Category Archives: Music

Comedy singer Ariane Sherine – from Duran Duran to Humanist ‘reservations’

Ariane Sherine and I first had a blog chat in October 2014, when she released her music album Beautiful Filth.

This Saturday, she is headlining the annual (free) One Life Humanist Choir concert at what she calls “the fabulous heathen palace” of Conway Hall – more correctly the Ethical Society’s London HQ.


JOHN: Are you in the choir?

ARIANE: No. The choir are amazing and brilliant. They’re going to be playing seven songs including two of my favourites: Days by The Kinks and Billie Jean (Michael Jackson). When I was originally approached, though, it was also suggested they might supply a choral backing for my songs and I was so excited. I was thinking about writing out sheet music for the first time in decades and what sort of arrangements I would score, but then the choir heard some of my songs and I was told they had ‘reservations’.

JOHN: Why? Are you singing about God?

ARIANE: No. Singing about sex. The choir ‘had reservations’, so I sent them one of my cleaner songs and they said: “Wow! If that is the more subtle one then the extreme ones could be interesting!” They said they had too full a schedule to do the backing, but I think they were being polite and were actually put off by my filth.

JOHN: What was the clean song you sent them?

ARIANE: Would You Still Love Me

Would you still love me
If I took you to the cleaners?
Would you still love me
If my nose turned into a penis?
Would you still love me
If I never said thank you or please
And I always did asparagus wees
And my flange smelled like blue cheese?

JOHN: What did they find objectionable?

ARIANE: I don’t know. I’m totally baffled.

JOHN: You are also bringing out a book in October. I presume that is going to be full of filth too?

ARIANE: No, it’s not. It’s called Talk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide To Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help. It’s a beginner’s guide to therapy and types of therapy. I’ve written guides to the different types of therapy which are short and funny like myself. And there are contributions from people who have had therapy – including Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker, David Baddiel, James Brown…

JOHN: James Brown the singer?

ARIANE: No, John. He’s dead. That would be difficult, especially as I don’t believe in an afterlife. James Brown, the former editor of GQ who also launched Loaded magazine. 

JOHN: What are Humanists anyway? They’re just atheists.

ARIANE: They are atheists with ethics. Atheists who are good without God.

JOHN: Surely it’s just a way of making atheism into a religion, isn’t it? Which is a bad idea, because almost all religions are OK. It’s organised religion that turns things bad. And Humanism is just organised atheism.

ARIANE: No. We have no places of worship; not even community centres. We don’t stop anybody from doing anything.

JOHN: Except joining in with rude songs.

ARIANE: (LAUGHS) That might be a drawback.

JOHN: You keep saying “we”. You created and organised the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2008. But are you a Humanist?

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

ARIANE: I am. I’m a patron of Humanists UK. 

JOHN: Shouldn’t you be a matron not a patron?

ARIANE: That sounds a bit frumpy. I’d rather be the sex goddess of Humanists UK.

JOHN: That would involve flanges, though… So what are you going to sing on Saturday if you can’t sing dirty songs?

ARIANE: I can sing my dirty songs. The choir just won’t be doing the backing.

JOHN: What would they have been doing if they had done it? Ooh-aaah Ooh-aaah ooh-aaahs?

ARIANE: I might have had them sing “vaginosis”. I have always dreamt about one bit in Will You Still Love Me?

Would you still love me
If I had pungent halitosis?
Halitosis
Would you still love me
If I had bacterial vaginosis?
Vaginosis

I would have loved to have had that Vaginosis, John. 

JOHN: You’re not just a singer of dirty songs, though. You have a bit of previous. With Duran Duran.

ARIANE: Yes. I left school at 16. I was asked to leave.

This girl was bullying me and she spat in my lunch and I threw a full coke can in her face and gave her a black eye. Her step-sister’s gang were waiting outside the school to beat me up or worse and the deputy head had to escort me past the gang and it was made clear to me this couldn’t happen again and that I should leave school.

I remember the deputy head saying to me: “You’ve got to work out what you are going to do with your life now,” and I said, “I know what I’m going to do. I am going to go and find Duran Duran.”

A young Ariane Sherine with Simon Le Bon

So I found out where they were recording, went down to the studio, met them and started hanging out with them and that’s what I did for the next three years.

JOHN: As a groupie…?

ARIANE: No, no. As a songwriter. I wanted to write songs. I told them that and they would listen to my songs and give me advice and feedback.

JOHN: But you never actually played with them…

ARIANE: I did do some sessions for one of their records, playing piano and singing – Ken Scott was the producer. But my contributions didn’t appear on the album and they meant to thank me in the liner notes but forgot. And then I didn’t see them for eight years. Then Simon Le Bon saw me interviewed on television when I was promoting the Atheist Bus Campaign and he sent me a letter via the Guardian.

JOHN: Because you were writing columns for the Guardian at the time.

ARIANE: Yes. So we kind of rekindled our friendship then.

JOHN: Any chance of Duran Duran doing a cover of your Hitler Moustache song ?

ARIANE: No, John, it wouldn’t work.

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There is much more to Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers than just surreal comedy

Having a hearty breakfast with Mr Twonkey

I met up with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey over breakfast to talk about his show Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein but, initially, we got sidetracked by the three gigs he recently played at the Prague Fringe – in the Museum of Alchemists.


JOHN: What is the museum like?

PAUL: It’s a lovely place. It’s got a lot of… not waxworks… fibreglass dummies of alchemists.

JOHN: I like Prague.

Mr Twonkey was a cover star at the Prague Fringe

PAUL: Oh, it’s a beautiful place. we always give money to the Infant Jesus of Prague. They change its clothes every day; it has different jackets and stuff. The more money we gave, the busier the show got. 

JOHN: Did he bleed more if you gave him more money?

PAUL: He doesn’t bleed, but he smiles. He is in a little glass box in a little church just over the Charles Bridge. He is small, but he has big fluffy coats and very flamboyant clothing. 

JOHN: It’s not a small statue of Liberace, is it?

PAUL: It does look like Liberace, but it’s Jesus. It’s one of those things like his eyes are following you round the room.

JOHN: His stigmata are following you round the room?

PAUL: Yeah. But the more money you give him, the more people come, you know?

JOHN: Anyway, you are performing your Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein at the Bill Murray venue in London next Thursday. Is that the same show you did in Brighton?

PAUL: Slightly but not totally different. It’s finding its feet. I have different terms for my shows now. The current show is an Arrival show. But I also do Gateway shows.

JOHN: What are they?

PAUL: A Gateway show is where you find a way in or a way out. With creative ideas, I find sometimes you get trapped. You get a formula for doing something and then, over time, that formula becomes stale, so you feel trapped by it. A Gateway show shows you don’t actually have to do it like that.

In another show, Mr Twonkey spent Christmas in the Jungle

You experiment with a new format and, if that works then, after that, you can have an Arrival show which I think is the most exciting type but it’s also potentially The End. In which case you need another Gateway show. Unless I have two Arrival shows, which is what I’m thinking.

I wonder if that’s possible.

JOHN: Maybe Liechtenstein will have a fire escape.

PAUL: Yeah. That would be great: if I could have two Arrival shows. 

JOHN: …and a fire escape show, like West Side Story.

PAUL: It makes sense in my head, but…

JOHN: So what you did before feels a bit stale to you now?

PAUL: Well, my first three shows – Twonkey’s Cottage, Twonkey’s Castle and Twonkey’s Kingdom – were like a trilogy and the idea was I was only going to do that. I was telling the story of the mythical character Twonkey. But the trouble was no-one understood what I was going on about; no-one was following the story. In some respects, you had to have seen the show before to fully understand the threads in the other show.

JOHN: What was the over-all narrative of the three shows?

PAUL: It was following the journey of Twonkey, who was an accountant… well, a dragon, really… Basically, a dragon who moved from a castle and got more and more powerful. He started off in a cottage, then had his own castle, then had his own kingdom. 

Mr Twonkey had a colourful and successful Blue Cadabra

Then I broke away. I killed Twonkey off after the third show. So the dragon died and I became Mr Twonkey. I became the essence of Twonkey. What I realised was that Twonkey was not a dragon but a state of mind. That freed it up. I had a Gateway show – Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra – which I had quite a bit of success with.

After that, I did a series of shows in that kind of formula…

JOHN: How many?

PAUL: Eh… How many were there?…Two?

JOHN: You’re not quite sure?

PAUL: No. I did Twonkey’s Private Restaurant, which was an extension of Cadabra. In Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop, there was a log flume park. Then Twonkey’s Mumbo Jumbo Hotel was the one I got the Malcolm Hardee Award for. That was a Gateway show, because that was the first time I introduced the idea of an interwoven narrative throughout the over-all piece. 

I have carried on with that since and the new show – Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein – probably has the most clear narrative I’ve had.

JOHN: And you are doing that at the Edinburgh Fringe in August?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: Are you playing Fringe By The Sea in North Berwick while you’re up in Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, but not as Twonkey. I’m doing my band stuff. Paul Vickers and The Leg.

JOHN: Your band is active again?

PAUL: Yes. We are recording an album at the end of June.

Paul Vickers (right) and The Leg: part of a body parts boom

JOHN: Why are they called The Leg?

PAUL: There was a boom in Scotland of bands named after body parts. There was Wounded Knee; there was Withered Hand; and so there was The Leg. There was also Frightened Rabbit.

JOHN: That’s a body part?

PAUL: No. Not a body part. But it fits in somehow.

JOHN: Fringe By The Sea sounds good.

PAUL: Yes, an odd mix of acts. The Sugarhill Gang. Mica Paris. Lewis Schaffer, David Steel and Roy Hattersley.

JOHN: David Steel and Roy Hattersley? The politicians?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: They’re singing…?

PAUL: No. Sitting in chairs and speaking to people.

JOHN: Roy Hattersley should join your band.

PAUL: Well, he had the reputation of spitting a lot… on Spitting Image… My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: As a prop for your Twonkey show?

PAUL: She says it is. Though I haven’t got anything with a seagull in my act at the moment. 

Paul/Twonkey has been known to use occasional props

JOHN: She makes your props.

PAUL: Some, yes. And Grant Pringle makes the bigger ones.

JOHN: Is he related to the Pringles crisp dynasty?

PAUL: No. I think he is related to Pringle The Slayer.

JOHN: Who?

PAUL: Pringle The Slayer was a Borders Reiver. He had people locked up in a tower near Galashiels. I wrote a piece about Pringle The Slayer for Border Life magazine. I used to write for that. We interviewed David Steel for that too. Local interest. I also did Border X-Files, which was about  aliens and ghosts.

JOHN: That was a separate magazine from the one David Steel was in?

PAUL: No. It was all local interest. There was a lot of going to manor houses and talking to rich old ladies and there were photos of horses and green fields. It was the most successful thing we did after the music magazine failed. When BritPop deflated, the music magazine went down and we went into local publishing. But then the band took off and we were alright.

JOHN: What was the music magazine called?

PAUL: Sun Zoom Spark, named after a Captain Beefheart song.

JOHN: Ah. How are you enjoying your baked beans?

PAUL: They’re very nice.

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Why Britain’s Got Talent finalist Robert White has such wide appeal

 In a blog here at the end of April, musical comedian and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Robert White explained why he had entered Britain’s Got Talent this year.

After winning most public votes from viewers in his semi-final appearance, he is now through to the live Sunday night final tomorrow on ITV1.

It seemed the right time to ask him why he seems to have such a wide appeal.

So I asked him…

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JOHN: After your song on the semi-final, your mother now definitely knows you are gay.

ROBERT: Yes and gay comedians have been my idols since I was young. There’s a sort of gay sense of humour you have if you’re camp or an outsider. I know Britain’s Got Talent has a massive gay following, a massive musical theatre following.

My song had a particular gay slant to it. We all have a particular relationship with our parents and I think it was maybe a song that other gay people found an empathy with.

JOHN: You said you had gay idols. For example…?

ROBERT: One of the people I looked up to and look up to is a guy called Mark Bunyan, who I think was the first openly gay performer at the Edinburgh Fringe. If you listen to the sort of songs he did then, they are about the same sort of level – or tamer – than the stuff I’ve done on Britain’s Got Talent.

JOHN: You write songs with intricate lyrics. But you are dyslexic. That must be a bit of a problem.

ROBERT: Well, since I was a kid, it has been easier to make stuff up than to read it. I can read and write music and lyrics but, by the time you’ve sat down and got the end of the line, you could have played most of it by ear anyway.

JOHN: Any creative genes in your family?

ROBERT: My granddad – Samuel Thomas – was from Wales and he was a massive part of my life. A lot of my comedy comes from him. He was from Bleinavon – he was eccentric and intelligent; he was self-taught; he was told he could have been a teacher but he wanted to go and spend time down the pits with his brothers. His father was a band leader and he himself played the euphonium and the cornet. All my music comes from him. He was this crazy, eccentric musical genius: a brilliant man.

I’m regularly in Neath: there’s a lovely comedy festival there. I do gigs in Cardiff, Aberystwyth, all over.

One thing I remember about doing my first gig in Wales was when I first got heckled. The words were nasty, but the accent itself just reminded me of my granddad. So I sort-of can’t be effectively heckled in Wales because it just reminds me of this lovely Welsh voice that used to tell me stories when I was a child.

JOHN: But now you’re a Londoner…

ROBERT: Well, I have adopted London. At the moment, I live in Mile End, but I’ve lived all over London – Brixton, Kilburn, Willesden Green, North, South, East, West. London has done for me what it has done for a lot of people. It has made me who I am. I was born in Sussex – born in Crawley, brought up in Horsham – but made in London..

I had a police escort when I was born. My dad was on his way to Crawley Hospital with my pregnant mother, could not find the entrance, stopped by the side of the road, was spotted by a policeman and I got a police escort to the hospital.

JOHN: That sounds a suitably bizarre entrance to the world for a gay, dyslexic, Aspergic, quarter-Welsh, web-toed performer.

ROBERT: Things which used to be classed as disabilities are now accepted and I think that’s very positive.

500-1,000 years ago, people who were left-handed were being called witches and branded as outcasts.

20 years ago, I was allowed to be dyslexic at primary school, but I was not allowed to be dyslexic at secondary school because they did not have the funding for it.

Now these things are accepted. By highlighting them, what I would like to do is make them be seen as normal. They are not exceptional; they are just different.

JOHN: Which brings us to the fact you have web toes…

ROBERT: When people ask me about my web toes, I try to ‘duck’ the question. My nan had webbed toes as well. Quite a lot of people have it. Anne Boleyn had a sixth finger and it may or may not have been webbed.

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Filed under autism, Comedy, dyslexia, Gay, Music, Talent, Wales

Other people’s lives: the schooldays of UK music legend Simon Napier-Bell

This blog is occasionally called a “comedy blog”, but it is really about interesting people doing interesting, often creative, things – and about other people’s often far-from-normal lives. 

Of course, ‘normal’ is in the eye and ear of the beholder.

Simon Napier-Bell has been called (by Billboard magazine) a “multi-hyphenate British entrepreneur”, (by many) “a bon viveur”, (by himself on his own websitean “author, songwriter, film-maker and public speaker” and (by the Guardian and others) “one of Britain’s most successful ever pop managers”.

The acts he managed included Marc Bolan and T Rex, Boney M, George Michael and Wham!, Sinéad O’Connor, Ultravox… and the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

He currently lives in Thailand.

Today is his 79th birthday.

These are his thoughts:


Because it’s my birthday today I was searching though the past to find a good birthday to write about.

An intimidating evening of conversation with Harold Pinter, Clive Donner and Donald Pleasance at the Connaught in the 1960s.

An extravagantly debauched dinner with Spanish pop stars Camilo Sesto and Antonio Morales at the Masquerade Club in Earls Court in the 70s.

A Beluga binge at Petrossian in New York with Vicki Wickham in the 80s.

Not to mention all the birthday dinners with special friends of the moment, or the ones that ended up with too much boozing in night clubs, often with much shagging afterwards.

One birthday that jumped to mind was rather different. It was my first year at public school and the start of the summer term. I was still in what was called a ‘junior’ house, with a cantankerous, malevolent housemaster – Mr Hoare.

Bryanston School in Dorset (Photograph by Ben Brooksbank)

Two terms earlier I’d arrived from grammar school with the wrong accent and the wrong attitude. I’d quickly modified my accent but hadn’t done so well with my attitude. 

Everything I did or said seemed to rile Mr Hoare terribly; he hated me. And inevitably I hated him back.

On my 14th birthday, my best friend took me to the tuck shop and asked me what I’d like. Not wanting to overtax his good nature, I modestly chose a can of condensed milk.

That evening, with the can only half finished, I discreetly smuggled it into the dormitory and after lights out handed it round. Then the lights flashed on again.

It was Mr Hoare. I was hauled out of the room, taken downstairs and made to sleep on a camp bed in the cupboard where the cleaning utensils were kept – a couple of Hoovers, buckets, mops, that sort of thing.

That wasn’t the only present he gave me for my 14th birthday. The second one was to make me sleep there for the rest of the term. And instead of being able to use the communal bathroom and toilets I had to use an outside shack in the garden. It wasn’t how I would have chosen to live for the next ten weeks but I’ve always been one to cope with situations, so I just got on with it.

On the last day of term, as the coach was arriving to take us all to the railway station, Mr Hoare presented me with my two-month old, half-finished can of condensed milk. 

Disdainfully, I threw it into the waste bin. Mr Hoare was splenetic, “Napier-Bell. Aren’t we meant to say thank-you when someone gives us something?”

In my purest, sweetest public school tones, I said’ “Thank-you, sir.” But as I turned to get on the coach I was shocked to hear my mouth add something totally unintended. “And I hope you die, sir.”

It was certainly what I felt but definitely not something I’d intended to say. I spent the holidays in dread of the inevitable letter to my parents telling them I’d been expelled, but it never came.

And when I went back to school the next term I was in a new house with a new housemaster and no mention was made of what I’d said. A little later however, at morning assembly, the headmaster informed the school that Mr Hoare had died.

I can’t pretend I wasn’t pleased. But it was still quite a shock. And I have to admit from then on I’ve been rather careful about wishing bad on anybody. So for my birthday today, good wishes to everybody. May you all have long, happy, lovely lives.

(But never take a child’s condensed milk away.)

 

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Uncategorisable act Worbey & Farrell won’t be playing the Edinburgh Fringe

The act formerly known as Katzenjammer at the Fringe

Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell met while studying at the Royal College of Music. They formed their Katzenjammer act in 2003. Their ‘hook’ was that they play the same piano simultaneously – a ‘four hands, one piano’ musical act.

Their current selling blurb is: “They’ll astound you by pushing the boundaries of their instrument, using it in unconventional ways to mimic the sound of a full symphony orchestra!”

But they are no longer called Katzenjammer – they haven’t been for ages. Since 2008, they have been simply Worbey & Farrell.

“Why the name change?” I asked.

“With Katzenjammer,” Steven Worbey told me, “there was a Norwegian girl band who came out and started to do very, very well and started going international. Although we had the name Katzenjammer in the UK and Europe, they had the rights in America. So we thought: We might as well change now, while we’re about it.”

“And then,” said Kevin Farrell, “when we put up on Facebook Has anybody got any suggestions for a new name? quite a lot were inappropriate.”

“Well, yes,” said Steven.

“Such as?” I asked.

“Well,” said Kevin, “the one that kept on coming up was Two C***s on a Stool…”

“More than once!” laughed Steven.

“…from people” Kevin laughed, “that didn’t know each other!”

“Well,” I said, “a stool does have an unfortunate other meaning.”

“Much as we loved that name,” Kevin explained, “we couldn’t really use it because we were about to do a concert with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra and we did not think Carnival of the Animals with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra and Two C***s on a Stool would have sold the concept well to the schools audience.”

Steven Worbey (left) and Kevin Farrell are breaking through

“So Worbey & Farrell you became,” I said. “Claire Smith of The Scotsman – who once lived in a tent in your back garden throughout the Edinburgh Fringe – told me you don’t want to play the Fringe next year but, instead, you are going to play the Usher Hall in Edinburgh next Thursday (30th November, St Andrew’s Day). Why?”

“The thing is,” Kevin explained, “we have had a fantastic time doing the Festival but the struggle for us is that the bookers for what we do don’t really go up to the Fringe. It’s more theatre and comedy orientated. We have had a problem in the past being reviewed as a comedy act and we’re not. We are a sort of classical music act that is unpretentious and we make it quite fun. We are quite happy to put Lady Gaga next to Rachmaninov or whatever. And we don’t fit into one single category.”

“Would you not be better,” I suggested, “listed in the Cabaret section of the Fringe Programme?”

“Even that is wrong,” said Kevin.

“Yes,” agreed Steven. “It’s not quite right, because there’s a lot of classical music and, y’know. We are in-between.”

“You are hyphenates,” I suggested.

“We are,” agreed Steven.

“The problem is,” said Kevin, “that, if we went into the Cabaret section, we would only get cabaret bookers and, although we have done cabaret venues in London, generally their pianos are not up to it, because our arrangements are huge and they’re getting bigger. It does require a big Steinway Grand to get the full…”

“At least” said Steven, “the Usher Hall comes with three Steinway Grands for us to choose from, so we haven’t got to spend thousands of pounds hiring one.”

“Most of our audience at the Fringe,” said Kevin, “are locals anyway. Ironically, we will make more profit doing one night than we did doing 23 nights at the Fringe.”

“And it gets you more prestige?” I asked.

The interior of the Usher Hall in Edinburgh: always impressive

“Well,” said Kevin, “it has helped us book the Cadogan Hall in London next year and we’ve also booked the Brighton Dome with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Usher Hall again for next year. There is a kind of snob value to it. More people are likely to come and see you in a big venue, even if they don’t know who you are, as long as you get the title right. Ours is just  Rhapsody in Blue.”

“There is,” admitted Steven, “a bit of a risk to it as well, of course, filling a hall like that. But we are doing OK.”

“We are doing very well,” said Kevin. “And, as we are doing the Usher Hall, the powers that be in the classical world are sitting up and taking note of us now. We have been around for ages, but now they realise we are not going to go away.”

“You have played in over 150 countries,” I prompted, “including Papua New Guinea.”

“It took us 40 hours to get there,” said Kevin, “and the last flight was nearly cancelled because the volcano was erupting, but we flew through the ash and got there in the end.”

“Not the Icelandic volcano?” I asked.

“No,” said Steven. “There was one in Papua New Guinea that was erupting.”

More than music was on the menu in Papua New Guinea

“What was disturbing,” continued Kevin, “was that they had only recently ruled out cannibalism. They eat berries from the trees. It sends them high, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” agreed Steven. “They’re all high. They’ve all got red teeth.”

“I didn’t like the way they looked at us,” laughed Kevin.

“No,” agreed Steven. “It was a funny old place. Just a few years previously, they had lowered old ladies into the volcano because they were…”

“…witches,” said Kevin.

“Yes,” said Steven. “It is a very odd place.”

“Did you,” I asked, “play Papua New Guinea because you were playing Australia?”

“No,” Steven replied. “We left from here in the UK and the following gig after that was…”

“…Berwick-upon-Tweed,” said Kevin.

“So the reason,” I asked, “for playing Papua New Guinea was just because it existed?”

Steven and Kevin have flown hither & thither to entertain

“Yes,” said Steven.”

“That week,” said Kevin, “we played Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Newark Palace Theatre, Papua New Guinea, Berwick-upon-Tweed.”

“That’s right,” said Steven. “Lots of Germans there.”

“No, that was Namibia,” said Kevin.

“There were Germans in Namibia as well,” said Steven.

“I can’t remember,” said Kevin.

“It’s all sand dunes,” said Steven.

“We have,” said Kevin, “played in some strange places.”

“Yeah,” said Steven.

“Different cultures,” I said.

“You can,” Kevin said, “be walking around in South Korea, especially on a Friday night, and men in suits will suddenly fall over flat on the ground, because they’re pissed out of their brains. And you just leave them there, because it is disrespectful if you point out they are pissed or try to help them. You just see all these drunken men in suits lying along the streets.”

“It is basically,” said Steven, “like Wakefield.”

“They drink this very strange red liqueur,” said Kevin.

“In Wakefield?” I asked.

“Oh my God; the Koreans are so lovely!”

“South Korea,” said Kevin. “We were in a bar there last time and were saying: Oh my God; the Koreans are so lovely! They don’t seem to have any violence! And then there was this bottle being hurled across the bar by this girl at another girl who had disrespected her and she wanted to kill her. They were holding her back and we thought: Shit! We spoke too soon!

“Sounds like Glasgow on a quiet night,” I said. “The Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Thursday will be different.”

“Audiences are different all over the UK,” said Steven. “The brightest audiences we have found – the ones you can’t fool – are from Yorkshire.”

“Except maybe Wakefield,” I suggested.

“The further south you go in England,” said Kevin, “the more politically correct. You have to be careful. It’s very strange. What goes down well or not.”

“So Geordie-land is different from Kent?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” said Steven. “Completely.”

“Yes,” agreed Kevin.

“We could get in trouble here,” I said, “but is the North of England more Old School?”

“That is a way of putting it,” said Steven. “You get away with a little bit more in the North of England.”

“But in Scotland,” said Kevin, “the further you go up, the more religious they become.”

“And the further West,” I said.

In Scotland, ya cannae please all of the Papal all of the time

“When we were Katzenjammer,” Kevin told me, “we used to sing a song about the Pope…”

“Oh dear,” I said.

“…and,” Kevin continued, “Oh my God! We practically had death threats. But now, since 2011, Geoffrey Durham directs us and, when he came in, he just stripped the whole act down. We were a variety act and he took out all the songs. He wanted us to do more classical music and he makes sure that everything we do is at the same level.”

“He’s a genius, really,” said Steven. “We don’t try anything unless we run it past Geoffrey first.”

“This is Geoffrey Durham as in Victoria Wood’s ex-husband?” I checked.

“Yes,” said Kevin.

“Someone compared your act to Victor Borge,” I said.

“Everyone wants to pigeonhole,” said Steven. “We’re not. Victor Borge did very little music. They’ve also said we are a bit like a suited-and-booted Hinge & Bracket. But they didn’t play long classical pieces or anything like that, so… Everyone wants to pigeonhole you.”

“You are not going back to Papua New Guinea?” I asked.

“I doubt it,” said Kevin.

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Not often you stumble on a Romanian stand-up with a humdinger musical act

Dragoş in London’s Soho earlier today

Earlier in the week, I saw a Romanian act at Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Becky Fury’s always-interesting Democratik Republik of Kabaret gig in London.

She recommended I come and see him.

The aforementioned Romanian performs as ‘Titus’ because he thinks his real name – Dragoş Moştenescu – is a tad too complicated for us. He might have a point. I dunno. ‘Dragos’ is OK.

Anyway…

It is not often you stumble on a fairly-fluent English-speaking Romanian stand-up with a humdinger of a musical act. And one gigging most nights. So, obviously, I asked: “How long have you been in the UK?”

“Four weeks,” he replied. “I intend to develop a little bit my career here. It is difficult but, although I am not very young, I think I can do it, because I think I can rely on my combination between music and comedy. I must not be one of the millions of comedians who does only comedy. This mixture between comedy and music could be more interesting than the average.”

“Indeed,” I said. “Is there much of a comedy scene in Romania?”

Dragoş Moştenescu played Costel Jurca in TV’s La Bloc

“For the moment, not much. But I did one of the most important sitcoms in Romania – La Bloc. That means a block of flats. It ran over seven years with 500 episodes. I wrote and acted in it.”

“For the whole seven years?” I asked.

“Yes. I have been in comedy for twenty years. I had Issue of The Day first. It started in 1997. It was a 7-10 minute sketch of the day. We broadcast daily. Then I was in the sitcom for seven years. And now, since it ended, it is re-run over and over again because it still works so well.”

“Do you get residual payments for the re-runs?” I asked.

“Yes, but very, very low. In Romania, there are many hands involved when it comes to money.”

In fact, oddly, Dragoş rather under-sells himself. He is credited on-screen as co-creator of La Bloc. There was a movie of the series. He also created, wrote and performed in sitcom Nimeni nu-i perfect (Nobody’s Perfect); created, wrote and performed in the comedy drama Taxes, Pictures and Donuts and directed/performed in the stage play Portret La Minut (Minute Portrait). He even created and, for two years, starred as a superhero character in TV and print ads for the Profi food chain (400 shops in Romania).

And, in 2015, he was involved in an award-winning 3-episode documentary called 13 Shades of Romanian

“So now here you are in Britain,” I said. “You seem to have hit the ground running – gigs every night.”

“I had a contact with BBC last year.,” he told me. They said they were looking for new talent to put on a stage show with the music of Gary Barlow and Take That – Let It Shine – and I was called for casting and I think the performance was pretty good but they said my age was not very suitable because they were looking for someone aged 25, maximum 30.

“I asked Why didn’t you say so from the beginning? and they said Don’t worry. Although you haven’t been selected for the moment, maybe… And that gave me a little boost.

“So I came here to the UK again in March this year. I got my National Insurance number, so I can be proper with documents and everything.”

Dragoş is extraordinarily well-researched on the UK comedy scene – and focussed.

He showed me an Elton John tribute he performed seven years ago (most things linked to Dragoş involve seven-year spans).

“Is it on YouTube?” I asked.

“Yes. I have my own YouTube channel,” he said.

He is Big in Romania but has the guts to re-start in the UK. Working every night though currently mostly on free gigs.

Dragoş: Big in Romania; re-starting here

“I will keep on going to these open mic gigs,” he told me, “because I meet people, I see how my material works here and I can change things.”

When I saw him at the Democratik Republik of Kabaret, he was doing the Beatles’ Let It Be in a dizzying variety of different styles… and a song about Dracula.

“And I have non-verbal songs,” he told me. “I have Three Minutes of Classic Music. I begin to play classic music – Beethoven – but there is a mosquito bothering me and it’s a kind of pantomime, about me trying to get rid of the mosquito with some actions on the piano.”

There are several episodes of La Bloc on YouTube.

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Corduroy LPs, a gay film & the luvvie… Who? – We dare not speak his name…

The energetic and saintly David McGillivray.

Cough, cough. I have a cough. I am now on antibiotics.

But, earlier in the week, I went to yet another launch by film producer, critic and cult movie aficionado David McGillivray.

Last week, he was launching a twice-the-original-length re-publication of his book Doing Rude Things – The History of the British Sex Film.

I blogged about it.

This week, he was back in the same upstairs rooms of a North Soho/Fitzrovia pub in London, launching the soundtrack of his controversial gay porn film Trouser Bar –  “It’s the sexy package you’ll want to fondle. A green vinyl LP lovingly wrapped in haute couture corduroy complete with lavishly illustrated insert, Paisley hankie, badge and (director) Peter de Rome‘s visiting card.”

I blogged about the film in October 2015, when it was being touted as hard-core, and in March 2016 when it was not – just well-promoted – and was first screened.

Among those appearing in cameos in Trouser Bar are Julian Clary, Barry Cryer and Nigel Havers.

This week, as last week, David McGillivray gave a speech to the assembled, definitively eclectic, audience. He said:


Composer Stephen Thrower (left) with David McGillivray and the corduroyed soundtrack LPs. (Photograph by Alex Main)

My only purpose in being here is to lament the fact that two people who should be here can’t be here.

One is the alleged writer of the screenplay.

(LOUD LAUGHTER FROM THE AUDIENCE) 

I appreciate that response. Obviously, there’s probably nobody in this room who doesn’t know who I am referring to, but I still can’t say his name. Isn’t that marvellous?

The other person is the man for whom the alleged writer wrote the screenplay – the great erotic pioneer Peter de Rome.

How both these men would have loved both Trouser Bar and Stephen Thrower’s musical score!

Over the past year, it has been my enormous pleasure to tell the story of this collaboration throughout the world. Next week, I will be telling the story yet again in Buenos Aires – How exciting is that?

The story starts a long time ago, in 1976, when the alleged writer of the screenplay was appearing in a play on Broadway in New York. The alleged writer was a huge fan of pornography and he wrote in a letter to his friend that, while on tour with the play, he had seen in Washington the film in which Linda Lovelace was fucked by a dog. Those are his actual words.

Now, he did not say whether he liked that film but he did say, in a letter which I’ve seen, how much he admired the work of Peter De Rome.

And that is why, one day in his hotel in New York, the alleged writer wrote the screenplay of Trouser Bar. And that is his title, as well.

(Left-Right) David McGillivray, Ethan Reid and Peter de Rome

I worked on three films with Peter De Rome.

During the production of the first, he presented me with this screenplay which had been written for him in 1976. It was still in the envelope from the hotel.

Astounded is not a strong-enough word as far as I am concerned.

For the rest of Peter’s life, I tried to get him out of retirement to make this film. But, alas, he was absolutely adamant. He was fed-up with filming. He found it tiresome.

I failed.

So, when Peter died in 2014, there was nothing else for it – I had to make it for him.

I honestly assumed that, when I contacted the John Gielgud Charitable Trust – and, due to the vagaries of English law, I CAN refer to that organisation – I honestly thought they would be delighted that we were making a film based on the only known screenplay written by the alleged writer.

David McGillivray & Nigel Havers at the Trouser Bar location.

How wrong I was!

They were furious and litigation proceeded over a period of three years.

When they found out that we were due to start production – now, this is something I have never ever told the people involved in the production of the film until tonight – they threatened to sue me AND everybody involved.

Well, it was like a red rag to a bull. 

We went into production the following week.

I assumed that the film would never be released and I was quite happy to leave it on a shelf until every member of the Trust was dead. But the reason we are here tonight is because of two very important people, one of whom IS here.

Brian Robinson of the BFI during the shoot.

He is Brian Robinson of the British Film Institute who suggested that we could release the film without a screenplay credit.

The other person is my indefatigable solicitor, who isn’t here.

That is the reason the film premiered at the BFI, Southbank.

After the premiere, more than one person came to me and said: You must release the music on an LP, preferably corduroy-clad.

I said: It’s not going to happen, because how can it?

Well, I reckoned without the composer Stephen Thrower.

Because of his skill and determination, here is the record.


You can currently hear samples from the soundtrack online.

David McGillivray is, as ever, energetically promoting it…

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