Tag Archives: crowdfunding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael laughed.

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

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

“In what way ‘fraught’?” I asked.

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

“So the new CD… Parrotopia.” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is it called Parrotopia?” I asked.

Mr Slater’s Parrot,” said Rodney.

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

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

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

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

“Oooh!” I said.

“Did you make that up?” asked Rodney.

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

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

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

“Any videos?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We are doing another one,” said Michael.

“Parrot-toopia,” said Rodney.

“And when is that out?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“Between Andover and Southampton.”

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

“I don’t think so,” said Michael.

“Maybe it’s in Arundel,” I said.

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

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

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

I looked at him.

“I was starving,” he added.

Parrotopia was successfully financed by crowdfunding, using this video…

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Computers, Crowdfunding, Eccentrics, Music

Adam is not organising a sex orgy…

Adam: healthy eating but alas no planned sex orgy

“So,” I said to Adam Taffler aka Adam Wilder aka etc etc, “you’re arranging some kind of sex orgy on top of some skyscraper near Canary Wharf?”

There was a pause with two big sighs. “No,” he said. “It’s a festival of human connection and intimacy and togetherness.”

And, indeed, the two-day event in London is called: TOGETHERNESS: AN INTIMATE FESTIVAL OF HUMAN CONNECTION.

We met at a Pret a Manger in Soho.

“I want,” Adam told me, “to make intimacy and human connection more central to our culture; I want to make it more accessible. Studies show our happiness comes from the quality of our relationships and not our bank balance. But our society isn’t very good at teaching us how to have good relationships.

“So the festival is about doing that. It has a whole load of workshops – everything from Listening Partnerships all the way through to Digital Dating Detox and Expanding Your Sexuality… all with some of the best teachers in the world.

“I’m really excited about it and, because I don’t think this stuff is visible enough in our culture, I want to do it somewhere that it’s symbolically really visible. So I’m doing it on 20th and 21st May on top of a skyscraper in Canary Wharf.”

“What if it rains?” I asked.

“It’s inside, on the top floor. … I’m glad you are eating some fruit there and blueberries and pomegranates. Pomegranate seeds are very good for you.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “Am I going to start farting or something?”

“Maybe,” said Adam. “Just maybe.”

Adam is the entrepreneur of the alternative

“The other day,” I told him, “my friend Mary from Manchester told me the budgie seed Trill used to have cannabis seeds in it.”

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Adam told me. “It’s very healthy.”

“I had this vision,” I said, “of spaced-out budgies.”

“You can’t get high on cannabis seeds,” he explained. “Believe me, I tried when I was younger.”

“Will there be lots of meat-eating at your festival?” I asked. “Or will it be right-on vegetarianism? Pigs are supposed to be very intelligent but their downfall is they taste so good. Slaughtering happy bouncy lambs IS slightly bizarre.”

“Well,” Adam replied, “I think it’s bizarre the way we do it in our culture and the mass farming side of it. My festival is going to be completely plant-based. All the food is going to be plant-based. That’s a way of saying ‘vegan’  which doesn’t sound so oppressive.

“I think intellect holds us back from having experiences which are really good for us. In my training as a Fool, I learned to trick people into doing things that stretches their comfort zone just a little bit and then you can stretch it more and more and more until, before they know it, they’re in a field with their nipples painted gold.”

“Any nudity at your festival?” I asked hopefully.

“No,” said Adam. “Fully clothed. Two days. Saturday and Sunday. I’ve got some of the best teachers from around the world. And there will be a Saturday night Cacao Dance Party, drug and alcohol free.”

“Cacao?” I asked.

“Some kids are using it as a stimulant but, basically, it’s a euphoric old strain of cocoa bean and, when you make it into a drink, it’s a mild stimulant. It is very gentle.”

“Why are you crowdfunding the festival?” I asked.

“I wanted to try it as a marketing exercise. Tickets have been selling really well but, basically, I want to put all my energy into the curation and execution of the festival instead of putting so much into the marketing like I have in the past and I’m hoping this will make it a bit easier. If we get the crowdfunding, it means we can do amazing stuff like get really good quality fixtures and fittings in there.

The Togetherness Festival – over 35 sessions over 2 days

“Tickets are £99 but, at the moment, through the crowdfunding, you can get a weekend pass for £79 – with access to over 35 sessions over two days with some of the best teachers in the world.”

“What happens,” I asked, “if you don’t reach the £10,000 crowdfunding target?”

“It’s all going ahead, it will just be a bit harder.”

”You’re an entrepreneur at heart,” I suggested.

“I don’t know about that, man,” Adam replied. “What I loved about the (music and open air) festival scene was the freedom. Helping people to get more emotionally naked.”

“You said ‘the festival scene’ as if you have given it up.”

“I don’t really like performing very much any more, John.”

“You prefer the organisational side?”

“I don’t even enjoy organising that much. I’d rather just be running sessions: teaching. I am moving forward as a practitioner and as a teacher. Whatever works to help people surrender to the moment. I’m training more as a practitioner in this field.”

“What field?”

“Human connection. Sexuality. What I find interesting is that sexuality is just the gateway to knowing ourselves better.”

“Are your Shhh Dating events still carrying on?”

I first met Adam at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe when I asked him to juggle spaghetti

“Yes, but I’ve sold my other businesses. I sold my hot tub business and I’m just about to sell my shares in the Burns Night company as well. I felt, last year, I was doing too many things. I want to focus. I’m now really into the intimacy and connection work. I like working with people. When I was doing performance, it was all about working with people too.”

“No sex orgy, then,” I said.

“No!” Adam laughed. “The most sexy this festival gets is a session by Froukje van der Velde, who is going to teach ladies – and gents – how to tickle a yoni.”

“I’ve read the Kama Sutra,” I said. “A yoni is a vagina. You can’t fool me with posh words,”

“It’s a Sanskrit word,” said Adam. “Everything is fully-clothed. Froukje takes clay and shows people how to make a model of a yoni and, by the time they’ve made it, it goes a little bit hard and she shows people how they can stroke it.

“We are not taught this stuff at school, John. The sex education in school is terrible. I have a friend who teaches deaf children 11-17 and, in one class, she told them: You can ask me anything you want. And this boy asked: Why do women like it when men come on their faces? Nowadays, children learn sex through porn. It’s terrible.

“This festival is partly about sexuality; it’s partly about relationships. What I’m interested in is the quality of relationships, the quality of contact. That was what I was interested in in performing as well.”

“You want to be a guru,” I suggested.

“Not a guru,” Adam laughed. “Just someone who wants to share what he knows with other people. I went to India to see the hugging lady.”

“The hugging lady?” I asked.

Amma. She comes to the UK every year and hugs loads of people.”

“I’m Scottish,” I pointed out. “We don’t do hugging.”

“You should come to Alexandra Palace and have a hug,” Adam told me. “She is pretty remarkable. For the first three nights in India, I was down by the sea  every night, shouting into the sea: What the fuck is going on here? Why is everybody worshipping this lady? This is bullshit!”

“In India?” I asked.

Amma, the hugging saint of Kerala, was a young Cinderella

“In Kerala, in south India. After three days, a friend of mine told me: No. Go and sit as close to her as you can. I did and my experience changed. I started experiencing this… ‘Grace’ is the only thing I can call it. She is maybe 60-something.

“Her skin was darker than all her siblings. Her parents turned her into the Cinderella of the family and beat her and scolded her but locals kept coming to hear her sing and now she travels round the world and raises all this money. She’s really incredible. This sense of grace. It’s nice to sit next to a master who gives you a taste of something that expands your map of the world. That’s what I find interesting. Stretching maps.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Psychology, Sex, Spirituality

I am lazy. Comedy club crowdfunding continues. Comic will change his name.

(L-R) Barry Ferns, Dec Munro, Rachel Warnes and Sarah Pearce

(L-R) The founding four for Angel Comedy 2.0  – Barry Ferns (horizontal), Dec Munro, Rachel Warnes and Sarah Pearce

Oh Jesus.

Mea culpa.

Today is 21st July.

On 3rd June, I had a chat with Barry Ferns and Dec Munro about the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign they had just started to help finance the new Angel Comedy 2.0 comedy club in London’s Islington. The idea was that I could give their campaign a boost with a blog. What could go wrong?

Well, my laziness and tortuous Things I Am Doing for a start.

I mean, if I am going to bullshit, they didn’t really need me anyway.

Their target was to raise a whopping £20,000.

They did this within a week.

At the time of writing, they have now raised over £45,000 and there are only a five hours left.

But – hey! – at least I will have posted a blog of some kind at some point. The Kickstarter page is at:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/angel-comedy/angel-comedy-club
and Angel Comedy supremo Barry Ferns (an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner) has posted a very fine video on YouTube about the Angel 2.0 project.

As an incentive to pledge money, donors will be given various limited-edition Angel Comedy goodies. If you donate more than £30, you can name a random object in the building. So there might be a John Fleming knob (on a door). If you pledge £75 or more, there will be a tankard with your engraved name on it above the bar. For £200, you can name the glitter ball. For £500 you can name a toilet. And – recently added to the incentives – you can also re-name Barry Ferns.

“All of our backers get a vote,” Barry told me last week. “Even just a £1 pledge gets a vote. We will be having a proper naming ceremony as part of the official club opening in September – where I will sign the deed poll form and one of our winning backers will get to counter-sign and witness the name change.”

“Why?” I asked. “Just simply, why?”

“To show how grateful we are,” said Barry. “Anyone can suggest a name for me – even a vengeful ex-girlfriend or a maniac like Adam Larter – who is trying to create a name that will get me into as much trouble at passport control as possible. Suggestions so far include: Mr Terrorist, VOID NAME, 000000000 and First Name, Surname. The stakes are quite high…

The new Angel Comedy 2.0 - the whole building

The new Angel Comedy 2.0 – Yes, it’s the whole building

Way back on 3rd June, when I originally talked to Barry and Dec and they only had around £21,000, Barry told me: “The money so far has mostly just come from people who have been to our shows and know we are good people and are not gonna spunk their money on things. We want to do something good and they’ve seen us do something good over the last six years.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you decide to start the second club in Islington when you already have the 7-days-a-week  original Angel Comedy club still running?”

“Most clubs,” explained Barry, “are run out of upstairs rooms in pubs – like Angel Comedy. Malcolm Hardee started Up The Creek, but he bought the building. So the four of us put money in to buy this building but with the realisation that, once we owned the building, it would take more money to make it right.”

“You have the building on a seven-year lease?” I asked.

“Seven to eight,” said Barry. “Between the two.”

“That gives you great security,” I said.

“Security is one word,” said Dec Munro. “Millstone is also a word.”

“What do you need the Kickstarter money for?” I asked.

“When it rained two days ago,” said Barry, “we had buckets and things.”

“So,” I said, “you are doing a ‘soft’ opening with various things happening in July and August, but a ‘hard’ opening in September, after the Edinburgh Fringe is done and dusted. What does a ‘hard opening’ mean?”

Dec said: “Consistent opening hours, some resident acts, regular format nights like improv, mixed variety, musical comedy, different weird stuff.”

“There are so many comedians out there,” added Barry, “who are not really supported, because there’s nowhere they can get free preview space or a place that will let them perform absolutely bat-shit crazy stuff or if they are going to take a risk. The reason Angel Comedy has worked is because the new comedians are brilliant. That’s why it works. Not because it’s free; but because the shows are good.”

“Why are you keeping the original Angel Comedy club open?” I asked again.

“Because that is not this,” replied Barry. “That is an open mic club. It is the top of the open mic circuit. Angel Comedy 2.0 is not the open mic circuit.”

“How will the charging here work?” I asked.

“It’s whatever the performers want to do,” explained Barry. “If they want to put on a free night, they can collect in a bucket at the end. If they want to run Bob Slayer’s model, they can do that. If they want to charge £15 for a ticket, they can do that. Our cuts will be cost-only cuts. We won’t take a 60/40 split.”

“So how can you calculate covering costs?” I asked.

Angel Comedy club 2.0

“A permanent home for London’s loveliest comedy night.”

“What we can say,” replied Dec, “is we hope from September not to charge more than a 20% split of any tickets. And that money would go into a magazine or similar to be distributed in the local area to let them know about us.”

“And there is no rental fee for the room?” I asked.

“We,” said Barry, “will not charge a fee that we will make any profit on from renting it out. If we charge any money, it will just go to the publicity costs.

“Here at Angel Comedy 2.0 it’s not always going to be free, but we want it to be a place where people can take risks. We also have space where people can come in at low cost or no cost and record a podcast. And we can teach people how to make films or sketches.

“If you’re an art or theatre student, you can go to university and get access to a lot of other things but, in comedy, there is not that. I have gone bankrupt. I have done the craziest things just to be able to perform. And there is no support unless you have wealthy parents who own a house in London. You have to work at least five days a week to make your rent and then you have two hours to perform comedy when you’re exhausted and you have no resources.”

Thus said Barry Ferns.

But he may not be Barry Ferns for much longer. He explains more about his re-naming in a video on YouTube:

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, London

Comedy legend John Dowie: changed by Spike Milligan’s Bed-Sitting Room

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie is difficult to describe. Wikipedia’s current attempt is: “a British comedian, musician and writer. He began performing stand-up comedy in 1969.”

His own website describes him as: “Not working. Not writing. Not performing. Not Twittering. Not on Facebook. Not on Radio. Not on TV. Not doing game shows, chat shows, list shows, grumpy-old whatever shows. Not doing quiz shows. Not doing adverts. Not doing voice-overs for insurance companies/banks/supermarkets/dodgy yogurts.”

The synopsis of his up-coming autobiography starts: “If you’re thinking of becoming a stand-up comedian (and who isn’t?) then here’s some advice: don’t start doing it in 1972. I did, and it was a mistake.”

I know John Dowie because he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology of comedians’ (often dark) short stories which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee.

The book that was not suspended

A foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb

John’s was the story of a Northern comedian who has a foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb. The Daily Mirror called it: “a wrist-slashingly brutal account of a Bernard Manning-esque comic who plans blood-thirsty revenge. Disturbing? Very.” The Chortle website called it a “breathlessly entertaining yarn”.

Now he is crowdfunding his new book The Freewheeling John Dowie.

“How long are you crowdfunding for?” I asked him.

“They reckon the average book takes about six weeks or two months.”

“Have you started writing it?”

“I’ve already written it!”

“So the crowdfunding is just for the physical creation of it?”

“Yes, you have to reach a funding target for the printing process to begin.”

“So what have you been doing,” I asked, “since the triumph that was Sit-Down Comedy?”

“I have been riding my bicycle.”

“Where?”

“France, Holland, Spain, Italy, Ireland which is horrible, Wales, up and down England.”

“I like Ireland,” I said.

“Bad roads,” said John Dowie.

“And you are publishing your autobiography by crowdfunding…?”

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunder

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunding and bicycling

“Well, it’s not actually an autobiography,” John corrected me. “It’s like an autobiography, but with the boring bits cut out. There is no stuff like Birmingham is an industrial town in the heart of the Midlands. It’s got autobiographical elements. But, if you are a nobody such as I, then the only way you can tell a story about yourself is if it is a story that stands in its own right.”

“So how do you want The Freewheeling John Dowie described?” I asked. “A bicycling autobiography?”

“Yeah,” said John. “Well, if you ride a bike and you’re in a quiet piece of the world, what do you do? Your mind is free to wander and, as it wanders, you find yourself going from place to place in your mind that you were not expecting to go.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide to write your autobiography now?”

“I’m 65 and I’ve been retired for 15 years,” explained John. “And, if you’re 65, you’re fucked. So I thought: If I’m fucked, I’d better spend my time working because I’m of more use as a fucked-up performer than I am as a fucked-up retiree.”

“You were born in 1950?” I asked.

“Yes. Just in time to miss Elvis Presley and just in time to get the Beatles.”

“Did you approach a ‘proper’ publisher for the book?” I asked.

“No… Well, I think Unbound are more proper than publishers, because they care about the things they make. A friend of mine has a client who’s a comedian who went to a voice-over studio to record her book and was regaled by the engineers with all the comedians who came in to read the books they ‘wrote’ but had never even read yet – and finding mistakes in their own books – Ooh! My mother isn’t called Dorothy! Those are books done by ‘proper’ publishers.”

John Dowie - a living legend from the early alternate days

John Dowie – a living legend from the early alternate days

“Is there what they call a ‘narrative arc’ in your cycling autobiography?” I asked.

“Well, it begins and ends with a Spike Milligan story.”

“I met him once,” I said. “I think he must have got out of the wrong side of the bed that day.”

“I think,” John said, “that he got more crotchety as he got older. When I met him, he was very decent to me. I was hanging around backstage after one of his shows. He was touring a play which he wrote with John AntrobusThe Bed-Sitting Room. People talk about taking LSD for the first time and how it changed their life. Watching The Bed-Sitting Room changed my life. It was like a door had opened.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I had not experienced anything like it before. Live comedy. I was 15 or 16.”

“So you didn’t know what you wanted to be?”

“No.”

“And you decided to be Spike Milligan?”

“Yeah. That’s more or less it, yeah. I became Spike Milligan for a period. Apart from the talented bits, obviously.”

“What happened when you stopped being Spike Milligan?”

“I got my friends back.”

“Why? Because you were rude as Spike Milligan?”

“No. Just not funny.”

An early John Dowie album by the young tearaway

Naked Noolies and I Don’t Want To Be Your Amputee

“And then, I said, “you became one of the living legends of the original Alternative Comedy circuit.”

“Well,” said John, “I’m living. That’s halfway there.”

“But you are,” I said, “one of the originators of Alternative Comedy.”

“I don’t think so,” said John. “I don’t think I’m one of them and it’s not as if it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been there. I was coincidental more than anything. It wasn’t as if anybody saw me and thought: Oh, let’s start a movement. I considered myself to be in the same field as Ivor Cutler and Ron Geesin.”

“Wow!” I said. “Ron Geesin! I had forgotten him!”

“Yes,” said John. “He was great. He was a John Peel discovery. Ron played Mother’s Club in Birmingham where John Peel’s Birmingham audience used to go religiously to see the acts John Peel played on the radio. Ron Geesin came on and did his first number on the piano and the place went fucking barmy and Ron Geesin said to the audience: Listen, nobody is THAT good.”

Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

AOK Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

At this point, farteur Mr Methane, who was sitting with us, piped up: “Weren’t you involved with Tony Wilson years ago?” he asked. “On Factory Records.”

“Yeah,” said John. “The first one. The first Factory Records release. FAC- 2… FAC- 1 was the poster. I was on the same record as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and the Durutti Column. It was a double EP.”

“Ah!” I said.

Then he said to me: “It’s all very good if you know everything about comedy, John, but, if you don’t know about pop music…”

“Why should people crowdfund your autobiography?” I asked.

“Because I’m fuckin’ fantastic,” he replied.

I tend to agree.

If you want to crowd fund the book: https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-freewheeling-john-dowie

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Comedy, Nostalgia

The new Peter Sellers film that is 90% made but needs a bit of crowdfunding

GhostOfPeterSellarsPosterI am a massive admirer of the Hungarian director Peter Medak’s movie The Ruling Class, starring Peter O’Toole – rarely seen because it got mired in distribution problems. Peter Medak also directed the 1990 film The Krays. And he directed the 1973 pirate comedy movie Ghost in the Noonday Sun, starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan.

No, I had not heard of it either until, back in February, I got an e-mail from Paul Iacovou, who was  producing a documentary called The Ghost of Peter Sellers about the making of the Noonday Sun movie.

The Chortle comedy website wrote a very good article about the project back in February.

“Our documentary The Ghost of Peter Sellers,” Paul Iacovou told me yesterday on Skype from Cyprus, “is called that to mirror the original title but also because the ghost of Peter Sellers is the ghost that haunted Peter Medak for 43 years because he blames this film for altering the trajectory of his career. He was THE hot director of the time and then there was Ghost in the Noonday Sun with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan and it was a pirate comedy and everybody was waiting for it and it never materialised. In the film world, you’re only as good as your last film. That’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely true.

The Ghost of Peter Sellers is Peter Medak re-tracing what happened 43 years ago, by talking to a huge variety of people who haven’t really given interviews before. The original film’s producer John Hayman. John Goldstone who was the Monty Python producer. Actor Robert Wagner who was a great friend of Peter Sellers. Executives and people in the movie business of the 1970s. It gives an incredible insight into how movies were made in those days.

“One of the great things is that everybody is in their 70s, some early 80s. So they speak with such candour. They’re not trying to gain anything. They’re reflective, they look back and are totally honest in what they say, which is so refreshing on camera.”

Peter Medak (right) directing The Ghost of Peter Sellars

Peter Medak (right) directing The Ghost of Peter Sellers

Paul Iacovou is producing The Ghost of Peter Sellers; Peter Medak is directing; there is an Indiegogo crowdfunding initiative. At the time of writing, there are nine days to go to reach their $40,000 target and the Indiegogo appeal has raised $22,485.

“We’ve managed to do quite well,” Paul told me. “It was quite a large amount we were going for. It’s been quite a bit of a struggle. The crowdfunding audience tends to be much younger. I contacted the strategist at Indiegogo and he told me he had had a meeting with his guys internally and not one of them knew who Peter Sellers was. Their average age is between 25 and early 30s. They are in New York, so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.”

“The fleeting nature of fame,” I said.

“Tragic, really,” said Paul.

“What’s your link with Peter Sellers?” I asked.

“Well, I’m half Cypriot,” Paul told me. “I moved here eight years ago and just by chance I was in a friend’s office and his father had a photograph of Spike Milligan on the wall. I asked why. He told me: Oh, it’s from the Peter Sellers movie that they shot here in 1973. I had never heard of it. So I started research it and it just got so interesting – a disaster of a production that was never released.

Made but unseen

Death Wish to movie nightmare

“I got in touch with the original director, Peter Medak, who lives in Hollywood now. We got on like a house on fire and it turned out he had been waiting 40-odd years to tell this story.

“Back then, United Artists had called him to New York and said: We want you to direct this film called Death Wish. He read the script. He loved it. He said he wanted Henry Fonda to play the lead role and they said: Henry Fonda’s too old. You can have anybody else on the planet except him. Then, because he had promised Henry Fonda the part, he walked off the project which went on to be made by Michael Winner with Charles Bronson.”

“It would have been an interestingly different film with Henry Fonda,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Paul. “Medak saw Henry Fonda as a sort-of shy, retiring accountant type who is pushed into becoming a vigilante. With Bronson, he looked like a tough guy from the start.

“Anyway, Medak came back from New York, was walking along the King’s Road in London and bumped into Peter Sellers who said: Don’t worry about it. Come with me to Cyprus. I have a film ready to go. I want you to direct it. Let’s go. So he did.

“Peter Sellers was his friend. And then Sellers turned on him because Sellers decided, when he got here, he didn’t want to do the movie. And it knocked Peter Medak off that trajectory of success and he’s been carrying this weight with him for 43 years.

Peter Medak directing Ghost of the Noonday Sun

Peter Medak directing Ghost of the Noonday Sun in 1973

“They completed the whole film but, because Sellers became so difficult and he was unavailable for so much of the filming, they ended up falling behind schedule and cutting out a big fight scene between Sellers and Anthony Franciosa and other scenes and then, when they delivered it to Columbia, they said: But the fight scene is missing! and they rejected it. They said: We don’t want to release it now. It ended up costing John Hayman, the producer, $2½ million in 1973.”

“John Hayman?” I asked.

“He’s a financier,” explained Paul, “who has made something like 180 films. He says: Forty of them I should never have made. This was one of them. His son, David Hayman, produced the Harry Potter films. John was the 7th employee at the BBC when they re-started TV after the War and he’s still going strong at 84.”

“If you can’t get the Indiegogo money,” I asked, “does that mean you can’t complete your film?”

“Well,” said Paul, “it makes it harder. It means we won’t complete it NOW. We would lose a bit of momentum. The most important thing is to finish the film ourselves without going to any distributor who then takes a big chunk of it and then could end up diluting the film we want to make.

“It’s kind of grown and grown, which is very good on the one hand but was very difficult for the budget. We’re 90% complete. We shot in London and Cyprus last summer and we just about finished shooting in LA the other day. When we started the crowdfunding campaign, it was to shoot in LA but we took a leap of faith and started shooting anyway.

“The crowdfunding is basically to cover the cost of what we’ve shot and some other stuff we need to shoot and then post production, which is going to be a huge cost because we want to lace the film with as much archive content as we can of Sellers and Milligan etc etc. But we’ve also got permission to use of about 15-18 minutes of the original film itself. The thing is for people to see these incredible scenes that they’ve never seen of Milligan and Sellers – that nobody’s ever seen. That’s where it all started for me.”

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Movies

Steve Best – Comedy Snapshots of jokey big-time publishing in the 21st century

Back in March 2014, I wrote a blog about comedian Steve Best’s book Comedy Snapshot – a collection of his photos of comedians. Now he is planning a second book titled Comedy Snapshots (See what he did there?)

“The first book acted like a calling card,” he tells me. “It was a good success in the comedy community. Foyles and lots of independent bookshops took it, but not nationwide.”

“There were a lot of comics in it,” I said. “You must have almost run out of comedians by now.”

I would not dare use my own photo – A selfie by Steve.

I would not dare use my own photo – A selfie by Steve.

“Well,” he told me, “the first book had 426 comedians. I’m just below 500 comedians for the new book. I’ve got Jimmy Carr, John Bishop, Julian Clary, Alan Davies, Stewart Lee, Al Murray, Alexei Sayle, Rich Hall, Rob Newman and people like that.”

“And you are crowdfunding it?” I asked.

“Yes. Unbound is a crowdfunding publisher – the main guy used to work for Waterstones – and I went and saw the guy and he offered me a two-book deal.

“Unbound have really good links and a relationship with Penguin/Random House. So you produce the book, Penguin have an option to publish it as well and whoever has pledged money gets an exclusive copy slightly different to the one Penguin might create. There are different pledges where you get an e-book, a signed book or whatever.”

“Sounds like you’re on a roll,” I said.

“And I’ve now got some links with galleries,” Steve told me, “so it’s become a much bigger project.”

“I suppose,” I said, “it’s a specialist book and…”

“It’s not really a specialist book,” Steve corrected me. “Penguin look on it as a joke book as far as marketing is concerned. It’s a joke book with a few facts and the photographs. Everyone has given me a one-liner joke. That’s how Penguin perceive it, though I didn’t quite want to go down that route.”

“I had forgotten the jokes,” I said. “I remember the quirky facts and stories.”

“Some of the bigger comedians,” Steve told me, “got a bit tetchy about it, thinking I was going to be using their material but, once I explained what the whole thing was, then they said: That’s great.”

“Is there going to be a third book?” I asked.

On sale from this week

The first book: a successful calling card needing distribution

“Yes, Unbound have an option on the next book – it’s a two-book deal. The third one is the book I really, really want to do. It would come out in the summer of 2017, ready for the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017. So I would do a gallery show in Edinburgh – an exhibition and stand-up, which no-one has done – as a photographer-comedian. After that the plan would be, rather than tour arts centres and theatres with a comedy show, I would tour galleries. The idea of touring galleries as a stand-up really appeals to me. You can sell the prints, you can sell the books and do the stand-up.”

“The third book,” I asked. “Would that be the same format?”

“No,” said Steve. “A coffee-table format. Because I’m being sponsored-ish by Fuji – they’ve given me a top-of-the-range camera – my pictures in this new book and the third one will look that much better.”

“So,” I asked, “they liked your first book so much they decided to throw cameras at you?”

“They sent me a top-of-the-range camera and a couple of lenses. I have two bodies and about six different lenses. There is also a possibility I may be going to Mount Everest. There’s a Guinness world record attempt in April for the highest comedy show in the world – at Base Camp, Everest. I might be going out as a photographer-cum-stand-up. In that case, Fuji would supply me with even more stuff. The problem might be it clashes with this new book. I have to design and get this new book out and it clashes. If Penguin really do take it on, I want to get the book out for Christmas.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Photographs, Publishing

Sex with comedian Giada Garofalo. Miss Behave tries to get money for dogging.

Giada Garofalo - not a woman to mess with

Giada Garofalo – maybe don’t mess with her

’Tis the season for jolly comedy performers to be previewing and thinking of ways to promote their Edinburgh Fringe shows next month.

Last night, I went to Soho in London to see Edinburgh preview shows by Giada Garofalo and Oli Bettesworth.

In his very funny show about depression – Sunshine and Lollipops (and a Creeping Sense of Existential Terror) – the very English Oli is seemingly making a fair bid for the loudest show on the Fringe. I cannot see his voice lasting out beyond the first week.

The very Sicilian Giada – with Live in the Staff Room! (Sex, Fairy Tales, Serial Killers & other Stuff) – is making a strong bid for the most autobiographically sexual show on the Fringe – the sex even permeates the fairy tale section which dumps Disney for Edgar Allan Poe.

Before the two previews, I had tea with Miss Behave, who is promoting her Edinburgh shows with the help of crowdfunding via a Kickstarter appeal.

“How much did you appeal for?” I asked.

“£397 – and I made it in six hours. So, I have decided to take it bigger and better.

Miss Behave’s successful appeal on Kickstarter

Miss Behave’s very successful first appeal on Kickstarter

“I did start off wanting camels, because I thought it would be a great way to launch my show(s) at the Fringe – to actually parade through a pedestrian area, flyering on camels.”

“And…?” I asked.

“Just try and get a fucking camel to Edinburgh,” said Miss Behave. “So then I thought: Donkeys.”

“You bet your ass,” I said.

Miss Behave ignored me.

“Or cows,” she continued. “But apparently cows have a tendency to charge at crowds of people, so that felt too dangerous. So then I was riffing with this person who is an animal wrangler. A Scottish animal wrangler.”

“For films?” I asked.

“Yeah. So I said: What about 50 chihuahuas? She thought about it overnight, called me back the next day and said: Right. I’ve sorted it. I’ve got a guy, who is also an animal wrangler, who has 20 chihuahua Jack Russell puppy mixes, so they’ll get on. If I just got 50 random dogs, there would be a dog fight.”

“These are,” I checked, “an interbreeding of chihuahuas and Jack Russells?”

“Yeah. Pretty cute. Chihuahuas are a bit too scary but, if you throw a bit of Jack Russell into the mix, that’s cute-tastic. It’s got a special name – a Jahuahua or JackChi or Jackhuahua or something.”

Jacksie?” I asked.

“JackChi,” said Miss Behave.

Miss Behave under the weather in Soho yesterday

Miss Behave under the weather in Soho yesterday afternoon

“You know,” I told her, “that there are dogs which are a cross between shih tzus and poodles?’

“What are they called?”

“Not what you’d think,” I said. “Which is a pity.”

“Anyway,” said Miss Behave, “the animal wrangler also found me a Newfoundland dog. The idea was that the Newfoundland would pull a cart with me sitting on it and all the chihuahua Jack Russell puppies would be around it and we would do a parade – again, flyering. Which was fine. But then the dude just went silent. Just dropped off the face of the earth. disappeared. I thought What am I going to do? I am not known for the ‘cute’ area, but I wanted it to be cute and silly.”

“Cute?” I asked. “You started with a herd of camels!”

“Yeah, but then I’d got into puppies. So I thought: Never work with children or animals. Well, alright, how about kids? I could get a lot of kid dancers. I could have six different children’s dance companies, all with the same music, but each doing different routines. Kids are cute. I am not – and I don’t really like children. So that’s funny.

Cute or not? Miss Behave.

Cute or not? Miss Behave.

“I thought: I can co-ordinate it all but, with the cost of actually doing Edinburgh this year, I can’t also afford £300 worth of helium balloons and all the other stuff for the kids. So I costed it all up and I had been wanting to try a Kickstarter for a while. £397 is not a massive amount of money to ask for. Give it a go!

“And it’s been real fun. It took me six hours to raise £397 and now, at the point I’m talking to you,  it’s been just over 24 hours. I have 25 days left and I’ve got £708 already pledged. I thought: If I get more, let’s see how large a production number we can give ‘em. That could potentially mean more helium balloons, confetti cannons.”

“It could,” I suggested, “mean the return of the camels and the chihuahuas.”

“Or a drone camera,” mused Miss Behave. “With £708, I’ve got enough to buy a cheap little remote controlled helicopter, strap a GoPro camera onto it and that could be a drone. I think it’s going to be a laugh and there’s no ‘wrong’ in it. If the worst thing that happens is a bunch of kids show up dressed in cardboard boxes with a load of helium balloons, that’s fine. At the moment, I have four different dance schools and one majorette school.”

“What,” I asked, “are they actually promoting?”

 Miss Behave and her lovely Gameshow assistant Harriet

Miss Behave and her lovely Gameshow assistant Harriet

“I’m taking my gameshow up to the Fringe – the large version I did in a Spiegeltent in London.”

“Are you appearing in any major Edinburgh comedy awards shows?” I asked.

“Well, I’m going to run in late and make a spectacular entrance into the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show, but don’t tell the organiser, because he thinks I’m actually hosting it with Janey Godley.”

“Chaos is always welcome,” I said. “It is good to live in interesting times.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Marketing