It is worth bearing in mind when you read today’s blog that both Jenny and I have a fear of heights or, in my case, a fear of over-balancing.
Another example of a good act with the wrong audience was Jenny Eclair. In the early 1980s, she was on at The Elephant Fayre, one of the hippy fairs in Cornwall. There was supposed to be an act performing called The Vicious Boys who, at the time, were quite popular as children’s TV presenters. So the audience was 14 year olds who had come to see The Vicious Boys plus all the normal casually-dressed hippies and leather-clad Hell’s Angels.
I was compering but The Vicious Boys hadn’t arrived and, at 11.00am, the organisers decided to put Jenny Eclair on instead. All these children, hippies and Hell’s Angels were sitting on the grass, disappointed that The Vicious Boys hadn’t turned up. So I went on and said:
“We’ve got someone to replace The Vicious Boys. Will you please welcome Miss Jenny Eclair….”
She came out in an evening dress and her opening line was:
“You know what it’s like when you’ve been invited to a dinner-party….”
And they didn’t like her.
“The Vicious Boys were really big at the time,” Jenny told me when we chatted this week, “and the audience was actually made up of something like 800 bikers.
“I made a mistake with my first poem. It did start off about dinner parties but, in the end, it was actually about cunnilingus or shit or whatever. All my poems were always about poo or fucking.
“It turned rude later on, but it started posh. It was like a character thing and they didn’t give me the chance to get to the rude bit, because they just thought I was a middle-class wanker. So I was unceremoniously booed off the stage.”
“It was probably good for your soul,” I sympathised.
“Well, no, it wasn’t,” said Jenny. “I just remember being in a tent thinking Fucking hell! Why can’t I ever get away from these places? I didn’t drive at the time, didn’t have a car, so I could never escape until someone would give me a lift.”
“Malcolm’s London club at around that time,” I said, “was Sunday Night at The Tunnel Palladium at the south end of the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames.”
“Oh,” said Jenny, “I hated the Tunnel because it had that combined thing of fear of heights and the fucking appalling gig it sometimes was. Geoff (Jenny’s partner) used to drop me on the west side of the dual carriageway and there was a narrow footbridge over the road.
“It was Sunday nights and I’d think Everybody else who is normal in this world has had a great big Sunday roast and is lying in front of the fire or watching telly and I am walking on this footbridge over a motorway into the mouth of Hell.
“I would sometimes look down at the traffic below and think I could end it now. You know that fear of heights which also gives you the tendency to throw yourself off? I would sometimes think it was an option. If the Tunnel was really bad, it was an option.
“The Tunnel club was just grim, fantastically grim. It was crunchy on the carpet, which was also kind of sticky. Your feet would stick to the floor and then you’d hear someone like Harry Enfield, who used to be very nervous before gigs, puking up.”
“This would have been when he was a double act?” I asked.
“The Tunnel was a rough club. The stage was diagonally in a corner and I can’t remember there being a dressing room. I don’t remember there being anywhere for the acts to go. I just remember standing on a sticky carpet, waiting by a toilet.”
“The audiences,” I said, “were famous for throwing beer glasses at acts they didn’t like.”
“I didn’t have things thrown at me,” said Jenny. “I would occasionally go down really well and occasionally really die on my arse. You couldn’t rely on the audience.”
“We were in the same car at Malcolm’s funeral in 2005,” I reminded her, “and you told me a story about when he was your manager in the 1980s…”
“He wasn’t my manager at all,” protested Jenny. “I was never represented by Malcolm. I’m not that daft. But sometimes he used to get me gigs: I don’t know how. I’m sure he must have got them accidentally.
“But we did go off to do some gig quite a long way from London. We had to stay overnight and, when we got to this B&B place, of course, it transpired Malcolm had booked us into one room. At least he had booked a twin room with two beds. I didn’t actually have to feel his naked flesh next to mine.
“So I got into one bed and I think I kept most of my… I kept my pants on, certainly,… and he offered me sex…”
“What did he actually say?” I asked.
“Do you fancy a shag, then, Jenny? or How about one? Something casual but intended. I very politely turned him down by saying: No thankyou very much, Malcolm.
“I got into my bed and closed my eyes and he added, almost as an afterthought, Well, you won’t mind if I have a wank, then? and so I fell asleep to Malcolm masturbating furiously and very very noisily in the twin bed not more than two feet away from mine. He was grunting loudly. It was a bit like an elephant masturbating in the same room.”
“We’ve all been there,” I said. “But it’s strange, because people tell those sort of stories about Malcolm almost fondly. I can’t imagine him ever trying to subtly seduce anyone or saying Oh, I’ll give everything up for you, my love, and we will wed.”
“Oh, it was very perfunctory,” agreed Jenny. “Sort of take it or leave it and I was definitely always going to leave it.”
“He wasn’t a man you could recommend to any woman,” I said. “He was incapable of being faithful and yet, at his funeral, the church was awash with weeping women. Also he had a tendency to be unreliable about money.”
“You could never trust him,” agreed Jenny. “You would get a brown envelope that was supposed to have £35 or £40 in it and you’d get home and open the envelope and it would always be a tenner short. Always. Nobody else would try to rip you off.”
“So why did acts keep going back to him?” I asked.
“You learned, basically,” said Jenny, “to count your money out in front of him and, if it was short, you would just say firmly: Malcolm. It’s short!
“He was like an alternative Jesus. He had these followers who were all borderline criminals, vagabonds and vandals and they were all massively loyal to him. He had that ability to create loyalty. And he had that ability to go out for a packet of cigarettes and not come back for three weeks, having been abroad or something. Most people’s lives are a lot duller… Malcolm died and now Addison Cresswell has died and Chris Luby has died. All the nutters are leaving us.”
…. CONTINUED HERE ….