Some stories which I do not mention in this blog are often even more interesting than what appears, but not quite long enough to blog about. And some are just plain unrepeatable.
Last week, I spent Tuesday evening in the company of the infamous Flying Haidrani Twins, purveyors of the best gossip and most scandalous international tales in Greater London. Sadly my lips are sealed on the details, but I hope their cracking stories will surface in some future novel or magazine article by one or both of them.
The night before that, I went to Chesham Cricket Club which, somewhat unexpectedly, is in the same place as Chesham Football Club. This confused several revellers.
I was there because comedy act Brian Damage & Krysstal were hosting a farewell event. They are moving to Australia.
Brian Damage and Krysstal – any old excuse for a party…
Well, it turned out they are not actually moving to Australia until September but – hey! – any excuse for a party.
For almost the whole of this century, they hosted the Pear Shaped comedy club, which they wrongly billed as the second worst comedy club in London.
At some point during the evening, with cricket continuing in the background, four comics were discussing heckler anecdotes and Brian recalled one female comic’s response to an annoying heckler: she took a fish out of her clothing and threw it at the heckler, catching him in the face.
After that, Brian & Krysstal implemented a ‘no fish’ policy at the gigs they hosted.
Apparently the fish was not part of the planned act; it just happened to be in the comic’s clothing.
Cricket ground selfie by Pam Ford with (L-R) Stephen Carlin & Andrew O’Neill
Andrew O’Neill, one of the veritable plethora of comedy industry people who got up on stage to pay tribute to Brian & Krysstal said:
“I started in 2002 and I never met Malcolm Hardee and there are all these stories about him, but I feel like we’ve got our own Malcolm Hardee now, but there’s two of them in Brian & Krysstal.
“I can’t remember the first time I went to Pear Shaped; they sort-of morphed into one incredible adventure. But that absolute fucking madness… held together by what I genuinely believe is one of the funniest comedy acts I’ve ever seen.”
The evidently not incomparable Malcolm Hardee was renowned for having the biggest bollocks in British showbiz.
Patsy Kensit as a baby with (L-R) her father James, her mother Margaret and her family godfather Reginald…
But in fact, he told me, he only had the SECOND biggest bollocks in British showbiz.
He had once come second in a table-top contest with Patsy Kensit‘s father ‘Jimmy the Dip’ who, allegedly, used to book acts for, I was told, the British Army.
Two nights before Brian & Krysstal’s cricket-based farewell, I had bumped into Malcolm Hardee’s chum Martin Soan at a wake for Dave ‘Bagpipes’ Brooks, an early occasional member of Martin and Malcolm’s Greatest Show on Legs comedy group.
Dave Brooks died two years ago but Covid had delayed the get-together.
So it goes.
Dave Brooks with offensive bagpipes
In 1981, Dave was part of The Human Scottish Sword Dance with the Greatest Show on Legs on the TV show Game For a Laugh in which they performed a ‘human sword dance’ in Highland costume, with presenter Matthew Kelly lying on the ground instead of swords, looking up while The Greatest Show on Legs members danced over him.
Martin Soan mentioned something I had never realised before: that, in keeping with Scottish tradition, the Greatest Show on Legs wore nothing under their kilts on this (and no doubt other) occasions.
Alas, YouTube have seen fit to remove the relevant clip.
Dave’s son Charlie Brooks reminded me that one of Dave’s many claims to fame was a court fight with the Corporation of London over his playing bagpipes on Hampstead Heath. I mentioned it in a 2020 blog.
In 1996, the Corporation prosecuted Dave at Hampstead Magistrates’ Court under an 1890 by-law for “playing a musical instrument (his bagpipes) on Hampstead Heath on three separate counts”. This was despite the fact that Dave had been playing his pipes on the Heath for an hour every morning for 15 years without any complaint from anyone.
History seemed to come to Dave’s rescue.
One of the weapons of war used at Culloden in 1746
After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the Lord Chief Justice of England ruled that the bagpipes were not a musical instrument but an instrument of insurrection.
Dave argued his case against the Corporation of London on the basis that his Highland bagpipes legally remained (in 1996) an instrument of war and insurrection and therefore were not a musical instrument as charged.
Sadly, he was still found guilty on three counts of playing a musical instrument and fined £15 on each count plus £50 costs.
But, like Malcolm Hardee and Jimmy ‘the Dip’ Kensit, you have to admire his balls.
RIP Dave (1947-2020), Malcolm (1950-2005) and Jimmy the Dip (1915-1987).
So it goes.
Dave also used to play bagpipes at Indian weddings…
Here’s my moan and, believe it or not, I speak on behalf of hundreds if not thousands of others in the same situation.
I’ve been uploading stupid videos to YouTube for more than 20 years. Until now, it’s never been a problem.
I am a musical comedian … part of a musical double act on the UK comedy circuit called Brian & Krysstal. Hardly the most revolutionary act on the circuit. We sing stupid songs.
Granted this latest one is Brexit-related and happens to contain the ‘C’ word (like hundreds or thousands of other YouTube videos).
I can see this might be part of the problem… but, to be honest, I thought it might fit in quite nicely.
As a rule, our videos mean absolutely nothing to man nor beast. They are quite simply an attempt to cheer people up a bit…
I recently tried to upload our latest single… a video called Bunch of Cunts which apparently YouTube didn’t like as much as we did. I instantly received a message from YouTube saying: “Your channel is SUSPENDED!”
No warning, no explanation, nothing! I have since found out that, according to YouTube’s new regulations (February 2019) a warning would be standard.
If they had said, “We don’t like your video. You can’t upload it,” I wouldn’t have minded in the least.
But, no. all I got was: “Your channel is suspended… You can appeal if you click here.”
I was shocked, but I took their advice… I clicked ‘here’ and appealed.
After ten days, still no reply.
By now, I’m stressed. I have links to my Various ouTube videos all over the internet and, if you click on any one of them, all you get is: “This page doesn’t exist!”
Is that fair?
So I appealed again.
This time, I admit I was a bit snarky. I said: “Could somebody HUMAN and preferably with a SENSE OF HUMOUR please have a look at the video I tried to upload and please tell me what the problem is?”
Two hours later, I got a reply…
“Your account has been TERMINATED!”
After 20 years????
Am I terminated because of my video?…
Or my lack of email etiquette?
I still don’t know.
Some people make a living off of YouTube… Not me! I can’t stand ads and I wouldn’t want to inflict them on my friends or people who enjoy what I do.
I waited a couple of more weeks… until I eventually (relatively) calmed down… and I made one final attempt at getting some kind of reasonable response.
I wrote an extremely polite and calm message apologising profusely for whatever it could possibly have been that caused me to transgress YouTube’s incredibly reasonable rules and regulations.
(I almost grovelled.)
I pointed out that, in spite of all my protestations (which I was apparently not entitled to make), I still have absolutely no idea whatsoever what I am supposed to have done wrong.
It didn’t work.
I got a reply saying the termination could not or would not be reversed.
I give up!
The YouTube approach to this kind of problem seems to me to be like if you have committed a motoring offence you get an extreme penalty.
You say: “What have I done wrong?”
And they say: “Here is a book of our rules and regulations… pick a crime!”
Well if that’s their attitude… as Malcolm Hardee would have said: “Fuck ’em!”
Today would have been comedian Malcolm Hardee’s 69th birthday. Who knows how he might have commented on that number?
He was born on 5th January 1950. He drowned in a dock in Rotherhithe, by the River Thames, on 31st January 2005. He was drunk and fell in.
In their coverage of his death, the Daily Telegraph called him the “Godfather to a generation of comic talent”.
The Guardian’s extensive coverage called him the “patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts”
The Independent’s obituary said he was “the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”.
The Times’ obituary said: “Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessnessand an indifference to consequences”.
A few days after his death, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him.
These are a few of those memories, starting with my own…
JOHN FLEMING – 3rd February 2005
Malcolm successfully turned himself into a South London Jack The Lad but the real Malcolm was and remained entirely different – a highly intelligent, rather shy, gentle and – despite his borrowing habits and forgetfulness – an enormously generous man.
People ask why women were so astonishingly attracted to him. I think it was because they discovered that, underneath the “Fuck it! Don’t give a shit!” exterior, he was a gentle schoolboy who just had a love of pranks, wheezes and escapades.
He was much loved by everyone who knew him well.
I remember being in his living room one afternoon.
For no reason, he suddenly pulled a real goldfish from its bowl and put it in his mouth so its little orange tail was flip-flopping between his lips. He looked at me for approval through his spectacles with wide-open, innocent eyes.
At this point, coincidentally, his wife Jane came into the room, looked at his mouth and said casually, “Oh no,” then, more reprovingly, “Not AGAIN, Malcolm.”
He looked rather embarrassed, as if caught with his trousers down.
The irony, of course, is that, with his trousers down, he was never embarrassed.
I’ve met some great people on the comedy circuit but Malcolm was without a doubt one of the best… and the funniest.
When I heard the terrible news, after the initial shock, I hoped that this might just be another of his scams to wind people up. I wouldn’t put it past him – but sadly I now know it isn’t.
I’ll never forget the Sunday night at Up The Creek when two girls died a terrible death. As they left the stage with the hair standing up on the back of their necks, Malcolm said: “Well, they were shit but… I’d fuck the fat one!”
Thanks Malcolm for all the laughs and encouragement and South Africa and Glastonbury and The Wibbley Wobbley and the odd bit of trouble you got me into. I’m proud to have known you. I’ll miss you a hell of a lot.
My abiding and most recent memories involve an early morning swim (I know) after a bit of a night ahht.
He’d managed to find some security code for one of the big officey blocks round the dock with its own, and subsequently Malc’s, private pool overlooking the Thames. It was an hour earlier than I expected ‘cos he’d never put his clock back and this was December.
So it’s into one of his dodgy cars to visit an 80 year old lady called Moth for morning coffee, then off to try and blag some horse riding. Upon reaching these stables, after a spot of lunch, we were told someone had moved in nearby who claimed to know Malcolm.
Without ascertaining friend or foe, we went to a house in the middle of nowhere.
“Who am I?” asked Malcolm.
We were invited in for champagne and Christmas dinner. Then to the Lord Hood pub in Greenwich where we seemed to blag some free buffet, (I can just see him wiping his hands halfway up his suit, the way he did after cleaning his plate with his finger, and why not.)
Finally back to the Wibbley Wobbley to find more playmates.
Up until the evening, Malcolm had drunk just half a pint of bitter and blagged a fiver off me for petrol.
No fucking drama, just a lovely day out with a lovely man.
Irresponsible, conscience free, worry free, fun seeking, knew how to have a laugh, a woman in every port, highly intelligent… all the things I wish I could be… So I resented him a lot of the time!
But the measure of this man is that he could wind you up, rip you off, embarrass and exasperate you… and you’d still love him despite all that. What a rare quality!!
I will miss him, despite the load of shit he spouted about me and the world is definitely a poorer place for his passing. Why could this not have happened to any other comic or promoter????!!!!!
MAURICE GIBB, Edinburgh fireman – 6th February
I first met Malcolm back in 1981 when he appeared with The Greatest Show on Legs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival following on from their successful TV appearance on OTT performing the Balloon Dance.
I was the Fire Brigade officer that year tasked with ensuring the public were safe in respect of fire hazards during a performance – no mean feat considering Malcolm’s love of all things incendiary!
Like many others who knew Malcolm I was taken by his personality, intelligence and love of fun but in particular it was his “Fuck it” attitude to life that I truly admired and envied the most.
Malcolm and I remained friends and in contact right up to his untimely death and I will always be grateful for the fun and laughter that we shared over the last 23 years.
I will miss him a lot.
PAUL ‘WIZO’ WISEMAN, accomplice – 6th February
I first meet Malcolm when I was five.
I was dressed in a full cowboy outfit (it was the fashion then) and it was my first day at primary school. He looked at me and started giggling.
We then spent the next 48 years giggling with occasional bouts of prison, setting fire to cinemas, blowing up stolen buses with fireworks and driving cars through supermarket windows as well as showbiz bollocks.
He was the most fearless man I have ever meet as well as painfully shy, which he overcame with bluster and sheer persistence and a large pair of bollocks.
When we were both sentenced to Borstal for various naughty boy things at Exeter Assizes in 1971, we both got our dicks out to the judge when he sent us down.
I was 19 when I did my first paid spot on the comedy circuit. It was at Up The Creek and for many years after it was the only club I played, because Malcolm was the only person who’d book me.
Some years ago I’d expressed interest in the fairground mirrors that were in the since closed Comedy Empire in Willesden and Malcolm had assured me I’d be able to get them for only a few quid so I took a trip up to London especially.
I was directed to some bloke in Greenwich market who said they’d cost me a grand, so I called Malcolm who apologised for the mistake but asked me to pop round.
We visited his boat and ‘Concrete Ken’, where we had a beer, and then we drove to some place in Whitechapel for a fantastic curry, all courtesy of Malcolm of course.
Next we visited a bookie’s where he proceeded to bet shockingly high stakes on two races, both of which he won and we finally drove back to his place where his son’s friends were hanging around outside the house, sitting on steps and car bonnets.
“Look, it’s like New York,” he said, and then, “Right, I’m going back to bed. Knob out!”
It’s a small but fond memory.
A genuinely lovely man. The comedy circuit will not be the same without him. Malcolm was to British comedy what John Peel was to British music.
Is there anyone in comedy who was more liked than Malcolm?
It is sad but, in an industry where success is covertly resented by too many, I suppose Malcolm fitted the bill for being liked perfectly. He was notorious but crucially not so successful either.
What he had that set him apart was his great generosity of spirit.
A rogue and a shyster, of course, but he was also a genuinely kind man and, aside from all his knob out antics, he was actually a shy and sensitive man who needed just as much approval as the next comic.
I expect most people that knew him weren’t altogether surprised to hear the sad news about his death, but their sadness would have been brief and countered by their own memories and warmth of this lovely man.
I’ll remember him most for the way he brought me on stage at the Creek on a dire Sunday night. I’d avoided Sundays for years. All the comics said that they were shit, so I thought What’s the point? But Malcolm kept on at me and finally I stuck it in the diary.
So, after about 8 acts, most of which hadn’t gone very well, Malcolm was about to bring me on:
“Last bloke on now. It’s his first Sunday night down here, because he just does Fridays and Saturdays and storms it… so he’s well overdue for a shit one. Oy, oy.”
And he was right.
I had a shit gig and smiled all the way home because only Malcolm would have said that and only Malcolm Hardee could have got away with it.
In comedy, people try desperately hard to appear different.
Malcolm was different, and as said by so many other people, he will be very very missed.
I always thought that, underneath all that East End stuff he had going on, Malcolm was genuinely a really nice bloke and a real character. There’s not enough characters around these days and consequently its a sad loss.
You were suspicious of poetry
saw clear through most of it
even with those glasses.
Dickens would have loved you Malcolm
would have immortalised you, given you
a name like Swindle Rotherhind, or Tucker Lawless.
But you didn’t need Dickens, you wrote
the chapters of your own life.
Your name fitted you like your food-stained ill fitting baggy suits. You were wide open, a big bad innocent book with no new leaves to turn.
All your pages stuck together, bound by your first rule of comedy: “Fall over! Get your knob out!”
You once caused me to cry with laughter until
I thought I would die. You took me for a ride in The Tartan Taxi. It had tartan seats and tartan carpets and tartan fairy-lights and a tape playing awful tartan bagpipe music and the driver changed hats and smiled like a lunatic as he drove us round and round and round the same roundabout for half an hour.
You encouraged him Malcolm. You encouraged the child in all of us, blew raspberries and pissed down the back of pomposity. We will miss you Malcolm. No one is brave enough to take your place. So when you fell over for the last time on Monday the thirty first of January two thousand and five, I really hope you had your knob out.
This last bit of the poem is a bit tasteless Malcolm. Some people might be offended by it.
They might think it’s not very nice to speak of the dead in this way… What’s that you say? Fuck ‘em Oy Oy!
Yes, that’s what I thought you said.
The CLF Art Cafe is mis-named because it is really a large dance hall (and used as such at weekends) in a vast rambliing building which used to be, among other things, a Victorian sweatshop and an armaments factory. Pull The Other One are running four not-quite-monthly variety nights there between now and March, as well as their monthly comedy nights in nearby Nunhead and – perhaps – more shows in Leipzig.
One of last night’s show posters which survived
Vivienne and Martin Soan run Pull The Other One and put up 200 posters plugging the new show, but almost all disappeared quickly. This might have been due to heavy rain or because “It’s posters war round here,” as Martin says. “It’s very much like the Edinburgh Fringe. People ripping down your posters to put theirs up. It’s all happening here.”
Martin had been going to perform with The Greatest Show On Legs at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in Edinburgh – actually titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s The Increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – And It’s Free! but, instead, had to be in London for the premiere of Steve Oram’s new film entitled Aaaaaaah!
“I’ve got a tiny cameo role in the movie,” Martin told me last night. “Two brief shots of me as a has-been rockstar in his underpants singing at a coked-up party.”
“Has Aaaaaaah!,” I asked, “got naked women and armadillos?’
“Yes,” said Martin, then added, “well, I’m lying about the armadillos. But it has naked women and a lot of action and graphic violence – but not gratuitous. And, in it, Steve has created this TV world for them to watch.”
“Like?” I asked.
“Cookery programmes, but done in the genre – without giving the game away – of the whole premise of the movie. There are just so many elements to it.”
“Is it even odder than his previous film Sightseers?” I asked.
“Extremely odd, but brilliant.”
“Much like Michael Brunström,” I said.
Well, no, I did not say that.
But I have to cover over the half hour gap between the above conversation with Martin and me giving Michael Brunström his Malcolm Hardee Award.
Michael keeps his Award next to his books by Boris Vian – French writer, poet, musician, singer, translator, critic, actor, inventor and important influence on the French jazz scene.
“You will be wanting to say you are deeply honoured,” I told Michael.
“I’m deeply honoured,” said Michael. “Last year, I did ten shows and got nominated for the Award. This year, I did six shows and won it. Next year, I’m thinking of not turning up at all.”
“Where are you going to put your Award?” I asked. “Laurence Owen put his on a shelf next to two small Daleks.”
“I have a bookshelf,” said Michael. “Are you only running the Awards until 2017?”
“Well,” I said, “In 2007, I only had eleven years’ worth of trophies made. So I run out of them in 2017.”
“After that,” suggested Michael, “you should just steal trophies and palm them off as Malcolm Hardee Awards.”
“You’re right,” I said, brightening up. “It would be a fitting tribute and it’s what he would have wanted.”
No. You are right. He did not. But, later, he told me about his bad drive back from the Edinburgh Fringe on Tuesday.
“I didn’t just have babies in the car,” he explained. “I had budgerigars and, because the budgies were in the back, I couldn’t recline my seat and have a quick hour’s sleep in that long 12-hour drive back to London. So I had four Red Bulls and two large coffees. Yesterday – the day after – was weird.”
Spencer has a budgie close to his heart
“You took your budgies up to the Fringe?” I asked.
“What did the budgies have to say about that?”
“They twittered on for a while, but they were OK about it. I nearly took them on stage up in Edinburgh. I thought Who’s ever taken budgies on stage? But I realised it would freak them out.”
“I had,” I told Spencer, “a budgerigar act on a couple of TV shows I did.”
“I think his name was Don…” said Spencer.
“Don Crown,” I said. “I met him six or seven years later and he was a broken man: he had become allergic to feathers. His act had been destroyed by an act of God.”
“I think he had a song,” said Spencer, “which we used to sing in our house: Budgie Man... He’s the Budge-Budge-Budgie Man…”
A budgerigar not owned by Spencer not shitting in his house
“Yeah,” agreed Spencer. “The reason I bought the first budgie was that, before my girlfriend and me had kids, I wanted to see if me and Ruth would get on looking after a little life. So I bought a budgie without telling her and we got on fine, so then we had kids. But then the budgie needed a friend. I had bought it thinking it was a boy, but it wasn’t. So we had a girl budgie called Ernie and we bought another one called Dirk.”
“Is it possible to ‘doctor’ male budgerigars?” I asked.
“I doubt if anyone’s ever tried.”
“Otherwise they’d breed all over the place,” I said.
“I think you have to have a very high calcium diet,” said Spencer.
“The owner?” I asked.
“The budgerigars,” said Spencer. “Though I do have quite a high calcium diet and have two kids.”
So either I imagined meeting him after he became allergic to feathers or he got over it.
Perhaps I have started hallucinating past events. But who has to?
This morning, I got an email from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It said:
A man in Kelowna, British Columbia, has grown the world’s largest cucumber which he is planning on turning into the world’s largest pickle and he is wondering if anybody is making the worlds largest hot dog.
Michael Brunström also posted a photo of himself online this morning, holding the Malcolm Hardee Award.
Michael Brunström holds his increasingly prestigious Award as Malcolm Hardee would have wanted
Cowgatehead venue – entrance to the Edinburgh labyrinth… Abandon hope all ye who try to explain what’s happened here.
This year, the Edinburgh Fringe Programme will make the Minoan labyrinth seem like the open plains of the Serengeti (and contain more rogue animals) because of the ongoing Cowgatehead affair. As a result of it, acts are going to be performing in different venues at different times to where/when they are billed. Or not at all.
Freestival understood they had rights this year to programme acts in the Cowgatehead venue. Now the PBH Free Fringe has those rights. As a result, it has been calculated that (overall) acts will lose at least £77,000.
Over a week ago, I had a long-planned chat with Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival (not directly involved in the Cowgatehead fiasco) and I have been sitting on the resultant blog ever since then, awaiting the rumoured sudden announcement of a new venue or venues (unconnected with Alex).
Two days ago, I was told yet another free venue may have been lost because there was no signed contract (again, unconnected with Alex). And not a venue one might have expected. But that (if true) has not yet been announced.
The Edinburgh Fringe thrives on gossip, starts in just four weeks time, the chaos continues… and the most gobsmacking story of the whole Cowgatehead affair (which I believe) seems unlikely to be revealed for several months, if ever. Now there is a tease. I do like a good tease.
Anyway, I met and chatted to Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival over a week ago.
“Cowgatehead has been a mess, then,” was the first thing I said to him.
Alex Petty at the Soho Theatre last month
“I think that’s fair to say,” he replied.
“It could be turned into a show,” I said.
“Probably a musical,” suggested Alex. “That’s what usually happens at the Fringe.”
When booked and advertised shows were unceremoniously chucked out of the Cowgatehead, some were given homes by other promoters.
“The Free Festival,” said Alex, “has got about 15 shows that have moved across this year. Bob Slayer has some. And I know Darrell (Martin, of Just the Tonic) has a load. Behind-the-scenes, most venues do help each other. That does genuinely happen. I was lending equipment to Freestival people last year.”
“And,” I said, “The Gilded Balloon had trouble with a new room this year, so the competing Pleasance Dome has let them use one of their rooms. And a couple of years ago, Bob Slayer was short of chairs, so the Underbelly venue gave him some – for free.”
“There is a genuine Fringe community,” said Alex. “The one good thing about the Cowgatehead affair is that people have proved this community idea does happen. I find Peter’s publicity wants to make people believe there is a battle between free and paid venues, a battle between Free Fringe and Freestival and Free Festival but most of the venues just want to get on with it and will help each other out.”
“The whole Cowgatehead thing was unnecessary,” I suggested.
“In reality,” agreed Alex, “if everything that Peter said had happened had happened and Freestival had maybe buggered it up a bit, then if Peter had just put out just exactly what had happened and said We have six spaces rather than nine, so six shows are going to go ahead and we will help out the other shows, finding them other places, then people would have said he was brilliant for saving the venue. But it was the whole way he did it that has made him into a Public Enemy as well.”
“I think,” I said, “the Rubicon was that meeting arranged by Freestival to agree a compromise in London which Peter said he couldn’t go to because it didn’t exist (using the present tense). If that meeting had happened, no act would have lost money or rooms. I think the Free Fringe and Freestival have both (as far as I can see) told the exact truth and, with Peter’s very exact use of present and/or past tenses in what he said, apparently opposite realities can both be true. Did you see the emails between the Free Fringe and Freestival which I posted in my blog? They were both co-operating amiably on all sorts of things. earlier his year.”
Free Fringe – interesting times
“I would suggest,” said Alex, “that Peter had never seen any of those emails. The problem with the Free Fringe which I had, Bob Slayer had and Freestival had was that, as individuals, you think: I could do this better. If we could change that a little bit, that would help. And you genuinely believe you can take things forward. But then you hit a brick wall with Peter.”
“Why did Laughing Horse and PBH fall out?” I asked.
“We worked with him for two years and it gradually got more and more obvious that we had – and it was probably only slightly – different views on how things should work. Obviously, Peter is well-known for his (acts) not-contributing-any-money-for-anything stance unless it’s voluntary. Whereas we suggested acts should bung in a bit of money to go towards printing a programme. It was a hundred little things like that amplified.
“Essentially, after two years, I came to the realisation: This whole thing is being held together by a very narrow, wet bit of string. It’s not working for everyone. Peter wasn’t happy about it. We weren’t happy. What can we do? Let’s go and do our own thing. In our own heads, not really knowing the full psychology of Peter, the whole idea was: We will go and run some free stuff our way – which is basically the way Peter does it, but we take a bit of money and we supply equipment. Same ends; slightly different route getting there. We can maybe both have a brochure together and work together where we can.
“At that point, there were only four venues – Lindsay’s, Canons’ Gait, the Meadow Bar and Jekyll & Hyde. As part of a conversation we had with Peter, we said: If you speak to them and we speak to them, they’ll make a decision about what they want to do. And, obviously, the moment we said that, we were Public enemy No 1.”
“Richmond,” said Alex. “In March 1999. I’ve never had any sort of plan. I went up to Edinburgh one year and thought: Better do something here. We don’t do so many comedy clubs these days. We still have the one in Richmond. One in Brighton. Edinburgh has pushed us on to doing festivals. We still do our New Act competition each year in the UK. We’re probably associated with 4 or 5 different venues but it’s really moved on to festival stuff.
“We do the Perth Fringe World and Adelaide. So much of the stuff has all sprung from doing Edinburgh. Last year we did the Singapore Comedy Festival for the first time: lots of expat Brits, Americans and locals – a good mix of Malay and Thai and other people doing comedy.”
“You co-run that festival, don’t you?” I asked.
“My job mostly is finding the acts, looking after the acts and maybe giving advice on setting up venues. There’s a couple of people out in Singapore who essentially run it.
“This year, we did three nights of shows in Hong Kong, Manila two nights, Singapore three nights. It worked pretty well. It was fun. Twenty-odd comedians all meeting up in Hong Kong and having ten days together in three countries and figuring out if comedy is ever going to work in Manila.”
“Because?” I asked.
“Because Manila was certainly an experience. It’s the only time I’ve been nose-to-nose with someone who is meant to be the head of a biker gang who says he doesn’t want comedians anywhere near the venue because they’ve had a bit of a falling-out with one of the acts.
“It was completely not the act’s fault. But there was a disagreement with the act and the wife of this guy who was really kicking-off – irate, with hands all over the place. We ended up just basically bundling the comedians out the back door and saying: Let’s not do any more comedy here. He was a really irate man. It was my first trip to the Philippines; never been there before.”
“Are you going to be back in Manila again next year?”
“So, after this,” I said, “the Cowgatehead kerfuffle was a stroll in the park?”
“Laughing Horse,” I pointed out, “has not done the obvious leap from comedy promotions and venue-running into comedy act management. Why?”
“I like to be out doing shows. Management is just more admin, more sitting in front of a computer, more shuffling numbers and contracts around. We’ve had conversations about Laughing Horse having a small agency but it’s not what I’m interested in.”
“How are you going to expand?”
“Well, Perth has only happened the last couple of years. That is a cracking festival. At the moment, I just produce shows there. I’d eventually like to find a venue to run and push it forward that way. In Adelaide, we’re involved in a couple of venues – one we run; one we co-run. I’ve been at Melbourne two or three years now and I’m hoping to build up and see what happens there. The Sydney Comedy Festival happens in May and that could be added on to the end of Melbourne. We may look at that one year. There’s also the New Zealand festivals that happen in May. So there are some other things out there to look at. Though May clashes with the Brighton Festival back in the UK, which has ended up being the Edinburgh preview festival.”
“Next year?” I asked.
Alex Petty at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 (Photograph by Brian Higgins)
“For Laughing Horse, the plans are more of the same, really. I would like Freestival to continue. The more promoters of free shows there are the better. This nonsense happens at Edinburgh every year in one way, shape or form. It’s chaos. My experience of other festivals around the world is you just turn up and do your thing. Why not at Edinburgh? Is it lack of spaces? Is it bigger egos? I don’t know. I think it was Brian Damage who said to me that the Fringe basically is always chaos for everyone but you get there and always get through in the end and that’s a philosophy that has always been true. Somehow it all works. But I don’t think anyone really knows how.”
Tomorrow, they start recording a music album in Cambridge.
“We miss the music.,” said Krysstal (real name Vicky de Lacy). “When we first got together, we used to play a lot.”
“You met at the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.”
Brian Damage with Vicky as Krysstal are getting back to basics
“Yes. In 2000,” said Vicky. “When we first got together, our main work was playing in pubs as a duo with a bit of comedy and then gradually the comedy took over. We hardly ever do any music gigs now, so we put this band called The Wrinklepickers together.”
“The Old Bastards was another option,” said Brian.
“But The Wrinklepickers wasn’t taken,” explained Vicky, “so we got the website wrinklepickers.com and we’ve had that for about three or four years now, though someone has recently started calling themselves Wrinkle Pickers – separate words.”
“Playing the same sort of music?” I asked.
“No,” said Brian. “They’re playing covers.”
“Who’s your target audience?” I asked.
“It’s mostly country-ish sounding,” replied Vicky. “Close harmonies. But they’re lively songs: you can dance to them.”
“In folk clubs?” I asked.
“We’re too lively for folk clubs,” said Vicky. “We’re pretty upbeat. Not political songs or anything like that.”
“If you listen to old bluegrass and country songs,” said Brian, “they’re miserable songs about death and killing your girlfriend, but they’re cheerfully performed. With us, it’s the harmonies and beat that does it. We’re lively. Our percussion man has got a snare drum, but he’s also got pots and pans and a washboard.”
“We have 30 or 40 original songs,”said Vicky, “about 20 of which we already play regularly at comedy gigs and people like the songs, so we figured: Let’s make an album. But we’ve got no money.”
“You’ve made albums before,” I said.
The Wrinklepickers – now they are aiming for a £1,000 target
“Yes,” said Vicky, “but they were silly songs. The music wasn’t the most important thing; it was the comedy bits. We could do those at home in our bedroom but this one – because there’s a band…”
“We’re going to do it in somebody else’s bedroom,” said Brian.
“On a farm in Cambridge,” said Vicky. “We’ve started a crowdfunding thing to make at least a demo album. There’s just under two weeks left to go – 19th November.
We have met our first target of £600, but we set the target deliberately low, so now we’re aiming for about £1,000 because that will help us make a proper 10 or 12 song album instead of a demo album with 5 or 6 songs and then 5% or 6% of the profit will go to a music charity for young people.”
“What’s the album called?” I asked.
“The Wrinklepickers Album #1,” said Vicky.
“Very appropriate,” I said. “How is Pear Shaped going?”
“We don’t wanna get too big,” laughed Brian.
“You should give out awards,” I said.
“We did have an award winner,” said Brian. It was Seymour Mace.”
“We gave him The Golden Derriere,” said Vicky.
“As in Perrier,” said Brian.
Brian & Vicky at Pear Shaped, London, this week
“It was a golden pear,” said Vicky, “with a cut in it so it looked like a little bottom – Pear Shaped – the Golden Derriere Award. I think we gave it the second or third year we were in Edinburgh.”
“You should go up again,” I said.
“The good thing about Edinburgh,” said Brian, “is you bump into people – promoters – accidentally and that means you don’t have to crawl up anybody’s arse. But we haven’t been up there now for a long while.”
“Someone’s arse?” I asked.
“Edinburgh,” said Brian.
“2008 was our last time,” said Vicky.
“Edinburgh?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Vicky.
“The Holyrood Tavern,” said Brian, “was a great venue to run. But that other place we ran up the Cowgate was vile.”
“It was hard to run.” agreed Vicky.
“In 2008,” said Brian, “Edinburgh pissed rain for a whole month.”
“Not only that,” said Vicky. “We had torrents of water coming down inside our venue from The Green Room upstairs because they had a faulty washing machine. So we had all this dirty washing water coming down the back stairs into these enormous bins, so it sounded like a horse pissing when people were on stage.”
“And sewage outside,” said Brian. “It splashed on people as they came in.”
The Cowgate in Edinburgh – not really at its best when it rains
“There was a hole in the road,” explained Vicky. “You know how narrow that road is there and they had a little notice, but people kept knocking that over and all the cars kept going into this hole full of sewage water and spraying it up so people coming in to our venue were getting sprayed and you couldn’t put posters out the front because they got soggy. The staff used to go out the front to have cigarettes and get showered with dirty, smelly water. It was just horrible. And the toilets stank in there as well: the men’s toilets especially. The whole place was smelly and wet for the whole month.”
“It was the worst Edinburgh I’d ever had,” said Brian. “The previous year, we had set off from London and the sun was shining. I was in shorts and a flowery shirt and looked like I’d crept off a beach in Spain and we came up over that hill into Edinburgh and we just saw…”
“…all this mist and fog,” said Vicky.
“And we drove down into it,” said Brian.
“And the whole month was like that,” said Vicky. “And then, coming home, the reverse happened. We drove back over the hill and it was all sunny.”
“But it wasn’t as bad as 2008,” said Brian.
“It was great this year,” I said. “You had shit weather in London and I as basking in the sun in Edinburgh.”
“The year the two of us met – 2000,” said Brian, “I didn’t pay to go up. Neil Willis was an agent then. He said: Do you wanna go and compere a show in Edinburgh? And it was great.”
“What’s the point of Pear Shaped?” I asked. “What’s the unique selling proposition?”
“Anybody can do five minutes,” said Vicky. “and anybody watching can stand anybody doing five minutes. You can be as terrible as you like and you still get booked back. Basically, it’s mainly for comics; it’s not for an audience. It’s our night off; we just have a good time.”
Pear Shaped Comedy Club – the legendary UK comedy venue
“The Pear Shaped shows in Edinburgh were wonderful,” I said. “Comics just coming along to see other comics.”
“The midnight show was brilliant,” agreed Brian. “Any customers who wanted to see it, we charged ‘em and that kept the idiots out. And then the comedians would turn up in various forms of psychological meltdown and tear up on stage. They would either have had a fantastic day, in which case they were really on form. Or a terrible day and they were roaring at everybody and threatening to kill themselves.”
“There was that time,” Vicky reminded him, “when Danny Hurst showed up and he had just been mugged and had had a bad review. Well, someone tried to mug him, but Danny ended up punching the mugger because he was so fed up.”
“He got up on stage…” started Brian.
“…and said…” continued Vicky, “I had to go and report it to the police… And then the police actually turned up at our venue when he was midway telling the story on stage and they carried on the story.”
“The police did?” I asked.
“Well,” said Vicky, “They pulled him to the side and so it all became part of the show. He had punched out this guy, but he had to give himself up to the police for committing Grievous Bodily Harm.”
“I take it,” I said, “that the mugger did not press charges.”
“No,” said Vicky, “the police just said: Well, you shouldn’t go around punching people on the one hand. On the other hand, we understand… We used to get things like that happening. Or people just being completely pissed and getting on stage and trying to do another comedian’s act.”
“I’d like to go up again,” said Brian.
“But it’s the cost,” said Vicky.
“Maybe we should try to crowdfund it,” said Brian.
Chris Luby swapped between Army and Air Force acts
Comedian Chris Luby died in London on Saturday. He fell down a staircase at home when (it is said) he was drunk.
In January 2005, his friend, mentor and occasional manager/agent Malcolm Hardee drowned when he fell into Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. Malcolm, too, was drunk at the time.
It is a very British thing.
Chris and Malcolm ran the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and comedy venue in Greenland Dock.
Chris’ comic stage act was to use his mouth and considerable lung power to perform audio recreations of Trooping The Colour, Formula 1 races and bombing raids/aerial combat in World War II. The act usually went well though, on Malcolm’s Christmas Eve show in 1998, Chris’ act was not much appreciated by some sections of the audience and, in the middle of his Battle of Britain impression, a heckler yelled out: “Do a glider!”
2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All now dead.
In its 2005 report of Malcolm Hardee’s death by drowning, the London Evening Standard wrote:
His business partner Chris Luby said friends were shocked. “His death will leave a huge hole,” said Mr Luby, a friend for over 30 years. “He ran the best club in the world called Sunday Night At The Tunnel Palladium, which was the most extraordinary club ever.
“It set people like Jo Brand, Jack Dee and Harry Enfield up. Malcolm was incredibly good at spotting new talent. There are thousands of comedians that were given open spots by Malcolm and have gone on to carve their niche in comedy.”
Now both Malcolm and Chris are dead. So it goes.
In a possibly frightening illustration that nothing is private nor forgotten by Google in this Cyber Age, I can tell you that, on 24th September 2010, comedian Alan Davies Tweeted:
Chris Luby did the Spitfire, the Lancaster and various marching bands. Did many gigs with that fella. Bonkers…
Yesterday, Alan Tweeted about Chris: He could name 6 of anything.
Malcolm Hardee is still remembered in the comedy industry and by media people, though not yet by the Great British public.
I will never forget the time I had Chris and Malcolm in the back of my car on the way back from a gig in Birmingham. They were so distracting that, at the roundabout at Hammersmith flyover, I pranged another car. Luckily Malcolm was a brilliant witness and pointed out that it was the other car’s fault, which it was. But I would have anticipated him if they hadn’t been so noisy! Farewell Chris, a kind, sweet, generous, often annoying, and noisome man.
Malcolm and Chris’ friend Steven Taylor aka ‘Steve From Up North’ says:
One of my favourite memories was on the way back from a gig in, I think, Blackburn. There was Chris, myself, Malcolm Hardee and Jo Brand. Chris was annoying us all – doing the noises of the gear changes and the engine. Suddenly, Jo said to him: “Chris, if you don’t shut the fuck up, I’ll open that door and push you out and you can do the sound effect of your body bouncing down a motorway!” He was a great guy and true eccentric.
When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Malcolm Hardee’s comedy nights mixed with Chris Luby’s quiz nights.
We had a three hour car journey with Chris a few years ago. To keep us entertained he did a quiz… all the way to the gig. We were exhausted by the time we got there. On the way home, he did another quiz – with exactly the same questions. Apart from his quizzes, he was one of my favourite people.
I was proud to get Chris Luby on at our Cracking Night Out at The Hackney Empire. I must have told him it started at 7 and he turned up on time… But he told me it was the second time he had been there that day as he had already been knocking on the stage door at 7 in the morning, as that’s the time he thought we meant! The cleaner had told him to go away and he came back across London twelve hours later for 7 in the evening.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, he also performed on a comedy bus.
Brian Crane remembers: Ah, the comedy bus with Malcolm as the naked conductor and Chris Luby on the mic as announcer… a classic night, never to be forgotten.
I booked Chris on TV shows with ‘mad inventor’ John Ward at least a couple of times. Yesterday, John told me:
Oddly, I was bringing Chris to mind only the other day as we live in a flight path for the RAF Memorial Flight and they often fly their Spitfire over our place on the way to gigs and I thought how smashing it would be to get him to come up to see us this summer – I thought I would take him up to the base at RAF Coningsby and introduce him.
ATTEN-SHUN! – Chris Luby – A very loud act
I met Chris twice when he was doing his act on Prove It (presented by Chris Tarrant) for TVS light years ago – once for the pilot and once for the actual show. The first time, I recall being in the canteen in the TVS studios with my lunch and, as I was sorting myself out, I thought I heard an army battalion in the distance or at least in the building but – No – I suddenly found myself in the World of Chris Luby. He had moved towards me sideways so that I did not see him speaking or, for that matter, doing his act of impersonating sounds that you don’t normally associate with a single person on his own.
His Spitfire impression was a masterpiece as he talked through the process involved in getting the plane into the air – starting the engine from cold, the warming-up before take-off, then climbing up to 5,000 feet or so, levelling off and then spotting the ‘Hun’, going into battle and, after shooting one down in flames, his descent and landing.
The second time we met on Prove It, once again, the TVS canteen was his stage as that week’s guests were sitting down having a bite to eat at lunchtime and, having not seen him perform in the rehearsals, they were baffled as they sat there training their ears to fathom out where the noise was coming from. It was just Chris creating the sound of a WW2 Spitfire all on his own. But to see four full-grown adults standing against a window and opening it to look for a plane that seemed to be rather close – in fact even overhead – It was a classic moment.
When he appeared on the show that second time, he had broken his leg. He lurched on to the studio floor dressed in a Coldstream Guardsman’s uniform plus busby with his leg all done up – but he was still brilliant despite this minor upset. He was a real trouper or should that be trooper?… R.I.P. and I hope he keeps ‘em laughing in the ‘hanger in the sky’.
Yesterday, comedians were Twittering.
Ian Stone suggested: There should be a marching band at his funeral.
Andy Smart thought: It’ll be a lot noisier where ever he’s gone!
He was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: “I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like….” but he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world. I hope he is enjoying the molecules in the stars.
But Brian also paints and, in fact, created the image I use for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (based on an original photograph by David Tuck). So I thought it would be interesting to write a blog about Brian Damage the Artist rather than Brian Damage the comedy performer/club runner.
“Have you been painting all your life?” I asked him yesterday afternoon.
“No. I stopped when I was 19.”
“Why?” I asked, thinking I might have chosen the wrong subject to chat to him about.
“Around then,” he told me, “I took to cartooning and had about 16 published in Tit-bits magazine. And then, for some reason, I just stopped.”
“Why?” I asked.
“No idea..” he said.
“So when did you rediscover the joy of Art?” I asked.
“I can’t remember. But I know it was 2010 because I was extremely interested for two years and I’ve hardly painted at all this year.”
Oh dear, I thought, with a sense of impending doom.
Brian Damage was at home with his painting yesterday
“I’ve only just managed to get the website up,” said Brian. “It’s taken me three years to put the website up.”
“Why did you start painting?” I asked.
“Originally, when I was a kid, because I was really into Dali and surrealist stuff.”
“But you don’t do surrealist stuff yourself.”
“Roses” – by Brian Damage
“I did then,” said Brian. “My dad… His idea of tidying up was to start a bonfire. He’d see my paintings lying around and burn them. He would burn clothes and everything.”
“Anything he saw lying about, he’d say: Right! I’m tidying up today! But you might not necessarily be there when he was tidying up.”
“So there was a lot of arson around when you were a kid?”
“Why did you start painting again in 2010?” I tried.
“I can’t remember,” said Brian.
“So you’re a frustrated painter?” I asked.
“Yes. Art was the only thing I was good at at school.”
“Fatties” – by Brian Damage
“But you got into music when you were…?”
“About 17 or 18 or 19. I can’t remember. My mum and dad were already musicians; they used to play in pubs.”
“Why did you move from music to comedy?”
“Because I was never a great singer or drummer or guitarist, but I could do jokes.
“I started as a drummer and I was working as a musician up until I got married for the first time when I was 24 and my then wife told me: It’s time you grew up and acted your age and stop doing that horrible music and you should get a proper job. I was playing in my mum and dad’s band at the time. That was weird: dumping working with your own mum and dad to get a ‘proper job’.
Brian with two of his works. The one on the left is of his father
“So, for a while, I got a job in the warehouse of a company in Highbury, humping around boxes of mattress handles for export to Nicosia via Famagusta.
“Then I got another job and kept being promoted and, after two years, I was the manager of a Burberry shop in Lower Regent Street.”
“And then you left your first wife and moved into comedy,” I said.
“Well, with music,” Brian explained, “you can go sit in a corner, play and be ignored and everybody’s quite happy with you. That’s your job. I never wanted that. I did not want to be background.”
“So with comedy, you got more attention?”
“Yeah, as a drummer I always wanted to be out the front showing off on guitar; I did not want to be at the back.”
“And, in comedy, you started doing what…?”
Brian Damage and wife Vicky photographed in 2008
“At the time, I was into mainstream comics like Chubby Brown, Jim Davidson, all the unfashionable ones and I had a big collection of jokes before I started on the comedy circuit: every one was a ‘banker’ – all tried and tested.
“I heard Chubby Brown on the odd tape or video. He was extremely prolific. If you wanted good jokes, you just found the latest Chubby Brown tape and there would be at least ten ‘killers’ on it that you could use for the rest of your life. All the others used to share the jokes, but he was where they all came from.”
“This is in the late 1970s?”
“Yes… Well, I’ve got all the dates muddled in my mind, so I shouldn’t pay to much attention.”
“So you have got newly interested in Art again recently. Why?”
Brian with his painting of Vicky – and the real thing
“When we got my pictures together, I said to Vicky: Look, I can paint, but I can’t talk to people about it. I got into trouble on a website called Redbubble. I had loads of stuff on it – I don’t any more – and people got back to me after I uploaded a picture and said: Marvellous! Marvellous! So vibrant! So blah blah blah blah. And I said: Actually, it’s just a photograph of the paint at the bottom of the dish and I thought it looked interesting.
“They were so pissed-off!
“There’s so much bullshit, but what got me interested again was Grayson Perry, because he doesn’t like the bullshit either.”
“What’s he been saying?” I asked.
“Just basically saying: Yes, Art is great; it’s fun to do, but you’ll be lucky if you don’t get robbed by the dealers… and what makes it valuable and viable… and is it a good idea to get a little piece of dog shit and put a flag on it?”
A self portrait of and by Brian Damage
“Well, it is and it isn’t. But I found myself agreeing with so many of his sentiments. I’ve been mixing with weird people all my life – musicians and comedians and actors – they’re all fucking cranks. And then there’s the Art thing. You go to one of the open nights when all the pictures are up and, if someone says your painting’s good, you have to say their painting’s good and the silences are deafening. I can’t get involved in it. It’s just more cranks.”
“Actors and comedians and musicians and artists are all odd,” I agreed, “but they’re all odd in different ways, aren’t they?”
“Yeah. They’re all cranks and that makes it all interesting but I can’t… I… There’s a friend of mine who used to do comedy and, at some point, his wife said: Why are you fucking around with this comedy? You’re a good artist. Why not just concentrate on your art and get rid of this comedy shit?
“Red Light Distract” – by Brian Damage
“Which he did. So he sends me stuff about the various art installations that he’s involved with. If I were to make a big chicken and put it over there, it would be adored and reviled by various people but the local council would have paid me thousands of pounds to make it if I told them: The colouring of the feathers shows the diversity of nations and brings them all together in a clash of featheringness.”
“Well,” I said, “there is a story – which surely has to be apocryphal – about Damien Hirst going to some meeting with people who wanted to commission him and he accidentally trod in some dog shit on the way there. So he took his shoe off, went into the room, put it on the table and told them it was his latest work of art. The story is they believed him.”
“The odd part about it,” said Brian, “is that it is AND it isn’t art.”
“Because anything can be Art. Anything at all can be Art.”
“Do you do Art on computers?” I asked.
“That’s what that Malcolm Hardee poster was,” said Brian. “I was trying to figure out how to use the pen in Photoshop.”
“New projects?” I asked.
“You know we’ve put a band together?”
The Wrinklepickers: not exactly hillbilly-bluegrass-rockabilly
“That’s our main project at the moment. The Wrinklepickers. Vicky sings and we’ve teamed up with a double bass player and a bloke who plays pots and pans and a snare drum. The fantasy is I want one other musician who plays the fiddle, mandolin, banjo and accordion – instruments which change the feeling of the band straight away. That’s the fantasy. What I have got is a lead guitarist who hasn’t managed to get to a rehearsal yet. We’ve managed two gigs so far, both in Kingston. The first gig was hilarious without doing comedy. The second one was more serious because about 90% of the songs were original.
“The original idea was hillbilly-bluegrass-rockabilly, that sort of thing. But it’s actually none of those.”
“Instead,” I prompted, “it’s…?”
“There is a song called I Love You online which Vicky and I wrote and it’s just the two of us in the garden during the Big Snow.”
“Well,” I said, “with iTunes, you can be successful in all sorts of odd parts of the world.”
I saw a tribute to Scottish comedian Chic Murray at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It was out-of-town in a smallish room in what appeared to be a local housing association care home. It was difficult to find as there were no signs, no placards and the names on the buildings bore little relation to what was in the Fringe Programme.
In that sense, the whole experience epitomised the Fringe: a barely-credible ramshackle affair which, at its best, strays occasionally into fantasy and anarchy.
The man who epitomised the spirit of the Fringe was comedy promoter, club-owner and universally-admired talent spotter Malcolm Hardee. He drowned in January this year in a Rotherhithe dock into which he fell, drunk, happy, with betting shop winnings in his back pocket and, according to the Coroner, still clutching a bottle of his favourite beer.
This blatant piece of self-publicity also epitomises the Fringe. Desperate in-yer-face screaming publicity which attempts to get your voice heard, your posters and flyers glimpsed, your creative work or genius seen despite a market so full of product it’s as if the eleven largest hypermarkets in Britain have had all their groceries accidentally delivered to a one-man corner shop in Bolton.
Every year, within a four-week period in August, more student libidos are pumped to excess, more talentless egos are pumped with cocaine and more genuinely creative people are crushed forever than anywhere else on earth. During the Fringe, Edinburgh is a city of testosterone, bullshit and backstabbing amid dazzling primary colours and unrealistic expectations.
It is also a city of mystery. Why are there two separate shops close to each other in the Royal Mile both selling Christmas decorations and knick-knacks all-the-year-round? Why is there a blackboard fixed to the wall of the gents toilet in the Gilded Balloon basement which says: IN MEMORY OF GAVIN COLQUHOUN – FRIEND OF THE UNION ?
I mostly know the Comedy area, where stand-ups congratulate other stand-ups on their reviews from behind double-glazed smiles, adding, “Of course, it’s only The Scotsman that counts,” or “Of course, The Scotsman doesn’t really count,” depending on their relative numbers of stars and adding, “Good review, but it’s disgraceful he was so condescending to you. You deserved better.”
Writers tend to be immune from most of the worst excesses because the Fringe is a performers’ showcase. As elsewhere, the writer is only noticed if, like Ricky Gervais in The Office, he or she is a writer/performer.
This is a land where comics take their audiences into the toilet to perform because they think it will make them a Fringe legend and/or get them two inches in a newspaper.
Malcolm Hardee became a genuine legend by – while in the nude – driving a fork lift truck through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show… followed by his entire audience. PR man Mark Borkowski managed – on two consecutive years – to get acres of outraged newspaper coverage because French ‘Motorbike & Chainsaw Circus’ Archaos were going to juggle turned-on, buzzing and potentially limb-chopping chainsaws as part of their act: something they had reportedly done on the Continent. In fact, they never had and never did juggle chainsaws. It was PR bullshit. But PR bullshit is potent in Edinburgh. Who is to say that Mark Borkowski or Malcolm Hardee were less creative writers of fantasy scenarios than J.K.Rowling? They were not writing for print; instead they were structuring a rather warped, fantastical form of reality.
Betwixt all the spluttering and erratic flickering fairy lights of the performers’ egos and the sweeping searchlights of the normally desperate publicity agents flit the self-important Oxbridge media moths, who are often those most dangerous of creatures – airheads with degrees. With no opinions or tastes of their own they listen, drunk, to ‘the word on the street’ in the Gilded Balloon Library Bar or – far worse – coked out of their heads in the front bar of the George Hotel. They choose to sign acts not on talent-spotting ability but on gossip and who will impress their Soho House friends most.
They all read The Scotsman and The List, the local equivalent of Time Out, because they assume those two publications above all will know what shows to watch. But, of course, The Scotsman is above such things most of the year and The List knows only the acts who regularly play the small, bitchy and incestuous Scottish Lowland comedy scene where talent plays second fiddle to back-stabbing and back scratching.
The Fringe is a case of the blind leading the blind with the Perrier Award selling itself as fizzy water but often turning out to be flat. In recent years, acts of rare originality have been passed over for acts which have created a buzz yet failed to soar when given the chance. Look at a list of recent Perrier winners & nominees and you look at a list of Who Were Theys because the Perrier has got hamstrung by its own rules rather than looking for pure talent.
Until the last weekend of this year’s fun fest, the most un-remarked-on development at the Fringe was the creative rise of the tiny and shabby Holyrood Tavern, a 50-or-so-seater drab room behind a dingy pub at the bottom of the Pleasance hill en route to the old Gilded Balloon and the new Smirnoff Underbelly.
Seldom visited by media moths, only six years ago the Holyrood Tavern used to have naff acts you wouldn’t want to see even when drunk and in a tee-shirt on a rainy day. In the last five years, though, it has been programmed by Vicky de Lacey (female half of the Brian Damage & Krysstal comedy act) and the Holyrood has become a fascinating hotbed of interesting acts – some brilliant, some talented though underdeveloped and some just plain bizarre. Last year, the Holyrood Tavern’s Wil Hodgson won the Perrier Best Newcomer award. This year, their Laura Solon rightly won the prestigious main Perrier award for “Kopfraper’s Syndrome” while, with less of a fanfare, their “Desperately Seeking Sorrow” (Johnny Sorrow & Danny Worthington) was nominated for the new Malcolm Hardee Award.
Vicky De Lacey and Brian Damage run Pear Shaped comedy clubs in London and Sydney and are shaping up as the new Malcolm Hardee, although adding a pair of breasts to his legendary bollocks. They drink, they can spot talent and they run fascinatingly creative bills in shabby venues. Acts that used to play Malcolm’s venues – like the legendary Pigeon Man Phil Zimmerman – are now turning up at Pear Shaped venues.
So, while the media moths are attracted to the brightly coloured and wackily-posed posters of the three (or, with the Underbelly, four) main venues and sign up the Douglas Bader end of the creative spectrum – acts with no legs – the really interesting acts have been passing them by.
It will be interesting to see if this changes next year for two reasons.
One is that Pear Shaped at the Holyrood Tavern have now won major Perrier prizes at two consecutive Fringes. The other is Scots comedienne Janey Godley.
As Janey, a small, feisty Glaswegian in a black tee-shirt – with stomach-cramps and on prescribed steroids after an allergic reaction two days before to raw Japanese fish – touted her show on the steps, she was being physically shoved and brushed aside by the designer-dressed Oxbridge media moths. Turning, she lambasted them for coming to her capital city in her country looking for talent then shoving aside the only performer with the gumption to flyer in the one place where she could get access to all the movers and shakers.
“You could be shoving aside the one person who can get you promoted!” she yelled at them.
At this point, a shirt-sleeved man emerged, looked at the flyer and started helping her to plug her show. She continued to shout, touting her show: “JANEY GODLEY IS INNOCENT – The only Scottish female solo stand-up show on the Fringe!”
A camera crew, filming the good and the great as they emerged from the McTaggart venue instructed her to stop shouting and move out of their way.
“I was here first,” she shouted at them. “You move your fucking camera!”
“She’s not moving,” the shirt-sleeved man told them.
She didn’t move; people started taking her flyers; the shirt-sleeved man took one himself and left. Half an hour later, I got a text message from Janey.
“Who is Greg Dyke?” it asked. “He was a nice man who helped me flyer.”
The Holyrood Tavern has since been ‘modernised’. Pear Shaped no longer runs a venue at the Edinburgh Fringe, though its adventurous London club continues.
The Perrier Awards no longer exist as they keep changing their name.
Janey Godley will not be performing an hour-long show at the Fringe this year – her show The Godley Hour is at the Soho Theatre in London during the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe. But, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, she will be taking part in one of two new annual Malcolm Hardee Debates on the proposition “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – on Monday 22nd August at The Hive. Details here.
How did a man sporting an erect penis with a dog on the end of it get published (twice) in the current issue of Mensa Magazine, the glossy monthly publication for members of British Mensa?
And why am I holding the man?
Well, that’s an interesting question. Thankyou for asking.
Sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and pay close attention.
Preparing for Edinburgh Fringe shows in August tends to start way back in December or January each year.
I am organising Malcolm Hardee Week in the final week of the Fringe – basically two debates, two spaghetti-juggling contests (anything to get noticed at the over-crowded Fringe!) and a two-hour variety show during which the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards will be presented.
I had brought along a giant dice box for no reason other than the fact it looked interesting. Student Cody Cai had brought along a pair of comedy spectacles and student Kerstin Diegel took a photo of me wearing the glasses and holding the box.
I remember thinking, “Oy! Oy! Malcolm Hardee could be Photoshopped into this, popping up out of the box!”
So now, dear reader, we have to take a time trip with wobbly special effects transitions back into the mists of last century – probably to the late 1990s, when the world was young and the Twin Towers still stood in New York…
London photographer David Tuck took some photos of comedian and club owner Malcolm Hardee, including an iconic one of Malcolm apparently doing shadow puppetry with his hands – you know the routine – you link your open hands together, flap them and it allegedly looks like a bird – except that the shadow on the wall behind Malcolm looks like a dog and, with the shadow of his arm included, it also looks like he has a giant penis rising out of his groin in the foreground… with a dog on the end of it.
David Tuck cannot remember exactly when the picture was taken, but it was a couple of weeks before Malcolm opened a short-lived comedy club in Harlesden, which would make it the late 1990s. Memories of Malcolm seldom come with exact dates.
David tells me: “The image Malcolm originally had in mind was that he would be doing a simple bird shape with his hands and a magnificent eagle would be the shadow image. This was before the days of Photoshop so, to get the image onto a piece of black and white photographic paper, I had to cut the image out of card and physically lay it on top of the picture during the darkroom process.
“My abilities with the scalpel weren’t exactly up to creating a photo-accurate eagle in full flight, so we talked about other possibilities and, when he mentioned a dog, I thought: Yeah, a dog I can do!
“I remember afterwards someone saying that it was funny because it appears to be coming out of Malcolm’s flies, like some sort of shadow penis. Just to set the record straight, that wasn’t the joke. I didn’t even notice until someone said it.”
From such random accidents do iconic photos come!
For anyone who knew Malcolm, it will come as no surprise that he never actually got round to paying David Tuck for the publicity photos he took and that this shadow puppet photo was used widely for years afterwards without David ever getting any money or even any credit for taking the photo.
When I used the photo on Malcolm’s website after he drowned in 2005, I found out David had taken it and have always tried to give him credit for it.
“I was in the middle of my second or possibly third mid-life crisis. (You lose count after a while) It could have been age-related or something to do with giving up smoking or both.”
He played around with the David Tuck photo of Malcolm and basically ‘cartoonised’ it.
I thought it was excellent and got Vinny Lewis to design a poster using this image for all subsequent Malcolm Hardee shows at the Fringe.
Vinny had designed occasional artwork for Malcolm’s Up The Creek comedy club and had created the printed programme for both Malcolm’s funeral and the first Hackney Empire memorial show in 2006.
He added a coloured background to the cartoon and played with details.
So, when I got the St Martin’s photo back from Kerstin Diegel, I got Vinny to Photoshop the Malcolm shadow puppet image into the photo and the result is now available for The Scotsman or anyone else to publish to plug Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe.
‘Anybody else’ turned out to be Mensa Magazine who printed the image on the contents page of their July issue and, inside, to illustrate a piece on Malcolm Hardee Week.
I suspect it may be the first time Mensa Magazine has published a photo of a man displaying an apparent cartoon erection with a dog on the end of it. Their defence is clear – that even David Tuck and (possibly not even) Malcolm noticed that the shadow was of an erect penis.