they are practically haunting my dreams, from what was originally me helping a couple friends out has now turned into me being part of that team and actually not thinking about anything else at all. I believe in those around me, I can see the effort/energy they're putting and have put in - it only seems wrong somehow if I don't do the same, even if I'm only the stand-in guy who has a million other projects on the go.

A day after the dress rehearsal it was the opening night. We got away with it; it was touch and go - some of it was a little loose, but some of it was really strong. The actual show on stage was excellent - I should know, I have a really good view from my position in the pit. Tonight it was the second show, and whilst it wasn't what you would call entirely 'tight' it was a million times better. You can just see everyone starting to gel, it's a lovely thing. I predict Friday and Saturday will be great - we're becoming comfortable with each other, Emily is doing an amazing job. It's almost challenge complete - almost, we'll see. If you read this in time you should come and see it.

But then by 10pm on Saturday it will all be over. All that stress, all that learning, for four nights. I've been treated and fed very well, and I am learning a lot from watching the show - I'm analysing every detail of the script, it will benefit me as a writer. But by 10pm on Saturday I'll be driving home, exhausted, favour ticked off, but the way things are at the moment I would have moved on from this within a month and that almost feels like a shame because I'm actually really enjoying it. Of course I'm tired too - for example yesterday at work my foot just went to sleep and as I went to the vending machine I just toppled over, it was a horrible and awkward moment, tumbling in the office in front of concerned colleagues. It's probably just a circulation thing, but I just know tiredness has something to do with it. Izzy sent me an email today and reminded me that it's only 3 and a half months until the fringe and we need to get moving with that - I need to finish that bloody script for a start. I probably shouldn't have taken on this extra project, but somehow - in a really vivid kind of way, I just feel my life has been enhanced by this experience.

Anyway, here's me moaning about being tired and when it's 12.40am and I'm writing this blog. Idiot!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Gig report: Charity Festival @ The Mad Cat, Pidley

Bands: Flaming June, The Trevor Jones Band, The British IBM
Venue: Outside at The Mad Cat, Pidley
Date: 21/04/2012
Audience: Due to the unpredictable weather throughout the day it was either really busy or not so many of them, but whoever was there were fantastic and looked like they were enjoying it
Sets: Flaming June: not sure; Trevor Jones Band: All I Am, Shine A Light, Badman, Alive, Old Fashioned Woman, Roll On The Rain, I Don't Wanna' Talk About It, Can't Take This Anymore, Falling. Encore - Solid Ground; The British IBM: Make It Happen, Pain In My Heart, Down Like That, Cannibal, God's Front Porch, Animal, Not Your Day, The British IBM, 3 Years, Washing Machine
Notes: That was a busy day, but a bloody good one. The event was organised by my mate Jon from LoveSongwriting, and it was for the Pidley Mountain & Rescue Team. Three of my bands were booked to play this intimate outdoor festival, which was in the sizable pub beer garden of the Mad Cat and it was just a really good day. Flaming June are perfect for this kind of gig, and despite the bad weather really held onto the audience we did have, this whole slightly angry folk thing the band does is incredibly endearing at times and I think FJ are very much a festival type of band. We played all of the usual stuff, one song we hadn't played for a while, and Louise played one solo too, all of which went down well. Next up was The Trevor Jones Band - not being arrogant or anything, but I felt (despite Trevor's throat going near the end) that this was the best we've played in a long, long while...probably something to do with the fact it was our second gig in two days so we were pretty tight, and it just all felt so comfortable, this kind of band often finds me drumming the way I know I want to sometimes, silky and jazzy, all wrapped up in a nice pop quartet. With The British IBM it's where it all went rock and roll, and where the excessive drinking began. We seemed to be hotly anticipated at the venue ahead of our set - people talk about things they've seen, and people had been talking about 'Washing Machine,' so we hit the stage in good spirits. Played well I think, Dave was allowed to smoke on stage and sambuccas were poured down my throat as I was playing, and it was nice to play 'Not Your Day' again, it was very much a mix of old and new material but it worked well. We were so looked after at this gig - people seemed so grateful that we did this for their local charity, and all the staff at The Mad Cat were lovely to us, with free food and drink. We drank a lot. I wasn't going to drink, but somehow ended up downing various shots with Aidy and Jon (Dave had to go back to work - they even had a whip round for his taxi) in the bar and crashing out in Warboys. The day after, Sunday, was tough at first. Self-inflicted of course. I would say I'm too old for this, but we all know a good night is always worthwhile and of course - it's all for charity...

Gig report: Trevor Jones Band @ Samuel Pepys, Huntingdon

Band: Trevor Jones Band
Venue: The Samuel Pepys, Huntingdon
Date: 20/04/12
Audience: Busy, friendly
Set: All I Am, Badman, Alive, I Don't Wanna' Talk About It, Roll On The Rain, I Can't Take This Anymore, Old Fashioned Woman, Shine A Light, She Was Me, Falling, Solid Ground. Encore: Did I Tell You That I Love You?, Alive (reprise)
Notes: Nice little gig this, I've never liked Huntingdon but I think we actually played the best venue in the town - The Samuel Pepys is a lovely little place, packed with friendly people. Promoted by Allan's Promotions who have always been very good to us, this was a fairly generic Trevor Jones Band set, a touch unrehearsed but we hit our stride in good time, went down well, got an encore, had two lovely support acts, can't argue with that at all really.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Probably The Greatest Goal Ever Scored @ April Showers Festival

I appreciate theatre isn't like gigs, I won't be putting up a 'report' after every performance of a play I've written because generally, unlike the often random nature of live music, live theatre is supposed to be pretty consistent so it would just be the same review every time. But anyway, after successfully being voted through by the audience at the 2 day run earlier this month in Waterloo (I still don't really understand how - I mean, only four friends came with me to watch it...oh hang on, theatre really ISN'T like gigs, and people don't just turn up to events purely to vote for their mates regardless of quality), my short piece, 'Probably The Greatest Goal Ever Scored' has been taken on for further production and last night it started it's 6 night run at the same London venue as part of the April Showers Festival. I have to be blunt here - this feels like a nice little step in the right direction for me as a writer. A professional team working on my play, and it's so nice to be completely removed from the production. I'm the writer - I turn up, and people are 'doing' my play. In an ideal world it would always be like this. It's not an ideal world though, I do understand that.

Anyway, after a tricky journey just to get to the train station (left the office early and in good time, only to be held up for 15 minutes in roadworks, then stuck behind a stationary bus I couldn't get around for ages, and then a cyclist, and then a slow person walking in the car park, and then an old man who couldn't understand the words '£2.30 - off peak' on the tariff so I accidentally shouted at him in true Stressed Eric fashion, then the train was delayed anyway so I caught it, only to be sat in the same carriage as that old man and had a guilt-riddled trip as he seemed wary of my polite 'I'm sorry if I was rude earlier' kind of facial expression), I made it to the venue with 15 minutes to spare. Firstly, my short play is no longer short - the amazing director Matthew Parker has developed it - whilst remaining completely faithful to the script - into something that now feels like a 'full' piece, it's practically choreographed now, there's so much life and energy in it. It's a different play - in a good way, not that I didn't like it before but it may have dragged a little then, it doesn't now. The cast look so comfortable, they are actually having fun, they seem excited on stage. If anyone who is reading this has seen that play before I actually urge you to go and watch it again as I am really proud of this one, it's really turned out well. The other three plays on the bill look fantastic too - they've really upped it the drama in all of them, it's a bloody lovely show and doesn't outstay it's welcome either, running at just over an hour.

I really enjoyed last night - I felt very welcome throughout, and having only met the cast of my play twice before, Freya and Tobes, it was great to have a drink with them afterwards and really get to know them properly, they're both lovely, warm-natured people who are really hitting their stride performance-wise, we'll be friends long after the April Showers Festival I'm sure.

I couldn't make it tonight, but just heard via Az (actress) that tonight it was another small-ish turnout, but the guy who played Reg Hollis from The Bill was there, and he's a legend.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Both fringe shows confirmed

That was an odd 7 days or so, fringe planning-wise at least. Our original plan at the start of the year was to take two shows to Edinburgh for a week, but as the months flew by reality struck and it looked like it'll just be the one, as usual. Nothing wrong with that - taking anything up to the fringe is a bonus, but perhaps our hopes were raised slightly by a possible investor/sponsor who had promised us some dosh in return for logos on our 6,000 flyers, but by last Thursday that looked to be off as they went completely out of contact for some reason. But, amazingly, my good friend Jon has - at the last minute - chucked in some money as sponsorship from his business, LoveSongwriting (who I've done a little bit of writing/editing for this year). Jon is not only a good mate but also somebody who supports my work, having seen last year's Oscar Pike show and continually saying nice things about that, so he knows what the deal is and what we're about. His generosity effectively gave us enough to register and pay for the deposit on a second show so we went for it, and luckily the people at Sweet (where we had our first show booked anyway) were able to offer us a slot within hours of asking and we got the second show registered. So, two shows at the is normally quite stressful, two could well tip me over the edge...but I doubt it. So far at least there's a sense that whilst you're doing all the ridiculous amount of admin and promotion for one show you might as well do it for another whilst you're at it anyway. It's been hard work to try and stay on top of things this week (I even pulled out of a gig with Flaming June - I'm gutted as I wanted to do this one, but there literally isn't enough hours in the day at the moment) but things are reasonably in shape now - and in Izzy and Grace I have a lovely little team.

As for the shows themselves, having watched it again in London recently, Grace wanted to do my piece, 'Probably The Greatest Goal Ever Scored' - she was in it in Cambridge last year and loves the character. It's a short piece, so it'll be a production with three short plays (pretty much the original plan at the start of the year, then, only three not five), the other two plays being a drastically re-written version of one of my more established pieces, 'Love, Awkwardly' and also a brand new piece called, 'When Lucy Met Fiona,' which is based mostly around a soundtrack of songs by Chumbawumba. All three of those pieces are led by the character of 'Lucy', which Grace does so well, but with really strong supporting roles, which Izzy is capable of doing so well. The other production is of course the new Oscar Pike play, 'There's Absolutely Nothing Wrong With Oscar Pike.' Had a first glance at the first half of it with Grace in a small pub last weekend and whilst there's plenty right with it, the tone isn't there yet - I've got a lot of work to do on this one. The structure and premise is lovely, effectively I've put a very awkward character in a very awkward situation, and it works - perhaps the Paul Richards of three years ago would have considered this to be perfect and gone with it, but we know better these days and Grace and I spoke for a very long time afterwards about what needs to be done. I'm doing it, probably tonight. Tomorrow night I'm around Izzy's to show her a first draft. I have to nail this draft at some's nearly there, but it's been 'nearly' there for a while now...

My progression as a writer over the last week though hasn't been helped by the addition of two new 'toys' - a George Foreman grill and an iPhone, both of which are awesome. I've set myself a challenge of not using the microwave for a month and so far, so good - tonight I burnt my burgers, but it's a trial and error thing. Either way, I'm growing up, this pretty much ACTUAL COOKING I'm doing these days. Fuck yeah. I'm still confused by the iPhone, but equally amazed by it, and when I get my head around the whole touch screen thing (I have lanky fingers, it shouldn't be a problem) I know my life is going to benefit from it greatly. And by benefit, I mean I'll probably be really distracted and never actually nail that new script after all...

Currently listening to: The Bluetones - Expecting To Fly, Crybaby - Crybaby, a self-made compilation from 2009 that I found in my drawer in the office called 'work tunes 2' which is quite nice

Currently watching: Twenty Twelve, Family Guy, various Steve Coogan DVD's

Currently reading: Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace (it's annoyingly good, by the way)

Currently eating: fat-free food...well, 42% of the fat goes into a little tray anyway, yep. And also Easter eggs, still.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Gig report: The British IBM @ Stockton Calling Festival, Stockton-on-Tees

Band: The British IBM
Venue: Stockton Calling @ The Vaults, Stockton
Date: 07/04/12
Audience: Busy, awesome
Set: Make It Happen, Pain In My Heart, Down Like That, Dirty Little Cannibal, The British IBM, God's Front Porch, Animal, 3 Years, Guns, Washing Machine
Notes: Although it's bloody miles away, this was our third gig in Stockton in less than a year. The reasons why we keep going back is simple; we love it, and they like us, and I'm sure those two things are related. Also, our manager - a complete legend of a man called Matt, is a big part of their scene. Arriving in good time to sign a band postcard for the lady on reception at the Travel Lodge and to pick up some more bargains in That's Entertainment (the store we frequent everytime we're in the area because it's so purchases this time were all DVD-based; The World Of Lee Evans (the original series from back in the day when I liked his stuff, in a Mr Bean kinda way), both Steptoe & Son movies and three Steve Coogan releases...the whole lot came to £11, that's just daft), we arrived at the venue a couple hours before our set. The Stockton Calling Festival is a one day event across several venues in close proxomity, a bit like Brighton's Great Escape Festival or Wish You Were Here in Cambridge. We did this one acoustic with congas, like the last tour, which made things very easy logistically at least. The venue was busy, sometimes absolutely rammed, with audiences coming and going between venues to see whatever band took their fancy in the programme. Our set was decent I think, I fear I may have damaged my thumb as it seemed to go blue during the gig, but it seems to have gone down a bit now. The newer material isn't perhaps locking in as well as some of the more established songs in the set, but the only way around that is to gig them lots of times because they are some of the strongest material Aidy has ever written - we're tight enough with them, but perhaps we're not playing them with that swagger we have with the material we've gigged and toured with over the last year...give it a few months and they'll be absolutely cracking though. The audience were fantastic throughout, and as usual 'Washing Machine' saw us leaving the stage on a genuine high. After the obligatory mailing list run straight after the set, in which new friends were made, CD's and t-shirts were sold, and my cuddles were pimped out, we were reminded just how much we like playing in Stockton. The people are just so nice. Matt our manager legend then took us on a brief tour around the other venues (including their stunning arts centre) and if anything we were just a bit jealous about the music scene they have up there, but more on that in a second. We then popped back to catch the end of The Broken Broadcast's set - this is the third time we've shared a bill with them now (twice in Stockton, once in Leeds) and they're lovely people, really good to catch up with them afterwards, I like them a lot. Anyway, back to the 'scene' thing. I've never really been a fan of the term 'local scene,' - simply because I'm not sure it's always needed. Surely, at the end of the day if a band is that good, willing to travel, willing to put the hours in and has a bit of luck on their side, where they come from is irrelevant? Point disproved this weekend when, shortly after the excellent Sam Forrest (who is also the singer of 9 Black Alps, and all round friendly person - but yes, pretty much everyone I spoke to on Saturday was friendly, IT WAS A VERY FRIENDLY EVENING), I popped over the road to one of the other venues to catch Young Rebel Set. Having picked up a cheeky promo copy of the band's debut album last year, which I enjoy a lot, I just wanted to catch them live for a few songs to see if they cut the musical mustard. Matt himself is also a fan so joined me, informing me that 6-piece have been going for 10 years now and are heroes of the Stockton scene who are now gaining national acclaim (they do seem to be everywhere at the moment). The venue itself was heaving - absolutely rammed to the doors, with everybody in the room passionately singing every word, hugging, accepting and embracing strangers simply due to the fact they too were into the music. In an odd kind of way it reminded me of some kind of musical revolution, like the footage I've seen of the early 2-Tone gigs. This was more than people simply turning up and enjoying a band, it was like they were supporting a football team. It then occurred to me that the buzz I was feeling had been evident for a lot of the evening, this little town just outside of Middlesbrough is absolutely vibrant; Matt informed me that people in the local area would much rather go to see a live band than to a nightclub, it's just the way they are. They have a scene. It's an exciting one. I've always assumed that music scenes I've read about (Manchester in the 80's, Leeds in the 00's etc) were just exaggerated pieces of lazy journalism because one or two bands of note have emerged from the same city or town at the same time. Wrong, Paul. Scene's do exist, and on Saturday I witnessed one for the first time in real life. After that I returned to The Vaults to see Bluetones frontman Mark Morris play a brilliantly intimate headline slot. We were literally a few steps away from him, it was all a little surreal seeing somebody you admire that much perform a generous selection of hits so close, it was like he was playing in your living room. He was in fine voice throughout, witty and handling the slightly rowdy audience with the confidence of the professional he is. Aidy, Matt and I even spent a while chatting to him afterwards, well - Aidy had met him earlier in the evening and they clearly got on, I shook his hand and stood awkwardly and laughed along with any banter. A brilliant evening, fueled by free beer throughout, concluded with us picking up the regional dish; a Parmo, it was good to try one of those at long last. So - another out of town gig with Aidy and Dave. Another long-ish journey listening ironically to the Simply Red compilation, another shared room in a Travel Lodge, another couple of trips to OK Diner, another hangover. Another lovely audience. More of this please, thank you.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Gig report: The British IBM @ The Black Bull, Godmanchester

Band: The British IBM
Venue: The Black Bull, Godmanchester
Date: 30/03/12
Audience: It was dark so couldn't really see, plenty of applause though.
Set: Make It Happen, Pain In My Heart, Down Like That, Dirty Little Cannibal, The British IBM, Life In Monochrome, Animal, Sugar Water, 3 Years, Guns, Washing Machine, Washing Machine (again).
Notes: This was an odd little gig. I enjoyed it - I always like being on stage with Aidy and Dave because we seem to be completely on the same wavelength musically these days yet there's a still a sense of unpredictability about it all. We were headlining this excellent event - the monthly gigs at the Black Bull are always worth checking out because with 8 acts playing (4 acoustic) it would be hard to not at least like something. It does mean the headline band has to wait around a lot though, and felt like a very long evening at times. We eventually hit the stage at 11.30pm and by then a fair amount of the very busy audience had gone, but those who stayed seemed to be enjoying it. For a while it felt like a fairly standard gig, we're pretty tight, some new tracks from the album were given a first live airing and the set feels fresh enough. The audience really, really took to 'Washing Machine' - I'm not surprised, a lot of people do. When we were called back on for an encore there seemed to be a demand to hear that song again, even though we'd only just played it seconds earlier...Aidy started playing it again so Dave and I joined in. That felt a bit weird, but they seemed to enjoy it just as much as the first time around. We ended the show in our now traditional manner - of trashing the stage slowly, politely and with great care. Dave was rolling on the floor as always, and on Friday we thought it would be fun to pile our equipment on top of him, so we did. We left the stage with our giggling bassist under a stack of guitars, cymbals and drums, the audience weren't quite sure what to make of that but the promoter loved it and praised our 'character'. Odd gig, but enjoyable.

Gig report: Trevor Jones Band @ The Cornerhouse, Cambridge

Band: The Trevor Jones Band
Venue: The Cornerhouse, Cambridge
Date: 29/03/12
Audience: Small, friendly
Set: All I Am, Alive, Roll On The Rain, I Don't Wanna' Talk About It, Can't Take This Anymore, Falling
Notes: I was knackered from all the London theatre activity and made it to the venue ten minutes before going on stage as had just been rehearsing with The British IBM down the road. I think we were all a little tired (Trev's recently had twins), but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good gig - it was just nice, chilled, undemanding for both band and the audience. We played this as an acoustic trio as Tony our bassist couldn't make it, and we were supporting the excellent Benjamin Bloom. Minimal audience but friendly enough, it was very much a gig to keep our hand in, worth doing I think.