Monday, 19 March 2012

Bill Drummond & The17 - Damascus In London

A few days ago I received an email inviting me to take part in Bill Drummond's latest project. Here is an excerpt from the email.

"Bill Drummond was supposed to come with us to Damascus in 2011, where he was going to lead a performance around the Old City Walls there. Due to the ongoing repression in Syria it was not possible. Therefore he will recreate this performance here in London. He has drawn a map of the Old City Walls of Damascus onto a map of London. He will place all of us around the city of London to recreate these, and then we will pass one musical note around the circle, signifying the links.

From Bill: ‘To make a performance of SURROUND happen, you first take a map of a city, draw a circle on it, so that in reality the circle would have a circumference of five kilometres. Find 100 locals willing to become members of The17. Place each of these 100 members of The17 at 50-meter intervals around the circumference. Once they are all in position, you get the first one to cry out at the top of their voice ‘Way-Ho’ at his/her clockwise neighbour. The neighbour repeats the cry to his/her clockwise neighbour and so it goes on until the cry has been passed all the way around the 5K circumference, this takes between ten and fifteen minutes. After this the performance is over. Or the physical aspect of it is, if done properly it will continue in your imagination for years to come. I wont go into how great it feels to take part in this and what its musical qualities are. You will just have to instigate a performance of SURROUND yourself to find out.
I will instigate the performance of SURROUND that was to happen in Damascus here in London.’"

I've been a fan of Bill Drummond for many years since his days in The KLF, through The K Foundation burning a million quid, to some great books, such as "45" and "The 17". The 17 explores Bill's relationship with music and he tries to imagine what it would be like to start creating music all over again as if it had never existed in the first place.

The score that I and 99 other people would be performing was Score 328, called "Surround". This was conceived as being a trilogy with it being performed in Scotland, Lebanon and Syria. The Scottish and Lebanese pieces have been done, but obviously it is impossible to do in Damascus at the moment so Bill has recreated the city walls of Damascus in London.

I do hope I don't get placed south of the river though, and that I'm not in a busy shopping street. I am quite nervous about this as it does involved standing in a position, waiting, and shouting, then waiting again till the call travels right round London (aka Damascus) and shouting again five times.

This is the score we will be attempting

Well, I am going to get ready and head to the London School Of Economics where Bill will explain this in more detail. I'm also boyishly excited to get the chance to meet Bill Drummond as well!


The17 - Me kneeling beside Bill Drummond at the bottom right!!

Well it is now the next day, and what an exciting day it was. I followed my map and arrived at Tower 1 of LSE where there were already7 or 8 others hanging around. A few knew each other, but most had arrived by themselves. We stood around and chatted awkwardly for a bit before eventually being led up to the 10th floor where the chatting soon got less awkward and we were soon discussing how we heard about this project and swapped various takes of art, music and comedy.

Bill arrived and addressed us all so we all knew what was going to happen, He spoke of previous performances of this piece and explained how we may feel both while we were doing this, and afterwards. He said it was common for people to try and run away, but when this happened the guilt would draw them back, because if one link in the chain goes, the whole circle is broken.

We were given our T-shirts and gathered downstairs for a photo or two. Then we were off. This was the longest part of the process: making sure everyone is in position. As we started walking I was at the front with Bill. I told him I was quite excited about this and also rather nervous. "Not as nervous as I am" he said as he chuckled!

We started at Victoria Embankment and Bill explained that he was going to pace out 50m intervals and each time he stopped he expected one person to stay there. This was where I made my mistake. I volunteered 2nd. I should have kept walking with everyone and tried to be last, as it meant that I had to basically stand there for an hour.

I had to keep number 1 and number 3 in my sights (we were self policing and had to make sure no one tried to leave.) I was nervous and excited all at the same time. I was glad I wasn't standing outside a Tesco, but I was standing in quite a touristy area and I really didn't want to bellow as a nice family were going past.

The girlfriend of number one kept coming up to see if I was getting lonely. I was. It was both a communal and very lonely experience. My phone battery had died. This meant that my brain had to think. I asked this lady how she found out about the performance and she explained she had links to the Syrian community. I asked her if she knew anything about Bill Drummond. She hadn't, and was quite surprised when I told her he used to be a pop star.

After a long wait, I saw number 1 waving at me and saw Bill running towards her. The circle was complete. Without pausing, both number one and Bill loudly called out:


I turned to number three and repeated the cry:


I heard this maybe 3 or 4 more times before it faded into the distance as it started to circle Damascus in London. I went back to the number one position and bid number one and her girlfriend farewell. Bill and I walked the 100m or so to the final place and we waited.

Courtesy of @Littlepixel

I asked him how long it would take to get round. He said that usually it is about ten minutes. Our small talk was soon interrupted though. I thought I could hear it across the river, but put that down to an overactive imagination. But I was right. Across Waterloo Bridge came the calls: "Way-oh!" They were getting louder and closer and eventually got to the final position. Bill had ran further on to receive the last call: "Way-oh!" he cried with a huge beam on his face.

We slowly started to come together again, and even though this was a very public display (I wonder how many people were on the route round London that heard it) it was also very private. No one who heard it knew why we were doing it. Even now, I don't really know why we did it. But everyone was happy. A hundred people united at the start and at the end, and soon we drifted our separate ways and will never come together as The17 again.

And I even got my copy of "45" signed. What an uncool way to end a very very cool day!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Freezing My Balls Off At #ACMS

The New Red Lion was cold. This tent in a warehouse was positively Siberian. I arranged to meet Rob and Richard here at opening time and after being a bit lost, discovered Rob Sedgebeer and he guided me safely to the almost impossible to find venue. A few other people seemed to have been in the wrong queue at a different venue too!

Isy Sutie & Nadia Kamil
Thom Tuck and John Luke Roberts opened proceedings at the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society by explaining the list of permitted heckles to us. These range from "We appreciate what you are trying to do" to "Would you like a woman to help with that", but no other heckles are allowed. One new one did make the list though after the microphones initially failed to work: "It's like Norman Collier".

Ben Target started the show by being hazed and being painted by a man with a roller on the end of his trombone.  He gave us sweets but warned us not to eat them. We didn't!

Tony Law
There was Nadia Kamil who was just learning guitar performing a song dedicated to her step mum, oops, sorry, I mean her dad's girlfriend - they are NOT getting married - ably assisted by Isy Sutie resplendent in Cher wig, bat wing top and leopard print mini dress and heels.

There was the always astounding Tony Law with his new African Elephant / Indian Elelphant / Morgan Freeman Elephant telling the story of 2 elephant's walking into a bar from both the human and elephant angle, ending with an extended Stewart Lee style conversation with himself.

Sara Pascoe and Boris Johnson (aka me)
There was Sara Pascoe, who was discussing the mayoral elections who came on as Mr Bean before revealing that she wasn't really, then pulling me on stage to be Boris Johnson. Another fellow was chosen to be Boris's opponent, Ken Johnson, but what hope did either of us have against "tiny mole". I even lost the race to the seats opposite, though did get to say a lovely poem.

There was a surly "French poet", Marcel Lu Cont, who taught us about sex and sexual positions. Unfortunately I have forgotten the name of Phill Jupitus's character who worked with all the greats from Sean Connery to Walt Disney (who plagiarised him) taking questions from the floor.

Phill Jupitus
Martin White sang a song about all the songs you can never really remember the words to, called "Something Something Something In The Morning", and the show was headlined by Howard Read and Little Howard who were fantastic. Big Howard reminds me in a way of Lee Mack, and this is a new spin on what would have been a ventriloquist act if it had happened even 10 years ago. Poor Little Howard. He had invited his "differently visible" duck friend that Big Howard just didn't seem to like. Little Howard ended the evening with another Q&A session, which was ambitious in its technical scope, but worked just fine.

#ACMS is moving on, and will next be in Shepherds Bush next month. I just hope this venue has some form of heating!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

#RIPGreggJevin - The Gregg Jevin Memorial Concert

"Sad to say that Gregg Jevin, a man I just made up, has died". This was the throwaway little joke that Michael Legge came up with a couple of weeks ago on Twitter. It was retweeted. Someone else paid their respects to Gregg. It was retweeted. Within an hour or two it was the top trending topic on Twitter. I tried to Storify it as it went on, but the tweets were coming in more than one every second. Something about Gregg had caught the public's imagination and with Chris Addison, Peter Serafinowicz, Hugh Bonneville, Colin Baker, and others with a lot of followers joining in, this made a most unusual and entertaining morning. The Royal Albert Hall offered to put on a memorial show after Michael joked about the idea (unfortunately for a dreadful amount of money). Radio Times even tweeted about the changes to the TV schedule that night.

No one really knew Gregg. But suddenly everyone loved him. Though some people hated him. Songs were written. T-shirts were made. Newspaper articles were written. Proper newspapers too, none of your online blog stuff that doesn't really count. The idea of a memorial show stuck in Michael's head and soon it became a reality which happened last night at The Soho Theatre. Michael asked me how easy it was to project some tweets before the gig, so I came up with some of my favourite ones which are presented for you below.

I had met up with Robert and Heather at The Dog & Duck before the show and soon moved on to the Soho Theatre bar where I met Michael. The Trap were hanging around suspiciously as they often do, and I was glad to see that Bridget Christie was there too. But more about her later. 

Craig eventually met up with me just in time after a traumatic incident with a broken down bus and we nabbed some nice seats neat the front. After the intro slides, we had a message from Little Howard and Michael came out to welcome us to the show and we soon found out that this was a very twitter based show with only one person saying they weren't on Twitter. And surprisingly everyone was well behaved and didn't tip tap at their phones all the time during the show.

Polite Notice: I'm going to put up a few pictures of the gig shortly. There is the back of a young man's head quite heavily featured. Please do not look at that and focus your attention on the people on stage. Thanks.

Tony Law
Tony Law seemed to be running late but got here just in time to open the show. He's a Canadian guy who has been around for some time and was speaking completely off the top of his head trying to come up with jokes about Sport Relief (which this show was raising money for - I should have mentioned it earlier)

He was as chaotic and brain frying as ever, and as well as Sport Relief he touched on all the bad people that are killed by cancer, so there was a slight frisson in the room but Tony ploughed on, pulling ideas from his unusual brain. He is performing his full show at Soho Theatre in April, so that's one we have to go to.

Barry from Watford
I've heard a lot about Barry From Watford, but didn't really know what to expect. Well, he was great. An odd older gentleman. He was both endearing and repulsive at the same time, Barry brought out his rather grotesque puppet who he was at great pains to point out was not an official Disney character.

Barry spoke of the ongoing battle of the possibility of a strip club opening in Watford High Street, but the council have told him that they definitely won't be opening one.

Simon Evans
Simon Evans was next, who started with one of Gregg's favourite jokes about an Englishman, a Welshman and a Pakistani, ensuring a little tension in the room. Of course, the butt of the joke was the Welshman, but Simon was keen to point out that yes, it was racist, but not the bad kind. He told us he had the right to tell the joke as he had a little Welsh blood in him. But he was going to sue the transfusion service as he'd rather have tetanus...

The Trap
Without any further ado Michael brought on The Trap. I'm a big fan of The Trap (but don't tell Paul Litchfield). The Trap are 3/4 of Los Quattros Cvnts and feature Paul, Jeremy Limb and Dan Mersh. I had tweeted earlier hoping that they would do their Alphabetti Spaghetti sketch. It was sheer coincidence, but I like to think that my tweet caused them to choose that routine which was a sketch containing all the letters of the alphabet and nothing else.

After this Paul and Jeremy came on as The Two Nevilles, an old music hall style act complete with fezzes. When they boasted they finished their rather twee routine, they joked to Dan that they knew it so well they could do it backwards which Dan of course made them do, which brought a whole new dirtier meaning to the sketch which horrified both the Nevilles as it went on. The Trap are The Ronnies of today, and if you get a chance to see their shows, please take advantage of it.

"Louise Mensch" aka Bridget Christie
Michael came on to the stage for the serious bit that all charity shows have, and introduced Louise Mensch, the feminist Tory MP. I had seen Bridget do this terrifying character before at ACMS. Wearing the most grotesque costume which consisted of a military helmet and her child's mask (which was too small for her to see out of properly) she ranted about her commitment to feminism.

She asked the young lad at the front to pick her "baby" up from the stage as she didn't want to bend down in case he wig fell off. The poor boy!  "Is this really happening?" "I'm in my own nightmare" were two memorable quotes. Bridget Christie is in the top 5 comedians I have ever seen and will take every chance I get to see her perform.

Moose Allain
Moose Allain is someone that I've followed on Twitter for some time but don't really know much about. He is good Twitter value, a funny writer, and creator of cutesy demanding robot son Archie Allain. He has never performed a show in public before, but Michael loves him so much he invited him to this show. He read out a letter he had written to Gregg, both "as a useful framing device and because I don't need to learn my lines."

Moose is a must-follow on Twitter so if you're not following him already, go and do it now.

The Beatles were up next. It was quite fun to have a sing song, but perhaps a couple of songs would have been better rather than five!

Rachael Parris
Somewhat surprisingly, Ian Rankin had written an anecdote about Gregg which he had sent to Michael, which Michael read after the interval. I don't think anyone expected this, but it turns out that Gregg and Rebus became best friends. Originally this was meant to be delivered by Peter Serafinowicz but unfortunately he couldn't make it, however Michael did a sterling job!

After a slight technical hitch with the keyboard, Michael introduced Rachael Parris. She is very adorable and sweet, with an undercurrent of tragedy. She spoke about giving up drinking, well drinking alone, well drinking unbranded vodka at home, well she hasn't given up drinking.

She started with a song with the refrain "There's a little bit of sick in my mouth, and even more in my hair", followed by a love song to Gregg to the tune of Hey Jude.

Next up was the fantastic Shappi Khorsandi, but she was unfortunately beaten to her routine about having an affair with Gregg by quite a few comedians before her! she spoke of the relationship and how he changed his number quite a lot and that she often left 10 or 15 voice mails on his phone. She plays the stalker very well! She says she now gets on with his wife very well, and visits her frequently in hospital!

Nick Doody followed Shappi and touched on death quite a lot. He was at his mother's funeral and it was pointed out that he was singing along to the hymns and was asked if he was coming back to the fold. But of course he was singing along. It was a funeral...

Nick told us the worst thing he has ever said. It was recent, so he still seemed rather embarrassed about it. I won't tell the joke as it will spoil it for you. And I've also forgotten.

He ended his set with quite a grotesque mime, which I don't even dare to explain, but when some people gasped he did ask us if we realised there was no one there?

I've heard Nick on podcasts and followed him on Twitter for some time but this was the first chance I got to see him. He warmed up the crowd nicely just in time for the legendary Guns'N'Moses!

Guns'N'Moses are a "Rhythm 'n' Jews" band consisting of Dave Cohen and Al Murray. Rather than waste precious words, I'll let the video below speak for them...

After a slight delay due to a costume change, a slightly dishevelled Pub Landlord arrived wearing a Santa hat. No one questioned it. I mean, you all know Al Murray so you know just how well he can interact with the crowd. Al promised us that he would go further than Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle and push the envelope of taste by singing the edgiest song that exists.

Al Murray
He spoke to the young lads at the front and gave them some cash from his own pocket to get beers. He then sent one of them back to get a beer for himself. After more chat with the crowd we were ready to sing the song - "Baa Baa Black Sheep"

The only complaint I would have is that it was all far too short. I'd happily watch Al for hours. Mitch Benn brought the gig to a close with another singalong song, "Goodbye Gregg Jevin" As Michael said afterwards, the joke is now over and let's look forward to "the next stupid thing we all do"

After the show I hung out in the bar and got chatting with Lewis Schaffer, a friend of Heather's. He does a free show every Tuesday and Wednesday at The Source Below, and I've heard many good things about him so I will try to get down there next week if I have recovered from The Alternative Comedy Memorial Society the night before.

Many thanks to Michael for organising this stupid night full of stupid stuff, and I wonder what stupid thing will happen next.

RIP Gregg Jevin.