Monday, 25 November 2013

Christmas lights, new plays, pre-tour thoughts

The problem with having lots of projects on the go, I’ve realised, is the amount of rehearsals for all of them. That’s the bit I often forget when it comes to agreeing to this stuff, and last week was rehearsal heavy on two of my most prominent projects; the Christmas show and the Dowsing gig. It’s all going well, but they’re both really important projects to me so I mustn’t allow myself to get relaxed about it all.  

The Christmas show is over an hour of new material which, considering my general lack of ability to learn lines as quickly as proper actors, has felt like a bit of a struggle but we’re on track, kind of. The tour starts next week, it’ll be seat of the pants stuff on stage, but adds to the excitement of it all – if the audience can sense a little edge in our performance it’s far more enjoyable for them rather than an actor going through the motions. Ticket sales have been great in some places, less so in others (in particular Cambridge, but I’ve come to expect that now) and the press machine is working well with some notable coverage in Devon, Preston and the Lake District. And most importantly; it’s a really strong show – we’ve pulled out all the stops with this one, as much as it’s great to try out darker material or new methods of working, this one very much builds on the success of the last tour, it’s joke-heavy and exhausting, in the best possible way. I just wish my elf costume was a bit…well, bigger. Clearly ‘one size fits all’ isn’t ‘one size fits Paul Richards.’

After all these rehearsals (occasionally with two different rehearsals in different locations in one night) it was great to be gigging again this weekend. On Friday I played with Flaming June in Louth (near Grimsby) where it felt like we couldn’t do a thing wrong, is it strange that I feel awkward when people are being so incredibly friendly to us? On Saturday I played in Royston with Fred’s House and we absolutely stormed it – it was a long show, but the momentum got us through. Yesterday back with Flaming June for two afternoon shows in Huntingdon as part of their Christmas lights switch on. Huntingdon is a thoroughly miserable place, the guys behind the event worked hard and I appreciate that, and we did well under difficult circumstances, but I was still quite glad to get home. Last night my new play, ‘Gaps’ was given a first performance by WriteOn at the ADC – cracking cast, cracking vibe, great direction, happy Paul.

In between all of this I’ve finally finished the script for a new show, ‘Short Stories For Lanky People’ – it’s being recorded tomorrow night for an audiobook release, cutting it fine, as always, but I get a strange buzz out of this. In the meantime my little sitcom, ‘Technically Single’ is nearly complete, I’ve been unable to make a lot of the recording sessions due to my schedule but have been kept very much in the loop, they’re a wonderful production team so fingers crossed this ends up being the perfect calling card for all of us involved.

The festive season is very much with us now, always the busiest time of the year. I’m certainly going to have myself an intense little Christmas…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Gig report: Christmas lights show, Cambridge

Bands: The Dowsing Sound Collective, Fred's House
Venue: The Grand Arcade and Market Square, Cambridge
Date: 17/11/13
Audience: Packed, festive
Sets: Dowsing: Tonight's The Kind Of Night, Ho Hey (not set 2), I Believe In Father Christmas, White Sky, You Can Keep Me Talking, Fairytale Of New York. Fred's House: Standing Next To Me, Fine Life, Beautiful You, Take A Ride
Notes: I'm really into Christmas - perhaps more so than the average 32-year-old should be, so the opportunity to play at the Cambridge launch of the Christmas lights was something I'd been looking forward to for quite a while now. Ignoring the fact that I was so knackered from last night - and the early Sunday morning start today put me in a grumpy mood, Dowsing typifies Christmas for me... so much spirit in that group, our 11am show at The Grand Arcade woke me up nicely. With Dowsing there's always pressure, it's just a completely different type of gig, even with a scaled-down choir, and today we performed a couple songs for the first time ahead of the Corn Exchange gig next month. We did well, and Billy Bragg was watching. We then dashed over to Market Square, complete with our equipment (I played the cocktail kit for all of my gigs today, with the exception of a sliding bass pedal it served me well, which is a relief because it really didn't cut it at the British IBM gig in Manchester a month ago) to play a second set. Same songs - with the omission of Ho Hey, and the choir switched around, really big audience, a touch tighter, all in all a solid live return for a massive project which continues to grow and grow without spiralling out of control. A couple hours later I was back on the Market Square stage, this time with Fred's House. Our bassist, Gaff, was unable to make this one, and we were struck a further blow when Lachy - our lead guitarist, was too unwell to play (he was feeling very, very rough at the gig last night). The three of us - Vikki, Griff and myself bashed through it regardless - it was a bit of a challenge but only a short set anyway and we held that audience, they were a big crowd, but we kept them, it felt like a bit of a victory. All in all a busy, but thoroughly enjoyable day.

Gig report: Magpas charity gig @ The Ferryboat, Holywell

Bands: Trevor Jones, Fred's House
Venue: The Ferryboat, Holywell
Date: 16/11/13
Audience: Warm, appreciative
Sets: Not sure
Notes: Alongside my friends Peter and Trevor (and venue manager Kat), I organised this little charity show for Saturday evening in aid of Magpas. Magpas are really good you know - they save lives, yet are unfunded, so my suggestion to put on a few bands to help raise them a few quid was warmly received. This was a nice evening, a really nice one actually - The Ferryboat is a perfect setting for chilled, more relaxed live music (indeed, there are sofas, everyone felt very comfortable), my close friends Alighting opened the show with their first gig in years (but what an enjoyable set it was), before the wonderful Danielle Page (with Ian on guitar) performed a soulful set with a remarkable amount of vocal clarity. I was then on stage drumming for Trevor, electric set with Tony on bass, perhaps slightly unrehearsed but we jammed earlier in the day to refresh and Trev's songs are so strong that even the odd shaky ending didn't harm what was a very enjoyable set. Moving into the main bar, Fred's House headlined this one - a joy to be in this band, you know, so much material to chose from, so tight, even if at times were slightly on auto-pilot (surely that's what happens to any band though when you play as much as we do) and Lachy was feeling rough we did well - won over a lot of new people, a successful end to a very worthy evening.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Thick people

Last week I was playing a gig in a small pub, on a Sunday evening, in my home town. It was going well enough, as far as these situations can go - there were points where we felt like we were background music, but these songs are still a treat to play all the same. And then, midway through our second set, three people started shouting - in unison with an aggressive dumbness, "play something we know. Play something we know. Play something we know..."

I looked at them with more contempt than words can describe. I'd even go as far as to say my blood was boiling. It wasn't just what they were saying, it was the way they were saying it - as if they had some kind of divine right to suggest inclusions to our set list. If we were a covers band I'd be more reasonable about this situation, if we were a wedding band I'd also (kind of) understand. But we're an originals band, we'd been playing original music all evening and - you know, without wishing to sound too blunt about the situation, there are plenty of other pubs to drink in, one or two of them may even have a covers band playing. It's the way in which they were struggling to compute with not knowing the song that was being played in front of them - like they were panicking slightly at the thought of accidently being introduced to new music. Seriously; if you want to hear a song you know, go and find a jukebox, or listen to your iPod, if you're that desperate to hear the same songs that you listen to all the time anyway. If we all played the same songs, all the time, forever, no new songs would ever be written. We'd all live in a comfort zone, any creative genes softened and eventually evaporating. The whole thing really annoyed me - perhaps more than it should have done.

That little agitation aside, I'm actually quite happy at the moment. Not, content makes you lazy, but happy enough. I live in a nice house, with a cool housemate, I'm earning okay, I'm drumming for some really exceptional bands at the moment, I'm on a real creative high churning out scripts all over the place, I seem to be meeting beautiful people on a daily basis. Alongside the band stuff (Fred's House and Flaming June are gigging a lot, I'm also gigging every now and then with Trevor Jones, the Dowsing Christmas gig is creeping up, I'm playing some opera shows with Hazel Neighbour, recording/gigging with Grace Williams & The Bare Bones Band alongside my regular collaborator Ali Bunclark and recording with Pillars and Stirling-based songwriter End Of Neil, who I met at the Edinburgh Fringe) the whole playwriting thing is really moving in the right direction - my very latest play, 'Gaps' is being performed by WriteOn at the ADC Theatre next Sunday, the recording of our radio sitcom, 'Technically Single' is turning into a real gem, the Lounge Plays were great fun (listen to them all here: and of course there is the Christmas tour - rehearsals have been going great, as much as I'm concerned about fitting into my elf costume. Ah yes, and before that, I'm recording a brand new show in Cambridge on 26th November called, 'Short Plays For Lanky People.' That show will feature 10 plays in an hour, it's mostly solo but I'll have some special guests with me to add a little music. I'm busy, and when I'm busy, I'm happy. Just keep me away from idiots.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Gig report: Fred's House @ The Old Queen's Head, Islington, London

Band: Fred's House
Venue: The Old Queen's Head, London
Date: 03/11/13
Audience: Very busy
Set: Take A Ride, Standing Next To Me, Hold On, Beautiful You, Marathon Man, Looking Glass
Notes: I never really enjoy London gigs, but this was a rare exception. Having dashed over straight from the Dowsing band/choir rehearsal, we drove to Islington to play at the very busy Old Queen's Head - a lively bar, even on a Sunday night. The venue itself is upstairs and was so busy we couldn't get to comfortably see the acts on the bill before us because of lack of space so we ended up waiting in the bar area below. Our set was a fast one, with the exception of Hold On, and felt like a rock n roll gig at times. I doubt we'll play, 'Standing Next To Me' that fast again, nearly killed us and Vikki nearly threw up. Audience responded warmly to what we do, absolutely cracking gig in front of lovely people.

Gig report: Fred's House Waterbeach/Portland pub gigs

Band: Fred's House
Venue: The White Horse, Waterbeach/The Black Bull, Godmanchester
Dates: 31/10/13, 01/11/13
Audiences: Busy
Sets: Lots of songs
Notes: Felt right to put these in the same blog post as they were quite similar gigs - pub gigs, with large chunks of covers - paid gigs basically which help fund the album. The White Horse in Waterbeach is a new venue and very nice it is too - decent size, very friendly staff, the locals seemed up for it. It was Halloween so I wore a 'scary' mask throughout most of it, it fell down during one of the faster songs and momentarily I couldn't see or breathe but had to finish the away with it though. Nice little gig that, the more the audience are enthused, the more excitable we play - we ended up playing for a long time because the crowd were so up for it. The White Horse is well worth checking out. A day later we played at The Black Bull, a quieter affair, similar set but to be honest I wasn't feeling this one as much.