Tuesday, 24 December 2013

So, that was 2013

My hundredth blog post of the year and it feels like time for a little reflection. It's been a good twelve months, I tend to cram a lot into my days but in 2013 it feels like I've gone into overdrive at times...a lot of projects, some of them really, really worked, a couple that didn't, a year of wonderful people, big ideas, lots of Red Bull consumption and continued failure to grow a beard. So, this is what I went and did in 2013...

As always January starts off with ideas of writing a musical, as always nothing came of these ideas but still - it's good fun and hopefully, 'The Worriers' will see the light of day, one day. January is traditionally spent writing, fresh from the drunken excess of Christmas and feeling surprisingly refreshed. I spent a lot of the month booking tour and fringe dates and we also had our first new material show of the year. As far as new material nights go it was quite a successful one - it gave me an opportunity to try out two plays that have been quite good to me this year; GREAT ACHIEVERS (which would eventually be filmed for the YouTube series) and THE PRETTY GIRL IN THE SUPERMARKET (which would become an integral part of my touring live show). At the end of the month I was in the studio recording for DOWSING FOR SOUND - a mammoth project (that would, shortly after, have a slight name change) featuring huge choir and band, this was the first time we had recorded together but it was a glorious session. You know the kind of session where it all comes together even though it shouldn't? It was ambitious, but we nailed it, to be honest I wasn't quite expecting it to be as comfortable as that. I also played my first gig of the year with THE BRITISH IBM, we were in Derby for that show. In February I started writing my fringe shows, none of those original scripts made it further than my PC but it's good to keep trying stuff, I played further shows with The British IBM including a session for Q Radio (Q Magazine) in Birmingham, I also hit the stage with Dowsing for a lovely acoustic show as part of the E-Luminate Festival and played my first gigs of the year with EUREKA STOCKADE, TREVOR JONES and FLAMING JUNE. I was in the studio with Eureka Stockade. I had this idea of getting some of my plays filmed - over the years I've built up a solid back catalogue of short comedies and I just felt the need to have a record of them on film somehow so discussed this idea with one of my favourite directors, Sarah Ingram. In March this project came to life - called, AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHARDS (terrible pun, Sarah's idea!), we put together a small cast of outstanding actors (Eifion Jones, Amelia Mary, Alan Hay, Emma von Schreiber and occasional guests - Adam Daniels, Sylvie England, William Ingram, me) and recorded six plays in three weeks (two a night) over consecutive Sunday evenings in the back room of a small pub in Gamlingay. The plays were, 'Reviewing Jonathan,' 'When Jimmy Became James,' 'Toxic Tornado,' 'Great Achievers,' 'Letters To Sparkle' and, 'How About You?' I'm really proud of these scripts and this cast were incredible, perhaps the concept of theatre on a YouTube screen doesn't work as well as I wanted, but it's still nice to have a filmed record of my work - you can watch the plays here. This was also the month where I started drumming for FRED'S HOUSE for the first time - I've long been an admirer of this band, their ambitions match mine and they write exceptionally good tunes, so the opportunity to join them to record a couple tracks wasn't something that needed much consideration. It was a good session, we all seemed to click - same sense of humour, and although I only initially joined up for one recording session I found myself joining the band permanently shortly after. They work so hard, this makes me happy. I also found myself recording acoustically with Trevor Jones, and that month I had more gigs with Trevor, The British IBM and Eureka Stockade. The month ended with our Edinburgh Fringe fundraiser, in which we attempted to have 100 songs performed in 5 hours...thanks to JON ORCHARD's speedy tunes we did, it was great fun. April was mostly consumed by rehearsing and then touring SOME PLAYS BY PAUL RICHARDS. This was a show I had first toured in November 2012, it had developed naturally as a piece, I'd grown in confidence around the material and added, 'The Pretty Girl In The Supermarket' to the show. I was joined on tour by my close friend and cracking actress Hind Shubber and we performed the show in Kingsbridge, Newquay, Guildford, Great Massingham, Cambridge (two shows), Galashiels and then the tour ended triumphantly with a show on The Isle Of Skye. It was a tour that lacked logic in it's planning, it was stressful, tiring but remarkably good fun - I was buzzing by the end of it, a real sense that I'm starting to find my feet as both a performer and a writer, a genuine and unexpected success. I also managed to squeeze in a gig with Flaming June that month. In May I turned 32, confirmed our Edinburgh Fringe runs for, 'Some Plays By Paul Richards' and also a new show with my regular collaborator and all round awesome dudette, Izzy Rees called REDUNDANCY CLUB. I then spent quite a lot of the month actually writing it. I was back in the studio with The British IBM to record a single (CGE Adventures), released a Kindle e-book called, 'Some Plays By Paul Richards' and performed that show again, this time at The Bay Tree in Bury St. Edmunds and also in the Lake District, where we did the show at Wilf's Café in Kendle - both venues where we felt very welcome indeed. I played drums on the full rock album by THE PRISONER OF MARS, played live for the first time with THE BARE BONES BAND and more shows with The British IBM, Eureka Stockade, Trevor Jones and Flaming June and my new play, THE NIGHTS MUST FLY BY was given a first performance by WriteOn at the ADC theatre. By June the summer festival season had kicked in, I played various events with Flaming June, Eureka Stockade and the newly-named DOWSING SOUND COLLECTIVE, as well as other gigs with The British IBM and a London show with The Prisoner Of Mars. A venue became available at the fringe and, on a whim, I agreed to take it and suddenly I found myself booked to perform my first ever completely solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe. I had a title and a very brief (three sentences) synopsis plus a cracking promo photo courtesy of Chris Boland, this was enough for me to secure the offer. The show was to be called THINGS COULD BE MARVELLOUS, mostly because I was listening to The Lightning Seeds a lot at the time, I'd never written a completely solo show before and spent the rest of the month denying it was actually happening. By July I could feel everything building up; I'd probably taken on too much, which was both exciting and concerning in equal measures. The most challenging of those projects was The Dowsing Sound Collective gig at Ely Cathedral. A show that was so ambitious in the scale of it - the ever-growing choir, the choice of material, some of the rehearsals were a tad worrying but the show itself was...well, up there with my favourite nights ever. A remarkable evening in a jaw-droppingly beautiful setting, the kind of show so majestic I just felt flattered and honoured to be involved. I listened to the live recording the other day and it still sends a shiver down my spine; an incredible night where everything - both professionally and personally, came together. Perfect. I attempted to write, 'Things Could Be Marvellous' but gave up, instead choosing to concentrate on rehearsals for, 'Redundancy Club'. I also played my first live shows with Fred's House in July and it was lovely how things came together so quickly, I also played live with Trevor Jones, Flaming June, The British IBM and Eureka Stockade and started work on a jazz record with my close friends, Rohan Leach and Chris Lawrenson. That project would eventually be called, PILLARS. We've been back in the studio since, it isn't finished yet but that's one for 2014. The last weekend of July was a bit frantic; 'Redundancy Club' opened with three fringe previews in Cambridge and one in Great Massingham (alongside, 'Some Plays By Paul Richards' on the same bill...on the Friday I was acting on stage for 4 hours), that weekend I also played at the Ickworth Race For Life festival with Trevor Jones, Fred's House and The Dowsing Sound Collective and I also moved house...looking back, I'm not sure how I managed to do all of that in two days, but it happened, somehow, although I remember very nearly collapsing at the end of it. Suddenly it was August; I had to write the solo show. I did, I was quite happy with the concept of it and some of the dialogue was snappy enough but when I went to perform it, script-in-hand, in front of a handful of friends at an invite-only performance in Cambridge it was clear I had no idea how it would work...and the show was due to open in Edinburgh later that week. Still, the Edinburgh Fringe is a spectacular place where dreams come true and creativity breads more creativity. Sure, it was a tough run at times; our venue caught fire, it flooded (twice), it was huge which was tough for the kind of intimate shows we were doing, we sometimes struggled for audiences (but other times it was great) and nobody could find it...but a lot of good came from this year's run. Spending three weeks up at the festival, performing pretty much every day, is a challenge - but one I loved, it was intense and we drank far too much but by the end of it I was thinking that I could happily have done even more. 'Redundancy Club' generally worked quite well, perhaps a bit unspectacular but satisfying all the same and Izzy's performances were consistently great, 'Some Plays By Paul Richards' was a bit of a treat after a shaky start and the solo show, 'Things Could Be Marvellous' - well, let's be honest about this, was a bit of a mess for the first week and a bit but by the end of the third week I was having a cracking time up there (just sorry to anyone who saw the earlier performances, what a shambles). By the end of the run I felt so very comfortable in my own skin as a solo performer, I knew the material I had written wasn't the best but already ideas were brewing for how the next solo show(s) could work. Also at the fringe we had a guest slot at another venue so performed MAN V ANTS, we met some great people, saw some amazing shows. A day after I returned I was back on stage as a drummer, playing with Eureka Stockade. I needed to drum, it felt good. Still buzzing from the fringe, a week later it was September and Lodestar Festival where I returned to my role as Director Of Theatre. Alongside those duties (I booked some acts, basically), I performed, 'Some Plays...' with Hind and, 'Redundancy Club' with Izzy, and played with Fred's House. I also popped out, mid-festival, to play a gig with Trevor Jones, because clearly I wasn't doing enough that weekend. September also saw a load of gigs with Fred's House and some more studio time with them; you could just feel us getting stronger and stronger together (they've been going for years, suddenly having a fifth member must have taken a bit of adjusting to), performed a really stunning gig with Trevor Jones at The Bedford in Balham with guest piano, strings and double bass, got back in the studio with Pillars and played live with Flaming June. The final performance of, 'Redundancy Club' took place at The Bay Tree in Bury, and the final ever performance of, 'Some Plays By Paul Richards' took place at the Preston Fringe. I'd had this show for a while, toured it twice as well as the Edinburgh run so felt a little sad about finally letting it go as much as I needed to move on. The Preston show was particularly strange; our venue went bust and we ended up performing it in someone's garage on a freezing night...but it went down well, a fittingly surreal end to a show that has been good to me. Next up was a concept I had thought of whilst at the fringe...LOUNGE PLAYS, in which I'd perform five different solo shows in five different lounges, recording them for a podcast type thing in the process. The first one was the final performance of, 'Things Could Be Marvellous' - performed around my good friend Julia's house in front of a happy and supportive audience, she was about to head off to Australia so I pushed this show forward to make sure she had a chance to see it and it was by far the best that show had looked. There's something about turning up at somebody's house and just performing a show in their lounge, or dining room, that appeals to me - it feels a bit dangerous, because they're so close to you, but when it works you feel rather good about it. In October I wrote and performed the rest of the lounge plays, 'How I Lost My Trousers' was performed at Matt's, 'Thomas Livermore Wouldn't Hurt A Fly' was performed at Phill's, 'New Adventures In Sat Nav' was performed at Alan's, 'Privacy' and also a re-record of, 'New Adventures In Sat Nav' performed at Jules'. Messy shows, but fun, and a great excuse to write new material. I'll be doing another run next year, in the meantime the 2013 lounge plays can be heard here. Also in October we started recording, TECHNICALLY SINGLE. A 4-part radio sitcom I'd written at the end of last year, it was nice to go back to being 'just a writer' - with Robin Owen, Izzy, Abi Sage and Alan Hay as the cast - they're all top, top notch actors and being recorded by Paul Malpas who is the master of his trade this is turning into a very decent project. It's still not finished, but will be released soon. Many gigs throughout the month with Fred's House (who also picked up two honours at the NMG Awards), Flaming June and the last show of the year for The British IBM, and I also recorded a jazz Christmas album with Grace Williams & The Bare Bones Band. Having booked a tour, November was mostly spent writing the Christmas show, and then rehearsing it. I co-organised a charity gig for Magpas and played live with The Dowsing Sound Collective (Christmas lights switch on in Cambridge), Fred's House, Flaming June and Trevor Jones. My new play, GAPS was given a first airing by WriteOn at the ADC Theatre and I also wrote and recorded a new live show, SHORT STORIES FOR LANKY PEOPLE. That featured 8 short stories in an hour, with Ali Bunclark doing piano bits in the middle, we recorded it live in front of a small audience and the recording sounds much better than it felt at the time. And so here we are; December. It's been a frantically festive few weeks; at the start of the month we toured the Christmas show, SOME CHRISTMAS PLAYS BY PAUL RICHARDS. It was myself and Hind back on the road again, a tour which saw us perform in Bury St Edmunds, Kingsbridge, Liverpool, Kendal (two performances), Preston, Cranford (two performances), Cambridge (two performances), Bristol and Halesworth. An interesting run - some shows to really small crowds (2 people in Preston, for example), other shows completely sold out, the show took a few days to get going but when it did I felt more Christmassy than I have done in years. Straight after the tour I was back in Dowsing mode as The Dowsing Sound Collective ended a brilliant year with a show at the Cambridge Corn Exchange in front of over a thousand people. With over a hundred singers, band, brass section, string quartet, guests all over the place it was an absolute beast of a project but it achieved what it set out to be - a riotous Christmas party that, a few days later, people are still talking about. A day later I was busking in the centre of town with opera singer Hazel Neighbour - we have a new project called, OPERACONGA...more on that one next year. And...relax. One more gig to go (New Years Eve show with Fred's House), but for now - hurrah, a few days to see family, to appreciate them, to soak up the merriment of the most wonderful time of the year.

So quickly, some stats:
This year I have played (well, would have played when the final gig is done) 92 gigs
I have drummed with 11 different artists
I have played drums on 5 albums, 4 EPs and 1 single
I have performed on stage as an 'actor' 75 times, but I still deny I'm actually an actor. I just get away with it, most of the time.
I have written 14 plays

I've really enjoyed 2013; I've been lucky enough to have played some really wonderful gigs in front of big and vibrant audiences, I'm continually finding my feet as a writer and performer. Like every artistic endeavour some of it shouldn't work, some of it didn't, but sometimes it really does. For every show there's a million ideas which get scrapped before performance, for every gig there's a Sat Nav cock-up. For every project there's a shed load of rehearsals, admin and continued reminder that I am surrounded by exciting and talented people. I'm often reminded that I don't see enough of my friends, that I don't know how to relax, that I've been a bit crap at keeping in touch and that I'm doing too much...all correct, of course, sorry about that. Equally though I'm really enjoying it - everything. See you in 2014, I predict it will be amazing x

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Dowsing Christmas Cocktail

As the venue cleared, fresh from a standing ovation and with the continued bursts of merriment from the audience spilling out of the Cambridge Corn Exchange and into the streets, I approached our musical director genius, Andrea, to offer an apology. An apology for the messy endings in at least four songs in the second set, an apology because this was a big show - a real big show, and at points the drummer wasn't quite on it. He meant well, but at times this one just didn't work out. But before I could speak, Andrea hugged me - really happy with how the gig had gone telling me it was a brilliant gig, a storming show.

As I write this it's 1.34am, I've got a well-deserved beer on the go and I'm watching an old episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads. I'm just back from the after show party which I decided, mid-gig, not to go to because I was having a bit of a shocker, but got persuaded to go. It was lovely, full of lovely people, Dowsers are lovely. All of them. The same can be said for my friends Andy, Matt and Jenny, who were also there.

I've learned quite a lot this evening. Now of course this isn't all about me - Dowsing is a massive project, a project that goes beyond music - every show takes months and months of planning, it's like a military operation. I arrived at the Corn Exchange at 9am and shortly after unloading soundchecks began, soundchecks and rehearsals which eventually finished at 5.30pm, two hours before the gig itself. It was a long day but it flew by, so much to do, it's not easy soundchecking over a hundred singers, a band, a brass section, a string quartet, various guests...it's a circus, a musical feast, all coming together, tiredness isn't a factor when there's excitement to get you through. I had my issues, I didn't think as rhythm section we'd rehearsed the endings of some of the songs enough, some of them felt a bit messy, but nobody likes a guy who has issues. The choir are wonderful people, so generously dedicated to bringing Andrea's majestic ideas to life, our guest musicians all added extra spice, and yet at the same time the rhythm section of Gav, Sam and myself feels so comfortable now - Gav and Sam are two of the finest players I've worked with and it's a joy to be on stage with them.

The first half, for me, was the best Dowsing has ever sounded. It was joyful. You could just feel it working, even the tricky bits, all of it, working. The sound quality was outstanding too, full credit to Matty Moon (an old friend of mine who was one of the sound team) and his crew, the audience were into it in an instant. The second half was, in my opinion where things started to feel slightly messy drum-wise. It was all about the endings, only one time would it have been noticeable to the audience (because there was a cheeky ride cymbal lingering after everything else had finished), other times we just about got away with it. See, there's over a hundred singers and plenty of musicians on stage to cover each other, but drums are bloody loud and it's really noticeable if things aren't going strictly to plan.

The gig got a standing ovation, it was packed tonight, and it was riotously festive. It was energetic, it was a party, the singers sang their hearts out, the arrangements were innovative, I haven't heard a bad word about the gig from anybody. My annoyance about my performance was purely because I don't want to let the side down; Dowsing is a lovely side and I want to do my best for them. For all of my little niggles about my own performance, the stunning performances of those around me did cover it, it was a wonderful show. We had a groove going, we're building something here, you know? This feels very special indeed, I'm honoured to be involved. People are enjoying themselves; onstage, in the audience. Sometimes enjoyment and euphoria mean more than anything else. And this is what I'm learning...I'm really tired at the moment, and I'm forgetting to enjoy things, to appreciate them for what they really are. I've just recently finished a full UK tour as a comedy writer/actor, a week later I'm stage in front of a thousand people drumming with an incredible project, surrounded by some of the most inspiring and dedicated people I've ever met. Tomorrow I drum for jaw-droppingly good opera singer Hazel Neighbour. I've just signed a small publishing deal. It's Christmas. It's time to just let go and enjoy what's going on here; it's all rather wonderful.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Christmas tour notes, pre-Dowsing thoughts

A couple weeks ago we set off on our UK tour for my new show, Some Christmas Plays By Paul Richards. The title of course is very similar to that of my last tour show (which ended up at the fringe), although with the word 'Christmas' added in, obviously. This was all new material though, written specifically for the tour, although there were one or two similarities - the main one being the format, which I really enjoy - three plays in an hour, ticked off on a board when each one is done. The audience know where we are in the show...and so do I. Instant theatre, relaxed, chatty, a bit messy. I've come to realise that my shows will never be slick, they'll never be polished, but they tell a story, they entertain, they've got life to them, and this show was full of that because it's Christmas which is the best time of the year. And with each show I'm getting better at being relaxed and chatty, I've started to realise that audiences are generally nice people - they've paid a fiver to watch you, the chances are they want to like it. The other similarity to the previous tour show of course is that it was a show that featured just myself, as myself, and Hind Shubber playing all the other roles. We purposely decided against having a director for this show, a brave move that in another project would have cost us but we had a vision and working method for this one that wasn't really open to a third person. Rehearsals were good, the material seemed to really hold up - two longer plays with both of us, with a shorter one in the middle which is me solo, lashings of Christmas tunes, tour consisting of a few venues we've done before and a few new ones.

The night before our official opening night we previewed it at my mate Phill's house. Phill is a good friend and cracking host (I performed/recorded one of my lounge plays around his earlier this year), he had a good crowd in as always and the show itself was...nervy. Some bits clearly didn't work; the pre-recorded dialogue which was played whilst I was getting into costumes in between plays was too long and killed the momentum of the show, Hind's shoes were slowing down her costume changes, and most worryingly of all...my card trick actually worked. That wasn't in the script. The joke was that I can't do magic, but I accidentally did and, whilst it may have looked impressive, I was thrown by this completely. The next day, with issues solved, we opened properly at the lovely Bay Tree Café in Bury St Edmunds. I really like The Bay Tree - it's the third time I've performed there this year and it's just the perfect space for us, run by lovely people who promote the shows really well, we have a returning audience of people who like what we do and it was a nice start to the run. Performance wasn't quite up to top gear and audiences, even subconsciously, can sense that, but the praise and kind comments afterwards suggested that they had enjoyed it. The next day we drove down to Devon to return to The Art Café in Kingsbridge. I have family history in Kingsbridge and always have fond memories of visiting my grandfather down there back in the day (indeed we even drove passed what used to be his house), we were staying in the middle of nowhere and the trip from hotel to venue found us taking in some of the 'traditional' tricky roads which are always a bit of a mission. Parking was also an issue as there was some kind of event (Christmas lights being switched on I think) taking place that night, but Georgie and her team at the venue made a great effort to make us feel as welcome as possible. In front of a small audience the show was tighter and people seemed to enjoy it - I still found myself picking at bits of the script which didn't work but it was solid enough, if unspectacular.

Performance number four found us up in Liverpool to perform at Café D'Art. A new venue for us, and quite a trek up the country in blustery conditions (we saw some pretty terrible accidents along the way, some of them so bad it was difficult to be believe they were real), it was a strange night in the sense that it looked like it was going to be quiet but ended up being an absolute cracker - very busy, audiences crammed in, a real sense of vibrancy in the air. At times the audience treated it more like a panto...they really took sides with my character (as a result Hind got a bit of stick) but it's nice they cared so much and we could just feel it on stage - this was starting to work. Cracking evening, can't wait to go back there again. That show was the start of our few days up north, the rare bit of the tour which demonstrated a little logic in the planning. Next up was a return to Wilf's Café in Kendal, where we had first performed back in May. So nice to see some returning faces, people who like what we do, it's obviously what we're all striving for so it's nice that it actually happens sometimes. Due to demand we were booked to perform twice at the venue, with a break for some carol singers in the evening. A remarkably festive performance space, Charlotte at the café promotes the shows really well so ticket sales for both shows were strong. It's the first time we've performed this one twice in one night, and it only occurred to me during the second performance just how exhausting that is - it's a fast show, with costume changes and excessive enthusiasm, my energy levels perhaps waned a bit during the latter stages of the second showing but the audiences, as they were the last time we performed there, were quietly into it. They're very much a theatre audience, so the shows themselves were quiet but with strong applause at the end, we came away happy.

The Saturday found us in Preston; I enjoyed their fringe festival earlier this year and they booked us on the scale of our show back then. This time we were at the Korova Arts Centre. A new space, I just wished Cambridge had somewhere like this - dedicated studio theatre space upstairs, live music downstairs (on the night we were there it was a jazz duo, a day later it was Tom Hingley from Inspiral Carpets). Perfect performance space, the kind of space where you don't have to raise your voice to make an impact. We always knew ticket sales were a struggle for this one - can't be helped, Christmas is a time when everyone is busy and I'm not exactly a household name in the area. We did the show to 2 people - but they were both really nice, one of them was Tarquin who hosted our show in his garden at the Preston Fringe and it was great to catch up with him again, the other was a girl called Alice who walked in by mistake but laughed throughout and we enjoyed her company so much we ended up having a few drinks and grabbing a takeaway with her after the show. Surreal night, but performance-wise probably the best we've done it - even the song at the end, which was always quite bad, ticked the relevant comedy boxes. Hungover from the Preston fun (despite an audience of two I'd happily go back there with the new show, indeed it's already been discussed with Sam - their brilliant manager), the next day we made the journey down to Cranford, near Kettering. Another somewhat unconventional performance space, The Old Forge is a delightful café in a very quiet village. Another day of two performances in quick succession, I really felt like we hit top form in the first performance, it was the clear sign of a confident production, the intentional messy nature of this show received warmly by the locals. The second performance still worked, albeit with a slightly lower energy, the fact that the audience were so intimidatingly close to us didn't cause any problems because every single person in that room was so very nice. It also felt good because it was relatively close to home, so we could actually sleep in our own beds that night - being away is nice, but sometimes you need the familiarity. The next night we performed twice in Cambridge - I won't go on about it again because I've written a separate post about it here, it was nice enough - the performances continued to get more boisterous (cocky, even) and those who were there loved it, but that's the end of my Cambridge performances for a very long while.

After a three day break (in which I had a chance to fulfil some drumming/filming commitments), we hit the road again and back down the other end of the country to Bristol. I can't deny this was a tough journey, my back tyre was in a bad way and as a result I was in danger of losing control of the car on the M4, pumping air into it didn't seem to help the situation so it had to be changed. In a more dramatic light I'd say we're lucky to be alive, but then again - why say that? Nothing actually happened, the situation was resolved, it was a bit scary but we arrived at the venue in good time all the time. The Birdcage is a wonderful space - it has Costello posters on the wall, it's relaxed without being for hippies, it's really well run. At first it looked like the audience would just be Matt, one of my best friends who we were also staying with that night, but a few more came in and we did the show to 10 people or so - it was enough to make it feel like it was working, and it was great to see Izzy again too as she's somebody I'm used to seeing a lot but just don't. The performance was a bit slack for 10 minutes then we hit good pace, not a bad show at all. I'm back at the Birdcage next year as a drummer, playing for Fred's House as part of our album tour, I look forward to it very much. The final date of our festive tour found us in Halesworth. You have to drive through about seven villages to find Halesworth, including a farm track, but it's worth it when you get there - a small village (although I think somebody called it a town), our show there was a sellout and Polly who ran Tilly's with her mother is a cracking host - enthusiastic, business minded, all the things you need. The performance itself (filmed by Nadia) was tight and solid, it reminded me of the Kendal performances where the audience are very respectful, treating it like 'proper' theatre but it was a strong end to the tour. It was a tour that took in 1,600 miles, I can't deny there were points where Hind and myself needed space from each other but that's part of what touring is about. It felt like a really strong show by the end, something I was proud of (was less proud of it at the start of the run, though), I'm not the easiest to work with; I have a very clear vision and I'm not the best at delegating, so Hind deserves a medal or something.

Also on this tour, for the first time, I actually had merchandise to sell. A recording of, 'Short Stories For Lanky People' on CD - a show I'd recorded at CB2 in Cambridge a week before the run. I actually think this is the best thing I've done - better than the tour show itself, it's surprised me how well this concept works. It's a solo piece (well, collection of solo pieces), and this release is a pretty clear indication of where I'm heading in 2014. I'll be touring a new solo show in the first few months of the year, I'm happy with the way it's shaping up - it's called, 'Getting Lost In My Home Town' and it covers pretty much everything that's bugging me at the moment, which feels like a lot of things. I won't be doing this show in Cambridge, for lots of reasons.

Yet for a man who is continually fantasising about going solo for creative projects because of the obvious lack of restraints for creativity, it feels strange to be back with Dowsing for this next gig because it's the furthest removed from solo you could get - I mean, there's over a hundred people involved (in Fred's House it's easy to be happy because there's a sense we're all on the same page anyway). We're playing at the Cambridge Corn Exchange this Saturday and it's our fourth major show. Dowsing is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, a rollercoaster that is loved by everybody involved in it. So many talented people are part of this show, it promises to be spectacular - the dress rehearsal tonight felt horrible for many reasons (not an excuse for my poor performance, but certainly lots of factors behind it), I found myself feeling frustrated and agitated throughout. But it's good to get these negative feelings out of the way now, by Saturday I'll be enjoying it again, hopefully.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Cambridge shows

We're currently mid-tour (will write up a full blog about how it's been when it's all over at the weekend, but it's been good - really good at times), it's an exciting thing - but last night we had the hometown performances, something that always concerns me. We had to do it - financially more than anything, because local shows generally help top up the kitty (no accommodation/petrol costs etc), but I can see why other acts struggle with the concept of performing in front of people they know so well. The joy of touring is that you are forced out of your comfort zone; I'm not sure there is a bigger thrill than winning over an audience who don't look like they are going to enjoy it...meeting new people, performing in different and often unconventional spaces. Back in your hometown the chances are the audience will be people who know you already and they'll find different things funny in the show because they know you personally; they'll laugh at the fact Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer has an addiction to Rustlers burgers because they know that in real life, previously at least, I've quite enjoyed microwave snacks - whereas a neutral audience will find it funny that Rudolph eats such a thing in the first place; on tour the audience cringe (and laugh) at the plight of a lonely office worker so desperate to impress that he ends up reinventing himself as Enrique The Spanish Elf - in Cambridge a lot of the audience will just see it as Paul - their mate, in an ill-fitting costume. It's still comedy, it still works on either level, but there's something about performing in my home town that doesn't feel right anymore, it's like we're not on a level playing ground before the show begins. Merchandise is another example, for this tour I've started selling a CD of a recent live show, Short Stories For Lanky People, not being arrogant but it's a cracking little show that one, but why would my friends buy a CD of me ranting for an hour when they can just meet me for a beer down the pub and hear me do it in real life?

The other danger of course is dwindling audience figures - when you've been performing in the same space naturally you can't sustain a run of sell-out shows and I've done far too much in Cambridge this year. People start to miss out on the odd show because they know you'll be back again soon...I can't complain, I've got friends who perform twice a month in this city, they have been for a couple of years now, yet I still haven't managed to catch a show. We had about 30 or so in last night, which is still very respectable and it was great to see new friends (Guilliaume, Adam, Natalie, Jessica) and old friends (Heather, both Vicky's, Griff, Gaff, Marcus, Leigh, Jack, Rohan, Andy, Amy, Dan, Julia, Alan), not a single member of the Dowsing Sound Collective which saddened me slightly as the audience sing-along bit was written for them but so be it (I shouldn't really be writing a tour show with specific audience members in mind so that's a learning curve right there). Last night was enormous fun - terrific vibe in the room for both performances, I'm so incredibly grateful to those people who keep turning up to see my work and I genuinely believe this show is the best thing I've done this year by some distance (Christmas always brings out the best in me and it's a frantic show, we cram a lot into 70 minutes but with a sense of poignancy too which has perhaps been missing from some of my recent work, I come off stage completely exhausted - which is always a good sign). There was also the sense that it was a bit of an annual Christmas party, for a lot of my friends now the Paul Richards festive show is part of their routine, it was great fun and I drove home happy. But yep, time to make sure my Cambridge performances are strictly an annual thing.