Sunday, 26 October 2014

It's been quite a fortnight!

On Tuesday the 14th I received a phone call from Birmingham Repertory Theatre asking if I would like to be involved in a piece called "Billy" for their Home Theatre project which was happening on Saturday 18th. "Err, yeah sure!" and so I jumped into three days of rehearsal at the Rep with director Jen Davies.

Home Theatre is a project which brings theatre into the homes of people in Erdington. The Rep invited applications from members of the public to host a performance and then sent theatre makers and writers from The Rep Foundry to meet the hosts and ask them what they would like their piece to be. "Billy" was commissioned by four residents of a retirement home who asked to see a play about a young man leaving Erdington to try and make his way as a singer in London in 1963. They requested three particular songs, some drama, comedy and a love interest. Writer Farrah Chaudhry, taking time out from being a story editor on Coronation Street, went away and created the piece with these ingredients and then Jen and I set about bringing it to life. The process was a lot of fun and the performance felt like a combination of many of the things I've been doing for the past few years with comedy, music, improv, ad libs and a bit of pathos all rolled into one. The piece had five characters so I was using such diverse techniques as a sock puppet, silly voices, a hat and reacting to an off stage voice to try and get all this over. It was a great script and working with Jen was really comfortable and rewarding. Most importantly Phyllis, Iris, Jean and Yvonne, their friends, family and fellow residents enjoyed it. Afterwards we got to have a cup of tea and a chat with them and that was hysterical. All in all a really fun few days.

After finishing at the retirement home it was straight off to the beautiful Lynn Arms in Kings Lynn for a gig. Nice crowd (including some four legged furry punters) who did their best to stop me finishing ("one more song!") meaning I played about two hours altogether before escaping into the night to find food and the B and B. 

On Thursday it was time for a gig I'd been looking forward to playing for a couple of months. I posted recently about Paul Murphy's Songwriter's Cafe (read all about it here) and this week it was my turn to do a set. Also on the bill were English Jones and Vix and her MsChiefs.

One of the many lovely things about Songwriter's Cafe is that artists are invited to have dinner together with hosts and organisers Paul and Valeria before hand, a chance for everyone to catch up and talk about music, gigs and all that sort of thing. Also in attendance was Brum legend, rock DJ and local music and media blogger Robin Valk who had some very interesting observations about Birmingham media coverage. See his blog for more

Readers of this blog will know my affection for this gig and it's magical, romantic ambience. It's one of my favourite places to play and to watch and again Thursday was a really lovely night. English Jones and Vix and her MsChiefs both played very cool sets and Paul closed the night with a virtuosic showcase in improvising songs on the spot, singing about members of the audience and accepting the crowd's subject suggestions of a chocolate addicted caterpillar attempting a singing career. Coincidently Paul had also been involved in Home Theatre, and it was nice to share stories about that. 

The next day I was back at The Rep performing a rehearsed reading for Cucumber Writers. The theme of the night was an office retirement party. I got to share the scene I was involved in with my mate Nadi Kemp-Sayfi which was a lot of fun, and when we weren't talking we were required to remain on stage eating party food looking fed up, both of which I think we managed quite well! 

Saturday saw me return to Bracknell to perform at Artree Live. This is another brilliantly put together gig run by the wonderful Phil. It's takes place at The South Hill Park Arts Centre in the appropriately named but very pleasant Cellar Bar. Phil had faced a panicky afternoon as one of the acts had been forced to drop out but luckily Quiet Wish stepped in. Michael Tuffery opened the night with a charming set with some great songs, and Helghyer headlined with impressive loop pedal excursions and delicate songwriting. 

The audience were lovely and did some excellent singing along during my set. I'd like to thank Jess, Laura, Lizzie and Sian for coming along to the gig and then taking me on a cultural tour of Wokingham afterwards.

I'd heard the very sad news about the passing of Jack Bruce on the car radio during the trip down to the gig and dedicated Break My Heart Blues to him, doing an extended improv bit in his honour. If I'd have had a drummer there I would have had a violent argument with him as a further tribute. 

Cream are one of my favourite bands and were a huge influence on The Bleak, the band I was in during my late teens and early twenties. Jack was an awesome, powerful bass player as well as a great vocalist and unique songwriter. I'm spending today listening to his music.

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