Tag Archives: busking

Coco and The Butterfields: from street busking to Facebook to merchandising

(from left) Micah, Rob, Dulcima, Tom, Jamie

C and The Bs are (from left) Micah Hyson, Rob Wicks, Dulcima Showan, Tom Twyman, Jamie Smith

Last night, I chatted to the band Coco and The Butterfields before their gig at The Borderline club in London and I survived the riskiest question you can ever ask a band with a name like that.

Allegedly an American record executive once talked to Pink Floyd and asked them: “So which one is Pink?” It ended up in their song Have a Cigar.

Last night, talking to Coco and The Butterfields, I asked: “So which one is Coco?”

“I suppose it’s me,” said Tom Twyman. “It was an alias I created when I joined Facebook in 2011… I didn’t want people to know I had joined because I had told people I didn’t like it but I thought I needed it to socially network. Coco Butterfield was just a name I came up with. The band didn’t have a name, we started using my Facebook page for the band, so we called ourselves Coco and The Butterfields.”

Dulcima and Tom at The Borderline last night

Dulcima & Tom on stage at The Borderline, London. last night

There are five in the band: Dulcima, Jamie, Micah, Rob and Tom but interestingly no percussion. That role is filled brilliantly by ‘beatboxer’ Jamie, whose importance to their sound wasn’t immediately obvious to me until he did a couple of extraordinary solos.

“Jamie was one of Canterbury’s pivotal buskers,” Rob told me. “You don’t get many people beatboxing on the streets of Canterbury.”

They all used to busk individually, then joined up after Tom and Dulcima met and started playing together. The five of them have what Rob calls “a diversity of musical tastes”.

The first track of theirs I heard was Warriors (there is a video on YouTube) which made me think they were a folk-based band but, in fact, with a cover of Fresh Prince of Bel Air in their repertoire, they are quite difficult to categorise. They have coined the rather unappealing name Fip Fok to try to combine Folk, Pop and Hip Hop.

“We’re an eclectic band,” Dulcima told me. “We’re a fusion band. We’re folky pop. We bring so many different elements separately and then, when we collaborate, everyone will chuck in different things.”

“Will you have to compromise to get a record deal?” I asked.

“We don’t want a record deal,” said Dulcima.

“Is that,” I asked, “to avoid corporate compromise or because of the internet?”

“Mostly,” said Dulcima, “because we have a lot of facilities and a lot of resources, just through people we know. The people we know have skills and are more help than a record label, which would just take a cut of everything we do.”

“It’s a lot easier nowadays,” said Tom, “to release your own records.”

“Basically,” said Micah, “we don’t want people poking their noses in.”

Coco and The Butterfields busking in Durham

Street wise – Coco and The Butterfields busking in Durham

“That’s always best,” I said. “So how are you going to make your millions? Are you going to do it online?”

“The aim,” said Rob, “is to play to as many people as humanly possible.”

“Really, we are a festival band,” said Dulcima.

“I think that’s our natural state of being,” agreed Rob.

“But you won’t necessarily succeed just playing live will you?” I asked.

“Of course,” said Rob, “to a certain extent, you do have to turn yourself into a business. The band is a business and that’s how we treat it.”

“Bands these days,” said Dulcima, “are not like in the past where you could make money with records. You make a bit but it’s all downloads and people buying at gigs.”

“Basically, the main income is live shows and merchandising,” explained Rob.

One of the merchandising webpages

Some C & The Butterfields merchandising

I did not spot it myself but one page of their website, my eternally-un-named friend spotted, is advertising one EP and two teeshirts. So they have shrewdly realised that merchandising is at least as important as music sales.

Dulcima makes her own on-stage clothes and had a choice of either going into a career making textiles or joining the band. Obviously, she chose the band. But soon her clothes are going to be sold on the band’s website.

She told me: “There will be the option to buy skirts, waistcoats, children’s waistcoats, little girls’ dresses. They’re all patchwork and they will all be very different to each other.”

“That’s very interesting,” I said. “So, in order to do what you want to do creatively – which is make music – you’re going to partly finance it – quite rightly – by merchandising.”

“It’s kind of a twin project, really,” Dulcima corrected me.

“And your first tour is coming up,” I said, “at the end of April/beginning of May.”

“What’s really fun is gigging a lot,” said Dulcima.

They were slightly concerned at only having a 45-minute slot at The Borderline last night. They prefer 90-minute performances. But they need not have worried. Their pacing and – ooh err, missus – climaxing last night were perfect. They are a superb live band.

Their performance at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury

Previous biggest show at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury

On 28th June, they will be performing their biggest gig so far – to 2,400 at the Margate Winter Gardens; their previous biggest gig was to 1,200.

“Why perform music at all?” I asked last night.

“Well,” said Micah, “Speaking personally, there’s only a certain amount of things I’m alright at. Music, rock-climbing, growing a beard and listing things.”

“Listing things?” I asked. “What sort of things?”

“Music, rock-climbing, growing a beard and listing things,” he replied.

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Tablecloth maestro Mat Ricardo on comedy club barriers & juggling dogs

My eternally-un-named friend with Mat Ricardo in March 2012

My eternally-un-named friend with Mat Ricardo, March 2012

I first blogged about Mat Ricardo in February 2011 after I saw him do the impossible at Pull The Other One comedy club.

He performed the standard routine of pulling a tablecloth out from under real crockery…

But then, after a pause, he whipped the tablecloth back ONto the table UNDER the crockery. Since then, I have been a fan. His act is faultless; his patter is perfect.

Since February this year, he has been performing monthly shows – Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties with a full bill of genuinely top acts at the Leicester Square Theatre. He later uploads the full shows onto Vimeo.

“The viewing public have always enjoyed Variety,” said Mat. “It’s just that it’s seen as unfashionable by people who make TV shows and fund big theatre shows. It just got taken away from them. When Variety died – when the music halls closed – Variety performers didn’t stop doing what they do. They just did it in other places – Butlins Holiday Camps or the end-of-the-pier or working men’s clubs or cruise ships or on the streets like me. I earned a living for 20-odd years before the supposed cabaret resurgence happened. For a good 15 years, the majority of my income came from street performing. I’ve worked Butlins, shopping centres, festivals, cruise ships, everywhere.”

“I’m always surprised you were a street performer,” I said. “I always think of you as more classy Monte Carlo and Paul Daniels Show…”

“When I was a street performer, that was my gimmick,” said Mat. “I wore a smart suit.

“I’m not a real street performer any more in that I don’t need to do it for money in the hat, but I do love it and, if you don’t have to do it, then it becomes more enjoyable. Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to be invited to street performing festivals. Over the last couple of years, I’ve done Christchurch, New Zealand; Fremantle, Australia; the Landshut Festival in Austria – also on that gig was The Boy With Tape On His Face…”

“Was he street?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mat. “Not doing that character. He did a stunt show. There was also the great Portuguese clown Pedro Tochas who mainly works theatres now.”

Mat Ricardo yesterday outside the Hippodrome in London

Mat Ricardo yesterday outside the Hippodrome

“And, after you finish talking to me,” I prompted, “you’re playing the Hippodrome casino in the West End.”

“Yes, the Hippodrome’s great,” enthused Mat, “because it’s got such history. It was The Talk of The Town, it was Judy Garland’s last show. You go backstage and there’s all these old programmes framed on the wall. Everyone has worked there and you feel it when you go on stage. I’m lucky enough to have played a few of the key Variety venues in this country. I’ve played the London Palladium and Leeds City Varieties and all these places you walk on and you can feel it.

“I played Leeds City Varieties a couple of months ago and you walk on that stage, you look into the spotlight and you’re seeing the exact same thing that Harry Houdini saw. That’s amazing. These venues have been refurbished, but they haven’t changed: the shape you see from the stage is still the same; the only thing that’s different is I’ve got a slightly more modern suit on.”

“The gentleman juggler,” I said.

“I consider myself as much a comedian as a juggler,” Mat told me. “And being a juggler is still seen as unfashionable. If you call a comedy club and say you’re a juggler, there’s a little pause while they giggle.

Mat Ricardo - the gentleman juggler of comedy

Mat Ricardo – the gentleman juggler of comedy

“I’ve got a few goals left. I’d like to get booked consistently at a high level in comedy clubs. They don’t book jugglers. The people who book the good big comedy clubs where there’s some prestige and some money think their audiences will only watch straight stand-up. They’ll occasionally book a magician who is basically a stand-up with a few tricks or occasionally a stand-up who might do a ukelele song. But it’s still quite a challenge for someone like me to get booked into those clubs. I’d like to crack that just out of sheer bloodymindedness.”

“Club owner Malcolm Hardee,” I ventured, “used to say he didn’t respect jugglers as much as comics because juggling was a skill not a talent: with enough practice, anyone could be a juggler.”

“Well,” replied Mat, “I have to tell you Malcolm Hardee saw me perform on the street in Greenwich in the early 1990s and he gave me money. So he was lying. He did like my show at least.”

“For Malcolm to give anyone money,” I said, “was a miracle and, indeed, a massive sign of deep respect,”

“He gave me a quid,” said Mat. “I remember thinking I know who you are… But that’s what you get. People say Oh, I don’t want to go see a juggler. But then, if you take them to see an act like mine – and I’m not the only one – they’ll love it.”

“You did the tablecloth act in a TV ad for Unum Insurance,” I said. “that must have given you good exposure.”

“It got me an appearance on the Jonathan Ross TV show,” Mat said, “because Jonathan saw the ad and apparently put my name into YouTube, spent an afternoon watching all my stuff and said We gotta book this guy! That’s the great thing about the internet. I didn’t need a manager to leverage me onto TV: I just had to do interesting work and upload it.

“And also Unum Insurance booked me for a bunch of their annual meetings and parties and funded the current London Varieties shows – so they’re paying everyone’s wages including mine. I couldn’t put this show on without their support. Everyone’s getting paid and getting paid well. If I book Paul Daniels, as I did last month, who is a legitimate legend, I wanna make sure he gets paid well. I pay my acts well because I expect to get paid well myself. This is a childhood dream: to have my own variety show in the West End.”

This week’s London Varieties show billing

This week’s billing for Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties

“And you set yourself a new juggling challenge each month,” I said. “Last month, I saw you juggle three cordless electric carving knives when they were switched on.”

“That was genuinely very dangerous to learn,” said Mat. “My wife Lesley did not like it.”

“And you are juggling spaghetti at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show in Edinburgh this August?” I reassured myself.

“Indeed,” said Mat. “And for the last London Varieties show this year on 24th July, I think I might invite the audience to… it’s an old Variety gag – The Flying Karamazov Brothers revived it in the 1970s but it was an old routine before that – You get the audience to bring objects to your show – anything bigger than a grape and smaller than a breadbox. The audience then selects three of the objects and you have to juggle them. I can make two adjustments, then I have to juggle the three objects for ten throws or I get a pie in the face. There is one thing you can bring along which could screw it up – a water-filled balloon. That’s just impossible and I might disallow it.”

“I’m going to bring along a hedgehog,” I said.

“Well, on the London Varieties show this Thursday,” said Mat, I will be doing a juggling trick with a live dog.”

“What breed?” I asked.

Piff The Magic Dragon with Piffles

Piff The Magic Dragon with Piffles, soon to be ‘tableclothed’

“Chihuahua… Piff The Magic Dragon is on the show on Thursday and has this dog, Mr Piffles, which is a chihuahua in a dragon suit. I might or might not juggle him, but I’m certainly going to put him on the table, pull the tablecloth from under him and put the tablecloth back on.”

“What if a prominent American act thought of stealing your tablecloth routine?” I asked.

“Well,” said Mat. “you can copyright an act of choreography which, technically, is what it is and all you have to do is say I copyright it, which I’ve just said. But you can waste your life trying to sue somebody and you don’t want to sue a millionaire. I did create both the effect and the technique and people know that.”

“And people have seen it and it’s on YouTube with dates,” I said.

“It’s not like writing a gag,” said Mat. “A comedian can sit down and write some jokes and just do them. I have to sit down, write something, then go off and practice it for a year.”

“How long did it take you to perfect the tablecloth routine?” I asked.

“It took me a couple of years before it pretty much worked every single time. I smashed a lot of crockery.”

“Difficult to top,” I said.

“I have a way to top it,” said Mat.

“No!” I said.

And then he told me what it was.

“Fuck me,” I said. “Jesus Christ…. Now THAT would be AMAZING…”

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