Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Pre-fringe thoughts

Our Edinburgh Fringe run starts on Saturday. The fact that I'm driving up there on Saturday is clearly an example of just how daft things have got; leave Cambridge at 5am, on stage in Edinburgh with the solo show at 4.15pm, on stage with Kimberley at 7.30pm. And then check into the accommodation, and sleep, lots. I get the sense it may take a couple days before I feel human and really hit my stride at the festival this year, which is a shame because reviewers typically turn up early on. As I'm writing this, I feel tired thinking about it all...but I know as soon as I get to Edinburgh, as soon as I see the Royal Mile in all it's glory for the first time, I'll feel excited - the kind of excitement that will last for my whole 36-performance stay up there.

Last week I tried out the third production, 'The Moments of Madness that Make Us.' Having three shows at the fringe can be done, but with this one being confirmed at really short notice you could see the panic in my eyes. Still - it's working, better than it probably should. Two lounge shows and a bit of tweaking later and it feels like a proper show already, and baring in mind this one doesn't open till week 3...yeah, I'll be fine. I'm annoyed with myself though; it was supposed to be a drama. With comic moments. But it hasn't turned out that way...because of the darker moments, it just highlights the comic glimpses even more and they get a huge laugh - more than my so-called 'comedy' shows have ever done. It has death in it - three people die, it has an attempted murder, it has some really tender moments about falling out of love and never being sure of what a 'home' is. But yep, it's hilarious, apparently. Mustn't grumble though, it feels like a strong show already and I'm only just finding my feet with it; it's effectively a duo show with myself and a pre-recorded CD. And the ending has surprised everyone, and perhaps makes them feel a bit awkward about the fact they've been laughing throughout all of it. I performed it publicly for the first time on Sunday at CB2 in Cambridge, on a double bill with 'Getting Lost In My Hometown' - which is now really slick (and so it should be, I've had it all year, it's been rubbish for a while before I found my feet with it - it's only the last month or so it's really come good). Somebody in the audience kindly reviewed both shows and described me as a being a "genius" - which is nice. I'm not, but I was on good form that night.

So the other show I need to get my head around is 'The Paul Richards Disasters' which is - as I've realised, an absolute bastard to learn. And it's a show in which I'm on stage with somebody else, Kim, which is a nice change after all this solo stuff but also puts a little pressure on me to actually learn my lines properly (rather than my usual routine of learning them vaguely and then saying whatever I want judging by the audience whilst making sure I make all the points I need to make) because if I don't that buggers up her cues. The show opens locally tomorrow night for a 2 night run before Edinburgh. The rehearsal on Sunday was a bit worrying because we were clearly quite far off, but last night there was a sense that it's coming together now, and hopefully tonight will see further progress. The preview performances this week may be shaky, but we can pull it off, I think. And Kim is a very quick thinker and is good at bailing me out on stage...

The whole fringe thing is naturally very much taking up my time at the moment, which is why it was so nice to be doing music stuff a lot last week. On Tuesday I played a storming gig with Claudia at the Portland, on Wednesday I recorded percussion parts for The Prisoner of Mars, on Thursday had a lovely dinner with the Dowsing band, on Friday played at the incredibly friendly IF Festival in Milton Keynes with Fred's House and then on Saturday evening we spent some valuable time in the rehearsal studio working on new stuff (Griff and Vix have written some absolute crackers). It occurred to me then; I won't be drumming for a whole month now. What if I forget how to drum?

Three weeks at the fringe is just days away though; I'm reasonably prepared. Some admin stuff to do, but we should be okay to hit the ground running I think. I'm expecting three weeks of jubilation, disasters, magical moments, frustration, unrivalled pleasure. And lots of friends, and lots of beer.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Reading, Buckden, and the weekend where I nearly quit

As far as weeks go, that wasn't the nicest - my father's health once again was causing concerns and I've spent many hours in hospital, wheeling him around. It's been difficult, can't deny that, but he's on the mend - they know what they're doing even if this is taking much longer than planned, and he's an inspiring figure. Because of this I had to pull out of a gig, something I hate doing, but physically it wasn't impossible to get to London to play with Claudia considering visiting times back at the wards. It's a shame, Claudia writes great songs and surrounds herself with really good musicians, it's always a pleasure to be involved.

I did still manage to write the whole of my latest show, The Moments of Madness that Make Us - wrote it in one very intense day (eventually finished it at 3am on Wednesday) and didn't look at it again until today, but more on that in a sec. And I did get one gig in mid-week, Fred's House supporting the amazing Slow Club at the Portland. I'm a huge fan of Slow Club, their new album is genuinely my favourite thing at the moment, and they had Fyfe Dangerfield on bass...it's situations like this which actually blow my mind! Gig was great, but hot - it was a bad day for the air conditioning to be broken...

This weekend I've been performing the solo show at The Reading Fringe. On Friday I dashed over from the hospital, performed it to 6 people, but 6 people who were really enthused by it - I went home happy enough. On Saturday I hit problems; the M25 is a road everyone warned me about, so I allowed extra time to get there. How much extra time do you need? I was crawling for over an hour on it, realising I was in danger of missing my afternoon performance at the festival. Eventually I got into Reading with 5 minutes to spare, but still nowhere near my venue and with traffic being plain daft. I ended up dumping my car and attempted to walk to the venue, only to realise I wasn't where I thought I was, so ended up running back to my car (getting cramp and falling into a road on the way, narrowly missing a bus) and then my sat-nav played up a bit. Pulled into a layby and considered everything...am I taking on too much? Is it time to quit? Is this working? Shall I just try living a normal life for a change? I was feeling pretty low about things, especially after the week I'd had. Eventually got to my venue 40 minutes late but amazingly...I had an audience there, waiting for me. Could barely talk because I was so exhausted, but soon hit my sweaty stride. The show got reviewed and I got 4 stars (out of 5, of course) and a lovely write-up, so I must have done something right.

Then a mad dash across to get to Buckden. Considering my Reading show ran late, I was now running late for Buckfest - a festival I was scheduled to play with Fred's House. Somehow, got there - I was a couple minutes late, but they were waiting for me, and pretty much jumped straight on stage and we played for an hour. Nice gig.

Ended my day by drinking lots of beer with my friends Andy and Amy, we had a nice barbeque and the conversation was cracking throughout. I needed to let off steam; they let me do that, until about 3 in the morning, when the whiskey had evidently took it's toll. It was a long day but - against all odds, I somehow got away with it. Wouldn't like to do that one again in a hurry though.

Today was easier; my dad seemed in better spirits when I popped around to see him earlier (and take my mum shopping), and then I rehearsed the '...Disasters' show with Kim, and then off to my mate Mike's house where I gave a first airing of, 'The Moments of Madness that Make Us'. It's such an odd show, really intense at times, really weird, but with big jokes in there too - perhaps more than my regular show. And half of it is pre-recorded, and you really have to stick with the plot to get it...unlike my other offerings which are, shall we say, more on the simplistic side of things. I wanted to raise the intelligence of my writing, write a show that challenges people a bit. Lovely crowd tonight, I'm itching to do this show again already. So...my thoughts about quitting? Nah, let's be honest about this, I'm still very much enjoying this, all of it, really.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

An intense, but magnificent weekend

The weekend was a rather ridiculous one but, after lots of theatrical tomfoolery recently it was great to focus properly on the drum/percussional aspect of my life. I'm very grateful that I can do both things, but sometimes it's great to just hit my glorious drums with sticks. The dress rehearsal on Friday night with Dowsing was long, but exciting; it was the coming together of everything - the choir, the band, the strings, the trumpet, the beatboxer. It also highlighted the scale of the project, which is sometimes difficult to judge when it's just five of you in a band rehearsal, but the thing I've learnt about Dowsing is that you can never underestimate how complicated this could get. In a good way, of course, I'm quite into complicated things.

On Saturday I was up stupidly early to head down to Cardiff to play at the International Food Festival with Fred's House. The thing I like about this band, apart from the music, of course (that bit is a given or else I wouldn't still be drumming for them after this long) is the way in which we can all be tired, grumpy but still get along. That's the sign of a special bond, that is. The gigs themselves were great; the first was without our lead guitarist Lachlan as he travelled separately and got caught up in traffic (bit unfortunate that three major events were happening in Cardiff on the same day) so it was a 'different' set - still enjoyable, but the material had to be carefully chosen for us to pull it off. We had a lengthy gap before the second performance in which we ate excessive amounts of pizza and Gaf got annoyed that nobody wanted to join him on a boat trip. The second performance was a joy; we were fired up on Red Bull and blasted through it (throwing in a cheeky cover of 'Stealers Wheel' in the middle was a masterstroke by Griff), huge audience - absolutely huge. Nice sound, nice equipment, cracking gig. Long trip home, because clearly after years and years they still haven't finished repairing the A14.

5 hours sleep, and then up for band soundchecks at the stunning Apex venue in Bury. I've heard lots of things about this venue but purposely kept my expectations low...needn't had bothered though, it's a beautiful room, the kind of room that as a musician you want to play every week. Soundchecks flew by, all seemed well. Bit like the show in Cardiff the day before this was another '2 shows in 1 day' thing - which I think always should be the way, if you've taken the time to soundcheck for hours the least you can do is get a couple of shows out of it. The first performance had it's problems, nothing can hide that fact. We seemed to lose communication with half of the band - Dave (our magnificent stand-in bassist) Sam and myself seemed to be on a different beat to Andrea at some points as we were having a few monitoring issues; the odd tempo glitch is usually recoverable, this was pushing it a bit far. Dowsing always has the sense that it could crumble at any moment such is the complexity of the project but it never does. It came bloody close during 'Terrible Love' - ironically probably the easiest song for me as I know it so well, but we just couldn't lock in, I had no idea what was going on around me, I couldn't hear much apart from my battering snare drum, I could feel the panic from everyone else around me. God knows how the choir kept going. It was pointed out to me later on that track got the biggest applause from the audience afterwards, which suggested it wasn't as bad as I had feared. Oh come on, let's be honest, it was. Got through the rest of the first show playing everything down, just getting through it. Audience gave the performance a standing ovation, I went straight to the dressing room and moaned more than anybody should.

Dinner and a good rant before the second show, Andrea remained remarkably positive - she has a lot of faith in her team, it means a lot in these moments. We had another quick soundcheck with the band and got the monitors up a bit, and the second show began. The second show was really strong, we could hear each other better, there was a bit of an edge to it. Everyone seemed on form - collectively it seemed to explode into something remarkable, the smiles had returned, the stress had gone - this was challenging fun, the best kind of fun, I've often found. Our guests for both shows - folk duo Megson, and beatboxer Skilly Skills, were magnificent both times and also incredibly lovely as well, I shall certainly check out more of their work. I went through a wide range of emotions on Sunday - it really is a rollercoaster being part of this. But at the end of the day, The Dowsing Sound Collective is exactly that; a collective. And together - thanks to the way the incomparable Andrea has put this together - it continues to produce magic; spectacular, musical magic.

Things are going up a few notches this moment; a lot of things are there to bother me; moving house - because my legendary landlord/housemate/friend is moving in with the girl of his dreams (I am genuinely happy for him - they are the definition of 'perfect couple') and still not entirely sure where I'll be going yet - looking at a house tomorrow which looks great so fingers crossed, sorting insurance/other legal/admin bits for theatrical projects, the health of a close family member which I've lost countless nights sleep worrying about. And yes; the Edinburgh Fringe is creeping up very quickly. Although rehearsals are behind schedule, there's a very clear plan now to what I'm doing and it'll be fine; we have the solo show (me being me, doing what I think I do best), the sitcom show (which is bloody enjoyable and should be the most accessible of all my shows) and the experimental heavy drama show (which I've poured my soul into - not wishing to give away the plot but it ends with me collapsing from the stress of it all...this could be my finest work yet, but equally could be dreadful). I've started to realise recently I'm a better person on stage; off stage I'm far too chatty which I imagine must get annoying (just ask the ex-girlfriends), on stage I know what I'm doing - I know how to drum, and for the comedy stuff the chatting is considered to be part of the act so I can bloody ramble away. The stage is really where I feel at home; which is cool because I'm on various types of them pretty much continuously for the next 9 weeks or so.

Monday, 7 July 2014


The audience tonight; a couple at the back - couldn't see them but I heard titters of laughter occasionally, a couple further forwards who laughed a lot but they know me and have seen this show before and were anticipating certain scenes (the 'Grace' song for example, and the nightclub bit), a guy who chuckled at the bigger moments but every now and then checked his mobile, a friendly couple - a chap I used to go to school with and his partner, they really enjoyed it if a little worried about the idea of potential audience participation, a couple who I didn't know but who grew to like me during the course of the show - I had them by the end, another couple I didn't know but the woman loved it, the man less so, my mate Julia who is just so nice anyway she was always going to like it, an American couple who laughed outrageously for most of it, I seemed to lose them a bit in the middle but had them back by the end.

And this is where the problem really is. Me. And the fact I spend far too long analysing the audience. It wasn't a bad show tonight, it was one I'd been looking forward to in a while because it's a really great venue, but - as is happening frequently these days, I came off stage with a sense that I hadn't done myself justice. It's now 1.08am, I probably shouldn't be writing this now, but so be it - I like to think it's because I'm performing a lot these days and so it's healthy to share my experiences, or I just need a rant. It was hot tonight; it's a professional venue where the audience are barely seen (unless you're like me and you're actively glaring at them) and the performer is under hot, hot lights. I spent most of the show feeling that the room is so hot, they must feel drowsy so hey - let's do this show as quickly as possible and put them out of their misery. According to my friend on the train back, she said it wasn't hot at all for the audience. If I'm to continue to grow as a professional I need to get used to venues of this calibre, and understand that even if I'm feeling a bit clammy, the audience can look after themselves.

The other issue is a strange one; I know this show almost too well now. I've performed it a lot. I'm bashing through it, absolutely storming away on a tangent. There's a difference between a show being slick and a show that's on auto-pilot and I know that audiences are intelligent and can spot the difference - so in my fear that I'm on auto-pilot (which I was in Surrey at the weekend) I tend to try even harder to please every single person in the room. American man laughed at a line but the guy behind him didn't...who do I go with here? Continue to impress the person who is enjoying it, or try and win over the man who still isn't convinced?

I need to get over this, because whilst I'm second-guessing everybody in the room (which isn't healthy anyway because, well, they might have just had a bad day today so not in the mood for laughter), the show probably does ramble a bit more than normal - the words are still coming out of my mouth, mostly in the order they should, but without as much feeling as the other part of my brain is wondering why a girl on the third row found the word 'sandwiches' written on a flipchart hilarious but isn't enjoying the song.

Don't get me wrong; tonight was a good enough show. They were mostly up for it, I gave them a show that was well worth the £7.50 they paid on the door. I just need to get over a few things that are bugging me - I've spent the best part of a year building this show, from the early lounge shows to the tour to the festivals, it's a goodun, but you wouldn't have thought so by the way I feel, every night, coming off stage. Have I forgotten to enjoy these things? I think it's simple; I need to start bloody well enjoying them, or stop doing it at all.

Anyway, 26 performances to go.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Gigs, recording, challenges

It's been a fairly busy couple of weeks since I last updated this. The 'releasing a short story every day in July' thing has started well - you can check out all the videos so far here: https://www.youtube.com/JiggeryPokery100

It's odd, you know, releasing a short story every day because you feel like you're hassling people, every day, to watch you. Which is weird. I mean, it's nice if they do, I've put a lot of effort into writing these pieces, but at the same time - well, that's a lot of (continuous) Paul Richards, isn't it? I probably wouldn't watch me every day. Best perhaps to leave it a few days and watch a couple at a time. Or don't watch them at all, I'm not really expecting people to, I'm just happy to be writing new material again and quite chuffed that I've got the ideas for 31 new pieces.

I've been drumming a lot lately, which is obviously a great thing (for me). I've never been a fan of corporate gigs, but apart from that one the other gigs have been great fun - Begfest in Bedford in particular was an absolute treat in front of a brilliant audience.

Alongside my regular Fred's House stuff I've been working closely with The Dowsing Sound Collective; our big two shows at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds are next Sunday and well worth checking out because that choir are sounding awesome (and the band are gelling rather nicely too...). We played a shorter set yesterday at Parker's Piece in Cambridge; although it's always going to be difficult only having a 15 minute changeover from the previous act, especially when there was 90 singers yesterday and the band, we got through it and the crowds seemed to be really excited about what we're doing, which is nice. Ah yes, and last weekend I also laid down the drum parts for the new Prisoner of Mars record, which is sounding great, and very dancey - which is a bit of a departure for POM but it's going to be a decent LP I think, he writes good tunes, that man.

Performing solo comedy stuff really confuses me; some days I love it (Barnstaple, Leeds) other days - such as last night where I performed at an outdoor festival and really wasn't wooing that audience, it feels very lonely indeed up there. I guess theatre/comedy rarely works in a marquee at a music festival, I've never seen it work anyway (although apparently it does great at Latitude). It wasn't a bad show, and I get that people want to go and watch the band on the main stage, but it is demoralising when they leave your tent, you do feel like you haven't done enough to impress them. Still, it's all good practice I guess, and I met Ade Edmondson, who is another one of my heroes, so not all bad. Nearly ended up in Portsmouth on the way home due to a confusing diversion, but at least that gave me the opportunity to shout a bit. I'm doing the show in Camden tomorrow night, that's one that I've been looking forward to for a while...

I've had a couple evenings off (mostly due to gig cancellations) recently and it's been nice to socialise again, does feel like it's the calm before the storm though. I seem to be getting offers daily for new projects (everything from drumming jazz to writing the dialogue for a political comic strip), it's flattering but I need to be careful - this may have been a relatively calm week, but the fringe is alarmingly close all of a sudden, how did this happen?