Tag Archives: DVD

Richard Herring on buying back his own TV series from the BBC, not being more famous and regaining happiness

The creation of the universe, the paranormal. Whatever next?

Richard Herring’s new self-financed 6-part online TV series

In two of my blogs earlier this week, comedian Richard Herring talked to me first about creating free content like his podcasts to entice people into his live shows and then about his self-financed online TV series Richard Herring’s Meaning of Life – he is recording the second episode at the Leicester Square Theatre this Sunday.

Richard first rose to fame as a double act with Stewart Lee on BBC radio and TV in the 1990s.

“I remember when we were doing TV pilots,” Richard told me, “you’d be thinking This is great, but what are the people upstairs at the BBC going to think about it and will we have to change it for them? To not have that pressure is amazingly freeing now. Part of the reason I went into podcasting in 2008 was because of the Sachsgate thing. Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross had done all this bad stuff on the radio and then the BBC clammed up. You couldn’t do anything.

“People were saying You mustn’t even swear in the warm-up to the show in case there’s a journalist in the audience. It was just insane and I thought, Well, if I do it on my own, I can say whatever I want.

“You did have the advantage of being established,” I said.

“I had a little leg up,” admitted Richard, “in terms of enough people knowing who I was from having done that stuff with Stewart in the 1990s – it had a very dedicated following really of 14-year-olds who then grew up and did stay quite loyal to us. But it wasn’t a massive cult thing. It wasn’t like I started podcasts and a million people listened. And, if anything, most people would now know me from the internet stuff I’ve done. I think most of them are surprised when they find out either that I worked with Stewart or that all this old stuff exists.

“We are bringing out all that old stuff ourselves. The BBC wouldn’t bring out Fist of Fun as a DVD or repeat it, so we bought it from the BBC and we’re hopefully buying This Morning With Richard Not Judy from them too. But it’s more expensive to buy and I think DVD is falling off the radar a bit.

“Fist Of Fun” - now out as a DVD with BBC logo

The Fist Of Fun DVD out now with BBC logo

“We paid around £50,000 to buy two series of Fist of Fun. We’ve got the rights to sell it for around five years and we sell them at £25 a series. So you only need 2,000 people to buy them and you get your money back, though there’s other expenses on top of that.”

“What about Equity and the Musicians’ Union?” I asked.

“The BBC do all the clearances,” explained Richard. “About £10,000 of that £50,000 is for the clearances. The BBC still own it ultimately. We’re just leasing it and after a certain amount – when we’ve made our money back – they get 25% of the money we make.”

“Why didn’t they want to do a DVD themselves?” I asked.

“Because they didn’t… they never liked… It was amazing we got four series. We did two series of Fist of Fun. The second series had better material, but the first series was a really beautiful kind of… It had its own feeling. We were learning on the job, but Fist Of Fun was overflowing with ideas. There are jokes flashing up which you have to freeze-frame to get. It was a young person’s programme. The BBC got worried it would scare off their viewers, so they made us go into a studio for the second series and slightly spoiled it. Then we got kicked off. Then we came back and did two years of This Morning With Richard Not Judy.

This Morning With Richard Not Judy

Lee (right) & Herring This Morning With Richard Not Judy

“But, again, they didn’t know what to do with it. They kept cancelling the repeat and moving it around and there were weeks off for sport. By the second series, the newspapers had just started writing about it and we felt, if we did another series, it could just get over that hump. But then Jane Root came in, didn’t like it and she was at BBC2 for five years (1999-2004). So that was the end of it.

“Stewart and I had met at Oxford University, but we weren’t a very archetypal Oxbridge type of act, so we didn’t really get any of the benefits of Oh, come on in… We just confused everyone.

“I went to Oxford because of the comedy. I studied History but I went because I wanted to get into the Oxford Revue. I was a massive fan of Monty Python and I just dreamt of getting into the Oxford Revue. I wanted to be a comedian.”

“So you dreamt of being the person you now are,” I said.

“But more successful,” laughed Richard. “I probably wanted, then, to be the most famous and successful comedian EVER – which I don’t now. I just want to keep working until I drop. As long as I’m still creating interesting stuff and keep trying to push back boundaries and to slightly fail.

“To fail at what I wanted to do has been good for me. With Lee & Herring, if things had twisted a different way, I think maybe we could have been like Little Britain and I think that would have destroyed us both in different ways. I think I would have gone off my head with the excitement of being that famous and Stewart would probably have killed himself if he’d got that famous.

Richard Herring’s show Hitler Moustache

Richard Herring’s Hitler Moustache show

“Now I think I’m in almost the perfect position for a comedian.

“Being too famous can distract you and restrict you. If I were David Walliams and I had said Oh, I’m going to have a Hitler moustache for a year I think my management would have gone No, I think you’d better not do that, because you won’t get this or that contract. The fact I have the autonomy to make insane decisions creates some interesting experiences.”

“But then there’s the money,” I said.

“We didn’t really earn any money from Lee & Herring. After ten years of working together, we’d had five years of not being paid and five years of being paid a bit, split between the two of us. By the end of it, I’d put the deposit down on a flat. That’s all I’d managed to do.

“But when I wrote 37 episodes of Time Gentlemen, Please! (2000-2002) – not entirely but mainly on my own – I was paid very, very well per episode so then, for the first time in my life, I had money and I sort-of took two years off. I was still doing bits and pieces. I wasn’t not working. I was doing a lot of writing – or trying. I was still doing some work. I did Talking Cock, which did pretty well and, for the first time in my life, I got repeat fees – from Time Gentlemen, Please!

Talking Cock was revived as The Second Coming

Talking Cock – later revived, with The Second Coming added

“I’d bought quite a big house and had a big mortgage and every time I thought I was in trouble a cheque would drop into my lap that was enough to keep me going. I was sitting in this big house which I’d been going to move into with my girlfriend who had a child by someone else. We were going to have a family. I had this house. But then we broke up and so I was sitting in the attic trying to write about cocks and slowly going a bit crazy. I had lost my way a little bit.

“Writing the blog helped but coming back to stand-up was massively helpful. It meant I got out and performed and I realised – although I’m happy writing and I like writing – I need to perform a little bit.

“When I came back to stand-up, I did a gig in Hammersmith in a little room to ten people and Jimmy Carr was 100 yards away at the Hammersmith Apollo playing to 3,000 people. But I was thinking: I’m really happy.

“My problem was I had been sitting back waiting for people to come to me which, in the old days, you had to. In the 1990s, you had to get commissioned by a broadcast company to make a radio show or a TV show. But now you can do it yourself. I can make Richard Herring’s Meaning of Life without a broadcast company as a six-part online TV series.

A ‘selfie’ taken by Richard Herring last week

A ‘selfie’ taken by Richard Herring last week

“A lot of comics make excuses about why things don’t happen for them – and there ARE good excuses; there’s a lot of luck in this business – but you’ve got to work hard and, increasingly, there’s so much competition, so many good comedians. But you can now make your own break – though, even then, there’s luck involved.

“It’s much more important to be doing something you’re happy with and be happy in your life. I think for a long time I wasn’t. Certainly 10 or 15 years ago I was quite unhappy, but I turned it round.”

“So where are you off to now?” I asked.

“I’m going home to my wife. She’s making me some tuna.”

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Cunning stunts of the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. No 1: comedian Richard Herring

I am currently serving on a jury at a High Court in a city somewhere in England. I do not think I can be imprisoned for saying that in print, though who knows?

Like Malcolm, a unique one-off

Last year’s increasingly prestigious poster

In August, I get promoted to a far more important role as one of the judges for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Every year, I tend to get slightly nervous at this point in case inspiration fails the performers and there are no worthy candidates for the annual Cunning Stunt Award, which goes to the best publicity stunt promoting a Fringe show or performer.

I have blogged recently about a couple of people who have done or are doing things which might possibly be considered publicity stunts.

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned Sarah Hendricks on her 800 mile cycle trip from London to Barcelona. But that is not a publicity stunt; it is part of creating her show.

Another is Juliette Burton and her escapades. Among other things, she went to Buckingham Palace in a wedding dress in an attempt to marry Prince Harry and become a princess and has recorded a song in an attempt to be a pop star. Both of those are, I think, similar to Sarah Hendrickx’ bike journey: they are not stunts – they are an integral part of the creation of her show.

But Juliette’s music video to promote the song arguably is a stunt: it will go onto YouTube in July to promote the show.

Last week brought a more obvious contender for Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award nominee in the form of a press release from comedian Richard Herring in which he says he has decided not spend lots of money on lamp post ads during the Fringe and instead spend lots of money giving a free DVD to members of his audience.

The free DVD for Richard Herring audiences

The free DVD for Richard Herring’s Fringe show audiences

This is Richard’s 10th solo show in 10 consecutive years, so everyone who attends one of his live We’re All Going To Die shows at the Fringe is going to be given a free DVD entitled 10, comprising his “favourite routines from the previous nine shows, plus his thoughts on each show and an exclusive reading of a blog that inspired the new show”.

Why is he doing this? It sounds like a cunning stunt to me but, says Richard:

Richard Herring: Fringe Festival funster

Fringe Festival funster Richard’s new show

“The other impetus was discovering that it cost me £3,000 to put up big lamp post adverts. Posters like these are so ubiquitous during the Fringe that I don’t think they have any impact anymore. And they’re all covered in four and five star reviews, which are usually from some obscure website or paper which isn’t fooling anyone. If we all stopped doing it then we’d save a lot of money. I thought, this year why not spend this £3,000 on something that people might actually want and give a gift to the people who actually want to see me rather than create an eye-sore annoyance to people who don’t? I think we’re throwing our money away and if other acts have three grand to spare for PR, then there must surely be more imaginative ways to spend it. Or they could just keep the £3, 000.

“Every Fringe many acts pay thousands of pounds to landlords, promoters and PR firms and end up in serious debt. It seems a shame that advertising costs are also so high, especially when the Fringe brings so much revenue to the city already. It might be time for a journalist to investigate where the money from the various poster campaigns go and what the Council’s part in it is.”

One of my fellow increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judges – Scotsman reviewer Kate Copstick – thinks Richard’s idea is more ‘right thinking’ than actually a fully-fledged cunning stunt.

Edinburgh Fringe  lamp posters in 2012

Some Fringe shows’  small lamp post posters

“Richard is absolutely right,” she tells me. “There is an indecent amount of money spent on posters and flyers at the Fringe. There is some sort of misbegotten idea that it is necessary.

“It is absolutely not.

“And the only people really benefitting are the private companies given the big hoardings by the City Council. They make a fucking fortune. Along with said Council and the University.

“I cannot remember a time when seeing a poster slathered in five star strips from ifailedgcseenglishbutnowigetfreeseats.biz.twat made me want to do anything other than smack the act in the crotch with a rolled up copy of Pointless Freeloading Fuckwits and How To Spot Them.”

Richard has posted on YouTube his explanation of his complaint against the cost of postering, which ends with the words “All I’m really trying to do is make you come and see my show.”

The Jury is still out on whether it is a worthy cunning stunt.

But Bob Slayer has been talking about doing an unknown stunt, so Richard may have some strong competition.

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It’s the $1 million day Comedy experienced its Radiohead moment

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Yesterday was a special day. Not because it was Christmas Eve, but because I had a cup of tea with jockey-turned-rock manager-turned-comedian Bob Slayer.

Any day when Bob Slayer has a cup of tea instead of 15 pints of beer is a special day.

The American comedian Louis CK had reportedly just made over a million dollars from his concert video. He did not release as a DVD through the normal channels. Instead, he released it by himself as a download. The result?

Over $1 million of income from $5 downloads in 12 days.

He bypassed the big DVD distributors, wholesalers and retailers and sold direct to his audience via the internet.

It cost him $250,000 to record the show, set up the website and pay banking fees to handle the transactions. But he grossed over $1 million in 12 days.

“It’s the day Comedy experienced its Radiohead Moment,” Bob Slayer said to me.

“Are you sure you haven’t had a few pints?” I asked.

“It’s a great headline, though, isn’t it?” he laughed.

Bob knows the independent music scene. From 2003 to 2009, he was full-time manager of Japanese rock band Electric Eel Shock, whom he constantly calls “EES” – I think because it is difficult to pronounce “Electric Eel Shock” after downing 15 pints of beer.

When they had been in previous bands, the members of Electric Eel Shock had released tracks and albums on major labels in Japan and not enjoyed the experience. Hardened by this, they became fiercely independent and – who knows why? – they let Bob Slayer manage them. Strangely, they got on well with the anarchic yet experienced Bob and his sometimes unconventional, often lateral-thinking ideas.

“In a way,” says Bob. “I was lucky. They were – and still are – an amazing live band. So good that, over several years, I toured them in over 30 countries around the world and they are still conquering new countries all the time.”

One of Bob’s bright entrepreneurial ideas was to sell one hundred fans “EES guest list for life” passes at £100 each. This created £10,000 in cash and helped the band get out of a label deal with a man called Eric. They then went for another of Bob’s bright ideas – to finance their recordings by asking fans to buy the albums in advance – before they had recorded them.

“They raised over $50,000 to record their last album,” Bob tells me. “We used to rub shoulders with other bands following similar DIY routes but we all knew that we were on the fringes of the music industry. We were looked down on a little.

“But then, in 2006, DIY went almost mainstream. Lilly Allen and the Arctic Monkeys were marketed as coming from an independent/MySpace scene… although the irony was that major labels spent millions of pounds telling us just how independent these act were.

“That was like a phony start, but it showed the promise…

“Then, in 2007, it all changed for real. Radiohead got out of their contract with EMI and released In Rainbows as a digital download. They asked their fans to pay whatever they liked for it – it is like the Free Fringe and Free Festival shows in Edinburgh, where punters pay what they like on the way out.

“The band were selling direct to their audience and cutting out the middle men. Not only did they get the cash, just as Louis CK has done, but they overnight created a huge database of fan contacts.

“Radiohead proved that ‘Independent’ could be done on a grand scale and, since then, huge parts of the music industry have turned themselves inside-out. Artists are much more central to the whole process and music is all the more healthy for it.

“My pal, who ‘found’ The Darkness and got them picked up by Warners after selling-out the Astoria as an unsigned band, did something similar but vitally different with a band called Enter Shikari a couple of years later… They sold out the Astoria (just before it was pulled down), they milked the press coverage by turning down the major labels’ offers and then they released the album themselves.

“OK, so they only sold half a million records compared to the Darkness’ five million, but they made up to £5 per CD as opposed to less than £1 and importantly – although you haven’t heard of them – they still have a huge hardcore audience several albums later.

“The comedy business has always trailed behind the music business a bit. Alternative comedy arrived maybe five years after punk had imploded.

“Here we are in 2011. Bo Burnham in 2010 could be seen as the Arctic Monkeys of comedy. And Louis CK could be seen as the equivalent of Radiohead.”

I have been thinking of releasing a couple of books as downloads – one of them comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

It would avoid the publishers, wholesalers and retailers and the royalties would be around 80% instead of 7.5%.

So Bob’s enthusiasm for a new method of selling music and comedy recordings to the public interests me.

“So what happens next?” I asked him.

“Well, with any luck,” he told me, “we have an independent comedy revolution and it gets a lot more interesting again… I think I fancy a beer…”

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Cut out the music industry middle-men, think small and make big money

I got a Facebook message from Ben Peel in Bradford, saying:

“I would love you to go check out my home-made video from my debut single here. It will sure make you smile. I have currently just released my debut album – which can be previewed here. ”

I don’t know Ben Peel nor his band The Wool City Folk Club, but his video and songs are interesting.

Quite soon some unknown person is going to achieve worldwide fame and become a millionaire through YouTube clips and subsequent audio or video downloads. Maybe the Arctic Monkeys have already done it, but only on a limited scale.

Perhaps in a couple of years time, Ben Peel will be a multi-millionaire.

Or maybe not.

The world is changing fast but no-one knows what the fuck is going on or what they’re supposed to be doing.

Shortly before Apple announced their new iCloud service, I wrote a blog in which I mentioned the on-going death of the traditional record industry – by which I meant vinyl, tapes, CDs and DVDs sold in shops.

The blog resulted in some interesting feedback.

Hyphenate creative Bob Slayer (he’s a comedian-promoter-rock group manager) reacted:

“It is at worst a myth and at best very misleading to say that the record industry is dying – there is more demand for music then ever. What has happened over the last ten years is that the music industry has completely reinvented itself. The X-Factor has had an effect and a smaller number of pop artists are selling a high number of records. They still operate in a similar way to the traditional industry.

“But everywhere else has radically changed so that the artist (and their management) can play a much more hands-on role in controlling their own careers.”

Mr Methane, the world’s only professional farter, who knows a thing or two about self-promotion and has made his own music CDs produced by former Jethro Tull drummer Barrie Barlow, tells me:

“Large record labels no longer have the money to keep well-known acts on retainers or publishing contracts like they used to and have pressed the ejector seat. New and well-known acts are not as a rule getting huge piles of money thrown at them to go away and make an album. The Stone Roses’ great rock ’n’ roll heist, where they made one decent album then got a shed load of money advanced to make another and did sweet FA, just would not happen in today’s economic climate – or at least it would be highly unlikely.”

We have entered the entrance hall of an iTunes world of downloads with megastars and small self-producing, self-promoting unknowns where good middle-ranking performers and groups will potentially be squeezed out. It is much like comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe, where the big TV names and unknowns on the Free Fringe and Free Festival pull in crowds, but it is increasingly tough for very good, experienced middle-rankers with no TV exposure.

Ben Peel, just starting out in the music business, says:

“The digital realm does not have time for people who are solely musicians. You have to evolve into some type of super musician / marketing guru to be able make an impact amongst people. I have to be 50% musician, 50% marketing and branding. The digital realm is creating a new generation of musician: one-man machines cutting out the middle-men. The downside is that the middle-men had collateral – and contacts.”

Self-promotion ability is vital, though Ben thinks e-mails are outdated in publicity terms.

“I do a gig… and send an email out… I get ten people there…. I do a gig and throw out a 30 second YouTube short… one a week on the run-up to a gig…. I get two hundred people to attend and the exposure of the viral promoting and people re posting is priceless…. You cannot buy ‘word of mouth’ promoting …. you can only inspire it through something quirky/ original/ funny/ catchy etc.”

Bob Slayer manages not only the wonderful Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock but also internet phenomenon Devvo and tells me:

“At his height, Devvo was achieving over a million hits on every YouTube clip we put online. We had no control over who was viewing them but, as they were mostly passed around between friends, he found his natural audience. Devvo is not really understood outside the UK, so that massive following came largely from the UK and predominantly in the north. It meant that, he could easily sell-out medium sized venues anywhere north of Birmingham and strangely also in Wales but, for example, we struggled to sell tickets in Brighton.”

Financially-shrewd Mr Methane has so far failed to dramatically ‘monetise’ the more than ten million worldwide hits on just one of several YouTube clips of his Britain’s Got Talent TV appearance. but he sold shedloads of CDs and DVDs via his website after appearances on shock jock Howard Stern’s American radio and TV shows because small local radio stations across the US then started playing his tracks. They were small local stations, but there were a lot of them.

Only Bo Burnham, winner of the 2010 Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award, who straddles music and comedy like Mr Methane and started as an online phenomenon, seems to have got close to turning YouTube clips into more mainstream success and music downloads.

The fact Mr Methane made a lot of money online, sitting at home in Britain, after very specifically local US radio exposure is interesting, though.

At the bottom of his e-mails, Ben Peel has a signature:

“Dwarves are like tents… a lot easier to get out of the bag than they are to put back in.”

Yes indeed. And that is very true with new technology. But it made me remember something else.

Years ago, I attended a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain meeting where the speaker’s message was “The way to make money is not to think big but to think small.”

He suggested that one way to make money was to create a weekly five or ten minute audio insert which could be run within local US radio shows. If anyone could come up with an idea, made in Britain, which would be of interest to Americans on a weekly basis, you could sell it to local US stations at a very low price.

If you tried to sell the mighty PBS network a weekly half hour show for £2,000 it was unlikely they would buy it.

But any small local US radio station could afford to pay £5 for a weekly five or ten minute insert. If you could sell that same insert to 499 other small local US radio stations (not competing against each other because they are small purely local stations), you would be grossing £2,500 per week for creating a five or ten minute item. And you could distribute it down a telephone line.

If you could persuade the stations to buy it for £10 – around $15 – still throwaway money – then, of course, you would be making £5,000 per week.

The trick was to price low and sell in volume.

That was before iTunes, which became successful by that very same model of micro-pricing. It was worth buying a single music track if it only cost 79c in the US or 79p in the UK. If iTunes had priced a single music track at £1.60 in the UK, they would almost certainly have sold less than half as many units, so would have grossed less money.

Think small. Think cheap. Think volume.

Modern technology allows ordinary bands to record, mix, cut and put their own tracks on iTunes alongside music industry giants. It also allows people in New Zealand to listen to and watch Ben Pool on YouTube just as easily as people in Bradford can see him play a live gig.

Think small. Think cheap. Think volume. Think worldwide.

Just as some comedians are looking into e-publishing, bypassing traditional publishers, Ben Pool in Bradford and local bands in South East London can now expand beyond selling their own CDs after gigs and could reach a worldwide paying audience of millions with no music industry middle-men.

Last year, I wrote a blog titled Britain’s Got Talent in Pubs about an astonishing regular pub gig I saw in South East London featuring Bobby Valentino and Paul Astles.

A week ago, I saw Paul Astles perform again, this time with his seven-man band Shedload of Love in their monthly gig at The Duke pub on Creek Road, Deptford, not far from Malcolm Hardee’s old Up The Creek comedy club. They also play the Wickham Arms in Brockley every month. They are astonishingly good. Formed in 2004, they recently recorded an album at Jools Holland’s studio in Greenwich.

Both the Paul Astles bands are world-class, playing mostly locally but, if promoted on the internet, they could garner a worldwide following with no music industry middle-men.

There are, of course, as with anything involving creativity and cyberspace, those big words IF and COULD.

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Rutger Hauer says more about life in “Blade Runner” than the Bible, the Koran and Douglas Adams

Last night, I watched Brian De Palma’s movie The Untouchables on TV. The music is by Ennio Morricone.

“That music is very sad,” I said to the friend who was watching it with me. “An old man’s music. He composed the music for Once Upon a Time in the West too. That’s melancholic.”

I think you have to be over a certain age to fully appreciate Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s not about death, it’s about dying and it’s very long.

On YouTube recently, I stumbled on the closing sequence of Richard Attenborough’s movie Oh! What a Lovely War.

I cried.

I watched it five times over the next week. I cried each time I saw the final shot. I bought the DVD from Amazon and watched it with a (slightly younger) friend. I cried at the closing sequence, watching the final shot. One single shot, held for over two minutes. She didn’t understand why.

Clearly the cancer and cancer scares swirling amid my friends must be having their toll.

Someone has put online all issues of the British hippie/alternative culture newspaper International Times (aka “it”).

I was the Film Section editor for one of its incarnations in 1974.

Tempus fugit or would that be better as the Nicer sentence Ars Longa Vita Brevis?

There comes a point where I guess everyone gets slightly pretentious and feels like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.

Especially when you look round comedy clubs and you’re by far the oldest person in the room and you don’t laugh as much because you’ve heard what must be literally thousands of jokes told live on stage over decades.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

With me, it’s flashes of memories from the 1960s.

I remember working at the long-forgotten Free Bookshop in Earls Court. It was really just a garage in a mews and people donated second hand books to it but – hey! man! – wouldn’t it be great if everything was free? I remember going downstairs in the Arts Lab in Drury Lane to see experimental films; I think I saw the long-forgotten Herostratus movie there. I remember walking among people holding daffodils in the darkened streets around the Royal Albert Hall when we all came out of a Donovan concert. Or was it an Incredible String Band gig? I remember the two amazingly talented members of the Incredible String Band sitting in a pile of mostly eccentric musical instruments on stage at the Royal Albert Hall; they played them all at one point or another.

No, I was right originally. It was a Donovan concert in January 1967. It’s in Wikipedia, so it must be true. On stage at Donovan’s gig, a ballerina danced during a 12-minute performance of Golden Apples.

I remember it.

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

It’s not true when they say that if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t there.

I remember being in the Queen Elizabeth Hall (or was it the Purcell Room?) on the South Bank of the River Thames in London, seeing the two-man hippie group Tyrannosaurus Rex perform before Marc Bolan dumped Steve Peregrine Took and formed what Tyrannosaurus Rex fans like me mostly felt was the far-inferior T Rex. And the Tyrannosaurus Rex support act that night on the South Bank was a mime artist who did not impress me called David Jones who later re-invented himself as David Bowie. I still didn’t rate him much as David Bowie: he was just a jumped-up mime artist who sang.

No, it wasn’t in the Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Purcell Room. It didn’t happen there. It was in the Royal Festival Hall on Whit Monday, 3rd June 1968. There’s an ad for it on the back cover of International Times issue 31.

The gig was organised by Blackhill Enterprises, who were part-owned by Pink Floyd.

The ad says DJ John Peel was providing “vibrations” and the wonderful Roy Harper was supporting.

I remember that now.

But the ad says “David Bowie” was supporting.

I’m sure he was introduced on stage as “David Jones”.

I think.

I used to go to the early free rock concerts which Blackhill Enterprises organised in a small-ish natural grass amphitheatre called ‘the cockpit’ in Hyde Park. Not many people went. Just enough to sit on the grass and listen comfortably. I think I may have been in the audience by the stage on the cover of the second issue of the new Time Out listings magazine.

I realised Pink Floyd – whom I hadn’t much rated before – were better heard at a distance when their sounds were drifting over water – like bagpipes – so I meandered over and listened to them from the other side of the Serpentine.

I remember a few months or a few weeks later turning up ten minutes before the Rolling Stones were due to start their free Hyde Park gig and found thousands of people had turned up and the gig had been moved to a flatter area. I think maybe I had not realised the Stones would draw a crowd. I gave up and went home. The Hyde Park gigs never recovered. Too many people from then on.

I remember going to The Great South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity on the Isle of Wight in 1968. I went to see seeing Jefferson Airplane, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Pretty Things, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Fairport Convention. I didn’t go back the next year to the re-named Isle of Wight Festival because top-of-the-bill was the horribly pretentious and whiney non-singer Bob Dylan. What have people ever seen in him?

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

Ars longa,
vita brevis,
occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.

You can look it up on Wikipedia.

Though equally good, I reckon is the ancient saying:

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

OK, maybe I spent too much time in the 1960s…

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“Killer Bitch”, ‘Dodgy’ Dave Courtney, Scots comedian Janey Godley’s podcast and the UK gun laws

In the new Episode 27 of stand-up comic Janey Godley‘s weekly podcast (about 35 minutes in), her daughter Ashley Storrie (grand daughter of the late low-profile  but notable Glasgow ‘face’ George Storrie) talks about spending a day on the Killer Bitch film set with Dave Courtney and an assortment of dodgy London ‘chaps’ towards the end of 2009.

Ashley gets one detail slightly wrong – a day or two after the Killer Bitch film shoot at Dave Courtney’s home, police raided the house and arrested him on three charges of illegally possessing firearms. The main gun in question was never used on the Killer Bitch shoot.

What had happened, very basically, was that ‘Dodgy’ Dave and his wife owned a perfectly legal gun which they had on open display on their wall of their sitting room and which they occasionally used as a stage prop. But possession of the gun – with virtually no publicity – had been re-classified as illegal because it is relatively easy to re-activate it into being a ‘real’ gun.

Dave and his wife did not know possession of the gun had been reclassified. Thrown into prison, Dave was refused bail despite the fact that, on the three charges he faced, he was clearly no danger to anyone. The police kept him locked up over Christmas 2009. When he came to trial, the jury took only two hours to find him Not Guilty on all three charges.

Janey Godley was herself arrested in the mid-1990s for possession of firearms – a veritable arsenal of weapons – and she too was released – a sanitised but still fascinating version of why she was released appears in her gob-smacking autobiography Handstands in the Dark. She revealed the fuller reason in her 2004 stage show Good Godley! which rather belatedly opens in Australia (at the Adelaide Fringe Festival) in February/March this year.

Ashley does not appear in Killer Bitch. The movie, though widely banned from most retail shops, is still available at HMV shops and online from HMV, Amazon, Play.com etc.

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Is “Killer Bitch” worse than hardcore pornography and what does the dead poet William Blake know about it?

The actor Jack Nicholson said of film censorship: “The reality is, if you suck a tit, you’re an X, but if you cut it off with a sword, you’re a PG.”

As if the power of the tabloid press to overcome common sense and logic needed to be proved, consider the case of the movie Killer Bitch. (I was always a fan of early Roger Corman movies…)

This much-pre-publicised modern-day B-movie was attacked before it was even finished as “vile” porn by newspapers from London to Sydney to New York to New Delhi (yes, literally those places) by journalists who had never seen even a single frame of it. Indeed, the attacks started in the News of the World just two weeks after shooting began: subsequent news reports assumed what had been written the the News of the World was true.

Despite this, when the movie was eventually submitted to the British Board of Film Classification (the UK film censors), I didn’t actually expect much of a problem. It was a  low-budget film, so there was no wildly explicit gore – lots of fake blood but no OTT gore, no bullets exploding on bodies, no exploding heads – and the sex, it seemed to me, though much hyped, was not especially explicit – not by current standards.

There IS a sequence in the film which shows actual sexual intercourse but it was edited soft-core and is far less explicit than many a Hollywood studio movie. Almost everything that is seen to happen in Killer Bitch had been passed by the BBFC in a more extreme and more realistic form in previous films and, since 2002, the BBFC have in fact been passing hardcore sex scenes for general distribution. Why the Daily Mail has never picked up on this as a sign of the utter disintegration of British moral culture I don’t know. I think the BBFC started doing it so quietly that, by the time the Daily Mail twigged, it was old news and not worth attacking.

As it turned out, though, there were major problems with the British film censors over Killer Bitch. We were told the BBFC was very concerned at the “content of the movie” and it was screened at least four times to various combinations of censors, eventually including the Chairman of the Board. I suspect it was just a case of a movie with a high-profile tabloid reputation being referred-up because each person was too scared to take the risk of passing it himself/herself…. At one point, a BBFC Examiner sent an e-mail to the UK distributor saying it was “more likely than not” that there would be several cuts.

I was amazed when I found out what they claimed the problem was. We were told there were two areas of concern:

The first was a glimpse of part of the erect shaft of porn star Ben Dover’s penis at the beginning of the movie. This gobsmacked me. Apart from the fact neither the director nor I had ever noticed this and the censors must have gone through it frame by frame with a magnifying glass (no reflection on Ben Dover), I have still never spotted the offending shot in the movie. The BBFC have been giving 18 certificates to hard core sex scenes (erect penises; visible sexual penetration) since 2002. This was, apparently, a glimpse of part of a shaft.

The second problem was the scene which had got the tabloids worldwide into such a tizzy when (without ever having seen it) they had denounced it as a ghastly and “vile” rape scene. What the BBFC was worried about was not the actual sex scene itself (which was not a rape scene at all) but the pre-amble to the sex scene, in which leading lady Yvette Rowland initially resists Alex Reid then melts in his arms.

I understand the BBFC’s worry to an extent though, really, it’s not much more than 1950s/1960s James Bond sexism – a rugged hero takes woman roughly in arms; kisses her; she resists very briefly then melts in his mouth. Arguably sexist, but repeated a thousand times in other movies: hardly a hanging offence. Especially considering what the BBFC have been passing uncut since 2002. This is one description by  critic (not by me) of Willem Dafoe’s 2009 arthouse film Antichrist which was passed uncut by the BBFC:

“After knocking him unconscious, Gainsbourg bores a hole in Dafoe’s leg with a hand drill and bolts him to a grindstone to keep him from escaping. Then, she smashes his scrotum with some sort of blunt object (the moment of impact happens slightly below the frame). We don’t actually see his testicles become disengaged from this body, though it’s implied. Next, she brings him to a climax with her hands and he ejaculates blood (yes, it’s shown). But that’s not all! Later, in an extreme closeup — lensed by Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle! — Gainsbourg cuts off her own clitoris with a pair of scissors.”

The girl’s masturbation of the erect penis is in close-up and is real plus it’s an erect penis that is ejaculating blood.

Killer Bitch and Ben Dover’s imperceptibly-glimpsed bit of shaft should almost get a U if Antichrist gets an 18…

There IS a rape scene in Killer Bitch (which in no way glamorises nor diminishes the horror but it is not the scene the tabloids got into a tizz about). And someone DOES get his cock cut off in vision. But apparently neither of these scenes worried the censors.

What seems to have worried them was the movie’s reputation. It worried everyone. It was, ironically, passed uncut by the BBFC, but banned from display on the shelves of ASDA, Morrison’s, Sainsbury, WH Smith, Tesco and others (although most of those sell it online). It was even withdrawn by iTunes after two days on sale for rather vague reasons. HMV remained a sole beacon of high street retail sanity and online retailers like Amazon and Play.com never had any problem.

Is the movie Killer Bitch really so much worse than hardcore pornography? Or did tabloid perception overcome reality?

William Blake wrote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is.”

But, then, what the fuck did William Blake know about anything?

Although he did know a lot about dreams… and I do think it’s slightly odd no-one has noticed Killer Bitch can be seen as an OTT surreal dream by the heroine who may or may not awake, terrified, from unconsciousness early in the movie.

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