Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hangovers. CURED!

I can pinpoint the exact moment that Saturday night's mascara began to slide down its cheeks.

We'd been carousing for a few hours, celebrating the performance of Ben's show and Ro's imminent slip down to London. (It seems we are leaking Mancunians up here. Watch out South, the North is coming to flatten both your caps and your vowels.)

Ben, Dan and I (aka Geddes Loom) had been rehearsing all day, were extremely glad at the end of it to take a breath and a beer and head to meet our friends and see the show. We knew we had a busy day the next day, but could not be deterred in our party spirit. Moving to another bar after the theatre we all sat round a big table, talking, laughing and taking increasingly indulgent selfies with flattering filters.

At midnight my watch beeped, as it is inexplicably wont to do. I raised my head from my trough of white wine, vaguely surprised. A dour, tweedy part of my brain glanced up from its improving book and muttered something about early starts, but the larger part of my brain, sporting a garish Hawaiian shirt and a cap with beer cans attached to it, elbowed it hard.

An indeterminate amount of time later I was talking earnestly to someone about something important when Rachel and Dan appeared in the periphery of the table, bearing one large tray and two wicked grins.

"Shots!" they called, joyously.

"Hurray!" replied everyone, wonkily.

This, I should think, was where it all drifted. This, not the twelve drinks beforehand, was the reason for taxis slept in, chips cried over, love declared and QI squinted at.

The following day Dan, Ben and I reconvened to continue our rehearsals for that evening's inaugural Pen:Chant, which we were not only organizing but also hosting and performing at.

When Dan arrived we exchanged looks and he shook his head, slowly so as not to disturb the angry bats that had taken up residence therein.

"OK?" I said, squintily.

He took a deep breath as an answer, and we all made some more coffee.

But think of it! I kept reminding myself. We get to see Fi tonight! Fi who was our roommate in Edinburgh and who is excellent. And all we have to do is go to Three Minute Theatre, put on a show with two excellent acts and hang out with a tiny dog called Mandy. This, surely, is the best hangover cure in the world?

I tell you what, it really was.

There was no part of it that I felt stressed or unsure about. Unlike loads (most) of the things I've done this year I didn't even slightly wish that I would get a tiny bit hit by a car on the way so I would have an excuse not to go. It's a lovely place run by lovely people. Mandy the tiny dog is tiny. Tiny! Gina and John run the venue and they are lovely and generous.

Hannah in the Wars (Hannah, Fi and Rosie) were really epic and cool. Three fierce, serious, funny, talented women being great all in a row. (Also Rosie lent me her cello. I am very grateful to her for that, partly because her cello is nicer than mine.) Here they are:

Our other guest act was Jon Bennett, and he was brilliantly funny, as well as managing to be a little bit poignant as well. He did a shorter version of his show, Pretending Things Are A Cock, and we felt very pleased with ourselves for snagging such a good comedian for our first show. Ben and Dan had hung out with him when they swanned (swun?) off to Australia to do the Perth and Adelaide Fringe earlier this year. At first I was a tiny bit intimidated by him as he seemed a bit cool, but then, after talking to him, I realized he was normal and a bit weird, just like everyone else. Here he is:

We had four people on the open mic section (two women, two men) who were lovely, funny and thought-provoking. Our audience was made up of nice people who were attentive and clapped in the right places. They even didn't seem to actively mind when I made this joke:

Q: How do you make a duck into a soul singer?
A: Put it in the microphone until it's Bill Withers*

*This joke doesn't work written down because of the apostrophe. This is a grammar joke!

To be fair I was introducing Fi onto the stage to sing "Grandma's Hands" with Ben on beatbox and me on backing vocals. But I suppose to be fairer it is a terrible joke**.

**No it isn't. It's a great joke.

So we have discovered a great hangover cure! Put on a night, make terrible jokes, sing some songs. Play with a tiny dog called Mandy.

Here we all are together (I am holding Mandy):

(Next Pen:Chant is on Monday 9th December at Three Minute Theatre)

Monday, November 04, 2013

All Just A Game We're Doing

A few years ago I was locking my bike up on a dark, rain-grisled street in Manchester. The bike stand was the last one in a long row, and I was hurrying up, keen to get out of the wintery night. Suddenly I heard methodical dinging of bicycle bells and looked up to see a man, forty-ish and roundish with a dark coat and tattoos on his hands, walking along the row of locked up bikes and carefully ringing each bell in turn.

I paused and watched him. When he got to me stopped. "Um" he began, sheepishly. "Can I do yours as well? It's sort of... a game I'm doing."

I stood back. "Yeah, of course."

Ding. "Ta, love."

Ding. Ding. Ding. (fades)


That story doesn't really relate to anything, I just couldn't work out how to start the first blog post I have done since I was in the midst of wrestling with the Edinburgh Fringe. Because obviously you've all been lying face down in darkened rooms weeping into your laptops, torn up by pain and loss, wondering why I have cruelly abandoned you.

We returned from Edinburgh and I did the annual wondering why I felt so bleak for two weeks, before coming out the other side of it and getting REMEMBER YOU ALWAYS FEEL HORRIBLE AFTER EDINBURGH tattooed on the insides of my eyelids. It makes sense to feel a bit weird after an entire month of not only performing alone for an hour a day, often with reviewers taking copious scritchy notes IN THE FRONT ROW, but also having to trudge about and sell the bloody thing as well. Towards the end of the month my flatmate Fi came to provide some much-needed solidarity and get rid of my millions and billions of remaining flyers. She was also exhausted, though, neither of us fit for much more than drinking lovely things and reminiscing about the good old days at the beginning of the festival when we were still young and able to construct sentences. "Do you want... shows?" I whispered, tearily proffering a flyer to a person. "Um... nice font, picture of a girl?" tried Fi.

The show itself went pretty well, with some good reviews and some circumspect ones. I began throughout the fringe to realize that really, I prefer the informality of a gig, I like to chat with people from the stage. The performances I saw that I related most to were the ones that had a smack of cabaret, and the best bits in my own show were the chatty, informal feeling ones. There was, in my show, a fair bit of the other kind of performance too, the fourth wall kind. It was a tough thing to realize halfway through that I didn't think it quite worked, but still have to get up and perform it for another seventeen days straight.

My favourite moment in Edinburgh was at the Tron Church. It is a glorious, weird and wonderful place at the end of the Royal Mile. A church with a stage, tables and a bar. Cavernous and stained-glassed, with acoustics that make your ears stand on end. We did a few Geddes Loom gigs there, but I had wangled a solo gig. Just me, my cello and my loop pedal. David, the guy who was running the Tron this year, was unsure about letting me have the slot at first, I had to argue and smile and flatter my way in when I signed up to it (he was happy to let me sign us up as a band, less happy to sign myself solo) (weird).

I had a forty-five minute slot and probably about thirty-five minutes of material. But these things always start late, I thought, and they won't mind me getting off a bit early, it's a pretty relaxed gig.

About a hundred and fifty people were there, more by the end. Silent and listening, smiling when I chattered a bit at them between songs. Flatmate Aaron was there, drinking, smiling and occasionally offering a gentle heckle. I did about half an hour, then announced my last song. The church was full. Packed with people whose eyes were shining in the nicest way. David came over. Can you do a few more?

So that was the point that I improvised a song with my loop pedal, getting rhyme suggestions from the audience and making up a song about... I forget. At one point we mentioned the public toilets just outside the church, though. I remember that.

I sold all my CDs. I signed autographs and was offered drinks. It was weird and special. Aaron and I immediately went to a nearby Spendy Wine Bar to drink Spendy Wine and eat cheese off wooden boards.

That was kind of amazing.

Also amazing: we found somewhere with Prosecco on tap. We did not stay there long, it was far too dangerous and, contrary to popular belief, being an ARTISTE does not pay as well as say, being an investment banker made of gold.


I have other news! (No, not pregnant, engaged, booked in for a nose job etc.)

Geddes Loom, my band/company with Ben and Dan, have been selected for the Routes North project. Ta DA!

This means rehearsal space, two performances in each of the three venues (The Lowry, ARC in Stockton and Theatre in the Mill in Bradford) and general love and support (the 'love' bit isn't in the contract) from all the venues. We are also being funded by the Arts Council, which is excellent and will keep wine on the table for a bit longer.

We begin rehearsals at the end of this year, continue next year until the shows in mid-February.

You can read more about it here (if you like).

It does mean me leaving my lovely teaching job at Christmas. I've been there for nearly three years and I will miss the staff and kids. It's been ages since I have been in one place long enough for people to properly get my name right and notice when I have done something to my hair. (Also we had an Ofsted inspection recently and got 'outstanding'.) (I am aware that I'm beginning to sound like a smug family round robin letter sent out at Christmas alongside a photo of everyone in a Florida sunset wearing linen. Sorry.)

So I will be truly freelance once more. Which is obviously totally terrifying in some ways, but it's a good time to do it. Eggs Collective have got loads of 2014 plans as well. Lowri is still in Brazil and Lydia's lyd-ing it up in London, but we don't stop planning, booking things in and peering at each other on Skype dreaming of white wine hugs.

Oh, and I'm secretly hoping to go and do a stint in NYC at some point. Not a massive stint, I mean a few weeks, but there are some exciting people and things going on and I want to get on planes and do things.

I am booking a schools and colleges tour of Bright Lights, as I performed it in a nearby school to year 11 pupils, followed by a day of workshops then a performance by them for the year 9 pupils as part of year 9 PSHE to talk about failure, ambition and resilience. It worked well, and I reckon it's the best way forward with that show. I am proud of it, but when I imagine my future solo work it looks like that gig in Edinburgh, talking to people and hoping their eyes shine.


Once, in London, I had stayed up all night recording a song for a competition deadline at 10am the following morning. You had to hand in a CD to BBC building on the Aldwych. I had recorded all the vocals, then stuck the microphone out of my bedroom window to record the buses rumbling up and down Brixton High Street. At 8.45am I finished and, dizzy with relief and sleep deprivation I sprinted out of the front door. Clutching my precious CD I hailed a taxi. Just as I was about to get in a man stopped me and asked me if I knew how to get to The Strand. He sounded foreign and looked a bit panicked. Well, I answered, as it happens, that's very near where I'm going anyway! So get in. I was going to pay for it anyway.

He got in and we screeched off. At 9.30am I stumbled in to the reception and thrust my CD in the pile.

The man was waiting for me when I got out. Want to go for breakfast?

Yeah, OK.

We went, and I remember thinking in a detached way that this was like the start of a romcom. I meet a man and win a competition to kick start my career, all on the same day!

We had found a café, had croissants, coffee and a nice chat, shook hands and left. Oh yeah, I thought, we were just two people having a moment. Like life, not a romcom.

(Oh, and I never heard back from the competition.)


Geddes Loom have started a music/comedy/spoken word night! The first one is next Sunday at Three Minute Theatre, and will be excellent. If you are in Manchester or nearby you must come along.