The sound of Puff The Magic Dragon and the end of Pear Shaped comedy?

At last night’s Grouchy Club, Kate Copstick (right) makes a shouty point to Sara Mason.

Copstick (right) makes shouty point to Sara Mason etc

Last night was the monthly Grouchy Club meeting in Shepherds Bush, London. There was a new attendee. This morning, she sent me a message starting: “What an extraordinary evening!”

“Not extraordinary at all,” I replied. “It was a fairly ordinary Grouchy Club… A bit of comedy, a bit of venomous slander, a bit of talk about sex (I am still unclear what specifically Italian BDSM entails – possibly getting tied up in complicated political knots and have knots) and a bit of shouting and a lot of gesticulating from Kate Copstick… All par for the course.”

Then I got an email about Puff The Magic Dragon.

At the weekend, on my social media, I posted a piece about Fox Animation’s plans to turn Peter, Paul and Mary’s song Puff The Magic Dragon into a hybrid live action/animated feature film to be made by Mike Mitchell, director of Trolls.

As a result, I got an email from Alan Shaw whom I know better as Al Mandolino, tunesmith to the Pear Shaped comedy club.

Alan Shaw aka Al Mandolino

Alan Shaw aka Al Mandolino contemplates tape manipulation

“Just saw your post,” he wrote, “and thought maybe (Malcolm Hardee Award winner) Becky Fury put you on to that. A couple of years ago she was getting stuff together for her Dragon Bubble show and she wanted to use a version of the Peter Paul and Mary song but the only cover she had was a hardcore thrash punk version which was going to be a bit oblique for the kids.

“So she asked if I could make something short as an intro to it, just to get them on side. So I came up with a ‘ jingle’. I decided any tune called Puff The Magic Dragon really needs to have the chorus playing backwards if it is going have any gravity. The banjo part is just one note and there’s some dragon breath. I was trying to make a version that sounded like it was science fiction medieval music. Here it is.

Alan told me: “Ask Becky if you want to know more.”

I had not got the Puff The Magic Dragon movie story from her, but I did ask her about Alan’s music.

Becky Fury, known for black clothes, goes clown

Becky Fury, known for black clothes, goes Clown

“Yes,” she told me. “I am going to use it for my new kids show – George and The Dragon. I am thinking of doing it at the Edinburgh Fringe next year. I have had it on the back burner for a while now. That I told you about. I tried to do it as a street show this year but it was too exhausting. I  devised ‘the script’ with input from Jon Richardson, who is doing his PHD in clowning! A PHD in clowning! What does that involve? A thesis on tripping over your own shoe laces? You and I chatted about it in Bar Italia. You might have forgotten. I remember you overdid it on the tiramisu.”

I asked Alan Shaw if he was going to the Fringe next year.

“I am expecting to take a nice Jazz guitar and portable amplifier to the Fringe,” he replied. “Hopefully Pear Shaped might be there so I will do the tunes I’ve always done at that, but I will also be looking for other shows where it would work with me playing while the audience come in/intervals/change-overs – or maybe someone wants some live music backing for a section of their show. I have been advised if I get a permit I could even play in the street.”

“Any news of Pear Shaped’s return to London?” I asked.

“Better ask Brian Damage,” he told me.

Brian runs the Pear Shaped comedy venue for years but had to leave The Fitzroy Tavern in London’s West End because it was being renovated.

The tavern, not the West End.

Brian Damage and headstrong Vicky de Lacy this week

Brian Damage & wife Vicky de Lacy – pair shaped

“Recently,” Brian told me, “I went to have a look at the new Fitzroy and hated it.

They have turned it into claustrophobic cubby holes and the people in those holes already look happy enough without us pissing them off with our comedy.

“There is another pub nearby which we thought could be a possibility but it is on a  separate floor (not a separate room) so I have kind of decided maybe that’s not suitable either. What made the Fitzroy special for us was the landlord Peter, who is a very nice man who gave us the room and left us to it for 15 years. I really cannot be bothered explaining to another landlord how comedy works, so I’m not really looking. I am not all that sure the comedy circuit needs Pear Shaped anymore. There are hundreds of them now. However, as Mr Micawber would say, maybe something will turn up.”

That was rather sad, so I asked Alan Shaw what he was doing now.

“I spend my days,” he told me, “doing painting and carpentry for the the great and the good. Recently, I have started a sideline as a rocking horse vet and I have learnt how to to paint for hours holding someone’s poodle.”

1 Comment

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One response to “The sound of Puff The Magic Dragon and the end of Pear Shaped comedy?

  1. It’s only when you stop doing it you realise how much time and energy it takes to run something EVERY week. Personally I found it helped a lot that I didn’t have a 9 to 5 job so could do things like chase comperes and fill drop outs and that I worked in central London… since no one including my employers knew exactly what I did for a living finding the time wasn’t too hard…

    Part of the purpose of the club was to poke fun at other promoters by showing that in principle running a gig is not that hard… and to encourage others to “do it for themselves”… Now that Equity has started to Unionise the circuit again there isn’t the need for that.

    $100 a barrel oil helped too, One should probably credit Pear Shaped’s unseen financial backers such as the late Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi without whom much of it would not have been possible. Personally I’m not sure I can afford to commute into London from Croydon these days to do it even if we had a venue and even if I could do it doesn’t sound at the moment like there’d be a train running to convey me or any punters to the venue. Besides which I am busy writing novels …

    Clubs were important before internet advertising and social media came along because people couldn’t promote themselves anymore. Who needs clubs today? And what are they for? These are the existential problems which I believe even the Comedy Cafe struggles with these days. There are a few nice small ones about though. Check out the Instant Laughs empire.

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