Category Archives: Computers

“Parrotopia” – one step beyond British Music Hall, The Goons and The Bonzos

Michael Livesley (left) and Rodney Slater, Lords of Parrotopia

“Why should I talk to you?” I asked Rodney Slater, formerly of the Bonzo Dog Do0-Dah Band and Michael Livesley who, in the last few years, has revived Vivian Stanshall’s 1978 epic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.

“Because,” said Michael, “of our wonderful new collaborative CD effort Parrotopia.”

“You  sound like,” I told him, “a Northerner trying to be posh by using long words – collaborative, indeed!”

“But it IS collaborative!” he insisted. “The crazy thing about this CD is that, without any kind of planning, it has 12 tracks, six of which are mine and six of which are his. We then cross-pollinated it, of course.”

“You’re using big words again,” I told him. “So the music is random?”

“Yes, it’s very random,” Michael said. “I suppose, if it has a genre, it might be front step.”

“That is a pun beyond my ken,” I told him.

“The young folks,” Michael told me, “have something called ‘dubstep’. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe that was ten years ago or more.”

“A couple of days ago,” said Rodney, “I got a magazine from PRS and I didn’t know what they were talking about in it.”

The Bonzos’ 50th Anniversary show at KOKO in Camden, 2015

“It’s been a helluva lot of fun,” said Michael. “A gestatory nine months.”

“You’re at it again with the words,” I said. “But why another CD? Artistic inspiration or the lure of more filthy lucre?”

Michael laughed.

Rodney laughed: “Gross money is pouring out of our pockets! Why did we do this?”

“Because,” Michael told him, “we couldn’t not. Let’s be honest, we’re never going to become rich doing this. As it is, we’re selling teeshirts as well as the CDs to get money back. We do the music and the songs because we have to do it. Essentially what happened was we started talking during the Bonzo’s Austerity Tour last year, as things got increasingly more fraught…”

“In what way ‘fraught’?” I asked.

“It was nice amongst us,” said Michael. “Lovely among the players… Let’s not talk about it.”

“So the new CD… Parrotopia.” I said.

“The initial spurt,” explained Michael, “was that Rodney bought an iPhone and, all-of-a-sudden, you could email him. And there was no holding him after that. Pretty soon, we were sending each other stupid things about long-dead Northern comics and long-dead, obese footballers. Just tittle-tattle in general.”

Susie Honeyman of The Mekons, Rodney Slater and Michael Livesley during Parrotopia shed recordings.

“It’s just a collection of stories, really,” said Rodney. “Stories we wanted to tell that happened between 2016 and when we finished it in June this year. Our reaction to what was happening in the world and what was particularly happening to us in that context.”

“Not,” I checked, “what was happening politically in the grand scheme of things, but…”

“There was a sprinkling of that,” said Michael.

“You can’t get away from that,” added Rodney, “because that’s the time we were doing it.”

“Well, Parrotopia was almost like a coping mechanism, wasn’t it?” Michael suggested.

“It’s all about stories,” said Rodney. “Stories we tell ourselves. All of us. Fantasies we enact in our own heads when we go to bed at night. Michael said to me: We’ll make the album that we want to listen to. And that’s what has come out.”

“Why is it called Parrotopia?” I asked.

Mr Slater’s Parrot,” said Rodney.

It is a 1969 song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

“What we said we were originally gonna do,” Michael explained, “was to declare ourselves The People’s Republic of Parrotopia, because there was stuff going on – and that name stuck.”

“Cultural Revolutionary,” Rodney said, apparently thinking out loud.

“There is,” Michael continued, “a song, one line of which is: Reflecting feudalist tags. That’s the general disjecta membra that is left over.”

“Oooh!” I said.

“Did you make that up?” asked Rodney.

“No,” Michael told him. “It’s a real word. In many ways, we were sort of living this madness through a shared past. A strange shared past, because Rodney is older than I am, but I was brought up by my nan – my grandmother – and she was brought up around the same time as Rodney’s parents. So we maybe both have a similar outlook. We see what we’ve done as very much as a continuation of British music hall and The Goons and The Bonzos.”

“Are you going to do a musical tour of Parrotopia?” I asked.

“Costs money,” said Rodney. “It would need a cast of 10 or 12. We would need some man with a lot of money who was honest, which is a very rare thing in this business.”

“Any videos?” I asked.

William ‘Fatty’ Foulke, Sheffield United goalkeeper 1894-1905

“Well,” said Michael, “we talked to John HalseyThe Rutles’ Barry Wom – who plays drums on our CD – and we discussed making some films – particularly a little silent movie of a track called Fatty – who was a goalkeeper for Sheffield United in 1902. Rodney as the referee with a twirling moustache and a top hat.”

“I think,” I told him, “you should write a song called Rodney Bought An iPhone.”

Rodney responded: “Writing used to be a slow and laborious process by hand. Now, if we have an idea, rather than me learning it, I hum something, he plays it on the keyboard and there’s the dots.”

“It’s a very quick way of working,” said Michael. “I can come up with a melody, I play it on the keyboard into the iMac computer and literally just press a button and the music dots are there for him to play. The computer is the real paradox here. Well ‘irony’ is better. Rodney has this disdain for computers and…”

“I don’t want a computer,” Rodney emphasised.

“But you have an iPhone,” I said. “That’s a computer.”

“I know it is,” he replied, “but it’s not a two-way mirror quite as much.”

“Would you care to expatiate on that?” asked Michael.

“It’s too intrusive in one’s life,” said Rodney. “It’s like walking around naked. It’s just my way of thinking about it. It’s like radio. Originally, radio was a wonderful, educational tool. All manner of communication. It’s when the arseholes get hold of it and then the big money comes in. I have utter contempt for the people running these things. Utter contempt because of what they’re doing with it. I’m not very good technically. I manage an iPhone; well, part of it.”

“One of the tracks on the CD,” said Michael, “is One Step Behind where Rodney sings about Who harvests your data? He was telling me about opinions being shaped and formed by…”

“Algorithms,” said Rodney. “I’m very interested in all that. The way it shapes human behaviour. I don’t like the sort of society that these things are making. The parallel worlds that we all live in. I prefer to go down the pub and play darts and crib and have a fight.”

“What attitudes are being formed that are bad?” I asked.

“Isolation,” he replied. “Parallel lives. Self-centred interest. What really pisses me off is that people are totally inconsiderate of the consequences of their actions on other people. They don’t think about that.”

Michael says Rodney’s Parrotopia album is “riddled with it”

“Are you going to do a second Parrotopia album about it?” I asked.

“We are doing another one,” said Michael.

“Parrot-toopia,” said Rodney.

“And when is that out?”

“Maybe next year,” replied Michael, but this one is riddled with it. Virtual reality. Augmented reality.”

“I just think, as I get older,” said Rodney, “it is time to write things down. I’m not a grumpy old man. I don’t write grumpy old man songs. I write reality, looking from now to what I’ve known, which is 76 bloody years. It’s a bloody long time. I was born at the beginning of the Second World War and I saw all that social evolution…”

“You retain a lot of optimism,” said Michael.

“A lot of optimism,” said Rodney, “from a bad beginning.”

“There is a lot of attitude on the CD,” said Michael.

“You have had a haircut since we met last,” I observed to Michael.

“Yes,” he said. “I went to Chris the barber near where I live. It is in the back of a garage. You go through his car sales bit and there’s a shed and you sit there surrounded by Classic Car Weeklys.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“Between Andover and Southampton.”

“I think there is a stuffed cat museum in Andover,” I said. “In tableaux.”

“I don’t think so,” said Michael.

“Maybe it’s in Arundel,” I said.

“There’s a pencil museum up in Keswick in the Lake District,” suggested Michael helpfully.

“And a vegetarian shoe shop in Brighton,” I said.

“I know,” said Michael. “I popped in once.”

I looked at him.

“I was starving,” he added.

Parrotopia was successfully financed by crowdfunding, using this video…

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Filed under Comedy, Computers, Crowdfunding, Eccentrics, Music

A Brazilian computer turns my Tweets into poetry… after a fashion. Maybe.

A new website called Poetweet has gone online, created by the Brazilian Contemporary Art Centre. aka the B_arco Cultural Center.

You type your Twitter name into the text box, choose what type of poem you want and the software then allegedly tracks “the data of your inspiration” while, it claims, “analysing your deepest thoughts”.

Analysing my own superficial 140-character thoughts via my own Twitter account, Poetweet came up with this sonnet:


AUDIENCE MEMBER
by John Fleming

Singing, vomiting & fisting
Into over 100 million stars…
But it must be something
And the sexual use of Mars Bars

Forget comedy and turn to crime
Drugs, creativity, mental health.
2016… Everything takes time…
And turned to Beautiful Filth

At my worldwide blog statistics
In brain is mainly in the plain
Of British alternative comics

This weekend, literally underground
Church in the Middle East…
Is that a bra in the foreground?


There may be more development needed in the Poetweet software.

It also came up with this Rondel…


ORIGINAL TRAILER
by John Fleming

The World Egg Throwing Federation
Parlours and marijuana plantations
Winkleman pops up as a suggestion
Dead British television stations

Norwegian sex act in 2004. Honest.
Mad Frankie Fraser & feminism
And Lesbians in the Forest
The French for liberal Fascism

There are intentional emergencies
Now targeting Fringe comedy acts?
World aid is a holocaust of lies
Shot is real – not special effects
But have some vile Fringe memories


Make of that
What you will
I think I’ll wait
Until
Computers are more
Like Vivienne Clore

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When Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows go wrong – a lesson in audience control

David tells The Gospel Truth at the Fringe

David tells The Gospel Truth at the Fringe

Yesterday, I was talking to multi-talented American stand-up David Mills about gigs that go wrong at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“If you have a gig you don’t want to have,” David told me, “the great thing about Edinburgh is there’s another gig coming tomorrow and the next day and the next day. So you can always redeem yourself. I’m always looking to try to redeem myself.

“It’s like that thing they say about New York: Don’t worry if you fall on your face and everyone sees, ‘cause tomorrow someone else is going to fall on their face and everyone’s going to see that and your failure is going to disappear. And the same thing with any success you get. I say you’re nobody until you’ve got a one star review.”

“You’ll never get a one star review,” I said.

“I’m hoping to get a one star review,” said David. “Some of the greats have had one star reviews.”

“Anyway,” I said. “It’s bad if you get a two star review. But if you actually only get one star, then…”

“…then you’re onto something!” laughed David. “The performers I identify with are the performers who are never satisfied.”

Shows going wrong – or at least diverging from what you thought they were going to be – are not necessarily a bad thing. As evidence…

Matt Price’s new show at Edinburgh Fringe

Matt Price’s show yesterday turned into three shows in one

At the Edinburgh Fringe three days ago, I saw Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia – a very interesting and very funny show unbilled in the Edinburgh Fringe programme. In that, at least, it delivers what you expect from the title.

Yesterday morning, I got a Facebook message from comedian/promoter Nig Lovell saying:

“You should speak to Matt Price about this Machete Hettie gig for your blog. If I hadn’t been there I’m not sure I’d have believed it happened. Part of me is still wondering if I was hallucinating.”

Machete Hettie gig?? I thought. So I e-mailed Matt Price. He told me:

Machete Hetty and Matt Price at The Hive yesterday

Machete Hettie and Matt Price after the show

“Hettie says she will be back today with her balaclava this time. It was one of the best contributions I have ever witnessed at a show, but almost impossible to describe in an email. I’m hoping that the drunk people who took the group photo get in touch because we all need photographic evidence. Basically, a couple of audience members did their first gig last night and to be fair to them they stormed it.”

I then bumped into Charmian Hughes, who is performing at a totally different venue – the Banshee Labyrinth – a couple of doors away from Matt Price at The Hive. She, too, had heard of the Machete Hettie gig.

Hettie was from Ethiopia.

I phoned up Matt Price. He told me Machete Hettie was likely to turn up again – at yesterday’s show.

I was already scheduled to see the lovely David Mills at The Hive in a slot immediately before Matt Price’s show, but I then had a ticket to see the unmissable Tim FitzHigham’s show Challenger at the Pleasance venue soon afterwards and I was not going to miss that.

So I arranged to see the first half of Matt’s show again just on the off-chance that Machete Hettie would turn up.

David Mills’ show was, as always, a mystery.

The mystery is why such an audience-pleasing, sophisticated act has not been snapped-up by BBC2 or Channel 4.

The ways of British television at the moment are passing strange.

After David’s show, as we waited for Matt’s show to start, my heart sank. No Ethiopians were in the audience.

The gig started but where was Machete Hetty?

The gig started but which one was the elusive Machete Hettie?

But, it turned out Machete Hettie WAS there – I had mis-heard. She calls herself a ‘Leithiopian’ – someone from Leith in north Edinburgh.

She had bright eyes, a lively personality and I wished I had been at the previous day’s show.

Matt yesterday started with the words:

“First impressions are kind of weird because, if you don’t mind me saying, you seem a very nice, very respectful audience, very normal. But then I thought that about Hettie yesterday and, by the end of it, I knew more about her vagina than I knew about comedy… Is that a different friend sitting next to you today, Hettie?”

“Ye mind the half a brick? The half a brick?” said Hettie.

“You had a friend yesterday who was a nurse,” said Matt.

“This time, she’s a dental nurse,” said Hettie. “She just fixes yer teeth in the middle of the night.”

About three people started speaking at once, from different parts of the audience.

“Oh God, there’s more of you,” said Matt gently. “Hello, I’m Matt. I was going to do a show, but Hettie came in yesterday and interjected with things about her vagina and we haven’t looked back since. She had a Brazilian.” Then he turned to a friend of Hettie’s in the front row: “Do you have the footage safely?”

“Yes,” the woman in the front row replied. “We’ll put it on YouTube tonight.”

“Would you like a photo for John Fleming’s blog?” Matt asked.

“Oh brilliant,” replied Hettie. “Aye. Oh aye.”

Machete Hetty poses for my porn blog picture

Machete Hettie – keen to be in my porn blog picture with Matt

“It’s a porn blog, but don’t worry,” said Matt. “You told me yesterday about your vagina and today you’re straight in with Half a brick, big boy. I love it. Would you,” he said to the audience, “consider this as not so much a show – more a respite from the rain? Is that OK?”

“Smoked sausage!” said Hettie in dramatic showbiz style.

She had about ten friends and neighbours in different parts of the audience who laughed uproariously.

“Biscuits!” she added.

Matt then brilliantly, under trying circumstances, managed to simultaneously perform his show, interact with Hettie as part of an almost separate show and have an occasional running commentary with two fellow comedians in the audience. It was three shows in one simultaneously, all blending together seemingly naturally.

“Earlier this year,” Matt started, “I was asked if I would ghost-write the autobiography of a criminal and I said Yes. What do you know about crime, Hettie?”

“A lot,” she replied.

The whole audience laughed.

“Now, you might think,” continued Matt, “He has nothing to say, which is why I dipped into the audience just then. But I knew if I said that to Hettie, she would say A lot and it would get a cheap laugh, so I just couldn’t resist doing it.”

“I led a life of crime for 17 years,” said Hettie.

I am now hooked on Hettie and a vast admirer of Matt Price’s ability to tell a good story, control a difficult audience, improvise with control during a show and… well… I am going back to see what happens tonight. Hettie will be back.

Soon to be a doubly act? - Machete Hetty and Matt

Soon to be a double act? – Machete Hettie and Matt The Man

Matt tells me he has given her ten minutes on stage at the start of his show.

“John,” he told me, “I am now performing a two-hander against my will. She has turned me from a comedian into a talent scout.”

So I am going back for more tonight – not least because I forgot to ask why she is called Machete Hettie…

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How to badly interview a good geek self-help guru, techno-nerd and ‘creatin’

Leila Johnston yesterday – often interrupted

Rule One of interviewing someone. Do not interrupt them with your own ideas.

In December 2011, I wrote a blog asking Leila Johnston what she actually does.

Yesterday, I met her in the main street in Borehamwood and asked her again. The answer seems to be Everything. She is certainly not boring yet, despite this, she is going to be talking at an up-coming Boring Conference about living in Greenock and having IBM posters on her bedroom wall when she was six years old.

Next month, she will be talking about Making Things Fast to BBC Radio staff at Broadcasting House in London… “I’m trying to cast myself as a sort of geek self-help guru,” she tells me. “It’s a kind of modern motivational talk.

“Also in November, I’ll be doing the same talk for a thing called The Monday Club run by someone from The Idler… and I’m hosting a panel of computer art pioneers from the 1960s at the Site Gallery in Sheffield… and I’m doing an investigation into people’s ghostly experiences for Den of Geek‘s Den of Eek night… and I’ve been asked to come up with a data art installation for a wall in an office at Broadcasting House… but, In December, I don’t plan on doing anything except maybe getting a dog for my new semi-rural lifestyle. And sending out lots of pitches, of course. And editing The Literary Platform. And working with a magician and illusionist.”

Leila’s reference to her “new semi-rural lifestyle” is because, just over six months ago, she went up to Sheffield for three months to work on The Happenstance Project which aims to insert people from the world of technology into arts organisations.

“There are three participating art galleries,” she told me yesterday, “and I was put in the one in Sheffield. It was a residency. Like an artist-in-residence.”

“A nerd-in-residence,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” Leila laughed. “There was a lot of debate about the word ‘technologist’…”

“Is that what you are?” I asked. “A technologist?”

“Well, that’s part of the way I cast myself, I suppose,” she answered.

“Really, though,” I said, “you’re half-and-half. You’re an arty writer and a nerdy geek.”

“There’s a phrase being used at the moment,” Leila told me. “A ‘creative technologist’. Which is quite a nice thing to be, because it implies you’re given a bit of freedom to invent stuff.”

“Some new word will be created,” I said. “A ‘Creatologist’ maybe, though that makes it sound like you don’t believe in Darwinian evolution.”

“A creatin, perhaps,” laughed Leila. “Maybe I’m a creatin. It’s only in the last year or two that people have accepted there are people like me who can help bring arts into a digital era, because a lot of arts organisations are still working in really archaic, inefficient ways. They don’t really know anything about the possibilities of technology. There’s a whole world of creative tools they don’t really understand.”

“Every art gallery could have the Mona Lisa on their walls,” I suggested.

Leila laughed. “You can’t get very close to the real thing anyway,” she said.

“You could have 3D printed, 18-squillion pixel versions on the walls of different galleries around the world,” I suggested.

“You could recreate the whole Louvre,” said Leila, not exactly convinced.

“Duplicate the Getty Art Collection in Los Angeles around the world,” I suggested.

“Make every art gallery into a sort-of super-villain’s lair,” laughed Leila.

“It could be sponsored,” I suggested. “The walls of every Tesco could be like the Louvre… Capitalism at work.”

“Mmmm…” said Leila.

“When I walked round Moscow under Communism,” I said. “It was dull. Lots of posters and banners, but all the same. Art which might have been cutting-edge in 1917 but wasn’t now. Everything had stagnated. It was a literally decadent society. Not colourful. It was all red, white and grey. The buildings were grey; the street art was red-and-white. In medieval times, the Medicis sponsored the best creative artists and they took months or years to make pieces of art which were stuck on one wall in one building forever. Nowadays, in the West, advertising agencies pay the best visual artists and the most creative minds bundles of money to work for them. So, walking round the streets, when you’re waiting for a train in the tube, when you’re watching TV, you’re surrounded by constantly-changing, highly-creative advertising art. It’s like you’re living in a constantly changing art gallery. Capitalism at its best.”

This, you see, is a perfect example of how not to conduct an interview… to give your own opinions instead of finding out the other person’s.

“Mmmm…” said Leila. “Interesting.”

“Not really,” I admitted.

“Mmmm…” said Leila.

“I don’t think I realised you were managing editor of The Literary Platform,” I said, trying to get back on course.

“Well,” said Leila, “after Happenstance, which was a three-month thing, I decided to stay in Sheffield because I liked it so much and one thing I got involved in was The Literary Platform. It’s a website which showcases projects involving new technology and storytelling. If somebody’s made an amazing iPad app that is somehow interactive and you can tell a story… or there’s something about the future of reading and eBooks… things like that. It’s got a business side and a creative side, but my own posts are all about the creative side. I’m always looking for new projects to showcase and people to feature.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“There’s a guy I’ve just interviewed,” Leila told me, “who is going to (the late Poet Laureate) Ted Hughes’ house for a few days and he’s going to be filmed with a web cam and just write whatever anyone asks him to.”

“Cheques?” I suggested.

“Well,” Leila said, “like Write me some copy for my website… Write me a story about this… People can send in suggestions and he will have to write whatever anyone wants and it’s for charity. Good, but a bit weird. Closing himself off in this house on his own.”

“It’s like he’s trying to be the David Blaine of writing,” I suggested. “What did you study at university?”

“History of Art,” Leila told me. “And then English for my Masters.”

“So you’re writing letters as two Victorian ladies…” I prompted randomly.

“Yes, we’re doing it with SAEs,” Leila explained. “I’ve got two digital receipt printers which are connected to the internet – so they’re like fax machines – and me and my friend Tim, who I write loads of things with, are writing letters to each other as characters called Elspeth and Lottie. They are like Victorian ladies who happen to own these electronic printers and all they write about are their friends who are in long-running 20th century TV shows.”

“And you have written an interactive opera about the Minotaur,” I said, changing the subject. “Minotaur! – The Moosical.”

“It’s quite nerdy,” Leila said. “It’s a rock opera.”

“…as opposed to some fat Italian woman screeching?” I asked.

“Exactly,” agreed Leila. “It’s not an opera at all and some of the songs are quite Elvis/rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s geeky, it’s about hacking, radiation, a big maze, a heartbreaking love story between the Minotaur and Pandora who’s a woman afflicted with a curse of emitting toxic force fields so people can’t get close to her. Then there’s Theseus, who wants to marry Pandora. We’ve written quite a lot of songs and some music because we’re not musicians, but we might do it with puppets.”

“Where might this be put on?” I asked.

“If we can figure out a way of recording and playing the songs, then we might be able to do something at a geeky comedy night.”

“You should put it on at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested, “and stream it on the internet, if you can figure out some way of charging 1p or 2p per view.”

“Have you seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall?” Leila asked.

“No,” I replied.

“It’s really funny,” said Leila. “The Jason Segal character’s dream is to put on a tragic puppet musical about Dracula using the ‘Count’ character from The Muppets.”

“If you can get the bloke who did the giant puppet for War Horse,” I said, “you could do it at the National Theatre.”

“Somebody I know said he might be able to get it on Radio 3,” Leila said, “but my hit rate with producers is… They tend to get busy on other things or they leave their job…”

“Why are you thinking of radio?” I asked. “As a pilot for a TV show?”

“No,” said Leila, “just to get something made. In itself. Maybe it could lead to something else.”

“You work for a magician,” I said. “Do you want to talk about what you do for him?”

“No,” said Leila.

“Did I tell you I’ve been to North Korea?” I asked.

“Ah…” said Leila.

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Perhaps the true spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe is not dead: comedy, anarchy and loose genitalia over the weekend

The Assembly Hall on The Mound

So, on Saturday, I went to see Australian comic John Robertson’s show The Old Whore, at the Assembly Hall venue on The Mound at the Edinburgh Fringe, but I only saw half of it.

It was a hot, sweaty and humid night and the room high up in Assembly Hall was like a sweat box. So John decided halfway through to take the show and the audience outside into the cool mid-evening air.

His narrative – the show is a fascinating, full-throttle dissection of his very odd family – soon   merged into a fully-fledged outdoor event involving passing pedestrians, rickshaw drivers, people in double decker buses and, with the audience sitting on the pavement, a virtual recreation of the galley sequence from Ben-Hur. Every time a significant number of people was spotted coming up the slope, the audience were under instructions from John to mime as if they were, en masse, rowing an invisible Roman galley on the pavement.

The admirable Assembly staff did not complain; they just came out on the pavement with the audience, donning dayglo safety jackets and made sure passing pedestrians and the traffic were not obstructed. They also laughed a lot and enjoyed John’s seat-of-your-pants show.

Topless entertainment at its best at the Edinburgh Fringe

It ended, suitably, with John taking off his shirt and getting his entire audience to stand up so he could be crowd-surfed with his audience carrying him halfway down the Mound and then addressing them standing on the top of the railings.

When this sort of thing happens, it makes you think maybe the spirit of the Fringe is not dead and the pay-to-enter festival has not been taken over by bland comedy clones only intent on finding TV producers to impress. There was a smell of sought-for anarchy in the air.

I did find it a little suspicious, though, when John told me he had done this once before – on a similarly sweaty night.

Is John Robertson (left) schmoozing me?

“Yeah,” John told me, out of breath after his crowd surf. “It was the night reviewers from The Scotsman and The List were in. They ended up doing a review of the bit where we went outside instead of the show itself and this is a structurally sound narrative. It’s a really carefully-crafted monologue. So it made me a little unhappy they reviewed the going-outside bit. But, when a crowd is having a hard time because of the heat, I will take them outside and do whatever.”

Could he have reckoned there was a greater chance of me writing a blog – and a longer blog – if he went outside again. Who knows? Who cares? When in doubt, go with what makes a good story.

John Robertson in The Dark Room in Edinburgh

John is also performing a separate show, The Dark Room, as part of the Alternative Fringe/Laughing Horse Free Festival at Bob Slayer’s Hive venue. Bob is a wonderful publicist and so is John. So the two together are quite something.

The Dark Room – which I saw yesterday – is basically a video game, which John created, but performed as a live interactive show in Edinburgh. He put the original game on YouTube and, he says, “it went viral in February. Variety and Wired did feature articles on it and Kotaku covered it – they’re a big multi-platform video gaming anime thing.”

John Robertson after his Hive show yesterday

Comedian Brendon Burns has been coming daily to John’s shows at the Hive to play The Dark Room. And, John tells me, “Ron Gilbert, from LucasArts, who created the first two Monkey Island games played it. Ian Livingstone, co-creator of Fighting Fantasy and Games Workshop also came to play – and lost – and that was terrific.

“Here is a man who is responsible for people like me not getting laid in high school because we were indulging in his wonderful imagination, his wonderful flights of fantasy… and he turned up to play my game and lost! And he knew exactly what he was doing; we thought in a faintly similar way, though his games were made to be fun and my game was made to be fun to watch.”

John Robertson may do very well from The Dark Room because, as I say, like Bob Slayer, he knows how to promote and knows how to insert himself into situations which may get him publicity.

Bob Slayer (left) and John Robertson talk seriously (not)

So when, in the Hive bar after yesterday’s Dark Room show, hard-drinking and frequently drunk Bob Slayer ordered only a Coca Cola and I switched my iPhone audio recorder on, John leapt in as Bob’s interrogator and interlocutor – some people will do anything to get mentioned in this blog.

There was much talk of the fact that Bob had ordered a Coca Cola from the bar, but we will join the conversation at the point at which I said: “I enjoyed the wanking Jeff Leach story.”

“I didn’t enjoy wanking off Jeff Leach,” said Bob wearily.

“Yes you did,” said John.

“Jeff Leach was on stage at Espionage,” said Bob. “It’s not for me to assess another comedian’s performance, but the audience all hated him. So he turned his back on them and decided to talk to one man in the booth, off-mike.

“After about five minutes of this, I was sent on to go and pull him off and, unfortunately, that’s exactly what I did. I misunderstood them.”

“And did the crowd go wild?” asked John.

“Well,” said Bob, “I sold tickets for my show this morning on the back of wanking in a man’s wife’s face last night.”

Bob Slayer gets carried away during his storytelling spree

“In a man’s wife’s face?” I asked. “Don’t forget this is being recorded.”

“Well, she’s coming today,” Bob said with no sense of knowingness.

“Would you like to re-phrase that?” I asked.

“Today she is visiting his show,” suggested John.

“To be more precise,” said Bob. “I was wanking Jeff and Jeff was wanking me. There was a lot of coming and going. Well, there was no going. That was the whole point: he wouldn’t go so I had to make him come.”

“So you began to jerk the jerk?” John asked.

“You know how I won’t back down?” Bob asked me. “Well, we were playing that Who’s going to back down first? game and nobody was backing down.”

“Are we saying through the pants?” asked John.

“No,” said Bob.

“You put your hand in the pants?” asked John.

“No,” said Bob.

“You took him out of the pants?” asked John.

“The pants were down,” said Bob.

“The pants were down,” said John.

“Yes,” said Bob.

“The little Leach in full view?” asked John.

“The little Leach and big Bob.”

“Not too much detail,” I suggested.

“Was there engorging involved?” asked John.

“I don’t think there was any engorging going on,” said Bob. “Certainly not on my part: I’d had a bottle of Jagermeister.”

“So you were wanking this…” started John.

“Pulling a flaccid member,” corrected Bob.

“It didn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth?” I asked.

“No,” said Bob, “The man’s wife on the other hand…”

“And, faced with this chunky comedian porn, the crowd responded with…?” asked John.

“They seemed to quite like it,” said Bob. “I wouldn’t say all of them did, but the point is I sold some tickets today off the back of it, so some people liked it, therefore it’s entertainment and it should be done on a regular basis….” Bob paused and thought for a couple of seconds. “I’m never doing it again,” he added.”I’m disgusted with this hand. It’s the one I dislocated as well. We had already fallen out.”

Bob Slayer holds his hand, if not his head, high yesterday

He held his right hand up so I could photograph it. One of his fingers is missing a joint.

“You look like Dave Allen there,” I said. “Jeremy Beadle built an entire career based on this.”

“What?” asked Bob, “Pretending to be Dave Allen?”

“No,” I said, “you know he had…”

“…a shrunken hand,” said Bob. “Yes.”

James Doohan,” said John.

“Who?” I asked.

“Scotty, from Star Trek,” said John.

“Oh?” said Bob.

“Only four digits on one hand,” said John. “One of his fingers was shot off in the War…. And you know Radar from M*A*S*H?”

“Him too?” I asked, incredulous.

“He’s got a deformed left hand,” said John. “He’s always holding a clipboard.”

“Is any of this true?” I asked.

“Yes, it is,” said John.

“Mickey Mouse – three fingers,” I said.

“What you’re saying,” said Bob, holding up his hand, “is that people with deformed hands are genii.”

“Genii?” asked John.

“I think genii is the plural of genius,” said Bob.

“I don’t think Mickey Mouse is a genius,” I said. “and I am going to have to transcribe all this.”

“You may regret it,” Bob said.

“We may all regret it,” I said.

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Filed under Comedy, Computers, Gaming, Sex

Three things I cut out of my blogs: Apple computers, racism and bankers

Cutting edge blogging?

Occasionally, there are little bits that I do not include in my blogs which I think are interesting but which just don’t fit that particular blog. Here are three of them:

APPLE COMPUTERS AND THE NUMBER 42

I mentioned to a friend that I had once interviewed Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, in which the answer to everything is 42.

“Oh,” she said, “I have a friend who is a big fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. He works for Apple computers in California. He has to alter things and, whenever he comes to some situation where he is not certain of the amount to alter it by then, if it’s vaguely sensible, he puts in the number 42. Obviously, if it should be nearer to five billion, then he doesn’t. But, if it’s a change that might have a numerical value between 1 and 100 then, if he’s not sure, he just puts in 42.”

“Does it usually work?” I asked.

“It does,” my friend told me.

THE BBC AND POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD

When I was talking to violinist Bobby Valentino recently about his surreally low payments for the worldwide hit song Young at Heart, he told me:

“A few years ago, when I was with Los Pistoleros, I was at a festival up at Newcastle for the Tall Ships Race and the BBC were hosting the website for the festival and we said we were the best honky tonk band in the land and they censored the word ‘honky’. They put five asterisks instead of the word honky. They said it was racist.”

I asked Bobby: “Did the word ‘honky’ as in ‘honky tonk’ ever have a racist meaning?”

“No,” he said, “The poor white folks in the Southern states of America were called honkies because they went to honky tonks. Honky tonk is the origin of the word ‘honky’ but a honky tonk is basically a working men’s club down South. It wasn’t a formal club, just a bar.

“There are loads of songs with the words ‘honky tonk’ in them. The BBC play the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women without any problem, but they thought the phrase the best honky tonk band in the land was racist!”

COMEDY CLUB OWNER NOEL FAULKNER ON BANKERS

When I recently chatted to London Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner about the state of British comedy, we started by talking about Las Vegas.

“The one time I went to Vegas,” I told him, “I decided not to gamble at all, but I went into this massive room with rows and rows of one-armed bandits and a blind Chinese woman was led in to play on the machines. I would have thought the whole point of one-armed bandits is that they’re visual: you see the images on the wheels rotate and you see them either line up or not line up. This woman was blind. I suppose she heard the sound and that was the atmosphere she got from it. But it was bizarre. A blind woman pulling the handle on a one-armed bandit in Vegas.”

“Las Vegas to me,” said Noel, “is all these machines and they’re saying Yeah, just put yer money in here. It’s Amusement! Certainly it’s fucking amusing. To the casino owners. But the banks are a bigger racket than Vegas. At least when you go to Vegas, you know you’re being fucked. Vegas is for the damned.

“You go to Vegas; you get fucked.

“You open a bank account, you don’t expect to get fucked, but you really get it up the ass.

“At least in Vegas you get to pull a handle a few times. When you get involved with the banks, you get to pull your own dick, that’s all, because you feel like a wanker after they’ve fucked with you.

“All these Boris bicycles around London,” Noel said, “are sponsored by Barclays and they have the name painted on them but, instead of RCLAY, I want to go round painting STARD on them.”

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Computers, Finance, gambling, Music

Forget the Apple iTV – Could the next Apple product be the iGlass or the iCar?

My newly-installed iGlass super- sound system

A couple of weeks ago I went with Greenwich vintage clothing Emporium’s entrepreneurial owners Jacki Cook and Jon Hale to their second home in Whitstable. OK, it’s a beach hut; but it’s a very nice beach hut.

There, John Hale has created a new sound amplification system at a mere fraction of the cost of a top-of-the-range Bang & Olufsen or Sony sound system.

He puts Jacki’s iPhone into a glass. The sound is amplified by the shape of the glass and, depending on the shape, it delivers different sound qualities: bass, tinny, rich-and-golden, whatever.

It was such an impressive piece of lateral thinking that I went home and bought my own new sound system in a local charity shop. My product testing – putting my iPhone in the glass and playing music on it in the shop – did not go un-noticed but was not frowned-on, as the charity shop got £1.99p for the glass.

I laughed in Whitstable that the sound quality was so good and the lateral thinking by Jon & Jacki so impressive that it could almost be a new product from Apple… the iGlass.

This got me thinking about Apple’s rumoured new iTV (although, of course, they could never call it that in the UK because of the existing ITV television network).

At least twice, when they have been developing new products, Apple have created false rumours that they were working on a wind-up computer which would require no battery or, at least, mean you could re-charge the battery without plugging into an electricity socket.

I cannot see what the new Apple iTV would be… there is already an Apple TV box to screen computer output on a TV screen; other companies make devices which are voice-controlled or which react to hand movements. The thing about Apple is that they will suddenly release a new product which is utterly different.

I read last December that they were working on light hydrogen batteries which could last for weeks without re-charging.

This could be a smoke-and-mirrors re-hash of the wind-up computer stories. But creating a new, light, efficient, climate-friendly battery is a very Apple thing to do and it also made me think that large, inefficient batteries have always been one of the drawbacks with electric cars.

What if Apple were working on an electric iCar?

One suggested design for an Apple iCar: part car, part mouse

Powered by electricity not petrol, using a ‘green’ hydrogen battery, controlled by computers and with Siri voice-commanded hands-free links to every piece of information you could possibly want via the internet and iCloud, it would be just the sort of product Apple might suddenly release. No-one foresaw they would start making telephones or become a major music retailer.

Oh, I thought, there’s something I can blog about. If it ever happens, I’ll claim brilliant foresight. If it doesn’t, people will forget I ever mentioned it.

So yesterday, a slow day for anything I could blog about, I thought Oh, I’ll do the Apple blog tomorrow and so I Googled Apple iCar.

And, bugger me, articles have been appearing in the last couple of months guessing that Apple might or might not be working on a iCar. Only yesterday, an article was published on an Emirates website.

Way back in 2007, the late Steve Jobs had meetings with Volkswagen about an unknown project – rumoured only to be the integration of Apple computers into car dashboards. No more was ever heard of this.

But, in February this year, Apple (China) advertised in the LinkedIn automotive section for a “new Product Integration supervisor” with experience in CNC machines and die casting/stamping. Informed online opinion said: “if the job listing is legitimate, the company is once again working on deeper vehicle console/dashboard integration… We wouldn’t be surprised to see the company partner up with auto-makers in the near future to take in-car integration to new heights. Of course, with nearly $100 billion dollars in the bank, Apple could totally be building its own car.”

Apple are not a company known to co-design products. They did not integrate their technology into an existing telephone manufacturer’s telephone; they created their own, new type of telephone.

An iCar now or in the future would make philosophical and economic sense for Apple.

Remember – even if you did not – that you read it here first.

Or maybe the articles which have suddenly appeared about an Apple iCar are an updated equivalent of the Apple are working on a wind-up computer stories of old.

I hope not.

But, then, I always thought the wind-up computer was a good idea.

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Filed under Audio, Automobiles, Computers, Humor, Humour, Technology, Television