Category Archives: Music

Behind the scenes of Ariane Sherine’s “Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn” video

Yesterday’s blog was about Ariane Sherine’s comic music video of her Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn. I play the UK Labour Party leader. In just over a day, the YouTube video had been seen by over 2,000 people.

There has been feedback.

Ian Dunt, editor of the politics.co.uk website Tweeted: @ArianeSherine‘s deeply disturbing sexual obsession with Jeremy Corbyn continues. Profoundly NSFW.

After Ariane Tweeted: “Joking aside, I am going to vote Labour on June 8th, and I urge you to do the same,” one annoyed woman Tweeted: “I am wondering quite genuinely what would move you to compose such a vituperative piece of video.”

When I pointed out that ‘humour’ was involved, the lady replied sic in three Tweets (too many letters for one): “Assuming your epreiteration affirms your claim that this was purely ‘humour’ rather than malice emitting flatus or being urinated on by dogs it seems to be pitched at those who would laugh as easily at people falling over.”

So I think this shows both that the video has hit a wide audience and proved that a little linguistic learning is no guarantee of coherence.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of UK comedy critics and never one to overstate the case, commented from Kenya: “John Fleming is a revelation. Part sex god and part tragic hero. A vastly untapped dramatic potential.”

She has a point.

The top reviews are in: “Part sex god and part tragic hero”

On Facebook, Mervyn Stutter, the talent-spotting equivalent of Simon Cowell at the Edinburgh Fringe for over a quarter of a century, appeared to want to book me on his Fringe show this year but, on further probing, backtracked, saying: “We only want the bed scene. Can you do 5 minutes?”

I find that both sexist and ageist.

A more heartwarming response was from Mysterious Mark who runs the British Comedy Guide website. He is nicknamed ‘Mysterious Mark’ because he does not like photos being taken of him and, a couple of people have told me, he seems not to cast reflections in mirrors.

He e-mailed me:

“I’m not sure if this is flattering or not to say John, but I honestly didn’t recognise you until about half way through watching the video. Then I remembered you mentioning, the last time we met, that you were about to play the Labour leader and it all came together in my mind and I went “WOAH! WOAH! WOAH! IS IT? YES, IT IS JOHN!”. It wasn’t until the credits rolled I was 100% sure though. It really is a fantastic video… well, apart from the bit where we get to see your thrusting behind,”

Ariane preparing for a sad part of the video

I told him that Ariane has great attention to detail.

She downloaded four headshots of Jeremy Corbyn from the internet (different angles) and then had them blown up and combined onto what I guess was an A2 photograph.

She then booked me into a top hair stylist and they cut my beard to the correct shape with those photos as reference. My eyebrows are bushier than Corbyn’s, so they lessened the depth (front to back) of my eyebrows and re-shaped them. He also has a pointier chin than me but the shaping of the beard helped change my apparent jaw shape.

We were going to add hair on top (Corbyn is not bald on top; I am) but this didn’t work properly, so she bought a Lenin hat and a Panama hat – both of the exact type and colour Corbyn has worn – (the Panama hat band is of a colour type he has worn). So the top of my head is covered at all times. Interesting aside – a Lenin cap and a Lennon cap are the same thing, which I had not consciously twigged.

The suit colours are as per Corbyn and the spectacles were replicas of the type Corbyn has appeared in (The bastard now seems to not wear specs!!!)

It is the beard and me looking over the top of the specs (which Corbyn does) which confuse the look of my face. If I looked over the top of the specs and kept my chin down, it looked more Corbyny.

Morning Star front-page; the back is even better

There are two jokey fake Morning Star covers and back pages in correct type style. And much more.

The props, hair and beard trims and extras appearing in crowd scenes cost Ariane over £1,000 combined.

The video was shot and edited by the unnecessarily tall Graham Nunn, Ariane’s best friend of 20 years whom she married for real last month.

He gave Ariane £50 worth of ASOS vouchers for Christmas and she spent them on a wedding dress for the Corbyn video – not knowing that she and Graham would fall back in love and she would end up marrying him for real in the Corbyn dress in Las Vegas.

Love Song for Jeremy Corbyn is only the second script she has done since leaving television writing in 2008. The last television series she worked on was the BBC1 primetime sitcom My Family.

Ariane has been involved in various videos since then, including one for her Hitler Moustache song in which Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror) and her now-husband Graham Nunn both appeared.

Love Song for Jeremy Corbyn is the first video she has ever directed.

“At times,” she says, “I got frustrated with the process, but I think I got the best out of John Fleming and he’s actually a really decent actor, given that I cast him for his looks rather than his acting!”

That is one of the crosses I have to bear. Women just want me for my body, not for my mind. In fact, Ariane had tried to hire a professional Jeremy Corbyn lookalike to cavort in bed with her. There were plenty available, but the going rate – for example at the Susan Scott Lookalikes agency – was “£600 for up to three hours plus expenses plus VAT” which, Ariane says, “made me think it might be cheaper to hire the man himself.”

She settled for me because although I would nor work for peanuts (I don’t like them) I would work for green tea and Tesco baked beans.

Ariane plied me with Tesco baked beans

She also brought in various extras for crowd scenes, including comics Kayleigh Cassidy, Siân Doughty, Henrik Elmer, Angelo Marcos, and Tommy West.

“The extras,” says Ariane, “were all brilliant and I couldn’t have asked for more professional, easy-to-work-with, punctual supporting actors. It could have been stressful, but I totally loved the day of the ensemble shoot.

“It was hard to simultaneously act and direct. The scene where John is singing to me (the singing voice is actually her husband Graham’s) and taking the engagement ring out of his pocket was the hardest to get right. In contrast, the sex scenes were surprisingly easy!”

It has been often said that I am surprisingly easy, bordering on the desperate.

Ariane’s favourite scene is the one in which Jeremy Corbyn looks at a framed photo of Diane Abbott during sex and has an immediate orgasm. I suggested I should twitch my toes at this point, which Ariane thought worked well.

I am available for roles in any upcoming porno foot fetish films.

Ariane has said in print: “John’s house, used for the shoot, is still cluttered with Jeremy Corbyn video props. At some stage, he will get his house back.”

I am not so sure. As with my house, so with my sanity.

There is a clause in my contract with Ariane saying that I will have my house back but, as all Marx Brothers fans will atest, everybody knows there ain’t no Sanity Clause.

And yes, obviously, my threshold of shame is high.

Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn is one of 13 tracks on Ariane’s album Beautiful Filth, which is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc.

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I ask about Musical Comedy Awards but get sidetracked by exploding intestines

Tamara Cowan was the one who brought up the intestines

“So,” I said, “he now lives in Austria or wherever, but you are his representative here on earth.”

“I think my official title is Creative Director,” Tamara Cowan told me, “but it’s sort-of producing and being The Man on The Ground. I am The Man on The Ground. We do it together.”

“How,” I asked, “did the annual Musical Comedy Awards start?”

“Ed Chappel set it up on his own nine years ago, when he was at Warwick University as part of an Events Management thing. He started it with online entries then hired out the Pleasance, Islington, for the final. The first one was won by Adams & Rea (no longer together as an act).

“The next year, Ed and I were both flyering for Bound & Gagged (comedy promoters) up at the Edinburgh Fringe and he thought it would be really fun to have live heats the next year. I had just had half my intestines chopped out and I was at home recuperating. I was lying there thinking: I don’t really know what I’m going to do when I get back to London. And he texted me saying: Oh, you seem to be good at comedy/chat stuff. Do you want to come and help me with it next time? In fact, I didn’t know anything about comedy.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you need to have half your intestines out?”

“Well, it was actually only a third. I exaggerated.”

“Even so,” I said, “it still begs the question Why?

“They had twisted.”

“Isn’t that what intestines do?” I asked. “Why had they twisted?”

“I don’t know. They twisted and then they got a bit infected and the doctors had to lop a bit off. Apparently it only happens to very young babies and very old people.”

“How old were you?”

“I was 25.”

It was this or a picture of intestines – Ed Chappel publicising the Musical Comedy Awards in 2009.

“The doctors,” I asked, “never mentioned why?”

“I did loads of research and it didn’t really explain it.”

“The doctors never said exactly why they wanted to chop bits out of you?”

“They had done scans and seen it had twisted and exploded.”

“Exploded?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have trouble digesting things now?”

“No. I have to eat quite a lot of fibre to make sure I ‘go’ regularly but, basically, it holds as much as it holds and, if it has less room to hold it, it will just push it out quicker. Tell me you are not going to write about this.”

“Probably.”

“Oh dear.”

“You were in hospital…”

“Yes. As the NHS was a bit overstretched at the time, I ended up updating my own chart sometimes because no-one else was.”

“The chart thing hanging on the end of your bed?”

“Yes.”

“You updated your own chart?”

“Yes. I opened it up and saw all the pictures and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Your own intestines?“

“Yes. Open. Urghh! That near-death experience put me off acting.”

“Acting?”

“I did an MA at Mountview.”

“So you were an aspiring actress?”

“I was. But that near-death experience put me off. I thought I don’t want to be an actress and then I found comedy and thought This is more fun.”

“So you had a third of your intestines out then decided to move into comedy? There’s a pun there somewhere. We just have to find it.”

“Belly laughs?”

“Mmmm…”

“Gut instinct?”

“Could be.”

“So you moved into comedy but not as a performer, despite the fact you had wanted to act.”

“Well, going to drama school put me right off wanting to go on stage. Then having a near-death experience made me want more of a tangible career.”

“Why did learning to be an actress put you off being an actress?”

“It made me quite self-conscious because you over-thought everything. And, after the near-death experience, I wanted to actually do things rather than rely on people employing me. Rather than have casting directors decide if I was going to do something, I wanted to decide myself to create stuff and do things. And I found the Musical Comedy Awards at that point. It meant I could be in charge of making something actually happen and putting on productions.”

“You wanted to be in control of your own destiny?”

“Yes.”

“So, you organise the Musical Comedy Awards annually but, the rest of the time, you are…?”

“An assistant agent. I’ve been with Hollie Ebdon for almost two years now. I used to work in corporate property, but I gave that up because it was horrible. Have you ever worked in corporate property?

“No…. Anyway, you decided you wanted to be master or mistress of your own destiny so, after having a third of your intestines out and deciding not to be an actress, you went into corporate property?”

“No. I went into theatre administration and then got accidentally found and offered a job by a cool and fun property company but then they got capital investment and it all started turning a bit horrible. Then Hollie’s thing came up and she was the first person who had given the MCAs an opportunity because she had been doing the booking for the Wilmington Arms in Rosebery Avenue where we did jam-packed musical comedy days with people like Abandoman. That was in 2010.”

“You said earlier that, when you started, you knew nothing about comedy.”

“Well, when I finished at London Metropolitan University, I went to the Edinburgh Fringe and worked with Bound & Gagged for the summer, like I said, and someone had to explain to me who Stewart Lee and Nicholas Parsons were. I really didn’t know anything about comedy.

“Then I went and got a job at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, tearing tickets. Through that, I met Tracey Collins – Tina Turner, Tea Lady – and Charlie, who helps with the MCAs.  And this year we are magically ending up back there because there was a delay with the Underbelly. So, after ten years of not working at the Lyric, we’ve all ended up doing the Musical Comedy Awards Finals there this coming Monday.”

Everyone’s back at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue, this year

“That is fairly weird,” I said.

“Yes. And then Ed Chappel found this bit of paper – an obituary for his great-great uncle, who was a famous actor in the early 20th century – and his great-great uncle’s first West End production was Of Mice and Men at the Lyric Theatre.”

“So you’ve been doing the Musical Comedy Awards for eight years. Getting bored?”

“I love the variety. Musical comedians are a mixture. You get people who are basically comedians but who can play a bit of music. Then you’ve got cabaret people. Then actors who are all-rounder triple-threats: acting/singing/dancing.”

“Is it easier,” I asked, “to hide weak material if you are a musical comedian? Take (I named an act). Their material is OK but their personality is so overwhelming you almost don’t notice some of their material is weak.”

“But isn’t that the same with stand-up comics?” Tamara suggested. “It’s all in the balance. If you had someone else doing Stewart Lee’s material, it wouldn’t be as good without his stage charisma and timing. In some ways, yes, musical comedy is easier because you do have a kind of energy level that comes with playing the musical instrument, but it is harder as well because you have a lot more balls to juggle and make it click and work and get the audience to buy it.”

“There are no real musical comedy shows on TV,” I prompted.

“I think,” Tamara responded, “that a musical comedy show would work well on TV, but I don’t think they want to take a risk.”

“Maybe because it sounds expensive ,” I suggested. “Like putting on 42nd Street.”

“But,” said Tamara, “it can be very cheap. It’s usually just a… well, a white guy in his early 30s with a guitar. People get musical comedy and musicals mixed up.”

“You still have no urge to pluck a ukulele yourself?”

“No. I’m almost tone deaf. I can’t sing in tune. I can appreciate music but I can’t do it myself. I used to play the saxophone. I wasn’t too bad but it did give me an awful rash on my bottom lip and you don’t want a rash on your lips when you’re a teenager. And it is almost impossible to do musical comedy if you have something in your mouth.”

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No more UK Kunt – The end of an era?

Kunt’s last show

So is it a good gig when, before it starts, the sound of “Cunt! Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!” chanted by 500 voices precedes the act and, before his final song, the entire audience boos at the thought of what is to come?

kunt_withphone

Is it a good gig when the act steals an iPhone to stop a punter videoing the show, then videos the audience and throws it back at him?

kunt_jimmysavile_cut
Is it a good gig when, in the second half, the entire audience is joyously singing along to songs about Fred & Rose West, Jimmy Savile and sundry paedophiles?
kunt_cock
Is it a good gig when the act rips off his penis and throws it into the audience?
kunt_farewell
Well yes it is, if the sold-out Saturday night gig at Proud Camden in London is billed as Kunt and The Gang‘s last ever performance after 13 years of touring the UK.

kunt_soldout_cut

But what is the betting he will be back again…??

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The Kunt (and The Gang) Monologues

When Kunt and The Gang announced earlier this year that he was retiring, I immediately booked him to climax the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe last month with his song Paper Boy. That version is not on YouTube, but this one is…

I thought it would also be interesting to chat to him for a blog, but he told me: “I stopped doing face to face stuff as it never comes across in print quite as well as the email interviews.”

I told him: “I’m never very keen on written Q&A ‘interviews’ because they never sound like a lively conversation. Writing in grammatical perfection is always a killer.”

So, inevitably, we did do a Q&A email interview. This is it.

Q – Why are you giving up? Have you run out of original ideas? Have you gone mentally dull? Do you now want to smoke a pipe, suck Werther’s Original sweets and hug people rather than offend them?

Kunt and Jimmy Savile

Kunt had new inspiration suddenly pumped into him in 2011

A – I ran out of ideas in 2011 but, luckily for me, Operation Yewtree came along and helped me drag it out for another five years. I’ve been thinking of packing it in for a few years, but my mind was made up because of how many maverick celebrities have croaked this year – Bowie, Prince, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne etc. etc. If they keep dropping at this rate, it’s only a matter of time before my minor internet celebrity status gets bumped up and then I’m on the ‘at risk’ register.

Q – Are you so stinking rich now that you don’t need to work and just want to watch Countdown on TV?

A – Yes, because playing 50 gigs a year for 6 quid a ticket can make you a millionaire. Are you having a fucking laugh? Don’t worry. I’m still driving round in a Ford Fiesta and looking for the yellow ‘whoops’ stickers in Asda.

Q – Did you get to keep your 2011 Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award or did Bob Slayer nick it?

A – I gave it away in a competition. A bloke from Colchester won it. They’re not worth loads of money, are they?

Q – They’re increasingly prestigious. Is your retirement just a scam? Everyone thinks it might be. Are you going to keep doing ‘return’ gigs like Frank Sinatra?

A – I’m not quite sure why everyone thinks it’s a big scam. I think people are just in the denial stage of grief. I had four people at my gig in Bristol last week tell me that I should call my comeback tour ‘The Cum-back Tour’. With my current Christ complex, I’m favouring ‘The Res-erection’.

Kunt’ll Fix It

Now then, now then, boys and girls. What will he do next?

Q – Are you likely to reappear as a different character? Like Avid Merrion in Bo’ Selecta became Keith Lemon?

A – Highly unlikely.

Q – How did you think up the Kunt character and, indeed, why?

A – I’m still a bit baffled that you refer to me as a character! Is Sting a character? Is Bono a character? No!

They’re really just a couple of cunts so why can’t I just be a kunt?

Q – What were you before you were a Kunt?

A – I worked part-time for the local council doing odd jobs for the Youth Service. Whenever I tell anyone that I suddenly see them thinking: Historical sex crimes.

Q – Odd jobs? Such as?

A – It was a few years ago but, as I remember, I was just sent to the youth centres in the daytime when there were no teenagers around to do minor maintenance tasks like collecting the money out of pool tables and sniffing the toilet seats.

Q – Describe your best shit.

A – A one-and-half turd visit on the 15th December 2013, which I tweeted a picture of to Simon Cowell as part of the world’s first ever virtual dirty protest.

Q – Describe your worst sex act.

A – Drunkenly trying to get big Karen to finish me off in a toilet cubicle in the multi story car park next to Club Art in Southend while my mates jumped up pulling faces over the door.

Q – When you were 17, what did you think you would be when you were 34?

A – I couldn’t imagine being 21 when I was 17, let alone 34. I’ve always thought if you think about things too hard you’ll talk yourself out of it.

Q – So, in the past, this philosophy of life has resulted in you doing what?

A – All this. And kicking the odd pensioner’s wall in.

Q – Has writing wall-to-wall filth worn your spirit down? Are you going to write non-filth now?

A – I don’t think of it as wall-to-wall filth. I think I’m just dealing with the difficult subjects that no one else wants to sing about. Because of that, I think I‘ve been lucky to have a whole new raft of rhyming couplets that no other fucker wanted – like ‘come uppance’ and ‘lady’s tuppence’. That said, I always had a secret ambition to do Eurovision but I’m worried I might be overqualified.

Q – So will you write ‘clean’ song lyrics in future? Your songs are so technically good, you could make it in the ‘straight’ music biz. You could do The Voice or a Simon Cowell TV show or, yes indeed, Eurovision.

A – There’s millions of kunts out there writing clean songs. It’s very hard to stand out. Why do you think I was forced to forge a career out of singing about masturbation and paedofiddlia?! Furthermore, in case you hadn’t noticed, the TV talent shows are not for people like me that write catchy original songs and sing them in our own voices – more for perma-tanned twats warbling around the main melody of existing songs.

Q – Have you made useful contacts in the ‘straight’ music biz?

A – No

Q – Your final show is in London on November 5th. Seven days later, what will you be doing where, why and with whom?

A – Sitting on the sofa on my own, in my pants, watching Police Academy 7 on DVD.

Q – Describe your house. Where is it? – In a city? In the countryside? In suburbia? What is it like inside?

A – Is this fucking Hello magazine? I’ve got a square-ish house with a pointy roof on the upskirts of a town. It is the town where Depeche Mode are from and also Brian Belo from Big Brother. Inside there’s some rooms containing the usual furniture and in one room a bed along with piles of old posters and boxes of unsold CDs and T-shirts. (Note: Depeche Mode and Brian Belo came from Basildon.)

Q – Any unfulfilled ambitions?

Kunt’s Shannon Matthews The Musical

Shannon Matthews The Musical: a great loss to the West End

A – I’m gutted my Shannon Matthews musical didn’t make it onto the big stage. I always secretly believed Lloyd Webber would discover it and make us an offer. But he didn’t, the rubber-faced old posho.

Q – Who was she again?

A – Shannon Matthews was the 9-year-old daughter of ginger munter Karen Matthews, who unsuccessfully masterminded her fake kidnapping to try and cash in on the back of the Madeleine McCann bandwagon.

Shannon Matthews: The Musical is a full-length audio musical I wrote based on the case and then recorded with some mates from Huddersfield. It is my proudest moment, but sadly never got produced on the big stage. Fucksticks.

Q – What is going to happen now when you have all these great creative ideas and you have nowhere to use them? You will get creatively constipated, won’t you?

A – I haven’t really thought about what I’ll do for an outlet but, put it this way, I wouldn’t want to be my paperboy. I have been regularly frustrated on this tour stuck in fucking traffic. Currently it’s averaging out 8 hours in the car for every hour on stage. It’s doing my biscuit in.

Q – Was there ever a Gang?

A – When you’re in it, you know!

Q – Are there Kunt groupies when you are on tour?

A – Sadly, they are mostly sweaty mental balding men in their mid to late 40s. I meet loads of really smashing people but, in the last few years, I seem to have become like a flypaper for nutjobs.

Kunt on tour with Mike Gibbons - "my former manager, minor internet hit wannabe and dangerous loner"

Kunt on tour with Mike Gibbons, whom he calls “my former manager, minor internet hit wannabe and dangerous loner”

Q – Why do you think that has suddenly happened?

A – I think it’s just the law of averages. You meet thousands of people, so odds on there’s going to be a few fruit loops. They always seem to be more persistent and intense, though, giving the impression that there’s more of them than there actually are.

Q – Have you any baby Kunts at home or are you planning any?

A – I’m in my early 30s now so I guess at some point soon I might have to start thinking about that.

Q – Is there a Mrs Kunt?

A – Not a Mrs Kunt, but a long-suffering Miss Kunt. It’s been hard over the years to keep a relationship going whilst doing as many gigs as I have but these days you can just have a wank into FaceTime.

Q – So how are you going to financially support yourself, Miss Kunt and your potential mini-Kunts?

A – I don’t live a lavish celebrity lifestyle. I don’t dine at the Ivy. I dine at Harvester where you get unlimited salad with your main meal. At the end of this tour, I’ll have a dwindling pot of cash that gives me 9 months to work out what the fuck I’m doing next and make a go of it. Having failed at everything I’ve ever done apart from this it’s very likely there’s going to be a much anticipated ‘Cum-back’ tour…

Q  Any regret yet that you have announced your retirement?

A – Of course. I fucking love doing this. I love the gigs, meeting people and hearing about the time they soiled themselves and where they stashed their underwear after. But the time still feels right to knock it on the head, while I’m still enjoying it rather than waiting for it to all turn to shite.

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The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – soft anarchy & a concrete-floored ambulance

The flu, technology and utter laziness… Three recent enemies of this blog.

As my computer wiped photos, Michael Livesley (right) kindly recreated our meeting with Rod Slater (left) at a Soho pub.

As my computer wiped photos, Michael Livesley (right) kindly recreated our meeting with Rod Slater (left) at a Soho pub.

On 15th April, I had a chat with former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band member Rod Slater and Michael Livesley, reviver of Viv Stanshall’s eccentric epic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. I was going to post a blog the following week. Three days later, the hard drive on my laptop computer corrupted, taking with it the photos I had transferred (and erased from) my phone though, fortunately, I still had the audio recording on my phone.

The new version of Viv Stanshall’s classic album

The newly-released version of Viv Stanshall’s classic album

So I thought the release of the new version of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End CD on 13th May would be a good excuse to write a blog. Then lethargy and flu set in.

The flu just-about cleared for a 20th May press launch publicising the new Bonzo tribute CD (not the same as the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End one) and their upcoming appearance at the London Palladium on 19th November.

Then flu and lethargy returned until now, dear reader, when mention of the Bonzo Dogs has reappeared here.

New Bonzo Dog album (not to be confused with Sir Henry)

The new Bonzo album (not the Sir Henry one)

“It’s not live,” Michael Livesley told me about the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End CD (not to be confused with the Bonzo Dog one). We did it in the studio. It’s got Rick Wakeman on it and Neil Innes has done a bit on it. It took bloody ages to do because, when you’re recording a complicated concept album… Well, it’s a really complicated album.

“It’s strange that something which started as an album that I turned into a stage show is now an album again. It’s the first release on Rick Wakeman’s record label Rraw. The whole idea of the album was Rick’s. It comes with a 16-page booklet with all the photos.”

“The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band have really lasted,” I said to Rod Slater.

“Yes,” he told me, “the Bonzo Dog finished in 1970, but it’s just gone on. It started in 1962, for Godsake. I don’t remember all of it that well now.”

I said: “They probably thought Beethoven would be forgotten after 50 years.”

“That’s totally different,” said Rod.

“You,” said Michael to me, “were at the Bonzo’s last London gig, weren’t you?”

The Bonzo’s last London performance

Poster for the Bonzo’s last London performance

“At the Regent Street Poly?” I asked. “No, I didn’t go. I just kept the poster.”

“I remember the very last show,” said Rod. “It was at Loughborough University. It was like a way of life had come to an end. I didn’t want to stop entirely, but some of the others were pissed-off and felt they could do with a break.”

“Pissed-off with what?” I asked. “The travelling and everything?”

“Yeah,” Rod replied. “Just the intensity, I suppose. We’d been doing it for about six years without a break, so it was getting a bit… Well… But, fuck me, I didn’t half miss it when it was over.”

“Was it getting a bit samey for you?” I asked.

“No, it went on developing. I think it came to a premature end, really, but, at the same time, it couldn’t have gone on really, because things were cracking up.”

“It’s usually better,” I suggested, “for things to end too early rather than too late.”

“I think so, yes,” said Rod.

(L-R) Michael Livesley, Stephen Fry & Rod Slater re-create Sir Henry at Rawlinson End

(L-R) Michael Livesley, Stephen Fry & Rod Slater recreate the former glories of Viv Stanshall’s Sir Henry at Rawlinson End

“That’s why it’s great to be doing all this stuff now,” said Michael. “Because it’s worth continuing. It’s good quality stuff. I think we’ve lost sight of what we do best in this country from an entertainment point of view. You can’t blame the influence of America or the rise of dance music or any of that stuff. It’s nowt to do with that. We now live in a world – never mind a country – where it’s cool to be thick and it’s cool not to think too much about things and it’s cool not to question authority. We live in an age of conformity. What Viv and the Bonzos did was as far from conformity as you could get. But it was done with such whimsy and so gently. There was no kicking. It was like a soft anarchy with loads of humour.”

Michael Livesley with Rod Slater at the album launch

Michael Livesley (left) with Rod Slater at the album launch

“I think now,” mused Rod, “I would be far more vicious. I am a contrarist by nature, so nothing would ever be right for me. I’m not a confrontationist. There’s no point in getting your bloody head kicked in. But to confront things with humour and present them in a ridiculous way with the very definite clear message You should think about this! underneath. That’s the best thing anyone’s ever said about my work: It’s silly, but there’s something underneath it. I’m very much more like that now. I don’t think I was sophisticated enough in the 1960s to actually…”

The original Sir Henry at Rawlinson End LP

Viv Stanshall’s original Sir Henry at Rawlinson End LP

“Especially with Viv,” suggested Michael. “Sir Henry at Rawlinson End is the biggest examination of our class system and the Empire and everything coming to a screeching halt into psychedelia that you could wish for.”

“What were the other serious issues?” I asked.

“What?” asked Rod. “When? Then?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well,” said Rod, “we were all likely to be bloody fried, weren’t we? The Bomb. And there was misogyny unlimited. Still is. All manner of… For Godsake, it was a totally different world. You couldn’t get away with a lot of it now, but no-one questioned it.”

“The next thing up,” said Michael, “is Glastonbury. We are doing Sir Henry at Rawlinson End at Glastonbury, which I think is the perfect setting for it.”

“How many people will be performing it?” I asked.

“Seven of us. Six days under canvas. It’s not for the faint-hearted. We are on at 8 o’clock every night in the Astrolabe Theatre.”

“When I went to Glastonbury before,” said Rod, “I couldn’t stand the shit on the shovel.”

“There are different toilets in the artistes’ area now,” said Michael.

“The best place to hang around then,” Rod continued, “was the BBC area. That was where the phrase ‘the remains of the Bonzo Dog Band’ was coined by some girl presenter.”

“After Glastonbury,” said Michael, “we will be gearing up for the Bonzo tour in November.”

A previous Bonzo reincarnation in December 2015

A previous Bonzo Dog reincarnation back in December 2015

“Who are the Bonzos now? I asked.

“Me, Rod, Sam Spoons, Legs Larry, Vernon (Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell).”

“What does the tour involve?” I asked.

“One of the most exciting parts,” said Michael, “is playing the London Palladium on 19th November. That should be fun.”

“And the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End CD is already out,” I prompted.

“Yes,” said Michael,  “a good culmination of six years of working with different people. My brief for it was always: Just think of it as a Radio 4 play. The way to really get subversive comedy listened to is to have it masquerade as something else and I think there’s no more innocuous thing than a Radio 4 play. You think you’re going to hear croquet on the lawn with cucumber sandwiches.”

“That’s where the Rawlinsons came from,” said Rod. “We listened to those bloody plays when we were in the ambulance. Viv latched onto that. Those terrible plays and Mrs Dale’s Diary, which you can see in the early Bonzos’ stuff.”

“Ambulance?” I asked.

“Vernon,” said Rod, “bought this ambulance with a concrete floor and it had chairs in the back. Armchairs and all our equipment.”

“Why did it have a concrete floor?” I asked.

The Bonzo Dogs’ ambulance had a concrete floor

Bonzo Dogs’ ambulance had a concrete floor and a hand brake

“I don’t know,” said Rod. “but it did. There was a Dinky toy made of it.”

“It had reinforced concrete for the floor,” agreed Michael.

“One day,” mused Rod, “its brakes failed going down Shooters Hill and Vernon, with great presence of mind, pulled on the hand brake, which pulled his shoulder out and he was hospitalised. But he managed to stop the ambulance.”

“It was fortunate,” I said, “that he was in an ambulance.”

“Someone,” mused Michael, “sent me an article from the Fortean Times the other week about the Sitwell family. Dame Edith Sitwell was this early 20th century poetess.”

“Oh, they were all bonkers,” I said.

“They were like the Rawlinsons,” Michael continued. “This George Rersby Sitwell owned a 16th century castle in Spain that he ended up retiring to, because had had enough of the modern world. He made this place like the 16th century. He was even more bonkers than Sir Henry Rawlinson. So these people did exist and they were ripe for the picking in the 1970s.”

Major-General Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson.jpg

Major-General Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson

“The day Viv died,” said Rod, “there was actually a real Sir Henry Rawlinson who…”

“Yes,” said Michael, “who had died on the same day 100 years earlier. He died 5th March 1895 and Viv died 5th March 1995.”

“It was 5th or 6th March,” said Rod. “They don’t know whether he died before midnight or after.”

So it goes.

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A serious song about being a comedian

Ursula Burns in Belfast this afternoon

Ursula Burns at home  in Belfast this afternoon

Ursula Burns – 2013 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee and dangerous Irish harpist – has just posted online the video for a new song – about being a comedian. So, obviously, I Skyped her about it this afternoon at her home in Belfast.

“It really is a serious song about comedy!” I said.

“Yes,” she laughed, “It is, isn’t it? The whole new album is serious. It’s not comedy.”

“What’s the album called?” I asked.

The Dangerous Harpist.”

“Of course it is,” I said.

Ursula’s upcoming Dangerous Harpist album

The upcoming Dangerous Harpist album – released in May

“It’s a collection of songs,” she explained, “that got sort of swept aside when I was on the comedy circuit for three or four years. There was a backlog of songs written along the way. I wasn’t just writing comedy stuff in that time. Some of the songs were written when I was on the road with the circus; some are more theatre-based, about when I was writing for theatre. I wrote a musical: we did 41 performances. So the album has theatrical, circus, comedy elements in the songs… and there is actually one happy one!”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“It’s about crying in the toilet,” she laughed. “But it’s a very happy song. The songs are all slightly different flavours – snapshots… I suppose it’s like taking a picture wherever you are. Lots of songs had built up. It’s five years since I made an album and the last one was so different.”

“How?”

Ursula in a previous creative incarnation

Ursula in a previous creative incarnation

“It was really kinda Celtic and there was an esoteric aspect to it. It was inspired by a book of poetry I found in London by a poet called Fiona McLeod, who was actually a Scots guy called William Sharp, who was actually a mate of W.B.Yeats. The poetry was very spiritual, very nature-based. It was almost like John O’Donohue in his book Anam Cara. It was very Irish, very Celtic, very poetry, very musical, intensely musical.

“It was just before I wrote the Comedian song – There was that kinda crash of the dark side, going to somewhere. It was like I went from the light to the dark.”

“The light was the Celtic,” I asked, “and the comedy was the dark?”

“Sort of. Within myself. I think the thing about being funny… I think you have to tell the truth and, for me, it felt like a darker aspect – engaging with something dark.”

“You mentioned writing for theatre,” I prompted.

Little Red Riding Hood,” Ursula told me, “for the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. I composed the music. I wrote the wolf’s songs in the style of Tom Waits and Little Red in the style of Kate Bush and Björk.”

“And your album is called The Dangerous Harpist.”

“Yes.”

Ursula, on stilts, plays her harp in Belfast

Not dangerous? Ursula, on stilts, plays her harp in Belfast

“Are you dangerous?”

“No,” she laughed.

“The Comedian track,” I pointed out, “says you are ‘dangerous on the inside’.”

“Well,” Ursula replied, “you know the stereotype of comedians being depressed? It’s this on-the-edge feeling. I’ve been operating as a self-employed artist for 20 years and it’s about how that kind of really takes its toll on you. The aspect of smiling on the outside – making people laugh – but, behind it all, on the inside, there’s an intensity or a dangerous on-the-edge aspect to how you are living and how you are feeling.”

“When is the album being released?” I asked.

“On May the 4th – Star Wars Day.”

There is a video for the Comedian track on YouTube.

and here she is as a harpist.

 

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New age of Alternative Musical Comedy

Eight years of ignorance on my part - Musical Comedy Awards

Eight years of talent show ignorance from me

Yesterday afternoon, I went to a Quarter Final of this year’s Musical Comedy Awards, which had 12 contestants performing. The Semi-Finals and Final are yet to come.

The Awards have been running eight years and I had not been aware of them. Which demonstrates what I know about anything.

I had seen two previous Musical Comedy Awards heats and now this Quarter Final and the strangest thing to me was that there was not one duff, sub-standard act in any of them. Genuinely surprised me.

As well as seeing these three Musical Comedy Awards shows in the last few weeks I have seen three other talent shows and it just reminds me how impossible it is to spot at an early stage who will succeed in years to come.

Some average or below-average acts develop quickly or slowly into wonderful acts. Some really talented, stand-out acts never get anywhere. You might as well toss a coin.

So the old cliché that “everyone who took part is a winner” is sort-of true.

Getting to the knock-out stage of any serious competition is something. After that, the rest is persistence and/or pure luck. No-one can really spot who will succeed.

Some brilliant performers self-destruct. A lot of them. I have seen it happen. Repeatedly. It is in the nature of talent. Often, average acts succeed because they are simply more persistent and more reliable.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, of course, are no exception to this You Can Never Be Certain rule.

But our ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid Award’ is, I suspect, likely to have a very high success rate. The winners so far have been:

2010 – Bo Burnham 

2011 – Benet Brandreth (both as legal eagle and performer)

2012 – Trevor Noah

2013 – (no award given)

2014 – Luisa Omielan

2015 – Laurence Owen

A couple of weeks ago, I saw (again) Laurence Owen’s marvellous Cinemusical show and – my God! – we were absolutely right to give him the award.

Musical Comedy may be a rising genre. Let us hope so. There certainly needs to be something to liven up samey comedy club shows which have mostly become a procession of perfectly acceptable but unexceptional comedy clones spouting perfectly acceptable but unexceptional straight stand-up material. Or open mic shows with wildly variable acts mostly performing to other performers and no genuine audience.

Alternative Musical Comedy’s day may be coming. There is a video for Laurence Owen’s superb song Empowered on YouTube.

As is a video of journalist and ’new’ act Ariane Sherine’s Hitler Moustache – a song with which she wowed the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Live audience last week on only her sixth live performance (if you ignore her brief period treading the boards 13 years ago).

This could be the dawning of the age of Alternative Musical Comedy.

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